The Regulatory Flexibility Act requires the federal government to assess the economic impact of proposed federal rules on small businesses and government entities. The federal Fish and Wildlife Service ignored this command when it declared 1.8 million acres across 16 California counties to be untouchable “critical habitat” for the Yosemite toad and two yellow-legged frog species. PLF filed a complaint in federal district court on behalf of three agricultural industry organizations to challenge the Service’s refusal to comply with the law that requires the government to balance regulatory goals with the needs of a healthy economy.
The Regulatory Flexibility Act directs federal agencies to analyze the economic impacts of their myriad regulations on small landowners and small business entities and to consider alternatives that lessen the regulatory burdens, such as reducing red tape for such entities and, when feasible, allowing outright exemptions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims that its implementation of the Endangered Species Act is exempt from this law. As a result, the Service blithely designated 1.8 million acres in Central and Northern California as critical habitat for three amphibians, without any analysis of how the withdrawal of this vast swath of land from productive use would affect the livelihoods and businesses of farmers, ranchers, timber companies, landowners, and other local enterprises dependent on the land.
The fact is that the Yosemite toad and the yellow-legged frog species for whose benefit this land was set aside can thrive in a smaller space. The government could have permitted grazing and timber harvesting to continue on some portion of the land without putting the species’ recovery at risk. Moreover, many agricultural activities, such as sheep grazing, double as land and resource management tools that benefit other protected species. Even local conservation efforts may be curtailed by overriding federal regulations. PLF represents the California Cattlemen’s Association, the California Wool Growers Association, and the California Farm Bureau Association in a challenge to this habitat designation because members of all three organizations are losing their livelihoods to provide more protection to the amphibians than they need.