May 14, 2014
Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight field hearing in Batesville, Arkansas on “Protecting the Rights of Property Owners: Proposed Federal Critical Habitat Designations Gone Wild.”
The hearing examined the comprehensive impacts of critical habitat designations, flaws in the current critical habitat proposals for the Neosho mucket and Rabbitsfoot mussel, and the need for legislation to require the federal government to comprehensively analyze all impacts resulting from Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing and resulting habitat designations.
In 2011, closed-door mega-settlements between two environmental groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) resulted in a deal that requires the Obama Administration to decide by 2016 whether to list 757 species as threatened or endangered and to list critical habitats for these species. As part of the mega-settlements, the FWS proposed a relisting of the Neosho mucket as an endangered species in portions of four states, including Arkansas, and the Rabbitfoot mussel as a threatened species in more than 15 states. These two listings became final in 2013.
The FWS also proposed designating a total of 769.2 river miles in Arkansas as critical habitat for Neosho muckets and Rabbitsfoot mussels. The proposed critical habitat designations will directly impact 31 Arkansas counties and the targeted watersheds encompass approximately 42% of the entire geographical area of Arkansas. The FWS’ economic analyses estimated the cost would be $4.4 million for the 15 states over a 20 year period, while Arkansas counties estimate the costs just to their own state to top $20 million, and that the designations are overly broad and include areas where no mussels exist or haven’t existed for decades.
“Despite what some say, these policies do have costs. Unfortunately, last year the Obama Administration finalized a regulation that effectively shut out Congress, states and the American public from accurately identifying the true costs of ESA listings and critical habitat designations that were originally intended by the law. Already, millions of acres of public and private property nationwide have been included in habitat designations that will dramatically impact the future value and multiple uses of those lands,” said House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (WA-04).
“I want to thank Chairman Hastings for allowing me to host a Natural Resources Committee field hearing. I believe the testimony that was presented today by a multitude of experts from across Arkansas demonstrates the need for a full economic analysis to be completed with any proposed critical habitat designation. I will continue to work with this broad coalition of groups in Arkansas, along with Chairman Hastings, on this matter going forward to ensure that the voices and interests of private land owners are heard," said Congressman Rick Crawford (AR-01).
Last month, the House Natural Resources Committee approved four targeted bills that would improve and modernize the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The primary focus of these four bills is to promote data and cost transparency, species recovery, and litigation reform.
The hearing highlighted testimony of individuals, business owners, and community leaders who will be impacted by the relisting of the Neosho muckets and Rabbitsfoot mussels and the need for legislation to ensure the full economic impacts of designations are counted under the ESA.
“We have grown into a world-class facility that every summer draws 5,600 campers from 35 states. We are concerned that the proposed Critical Habitat designation for the rabbitsfoot mussel along the Upper Ouachita will interfere with many of the river activities that have become a major part of our kids’ camp experience. In addition, a designation on our portion of the river seems especially burdensome, since by my understanding, it has not been confirmed that this section actually harbors the species. Furthermore, we are disappointed that the Service is not required to take into consideration the major economic impact that such designation has on an area’s businesses and local economy. I appreciate and applaud the efforts underway to change that…by requiring the Service to conduct a true economic impact study. It only makes sense that when considering Critical Habitat designations, the agency should have an accurate picture of how the proposals will actually affect communities and the property owners who live and work there.” – Pete Day, Director, Camp Ozark
“Those of us who farm in Northwest Arkansas operate under some of the most significant regulatory constraints in the country. You can likely understand then that the threat of any additional regulation would be viewed with skepticism and a fair amount of concern. ” – Gene Pharr, Farmer, Board of Directors, Arkansas Farm Bureau
“Last year, the USFWS issued a final rule that would implement an ‘incremental approach’ to analyzing the economic impact of critical habitat designations versus a ‘full analysis.’ This approach would require USFWS to only consider the direct cost to government agencies, instead of considering costs to all stakeholders. This is a short-sighted approach. A process that allows a full and complete economic impact study before critical habitat areas are declared would, clearly, be a better approach. Our farmers, ranchers and landowners are often overloaded with unnecessary and burdensome regulations. Designating that much critical habitat without considering the economic effects on the area will, no doubt, compound that problem. Quite frankly, it will affect our lives and our livelihood, and that MUST be reflected in any evaluation of critical habitat designations. ” – Randy Veach, President, Arkansas Farm Bureau
“When most people think of the Endangered Species Act, they think of Western parts of the country. However, given the 2011 settlement agreement between the Service and environmental plaintiffs, this is quickly changing. Here in Arkansas, we’re already dealing with several species including the Indiana bat, Arkansas fatmucket, pink mucket, interior least tern and red-cockaded woodpecker. With such a widespread critical habitat as is being proposed for the two listed mussels, this rulemaking will have a very significant impact in Arkansas. We are pleased that our Congressional Delegation is looking to make comon sense changes to the ESA so that it works better for both people and threatened species. Capturing the real costs of a critical habitat designation is paramount to this reform effort.” - Curtis Q. Warner, Director, Compliance & Support, Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation