Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a final rule rescinding a Trump-era regulation that established a definition of “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) issued the following statement in response:
“Policymaking always hinges on fine details, and this back-and-forth on what is considered wildlife ‘habitat’ is no exception. Under former President Trump, USFWS established a commonsense definition of ‘habitat’ to prevent USFWS from creating expansive, economically harmful and unrealistic critical habitat designations. Now, the Biden administration will be removing that definition, allowing the agency to broaden what it can designate as critical habitat and what it can prohibit from use and development. They’re essentially writing a blank check for themselves, and we can be sure radical, litigious groups will cash it in to further weaponize the ESA. This was never Congress’s intent for the ESA, and it’s disappointing to see this administration take yet another step backwards.” – House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)
“Today, in its latest effort to trample on the interests of everyday Americans, the Biden administration announced it would give the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries discretion to define ‘habitat’ however they see fit. This is a win for radical green-energy leftists, but not for those of us who care about healthy forests and clean water. Earlier this Congress, in an effort to limit the amount of damage this administration can inflict, I led a bill that would have codified the Trump administration’s definition of ‘habitat.’ The federal government must have checks on its authority, and today’s announcement is a clear example of why limits on government are so important. Unfortunately, Democrats have refused to allow my bill a hearing in committee, so we cannot even openly debate this important issue. Sadly, this has come to be expected with Democrats, as they continue to ignore other important issues like soaring inflation and five dollar gas.” – Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Ranking Member Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.)
In 2020, the Trump administration issued a rule to define “habitat” under the ESA in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Weyerhaeuser Co. vs. United Fish and Wildlife Service. The definition stated habitat is the “abiotic and biotic setting that currently or periodically contains the resources and conditions necessary to support one or more life processes of a species.” This definition was designed to prevent what led to the Weyerhaeuser case. USFWS had designated 1,500 acres as critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog on private lands in Louisiana, despite the fact that none had been seen there in 50 years and the land would require extensive restoration work to become suitable for the species.
This commonsense definition was enacted to ensure USFWS could not designate critical habitat in areas that do not periodically contain the conditions necessary for the species in question. By removing this definition, USFWS will be able to vastly broaden where it can designate critical habitat.
Last October, Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Ranking Member Cliff Bentz (R-Ore.)introduced H.R. 5078 to codify this regulation.