House Natural Resources Committee to Hold Field Hearing in Batesville over Critical Habitat Designations

Per the request of Congressman Rick Crawford (AR-1), the U.S. House of Representative’s Natural Resources Committee will hold a Batesville field hearing Wednesday, May 14 regarding U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Critical Habitat Designations.

The hearing, entitled Protecting the Rights of Property Owners: Proposed Federal Critical Habitat Designations Gone Wild, will begin at 10 a.m. in the Independence Hall located on the University of Arkansas Community College campus. The hearing seeks input from affected private and public landowners, businesses and concerned citizens about FWS’ overprotection of two mussel species, the Neosho Mucket and the Rabbitsfoot mussel through the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973.

In March, Congressman Crawford introduced H.R. 4319, the Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2014, which amends the ESA to require government agencies in charge of determining a Critical Habitat Designation (CHD) — such as FWS — to perform a true analysis of how a CHD will affect an area’s lives and livelihoods.

“The Common Sense in Species Protection Act ensures that a true economic impact study on the people, businesses, and municipalities in the proposed area will take place before any private or public property is put in a Critical Habitat Designation,” said Crawford. “The cumulative approach currently favored by the Fish and Wildlife Service lacks the common sense necessary to ensure there’s no excessive overreach by the agency to the detriment of private and public land owners.”

Congressman Crawford said he requested the hearing because of the CHD’s far-reaching impacts: nearly 770 Arkansas river miles covering 31 counties and blanketing nearly 42 percent of the state’s geographical area, according to the Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC).

“The federal agencies involved in determining a CHD never really consider how much that designation will impact a region,” Crawford said. “They only consider consulting costs for federal agencies to talk to other federal agencies; which basically amounts to the cost of pushing paperwork. These agencies claim no true economic impact will occur when creating a CHD, based on the assumption that the listing process itself realizes all the impact. Our hearing will show otherwise.”

AAC Communications Director Scott Perkins said Arkansas’ public and private land owners deserve more consideration when FWS designates Critical Habitat under the ESA.

“The economic analysis involved in these designations is inadequate and does not tell the whole story when it comes to the impact on local land owners,” Perkins said. “Arkansans deserve the whole story. Ignoring the potential of third-party litigation is not a sound economic method.”

Perkins said the proposed critical habitat designation for the Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot mussel is an overly broad area not based in sound science.

“The AAC supports Congressman Crawford’s efforts in bringing this issue to light and to the people of Arkansas.”

In addition to the AAC, groups such as the Arkansas Environmental Federation, the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, and the Arkansas Farm Bureau (ArFB) have expressed concerns as well.

ArFB president Randy Veach said it’s important to have a common-sense approach among stakeholders — especially private landowners — that cooperatively addresses endangered species issues in Arkansas and nationwide.

“Almost half of the proposed Critical Habitat Area covering 31 counties is in Arkansas for the Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot mussels,” Veach said. “Designating that much habitat without taking into consideration the effects on agriculture would add unnecessary, burdensome regulations on farmers and ranchers.”

Congressman Crawford said his Common Sense in Species Protection Act does not interfere or change an endangered species listing process itself, nor does it suggest protecting species as threatened or endangered is inappropriate.

“The legislation simply requires agencies involved in declaring a CHD to perform a true economic impact study on the effect it would have on people, businesses and municipalities in the proposed areas,” Crawford said. “That’s all we’re asking.”

The field hearing is open to the public, and the Natural Resources Committee will broadcast a live video stream at Congressman Crawford said he encourages the First District to participate.

“The Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot mussel CHDs affect more than just Arkansas. They reach Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Our states must demand FWS use common sense before stripping away the rights of property owners. With this hearing, we’ve got a good opportunity to do so, and I hope we take advantage of it.”