(Not so) Critical Habitat

On August 5, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed two definitions of the word “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Both of their proposed definitions limited the agency’s ability to designate and regulate habitats for the purpose of restoration or habitat expansion.
Then on September 4, 2020, the FWS issued proposed revisions of the ESA expanding the FWS Secretary’s ability to exclude “Critical Habitat” under quite a number of paragraphs. The designation of “Critical Habitat” is used in promoting the conservation of an endangered species, so expanding on the FWS Secretary’s ability to exclude Critical Habitat puts the burden of survival on the endangered species.(Our comments here.)
So between these two proposed revisions, the Agency has deliberately limited their effectiveness, and increased their discretion to not perform the remit of the ESA. Good going, guys…
The Endangered Species Act (until the current administration entered Stage Left to eviscerate it), has been a paragon of success – with 99% of the designated species still surviving and recovering – including our national bird, the Bald Eagle.
Throughout the proposed revisions, the phrase “[if] the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion” shows up a lot (the “benefits” most probably being financial). But the point I made in our comments was that it is a false economy weighing an action that is driven exclusively by a “wealth economy” against irreplaceable life, which is priceless.
And if the “costs/benefits” analysis is being determined by the sort of scoundrels who are currently running all of our Federal regulatory agencies, you can bet that the success record of the ESA will be taking a nose dive.
And frankly, given that our entire planet is rolling into the sixth mass extinction, this is not the time to dicker with words for the sake of squeezing wealth out of our common habitat. The systems collapse we are experiencing is being brought about by the same sort of thinking that is driving the proposed revisions to the designation of Critical Habitat. This thinking needs to change.
The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973. It took while to start running on all cylinders, but once it got moving, the frailties of the concept became apparent; the health of entire ecosystems was resting on the designations of single “endangered” species. Battles over the tiny snail darter preventing California’s Central Valley Agribusinesses from harvesting money, and the lowly spotted owl was preventing Pacific Lumber from clear-cutting “valuable” old-growth redwoods.
But changing the Endangered Species Act as it needs to be changed while it is in play would be about as likely as me tackling an NFL linebacker headed for his goal. Successfully making the changes we need to make will be more like acupuncture – but it is something we can all work toward; starting with making the distinction between “wealth” and “value;” using “quality of life” as a determining metric, and understanding that we have the most influence on those beings and things closest to us.  

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