NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Problems Mapping Critical Habitats For Endangered Species

April 17, 2001

Bruce Babbitt, former Interior Secretary in the Clinton Administration, says the Bush administration has identified a real problem in implementing the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Bush administration wants budgetary restrictions on a process called "designation of critical habitat," which maps areas occupied by endangered species.

  • When a species is listed as endangered, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) must produce detailed maps of critical habitat areas requiring special protection.
  • Since mapping and the scientific surveys are time-consuming and expensive, biologists generally want to prepare habitat maps later, as part of the comprehensive plan for species protection and recovery.
  • But due to the ambiguity of the ESA, environmentalists have successfully sued to require the FWS to produce maps immediately upon listing of a species as endangered, whether or not the surveys have been completed.

This has required the FWS to divert resources to mapping, rather than evaluating candidates for listing and providing other protections for species on the brink of extinction.

According to Babbitt, the lack of studies has led to "broad brush" habitat maps that include areas that aren't critical. For instance, although the streams and wetlands in which the endangered red-legged frog has been found are scattered throughout southern California, the FWS proposed four million acres as critical habitat, enraging landowners and developers who feared the regulatory consequences of habitat designation.

Babbitt suggests amending the ESA to clearly give biologists discretion to wait for the completion of scientific surveys before preparing maps.

Source: Bruce Babbitt, "Bush Isn't All Wrong About the Endangered Species Act," New York Times, April 15, 2001.  


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