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Montana Creek in Alaska. (Photo Credit: National Fish Habitat Partnership)

Federal agencies intend to boost Endangered Species Act

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Monday, May 12, 2014, 22:20 (GMT + 9)

Two rules and a policy have been proposed by federal agencies to improve the implementation of the Endangered Species Act.

This proposal was made by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service to improve the process of designating areas of critical habitat and to increase the predictability and transparency of the actions performed by these agencies related to critical habitat under the Surveillance Authority (ESA), informed NOAA in its website.

“Our goal in proposing these revisions is to make the process of designating and consulting on critical habitat more predictable, more efficient, and more easily understood,” said Gary Frazer, US Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director for Ecological Services. 

And he added: “We think these common-sense changes, reflecting lessons learned over the years, will improve conservation of species that need help and reduce the potential for conflicts and litigation.”

The first proposed rule revises the definition of "adverse modification or destruction" of designated critical habitat. As the current regulatory definition has been invalidated by the courts, both federal agencies are now proposing to replace the invalidated definition with one that is consistent with the ESA, its legislative history and circuit court opinions.

The proposed revised definition of “adverse modification” focuses the review of federal actions on how they would affect the designated critical habitat's ability to support recovery of the listed species. In this review, the quantity and quality of habitat features, the ability of that habitat to support the species throughout its life cycle, and the ability of the habitat to meet the species’ recovery needs are considered.

The second proposed rule clarifies the procedures and standards used for designating critical habitat, making minor changes to the regulations to: better describe the scope and purpose of critical habitat, add and remove some definitions, and clarify the criteria for designating critical habitat.

The third proposal is a policy to provide greater predictability, transparency and consistency regarding how the two federal agencies consider exclusions from critical habitat designations. Under the Act, the agencies evaluate the economic, national security and other impacts of a designation and may exclude particular areas if the benefits of doing so are greater than the benefits of designation.

“These refined procedures and standards for designating critical habitat, and this new definition of ‘adverse modification’ will lead to greater clarity as we designate critical habitat and conduct section 7 consultations,” said Donna Wieting, National Marine Fisheries Service’s Director of Protected Resources.

These regulatory improvements are consistent with Executive Order 13563, issued by President Obama in 2011, which tasked federal agencies with making their regulations as clear as possible and reducing their burden on the American public. They were also included in the Department of Interior’s Final Plan for Retrospective Regulatory Review.




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