California Native Plant Society

Conservation Program

Critical Habitat Campaign

Under the FESA, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has the obligation to designate Critical Habitat for species that are listed as threatened or endangered. Critical habitat is a term that refers to the specific areas that contain physical or biological features essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species. A listed species does not necessarily have to be present in an area for that area to be designated as critical habitat.

A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve, a park, or a special conservation zone for listed species. The only impact is that once an area is designated as critical habitat, federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on actions they carry out, fund, or authorize that may adversely modify that critical habitat.

A critical habitat designation has no impact where a federal agency is not involved -- for example, a landowner undertaking a project on private land that involves no federal funding, permit, or authorization would not be affected by a critical habitat designation.

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and the Center for Biological Diversity (Center) sued FWS November 15, 2001 asking that the agency designate critical habitat. A federal judge agreed with the need to designate critical habitat for eight imperiled plant species in San Diego, Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Inyo and Mono counties of southern and eastern California. These species include:

For more detailed information see the FWS 10/6/98 final listing rule (PDF, 159k) covering these four desert species:

The Endangered Species Act mandates that critical habitat be designated for all federally listed species, allowing only limited exceptions. Despite its conservation value, and despite legal requirements, recent administrations have avoided critical habitat designation. Only 11% of federally listed species in the U.S. have designated critical habitat. The problem is most severe for plants. In California critical habitat has been designated for less than 5% of federally listed plants as compared with fully 28% of California's federally listed animals. Studies using FWS' own data show that plants with designated Critical Habitat t are less likely to be declining, and twice as likely to be recovering, than species without Critical Habitat.


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