Minden Press-Herald

Oct 02nd

Needy species get help

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced a joint effort to identify and implement administrative changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service have joined to update the ESA, which aims to recover imperiled species, enhance conservation and better engage the resources and expertise of partners to meet the goals of the ESA.

"The Endangered Species Act has made a tremendous contribution to the conservation of imperiled animals and plants, preventing the probable extinction of hundreds of species across the nation and contributing to the recovery of the Bald Eagle, the Peregrine Falcon and many other iconic species," Salazar said. "While we celebrate its successes, we recognize there is much that can and should be done to make the Act more effective and efficient. We expect to identify solutions that will help us improve our administration of this landmark conservation law."

The effort will focus on the essence of the ESA and strive to make administrative and regulatory improvements, while remaining true to the intent of the ESA as enacted by Congress.

The services are not seeking any legislative changes to the ESA, because the agencies believe that implementation can be significantly improved through rulemaking and policy formulation.

"We need to ensure that our regulations and policies effectively address the conservation challenges of today," said the Fish and Wildlife Service's Acting Director, Rowan Gould. "We will ensure that the public and our partners have ample time to review and comment on any regulatory changes we may propose, in order to incorporate the best thinking of endangered species experts from across the country – as well as the people and communities who are affected by the ESA."

This review and update of regulations, policies, and guidance is consistent with President Obama's Executive Order 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review and is outlined in the Department of Interior's Preliminary Plan for Retrospective Regulatory Review.

Efforts include but are not limited to clarifying, expediting and improving procedures for the development and approval of conservation agreements with landowners, including habitat conservation plans, safe harbor agreements and candidate conservation agreements;

They will also revise the process for designating critical habitat to design a more efficient, defensible and consistent process and clarify the definition of the phrase "destruction or adverse modification" of critical habitat, which is used to determine what actions can and cannot be conducted in critical habitat.

The Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973 to protect plants and animal species threatened with extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency of the Department of the Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, an agency of the Department of Commerce, work together with state and federal agencies, local governments, tribes, private landowners and the public to protect and promote the recovery of the nation's imperiled species.

The ESA currently protects more than 1,300 species in the United States and about 570 species abroad. An additional 249 species have been identified as candidates for protection under the Act.

Many of the regulations implementing provisions of the ESA were promulgated in the 1980s and do not reflect advances in conservation biology and genetics, as well as recent court decisions interpreting the Act's provisions.

While those bodies work to enhance the ESA, other conservation projects are happening around the state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that $4.9 million in grants will go to six state fish and wildlife agencies to help conserve and recover Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) through the State Wildlife Grants (SWG) Competitive Program.

Priority will be given to multistate, cooperative conservation projects that demonstrate measurable performance results and benefit SGCN. This federal funding will be matched by $2.9 million in non-Federal funds provided by states and their partners for projects helping SGCN and their habitats.

The SWG Competitive Program awards grants for projects that implement strategies and actions to conserve SGCN contained in approved State Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plans. Funding for the grants comes from Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations for the SWG Competitive Program.

All 56 states and territorial wildlife agencies have approved State Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plans, which collectively provide a nationwide blueprint for actions to conserve SGCN. The plans were created through a collaborative effort among state and federal agencies, biologists, conservationists, landowners, sportsmen, and the general public. Each plan was then reviewed and approved by a national team that included members from the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as directors from state wildlife agencies.

In Louisiana, the funded project will be the Multistate Sandhills/Upland Longleaf Ecological Restoration Project

(Phase 2). This project effects Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi and seeks to significantly increase the quality and quantity of habitat for priority wildlife species on over 51,775 acres of sandhill/upland longleaf forest in the states by prescribed fire, invasive species removal or hardwood removal and the planting of native longleaf pine and groundcover.

This proposal is a substantial effort to improve the habitat and status of about 80 SGCN among the state partners. Federal funding will include $981,050 and the non-federal match will be $552,819.






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