New rules governing how the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is to be applied were recently finalized, after having been noted as a priority by the Trump administration. The changes have prompted several environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Humane Society of the United States, and EarthJustice to respond by suing the U.S. Department of the Interior. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has also indicated plans to sue over the changes.
“It is unsurprising that those who repeatedly seek to weaponize the Endangered Species Act ― instead of use it as a means to recover imperiled species ― would choose to sue,” Interior spokesman Nick Goodwin said in a statement. “We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act with the unchanging goal of conserving and recovering species.”
Some of the changes to the ESA include the removal of the blanket rule granting the same type of protections to species that are considered threatened which are afforded to those classified as endangered. Regulators will also now need to consider the economic impact of listing a species as either endangered or threatened. Despite criticism from environmentalists, the announcement of rule changes to the ESA has also received praise.
“These new regulations restore the traditional distinction between threatened and endangered species,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement. “This approach will eliminate unnecessary time and expense and ease the burden on farmers and ranchers who want to help species recover.”
The final rules also relax some of the protections related to habitats. Lands that are designated as unoccupied critical habitat will now be required to have at least one physical or biological feature necessary to conserve the species. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, approximately three-quarters of listed species are using private land as habitat. Farmers and ranchers have routinely run into challenges in managing their property when there are critical habitats on their land.