Mira Monte Landing – once a marina, now being restored as wetlands for a conservation easement for a light rail – an action that would be moot under the revised definition of “habitat.”
I’ve just submitted our comments on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to change the definition of the word “habitat” in the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
They presented some contorted logic on why the definition needed changing on an Act that has been wildly successful for 50 years, and they gave no clear evidence why the change would make the ESA better. I had to read through it a number of times just to get a grasp on where they were headed.
As I mention in our comments, without knowing what specific situations or conditions are driving this proposed change, given this administration’s disdain for wildlife conservation and environmental protections, I can only assume that the purpose of the proposed changes is to create favorable conditions for industry to occupy natural habitats.
The gist of what they are proposing puts temporal, geographical, and circumstantial constraints on the meaning of the word.
The proposed definition, and an alternative don’t seem all that radical:
“The physical places that individuals of a species depend upon to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species.”
The quirky phrase “depend upon” subtly locks the physical place to where the species actually exist, and the phrase “existing attributes” precludes restored habitat being provided as an alternative to a compromised habitat – like conservation easements or a migratory route under a freeway, for example.
The alternative does a similar thing:
“The physical places that individuals of a species use to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas where individuals of the species do not presently exist but have the capacity to support such individuals, only where the necessary attributes to support the species presently exist.” (Italics mine.)
So contrary to what the ESA directs, compromised habitat cannot be considered “habitat” if it does not currently have attributes that support the species.
My suspicions are that there is some habitat that may have required restoration clauses in its use for extraction that these subtle word-plays would erase. I’d bet dimes to doughnuts that the fossil fuel industry is somehow involved, and the sage grouse may have a starring role.
As mentioned, the Endangered Species Act is wildly successful. 99% of listed species have not become extinct. This success has hinged on a simple remit: “The ultimate goal of the Endangered Species Act is the conservation of the ecosystem on which all species, whether endangered or not, depend for survival.” Complicating this goal with convoluted definitions of a fundamental term strays from this remit.