Lankford Votes to Return to a Reasonable Definition of “Habitat,” Nullify Weaponization of the ESA

WASHINGTON, DC  – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today voted on a resolution to nullify a new regulatory definition of habitat within the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to provide clarity and transparency to landowners and businesses, which Lankford introduced with Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and their colleagues in March.

“The completely unreasonable critical habitat rule gives the Biden Administration the power to interpret any land area across the country—whether it’s the one a listed species currently occupies or not—as a ‘critical habitat’ for that species, which land owners in my state know means the feds are going to be breathing down their necks,” said Lankford. “I stand firmly against this rule that moves us away from rational species conservation toward more environmental extremism.”

Lankford also voted today to nullify a rule that would list the northern long-eared bat as endangered after previously voting to overturn the listing of the lesser prairie-chicken, which are two more instances of the weaponization of the ESA.

“I remain adamantly opposed to endangered listings for animals like the lesser prairie-chicken and now the northern long-eared bat because it has a clear purpose of increasing federal control over land, energy and people, more than protecting endangered species,” said Lankford. “The Department of the Interior is hastily adding new species to the ESA to control people and industries the Biden Administration disagrees with.” 

Both resolutions passed the Senate in a vote of 51-49.

Background on Critical Habitat designation rule

A critical habitat designation has major impacts on landowners, as it reduces the value of any private property within a designation because prospective landowners recognize the burdens that accompany a designation. It also greatly impacts any land with a federal nexus through permits or funding, as a critical habitat triggers significant scrutiny, resulting in burdensome limitations on land use and costly mitigation requirements. 

In December 2020, citing Weyerhaeuser Co. v. US FWS, the Trump Administration finalized a rule that defined the term “habitat” as “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.”

On June 24, 2022, the Biden Administration finalized a rule that rescinded the 2020 rule, eliminating the habitat distinction, leaving regulated parties in the dark and undermining the ESA’s purpose of recovering endangered or threatened species.