Endangered Species Act

Endangered Species Act and Incentives for Private Landowners 






July 13, 2005


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today regarding the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and incentives for private landowners.

Passed in 1973, the ESA is intended to conserve plant and animal species that, despite other conservation laws, are in danger of extinction.  Two key purposes of the ESA are to provide a program for the conservation of endangered and threatened species to bring them to the point at which measures under the Act are no longer necessary and to provide a means whereby threatened and endangered species ecosystems may be conserved.  The ESA provides significant policy direction and tools to accomplish species conservation and protection.  In the past, the way the ESA was implemented placed legal and regulatory burdens on landowners and other members of the regulated community.  As a result, many landowners do not want listed species on their property and have been unwilling to engage in activities that would attract species that are or could be listed in the future for fear of increased regulation and negative impacts on their property. 

Because more than 70 percent of federally-listed species depend on private lands, our ability to recover species requires the assistance of private landowners and the regulated community.  With no legal requirements for private landowners to improve or restore habitat and conditions on their land for the benefit of listed species, incentive-based conservation is crucial to our ability to recover these species.  Incentive-based conservation efforts are also important if we are to encourage reluctant landowners to work with the federal government in the future.

At the Department of the Interior, the ESA is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).  The Service is the lead federal agency responsible for conserving and protecting the Nation’s fish and wildlife resources.  Throughout the United States, the Service strives to fulfill this responsibility through the establishment of innovative programs that implement the Secretary of the Interior’s four C’s initiative – Conservation through communication, consultation, and cooperation.

Cooperative Approaches to Conservation

The Administration has long recognized that successful protection of many fish and wildlife species depends significantly on the protection and management of habitat, much of which is in private ownership.  One of the most promising developments for habitat protection is the advance of cooperative conservation.  This fosters innovative approaches to land use and involves local citizens, whose first hand understanding of the challenges facing specific places provides added benefits to conservation efforts.  Cooperative conservation also promotes a more broad-based and integrated approach to addressing environmental concerns.

Such an approach is already yielding tangible results.  Over the past five years, the federal government has provided over $1.7 billion in grants to states, tribes, local governments, and private landowners through programs that preserve open space, restore habitat for wildlife, and protect endangered species.  These partnerships are achieving substantial conservation benefits.  Through partnerships the government has restored millions of acres of habitat; removed invasive exotic species; replanted native grasses; improved riparian habitat along thousands of miles of streams; conserved limited water resources; and developed conservation plans for endangered species and their habitat.  In part as a result of these accomplishments, in August 2004, President Bush signed an Executive Order on Cooperative Conservation, asking all agencies to strengthen their efforts to work together and with states, tribes, local governments, and landowners to achieve conservation goals.

The Service firmly supports the philosophy that, by working together, the federal government and private landowners can achieve tremendous success in habitat conservation.  As such, it is imperative that the Service looks for opportunities to partner with private landowners to protect species and enhance their habitat on private lands.  Such cooperative conservation provides opportunities to enhance habitat while maintaining private property rights; it also engages the public in private stewardship.  Because restored habitats provide important food, cover, and water, this strategy can contribute to the Service’s mission to conserve trust species – such as migratory birds, inter-jurisdictional native fish, and threatened and endangered species – and to control and reduce the spread of invasive species.

We are committed to implementing a cooperative approach through the development of partnerships with others and we are focused on identifying new and better means of encouraging voluntary conservation initiatives.  Indeed, many conservation tools are available to facilitate species conservation, including Candidate Conservation Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, Safe Harbor Agreements, Habitat Conservation Plans, Conservation Banking, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and grants through the Landowner Incentive Program, Private Stewardship Grants, and the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation fund.  Each of these tools is described below in more detail with examples of their on-the-ground implementation.  

Safe Harbor Agreements and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances

Safe Harbor Agreements and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances are two of many landowner tools coordinated and administered by the Service’s Endangered Species Program.  Under Safe Harbor Agreements, the focus is on species already listed as threatened or endangered.  Under these agreements, non-federal property owners voluntarily commit to implement conservation measures that will result in a net conservation benefit that contributes to the recovery of a listed species, and in return receive assurances from the Service that, at the end of the agreement period, the landowner can return the enrolled property to the baseline conditions that existed at the beginning of the agreement.  The first Safe Harbor agreement was signed in 1995 and the Service issued a Safe Harbor Policy and regulations in 1999.

