Nevertheless, it is unlikely the energy industry will experience a “significant adverse effect” from a designation of critical habitat for the threatened subspecies of black bear, according to a draft economic impact report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week.
FWS proposed critical habitat on May 6 and is seeking public input on the draft economic analysis and the proposed critical habitat designation until Dec. 12.
According to the analysis, oil and gas companies could be required to modify or even relocate above-ground well sites in the area proposed as black bear critical habitat.
Proposed critical habitat for the Louisiana black bear encompasses about 1.3 million acres in Avoyelles, East Carroll, Catahoula, Concordia, Franklin, Iberia, Iberville, Madison, Pointe Coupee, Richland, St. Martin, St. Mary, Tensas, West Carroll, and West Feliciana parishes.
Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are deemed essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management and protection. A critical habitat designation does not, however, establish a preserve or refuge. Nor does it affect individual citizens, organizations, states, local governments, or other non-federal entities that do not require federal permits or funding.
The Endangered Species Act requires FWS to consider potential economic impacts when considering the designation of critical habitat. The service may exclude an area from critical habitat if the benefits of excluding it outweigh the benefits of including it and if the exclusion would not result in the extinction of the species.
According to FWS, bear numbers appear to be increasing since they were designated threatened in 1992. In 1997, the statewide Louisiana black bear population was estimated at 200 to 400 bears, and it is believed that the current population ranges from 400 to 700 bears.
FWS estimates that about 600,000 acres of land have been restored or protected in the bear’s range since it was listed, including lands purchased by state and federal agencies and public and private lands protected from development as well as privately owned lands where bear habitat has been restored.
The service acknowledges the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other federal agencies, state agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi, the Black Bear Conservation Committee, the Louisiana Forestry Association, and private citizens in the effort to preserve the Louisiana black bear.
Listing the bear as threatened and the subsequent, albeit delayed, move to designate critical habitat were both prompted by lawsuits filed against FWS by the Sierra Club and others.
Copies of the draft economic analysis of critical habitat designation or the proposed designation of critical habitat are available at www.fws.gov/lafayette or by contacting Debbie Fuller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 646 Cajundome Blvd, Suite 400, Lafayette, LA 70506; phone (337) 291-3124.
To comment, go to www.regulations.gov and follow the instructions for submitting comments, or submit comments by mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS- R4-ES-2008-0047; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203. (The service will not accept e-mail or faxes.) All comments received will be posted at www.regulations.gov.