Critical Habitat on the Cheap

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service have begun proposing reforms to the regulations and policies that implement the Endangered Species Act.  These reforms are part of the Department of Interior’s broader initiative to implement President Obama’s Executive Order 13563 of January 2011, which directs the agency to make its regulations more efficient and less burdensome on the public.  The Department currently proposes seven areas for ESA reform, including three that focus on critical habitat designations.

The Services recently issued a proposed rule on the first of these reform ideas – shifting from the use of lengthy text descriptions of critical habitat boundaries to the use of maps.  This proposal is expected to save the Fish & Wildlife Service alone approximately $400,000 per year (depending on how often it designates critical habitat) and to help landowners more easily identify areas of critical habitat – all without diluting the ESA’s ability to conserve wildlife.  It’s also likely to result in more precise boundary delineations for the simple reason that publishing long lists of latitude-longitude locations in the Federal Register is cumbersome.

This week, Defenders submitted a comment letter fully supporting the proposal and encouraging the Services to identify other similar reforms that are cost-effective and simple to implement.  One example we highlighted is abandoning the current policy of conducting a quantitative cost-benefit analysis when “taking into consideration the economic impact” of critical habitat designation, and instead evaluating the costs and benefits of designation qualitatively.  This proposal would not require amending the ESA or its implementing regulations, and could save the Service up to $100,000 in each critical habitat designation.

Trout critical habitat. Courtesy of USFWS.

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- who has written 19 posts on dotWild.

Ya-Wei Li is the Senior Director of Endangered Species Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.

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