For example, under the programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement between the Service and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, 104 non-federal landowners have signed up through certificates of inclusion.  The total property enrolled in this agreement to date is almost 400,000 acres with 278 groups of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker covered under the baseline conditions.  Through the management of the enrolled lands, the number of woodpecker groups has been increasing above the baseline, and we expect continued expansion of the species in South Carolina.

Together with Environmental Defense, an organization that was instrumental in launching the Safe Harbor concept, the Service recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the first Safe Harbor Agreement, at Pinehurst, North Carolina.  Today, thanks largely to the continuing support of Environmental Defense and numerous state agencies across the country, more than 325 private and other non-federal landowners have signed up under 32 Safe Harbor Agreements to conserve 36 endangered and threatened species, with more than 3.6 million acres of non-federal land and 16 linear miles of stream enrolled.  Work on new Safe Harbor Agreements is underway in many areas, and the Service, Environmental Defense, and the involved states continue to encourage additional landowners to sign up under the existing programmatic agreements. 

Similar to Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) are designed to provide incentives to landowners willing to make a voluntary commitment to aid imperiled species.  CCAAs are available to any non-federal landowner, such as a private landowner, a local or state agency, a tribal government or a non-governmental organization.  These agreements target species that the Service has identified as candidates for listing or species likely to become candidates.  The CCAA policy and associated regulations were issued in 1999.  To date, we have 10 CCAAs in place covering 24 candidate or declining species, and encompassing approximately 300,000 acres.  Several CCAAs are under preparation with individual landowners, as well as programmatic agreements with states under which multiple landowners can voluntarily participate through certificates of inclusion.  For many candidate and declining species, we believe that more widespread use of CCAAs can substantially reduce the need for listing.

For example, in 2002, Soulen Livestock, a family-owned sheep and cattle operation in western Idaho and the Service signed a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances for the southern Idaho ground squirrel, a species identified by the Service as a candidate for listing.  In return for allowing nearly 200 squirrels to be relocated to their property from nearby sites where habitat and the squirrels were not protected, and maintaining suitable habitat for them, the agreement specifies that Soulen Livestock will not be required to take additional measures beyond those in the agreement if it is necessary to list the species under the ESA in the future.  Earlier this year, due largely to the example set by Soulen Livestock, a “programmatic” Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances was signed with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Governor’s Office of Species Conservation covering the four counties thought to be the historic range of this endemic ground squirrel.  We refer to this type of “programmatic” CCAA as an “umbrella” agreement because it can cover multiple landowners.  Landowners who have ground squirrels or are willing to allow them to be relocated to their property will be enrolled in this CCAA through certificates of inclusion and thus will receive regulatory assurance that no ESA restrictions will be required beyond those in the agreement if listing is necessary.

Although the CCAA and Safe Harbor programs are still relatively new and growing, we are committed to updating and improving them based on the lessons learned from private landowners and partners participating in them.  For instance, the Service is encouraging greater use of programmatic agreements to cover a species across all or a relatively large segment of its range.  Under such agreements, the state wildlife agency, local governmental entity, or a non-governmental organization signs the agreement and holds the associated permit, and individual landowners can voluntary enroll in a CCAA or Safe Harbor through certificates of inclusion and thus receive the regulatory assurances they seek.

Habitat Conservation Plans

In 1982, Congress amended the ESA to allow incidental take permits for landowners who establish “conservation plans.”  Since that time, the Service has approved more than 400 HCPs nationwide.  The Habitat Conservation Planning Program provides a flexible process for permitting the incidental take of threatened and endangered species during the course of implementing otherwise-lawful activities.  The program encourages applicants to explore different methods to achieve compliance with the ESA and to choose the approach that best meets their needs.

Perhaps the program’s greatest strength is that it encourages locally developed solutions to listed species conservation, while providing certainty to permit holders.  Through this process of consultation and cooperation with our partners, the program helps provide for the conservation of listed species on non-Federal land throughout the country. 

In April 2005, the Service approved an incidental take permit based on a Habitat Conservation Plan for the lower Colorado River.  In all, the plan covers six listed species, two candidate species, and 18 unlisted species that may become listed in the future.  The permit covers the current and future activities of non-federal entities within the States of Arizona, California, and Nevada that involve the consumption of water and power resources.  The plan includes the development of 8,132 acres of native riparian, marsh, and aquatic habitats; extensive stocking and monitoring of native fishes; a monitoring and research effort for the species, their habitats, and how best to restore native habitats; and an adaptive management program to take the results of research and monitoring and adjust the conservation actions to best meet the needs of the covered species for the next 50 years.

