Speech by the Director, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to:
Eastern Land Resources Councils (ELRC) & Western States Lands Commissioners Association (WSLCA) Joint Spring Conference
[NOTE: delivered on April 20, 1999 in Washington, DC]
INTRODUCTION: THE BIG PICTURE -- A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY
It is good to be here among friends and colleagues. Gatherings like this give us, as natural resource management professionals, the chance to swap stories, and to talk about the common ground we share. It really is amazing to discover how much we actually do have in common. We share many responsibilities. And this afternoon, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak before all of you about our shared responsibility for endangered species.
The Endangered Species Act, considered one of the most powerful environmental protection statutes, is the framework for this shared responsibility. And the Fish and Wildlife Service is, among others, deeply committed to meeting the challenges it entails. We are committed to working with all land managers -- federal, state, tribal, private -- to see that the spirit of the Endangered Species Act is served.
Since becoming law in 1973, the Act has been one of the biggest success stories of the American conservation movement. It has prevented the extinction of hundreds of listed species, marking the first step toward the ultimate goal of our endangered species program -- the restoration of imperiled plants and animals to a safe, secure status. Together, we have recovered the American alligator, the Rydberg milk-vetch, the Arctic peregrine falcon, and some populations of gray whales and brown pelicans. And more species are on track to graduate off the list, including the American peregrine falcon, the Columbian white-tailed deer, the Aleutian Canada goose, and soon, our national symbol, the bald eagle.
Great things are happening in the area of endangered species recovery. Exciting innovations are taking place, and yielding some spectacular results. Let me share a few with you.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY MULTI-SPECIES CONSERVATION PLAN
In one of the fastest growing counties in the country, where a great many endangered species reside, nature and human civilization seem destined to clash. But it is against this backdrop that the people of San Diego county have come together in a tremendous show of community. Federal, state, and local agencies, private landowners, conservation organizations, and concerned citizens worked diligently, hammering away at the obstacles that traditionally had kept them apart;..... chiseling into shape the future of their community. By the time they finished, they had crafted what was one of the most ambitious Habitat Conservation Plans ever completed. On a scale of more than a half a million acres, this HCP addressed the needs of both wildlife and the expanding community. As its centerpiece, it created the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. All told, the plan set aside 170,000 acres of habitat for 85 rare plants and animals, while also permitting smart development.
TEXAS RANCHERS AND THE APLOMADO FALCON
In Texas, meanwhile, the ranching communities are rounding up their neighbors behind a partnership to welcome back the aplomado falcon, a spectacular, endangered bird of prey that disappeared from the United States in 1952. Now ranchers are closely involved in re-introduction efforts, inviting biologists to release falcons on their lands, and also improving habitat for the bird on their own property. This is crucially important for the falcon's future in Texas, where 97 percent of the land is in private hands.
I am happy to report that thus far the re-introduction has been going well. A number of breeding pairs have already reared fledglings in the wild, demonstrating the vitality of this re-introduction partnership.
THE RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER
While Texas strives to bring back a bird species, another state is intent on not losing one of its own. South Carolina has entered into a state-wide Safe Harbor agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. This effort has been remarkable and exciting to watch develop over the past few years.
The red-cockaded woodpecker's most pronounced population declines have been documented on private lands, and so South Carolina landowners are pitching in to give the species a little southern hospitality on their property. The coalition of involved parties is long and varied, including the Westvaco Corporation, the Norfolk Southern Railroad, the Mepkin Abbey, and numerous individual landowners.
Their enthusiasm is a microcosm of the excitement we are seeing across the nation when people are given the opportunity to get involved in endangered species recovery.
As these three examples illustrate, folks all across the country are increasingly taking part in rescuing species from extinction. A lot of the excitement has been stimulated by some of the Administration's reforms to the Endangered Species Act. We heard of the concerns and have worked hard to make the ESA more user friendly, more incentives-driven, and ultimately, better for species conservation. Through policies like Safe Harbor, Candidate Conservation agreements, and No Surprises, we've modified the Act with a single purpose in mind: To make having an endangered species on your property a good thing, something to take pride in rather than try to avoid.
