February 29, 2016 – The definition of a critical habitat will expand from an “area occupied by species at the time it is listed” to areas that a species may occupy in the future due to climate change or other factors. This is according to final rules from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and National Marine Fisheries Service allow the agencies to expand the critical habitat definition beyond what is currently in the Endangered Species Act. “Members should be aware that these changes could cause an increase in a habitat’s areal extent, necessitating stringent mitigation measures, should a habitat designation include their property,” said Emily Coyner, National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) environmental services director.
The final rules, released on Feb. 11, on Definition of Destruction or Adverse Modification of Critical Habitat and Rule for Designating Critical Habitat are very similar to draft rules released, and commented on, by NSSGA in 2014. While the agencies claim these rules merely clarify current practice, NSSGA noted that the changes were an unnecessary and unlawful expansion of clear limits set within the Endangered Species Act and increase uncertainty for the regulated community. NSSGA will closely monitor implementation of these rules.