Feds say far-reaching conservation agreement with environmental groups is working
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal biologists say a court-approved work plan that reduces the amount of endangered species litigation has helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cut the number of candidate species to 192, the lowest number is 12 years.
The agency released its formal Candidate Notice of Review (PDF) in late November. Three species have been removed from candidate status, two have been added, and nine have a change in priority from the last review conducted in October of 2011.
Since its implementation, the agreement between the agency and conservation groups has significantly reduced litigation-driven workloads and allowed the agency to protect 25 candidate species under the ESA, and propose protection for 91 candidate species.
The agreement will continue to allow the agency to focus its resources on the species most in need of the ESA’s protections over the next five years, said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.
“We’re continuing to keep the commitments we made under this agreement, which has enabled us to be more efficient and effective in both protecting species under the ESA, as well as in working with our partners to recover species and get them off the list as soon as possible,” said Director Ashe. “Our ultimate goal is to have the smallest Candidate List possible, by addressing the needs of species before they require ESA protection and extending the ESA’s protections to species that truly need it.”
Ashe said that the work plan will enable the agency to systematically review and address the needs of every species on the 2011 candidate list – a total of more than 250 unique species – over a period of six years to determine if they should be added to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
Candidate species do not receive protection under the ESA, although the Service works to conserve them. The annual review and identification of candidate species provides landowners and resource managers notice of species in need of conservation, allowing them to address threats and work to preclude the need to list the species. The Service is currently working with landowners and partners to implement voluntary conservation agreements covering 5 million acres of habitat for more than 130 candidate species.
Today’s notice identifies two new candidate species: the Peñasco least chipmunk (Sacramento and White Mountains, New Mexico) and the Cumberland arrow darter (Kentucky and Tennessee). All candidates are assigned a listing priority number based on the magnitude and imminence of the threats they face.
When the USFWS adds species to the list of threatened or endangered species, it addresses species with the highest listing priority first. The nine changes in priority announced in last week’s notice are based on new information in the updated assessments of continuing candidates. These changes include five species that increased in priority and four that lowered in priority.
The three species removed from the candidate list include elongate mud meadow springsnail, Christ’s paintbrush, and bog asphodel. Based on protections for almost all sites, the identification of additional sites, and updated information on threats, the bog asphodel no longer needs the protection of the ESA.
Efforts by the Bureau of Land Management for the springsnail fully addressed the threats from recreational and livestock use of the springs where the snail exists. Also, three additional populations of the springsnail have been discovered, making this species less vulnerable to random, naturally occurring events than previously thought.
For Christ’s paintbrush, the U.S. Forest Service has successfully implemented numerous conservation actions that have ameliorated most of the previously known threats and established long-term monitoring programs to document their effectiveness on conservation actions. There is a long-term commitment by the Forest Service, through a 2005 Candidate Conservation Agreement and 2012 Memorandum of Agreement with the Service, to continue to implement conservation actions for this species.
The Service is soliciting additional information on the candidate species, as well as information on other species that may warrant protection under the ESA. This information will be valuable in preparing listing documents and future revisions or supplements to the candidate notice of review.
The Service also has multiple tools for protecting candidate species and their habitats, including a grants program that funds conservation projects by private landowners, states and territories.
In addition, the Service can enter into Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCAs), formal agreements between the Service and one or more public or private parties to address the conservation needs of proposed or candidate species, or species likely to become candidates, before they actually become listed as endangered or threatened. CCA participants voluntarily commit to implementing specific actions removing or reducing the threats to these species, thereby contributing to stabilizing or restoring the species.
Through 110 CCAs, habitat for more than 100 species is managed on federal, state, local agency, tribal and private lands; many CAAs have multiple cooperators focusing conservation actions in an area supporting a single or multiple species.
Another similar tool is the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAAs). While these voluntary agreements are only between the Service and non-Federal landowners, they have the same goals as CCAs in addressing threats to candidate species, but with additional incentives for conservation actions on non-Federal lands. More than 71 landowners in 18 states have enrolled in CCAAs that cover over 1 million acres of habitat for 41 species.
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