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By Katie Worth

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 1) – In a win for local indigenous rights activists as well as the Guam Department of Agriculture, nearly all of Guam has been spared the unpopular designation of critical habitat, according to a press release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

About 25,000 acres, or nearly 20 percent, of Guam's land had been proposed to be designated critical habitat, but the press release said that has been cut down to 376 acres.

Critical habitat designation is a term of the Endangered Species Act that identifies a geographic area as essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species.

Though it doesn't alter the ownership of the land, it does limit certain kinds of development on that land.

Most areas of the land at issue were military land, and some are privately owned, and the designation was intended, in theory, to protect the endangered Mariana fruit bat, Mariana Crow and Guam Micronesian kingfisher.

The proposal, spurred by a lawsuit by environmental organization EarthJustice against the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been repeatedly denounced by indigenous rights activists because they do not believe the federal government should have the right to determine how indigenous people use their land. They also have said the designation would further slow the return of Guam's military-occupied lands to the Chamorro people.

Meanwhile, Guam agriculture officials also came out against the plan, saying the designation would in fact lessen local controls and protection of the species. They proposed an alternative to the critical habitat: an overlay refuge, which would allow much of the control to stay in local hands.

According to the press release, the final lawsuit settlement excludes almost all lands on Guam originally proposed for critical habitat status, but maintains the proposed lands on Rota.

The press release notes that the downgrade of the proposal is a win for the Fish and Wildlife Service as well, stating, "in the 30 years of implementing the Endangered Species Act, the Service has found that the designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while preventing the Service from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits."

The proposal has been in federal court for years, and the designated land has now been submitted to the Federal Register and will take effect in 30 days, the release said.

November 1, 2004

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