In keeping with their dedication to climate and environmental policy protection, the Biden Administration in mid-October announced proposals to roll back the Trump-era Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulation. The announcement was met with mixed reviews as environmentalists praised the proposed reversals as a step towards strengthening environmental protection while some grassroots agriculture organizations remain reserved.
“It’s frustrating because we felt we had made some strides towards making things clearer and concise,” said John Youngberg, executive vice president for the Montana Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF).
Both MFBF and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) have issued press releases voicing their concern about these regulatory rollbacks.
“Farmers and ranchers are facing continued challenges from the pandemic, supply chain issues, labor shortages, drought in the West and significant cost increases in operating their farms. Adding uncertainty to environmental regulations creates another obstacle for farmers as they work to keep America’s pantries stocked,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the AFBF in a press release.
In August of 2019, the Trump Administration made updates to how the ESA was to be applied. One such update was the removal of blanket protection for threatened animals and plants. Instead of treating threatened and endangered species with the same level of protection under the ESA, the Trump Administration made it so species protection would be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Agriculture largely supported Trump’s ESA update and Youngberg says the proposed rollback is of particular concern to Montana agriculturalists and public lands grazers. In addition to burdensome regulations, blanket protection for everything on the endangered species list has the potential to be extremely costly.
Those that support this particular proposed rollback note that blanket protection will preserve threatened species and mitigate their chances of becoming endangered.
Along with removing blanket protection, the Trump Administration lessened the regulatory burden when it comes to identifying critical habitat by clarifying that the area that threatened and endangered species occupy must first be evaluated before unoccupied landscapes are considered. Boiled down, this means the habitat can only be deemed critical if it is in fact already supporting listed plants or animals.
By rolling this regulation back, habitat that could potentially be restored and/or modified to support a listed species must also be listed as critical, Youngberg explained.
“If you can do restoration or modification of the habitat so a species could live there, then that is to be protected as habitat for that species. That is a never ending deal,” he went on to add.
Going along with this, under the Trump Administration, the economic impact of an area had to be assessed before critical habitat could be determined. Opponents of the ruling at the time felt it gave too much leeway to natural resource developers who had the potential to abuse pristine landscapes purely for economic gain.
Those who supported the Trump-era regulation felt it forced environmental lawmakers to look at the bigger, broader picture before making drastic habitat management determinations.
Youngberg attests one of the biggest frustrations right now is the volleying back and forth of environmental issues that is happening between political parties. Landowners, he points out, should not be whiplashed around with the changing of each administration. The Farm Bureau believes that ESA regulations should, above all, be concise and consistent.
“We need workable and understandable rules,” Youngberg concluded.
A public comment period regarding the Biden Administration proposed ESA regulation rollbacks will be open until Nov. 26. The MFBF highly encourages agriculturalists to tell their story and voice their opinions concerning this matter. A link for public comment can be found on the Montana Farm Bureau Federation website at mfbf.org.