Judge throws out Trump-era rollbacks on endangered species

WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal judge on Tuesday threw out a host of actions by the Trump administration to roll back protections for endangered or threatened species, a year after the Biden administration said it was moving to strengthen species protections weakened under former President Donald Trump.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in Northern California eliminated the Trump-era rules even as two wildlife agencies under President Joe Biden are reviewing or rescinding the Trump-era regulations. The decision restores a range of protections under the Endangered Species Act - including some that date to the 1970s - while the reviews are completed. Environmental groups hailed the decision, which they said sped up needed protections and critical habitat designations for threatened species, including salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

Tigar's ruling 'œspoke for species desperately in need of comprehensive federal protections without compromise,'ť said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice. 'œThreatened and endangered species do not have the luxury of waiting under rules that do not protect them.'ť

The court ruling comes as two federal agencies - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service - review five Endangered Species Act regulations finalized by the Trump administration, including critical habitat designations and rules requiring federal agencies to consult with other agencies before taking action on threatened or endangered species.

Fish and Wildlife also said it will reinstate the decades-old 'œblanket rule,'ť which mandates additional protections for species that are newly classified as threatened. Those protections were removed under Trump.

Critical habitat designations for threatened or endangered species can result in limitations on energy development such as mining or oil drilling that could disturb a vulnerable species, while the consultation rule, and a separate rule on the scope of proposed federal actions, helps determine how far the government may go to protect imperiled species.

Under Trump, officials rolled back protections for the northern spotted owl, gray wolves and other species, actions that Biden has vowed to review. The Biden administration previously moved to reverse Trump's decision to weaken enforcement of the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which made it harder to prosecute bird deaths caused by the energy industry.

The decision on the bird law was among more than 100 business-friendly actions on the environment that Trump took and Biden wants to reconsider, revise or scrap.

A spokesman for the Interior Department, which oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency is reviewing the decision.

Fish and Wildlife, along with the marine fisheries service, announced in June 2021 that it was were reviewing the Trump-era actions. The reviews could take months or years to complete, officials said.

Industry groups and Republicans in Congress have long viewed the Endangered Species Act as an impediment to economic development, and under Trump they successfully lobbied to weaken the law's regulations. Environmental groups and Democratic-controlled states battled the moves in court, but many of those cases remained unresolved.

Ryan Shannon, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, another environmental group, said he was 'œincredibly relieved" that 'œterrible'ť Trump-era rules on endangered species were thrown out by the Oakland, California-based Tigar, who was appointed to the federal bench by former President Barack Obama.

'œI hope the Biden administration takes this opportunity to strengthen this crucial law, rather than weaken it, in the face of the ongoing extinction crisis,'' Shannon said Tuesday.

Rebecca Riley of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the court ruling 'œensures that the previous administration's '~extinction package' will be rolled back.''

She and other advocates called on the Biden administration to ensure the Endangered Species Act 'œcan do its job: preventing the extinction of vulnerable species.'ť

FILE - In this February 2021, photo released by California Department of Fish and Wildlife, shows a gray wolf (OR-93), seen near Yosemite, Calif., shared by the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife. A federal judge on July 5, 2022, threw out a host of actions by the Trump administration to roll back protections for endangered or threatened species, a year after the Biden administration said it was moving to strengthen those species protections. (California Department of Fish and Wildlife via AP, File) The Associated Press
FILE - In this May 15, 2019 photo, the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River is seen from the air near Colfax, Wash. A report released Thursday, June 9, 2022, said the benefits provided by four giant hydroelectric dams on the Snake River in Washington state can be replaced if the dams are breached to save endangered salmon runs. But finding other ways to provide electricity, irrigation and enabling commerce would cost up to $27.2 billion, the report said. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) The Associated Press
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