1.6 Million Acres Designated as Critcal Habitat for California Red-Legged Frog
Third disignation in nine years based on most revelant scientific research
March 16, 2010
Al Donner (916) 414-6566
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today designated 1,636,609 acres as critical habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii), based on the most recent relevant research.
This is the third time in less than a decade that the Service has designated critical habitat for the species, due to court challenges and questions about scientific validity. The 2010 designation is more than three times larger than the 2006 rule it replaces, yet covers only 40 per cent as much land as the Service designated in 2001. The 2001 rule was overturned by a court decision, and the Service itself decided to revise the 2006 rule due to concerns about its scientific validity.
The 2010 rule uses the most recent relevant scientific research. The designation seeks to protect abundant, healthy frog populations and to provide connectivity between populations. It generally avoids areas that are not favorable for the species, which typically is land on the fringe of developed areas, fragmented habitat and intensively farmed areas. The new rule identifies upland habitat on a case-by-case approach, looking at each specific area in question, but generally protecting watershed habitat up to a mile from water. The 2006 rule had limited upland habitat protection to 200 feet from water.
The new rule designates 50 units in 27 California counties, including six counties that previously did not have designated critical habitat: Mendocino, Sonoma, Placer, Calaveras, Stanislaus and Kings.
Significant for ranchers, the 2010 rule retains a unique approach pioneered in 2006, a so-called “4(d) rule,” which gives normal ranching operations protection from violation of the Endangered Species Act if they incidentally harm protected frogs. The 4(d) rule (308 KB PDF) reflects the benefit many ranchers provide for the frogs, which in many areas have taken up residence in ranch stock ponds as native habitat is lost.
In 2001 the Service designated 4,140,440 acres as critical habitat. A lawsuit by development interests resulted in a court order to redo the process. In 2006 the Service designated 450,288 acres as critical habitat. But after allegations of inappropriate involvement by a senior official, in July 2007 then-Service Director Dale Hall directed biologists to conduct a new, impartial analysis. A lawsuit was filed nearly six months later to compel the action already underway.
The process begun in 2007 resulted in the Service’s 2008 proposal to designate 1,804,865 acres of critical habitat, which is the basis for the 2010 rule. Small adjustments were made in a number of proposed units because of improved information and public comments.
Also eliminated by the 2010 rule are 129,300 acres that are protected by a variety of landowner and local conservation partnerships, and another 30,525 acres on two military bases due to national security needs. The conservation partnership lands eliminated from the 2010 rule are in the following counties: Riverside, San Luis Obispo, Contra Costa, Santa Cruz and El Dorado. The military bases lands eliminated are on Vandenberg AFB and Camp San Luis Obispo.
With the final rule, the Service also released the final economic analysis of the estimated impact of critical habitat designation. The analysis was prepared by an independent contractor, Industrial Economics, Inc. (IEI) of Cambridge, MA. IEI projects direct incremental cost of the critical habitat to be between $159 million and $500 million through 2030.
About 90 per cent of the projected cost is impacts on development, although development is likely to occur on less than 1 per cent (5,746 acres) of the privately-owned land (1.2 million acres) in the new rule, according to the IEI analysis.
Costs are determined largely as the price of development capital being tied up during consultation. The IEI report notes that the added costs are generally the same costs incurred for required consultation on impacts to the species itself, separate from critical habitat impacts. The study projects the consultation time to run from nine months to two years.
Another $48.4 million of the cost is projected crop loss. That will occur, according to the IEI study, from the settlement of a suit by the Center for Biological Diversity against the US EPA over the impacts of 66 agricultural chemicals on the frog that may change the way pesticides are applied in certain areas.
The economic analysis finds there will be virtually no cost to ranchers from designating critical habitat, the result of the 4(d) rule (308 KB PDF) for compatible ranching operations.
The 2008 proposal was developed by Service biologists “without using the previous final designation as a base from which to make changes due to the involvement of Department of Interior personnel which may have inappropriately influenced the extent and locations of critical habitat.” Three public comment periods for the proposal provided nearly 120 days for additional input which contributed to the final rule. The service also engaged four experts in the field to peer review the new rule before its completion.