The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed designating a few thousand miles of freshwater and estuarine habitat in Washington and Oregon as critical habitat for Puget Sound steelhead and lower Columbia River coho salmon. Both are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
If the designations come to pass, the extent of critical habitat protected from construction or other development activities under the proposed rule will substantially increase in the Puget Sound region. Many more miles of critical habitat will be protected from activities associated with forestry, grazing, agriculture, road building and maintenance, mineral extraction, sand and gravel mining, and dams. It will become increasingly important for anybody involved with these activities to accurately identify and classify the presence of listed fish species and associated critical habitats within a project’s impact area. This information must then be properly incorporated into a biological assessment that applies established criteria in a specific manner to assess and document project effects and measures taken to avoid, minimize, or mitigate those effects.
Developers who educate themselves about the Endangered Species Act and use design strategies to reduce habitat impact will better navigate the regulatory review process and be more likely to avoid needless permitting delays or denials.
The NMFS will accept public comments on the proposed rule through April 15, 2013.
Additional information, including maps of the proposed areas, are in the Federal Register announcement (78 FR 2725).