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Critical Habitat Textual Description

On May 1, 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service (Services) issued a final rule revising the implementing regulations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that relate to publishing critical habitat textual descriptions for endangered and threatened species. This means that any final critical habitat rule the Services publish in the Federal Register after May 31, 2012, does not have to include the coordinates for the critical habitat boundaries. We still have the option to include them if we feel that they are necessary, but they are no longer required. Alternatively, we will provide the coordinates at our web sites and at the office responsible for the critical habitat.


The Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis) was the first amphibian granted Endangered Species Act protection. Critical habitat was designated in Bastrop and Burleson counties in Texas in 1978. Still, these areas support the largest known Houston toad populations.
 

Textual descriptions are written descriptions in the rules that describe the boundaries of the critical habitat. The Services typically use the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinate system and latitude–longitude to describe critical habitat boundaries. Some of these textual descriptions can be multiple pages in length, depending on the size of the designation, and difficult for the public to understand. An example of this type of textual description would be:

Land bounded by the following UTM Zone 18, NAD 83 coordinates (E,N): 733143, 99288; 733053, 99268; 733055, 99291; 733065, 99309; 733055, 99320; 733048, 99344; 733053, 99364; 733090, 99377; 733140, 99370; 733143, 99288.

By eliminating lengthy textual descriptions and using maps to illustrate critical habitat boundaries of species protected by the ESA, the Services will make the process of proposing or changing the boundaries more efficient, less complex for landowners and the general public, and less expensive for the taxpayer. Eliminating the requirement to publish detailed textual descriptions in the Federal Register and annually in the CFR will also result in significant financial savings, thereby saving federal resources.

The Services will provide the public with easier to use and more accessible tools that represent the Service's interpretation of which areas are being designated. These tools will be available online and at the applicable Service or NMFS office.

These proposed changes will not affect how the Services designate critical habitat under the ESA, or alter the criteria or methods used to evaluate areas for inclusion as critical habitat. The boundaries of critical habitat as mapped or otherwise described in the official rulemaking published in the Federal Register will remain the official delineation of the designation.

These proposed changes will not affect how the Services designate critical habitat under the ESA, or alter the criteria or methods used to evaluate areas for inclusion as critical habitat. Below are the highlights of the final rule:

    • The boundaries of critical habitat as mapped or otherwise described in the Regulation Promulgation section of a rulemaking that is published in the Federal Register will be the official delineation of the designation.

    • Textual information may be included for purposes of clarifying or refining the location and boundaries of each area or to explain the exclusion of sites (e.g., paved roads, buildings) within the mapped area.

    • The coordinates and/or plot points from which the maps are generated will be included in the administrative record for the designation, and will be available to the public on the Internet site of the Service promulgating the designation, at www.regulations.gov, and at the lead field office of the Service responsible for the designation.

    • We will also continue our practice of providing the public with additional tools and supporting information, such as interactive maps and additional descriptions, on the Internet site of the Service promulgating the designation and at the lead field office responsible for the designation (and we may also include such information in the preamble and/or at www.regulations.gov) to assist the public in evaluating the coverage of the critical habitat designation.

    • In the future, we intend to remove the textual descriptions of final critical habitat boundaries set forth in the CFR for existing critical habitat designations in separate rulemakings in order to save the annual reprinting cost, without changing those boundaries.

Read the Final Rule for Requirements to Publish Textual Descriptions of Boundaries of Critical Habitat.

Last updated: May 9, 2014