CCAA options, Sage grouse agreement available
After threats that the greater sage grouse may be added to the register of species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) if something wasn’t done by 2015, efforts toward conserving the bird were immediately put into action.
One such effort, a candidate conservation agreement with assurances (CCAA), was developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for producers to utilize to aid conservation and provide protection if a listing does occur.
“The Sage Grouse CCAA came out this fall,” says Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) Executive Director Bobbie Frank. “They are taking sign-ups now.”
While many agriculture groups within the state have supported the development of a CCAA for sage grouse, they also note that it is a tool worth evaluating, but not all producers will find it useful.
“This is just a tool that is worth taking a look at,” explains Frank. “It will work for some, and it won’t work for others. Each operation is going to have to make that decision for
WACD, she adds, recognizes the value of the CCAA as one tool among a number of tools that may benefit landowners who may be impacted if the sage grouse is listed.
“For those producers who have a federal nexus associated with activities carried out on their property – or any federal permit, license, funding, etc. – that would be affected should the bird get listed, they need to evaluate whether it is a right fit,” Frank comments.
What’s in the CCAA?
FWS Deputy Field Supervisor Tyler Abbott says, “The CCAA is a voluntary agreement.”
The CCAA provides a menu of conservation measures from which producers can select, obligating them to perform those conservation actions.
“In return for a commitment to implement those conservation measures, the landowner gets two assurances,” Abbott explains. “The first assurance is that FWS will not ask them to do anything more to conserve the bird if the bird gets listed, and secondly, the landowner would receive an incidental take permit, which becomes effective if the bird is listed.”
The incidental take permit is only necessary and goes into effect upon listing under the ESA, when it would become a violation to take the birds.
“The most important thing is that we have a discussion with the private landowners to determine what conservation measures would be appropriate for a particular property in terms of providing conservation for the sage grouse,” Abbott says.
Under the statewide umbrella CCAA, a table with a complete list of conservation measures is provided for landowners to select from in developing an agreement.
“We realize that all of those measures do not apply for all properties,” Abbott comments. “We discuss, and come to agreement on, what conservation actions are appropriate to address those threats present on the land with the landowner. The individual CCAA conservation measures pertain to individual agreements.”
Abbott emphasizes that there are some important considerations for landowners.
“It is really important that landowners understand this is a purely voluntary commitment,” Abbott says.
Also, the agreement is not a legal contract.
“I’ve had conversations with landowners who were under the impression that they were making a legally binding contract,” he says. “The term of the CCAA is 20 years, but it is still a voluntary agreement.”
“If landowners feel like we aren’t holding up our end of the bargain or the agreement is too onerous, then they have the option of withdrawing,” Abbott comments. “We need a 30-day written notice, and the agreement can be terminated.”
Federal lands concerns
Currently, the CCAA is only available on private lands for landowners.
“Most producers interested in having a CCAA have federal grazing allotments with the BLM or Forest Service, as well,” Abbott says. “Those landowners are looking for some sort of assurances for those federal allotments.”
While a CCAA will not be available on federal lands, Abbott notes that he is working with BLM and the Forest Service to develop a candidate conservation agreement (CCA).
Neither BLM nor Forest Service has completed the CCA or is ready for landowner sign-up, but BLM hopes to finalize their agreement in the next couple of weeks.
“With a CCA, there aren’t any assurances,” he explains. “Federal agencies are always obligated to protect threated and endangered species.”
However, a CCA does provide some benefits.
“It does streamline the process we would go through if the bird is listed in terms of grazing permit renewals,” Abbott continues. “Most landowners who want to do a CCAA are also thinking about their federal grazing allotments.”
While the first step is to develop a CCAA for private property, Abbott says landowners should let FWS know they are interested in a CCA with the federal agency.
“We would do the CCAA first, and we can do a companion CCA next,” he says. “The idea is to match up the CCAA with conservation measures in the CCA.”
He further notes that FWS has found some conservation measures don’t apply on public lands while others don’t apply on private lands, so the list of measures in the CCAA and CCA are not identical.
“The practices in the CCAA and CCA compliment each other,” Abbott says. “We want to match them up as best as we can. Any differences reflect particular activities occurring, as appropriate, on private or public lands, but they will always compliment each other.”
“We have found that a lot of landowners and ranchers are already doing those things that are helping to conserve sage grouse,” Abbott comments. “The CCAA is a way they can make a formal commitment to continue doing what they have been doing and to also get credit for that in the context of getting assurances.”
At the same time, he says that the efforts of farmers and ranchers across the state are vital in protecting the sage grouse.
“We all recognize that, were it not for private lands and ranching operations, we wouldn’t have the wildlife resources that we do,” Abbott adds. “We want ranchers to keep doing what they are doing, and we want them to see the benefits of their work.”
Information and outreach
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Field Supervisor Tyler Abbott notes that the Wyoming Stock Growers Association has been contracted to provide education and outreach on the Sage Grouse Candidate Conservation Agreement with assurances.
“WSGA will plan events and help with outreach,” he says.
On March 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., BLM, WSGA and Abbott will hold an informational session in Pinedale at the Public Library Lovett Room.
To participate with a Sage Grouse Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Deputy Field Supervisor Tyler Abbott notes that any number of partners can be contacted for more information, including the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), Wyoming Department of Agriculture or conservation districts throughout the state.
“Producers can work with their local conservation districts. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is a partner, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department can be contacted,” Abbott explains. “I can also be contacted through the FWS Office in Cheyenne.”
At this point, two CCAA applications have been processed, and an additional eight applications are working their way through to completion.