Several months ago, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finalized its schedule for deciding whether to propose listing of almost 200 candidate species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Many private landowners and state wildlife agencies are eager to conserve these species, with the goal of avoiding the need for listing. One of their chief tools is candidate conservation agreements with assurances (CCAAs). By entering into a CCAA with the Service, participants get an important legal assurance: if a species is eventually listed despite the best efforts of the participants, they will not be required to take any conservation actions beyond those agreed to in the CCAA. Not a bad deal.
The Service regulation that created CCAAs was finalized in 1999 under the leadership of Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defender’s current president and CEO. Since that time, 27 CCAAs have been finalized, but no one has ever evaluated all the agreements and few people understand how they have been used. In fact, no online database exists of all CCAAs (the Service’s online database is currently missing four agreements).
Earlier this week, Defenders released a report that evaluates all 26 CCAAs finalized through 2012 (the 27th CCAA was issued after we completed our report). We evaluated agreements for 1) types of activities covered, 2) types of species covered, 3) number of agreements finalized per year, 4) number of programmatic agreements (applying to multiple participants rather than a single one), 5) duration of agreements, and 6) record of preventing species from being listed.
Our evaluation of the types of activities is perhaps the most interesting. We assigned each CCAA into one of three categories: those that authorize only activities intended to conserve species; those that authorize reintroduction of species into their former range; and those that authorize both conservation and non-conservation activities. That’s right—not every activity authorized under a CCAA is intended to conserve a species. The important point is that the impacts of conservation activities should outweigh those of non-conservation activities, such that the species experiences an overall benefit.
Our report also recommends improvements to CCAA implementation. We found that Service biologists have been implementing CCAAs in innovative ways that are not discussed in the CCAA regulation or draft handbook. We underscore eight of these innovations and encourage the Service to consider incorporating them into its CCAA guidance documents.
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This CCAA report is the third in a series of Defenders reports on improving endangered species law, policy, and science. In case you missed them, the first report describes some of our strategies for making the ESA more effective and efficient, and the second report reveals serious flaws with the Service’s decision last year to withdraw its proposed rule to list the dunes sagebrush lizard and recommends ways to avoid these problems in future listing decisions. A week after we published the second report, we filed a notice of intent to sue the Service over the withdrawal.