Opposition builds to Biden’s rollback of Endangered Species Act reforms

The Associated Press all but served as the Biden administration’s PR agency recently in gushing over the proposed rollback of reforms to the Endangered Species Act implemented in 2019.

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.

But critics warn the administration’s attempt to turn back the clock on the first updates to the landmark law in decades would result in unnecessary red tape and burdensome regulations on communities across the nation. Seventeen U.S. senators signed on to a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urging the agency to extend the comment period on the proposed throwback.

In 2019, the Trump Administration rightfully recognized the qualitative differences between threatened and endangered species.  In doing so, FWS rescinded the prior “blanket rule” that automatically granted endangered-level protections to species only listed as threatened.  The existing rule provides for greater flexibility by ensuring FWS crafts guidelines for each threatened wildlife species on a case-by-case basis, ensuring only necessary prohibitions and restrictions are in place.  Restoring the blanket rule will lead to more red tape and burdensome regulations.

North Dakota Senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer were among the signatories of the letter, which called on the USFWS to “prioritize efforts that empower private landowners and other stakeholders to achieve the goal of removing species from the ESA list.”

Similarly, the 2019 reforms to Section 4 regarding listing and delisting of species and designation of critical habitat were a welcome change.  These reforms removed constraints that previously prohibited agencies from researching and sharing the economic impacts of a listing determination under the ESA.  The current rule also provides circumstances where the FWS and NMFS may find that designating critical habitat for a species would not be prudent.  The proposal in question removes all these flexibilities along with a mandate that the agencies again must designate unoccupied areas as critical habitat.

Hoeven told the Grand Forks Herald the lack of flexibility in applying the often controversial ESA needlessly threatens the state’s well-being.

Proposed reforms to the federal Endangered Species Act are ill-fitting and could endanger how North Dakotans do business, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven said during a visit to Grand Forks.

Hoeven believes the ESA mandates don’t necessarily work well in places like North Dakota…

“They always want to come up with a federal one-size-fits-all and create a lot of regulations around it, so it’s not really workable,” Hoeven, R-N.D., told the Grand Forks Herald. “They will come and prescribe some endangered species mandate across the whole United States and it may not apply at all in a region like ours. When you look at our industries – agriculture and energy – it could make it really, really hard for us to do business.”

Unless extended as requested, the comment period on the proposed rollback to ESA regulations will close on August 21. Anyone may submit a comment online by following the USFWS instructions.

Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–HQ–ES–2023–0018, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, check the Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment.”