Defenders recommends framework for conserving candidate species

Wildlife conservation is generally less expensive and more effective when deployed as early as possible.  Yet the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) does not always encourage early conservation.  If a land developer finds a rare plant that might become listed under the ESA, how can the act reward him for protecting that plant now?

Pre-listing conservation (PLC) can answer this question in certain situations.  PLC involves the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service using its authority under the ESA to issue “credits” for conservation measures taken to benefit at-risk and imperiled species before they are listed under the ESA.  Those credits could then be used to offset harmful impacts to the species, including impacts that occur after listing and hence are regulated under the ESA.  A person can use credits to offset his own impacts or sell the credits to another person who needs offsets.  In both cases, the tangible value of credits is one reward for taking early conservation.

In March of this year, the Fish & Wildlife Service issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to request public comment on how the Service can create PLC projects.  Today, we submitted an extensive comment letter that includes a proposed framework for creating PLC “pilot projects” using the Service’s existing rules, policies, and guidance under the ESA.  No new rulemaking is involved.

Our framework allows the Service to determine how to structure a project based on (1) whether project participants are federal agencies or non-federal entities and (2) whether the participants have provided enough information about the activities to be offset by the pre-listing conservation measures, such that the Service can evaluate, at the time the prelisting conservation agreement is drafted, the adverse impacts of those activities on the species.  Page 11 of our letter includes a diagram that captures this decision framework.

Over the next few years, we expect the Service to add dozens, if not hundreds, of species to the list of candidate species.  PLC and other pre-listing measures could improve the status of those species and create a smoother glide path for an eventual listing or even prevent listing altogether.

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- who has written 19 posts on dotWild.

Ya-Wei Li is the Senior Director of Endangered Species Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

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