The Wildlife Society is supporting a recent proposal that would streamline the consultation process for federal land management agencies under the Endangered Species Act.
New rules for consultations under the Endangered Species Act will “reduce the workload on wildlife professionals, while continuing to ensure that the consultation process — a cornerstone of the ESA — functions to protect listed species and habitat,” The Wildlife Society stated in a comment letter.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service proposed to change consultation rules under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. The agencies opened a month-long public comment period on the proposal, and TWS submitted a comment letter in response.
Section 7 of the ESA requires federal agencies to consult with USFWS or NMFS about proposed actions that could affect protected species or designated critical habitat. Under the proposed rule change, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service would be able to consider new information about effects to ESA-protected species or habitat without undergoing “time-intensive consultations and overhauls of the entire land management plan in order to consider these effects,” according to the letter.
Every five to 15 years, the BLM and USFS are required to prepare and update land management plans for the areas under their jurisdiction. This process typically requires Section 7 consultations with USFWS or NMFS. The new rule clarifies how the agencies should proceed if new information about effects to ESA-listed species or habitat becomes available between plan revisions. Instead of revising the entire land management plan, the agencies would consider the new information in more precise, action-specific consultations anytime they issue permits or approve other specific actions under the land management plan.
“Providing clarity about when BLM and USFS are required to reopen land management plans will also serve to clarify responsibilities for agency staff, make the consultation process more understandable and accessible for the general public, and may serve to reduce litigation surrounding land management plans,” TWS said in the letter.
The proposed rule specifically addresses issues that arose from a 2015 lawsuit, when a federal appeals court found that the USFS should have started new consultations with USFWS after it designated critical habitat for Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). The USFWS later clarified rules for consultations when it lists new species or designates new critical habitat, but the changes did not address procedures for when new information becomes available.
The proposed rule change will “allow wildlife professionals within the USFWS, NMFS, BLM, and USFS to focus their efforts and advance the conservation of threatened and endangered species across the country,” TWS said in the letter.
The USFWS and NMFS are reviewing all submitted public comments and will post the final version of the rule in the Federal Register when it becomes available.
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