Lois Grunwald, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, (805) 644-1766
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced it has designated 11,695 acres of critical habitat for the endangered arroyo toad in portions of Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties in California.
Today?s announcement is a result of legal challenges stemming from the Service?s February 7, 2001 designation of critical habitat for the arroyo toad (Bufo californicus) and the associated economic analysis. In response to the lawsuits, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia set aside the designation and granted the Service?s request to re-propose critical habitat and prepare a new economic analysis identifying impacts associated with the proposed critical habitat. The Service released the draft economic analysis on Feb. 14, 2005, along with revisions to the proposed critical habitat for the toad. The public comment period closed on March 16, 2005.
The economic analysis found that the cost of conserving the toad over the next 20 years could exceed $1.475 billion. Over 90 percent of these costs would be born by private landowners, with impacts to water supplies costing nearly $50 million - the largest other single cost impact. These figures included more than $1 billion in costs for the area proposed as critical habitat in February 2005 and more than $460 million in costs for areas identified at that time as eligible for designation but proposed for exclusion for various reasons. The analysis also found that the cost of conserving the toad since its listing in 1994 was approximately $32 million.
In the final critical habitat, the Service has reduced the acreage from 95,655 in February 2004 to 11,695 acres. The final critical habitat designation reflects the exclusion of 13 units totaling 67,584 acres based solely on economic considerations. These units are located in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Portions of two other units in Orange and San Diego counties were excluded from critical habitat based on economic considerations and a combination of other factors. All proposed critical habitat in Monterey, Orange and San Diego counties has been excluded in the final rule.
The final critical habitat rule was published in today?s Federal Register.
In the final designation, the Service has mapped critical habitat areas more precisely, excluded some private lands protected by Habitat Conservation Plans, excluded tribal lands, and excluded all military installations from critical habitat because of national security, the implementation of natural resource management plans, or a combination of these factors.
The Service also eliminated 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.
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.
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, streamside 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.
In 30 years of implementing the ESA, the Service has found that designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection for most listed species, while preventing the agency from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits.
In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat. Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the ESA, including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Service?s Private Stewardship Grants and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for listed species is provided on many of the Service?s National Wildlife Refuges, and state wildlife management areas.
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.