WASHINGTON— Just two days after the Trump administration finalized a rule limiting the government’s ability to protect habitat that endangered species need to survive and recover, the administration today finalized yet another rule that will deprive even more imperiled species of protections for the places they live.
Today’s rule radically alters the process for deciding when to exclude a particular area from a critical habitat designation for wildlife or plants protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Under the Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must weigh the benefits of designating an area as critical habitat against potential economic impacts. Today’s rule would make habitat exclusions much more likely by requiring the Service to “assign weight” to industry claims of economic impacts, which can be highly speculative.
“In another devastating blow to endangered species, Trump officials proved yet again that they care more about industry profits than America’s wildlife,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is an early Christmas present to developers and polluters, who can now essentially veto the recommendations of expert scientists on where to protect critical habitat.”
The rule would also require the Service to consider excluding an area if requested and open federal lands to exclusion for the benefit of special interests exploiting those lands.
“On the heartbreaking path that Trump has set, our most vulnerable animals and plants will have nothing left, no place to call home,” said Kurose. “This rule is a brutal shove that could push imperiled species over the edge.”
Today’s rule is the third major action the Trump administration has taken to weaken habitat protections for endangered species.
On Tuesday, the administration defined habitat so that only areas that could currently support endangered species would be designated and protected, sharply limiting recovery. And in 2019, the administration finalized sweeping changes to the rules implementing the Endangered Species Act that, among other things, specified that species would not get protected critical habitat unless habitat destruction was the primary threat.