RDC comments on Regulations for Designating Critical Habitat, Docket ID: FWS-HQ-ES-2019-0115

December 13, 2021

Bridget Fahey
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Conservation and Classification
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041


Re: Comments on Proposed Rule; Regulations for Designating Critical Habitat, 86 Fed. Reg. 59,346 (Oct. 27, 2021) – Docket No.: FWS-HQ-ES-2019-0115

Dear Ms. Fahey:

The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. (RDC) is writing to comment on the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to clarify one of the Nation’s most impactful environmental laws—the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

RDC is a statewide trade association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s fishing, forestry, mining, oil and gas, and tourism industries. RDC’s membership includes Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

RDC is concerned that the prior efforts by USFWS to improve the ESA and its implementation are being rescinded without adequate explanation or consideration. The existing regulation went through notice and comment rulemaking which is generally preferable to regulating under a “policy.” RDC requests that the USFWS retain the existing critical habitat exclusion rule or act to replace it with a new one that will ensure further clarity for the regulated community and appropriately balance economic, national security, and other relevant impacts as required by the ESA.

RDC would like to emphasize the following comments in response to the Proposed Rule rescinding the regulations for designating critical habitat. It is essential that USFWS adopt a clear process for those potentially impacted by critical habitat designations to submit economic and other relevant impact data for consideration. The current rule’s requirement that USFWS act on a request to exclude a particular area from critical habitat if “credible information” was submitted appropriately places the burden on the agencies to consider and respond to exclusion requests. The Proposed Rule fails to provide a substantive, reasoned analysis for the agency’s change in position and ignores reliance interests affected by the Proposed Rule.

Alaska’s economy is supported largely by development, and Alaska is disproportionately impacted by ESA listings and associated designations of critical habitat which hinder or potentially stop critical development projects. RDC believes that an approach to critical habitat that increases the cost, complexity, and uncertainty is disfavored and disproportionately burdens Alaska stakeholders, many whom are Alaska Natives. USFWS should pursue policy objectives that balance the needs of resource protection and development and do so in a manner that increases certainty and predictability, and which minimizes costs and delay. RDC believes the existing critical habitat regulation best meets the needs of RDC and diverse stakeholders in Alaska and should be kept in place.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important issue.

Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.