Questions & Answers on Eulachon Critical Habitat

Q: What is critical habitat?
A:
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) defines critical habitat as:

  1. Specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing that contain the physical or biological features essential to conservation, and that may require special management considerations or protection; and
  2. Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species that the Secretary of Commerce determines are essential for conservation of the species.

Q: How is critical habitat designated?
A:
The ESA requires that NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designate critical habitat for federally protected species listed as threatened or endangered. In doing so, we must use the best scientific information available, engage in an open public process, and complete the designation within specific timeframes. Before designating critical habitat, we must consider the economic impacts, potential impacts to national security, and other relevant impacts that may ensue from specifying a particular area as critical habitat. The Secretary of Commerce may exclude an area from critical habitat if the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of designation, unless excluding the area will result in the extinction of the species concerned.

Q: What species does this critical habitat designation protect?
A:
This particular critical habitat designation applies to the southern distinct population segment (DPS) of Pacific eulachon, listed as threatened under ESA in 2010. pdf format (103kb) Though this is the single species to which the designation applies, this critical habitat will provide benefits to other listed species that share this habitat's range, including salmon, steelhead, bull trout and green sturgeon.

Q: What is the geographic extent of this critical habitat designation?
A:
The designation covers 16 creeks and rivers within Washington, Oregon and California. The total number of stream miles included in this designation is 335 (539 km). The numbers for each creek and river are detailed in the Federal Register notice. pdf format 812kb

Q: How can I determine which areas are designated?
A:
The  Federal Register notice pdf format (812kb) has information describing specific creeks and rivers (including latitude and longitude identifiers) and maps of the areas designated. We posted maps and related documents on our eulachon page for more information.

Q: Why is it necessary to designate critical habitat at this time?
A:
The ESA requires us to designate critical habitat at the time of listing, or within one year if critical habitat is not determinable at that time. We listed the southern DPS of Pacific eulachon as threatened in March 2010 pdf format (103kb) At the time of listing, we concluded that critical habitat was not determinable. Since then we published a proposed rule to designate critical habitat, solicited public review of that proposed rule, and responded to comments posed during the public review period. We're now prepared to issue a final critical habitat designation.

Q: What happens once critical habitat is designated, and how does it change what federal agencies must do to satisfy the ESA?
A:
The ESA protects threatened and endangered species in several ways. Under Section 7, all federal agencies must ensure that any actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species, or destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat. These complementary requirements apply only to federal agency actions, and the latter only to habitat that has been designated. A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge, and applies only when federal funding, permits, or projects are involved. Critical habitat requirements do not apply to citizens engaged in activities on private land that do not involve a federal agency. Many actions that adversely modify a species' critical habitat will also jeopardize its continued existence. In practice, we will continue to be concerned about the same activities that harm eulachon and their habitat, regardless of whether that habitat is designated. We expect that where critical habitat is designated, it will more precisely focus our analysis on how the action will alter the habitat, and how that will affect the ability of the habitat to support species' conservation.

Q: What areas are excluded and why?
A:
The ESA gives the Secretary of Commerce discretion to exclude areas from designation if he determines that the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of designation. We've excluded areas that overlap with Native American tribal lands. These areas are excluded because of the unique trust relationship between tribes and the federal government, the federal emphasis on respect for tribal sovereignty and self-governance, and the importance of tribal participation in numerous activities aimed at conserving eulachon. These exclusions consist of portions of the Klamath, Quinault, and Elwha Rivers, in California and Washington.

Q: Are any unoccupied areas designated?
A:
We have not identified any unoccupied areas that may be "essential for conservation" at this time.

Q: What are the estimated economic impacts of the designation?
A:
Our estimates reflect the total cost associated with adding a critical habitat assessment to existing ESA Section 7 consultations. Once critical habitat is designated, federal agencies must ensure their actions are not likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Based on our prior consultation record, we estimated the annual net economic impact of Section 7 critical habitat requirements (that is, "adverse modification") to be $487,300. Economics reports accompanying our decision give details of the analysis (see below).

Q: How can I get information about this rule?
A:
The final designation rule is published in the Federal Register. pdf format (812kb) The analysis supporting the final rule is explained in detail in several accompanying documents. They include: