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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

June 14, 1999
Hugh Vickery 202-208-5634
Sharon Rose 303-236-7917x415

FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE SEEKS PUBLIC COMMENT ON
ROLE OF HABITAT IN ENDANGERED SPECIES CONSERVATION

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is soliciting comments from the public on the role of habitat in the conservation of threatened and endangered species. In particular, the Service is asking for comment on the process of designating critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

"The Service believes that protection of habitat is paramount to successful conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered species," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "But in 25 years of implementing the Endangered Species Act, we have found that the designation of critical habitat under the Act has provided little additional protection to most listed species while consuming significant amounts of funding, staff time, and other resources. We believe we need to improve the process by which critical habitat is designated."

"Critical habitat" is a term in the Endangered Species Act referring to the specific areas that contain physical or biological features essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species. A listed species does not necessarily have to be present in an area for that area to be designated as critical habitat.

The Act requires the Service to designate critical habitat for listed species except when not prudent or determinable; however, regardless of whether critical habitat is designated, the law fully protects threatened and endangered species wherever they occur.

A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve, a park, or a special conservation zone for listed species. The only impact is that once an area is designated as critical habitat, Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on actions they carry out, fund, or authorize that may adversely modify that critical habitat.

A critical habitat designation has no regulatory impact where a Federal agency is not involved--for example, a landowner undertaking a project on private land that involves no Federal funding, permit, or authorization would not be involved in any consultation and thus would not be affected by a critical habitat designation.

Even when there is no critical habitat designation, Federal agencies must consult with the Service whenever they carry out, fund, or authorize any activity that potentially jeopardizes a listed species. For most species the two consultation standards, with or without critical habitat, are virtually identical.

The Service is exploring methods to fully comply with the Act's requirements concerning critical habitat while expending its limited resources in a manner that will provide the greatest conservation benefit to as many species as possible. To date, the Service has designated critical habitat for 113 of the 1,168 species listed as threatened or endangered.

"We have a duty under the Endangered Species Act to designate critical habitat when it is determined to be prudent for a species' conservation," Clark said. "Our goal is to comply with the Act in the most efficient manner possible. To do this, we will need to improve upon our current methods for designating critical habitat. The public's input will be a vital part of our efforts to improve our methodology."

After a Congressional moratorium on listing new species ended in 1996, the Service faced a huge backlog of proposed species listings. At that point, the Service assigned a relatively low priority to designating critical habitat because it believed that a more effective use of limited resources was to place imperiled species on the threatened and endangered species list.

Recent court decisions, however, have required the Service to designate critical habitat for an increasing number of listed species. With limited resources for endangered species conservation, the Service is concerned about the effect on other listing and recovery activities. Therefore, the Service is examining methods that could streamline and simplify the critical habitat determination and designation process.

"Under the current method of designating critical habitat, the Service cannot possibly designate critical habitat for many listed species while still having enough resources to carry out other endangered species listing activities," Clark said. "Therefore, we are re-examining the process whereby critical habitat is designated to make it a more streamlined and efficient tool to help conserve listed species."

The Service published the Notice of Intent in today's Federal Register and encourages all interested parties to comment on the role of habitat in endangered species conservation within the 60-

day comment period, which ends August 13, 1999. Comments should be sent to Chief, Division of Endangered Species, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1849 C Street NW., Mailstop ARLSQ-420, Washington, DC 20240.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special

management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices, and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

CRITICAL HABITAT

WHAT IS CRITICAL HABITAT?

Critical habitat is a term used in the Endangered Species Act. It refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations. These areas do not necessarily have to be occupied by the species at the time of designation.

DO LISTED SPECIES IN CRITICAL HABITAT AREAS RECEIVE MORE PROTECTION?

An area designated as critical habitat is not a refuge or special conservation area. Listed species and their habitats are protected by the Endangered Species Act whether or not they are in an area designated as critical habitat.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF DESIGNATING CRITICAL HABITAT?

Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on actions they carry out, fund, or authorize that might destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.

A critical habitat designation has no effect on situations in which a Federal agency is not involved--for example, a landowner undertaking a project on private land that involves no Federal funding or permit.

DO FEDERAL AGENCIES HAVE TO CONSULT WITH THE SERVICE OUTSIDE CRITICAL HABITAT AREAS?

Yes. Even when there is no critical habitat designation, Federal agencies must consult with the Service to ensure any action they carry out, fund, or authorize is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species.

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF A CRITICAL HABITAT DESIGNATION ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT?

The vast majority of human activities that require a consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proceed with little or no modification.

HOW DOES THE SERVICE DETERMINE WHAT AREAS TO DESIGNATE?

Biologists consider physical or biological habitat features needed for life and successful reproduction of the species. These include, but are not limited to:

o space for individual and population growth and for normal behavior;

o food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements;

o cover or shelter;

o sites for breeding and rearing offspring;

o habitats that are protected from disturbance or are representative of the historic geographical and ecological distributions of a species.

DOES THE ACT REQUIRE AN ECONOMIC ANALYSIS AS PART OF DESIGNATING CRITICAL HABITAT?

Yes. The Service must take into account the economic impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. The Service may exclude any area from critical habitat if it determines that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying the area as part of critical habitat unless it determines, based on the best scientific and commercial data available, that the failure to designate the area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species.

DOES THIS ECONOMIC ANALYSIS HAVE ANY EFFECT ON THE DECISION TO LIST A SPECIES?

No. Under the Act, a decision to list a species is made solely on the basis of scientific data and analysis.

FOR HOW MANY SPECIES HAS THE SERVICE DESIGNATED CRITICAL HABITAT?

To date, the Service has designated critical habitat for 113 of the 1,168 species listed as threatened or endangered.

WHY HASN'T THE SERVICE DESIGNATED CRITICAL HABITAT FOR MORE SPECIES?

The Service has assigned a relatively low priority to designating critical habitat because it has believed that a more effective use of limited resources has been to place imperiled species on the threatened and endangered species list.

Hugh Vickery 202-208-5634                                                                                                               June 14, 1999


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