The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has proposed a rule to amend the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with a new ‘habitat’ definition. The proposed rule is currently available for comment through the Federal Register until September 4. The proposal of a clear definition of ‘habitat’ comes as a result of a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding critical habitat for the dusky gopher frog. The Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. FWS essentially determined that land must currently be habitable for the USFWS to designate an area as ‘critical habitat.’
“The Court’s ruling provides the Trump Administration and Secretary Bernhardt the opportunity to create a new definition that will help ensure that all areas considered for critical habitat first and foremost meet the definition of habitat,” USFWS Director, Aurelia Skipwith said in a news release. “We are proposing these changes on behalf of improved conservation and transparency in our processes for designating critical habitat.”
The new ‘habitat’ definition under the proposal will consider “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 alternative definition also affirms the court decision, noting that ‘habitat’ includes areas that currently have the necessary attributes to support individuals of a given species.
“Our proposed definition of habit is intended to add more consistency to how the Service designates critical habitat under ESA,” said Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Rob Wallace. “Improving how we apply this important tool will result in better conservation outcomes and provide more transparency for countless stakeholders such as private landowners, industry, and states.”
The proposal for a new ‘habitat’ definition has caused concern for some environmental groups. The National Wildlife Federation has claimed the definition fails to accommodate the pressures on habitats created by climate. The California Cattlemen’s Association on the other hand has indicated that the group is supporting the proposal as a means of providing more clarity within the ESA.