Press Release | October 26, 2021

SELC statement on repeal of narrowed habitat protections under the Endangered Species Act

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — Today the Biden administration announced its proposal to rescind the Trump administration’s narrowed definition of ‘habitat’ under the Endangered Species Act. In response to the announcement, SELC Staff Attorney Ramona McGee released the following statement:

“Protecting the ecosystems that threatened and endangered species call home is central to the Endangered Species Act. Defining ‘habitat’ by regulation was unnecessary: the Act saw 50 years of extraordinary success without it. We applaud the Biden administration for proposing to undo the harmful, restrictive definition that the Trump administration put in place. We are in the midst of an unprecedented global extinction and climate crisis, and imperiled species in the South have no time to waste.”

In its final days in office, the Trump administration weakened the Endangered Species Act by establishing a rule to narrowly define ‘habitat,’ making it more difficult to protect areas as critical habitat for threatened and endangered species. The term had never been deemed necessary to define, and the new definition that the Trump administration established was ultimately even more narrow than two alternatives proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.

Because habitat degradation and loss are the leading cause of extinction, preventing degraded habitat from being eligible for critical protections could seriously undermine the conservation and recovery of at-risk species. The narrow habitat definition likewise appeared to prevent protection of areas likely to become habitat as an endangered or threatened species shifted its range in response to climate change.

Today’s proposal would rescind the Services’ joint regulatory definition of ‘habitat,’ as well as the Trump-era U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulation that governs critical habitat exclusions.

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