U.S. Endangered Species Act Works, Study Finds

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Critical Habitat

Protecting "critical habitat"—areas that have biological or physical features essential to conservation—was also found to assist survival and recovery efforts. Such habitats, though, have rarely been designated since 1986, when new regulations restricted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's ability to establish critical habitats.

Suckling explained that the regulations, introduced by the administration of President Ronald Reagan, created a feeling that protection of habitat was a redundant, unnecessary, and expensive procedure. In the last four or five years, however, courts have repeatedly struck down the 1986 regulations.

Recently more than 350 new critical habitats have been designated, the researchers wrote. "Our results suggest that if this progress continues, the proportion of species with recovering trends will increase significantly."


Attorney Reed Hopper of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a California-based organization that defends private-property rights, isn't convinced that the study shows a positive correlation between species improvement and the designation of critical habitat.

As proof, he points to the Fish and Wildlife Service's online database. The database shows that only 2 of the 15 animal species that have fully recovered have had critical habitats designated for them.

"Just looking at correlations would suggest that species without critical habitat are seven times more likely to recover," he said. "The type of pseudoscience used in this report adds nothing to the public debate on the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act."

In March, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed two lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service over the designation of 42 critical habitats

"There is no rhyme or reason why some areas are designated as critical habitat and no meaningful evaluation of the real costs to society of these designations," Hopper said. "As a result, Californians pay more for their homes, face higher taxes, and have seen their property unnecessarily turned into what amounts to wildlife preserves."

The Pacific Legal Foundation says that the Fish and Wildlife Service, when determining critical habitats, does little more than guess where species live.

The legal action was filed on behalf of associations throughout California that represent farmers, ranchers, developers, and other business owners.

A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency does not comment on active lawsuits.

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