- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Bush administration is designating 306 acres of California lands containing vernal pools as critical habitat for the endangered riverside fairy shrimp. That is less than 3 percent of the 12,000 acres originally proposed.

Critical habitat provides little additional protection for endangered species while consuming “significant amounts of available conservation resources,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service writes in its final plan. “The service’s present system for designating critical habitat has evolved into a process that provides little real conservation benefit, is driven by litigation and the courts rather than biology, limits our ability to fully evaluate the science involved, consumes enormous agency resources, and imposes huge social and economical costs.”

Fairy shrimp are inch-long crustaceans that live in pools created by heavy rains, and resemble brine shrimp commonly known as sea monkeys.

The rule takes effect May 12, ending five years of legal battles by the federal government, environmental groups and the construction industry that cost taxpayers $400,000. The plan is estimated to save more than $500 million in private- and public-sector spending over the next 20 years.

The Los Angeles International Airport will be most affected by the decision because vernal pools near runways also attract birds that can be sucked into jet engines, endangering public safety. The plan allows the hand removal of 350 cubic yards of dirt containing eggs to be relocated to existing wetlands.

The plan also addresses habitats in Ventura, Orange and San Diego counties, and excludes Camp Pendleton, Miramar Naval Air Station and March Air Reserve base from the designation because of national security concerns.

“The final decision was a real blow against true habitat conservation and protection for the species, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected, given the Bush administration’s full frontal assault on the environment,” said David Hogan, spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued the government.

“Billions of taxpayer dollars for a shrimp here, a toad there and a salamander here and pretty soon you are talking about real money,” said Rep. Richard W. Pombo, California Republican. “And what do we get for all that? We have conflict, litigation and a less than 1 percent success rate for species recovery nationwide. This should really alarm people.”

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2000 for not setting aside land for the riverside fairy shrimp when the species was listed as endangered in 1993.

The federal agency first examined 12,060 acres and decided 6,870 acres were suitable habitat, but that 2001 decision was challenged by the Building Industry Legal Defense Fund in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The court ruled that economic impact must be a factor and threw out the original plan. The second plan examined 5,795 acres and 306 acres were chosen.

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