WASHINGTON, September 17, 2012- The National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced a collaboration Sunday night that “just took the fangs out of the Endangered Species Act,” according to NRCS Chief Dave White.
The agreement will guarantee certainty for a full 30 years to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners participating in USDA’s Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) Initiative, meaning that they need not “be afraid that ten years down the road someone’s going to pile regulations on them.” White announced the partnership to a room full of conservationists and outdoor journalists on the grounds of High Lonesome Ranch in De Beque, Colo., hosted by the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
“It will give private landowners assurance,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “This is the direction where we want to go.”
Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who implement and voluntarily agree to maintain the proven conservation practices in WLFW will have addressed the related ESA regulatory responsibilities for up to 30 years. These landowners will be able to operate their farms and ranches as agreed upon, in a way that is "not just good for conservation, but good for agriculture," White said.
He emphasized that farmers and ranchers will need to increase their production by 80 percent to meet the world population demands in the next couple of decades.
“How do we do that and meet all the requirements?” said White. “This will be one of ways we do it. Take the fear out of these things. And producers do it by choice.”
USDA and The Department of the Interior announced this past spring that $33 million would be dedicated toward producers who develop and implement conservation plans to manage and restore high-priority habitats for seven specific wildlife species across the country. High-priority species in the WLFW are greater sage-grouse, New England cottontail, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, lesser prairie-chicken and the Southwestern willow flycatcher. NRCS, FWS and several state and local entities are partnering to implement WLFW.
“This agreement should be how we deal with endangered species in the United States of America,” White said, noting that he’d like to see more of this kind of public/private partnership that takes the regulatory bite out of requirements for producers.
Ashe emphasized that producers can choose to participate in the boosted conservation agreement, implement the program with NRCS and then will be covered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. FWS serves a role to administer the ESA for terrestrial, freshwater, and some diadromous species, while NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to private land users on a voluntary basis. If landowners would like to receive regulatory predictability for up to 30 years, they must maintain the conservation practices as outlined in the NRCS and FWS agreement.
White noted that 70 percent of the land is in the hands of private individuals, who are going to make those decisions about conservation and land management in the long-run. This is the type of agreement that will put the decision and certainty in the hands of those land owners, he explained.
“We just put those black helicopters in the barn for 30 years,” White said.
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