Critical habitat comment period extended

Farm Forum

At the request of 47 members of Congress and many industry organizations including NCBA, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the two federal agencies responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act, have extended the comment deadline for the proposed changes to how a critical habitat is designated.

The two rules and policy proposed last month will modify the process of designating areas of critical habitat and consulting on the effects of federal actions on critical habitat. These actions include a proposed revision to the definition of “adverse modification.”

Under the new definition, the consideration for whether an action constitutes an adverse modification becomes whether it affects the habitat’s ability to support the recovery of the listed species, including the quantity and quality of the habitat. Often times, critical habitat designations list cattle, or cattle grazing, as detrimental to the habitat of the listed species, even expanding to include private property owned by cattlemen.

Four Senators including John Thune, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee and David Vitter, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee signed a letter asking for the Services to extend the comment period by six months due to complexity of the proposals and limited time for public comment.

“The complexity is evidenced by the fact that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) spent more than one year reviewing and discussing their content with both Services before their release,” stated the Senate letter. “Despite the complex nature of the proposals, the Services allotted only 60 days for public comment. While we support appropriately limited public comment periods on routine matters, these three proposals will have far-reaching consequences that will affect a variety of land users because they have the potential to fundamentally shift the requirements for designation critical habitat.”

The Senators’ letter echoed the concerns of 43 House members whom also requested an extension earlier this month.

“As written, these rules could dramatically increase the amount of private and public lands designated for habitat, which in turn could result in blocking or slowing down an array of agriculture, grazing, energy transmission and production, transportation, and other activities on the more than 680 current habitat designations and hundreds more slated to be finalized in the next few years,” the House letter states.

The comment periods, which were due to close on July 11, will now close at midnight on October 9, 2014.