The Biden Administration has proposed a new rule to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aimed at encouraging voluntary conservation projects on private land. The proposed rule outlines steps to simplify permitting for actions that would otherwise be illegal under the Endangered Species Act. To qualify, landowners would take steps to benefit declining species, such as pollinators, and make them allies in protecting endangered animals and plants.
The Biden administration is taking steps to protect declining species and address the effects of climate change, urban sprawl, and other trends that threaten wildlife. On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed regulatory changes aimed at encouraging voluntary conservation projects on private land. These changes will simplify the permitting process for actions that would otherwise be illegal under the Endangered Species Act.
The goal of the proposed rule is to turn landowners into allies rather than adversaries in the fight to protect imperiled species. The rule outlines steps to make the permitting process for conservation projects easier and more accessible to landowners, who take steps to benefit declining species, such as bumblebees and monarch butterflies.
Under the proposed rule, two existing types of protection agreements would be combined into one, making it easier for landowners to participate. The rule would also allow landowners to eventually stop their protection measures, for example by cutting trees they had allowed to grow for the benefit of woodland species.
Another provision would allow the issuance of permits for actions that could harm individuals of species that have not yet been listed as endangered or threatened, but could be in the future. The landowner would start protective measures immediately but couldn’t hurt or kill any of the animals or plants until their species are listed. This could help them recover well enough that legal protections aren’t needed.
The Fish and Wildlife Service believes these changes will encourage more individuals and companies to engage in conservation programs, leading to greater conservation results overall. However, environmental law experts warn that the success of the rule is not certain and that it may not work out to the benefit of the species in question.
The proposed rule is scheduled for a public comment period from February 9th to April 10th, and the Fish and Wildlife Service invites feedback on how the changes would affect conservation, save time and money, and the potential for more permit applications.
Although the government has limited control over most endangered species, which largely live on private land, it has little choice but to seek voluntary cooperation and assure owners they will be able to manage their property. The proposed changes are an effort to balance the need for conservation with the rights of landowners and the management of their property.
However, some wildlife advocates have criticized the use of conservation agreements, arguing that they are not enforceable and may not be subject to a public process for experts to weigh in. The proposed rule will be subject to the same criticisms, and it remains to be seen whether the changes will lead to greater conservation results or further the decline of imperiled species.