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Critical Habitat Designations Should Focus on the Greatest Conservation Benefit

  • Tate Watkins,
  • Madison Yablonski
  • An endangered black-footed ferret emerges from its burrow. ©USFWS

    This public comment was submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on its proposed listing and designating critical habitat rule.

    Main Points
    • To help accomplish the Endangered Species Act’s ultimate goal of recovering species, critical habitat designations should avoid perverse incentives and encourage proactive habitat restoration.
    • Prioritizing designations of occupied areas over unoccupied ones helps promote species conservation and recovery.
    • If designating an unoccupied area as critical habitat is not likely to encourage conservation, it would be beneficial to instead focus on areas that will.
    • Designating occupied areas will at least guarantee some protection for habitat features, but that is not the case for unoccupied areas.

    PERC supports proactive conservation efforts to recover species, especially where they avoid counterproductive regulatory conflict. When it comes to critical habitat designations, PERC urges the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that its policies do not penalize landowners for their maintenance and conservation of habitat for imperiled species. Instead, the Service should seek to make listed species assets rather than liabilities for the local communities that provide habitat for them.

    The Service’s proposed rule would, among other things, change the way that it approaches critical habitat designations. Specifically, the Service proposes to eliminate a policy that prioritizes designation of occupied areas over unoccupied areas, eliminate a requirement that the Service explain how designating unoccupied areas would contribute to a species’ recovery, and eliminate a requirement that unoccupied areas have some habitat feature for a species. Each of these proposed changes, however, risks alienating potential partners in conservation of imperiled species. This comment identifies several factors that the Service should weigh as it considers its approach to critical habitat designations. Designations that align the incentives of landowners and other local stakeholders with those of listed species will help fulfill the Service’s mission of recovering endangered species. Conversely, designations that generate ill will with those who provide habitat or create perverse incentives to restoring or maintaining habitat risk undermining efforts to recover species.

    Written By
    • Tate Watkins
      Tate Watkins
      • Managing Editor,
      • Research Fellow

      Tate Watkins is a research fellow and managing editor at PERC. His writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Reason, The Atlantic, The Hill, and many other outlets.

    • Madison Yablonski
      Madison Yablonski
      • Policy Associate
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