On 22 July the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) will publish a policy proposal to further involve landowners in the protection of at-risk species that have not yet been listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Participating landowners will be awarded “conservation credits” for the implementation of measures to protect such species, which can then be utilized to offset post-listing mitigation requirements or traded to third parties.

The new proposal is portrayed as a further expression of the Service’s commitment to make the implementation of the Endangered Species Act more effective and less burdensome, mainly by lessening the punitive consequences of listing. This includes prohibitions against the “taking” of a listed species and the adverse modification of a habitat, through voluntary adoption of habitat conservation plans. The Service currently recognizes Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs), and other devices for protecting species that have been formally recognized as “candidates” for listing. Under the proposal, these credits will be awarded for conservation of at-risk species, whether or not they have been recognized as candidates. Other restrictions would apply, including credits being awarded only in participating states and the requirement that redeemed credits must result in a net benefit to the condition of the affected species.

The proposed policy is one of several that were first published as an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in 2012 (77 FR 15354). In addition to its reliance on a market-based mechanism, the proposal anticipates an active role for states that have sought an expanded role in programs for the protection of non-listed, threatened, and endangered species. These credits will be awarded by states and recognized by the Service only when conservation action is “undertaken as part of a State-administered program”, such as a State Wildlife Action Plan. Ten states are expected to participate.

Following publication, general comments will be solicited for 60 days, and comments on information collection aspects of the proposal will be received for 30 days. Comments may be addressed to the Federal eRulemaking Portal, with reference to FWS-R9-ES-2011-0099.