Butte acreage off fed protection list

Butte County Meadowfoam and the fairy shrimp that live in the remaining vernal pools of this county will not get federal protection, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced this week.

The federal lands set for protection keep dwindling under the Bush administration. Back in 2002 some 1.7 million acres were proposed as critical habitat, meaning they would be shielded from development. A year later Fish & Wildlife designated some 740,000 acres in 30 California counties—including 69,000 acres in Butte—and one Oregon county as critical habitat for 15 wetland animals and plants listed as threatened or endangered.

But this week, the Secretary of Interior removed another 136,000 acres from protection because, according to a press release, the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of including such areas…” At least until the exclusions could result in the “extinction of the species.”

The government said that the lands excluded were already protected somewhat because they part of national wildlife refuges, Department of Defense property, tribal lands, state wildlife areas or otherwise already covered by habitat conservation plans.

Barbara Vlamis, executive director of the Butte Environmental Council, which filed an appeal to the fed’s 2003 decision forcing the service to reconsider the excluded habitat, said in a press release that the news was not unexpected.

Vlamis criticized both the Bush administration and F&W because there are no management plans on state, federal and tribal lands designed to help recover the endangered and threatened species and that the benefits of preservation were not included in the economic analysis of the property.

"The state has lost over 95 percent of its natural wetlands, devastating vernal pool habitat," Vlamis said in the press release. "How long do we wait to preserve what is wild and free in California?"