The federal government recently designated virtually the entire West Coast of the United States as critical habitat for a marine species known as the green sturgeon, including 1,421-square miles of coastal marine areas, 897-square miles of estuaries, and hundreds of additional miles of freshwater rivers. The critical habitat designation encompasses all of the coast of the states of Washington and Oregon, as well as most of California’s coast. In some areas, the designated critical habitat extends for many miles inland through river systems going deep into each state.
But the ESA requires that, before critical habitat may be designated, economic impacts must be considered. How did the government “consider” economic impacts before designating critical habitat for the green sturgeon? Well, it applied the highly technical methodology of “careful thought,” without attempting to quantify the economic impacts. In other words, staring out the window and musing, without using numbers, constitutes a sufficient economic analysis under the ESA, according to the federal government. PLF has filed a challenge (PLF opening brief) to the green sturgeon critical habitat designation, now pending in the Ninth Circuit.
Much of the current ESA mischief can be traced back to a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that species should be protected under the ESA regardless of the cost, making the human toll of protecting species irrelevant. Legally, ethically, and morally that was a bad decision. It places species protection above every other consideration. The ESA was never meant to do that. Unfortunately, that approach has become the unrelenting mantra of those in the federal government who are charged with implementing the ESA. On this 40th anniversary year of the ESA, isn’t it time to hum a different tune?