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California federal judge voids Trump-era ESA rulings

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A California federal judge axed Trump-era Endangered Species Act rollbacks on regulations, potentially hindering progress by agricultural producers. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Jon S Tigar voided laws that allowed economic factors to play on whether species could be listed as endangered or threatened. The ruling also removed protections that made listing species and threatened or endangered more difficult.

The removal of Trump’s ESA updates came in response to a suit filed in 2019 by staunchly anti-ag groups, including the Sierra Club, Earth Justice, and other environmental non-profits. The lawsuit stated that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Marine Service broke the law and pushed the changes through without completing an environmental review.

The Sierra Club ignores the leaps and bounds that the agricultural industry has made in reducing emissions and improving sustainability. Their agriculture policies state that “Common current practices such as large scale mono-cropping and concentrated animal feeding systems consume disproportionate amounts of fossil fuels, pollute our water and air, deplete the soil, diminishing biodiversity, and emit greenhouse gases. Such practices are neither economically, ecologically nor socially sustainable.”

»Related: Farmers tell agriculture’s sustainability story every day

The American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Public Lands Council, Washington Cattlemen’s Association, and the Pacific Legal Foundation all oppose the removal of Trump regulations.

American farmers and ranchers do much to sustain habitats for threatened and endangered species, often participating in voluntary conservation programs and practices. Over 140 million acres of privately owned farm and ranch land are enrolled in these programs – providing habitat to all species. To put this into perspective, 140 million acres is as big as the states of California and New York.

Despite appearing to have good intentions, organizations like the Public Lands Council say that the ESA doesn’t work. Only about two to three percent of species listed have been removed from the list. Meanwhile, ESA listing often does more to thwart conservation efforts by farmers and ranchers than it does to help listed species. Livestock producers are hit especially hard by resource restrictions and lawsuits regarding lands affected by the ESA.

Ranchers provide critical habitat and water resources to countless species. One such species is the Greater Sage Grouse, which was deferred from being added to the ESA due to more urgently threatened species. Ranchers, however, continue to work to restore and maintain millions of acres of sage grouse habitat.

The Public Lands Council supported the 2019 changes made by the Trump Administration, saying, “In our view, these changes are far from a death wish for endangered species. The rules are much-needed clarifications to allow the government to assess and implement recovery efforts for sensitive species. The modernized approach to ESA implementation benefits all; the rules allow for protections to be applied more quickly and for species to have a real path to recovery – a path that makes room for other species which more immediately need attention and resources.”

»Related: How cattle ranchers are taking on the sustainability challenge

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