The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires the designation of critical habitat for a listed species when it is “prudent and determinable.” Critical habitat designations must be based on the best scientific data available and must occur in an open, public process within specific timeframes. Before designating critical habitat, consideration must be given to economic, national security, and other relevant impacts. The Secretary of Commerce may exclude an area from critical habitat if the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of designation, unless exclusion will result in the extinction of the species concerned. A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge. Critical habitat protections apply only when federal funding, permits, or projects are involved. Federal agencies consult with NOAA Fisheries when the actions they are proposing may affect ESA-listed species or their designated critical habitat. Under section 7 of the ESA, all federal agencies must ensure that any actions they authorize, fund, or carry out do not jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species, or destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat. Critical habitat requirements do not apply to citizens engaged in activities on private land that do not involve a federal agency.
Carolyn Jacobson, veteran U.S. Army, joined the 2015 NOAA/CCC Veterans Fisheries Corps.