Biden Restores Key Wildlife Protections

The Biden-Harris Administration has been taking key steps to restore critical wildlife, habitat, and endangered species protections that the Trump Administration sought to weaken or eliminate.

In early May, the U.S. Interior Department moved to reverse a Trump Administration reinterpretation of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act which dramatically weakened the act’s protections. The Trump rule change removed “accidental” bird deaths from those considered violations punishable under the act. Enacted over the vigorous objection of conservationists and hunters, the Trump rule change removed the ability to fine companies for birds killed by oil tanker and drilling disasters, as well as routine practices which kill birds as an unintended side effect.  

Under newly confirmed Secretary Deb Haaland, the Interior Department has proposed a reversal of the Trump Administration rule change, restoring the Migratory Bird Treaty Act’s previous scope of strong protections. 

This month, Interior announced it is suspending oil and gas drilling permits which the Trump Administration issued for the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Intensely fought in Congress for decades, ANWR drilling would threaten the continued viability of vast herds of caribou, waterfowl, and other native migratory wildlife, and the way of life of indigenous peoples who depend on that wildlife.  

More broadly, it was announced last week that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Services are moving to undo several Trump Administration changes that weakened the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA) habitat protections. 

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) spoke favorably of the Biden Administration’s announcement, and urged that they also update the rules to take climate change threats into better account. He said, “With climate change bearing down on us and no serious doubt remaining about the consequences of inaction, we should take this opportunity to update all federal standards as thoroughly as possible to prevent habitat destruction and biodiversity loss before it’s too late.”  

Rebecca Riley, Managing Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s nature program, said the changes were needed to help address the “twin crises of biodiversity collapse and climate change.”  Riley said, “The Services’ proposal reflects a clear change in direction from the previous administration. If finalized, the changes will mean stronger protections for species and their habitats at a time when habitat destruction, exploitation, and climate change threaten their existence more than ever. The ESA remains a bedrock of environmental law that is as important and vibrant now as it has ever been.” 

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