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Conserving Species Before They Need the ESA
Photo Credit: Paula Whitfield/NOAA
by Dwayne Meadows
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has two programs designed to conserve potentially at-risk species that are not listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA): the Candidate Species program and the Species of Concern (SOC) program.
NMFS defines "candidate species" as: 1) species for which NMFS has initiated a status review but that are not the subject of a listing petition, and 2) species for which a "may be warranted" finding on a listing petition has been made, but for which a proposed listing rule has not yet been published. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) defines candidate species somewhat differently as species for which it has determined a listing proposal is warranted but for which development of a proposed listing rule is precluded by higher priority listing actions ("warranted but precluded" findings). At present, NMFS considers only eight species as ESA listing candidates (see http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/esa/other.htm).
Due to the relatively small number of NMFS candidates, much of our effort to conserve organisms is focused on SOC. As defined by NMFS, these are species for which we have some concern regarding status and threats but for which insufficient information is available to indicate a need to list them under the ESA. Our SOC program, established in 2004, is designed to increase our knowledge of these species and, where possible, provide some protection for declining species before they need protection under the ESA. The specific goals of the SOC program are to: 1) identify species that are potentially at risk; 2) identify data deficiencies regarding status and threats; 3) stimulate cooperative research to evaluate status and threats; 4) increase public awareness; and 5) foster voluntary efforts to conserve these species before ESA listing is warranted. Thus, the goals of the NMFS SOC program are similar to those of the FWS Candidate Conservation program (see http://www. fws.gov/endangered/candidates/index.html).
Photo Credit: NOAA
Currently, NMFS recognizes 39 SOC. The program covers a diversity of species including four sharks, three salmonids, three abalone, three groupers, three herring, two rays, two corals, two rockfishes, two sturgeon, the largetooth sawfish (Pristis perotteti), and a variety of other species from many ocean and stream habitats (see fact sheets at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/concern/).
To help us reach our goals, we fund conservation efforts for SOC through one of two mechanisms: 1) the Proactive Species Conservation Grant program, which funds conservation efforts by states and other non-federal management entities, and 2) an annual internal grant competition among NMFS regions and science centers for agency research and outreach projects. We also provide technical assistance and develop partnerships with states, non-governmental organizations, and others on various projects. These projects benefit species by addressing threats and researching key areas of uncertainty.
The Proactive Species Conservation Grant program provides funds to states or other non-federal entities with management authority over a SOC. It is a competitive grant program for projects lasting up to 5 years. An applicant submits a proposal that meets certain criteria (importance/relevance, technical merit, applicant qualifications, project costs, and outreach). Since its inception in Fiscal Year 2006, the program has provided $2.5 million in conservation projects for species ranging from the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulates) to the Alabama shad (Alosa alabamae) and the saltmarsh topminnow (Fundulus jenkinsi). From Fiscal Years 1999-2008, we funded an additional $3 million to NMFS regions and science centers for the internal grant competition. (See http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/concern/grant.htm for more details on the Proactive Species Conservation Grant program and funded projects).
Although still in its infancy, the SOC program has evolved from limited research and outreach efforts into a national initiative that engages external partners in conserving at-risk species. Funding for the program remains limited, but we expect it to become more effective over time, promoting healthy populations and reducing the number of declining species that require regulatory protection.
Dr. Meadows, the NMFS Species of Concern Program Coordinator, can be reached at Dwayne.Meadows@noaa.gov or 301-713-1401.
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