FWS continues development of sage grouse CCAAWritten by Saige Albert
With the threat of sage grouse being listed as an endangered species, a number of efforts have been taken to provide landowners with some assurance that they can continue operating, including a candidate conservation agreement with assurances (CCAA) for the state of Wyoming.
“The CCAA is coming along pretty well,” remarks Wildlife and Endangered Species Policy Advisor for the Wyoming Governor’s Office Steve Ferrell. “We had a meeting a month ago with Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and BLM where they rolled it out for the first time in a very long time.”
After a failed attempt at a statewide Wyoming CCAA expected to cover all of Wyoming’s industries, the Wyoming Governor’s Office requested assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in developing a sage grouse CCAA specific to agriculture to offer landowners a strategy for developing ranch management activities.
“If someone comes to an agreement under a CCAA it gives them assurances that the conservation measures and grazing strategies they are currently using is an effective strategy for sage grouse conservation,” explains Ferrell. “If the bird is listed, they get to continue with those operations.”
“It affords producers some certainty for the future if a candidate species is listed,” he continues. “The CCAA says, ‘I will agree to practices, and if the bird is listed, I get to continue my practices.’”
Ferrell notes that the FWS and landowner must be in agreement to enter into a CCAA.
Greater Sage Grouse CCAA
The CCAA allows FWS to issue Enhancement of Survival permits to enrolled landowners for a period of 20 years. Those permits would be contingent on development of a site-specific sage grouse conservation plan consistent with the CCAA.
“This umbrella CCAA includes a general description of responsibilities of all participating agencies and landowners; background, status and general threats to sage grouse; conservation measures needed to remove or reduce those threats; expected benefits of prescribed actions; and level of take, assurances, monitoring and annual reporting,” says the FWS website.
While Ferrell notes the CCAA is not yet complete, FWS provided a timeline for when they could begin accepting landowner applications while they finish the public process, hoping for completion of the document by October of this year.
As part of that public process, Ferrell mentions that a 60-day public comment period would give stakeholders the opportunity to look the document over and inform FWS of concerns.
“It looks good, but there are things that we felt needed further clarification,” Ferrell says, noting that many of the concerns were related to the processes involved. “There was some confusing language we want clarified, and we want them to talk about the renewal process, as well.”
With changes from a stakeholders meeting held earlier this summer, Ferrell says FWS has likely been set back a bit but still expects the CCAA by the end of 2012.
While landowner groups see the CCAA as having the potential to help ensure the strength of agriculture, there are some concerns.
“I think each landowner is going to have to decide whether there is enough risk on their part and enough things they could do to enter into a CCAA,” comments Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton.
Hamilton also remarked that he is concerned about the interaction between private and federal lands.
“A landowner that may have a significant amount of federal land could enter into a CCAA only to find that, perhaps their federal land could have more significant impacts to their management,” Hamilton explains, adding that federal land may enter into a candidate conservation agreement with no assurances. “Each operation is different, landowners have to think about what they can do without it having an undue impact on their operation in exchange for that assurance.”
Hamilton also adds that the FWS has a limited track record with CCAAs in Wyoming, with only one in the state, and that is also concerning.
Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says, “It’s been frustrating that this is such a lengthy process, and there are numerous concerns we have with the draft document, but I remain optimistic.”
He adds that some concerns may be addressed in language changes, but says that, in its current form, he could not recommend the CCAA to landowners.
“We have submitted several questions and suggested changes,” says Magagna. “I think it can still be very workable.”
“I hope it gets finalized, and I hope there is interest in it,” Ferrell says. “It is potentially a good tool for landowners to get assurances if the bird is ever listed and provide for the continuation of agriculture as we know it.”
Ferrell also adds that if landowners aren’t using it, he hopes to hear from them about improving the tool to make it more attractive.
“It’s a pretty important tool for the protection of private landowners and conservation,” Ferrell notes. “I hope people find that it has merit.”
FWS weighs in on CCAA
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has played an integral role in developing the Greater Sage Grouse Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).
Tyler Abbott, deputy field supervisor at FWS, says, “The assurance with a CCAA is that we all agree today that what producers are doing to protect the bird in terms of conservation implementation that works with livestock or agriculture operations is significant.”
“I think that the CCAA is one voluntary pro-active conservation tool that we have an opportunity to work with private landowners to help meet their needs and ours,” Abbott comments. “We can do so much more for conservation of the species by working together proactively in a non-regulatory framework.”
FWS plans to complete all pieces of the CCAA by September 2012. The process includes a 60-day comment period.