Revisions to the Regulations for Impact Analyses of Critical Habitat

Critical Habitat Can Affect Your Access to Resources

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (collectively referred to as the ``Services'' or ``we''), propose to revise our regulations pertaining to impact analyses conducted for designations of critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (the Act). These changes are being proposed as directed by the President's February 28, 2012, memorandum, which directed us to take prompt steps to revise our regulations to provide that the economic analysis be completed and made available for public comment at the time of publication of a proposed rule to designate critical habitat.

We will accept comments from all interested parties until October 23, 2012. Please note that if you are using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES below), the deadline for submitting an electronic comment is 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on this date.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:

     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 

Search for FWS-R9-ES-2011-0073, which is the docket number for this rulemaking.

     U.S. mail or hand delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R9-ES-2011-0073; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, PDM-2042; Arlington, VA 22203.

    We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see the Request for Information section below for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Nicole Alt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Conservation and Classification, 4401 N Fairfax Drive, Suite 420, Arlington, VA 22203, telephone 703/358-2171; facsimile 703/358-1735; or Marta Nammack, National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, telephone 301/713-1401; facsimile 301/713-0376. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

Executive Summary

Why we need to publish a rule. The Services have decided to revise our regulations to provide the public earlier access to the draft economic analysis supporting critical habitat designations, consistent with the President's memorandum (Memorandum for the Secretary of the Interior, Proposed Revised Habitat for the Spotted Owl: Minimizing Regulatory Burdens, 77 FR 12985 (March 5, 2012)). The President's February 28, 2012, memorandum directed the Secretary of the Interior to revise the regulations implementing the Endangered Species Act to provide that a draft economic analysis be completed and made available for public comment at the time of publication of a proposed rule to designate critical habitat. Both transparency and public comment will be improved if the public has access to both the scientific analysis and the draft economic analysis at the same time. We are therefore publishing a proposed rule to achieve that goal and seeking public comments. Because the Act and its implementing regulations are jointly administered by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce, the Secretary of the Interior consulted with the Secretary of Commerce on the revision of this regulation. The proposed revisions would also address several court decisions and are informed by conclusions from a 2008 legal opinion by the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior. 

Specifically, we propose to revise 50 CFR 424.19 to clarify the instructions for making information available to the public, considering the impacts of critical habitat designations, and considering exclusions from critical habitat. The proposed rule is consistent with Executive Order 13563, and in particular with the requirement of retrospective analysis of existing rules, designed ``to make the agency's regulatory program more effective or less burdensome in achieving the regulatory objectives.

    This rule proposes the following changes:

    (1) We propose to change the title of Sec.  424.19 from ``Final Rules--impact analysis of critical habitat'' to ``Impact analysis and exclusions from critical habitat.'' We propose to remove the current reference to ``[f]inal rules'' to allow this section to apply to both proposed and final critical habitat rules. We propose to add the term ``exclusions'' in the title to more fully describe that this section addresses both impact analyses and how they inform the exclusion process under section 4(b)(2) of the Act for critical habitat.

    (2) We propose to divide current Sec.  424.19 into three paragraphs. The division into three paragraphs closely tracks the requirements of the Act under section 4(b)(2) and provides for a clearly defined process for considerations of exclusions as required under the Act.

    (3) Proposed paragraph (a) would implement the direction of the President's February 28, 2012, memorandum by stating that, at the time of proposing a designation of critical habitat, the Secretary will make available for public comment the draft economic analysis of the designation. This proposed paragraph also carries over the first half of the first sentence of the existing regulation, with modifications.

    (4) Proposed paragraph (b) would implement the first sentence of section 4(b)(2) of the Act, which directs the Secretary to consider the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other relevant impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. This paragraph states that the impact analysis should focus on the incremental effects resulting from the designation of critical habitat.

    (5) Proposed paragraph (c) would implement the second sentence of section 4(b)(2) of the Act, which allows the Secretary to exclude areas from the final critical habitat designation under certain circumstances.

Background

The purposes of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) (Act), are to provide a means to conserve the ecosystems upon which listed species depend, to develop a program for the conservation of listed species, and to achieve the purposes of certain treaties and conventions. Moreover, the Act states that it is the policy of Congress that the Federal Government will seek to conserve threatened and endangered species, and use its authorities in furtherance of the purposes of the Act.