Conservation Banks

Conservation banks are lands already owned or acquired by third parties, managed for specific threatened or endangered species, and protected permanently by conservation easements.   Banks may sell a fixed number of mitigation credits to developers to offset adverse effects on a species elsewhere.  Targeting conservation bank sites and other large mitigation sites to include needed habitat for listed species may reduce the amount of designated critical habitat required for those species.  On May 8, 2003, the Service announced new conservation banking guidance to help reduce piecemeal approaches to conservation by establishing larger reserves and enhancing habitat connectivity, while saving time and money for landowners.  This guidance details how, when, and where the Service will use this collaborative, incentive-based approach to species conservation.  

In December 2003, the Dove Ridge Conservation Bank, a privately-owned, 2,400-acre site located in Butte County, California, was approved to sell vernal pool preservation credits for the vernal pool fairy shrimp, tadpole shrimp, and Butte County meadowfoam (a plant).  It is one of the largest conservation banks for vernal pool species in the State of California.  Other resources on the bank site include a stream with wetland banking potential.  Establishment of the Dove Ridge Conservation Bank has spurred more interest in preserving habitat within the county, and it is likely that more habitat within this watershed will be acquired for similar conservation purposes.

Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund and Private Stewardship Grants

The Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund (CESCF) provides grant funding to States and territories for species and habitat conservation actions on non-federal lands and can include habitat acquisition, conservation planning, habitat restoration, status surveys, captive propagation and reintroduction, research and education.  Grants from the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund allow us to support our state agency partners in conserving endangered species through wildlife and habitat management, land acquisition, and the development of Habitat Conservation Plans.  In addition, these grants have assisted states and territories in building partnerships with private landowners. 

In May 2005, nearly 1,800 acres, including wetlands, grasslands, and forests, were dedicated in Northwestern Montana as the Bull River Wildlife Management Area, in part through a Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund Grant to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.  Montana’s newest public lands are home to bull trout, grizzly bears, and bald eagles.  They provide spawning and rearing habitat for bull trout and an important migratory corridor for many wildlife species.

A $1 million Endangered Species Act Recovery Land Acquisition Grant to the State of Hawaii helped the Maui Coastal Land Trust buy 277 acres of the largest undeveloped coastal dunes on the island.  The property features 7,000 feet of shoreline paralleled by the Waihe‘e Reef, a noted traditional fishing and scuba-diving site.  The habitat will benefit the endangered Hawaiian stilt, Hawaiian coot, Hawaiian duck, Hawaiian gallinule, Blackburn’s sphinx moth, a damselfly, and native plant species such as creeping naupaka, Carter’s panic grass, ‘ohai, and ‘awiwi.

Private Stewarship Grants

The Private Stewardship Grant program works directly with landowners to fund conservation actions for listed species, proposed and candidate species and at risk species on private lands.  The program provides grants on a competitive basis to individuals and groups involved in voluntary conservation efforts.  To complement the CESCF grant to the State of Hawaii, a $107,000 Private Stewardship Grant was awarded to the Maui Coastal Land Trust to improve habitat.  Volunteers are removing invasive plants from coastal spring-fed wetlands and restoring the dunes with native plants such as Hawaiian bulrush, bacopa (`ae`ae), cyperus (makaloa), the “fish-poison plant” (a`kia), and pandanus to provide sites for water birds to forage, breed, and rest.  “The goal,” says Dale Bonar, Executive Director of the Maui Coastal Land Trust, “is to restore as much native vegetation as we can for endangered species.”  Hawaiian stilts are already nesting in the wetlands.  The Private Stewardship Grants Program provides a unique opportunity for the Service to work directly with private landowners to conserve imperiled species through on-the-ground habitat management on their lands.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife

In 1987, the Service established the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program under the broad authority of the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act and the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956.  The Partners Program is a voluntary habitat restoration program that recognizes the long-standing and strong natural resources stewardship ethic present in many private landowners.  The Partners Program helps landowners restore wetlands, native grasslands, streams and other important habitat on their lands.  Through the program, the Service is able to provide landowners with one-on-one customer service and funding assistance for on-the-ground projects that enhance or restore priority fish and wildlife habitat.  The Program is conducting hundreds of voluntary habitat restoration projects, specifically focused on restoring habitat for threatened and endangered species and candidate species, including the lesser prairie-chicken, Arkansas River shiner, swift fox, mountain plover, and the Interior least tern.

