May 13, 2010

No cost to polar bear critical habitat?

By No cost to polar bear critical habitat?

Author: Damien M. Schiff

250px-Polar_Bear_2004-11-15

Last week, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced the release for comment of its draft economic impact analysis of the proposed critical habitat designation for the polar bear. (Recall that the polar bear is currently listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Pursuant to the ESA, every protected species is supposed to have a designated critical habitat, i.e., that area essential to the species' conservation. The ESA requires the Service to take into account the economic impact of a proposed critical habitat designation, and allows for the exclusion of certain areas from critical habitat on the grounds that the economic impacts outweigh the benefits of including those areas).

The Service's press release indicates that the draft analysis estimates that the designation will have little economic impact:

Because polar bears already receive significant protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the ESA, costs associated with the designation of polar bear critical habitat are primarily associated with considering adverse modification of critical habitat as part of future ESA Section 7 consultations. The future (2010-2039) total incremental impacts (those estimated to occur because of critical habitat designation) are relatively small; total present value impacts over the 29-year period are estimated to be $669,000 (an annualized impact of $53,900).

The Service’s comments are interesting because they imply that the added protections to the polar bear of ESA listing are minimal. That conclusion is significant because one of the factors the Service must take into account when deciding whether a species should be listed is the "existing regulatory mechanisms" already protecting the species.

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