Author: Damien M. Schiff
As part of an unfortunate pattern, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed an expanded critical habitat designation, under the Endangered Species Act, for the western snowy plover, a small coastal bird. In 1999, the Service designated nearly 20,000 acres of critical habitat for the bird in California, Oregon, and Washington. Following a successful lawsuit brought by the homebuilding community, that number was reduced to about 12,000 acres. But subsequently, the Center for Biological Diversity challenged that designation on the grounds that it was the result of political influence from then Assistant Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald. PLF intervened in that lawsuit on behalf of two property rights groups to defend the smaller designation. The Service, however, decided to settle rather than defend the designation. Last month's proposed new designation, which nearly doubles the previous designation, is the result of that settlement.
We have seen this pattern of the Service falling on its sword and not defending past designations many times before (for example, the bull trout and the spikedace and loach minnow). Ironically, the Service's decision to capitulate to the environmentalists' carping smacks more of politics than the alleged influence of Ms. MacDonald ever did.