Environment News Service (ENS)

New Species Recovery Credits Intended to Offset Harm


Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a new program designed to help federal agencies conserve imperiled species on non-federal lands while allowing them to suffer harm on federal lands.

The recovery crediting system gives federal agencies flexibility to offset the impact of their actions on threatened and endangered species on federal lands by undertaking conservation actions on non-federal lands, as long as the affected species receive a net conservation benefit.

The program is modeled on a pilot program developed at 339 square mile Fort Hood in Texas, which the Army calls the 'largest military post in the free world.' The program involved the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Defense, the Texas State Department of Agriculture and other agencies.

Using the pilot recovery crediting system, the U.S. Army has been able to fund habitat conservation and restoration projects with willing local landowners on more than seven thousand acres of private land surrounding the military base to benefit the endangered golden-cheeked warbler.

Fort Hood provides training areas for troops deploying to Iraq and is also inhabited by the largest known population of golden-cheeked warblers in the endangered bird's breeding range.

Golden-cheeked warblers nest only in central Texas mixed Ashe-juniper and oak woodlands in ravines and canyons. They come to Texas in March to nest and raise their young, and leave in July to spend the winter in Mexico and Central America. Of the nearly 360 bird species that breed in Texas, the Golden-cheeked warbler is the only one that nests exclusively in Texas.

The credits earned through off-base conservation efforts ensure that the Army can conduct training at Fort Hood that damages the land, while continuing to benefit the warbler elsewhere in its breeding range.

Kathy Wythe of the Texas Water Resources Institute, TWRI, says that tanks with the two armored divisions at Fort Hood have seriously damaged some of the training area, eroding and compacting the soil and stripping the land of its most desirable plants.

She suggests that restoration of these lands would provide quality training lands for military personnel and improve the natural resource.

In fact, more than 20 other scientists and land managers have established over 500 acres of research and demonstration sites as part of the Fort Hood Range Revegetation Pilot Project.

While restoration is taking place on the base, Fort Hood has also been able to build partnerships off the base through the pilot program that are expected to benefit the golden-cheeked warbler and other imperiled species into the future.

'So many of our nation's imperiled species live on non-federal land,' said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall. “This system will make it easier for other federal agencies to reach out to the American people and work with other landowners to do what we can’t do alone.”

President George W. Bush announced the new recovery crediting system during his October 20 visit to Patuxent Research Refuge to discuss preserving habitat for migratory birds and imperiled species.

The recovery crediting system provides incentives for private landowners to conserve endangered species and foster environmental stewardship of natural resources.

'Conservation success resides in nurturing a nation of citizen stewards,' said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett. 'The recovery crediting system creates incentives for federal agencies to join with local communities to conserve federally protected species and give them a helping hand on the road to recovery.'

Credits must be used to benefit the same species for which they were earned. Hall says the Service will review each recovery crediting system to ensure the net conservation benefits outweigh any potential impacts that could occur during project implementation. Each proposal will be evaluated on its own merit, and some activities related to particular listed species may not be appropriate for the new credit system.

This announcement on the recovery crediting system is draft guidance, and the Service will be soliciting public comments on it until December 3.

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