Endangered species to get stay on Biden administration plans – Maryland Matters
The little prairie chick, a rare black grouse once abundant in the Great Plains, may soon enjoy U.S. government protection again.
The same goes for the rust-spotted bumblebee, a black-headed pollinator that once spread from Georgia to Maine and across the Midwest.
And the piping plover, a small shorebird that’s listed as endangered in Maryland and endangered in the Great Lakes.
The Biden administration is rewriting how it protects endangered species – making significant regulatory changes that could affect how habitat is kept safe for these birds, fish, insects, mammals and plants in peril across the United States.
Officials in the Biden administration announced this month that they will be reviewing five key regulations of the Endangered Species Act. In doing so, they will reverse changes made by the Trump administration to narrow the scope of the law and make it easier to approve development.
The revised regulations could strengthen the protection of some 2,700 species protected under the law. The
are dozens of candidates in some states, including 24 in Maryland.
Among those that could benefit are birds like the Little Prairie Chicken, which has declined 97 percent over the past century, largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation, including some came from oil and gas development.
The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed last month to list it as Threatened in Colorado and Kansas and Endangered in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Then there’s the Rusty Bumble Bee, which has been reported in 13 states, including Maryland. It was given the status of endangered species in 2017, due to habitat loss, climate change and the threat of pesticides.
But the government has failed to protect any critical bee habitat, a move conservationists have sued in an attempt to overturn.
Years of battles
The Biden administration’s regulatory reversals are the last years of a bitter struggle between the Democratic and Republican administrations over how to implement the Endangered Species Act, passed by Congress in 1973.
Environmentalists hail the historic law as one of their most powerful tools and credit it with saving the American crocodile, gray wolf and bald eagle. Republicans criticized it for getting bogged down in lawsuits and land restrictions, with relatively few species falling off the list.
Over the years, members of Congress have made several unsuccessful attempts to rewrite the law.
However, the Trump team was able to make significant changes to the way they implemented the law thanks to regulations that did not require congressional approval.
“The changes to the Trump administration have significantly weakened the law, far beyond what has been done in the past. They’ve really strayed from the original intent of the Congressional Act to protect any endangered wildlife, animals or plants, ”said Jacob Malcolm, director of the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife, a non-profit organization. nonprofit that aims to find creative solutions to save cash through research and policy.
Malcolm, a former Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, applauded the Biden team’s decision to reverse these measures and said it could potentially get species protection back on track.
The Trump administration has sought to “ease the regulatory burden” of the endangered species law. Its changes reduced habitat protections, reducing both the timing and the area that could be considered critical habitat.
They also got rid of some automatic protections for “endangered” species, classifying one step below “endangered”.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, endangered means that a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant part of its range, while threatened means that a species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. .
The Biden administration said it would reinstate a regulation that grants default protection to any endangered species, such as the Little Prairie Chicken, unless the agency writes a specific plan for the species.
The Biden team also plans to rescind Trump-era rules that allow regulators to take economic assessments into account when deciding whether or not to protect habitat, such as calculating a potential revenue loss. Previously, the law required regulators to make a decision solely on the basis of science.
For some industries, the Trump administration’s rewrite was a welcome change.
For example, the National Association of Home Builders says some Trump rules have improved turnaround times, which can take 18 months or more and slow their plans.
“Returning to an inefficient ESA licensing process will not only increase the cost of housing, but will also delay countless other infrastructure projects that require federal permits or use federal funds,” said Michael Mittelholzer, NAHB Assistant Vice President for Environmental Policy.
Many Western Republicans were also in favor of the Trump rules. Idaho Gov. Brad Little said the overthrow of Team Biden was a “major disappointment.”
“This only serves to restore unnecessary regulatory burdens on states and local communities that are most critical to ESA’s success,” Little said in a statement.
White House Directive
The turnaround in the endangered species decision follows a White House directive asking all federal agencies to reconsider Trump-era rules that run counter to Biden’s goals of fighting climate change.
Fish and Wildlife Service senior deputy director Martha Williams said in a statement her agency will work with partners to ensure regulations recover wildlife and help “meet 21st century challenges” such as climate change. .
Williams said listing decisions would be made “without reference to possible economic or other impacts.” She also pledged to remove regulations limiting the scope of habitat protections and restore protections for plants and animals listed as “endangered species.”
The acting administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversees the protection of 165 endangered and threatened marine species, also vowed to review the agency’s regulations.
A helping hand to do more
While environmental groups have applauded the changes, some say the Biden administration must go further to protect plants and animals from climate change and other threats.
“I’m really glad they’re going to repeal and revisit these dire rules, but they have their work cut out for them with dozens of other decisions that really put endangered species at risk of extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, director of endangered species. for the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that pursues science lawsuits and petitions in an attempt to force the government to protect species.
For example, his group recently threatened to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service for protecting 21 different species that the Trump administration had decided not to list. Greenwald says the agency has significantly underestimated the threat climate change poses to the species.
But the agency said in a letter last month that the species had been properly assessed and did not deserve to be protected.
The species list includes the Florida Cedar Key Mole Skink, a small lizard that has taken up residence in beach wrack that washes off at high tide. The group says the skink is threatened by rising sea levels, but the Trump administration only looked 30 years into the future in making its decision not to protect the lizard.