Agencies revise ESA state and federal collaboration policy

By Lauren McDonald

New England Cottontail. ©U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

On Feb. 22, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service announced revisions to their interagency cooperative policy under the Endangered Species Act to clarify the role of state agencies in ESA implementation. Both USFWS and NMFS share the federal responsibility of administering ESA, but under Section 6 of the law, must cooperate with states to the maximum extent practicable in conserving the nation’s imperiled species.

USFWS and NMFS hope the new policy, which was originally developed in 1994, will reaffirm the importance of states in mitigating threats to species at all levels of the ESA listing process. This includes a renewed commitment to conserving species before they warrant listing by encouraging early conservation discussions between federal and state agencies, specifically through the sharing of research, regulatory proposals and impact statements.

The policy revision recognizes the valuable relationships that state agencies have with local landowners, which through improved collaboration, would provide federal agencies the opportunity to expand conservation practices.

The revision includes language on conservation tools for landowners that were not in use when the original policy was enacted in 1994. One of the conservation tools listed in the revision is the Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, which provides landowners with incentives for engaging in conservation activities when an at-risk species is found on their land. Landowner conservation programs have proven successful in the past, and have prevented the listing of species like the New England cottontail through habitat restoration on private lands.

For more information on endangered species legislation and management, see TWS’ position statements on The Use of Science in Policy and Management Decisions and Threatened and Endangered Species in the U.S.

Lauren McDonald is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

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