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Martha Williams

POLITICS: Farmers, ranchers, landowners take aim at Biden admin for latest crackdown

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A wide range of groups representing farmers, cattle ranchers, hunters, landowners and energy companies are fighting Biden administration regulations expanding wildlife protections.

In individual comments submitted earlier this month, the groups said the regulations — unveiled in June by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) — represent federal overreach and would harm small businesses, according to federal filings reviewed by Fox News Digital. In addition to the industry groups, state wildlife agencies and a coalition of 18 GOP attorneys general submitted comments opposing the rules.

“We all want to save endangered wildlife. And we all want to preserve the critical habitat where they live. As it turns out, these new rules don’t protect wildlife — and they literally violate the Endangered Species Act,” said Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who signed the coalition comment letter. 

“We are taking action because these proposed new rules represent a power grab,” he added. “These new rules infringe on Indiana’s constitutional authority over our own natural resources and fail to provide additional meaningful protection to endangered wildlife species.”

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Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams was sworn in to lead the agency in March 2022. Williams said the new wildlife protections “reaffirm our commitment to conserving America’s wildlife and ensuring the Endangered Species Act works for both species and people.” (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Rokita added that Indiana’s businesses and economy would be in danger if the regulations are enacted.

On June 21, the FWS announced the rules as part of its celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The comment period for the proposal ended last week.

Under the proposal, the FWS would implement three new rules. The first would restore the so-called “blanket 4(d) rule,” which extends endangered species protections to wildlife listed as “threatened.” The second withdraws the agency’s ability to weigh economic factors when listing a species as endangered.

And the third would streamline multi-agency coordination for ESA implementation decisions.

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FWS Director Martha Williams said the proposed revisions to the decades-old bipartisan law reaffirm the administration’s commitment to “conserving America’s wildlife and ensuring the Endangered Species Act works for both species and people.”

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The Trump administration rescinded the blanket 4(d) rule in 2019, instead shifting to a case-by-case approach for protecting certain species listed as threatened.

This aerial view shows sprinklers watering a lettuce field in Holtville, California, on February 9, 2023. - A blanket of crops covers the floor of the Imperial Valley in southern California, a patchwork of vibrant greens given life by the Colorado River in a landscape bleached by the desert sun. But as a decades-long drought dessicates the US West and the once-mighty river dwindles, questions are being asked about why a handful of farmers are allowed to take as much water as all of Nevada and Arizona combined. (Photo by SANDY HUFFAKER / AFP) (Photo by SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

A blanket of crops is pictured in Imperial Valley in southern California. The nation’s top farm group is opposing the Biden administration’s expansion of wildlife protections. (Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images)

“Tailoring ESA prohibitions to the conditions of each species can more accurately reflect existing voluntary conservation measures or best management practices,” the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the largest U.S. farm group, wrote in comments. 

“The Service’s proposal to return to its previous practice of treating threatened species in a manner differently from [the National Marine Fisheries Service] creates confusion for the regulated community. Additionally, the blanket 4(d) rule seems unnecessary, given that in recent years the Service has almost universally issued species-specific 4(d) rules when a species is listed as threatened.”

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The American Soybean Association added in its own comments that the FWS is proposing to “impose stricter than necessary limitations for U.S. farmers and other stakeholders.” The rule, the group added, would “result in significant reductions to land values and impede the economic use of property for landowners … whose properties overlap with a listed species’ range.”

“Returning to a blanket rule erodes the support of key stakeholders most directly involved in species conservation by regulating broadly and indiscriminately in a manner that limits many land and resource uses and activities without justification,” a coalition of forestry groups led by the National Alliance of Forest Owners wrote.

The letter noted that 70% — or 360 million acres — of working forests in the U.S. are privately owned and are home to a large variety of species. It added that forest owners, as a result, have a “successful track record of managing forests for long-term productivity and providing important benefits for air and water quality, wildlife habitat, and rural economies.”

Carlsbad, New Mexico oil jack pump drilling rig

A pump jack operates in front of a drilling rig near Carlsbad, N.M.  (REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo)

“Tailored prohibitions, and the increased likelihood of more tailored prohibitions, allow states the opportunity to undertake conservation measures with less risk that FWS will impose redundant or contradictory prohibitions,” the American Petroleum Institute and American Exploration and Production Council wrote in joint comments. 

“And, tailored prohibitions also provide other landowners and land use industries the incentive to undertake conservation measures in exchange for FWS’s imposition of a narrower suite of Section 9 prohibitions for threatened species.”

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Safari Club International, a leading group representing hunters, argued the FWS proposal runs “counter to Congress’ intent” and is “arbitrary and capricious.” The group stated that, while the ESA treats threatened species and endangered species alike in many ways, the law doesn’t specify “prohibited acts” for threatened species like it does for endangered species.

In addition, the Texas General Land Office, New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association, Nevada Farm Bureau Federation and environmental group Property and Environment Research Center all submitted comments expressing concerns about the FWS regulations.



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