Judge throws out Trump-era rollbacks to endangered species

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday threw out a series of Trump administration moves to reverse protections for endangered or threatened species, a year after the Biden administration said it wanted to strengthen those protections.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in Northern California reversed the Trump-era rules, though two wildlife agencies under President Joe Biden are reviewing or repealing the regulations. The decision restores a number of protections under the Endangered Species Act – including some from the 1970s – while reviews are completed. Environmental groups hailed the decision, which they say accelerated needed protection and critical habitat designation for threatened species, including salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Tigar’s ruling “speaks for species that desperately need comprehensive federal protection without compromise,” said Kristen Boyles, attorney for environmental group Earthjustice. “Threatened and endangered species cannot afford the luxury of waiting under rules that do not protect them.”

The court ruling comes as two federal agencies — the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service — are reviewing five provisions of the Endangered Species Act finalized by President Donald Trump’s administration, including critical habitat designations and rules under which Federal agencies must consult with wildlife or fisheries before taking any action that could affect threatened or endangered species.

Fish and Wildlife also said it will reintroduce the decades-old “blanket rule” mandating additional protections for species newly classified as threatened. Those safeguards were lifted under Trump.

Designating critical habitats for threatened or endangered species can result in restrictions on energy development, such as mining or oil drilling, that could disrupt an endangered species, while the consultation rule and a separate rule on the scope of proposed federal action help determine how far the government can go to protect endangered species.

Under Trump, officials have rolled back protections for the northern spotted owlgray wolves and other types of actions that Biden has vowed to review. The Biden administration had previously attempted to reverse Trump’s decision weakening enforcement of the centuries-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which made it harder to track bird deaths caused by the energy industry.

Repealing the bird law was among more than 150 pro-business environmental measures Trump is taking and Biden plans to consider, revise or scrap, including rolling back a 2020 rule last month that limited which lands and bodies of water are designated as vulnerable locations animals and plants could receive federal protection.

A spokesman for the Home Office, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, said Tuesday the agency was reviewing the court ruling.

Fish and Wildlife, along with the Sea Fishery Service, announced in June 2021 that it would review Trump-era actions on endangered species. The reviews could take months or years, officials said.

Industry groups and Republicans in Congress have long viewed the Endangered Species Act as an impediment to economic development, and under Trump they have successfully lobbied to weaken the Act’s provisions. Environmental groups and democratically controlled states fought the moves in court, but many of those cases remained unresolved.

Ryan Shannon, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, another environmental group, said he was “incredibly relieved” that the “terrible” Trump-era regulations on endangered species were scrapped by Tigar of Oakland, California, who appointed them became the Federal Bank of former President Barack Obama.

“I hope the Biden administration takes this opportunity to strengthen, rather than weaken, this crucial piece of legislation in the face of the ongoing extinction crisis,” Shannon said Tuesday.

Rebecca Riley of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the court ruling “ensures the previous administration’s ‘extinction package’ is reversed.”

She and other advocates called on the Biden administration to ensure the Endangered Species Act “can do its job: prevent endangered species from becoming extinct.”

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