Critical Habitat Designations Extend Government Overreach

Late last week, I joined my colleagues from Arkansas’ Congressional delegation in writing a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) urging it to not expand its critical habitat designations for two target species, the Neosho Mucket and the Rabbitsfoot Mussel.

While we, as Arkansans, must always do our best to protect the wildlife and natural resources of this great state, the FWS’ critical habitat designation extended well beyond reasonable protection for these species. For example, the proposal extended more than 750 river miles, potentially impacting more than 40 percent of Arkansas’ surface area. In addition, 90 percent of the rivers and streams included in the designation passed through private property, which could leave productive land fallow.

After we received the proposal, my colleagues and I noticed several issues that could create serious headaches and economic hardships for Arkansans. First, the proposed designations covered areas where the species don’t reside or can even exist. Furthermore, the FWS didn’t provide any scientific basis for the inclusion of these lands. Secondly, the FWS made no mention how it would regulate water pollution into these critical habitat designations, including regulations for citizens holding National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Thirdly, the FWS didn’t examine whether voluntary conservation efforts would disappear as landowners pay more money to come under compliance. Lastly, the FWS did a poor job conducting an economic analysis on how these designations would impact Arkansas. The Obama Administration proposed a rule in 2012 severely limiting the type of economic analysis required for a critical habitat designation. Because of these limits, the FWS likely never considered how the designation would impact road and bridge improvements, agriculture, forestry, grazing activities, recreational uses, water and wastewater treatments, and energy development.

Looking particularly at the Rabbitsfoot Mussel, the FWS extended its designation well beyond Arkansas, incorporating 13 other states. Yet, the Agency unfairly targeted our state, loading about half of the species’ critical habitat within our borders.

Put simply, the Agency’s original designation was too big without a scientific basis for its reach, and it would place an economic strain on areas already facing burdensome regulations.

Because of your comments—both to the FWS and your Arkansas delegation—the Agency notified us it would reduce the scope of these critical habitat designations, making a final decision sometime during March.

As your representative, I will monitor the Agency’s progress toward this decision and seek input throughout Arkansas’ First District on how a designation impacts our communities. I urge you to voice your concerns before the March deadline.

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