Recently, The Sacramento Bee ran an article describing a lawsuit filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the California Farm Bureau and two ranchers associations (“Ranchers protest as 1.8 million acres are set aside for frogs,” Capitol & California, Aug. 1). Unfortunately, the online headline suggests the unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims by these groups are fact.
Critical habitat is one of the most contentious and misunderstood aspects of the federal Endangered Species Act. First, designating habitat requires that boundaries be drawn on a map, which can include private land. Second, there is a false and widely held assumption that habitat is “set aside.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service painstakingly reviewed the best available science on the two frog species and the Yosemite toad. It also invited extensive input and thoroughly responded to public comments on the potential economic and social effects.
And the service bent over backward to assure that the 1.8 million acres of critical habitat would include little private property – only 0.6 percent of habitat for the Yosemite toad and 7 percent and 0.01 percent for the two frog species. As mentioned in the article, the vast majority of the 1.8 million acres lie within national parks or wilderness areas.
Shaun Crook, a Tuolumne County rancher, erroneously claimed that the critical habitat could put his family out of business. The truth is the ESA does not authorize the government to regulate private actions on private lands, confiscate private property, place any restrictions on use or access or establish land management standards.
It does require federal agencies to consult with the service to ensure their actions are not likely to jeopardize a species or destroy critical habitat. To date, the service has authorized all grazing and logging activities on federal land without modifications to protect these imperiled species.
Unfortunately, many readers may believe that nearly 2 million acres of California were set aside for frogs and toads, and that the decision ignored ranchers. The truth is the opposite.
Ben Solvesky of Placerville, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 2008 to 2014, is with a Sierra Nevada conservation group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.