Biden Administration Restores Endangered Species Act Weakened by Trump

Biden Administration Restores Endangered Species Act Weakened by Trump

The Revival of Endangered Species Act Rules Under the Biden Administration: What it Means for Wildlife and Plants in the US


The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a conservation law enacted in 1973 to protect imperiled species in the United States. The Trump administration rolled back several safeguards for wildlife and plants under the ESA during his time in office. However, the Biden Administration recently revived several of these rules, effectively reinstating specific protections for endangered species across the country. Though this move has been celebrated by environmental groups, there are still concerns over certain provisions that could potentially backfire.

What the Updated ESA Rules Entail

The recent ESA update addresses some of the most controversial changes made under the previous administration. The blanket rule, which denied the same level of protection for “endangered” and “threatened” species, has been revoked. Moreover, language that prohibited economic considerations in listing decisions has been re-inserted. This means that the threat of climate change can now be factored into protection decisions. Moreover, federal agencies have been prevented from considering the potential impact on revenue from prohibiting logging or other activities in certain areas where at-risk species are found.

What Has Not Changed

Environmental groups believe that the decision did not go far enough in addressing certain concerns. For instance, the ESA update retains Trump-era language that requires federal actions to avoid jeopardizing species’ critical habitat “as a whole.” This means that species with vast habitats could be subject to “piecemeal reduction,” which might endanger their survival. This is worrying for migratory species that need large areas of land and sea to survive. Additionally, the ESA update leaves out something called an “environmental baseline,” which is crucial for evaluating the impact federal agency activities have on listed animals or plants. Currently, the baseline is taken from the species’ current habitat conditions and population health with no reference to the consequences of ongoing agency activities.

Concerns over Potentially Adverse Effects

While environmental groups have lauded the positive impact of the ESA update, some believe it could lead to legal challenges in the future. Industry groups have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the changes. The Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, for example, has criticized the imposed ESA restrictions, claiming that they will hurt farmers. Given the expected opposition from Republicans, the three-year process to unwind Trump’s rollbacks is expected to face steep bureaucratic hurdles. There is also concern that the current provisions could leave vulnerable species at risk of going extinct due to ongoing agency activities, which are not considered as part of the environmental baseline.


The revival of the ESA rules under the Biden administration is a step towards protecting imperiled species in the US. Though it does not address all of the concerns raised by environmental groups, it is a positive development. With the ongoing negotiations to allocate the Colorado River’s water, it is essential to have these updated data in front of negotiators to ensure that debates are well-informed. Though more work is needed to protect the country’s wildlife and plants from human impacts, the reinstatement of certain protections for imperiled species is a good start in the right direction.

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