The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has scaled back the area designated for critical habitat for eider sea ducks.
Alaska's congressional delegation expressed gratitude that the critical eider habitat was cut from approximately 100,000 square miles to 40,000 square miles. Gov. Tony Knowles says 40,000 square miles is still too much.
Fish and Wildlife proposed last March that 75,000 square miles of Alaska be designated as critical habitat for the Steller's eider. Another 25,000 square miles would have been protected for spectacled eiders. The delegation and the governor howled loudly.
Critical habitat designation is not a withdrawal as such, but places severe restrictions on what kind of human activity is allowed. Any such large-scale restriction is inappropriate because Fish and Wildlife Service biologists readily admit that habitat is not the problem.
Nothing has happened to the eiders' habitat, but the birds' numbers are down significantly from their historic highs. The reasons have not been determined, though available evidence suggests the cause is probably climatic change.
Eider counts have dropped severely in the last two decades. Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta populations dropped from 96,000 birds to about 8,000. That is cause for concern, but critical habitat is the wrong tool for the protection job. Knowles maintains, with obvious justification, that the listing has no demonstrable benefit.
''The loss of habitat is not what's threatening the eiders,'' Knowles said. ''This type of wide-ranging designation is unwarranted. Critical habitat should be a specific, sensitive area and we are very concerned what kind of impact this overreaching designation may have on future use and development of these areas.''
He said the designation is especially threatening to commercial and subsistence fishermen.
Fish and Wildlife took the action under the Endangered Species Act, one of the most abused laws ever passed by Congress. It has been used as the basis for much federal mischief, a lot of it inspired by lawsuits from environmental groups whose real intent is to slow human progress.
Extremely few endangered species were ever rescued by the act, but many worthy projects have been delayed for years or canceled because of its existence. President George W. Bush and the new Congress may want to look at changes to rein in the worst abuses committed in its name.
--Voice of The (Anchorage) Times
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