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USDA-Interior agreement to provide regulatory certainty on wildlife listing

Ranchers and forest landowners participating in the Agriculture Department’s ”Working Lands for Wildlife” (WLFW) initiative will get long-term regulatory predictability for up to 30 years under an agreement announced Monday by Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.

The agreement builds on a $33 million investment NRCS announced last spring dedicated toward producers who develop and implement conservation plans to manage and restore high-priority habitats for seven specific wildlife species across the country: the greater sage-grouse, New England cottontail, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, lesser prairie-chicken and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.

NRCS, FWS and many state and local entities are partnering to implement WLFW.

Farmers, ranchers and landowners worry what impact wildlife becoming listed under the Endangered Species Act would have on their operations, but under the WLFW partnership, federal, state and wildlife experts jointly identify at-risk or listed species that would benefit from targeted habitat restoration investments on private lands, and producers agree to certain conservation practices.

Participating producers must adhere to the requirements of each conservation practice during the term of their contract, which can last from one to 15 years. If landowners would like to receive regulatory predictability for up to 30 years, they must maintain the conservation practices as outlined in the NRCS and FWS agreement.

“This unique agreement recognizes that species conservation works best when private landowners are committed and active partners in the process,” said Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership President and CEO Whit Fosburgh. “It makes funds available to help implement important projects and guarantees to landowners that the government won’t keep moving the goal line.”

“Certainty is key,” continued Fosburgh. “If a landowner undertakes conservation projects that work and a listed species moves onto his or her lands, or if a resident non-listed species like sage grouse subsequently becomes listed under the Endangered Species Act, that landowner can be confident that he or she won’t suddenly be subject to new restrictions or penalties.”

National Association of Conservation Districts President Gene Schmidt praised the agreement.

“The NRCS-FWS initiative strikes a common-sense, workable balance between gainful agriculture production and the protection of sensitive wildlife habitat,” Schmidt said.

“Providing regulatory assurance will encourage producers to make long-term investments in habitat projects and other landscape scale conservation practices on their land,” he said. “These investments, in turn, benefit all of us, through healthier air, water and soil, and ultimately a safer and more secure food supply.”