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Federal judge restores endangered species protections gutted under Trump

·Senior Editor
·3 min read
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A federal judge in California has overturned changes to the Endangered Species Act put in place under then-President Donald Trump that weakened protections for animals threatened by climate change and other dangers.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, who was appointed by then-President Barack Obama, restored protections for hundreds of species Tuesday. The Trump-era Department of the Interior’s softening of Endangered Species Act enforcement had directed agencies to consider economic impacts of protecting animal habitat, removed tools for forecasting the risk that species will become endangered or extinct in the future, and lengthened the amount of time it takes for a species to gain protection. Among the most controversial changes were restrictions on the ability of federal regulators to consider climate change as a risk factor for extinction.

A Hawaiian monk seal is seen underwater.
A Hawaiian monk seal. (Andre Seale/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Environmental advocates praised the ruling, which came in response to a lawsuit filed in 2019 by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, on behalf of several environmental groups. The suit accused the Trump administration of failing to properly disclose the effects and violating the Endangered Species Act.

“The Court spoke for species desperately in need of comprehensive federal protections without compromise,” Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles said in a statement. “Threatened and endangered species do not have the luxury of waiting under rules that do not protect them.”

A polar bear stands next to her two cubs.
A polar bear and her cubs in Kaktovik, Alaska. (Sylvain Cordier/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973 by then-President Richard Nixon. Species such as the peregrine falcon and the humpback whale would likely have disappeared without it, biologists say. The global scientific community has expressed alarm in recent years about the growing loss of biodiversity. A 2019 United Nations report found that “nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating.”

Among the species threatened by climate change that were at increased risk due to the Trump administration moves were polar bears, seals, whooping cranes and beluga whales, according to environmentalists.

The Biden administration announced last year that it would review and revise the Trump administration actions, but Earthjustice pressed ahead with the suit rather than wait for the slow wheels of the federal bureaucracy to move.

A whooping crane hunts in a pond.
A female whooping crane at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

“The Court has no difficulty in concluding that ‘fundamental flaws in the agency’s decision make it unlikely that the same rule[s] would be adopted on remand,’” Tigar wrote, quoting from an earlier decision that he cited as precedent.

“The Trump Administration’s assault on the nation’s most important wildlife protection law made no sense at the time — and even less now as we see a biodiversity crisis unfolding globally with more clarity each day,” said Rebecca Riley, managing director of the Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups represented by Earthjustice, in a statement. “The court’s decision ensures that the previous Administration’s ‘extinction package’ will be rolled back so that the [Endangered Species Act] can do its job: preventing the extinction of vulnerable species.”

When asked for comment, Department of the Interior spokesperson Tyler Cherry said, “We are reviewing the decision.”

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