What if an Endangered Species Lives on your Property?
Flora or Fauna??? -- The type of endangered species (plant? animal?) that shares your address makes a difference in the level of protection it receives under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Plants are protected if FEDERAL permits or funds are involved in your project, or if the listed species is located on federal lands. However, if no federal permits are involved, and your state's laws don't protect rare plants, you won't be violating the Endangered Species Act if your project destroys a listed plant.
Whoa! Why not think twice before you bury that plant? Roughly half of our medicines originate from plants and animals, and scientists are discovering new uses and cures every day. Aspirin originated from the willow tree; penicillin from a mold. The rosy periwinkle plant holds the key to fighting rare blood cancers. And taxol, a possible cure for both ovarian and breast cancer, comes from the Pacific yew, once considered a "waste tree". If the plant species on your property becomes extinct, what future benefits could we lose forever?
Then there's the animal kingdom. As we said, different regulations apply if a threatened or endangered animal makes its home at your place. The federal ESA says "taking" an endangered or threatened animal species is illegal. That means you can't "...harm, harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect any threatened or endangered species" or even try to do so. And "harm" may also include modifying habitat enough to kill or injure a listed species.
What to do?
So how do you harvest your timber, manage, or otherwise develop your property? If you think there might be an endangered species on your land, your first step is to contact your state fish and wildlife agency or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Very often, by working at a certain time of year or making other project modifications, development projects proceed without a hitch.
If there are federal funds or permits involved in your project, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Chances are good that the ESA won't stop your project. As a matter of fact, of the more that 100,000 federally funded or authorized projects carried out in the last 15 years where there were endangered species issues, only 34 projects were stopped because of major impacts to the species. Federal biologists will give you technical assistance and help you find workable solutions.
If there are no federal funds or permits involved in your project, then it's time to look into applying for an incidental take permit and developing a Habitat Conservation Plan.
Incidental Take Permit and Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) - An incidental take permit allows a landowner to legally proceed with an activity that would otherwise result in an illegal "take" of a listed species. In order to get one of these permits, you'll need to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists will guide you through the development of your plan, and the HCP process is currently being streamlined and simplified by the Service.
HCPs are conservation plans specifically developed to manage an endangered species and its habitat within a certain geographical area. They are usually long term plans developed in cooperation with local communities, businesses, state, and federal agencies. If you are a private property owner with a small project in mind, HCPs can be smaller-scale management plans. The theory behind the HCP is you can get your project done and yet contribute to the conservation of an endangered species. The incidental take permit is legal protection for you in case a listed species is "taken" despite your best efforts.
Questions? Pick up the phone - Call your state fish and wildlife agency (Georgia DNR 912-994-1438) or the nearest U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ecological Services Office in Georgia:
- Athens Office -- 706-613-9493
- Townsend Office -- 912 265-9336
- Columbus Office -- 706 544-6428
For nearest USFWS Ecological Services Office in Georgia, you may also click Contact Us.