Boozman, Pryor team up on critical habitat designation

WASHINGTON — Arkansas Sens. John Boozman and Mark Pryor have filed legislation to require the federal government to weigh the economic costs to private citizens when it designates critical habitat.

The bill was filed in response to ongoing concerns over a federal proposal to designate about 2,140 miles of rivers and streams in a dozen states — including about 780 miles in Arkansas — as critical habitat for two species of protected mussel — the Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot Mussel.

The lawmakers want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the economic impact the designation would have on private citizens before it makes the designation.

“These critical habitat designations could harm the economic viability of our private lands. They could hamper our ability to obtain loans, lower property values and even restrict use to our land,” said Pryor, a Democrat. “Instead of considering the costs to the government, the FWS needs to take into account the impact these designations would have on all those involved. It’s just plain common sense.”

Boozman said that the bill — along with similar legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Rick Crawford, R —Jonesoboro — would send a “strong message” that the entire Arkansas delegation remains concerned with the agency proposal.

“The critical habitat designation will impact Arkansas families, farms, businesses and communities. I’ve been working with the delegation to both hold the FWS accountable and force it to be more transparent,” Boozman said.

Crawford has said that legislation is needed to require Fish and Wildlife to examine the “real costs” of designating critical habitat in loss of land and jobs.

A preliminary analysis conducted by Fish and Wildlife found the designation would have a “minimal effect” across the dozen states impacted. In all, it projected the cost would total about $4.4 million over 20 years including: $1.4 million to transportation, $960,000 to agriculture, timber and grazing and $760,000 to development.

The Association of Arkansas Counties says the analysis is flawed and estimates that at a minimum the cost would be $20 million in Arkansas alone. Agriculture production from the 31 counties that would fall within the critical habitat area is valued at nearly $3 billion, AAC said.

Fish and Wildlife announced the proposal in September 2012 and has since held a number of public comment periods and meetings where dozens of individuals and organizations have voiced their support or opposition.

Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Butch Calhoun submitted comment saying he is concerned with the potential detrimental impact the designation could have on farming in the state.

“Land restrictions and increased permitting and paperwork are a direct cost to landowners, producers and the local economy. I feel strongly that the true economic impact of the designation should to be taken into account when establishing critical habitat designations,” he said.