The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) have taken a significant step in their effort to make the process of proposing or changing boundaries of critical habitat designations for species protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), more efficient, less complex and less expensive. By eliminating lengthy textual descriptions and replacing them with maps illustrating critical habitat boundaries, the two agencies will effectively provide landowners and the general public with information that is clearer, while simultaneously reducing costs for the American taxpayer.
Previously, when the agencies designated or revised critical habitat for ESA-protected species, they were required to describe, in text, the boundaries of the designation for the Federal Register, in addition to using visual methods such as maps. These textual descriptions often cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to publish and can be difficult to interpret and understand. The FWS and NOAA Fisheries have finalized a joint rule to make the regulation under the ESA that requires the textual description of critical habitat boundaries optional.
The final joint rule, which will publish in the Federal Register on May 1, 2012 will not affect how the two agencies designate critical habitat under the ESA, or alter the criteria or methods used to evaluate areas for inclusion as critical habitat. The boundaries of critical habitat as mapped or otherwise described in the official rulemaking published in the Federal Register will remain the official delineation of the designation. For further information or for a copy of the final rule, visit http://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/CH_Text.html.
Critical habitat is a term in the ESA identifying areas that contain habitat features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations. A designation does not set up a preserve or refuge, and has no specific regulatory impact on landowner actions on private land that do not involve Federal agency funds, authorization, or permits. Critical habitat is designated as part of a public process that takes into consideration the economic impact the designation could cause, as well as any other relevant impacts.
The agencies have increasingly provided the public with more detailed and user-friendly information about critical habitat designations and other Endangered Species Act matters through their websites, the federal regulations Internet portal at http://www.regulations.gov, and through local field offices.
America’s fish, wildlife and plant resources belong to all of us, and ensuring the health of imperiled species is a shared responsibility. To learn more about the FWS Endangered Species program, go to http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.