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Regulatory Certainty Program Announced for Wildlife Habitat

March 16, 2012

Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a $33 million dollar partnership, Working Lands for Wildlife, which aims to protect wildlife habits through landowner conservation efforts.  The program specifically targets conservation in priority areas that house seven species: the lesser prairie chicken, New England cottontail, Southwestern willow flycatcher, greater sage-grouse, gopher tortoise, bog turtle, and the golden-winger warbler.  Landowners implementing the program would receive immunity from being regulated under the Endangered Species Act, provided that they follow the guidelines of the program.   In policy circles, this type of arrangement has become known as “regulatory certainty.”

According to the March 8 press release, “Federal, state and local wildlife experts jointly identify at-risk species that would benefit from targeted habitat restoration investments on private lands.  Using the best available science, the partners will prioritize restoration actions on a large regional scale to most cost effectively focus assistance.  In return for voluntarily making habitat improvements on their lands, the federal government will provide landowners with regulatory certainty that they will not be asked to take additional conservation actions.”

This is a new partnership between the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and would use funding from the farm bill’s Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP).  Under Working Lands for Wildlife, NRCS will work with landowners to create an individualized conservation plan, which will include practices such as upland wildlife habitat management, invasive species control, prescribed grazing, native grass plantings, early successional habitat development, prescribed burning, and forest stand improvement.  Landowners are required to sign up for one of these practices, but they can elect to participate in more.

Under a certainty agreement, contract holders will work with NRCS to develop a conservation plan and implement one or more conservation practices; in return, they will be exempt from regulation under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), so long as they are farming within the confines of their conservation plan.  Landowners receive regulatory certainty for the duration of the contract.

This is the second regulatory certainty agreement released in recent months.  In January, USDA and EPA met in Minnesota to announce a partnership that would grant participants immunity from Minnesota water quality regulation so long as they implement certain conservation practices under a conservation plan.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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