NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Responding to Lawsuits, Agencies Withdraw Endangered Species Habitats

March 20, 2002

Confronted by lawsuits it believes it has little hope of winning, federal agencies are withdrawing critical habitat plans that protect nearly two dozen populations of endangered species -- most of them in western states.

  • For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service -- two agencies charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act -- are asking federal courts in California to remove millions of acres from the protected category.
  • Last May, in a suit brought by cattlemen and farmers in New Mexico, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit invalidated nearly 60 miles of protected streams and riverbeds for the willow flycatcher.
  • That's because the government did not fully consider how businesses and landowners would be affected -- as is required by law.
  • An equally limited economic analysis took place for most of the 150 habitats that have been set aside for endangered species.

The suits are largely being brought by developers, who argue that hampering construction on millions of acres of prime real estate -- especially for an animal that may not even live in the area -- violates requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

As they sketched out the boundaries for dozens of protected areas over the last five years, federal officials typically concluded that there were no significant economic consequences from doing so -- prompting the wave of federal lawsuits by developers.

Developers cite the case of 400,000 acres of land set aside in California's Alameda County to protect the whip snake. The protected habitat covers the entire city of Dublin -- a town of 32,000 people.

Source: Greg Winter, "U.S. Acts to Shrink Endangered Species Habitats," New York Times, March 20, 2002.


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