US officials seek limits on "habitat" for imperiled species

Full Screen
1 / 2

AP2003

FILE - In this May 8, 2003, file photo, a Northern Spotted Owl flies after an elusive mouse jumping off the end of a stick in the Deschutes National Forest near Camp Sherman, Ore.. The Trump administration is moving to restrict what land and water can be declared as "habitat" for imperiled plants and animals, potentially excluding areas that species could use in the future as climate change upends ecosystems. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

BILLINGS, Mont. – The Trump administration is moving to restrict what land and water areas can be declared as “habitat” for imperiled plants and animals — potentially excluding locations that species could use in the future as climate change upends ecosystems.

An administration proposal obtained in advance by The Associated Press and publicly released Friday would for the first time define “habitat” for purposes of enforcing the Endangered Species Act, the landmark law that has dictated species protections efforts in the U.S. since 1973.

A final decision is expected by year's end, with broad implications for how lands are managed and how far the government must go in protecting plants and animals that could be sliding toward extinction.

Democratic lawmakers and wildlife advocates said the proposal ignores shifting threats to wildlife and plants due to climate change and habitat loss.

It follows other steps under Trump to scale back or alter endangered species rules, including lifting blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened and setting cost estimates for saving species.

Legal observers said the Republican administration's two-sentence definition of habitat would limit what areas the government can designate as critical to a species' survival.

Its declaration that habitat includes areas with “existing attributes" appears to rule out land or water needing restoration work or sites that could become suitable in the future as climate change forces species to relocate, said J.B. Ruhl with Vanderbilt University Law School.

“To me, they are clearly trying to rule out restoration and climate change,” Ruhl said.