Endangered Species Review Complicates Permit Process
The resignation of a key administration official last spring has left some home builders questioning the status of plants and animals designated as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Last summer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would review eight ESA decisions overseen earlier this decade by former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald. These may have been “inappropriately influenced,” according to a letter to Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W. Va.) from FWS Acting Director Kenneth Stansell. “This review was undertaken after questions were raised about the integrity of scientific information used and whether the decisions made were consistent with the appropriate legal standards,” the letter said.
A decision to make changes in seven of the eight cases reviewed was announced in November.
Once the review process has been completed, decisions on so-called critical habitat for the arroyo toad and the red-legged toad are likely to affect home builders in Southern California.
The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, which was originally proposed for delisting in 2005, is being proposed for delisting in Wyoming while its threatened status is retained in Colorado. A final decision is expected by June.
Other revisions will include redesignation of critical habitat for 12 species of picture-wing flies and the Canada lynx, and the listing of the white-tailed prairie dog.
Despite the Fish and Wildlife Services’ comprehensive review of all the MacDonald cases, the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmentalist group, has sued the Service under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain public documents about MacDonald because they believe there may be other ESA cases that also warrant review and revision.
One of those cases involves the Delta smelt, whose threatened status imposes limits on the amount of water sent to Central and Southern California from December to June for agricultural and residential use. Any changes in the status of this species would further affect home builders in the region.
Changing directives for compliance with the ESA cost home builders and developers both time and money as they attempt to obtain permits to work in areas that have been designated as critical habitat where affected species can inadvertently be killed or injured. The confusion can delay home construction and threaten housing affordability.
“NAHB advocates a balanced approach where the needs of the species and the needs of the home builder are both addressed. However, this balance is rarely achieved as a result of the Department of Interior’s inability to update and improve the ESA,” said Diane Keefe, NAHB’s environmental policy analyst. “This new review is the latest wrinkle,” she added.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.