USFWS Gives Landowners Incentives to Help Declining Speciesby CBB Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - June 27, 2003
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday released a draft handbook that, when finalized, will guide implementation of the Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances permit program.
The program is designed to encourage landowners to manage their land to benefit declining species that may require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.
The CCAA Policy, approved in 1999, promotes the conservation of proposed and candidate species, and species likely to become candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act, by giving non-federal property owners incentives to implement conservation measures.
In the past, some landowners managed their property to prevent or discourage the presence of candidate species, believing that if the species later became listed as a threatened or endangered species land-use restrictions would follow. The CCAA permit program eliminates this potential disincentive by providing landowners with regulatory certainty that listing of the species will not impose any additional restrictions beyond the conservation measures they agree to take as a condition of the permit.
"The CCAA program gives landowners the flexibility they need to use their property while helping to restore at-risk species and their habitats before they become threatened or endangered," said USFWS Director Steve Williams. "The guidance provided by this handbook will simplify and standardize the CCAA permit process to make it easier for landowners to use this valuable tool."
There are now five CCAAs in effect around the country, with approximately 30 CCAAs under development. CCAAs may be as small as a single property or as large as an entire State or region. They can also apply to a single species, a suite of species, or a community or ecosystem.
The first CCAA was signed in 2000 with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. The ODFW established a reintroduction program in 1991 for the grouse, which once flourished in Oregon but was extirpated from the state by the 1960s due to habitat loss and excessive hunting in the late 19th century. Long-term establishment of a viable, self-sustaining population in Wallowa County depends on maintaining and improving habitat for the grouse on private land.
The sharp-tailed grouse CCAA gives landowners who voluntarily agree to enhance, restore or maintain habitat for sharp-tailed grouse on their land the assurance that if the species requires the protection of the ESA, they will not face additional land-use restrictions. Landowners can also receive financial and technical assistance to make habitat improvements.
Early conservation efforts can, in some cases, preclude or remove any need to list species as threatened or endangered under the Act. By precluding the need to list a species through early conservation efforts, property owners can maintain land use flexibility. Specifically, initiating or expanding conservation efforts before a species and its habitat are critically imperiled increases the probability that simpler and less expensive conservation options will be available and that conservation of the species will more likely be successful.
If a species covered by a CCAA does become listed, the property owner is authorized through an enhancement of survival permit that is issued in association with the CCAA to take the covered species as long as the level of take is consistent with the level identified and agreed upon in the Agreement. These assurances will be provided in the property owner's CCAA and in an associated enhancement of survival permit issued under section (10)(a)(1)(A) of the Act.
Much of the property containing our nation's fish and wildlife and their habitat is owned by private citizens, states, local governments, Native American tribal governments, conservation organizations, and other non-federal entities. The future of many of these declining species is dependent upon conservation efforts on these non-federal lands, but conservation efforts for these species will be most effective and efficient when initiated early in a species' decline.
The draft handbook on this consistent procedures and policies to ensure the USFWS' compliance with the enhancement of survival permit provisions of the ESA. The handbook contains a number of revisions designed to:
Comments on the handbook will be accepted until Aug. 15, 2003. The federal agency hopes to finalize the handbook by the spring of 2003.
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