The program also leverages funds, working to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs for projects.  On average, the Service succeeds in leveraging Service resources against non-Service resources by a 2-to-1 match ratio.  Over the past 16 years, almost 35,000 agreements with landowners have been completed.  The resulting partnerships between the Service and private landowners have resulted in the protection, restoration, and enhancement of nearly 2.5 million acres of private and tribal habitat nationwide.

In Oklahoma, the Partners Program has experienced tremendous success.  Since 1990, the Service has initiated 684 projects on over 128,000 acres of private land.  This includes 14,400 wetland acres, 82,600 grassland acres, 1,300 woodland and shrubland acres, 25,100 acres of other habitat, and 236 riparian stream miles.  Furthermore, Partners Program funds have created over 100 outdoor education classrooms on school campuses that will provide future generations of Americans with hands-on experience working with the land and wildlife. 

The Senate recently passed S. 260, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act, that would codify the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.  Because of the tremendous success of the program in working with private landowners to conduct cost-effective habitat projects for the benefit of fish and wildlife resources in the United States, the Administration supports this legislation and appreciates this Committee’s support for the program. 

Landowner Incentive Program

Begun in FY 2002, the Landowner Incentive Program is funded from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  This program provides grants to state and tribal conservation agencies to help landowners restore habitat for listed, proposed, candidate, or other at- risk species on private and tribal lands.  The competitively-awarded grants leverage federal funds through cost-sharing provisions with state, territorial, and tribal fish and wildlife agencies.  The Service requires a 25-percent non-federal share of project costs for this program. 

In FY 2004, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife was awarded $1.12 million from the Landowner Incentive Program.  With these federal funds and more than $360,000 in private matching funds, the State is implementing approximately 25 projects on private lands throughout its jurisdiction.  These projects will result in the conservation and restoration of forests, grasslands, and wetland habitats and protection of endangered bog turtles, declining grassland bird species, rare plant communities and other at-risk species in New Jersey.  The State is partnering with private landowners, farmers, and non-governmental organizations including The Nature Conservancy to implement these projects.  In addition, New Jersey has developed strong partnerships with other agencies and organizations administering incentive programs, including the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Service’s Partners Program, and Environmental Defense, to ensure that these conservation efforts are coordinated and to share administrative oversight and monitoring of projects.

State Wildlife Grants

The State Wildlife Grant (SWG) program is designed to assist states by providing federal funds for the development and implementation of programs that benefit wildlife in greatest conservation need and their habitat.  Since many issues related to wildlife conservation are not contained by jurisdictional borders, the Service and states are working together to coordinate efforts to conserve endangered and threatened species, manage migratory birds, and lay foundation for good wildlife management. 

To establish eligibility for these funds, states and territories had to commit to develop by October 1, 2005, a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy or Plan (CWCS).  The goal of the State Wildlife Conservation Strategies is to provide a foundation for the future of wildlife conservation and an opportunity for the states, federal agencies, and other conservation partners to think strategically about their individual and coordinated roles in conservation efforts across the Nation.  As of June 30, the Service had received official submissions from North Carolina, U.S. Virgin Islands, Michigan, Utah, and Arizona.  Most other states and territories have put draft strategies out for public review and input.  Based on a preliminary review of the strategies submitted, the Service remains confident that high-quality strategies are going to be the "norm." 

Congress began appropriating funds for SWGs in FY 2002.  The initial funding provided by the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants Program has already allowed many states and territories to begin implementing conservation actions.  For example, in Illinois, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is partnering with the City of Chicago to purchase 102 acres at Hegewisch marsh.  The new acquisition provides optimum nesting habitat for the State-listed little blue heron, yellow-headed blackbird, pied-billed grebe and common moorhen.


We appreciate the Subcommittee’s interest in incentives for private landowners to conserve and protect species, and we recognize that our ability to make progress is tied to our ability to work with others, including private landowners.  As previously stated, with such a high percentage of federally-listed species dependent on private lands, our ability to recover species requires the assistance of private landowners and the regulated community The Service’s emphasis on incentive programs like the Land Owner Incentive Program and programs that provide certainty and assurances to private land owners such as Safe Harbor agreements demonstrate how Cooperative Conservation can help more fully achieve the purposes of the ESA.  We realize that local involvement will be critical to ensuring the successful, effective, and long-lasting conservation of these species.

I would like to reiterate the Department’s interest in working with Congress to improve the Endangered Species Act.  We must work together on a bipartisan basis to determine how to get the most value for species conservation out of the Federal resources devoted to the endangered species program.  I would be happy to answer any questions that Members may have. 

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