habitat proposal is move in right direction
December 8, 2004 By Emma Suarez,
California Farm Bureau Federation,
Growers hopeful about proposal for fish habitat
December 8, 2004 by Christine Souza CFBF
The federal government provided welcome relief
for landowners when it unveiled "critical habitat"
boundaries for salmon and steelhead populations in
four Western states, including California. The
newly identified critical habitats, required under
the federal Endangered Species Act, are much
smaller than the areas originally designated.
This adjustment is appreciated because
increased government surveillance usually results
from these designations. The designations also
prompt attention from "eco-litigants,"
environmental groups that exist to file costly
lawsuits against government agencies and
But consider: Why do we need critical habitat
for a species that is under no real threat or
danger of extinction, a species that is given
special status only because the government
continues to improperly manipulate the ESA to
justify the listing?
A little background is in order. Between 1989
and 2000, the federal government listed 26 species
of Pacific salmon and steelhead, including some
species in California. Once the government decided
to list these populations, it was required under
the ESA to identify, for possible future
regulatory oversight, the geographic area
containing the "critical habitat" needed by the
species. A federal court, however, forced the
government to redraw the original boundaries
because the first line drawing was done illegally.
The decision-makers had improperly discounted the
economic and social impacts on local communities
flowing from the designation.
It is important to note the government
justified these salmon and steelhead listings, in
part, by disregarding the hatchery-raised fish
that swam side-by-side with the naturally spawned
members of the same species. Another court, in
another case, told the government that it could
not discriminate against hatchery-spawned fish to
justify the ESA listing of another member of the
same species of wild fish. The court ordered the
government to re-do how it analyzes
hatchery-raised fish when deciding whether to list
or de-list a species.
Unfortunately, as Farm Bureau pointed out in
our comments on the proposed hatchery policy, all
indications are that the government plans to
continue treating the hatchery fish differently at
the listing stage, illegally turning members of
the same species against each other in order to
justify listing the species as a whole.
Designation of critical habitat is one of many
actions triggered by the listing of wildlife,
plants or fish under the federal ESA. And because
most of the critical habitat identified is usually
on private lands, designation is one of the most
disconcerting and discomfiting aspects of the ESA
Critical habitat designation, however, does not
occur unless and until the government has decided
to list a species as threatened or endangered. In
the case of the salmon and steelhead populations,
the government should stop fooling around
identifying unneeded habitat, and instead embark
on the serious business of implementing a legally
sound hatchery policy and, as appropriate,
de-listing these fish populations.
Now that would be welcome news.
(Emma Suarez is an attorney with the
California Farm Bureau Federation's Natural
Resources and Environmental Division. She may be
Growers hopeful about proposal
for fish habitat
Issue Date: December 8, 2004
By Christine Souza
Mendocino County Farm Bureau President Peter
Bradford is just one of many throughout the state
who has been dealing with fisheries issues related
to the Endangered Species Act. He said that he is
cautiously optimistic about recent news brought by
a federal fisheries agency that has scaled down
critical habitat boundaries for several species of
salmon and steelhead.
"We are quite pleased with the reduction in
area. That is going to be tremendous for a lot of
the landowners here," Bradford said. "The
regulatory hammer is always poised to come down.
NOAA Fisheries still hasn't adequately proven the
science to show that any conditions created by
landowners are the cause of the species decline.
But any reduction at all in impact areas is very
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration filed proposed rules in the Federal
Register last week to designate critical habitat
areas for species of threatened and endangered
salmon and steelhead in California, Oregon,
Washington and Idaho. A revised version of
previous designations, the plan could exclude more
than 80 percent of the critical habitat that the
agency previously said was necessary to save and
strengthen fish populations.
"The recent action by the NOAA Fisheries is
good news. The government was forced to develop a
more careful boundary of the critical habitat and
do a better economic impact study than it had
originally," said Emma Suarez, associate counsel
for the California Farm Bureau Federation Natural
Resources and Environmental Division.
The proposal comes as a result of a lawsuit
brought by the National Association of
Homebuilders in 2000, where the court required
that the fisheries agency meet a deadline for
revising its proposal for fish. The homebuilders
alleged NOAA Fisheries had failed to consider the
economic impacts of critical habitat on West Coast
economies as required under the ESA.
As part of the settlement with homebuilders,
NOAA Fisheries agreed to redo its critical habitat
designation for salmon and steelhead. A later
lawsuit brought by environmental and fishing
groups led to the court-imposed deadline.
The federal government is required to designate
critical habitat for any species that is listed
under the ESA. Critical habitat areas contain any
physical or biological features essential to the
conservation of the species.
The proposal includes a separate rule for seven
fish species in California and a separate rule for
13 species in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Proposed critical habitat designations for
California species include: Central Valley
spring-run chinook salmon; California coastal
chinook salmon; Southern California steelhead;
South-Central California coast steelhead; Central
California Coast steelhead; Central Valley
California steelhead and Northern California
A most important feature of the plan is an
assessment of the economic impacts associated with
"This proposal seeks to protect critical salmon
habitats and meet the economic needs of the
citizens of the Pacific Northwest and California,"
said Bill Hogarth, NOAA Fisheries administrator.
"Congress wanted the federal government to
consider the negative economic impacts associated
with critical habitat designations, and directed
so in the ESA," Suarez said. "The federal
government has to look at those economic impacts
and weigh them in its consideration. If the
impacts are substantial, the ESA gives the federal
agencies discretion to limit the size of that line
Since 2000, NOAA Fisheries has collected data
that three of four of the Northern and Central
California runs and 13 of 16 listed runs of salmon
in the Pacific Northwest have experienced
significantly improved numbers. According to the
data, nearly all salmon populations have increased
greatly and current levels are now well above
The agency is seeking comments on the critical
habitat plan for salmon and steelhead during a
60-day public comment period. Suarez encourages
those with property adjacent to rivers and streams
to download the proposed rule from the NOAA
Fisheries Web site and look at the critical
habitat designation map.
"Areas recognized as critical habitat will be
included in the critical designation map. If by
any chance that area covers property where our
members farm, I suggest they submit comments and
especially comment on any possible economic
impacts that they might foresee because of their
property being designated," Suarez said.
Comments and feedback on the proposal may be
presented in January at public hearings scheduled
in various locations in each of the affected
states. Following the public comment period and
hearings, the final rules are to be completed by
NOAA Fisheries by June 2005.
(Christine Souza is a reporter for Ag
Alert. She may be contacted at
Permission for use is granted, however,
credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau
Federation when reprinting this item.