An Endangered Species Act update finalized Tuesday, which clarifies the nebulous and overbroad way the federal government long defined “habitat” for purposes of administering the ESA, is reasonable, sensible and long overdue, in our view. The move naturally sparked outrage from the same groups who have exploited loosey-goosey language to impose unnecessary land use restrictions on vast swaths of public and private property. But you can be sure the move was quietly cheered across much of the rural West, where the adverse impacts of this out-of-control law hang like a dark cloud.
The old method of defining “habitat” was so imprecise, broad, and sweeping that lands with little or no real prospect of hosting a threatened or endangered species could be set aside as “critical habitat.” It imposed limits on property owners and land users even though no protected animals or plants were actually found there. Whether a listed species had ever or would ever occupy the area was immaterial under the law.
It made no scientific or practical sense. But this cast-a-giant-net approach pleased Green Extremists because each new listing also became an opportunity to control and micromanage vast swaths of public and private land, which is often an ulterior motive when they lobby for a new listing or oppose a delisting. These groups may use allegedly at-risk plants or animals for PR purposes. But land use control is often their real goal.
Closing that widely abused loophole by bringing more rigor and precision to the habitat designation process will help preserve legitimate habitats while sparing land owners/users the unnecessary burdens and property rights violations that characterized the old broad brush approach.
Sadly, though, just as we’re on the brink of seeing a bona fide ESA reform, there’s a high probability that the rule change will be reversed by an incoming Biden administration, given how beholden the President-elect is to the Green Lobby. An unfortunate mindset has taken hold on the left that any initiative or action undertaken by the Trump administration is, ipso facto, “bad,” “wrong,” or tainted by nefarious motives. But this, in our opinion, is a worthwhile and much-needed reform, which is welcomed across most of the Mountain West and shouldn’t be swept aside in a reactionary purge of everything and anything Trump did.