    In passing the Act, Congress viewed habitat loss as a significant factor contributing to species endangerment. Habitat destruction and degradation have been a contributing factor causing the decline of a majority of species listed as threatened or endangered under the Act (Wilcove et al. 1998). The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of a species' habitat or range is included in the Act as one of the factors on which to base a determination that a species may be threatened or endangered. One of the tools provided by the Act to conserve species is designation of critical habitat.

    Critical habitat represents the habitat necessary for the species' recovery. Once designated, critical habitat provides for the conservation of listed species in several ways. Specifying the geographic location of critical habitat facilitates implementation of section 7(a)(1) of the Act by identifying areas where Federal agencies can focus their conservation programs and use their authorities to further the purposes of the Act. Designating critical habitat also helps focus the efforts of other conservation partners, such as State and local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals. Furthermore, when designation of critical habitat occurs near the time of listing, it provides early conservation planning guidance to bridge the gap until the Services can complete more thorough recovery planning.

    In addition to serving as a notification tool, the designation of critical habitat also provides a significant regulatory protection--the requirement that Federal agencies consult with the Services under section 7(a)(2) of the Act to ensure that their actions are not likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. The Federal Government, through its role in water management, flood control, regulation of resources extraction and other industries, Federal land management, and funding, authorization, or conduct of myriad other activities, may propose actions that are likely to affect critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat ensures that the Federal Government considers the effects of its actions on habitat important to species' conservation and avoids or modifies those actions that are likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. This benefit should be especially valuable when, for example, species presence or habitats are ephemeral in nature, species presence is difficult to establish through surveys (e.g., when a species such as a plant's ``presence'' may be limited to a seed bank), or protection of unoccupied habitat is essential for the conservation of the species.

    The Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce (the ``Secretaries'') share responsibilities for implementing most of the provisions of the Act. Generally, marine and anadromous species are under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Commerce and all other species are under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior, though jurisdiction is shared between the two departments for some species, such as sea turtles and Atlantic salmon. Authority to administer the Act has been delegated by the Secretary of the Interior to the Director of the FWS and by the Secretary of Commerce to the Assistant Administrator for NMFS.

    This proposed rule addresses two developments related to 50 CFR 424.19. First, the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior issued a legal opinion on October 3, 2008, regarding the Secretary of the Interior's authority to exclude areas from critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of the Act (M-37016, ``The Secretary's Authority to Exclude Areas from a Critical Habitat Designation under Section 4(b)(2) of the Endangered Species Act'' (Oct. 3, 2008)) (DOI 2008). The Solicitor concluded, among other things, that, while the Act requires the Secretary to consider the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other relevant impact, the decision whether to make exclusions under section 4(b)(2) of the Act is at the discretion of the Secretary; that the Secretary has wide discretion when weighing the benefits of exclusion against the benefits of inclusion; and that it is appropriate for the Secretary to consider impacts of a critical habitat designation on an incremental basis. The Services have based this proposed rule on the reasoning and conclusions of this opinion and the President's February 28, 2012, memorandum.

    Second, the President's February 28, 2012 memorandum that directed the Secretary of the Interior to revise the implementing regulations of the Act to provide that an analysis of the economic impacts of a proposed critical habitat designation be completed by the Services and made available to the public at the time of publication of a proposed rule to designate critical habitat. The memo stated: ``Uncertainty on the part of the public may be avoided, and public comment improved, by simultaneous presentation of the best scientific data available and the analysis of economic and other impacts.''

Discussion of Proposed Revisions to 50 CFR 424.19

This proposal would revise 50 CFR 424.19 to clarify the instructions for making information available to the public, considering the impacts of critical habitat designations, and considering exclusions from critical habitat.    In proposing the specific changes to the regulations that follow, and setting out the accompanying clarifying discussion in this preamble, the Services are establishing prospective standards only. Nothing in these proposed revised regulations is intended to require (now or at such time as these regulations may become final) that any previously completed critical habitat designation be reevaluated on this basis. Furthermore, if this proposed rule is finalized, we will adopt the requirements of this regulation after the effective date. For proposed critical habitat designations published prior to the effective date of any final regulation, the Services will continue to follow their current practices.