Al Donner 916-414-6566, 916-712-2004 (cell)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today projected that the designation of 19,746 acres of critical habitat in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties for the threatened Bay checkerspot butterfly will directly cost a total of $750,000 or less over the next 22 years.
The Bay checkerspot is a colorful butterfly that occurs only on small patches of poor soil where its limited food supply grows.
Today?s release of the draft economic analysis opens a new 30-day public comment period on the entire proposal. The Service is under a court deadline to make its critical habitat decision by Aug. 14, 2008. Ninety percent of the proposal critical habitat is in Santa Clara County, with over half in one large unit just east of the Coyote Valley.
The very low cost projected for critical habitat is largely due to conservation efforts already under way or planned for up to 30 species. Those efforts are not related to the formal critical habitat designation under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service believes that cooperative conservation efforts involving many interests is the key to recovering the species.
The draft economic analysis projects that overall conservation costs in the area could run around $390 million though 2030, but underscores that those costs are not related to the critical habitat designation.
The costs directly associated with the designation of critical habitat will range from zero to no more than $750,000 over the next 22 years, according to the report prepared for the Service by a private consulting firm, Berkeley Economic Consulting.
In San Mateo County re-introduction of the Bay checkerspot to Edgewood Park last year by a diverse group of local residents indicates how the species is likely to recover, according to the Service. Edgewood Park is one of the proposed critical habitat units.
Currently in Santa Clara County many diverse interests--including eight local and state government agencies, landowners, developers and environmental groups--are developing a comprehensive Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan (HCP/NCCP) for 520,000 acres. The cooperative planning effort seeks to reach consensus on protecting important habitat for 30 listed and unlisted species, rather than just a single species such as the Bay checkerspot. The Service believes that a voluntary HCP/NCCP will prove more efficient in protecting the habitat.
The butterfly is recognizable by distinctive markings on its 2-inch wingspan. All its wing veins have black bands that encompass bright orange, red and white spots. It lives in areas with serpentine soils, a harsh environment lacking many plant nutrients. This naturally limits the butterfly?s range to 12,000 acres that support the butterfly?s only larval foods--dwarf plantain and purple owl?s clover.
Historically the Bay checkerspot occurred primarily along the spine of the San Francisco peninsula, from Twin Peaks to southern Santa Clara County, plus a few pockets in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. However, habitat loss and fragmentation, extreme weather, air pollution, pesticides, vehicle strikes, fire, overgrazing, gopher control, illegal collecting, and invasion of exotic species have greatly reduced the butterfly?s numbers.
Designation of critical habitat is a legal requirement in the ESA. But critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge or other conservation area. The law requires federal agencies involved in activities that may affect critical habitat to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely affect designated critical habitat. A critical habitat designation does not affect private party or state actions.
Because the Service is required to designate critical habitat, it often becomes a legal battleground. Environmental interests often sue to force its designation. Development interests sometimes sue, seeking to overturn critical habitat designation because of alleged costs.
In the case of the Bay checkerspot, the Service designated critical habitat on April 30, 2001. On March 30, 2005 the Homebuilders Association of Northern California filed suit, contending that the Service had failed to analyze the economic impacts. In a settlement on Feb. 24, 2006, the Service reached agreement to revise the critical habitat by Aug. 14, 2008.
In some Bay Area critical habitat designations, the costs have been projected to be high because of the apparent threat to future housing and commercial development. But little of the proposed Bay checkerspot critical habitat is expected to be available for development, so that factor was minimal in the economic analysis.
Comments on the proposed critical habitat and Draft Economic Analysis may be submitted until May 15, 2008. Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods:
? Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
? U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2008-0034, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
All comments will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov. The proposed critical habitat, Draft Economic Analysis and other information about the species is available at http://www.fws.gov/sacramento/.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.