‘Umbrella CCAA’ remains a future option for ranch lands
As the process of developing the Greater Sage-Grouse Umbrella CCAA for Ranch Management slowly progresses, many of the document’s partners encourage ranchers to keep it in mind as an option for their operations.
“CCAA” is the acronym for “Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances,” which are designed to protect landowners in the event of a listing of a species under the Endangered Species Act. The umbrella document would cover the entire state, as opposed to individual plans for each participating landowner, and would require certain conservation measures – in the interest of sage grouse – to be completed by those who enroll.
“Each rancher will have a conservation plan, but the overall CCAA will cover the entire state,” says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Wyoming Field Office Field Supervisor Mark Sattelberg of Cheyenne.
“A rancher can pick and choose which acres he wants to enroll in the program, though we prefer it to be the entire ranch,” continues Sattelberg. “The advantage of a CCAA is that, if the species is listed in the future, ranchers’ management will not have to change, and we won’t require them to do anything more.”
Partners in writing the document include the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Forest Service, Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD), the Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) and the BLM.
“Our role has been to help draft the document itself, and the real meat is the conservation measures that folks would choose to agree to implement,” says Medicine Bow Conservation District Manager Todd Heward, who represents WACD with the group.
There are 17 conservation measures in the document, including things like infrastructure fragmentation of sage grouse habitat, monocultures of plant communities, concentration of livestock and invasive plant species.
“That’s what took the longest – agreeing on the possible threats associated with agriculture, and what types of conservation measures could be implemented to address those threats,” explains Heward.
Although not everyone agreed on all of the threats and conservation measures, Heward says no concerns were strong enough to stop the document from moving forward, and that some things that were included are needed to make sure the document is strong enough to withstand litigation.
Currently the regional FWS office in Colorado is reviewing the environmental assessment and the document itself, after which it will be released this summer or fall for public review.
“Although we’re having a change of personnel with the program, it’s still high priority in our office to get it done,” says Sattelmeyer of the delays in the document’s release.
Heward emphasizes that the public comment period won’t be a time to look at the draft document and suggest changes, but rather it will be an opportunity for the public to approve or disapprove, and give the reasons for their stance.
“If the document does become final, the role the conservation districts could play is one of education – helping landowners understand what a CCAA is, and if it makes sense for them,” says Heward, adding that there will be some level of monitoring required, which will be the responsibility of the landowner. “They can do it themselves, hire someone to do it, or cooperate with the conservation district to get it done.”
He says conservation districts could also facilitate, or even help draft, ranchers’ conservation plans.
Of the role of the WDA, Agriculture Program Coordinator Justin Williams says his agency will assist landowners in the application process, help with rangeland monitoring, provide mediation in the event of a conflict and look for funding sources.
NRCS Sage Grouse Coordinator Brian Jensen says the CCAA and the NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) are two separate programs, but that one of the key components of the SGI is grazing management plans, which will also be a requirement of the CCAA.
“Through SGI we could help producers develop a grazing plan that they could then use to meet the qualification criteria of the CCAA,” says Jensen.
Also, Jensen says another SGI emphasis in common with the CCAA is to avoid fragmentation of sage grouse habitat, and one strategy is conservation easement funding in the Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program (FRPP).
“Ranchers don’t have to be a part of SGI to be in a CCAA, or vice versa,” reminds Jensen. “They’re not one and the same, and we do different things with them, but they dovetail together pretty well, and if a person wants to do a CCAA, they’d be a good candidate for SGI, and vice versa.”
For those ranchers who have already begun individual CCAAs, Heward says that if their document is only for sage grouse, and only for rangelands, the umbrella CCAA will cover it. However, if the individual document includes other species, or other land uses, such as oil and gas development, he says the landowner is better off continuing to develop their independent plan.
“It’s important for landowners to understand that the CCAA is only good if the bird is listed, but once it becomes listed they can’t sign up,” says Heward of the program.
Although he says the CCAA can be good insurance for some landowners, it may not be a good fit for others.
“Landowners certainly need to understand when it does and doesn’t make sense for them. If someone’s ranch is all private land, and they have no federal involvement, a CCAA may not make sense for them,” notes Heward.
Williams says he’d like to remind ranchers that the CCAA concept is voluntary, but he suggests they do their homework and look into it. “Be aware of the possibilities – it may work for some, and not for others,” he comments.
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.