U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt unveiled changes to implementing regulations of the Endangered Species Act designed to increase transparency and effectiveness and bring the administration of the Act into the 21st century, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The changes finalized by Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service apply to ESA sections 4 and 7. Section 4, among other things, deals with adding species to or removing species from the Act’s protections and designating critical habitat; section 7 covers consultations with other federal agencies.
The ESA directs that determinations to add or remove a species from the lists of threatened or endangered species be based solely on the best available scientific and commercial information, and these will remain the only criteria on which listing determinations will be based. The regulations retain language stating, “The Secretary shall make a [listing] determination solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial information regarding a species’ status.”
The revisions to the regulations clarify that the standards for delisting and reclassification of a species consider the same five statutory factors as the listing of a species in the first place. This requirement ensures that all species proposed for delisting or reclassification receive the same careful analysis to determine whether or not they meet the statutory definitions of a threatened or endangered species as is done for determining whether to add a species to the list.
While this administration recognizes the value of critical habitat as a conservation tool, in some cases, designation of critical habitat is not prudent. Revisions to the regulations identify a non-exhaustive list of such circumstances, but this will continue to be rare exceptions.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, “Today’s Endangered Species Act reforms serve the needs of imperiled species as well as the people most affected by implementation of the law’s provisions. This makes real-world species recovery more likely as a result.
“These new regulations restore the traditional distinction between threatened and endangered species. That’s important. In the real world, the things we must do to restore a threatened species are not always the same as the ones we’d use for endangered species. This approach will eliminate unnecessary time and expense and ease the burden on farmers and ranchers who want to help species recover.
“Today’s rulemakings will also simplify environmental review and interagency consultations while maintaining effective species protections.
“Keeping species on the endangered list when they no longer face the threat of extinction takes valuable resources away from species that still need ongoing protection under the ESA. These new regulations will provide much needed consistency in the listing and de-listing process to better allocate critical resources to species in need.
“Finally, we are pleased to see one other, common-sense matter: Lands to be designated as unoccupied critical habitat for threatened and endangered species will have to actually include at least one physical or biological feature needed to conserve the species. Farm Bureau welcomes all of these changes.”
Barring court action, the rules package will officially take effect following a 30-day objection period.