For Immediate Release, July 18, 2014
Contact: Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121
New Federal Proposal Provides Few Benefits for Endangered Species
Vague Plan Offers Gaping Loopholes for Habitat-destroying Activities
WASHINGTON— In a move that would accelerate federal dependence on hard-to-enforce state-run species conservation plans, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft policy this week that would award habitat-protecting landowners with credits that could later be used to destroy habitat on their land or sold for others to use.
The proposed policy is designed to encourage landowners to protect habitat of an imperiled species that may ultimately require protection under the Endangered Species Act despite existing conservation efforts. But the new proposal fails to explain how officials will identify and measure the effectiveness of the conservation efforts.
Many habitat conservation plans under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act already reward private and state governments for preserving habitat that would likely never be developed, which then allows development to occur elsewhere. Habitat is protected, but a net loss to the species occurs.
“This is another unfortunate example of the Service bending over backward to allow habitat destruction and transfer management authority to states that are, in many cases, hostile to endangered species,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Texas, for example, developed a voluntary conservation plan for the dunes sage lizard where all the details are confidential, so that neither the Service nor the public really knows what is being protected and what is being turned into oil wells. The reality is that most states will try to game the system to maximize speedy resource extraction, while using these credits to greenwash their activities.”
The proposed policy will allow states to develop plans to conserve at-risk wildlife and develop systems to track those credits. Those credits could then be transferred or sold to third parties as mitigation for a proposed activity that will hurt that species. The policy does not explain what type of overall positive benefit this program will require as a result of credits being developed, how the Service will quantify the value of these credits, how these activities will be tracked, or how the credits can be bought and sold.
“Voluntary conservation should always be encouraged, but without serious standards and accountability, this is going to quickly become a zero-sum game for endangered species,” said Hartl. “As it’s worded right now, the proposal will create countless loopholes giving ‘credit’ for activities that aren’t really improving a species in exchange for a ‘debit’ that will cause serious harm.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places