How do these administrative reforms work? For those of you who are not familiar with them, let me describe each one briefly.
Let's start with Safe Harbor. Under this policy, a landowner agrees to improve habitat for an endangered species on the property in return for assurances from the Fish and Wildlife Service that their voluntary actions will not lead to the imposition of additional land-use restrictions.
The idea is that by creating more habitat for endangered species, we can help them bounce back. And we get land owners personally involved in endangered species recovery. At the beginning of the agreement, we determine each landowner's "baseline" -- the size of the endangered population and the existing habitat. The landowner is responsible for maintaining this baseline, but he or she does not need to worry about being penalized later for being a good steward of the land. Of course, at the end of the Safe Harbor agreement, the land owner retains the right to return the property to its original "baseline" condition, but only after notifying the Fish and Wildlife Service. By then, we hope to see more endangered species than we started with, and we only ask the land owner to give us the opportunity to re-locate these creatures before altering the landscape.
Currently, the Fish and Wildlife Service has 37 Safe Harbor agreements across the nation, encompassing more than one million acres.
The final Safe Harbor policy is clearing the last review hurdles within the administration and we expect to publish the final rule in the Federal Register be early summer.
CANDIDATE CONSERVATION AGREEMENTS
At the same time, we will also publish the final policy on Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances. This policy is aimed at keeping species off the endangered list. Under this type of agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service works with a landowner on a plan of action to conserve the species on the property. In return, landowners receive assurances from the Service that, if the species does eventually become listed, they will not be subject to additional restrictions beyond those in the Candidate Conservation Agreement.
Candidate Conservation Agreements have already resulted in the withdrawal of several proposals to list species. One example is the Virgin Spinedace. Together with the State of Utah, we have restored and enhanced spinedace habitat, secured water to replenish its rivers, and built barriers to keep out competing non-native fish. These efforts have led to the removal of the spinedace from the candidate list -- just one of many species we kept from being listed by being pro-active and getting ahead of the curve.
The "No Surprises" rule was finalized on February 23 of last year. What this rule does is guarantee a landowner who has completed a Habitat Conservation Plan -- an HCP -- that a deal is a deal. What we agreed to at the outset of the plan -- the amount of land, water, and financial resources involved, the restrictions that apply -- these things will not change. This makes HCPs much more appealing to landowners, and has attracted a number of new applicants.
HCP FIVE POINT POLICY
With the increase in HCPs, we are constantly learning new ways to improve this process. In the March 9th Federal Register, the Fish and Wildlife Service published a draft addendum to our HCP handbook. The addendum addresses a number of policy issues that we have learned needed clarification as we've worked on HCPs nationwide over the past few years.
The proposed addendum articulates five new policies to do this: the establishment of clear biological goals; the use of adaptive management to address biological gaps in species and the terms under which adjustments to the HCP would be made to address those gaps; the monitoring of the HCP terms and conditions (or operating program) to assure effectiveness of the mitigation requirements and compliance with the terms of the deal; clarification of what constitutes an appropriate permit duration period; and the fostering of greater public participation in the HCP process. The comment period on this draft addendum ends May 10.
These improvements will serve to clarify and strengthen the use of habitat conservation plans as conservation tools under the Endangered Species Act.
As you can see, our efforts to save endangered species, and the laws and regulations that guide those efforts, are evolving. It is my hope that these administrative reforms will make their way into the Endangered Species Act once it is reauthorized. Everyone in this room has a stake in what happens to endangered species. Work with us. Give us suggestions and the benefit of your experience. Let us know what works and what needs work. Together, we can fulfill our wildlife-conservation responsibilities to the American people. As government agencies, it is incumbent on us to set an example for the public, and to make careful choices when it comes to the spaces we share with wildlife.
Thank you. Now I would be happy to answer any questions.