Fish and Wildlife Service proposes changes to CCAA program
Washington, D.C. – On May 3, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed changes to the Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) policy under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
With changes imminent, FWS Biologist Pauline Hope comments, “The proposed policy is not retroactive and will not affect previously completed CCAAs. Participants of completed CCAAs may continue to implement their CCAAs as they previously agreed.”
At the same time, Hope also notes that future participants will also not have different requirements. Rather, the process of developing and approving CCAAs was clarified in the policy with the goal of simplifying the process by clarifying intent and terminology.
FWS adds, “The changes also can encourage additional non-federal landowners to participate in these agreements. FWS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries are actively working to engage conservation partners and the public in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and protect imperiled species, even before they are listed under the ESA.”
Among the changes included, FWS notes that the revision removes all references to “other necessary properties,” instead using “net conservation benefit” to clarify the idea that, to preclude listing, conservation measures must be implemented across the landscape.
“Although a landowner is proposing clearly beneficial actions, for a CCAA to remove the need to list a species, it is dependent on other hypothetical landowners undertaking additional actions that are beyond that landowners’ control,” Hope says. “This created confusion with prospective CCAA enrollees and agreement administrators.”
In including the land into a CCAA, FWS adds that property only need to demonstrate that their proposed actions will result in net conservation benefit.
“The term ‘net conservation benefit’ has been used for other programs within FWS, as well,” Hope explains. “Most similarly, Safe Harbor Agreements, which are agreements non-federal landowners may enter into for ESA-listed species on their property, include a requirement of ‘net conservation benefit.’”
The use of the term strives to clarify the standard that landowners will be required to reach.
Under a CCAA, conservation measures implemented on a property must be designed to reduce or eliminate current or future threats on a property that are within the control of the landowners, Hope summarizes, adding that the overall goal of a project is to increase the species’ populations or improve its habitat.
Recognizing that some areas are already managed to benefit species, Hope adds that, for those landowners, “a net conservation benefit will be achieved when the property owner commits to continue to manage the species for a specified period of time with the anticipation that the population will increase or the habitat quality will improve.”
The monitoring and reporting necessary for conservation measures is already an integral part of CCAA, and policy changes do not add any new monitoring or reporting requirements.
New language was also added to Part Three of the CCAA regulations to explain assurances provided to property owners enrolled in a CCAA if circumstances change or unforeseen circumstances appear that would require additional conservation measures.
“This language is already included in FWS’ regulations and does not represent a change in current CCAA practice,” Hope says. “Adding this language to the policy will make the policy and regulations consistent.”
Further, Hope clarifies that additional conservation measures would not involve additional commitment of land, water or financial compensation or additional restrictions on use of land, water or other natural resources without consent of the property owner.
While CCAAs can only be implemented on private lands, permittees across Wyoming have also sought CCA – or Candidate Conservation Agreements – on the federal lands they utilize.
“Unlike CCAAs, which are only for non-federal entities, federal agencies can participate in CCAs,” Hope says.
With the changes for CCAA, however, she notes that the proposed policy changes would not be required for CCAs since there is no CCA policy in place.
“However, CCAs may be designed to be consistent with CCAAs to allow seamless conservation across land ownership boundaries,” she adds. “In that case, CCAs may be consistent with the CCAAs.”
FWS also mentions that the revisions to the CCAA policy are consistent with “success of the Obama Administration in improving regulations and implementing the ESA in new and innovative ways.”
The revisions are also consistent with Executive Order 13563, which asks for analysis of existing rules to decrease the regulatory burden and increase efficacy.
“The intent of the proposed policy is to clarify the CCAA policy and reduce confusion around the CCAA requirements,” Hope says. “Through the candidate conservation program, one of the goals has been, and remains to be, encouraging the public to implement specific conservation measures for declining species prior to them being listed under the ESA.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.