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SACRAMENTO, December 16, 2020 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today issued the following statement in response to an announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of a final rule that adds a new, restrictive definition of “habitat” to regulations for making critical habitat designations under the federal Endangered Species Act. The rule is expected to result in reduced habitat protections for many endangered and threatened species. 

“In California, we treasure the hundreds of endangered species that make their home in this state and recognize the need for more protections – not less,”said Attorney General Becerra.“The fact that the Trump Administration is going out of its way to undermine Endangered Species Act protections on its way out the door shows just how misaligned its priorities are.”

Enacted under the Nixon Administration in 1973, the Endangered Species Act is intended “to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” Under the Endangered Species Act, FWS is responsible for listing species as “endangered” or “threatened” and designating “critical habitat” for each such species. Areas designated as critical habitat are provided with significant protections to ensure that species have the ability to recover to sustainable population levels so that they no longer need to be listed. While the Endangered Species Act does not define “habitat,” FWS’s long-held position has been that habitat is best determined on a species-by-species basis in order to account for the divergent types of life histories, behavior patterns, and survival strategies of the listed species. Under the final rule, however, FWS would use a new, narrow definition of “habitat” for purposes of critical habitat designations, limiting the FWS’s ability to recover imperiled species by reducing the amount and type of critical habitat that can be protected.

On September 4, 2020, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of 17 attorneys general in submitting comments opposing the proposed rule.