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Biden administration moves to restore endangered species protections dropped by Trump

The Biden administration proposed bringing back rules to protect imperiled plants and animals on Wednesday as officials moved to reverse changes under former President Donald Trump that weakened the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would reinstate a decades-old regulation that mandates blanket protections for species newly classified as threatened.

The blanket protections regulation was dropped in 2019 as part of a suite of changes to the application of the species law that were encouraged by industry, even as extinctions accelerate globally due to habitat loss and other pressures.

Officials also would no longer consider economic impacts when deciding if animals and plants need protection. And the rules make it easier to designate areas as critical for a species’ survival, even if it is no longer found in those locations.

“We have the opportunity to try to improve the status of species before they get to the brink,” he said.

Details on the proposed rules, which could take a year to finalize, were obtained by The Associated Press in advance of their public release.

They’ll face strong pushback from Republican lawmakers, who say President Joe Biden’s Democratic administration has hampered oil, gas and coal development, and favors conservation over development.

The spotted owl decision was reversed in 2021 after career wildlife officials said Trump’s political appointees used faulty science to justify opening millions of acres of West Coast forest to potential logging. Protections for wolves across most of the U.S. were restored by a federal court last year and the Biden administration has said it will decide by next February if they should remain in place.

Many of the changes under Trump were finalized during his last weeks in office.

Since then, officials imposed less restrictive protections for more than a dozen animals and plants compared to what they would have received, said Jonathan Wood with the Property and Environment Research Center, a free-market policy group based in Bozeman, Montana.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Assistant Administrator Janet Coit said the rules would ensure the species law remains effective as climate change alters habitats around the globe, and plants and animals become extinct.

The Biden administration had earlier withdrawn a 2020 rule that limited which lands and waters could be designated as places where imperiled animals and plants could receive federal protection. It also reversed Trump’s decision to weaken enforcement of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which made it harder to prosecute bird deaths caused by the energy industry. And officials under Biden

But environmentalists have been frustrated that it’s taken more than two years for Biden to act on some of the Trump-era rollbacks. Stoking their urgency is the prospect of a new Republican administration following the 2024 election that could yet again ease protections.

The Endangered Species Act is credited with helping save the bald eagle, California condor and scores of other animals and plants from extinction since President Richard Nixon signed it into law. It currently protects more than 1,600 species in the United States and its territories.

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