WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen.
Jeff Bingaman (D-N. Mex.), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee, today introduced, at the request of the Administration, the Department
of the Interior’s proposed Cooperative Conservation Initiative. The “Cooperative
Conservation Enhancement Act” would remove barriers to fostering additional
cooperation among federal agencies, local and state governments, and the
“The Department of the Interior greatly appreciates Sen. Bingaman’s introduction of this visionary legislation, which gives the Department greater opportunities to enter into partnerships with private individuals, companies, organizations and government entities in order to achieve conservation goals on a landscape scale,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett.
“Nature knows no jurisdictional boundaries, so we need to share stewardship across borders through cooperative conservation among individuals and communities. The Cooperative Conservation Enhancement Act makes everybody a partner and enhances the incentives for landowners and others to conserve lands, water and wildlife and to coordinate conservation activities across jurisdictions,” Scarlett added.
The legislation addresses comments and concerns raised during the 2005 White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation and numerous listening sessions across the country as well as the day-to-day experiences of Department of the Interior managers over the past several years. To address much of the bureaucratic red tape that has kept federal agencies from working more closely with one another and hampered private citizens in trying to undertake conservation efforts on their own land, the legislation does the following:
- Establishes the Working Landscapes Initiative, which would create a pilot program to provide funding for “administrative infrastructure” (e.g., executive director) for costs associated with large landscape/watershed projects that cut across jurisdictions involving multiple governments, groups and landowners. This pilot program would assist in expanding efforts to pursue landscape-scale conservation efforts as well as aid ongoing projects.
- Codifies measures that improve the capacity of Department of the Interior agencies to enhance cooperative conservation related activities, including the promotion of “Friends” groups that support particular parks or refuges.
- Provides permanent legislative authority for the joint Service First initiative of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture. It is currently funded through the appropriations process as a demonstration effort that will end in FY 2008.
- Provides legislative authority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program and the Challenge Cost Share Program.
- Removes various administrative barriers to cooperative conservation by clarifying that agencies can carry out cooperative conservation activities on private lands, with owner consent; as well as modifying the tax code so department grants to landowners are not treated as income, thus putting treatment of these grants on a “level playing field” with USDA grant recipients and nonprofits.
- The bill also would better enable federal and state governments to set priorities for conservation actions by using state wildlife plans as an important consideration in allocating cooperative conservation grants.