The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released an analysis that estimates costs related to the conservation of the arroyo toad and its proposed critical habitat at $1 billion between 2004 and 2025. Some of these costs are already occurring costs borne by the real estate industry on property slated for residential development. In releasing the analysis, the Service also reopened the public comment period on revised proposed critical habitat for the toad. The Service will accept public comments until March 16, 2005.
The arroyo toad (Bufo californicus) is protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as an endangered species. In April 2004, in accordance with a court settlement, the Service released a new proposal to designate 138,713 acres of critical habitat for the species.
Since 2004, the Service has revised its methods for determining critical habitat for the arroyo toad; has mapped critical habitat areas more precisely; excluded some private lands protected byconservation agreements, and excluded all critical habitat on Fort Hunter Liggett in Monterey County, thereby reducing the proposed critical habitat acreage to 95,655 acres.
The excluded private lands covered by conservation agreements are in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Fort Hunter Liggett was excluded on the basis of the national security provisions of the Endangered Species Act and a current management plan for arroyo toad.
When specifying an area as critical habitat, the ESA requires the Service to consider economic and other relevant impacts of the designation. If the benefits of excluding an area outweigh the benefits of including it, the Secretary may exclude an area from critical habitat, unless this would result in the extinction of a threatened or endangered species.
One of the revisions to the proposed critical habitat included proposing upland habitat only in areas along riparian corridors, where most arroyo toad are found, and removing habitat at a greater distance from riparian areas.
The Service also mapped critical habitat more precisely, eliminating largely inaccessible areas of marginal quality that the Service does not expect to be used by arroyo toads. These areas include uplands barred from use by the toad by busy roads and railroads. Marginal habitat beyond these barriers was removed from critical habitat because the Service does not consider it essential to the resident arroyo toad population, and therefore, not essential to the conservation of the species as a whole.
The proposed critical habitat includes lands in portions of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego counties. About 54 percent of the proposed critical habitat is privately-owned; 39 percent is federally-owned; 6 percent is under state ownership, and 2 percent is owned by tribal governments.
The $1 billion estimate includes impacts of arroyo toad conservation activities on lands proposed for designation. The real estate industry is expected to incur about $937 million in costs. Some of the estimated costs already are occurring due to the listing of the arroyo toad and protective measures in place as a result of the listing. These costs include lands set aside for toad conservation to compensate for loss of toad habitat, and measures needed to protect the toad while construction is ongoing. Other projected costs are associated with military activities, changes in water supply, grazing and mining activities, and construction projects.
Comments on the proposed critical habitat and/or the draft economic analysis may be submitted to: email@example.com, or to the Field Supervisor, Attn: Arroyo Toad; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003; or faxed to 805/644-3958. Copies of the analysis may be obtained by downloading it from: http://ventura.fws.gov or by calling (805) 644-1766. Comments previously submitted need not be resubmitted as they will be incorporated into the public record as part of this comment period and will be fully considered in preparation of the final rule.
The arroyo toad is a small, buff-colored toad that measures between two and three inches in length and has dark-spotted, warty skin. Its call is a soft, high, whistled trill that is commonly mistaken for the call of an insect. Arroyo toads prefer shallow pools and open, sandy stream terraces. They use adjacent upland habitat for feeding and shelter.
Threats to the species include loss of habitat due to urbanization and agriculture, the manipulation of water levels in many central and southern California streams and rivers, predation from introduced aquatic species, and habitat degradation from introduced plant species.
Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act that identifies specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations. However, a designation does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other special conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands and does not close areas to all access or use.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 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 and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies