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Endangered Species Permits

Safe Harbor Agreements: Frequently Asked Questions


How Do Safe Harbor Agreements Work?

In a Safe Harbor Agreement, the landowner agrees to maintain, create, restore or improve habitat for endangered or threatened species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with the landowner, will establish a baseline condition (usually a number) for each species and determine whether the proposed actions will result in a net conservation benefit. The landowner may then incidentally take listed species, as long as baseline conditions are maintained. Taking below the baseline is sometimes permitted if the taking does not have a significant adverse effect on the baseline and is likely to provide a long-term benefit on the baseline.


Who Can Get One?

Any non-Federal landowner can request the development of a Safe Harbor Agreement. These agreements are between the landowner and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other stakeholders (such as State natural resource agencies, Tribal governments, local governments, conservation organizations, businesses). Even if a landowner and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service develop an Agreement, other stakeholders, at the landowner's request, can participate. However, the assurances only apply to the participating landowners and for lawful activities within the enrolled lands. Non-Federal landowners have been seeking and insisting on assurances that their voluntary actions will not result in future land-use restrictions. This policy could help all non-Federal landowners interested in using their lands to aid conservation but who also fear subsequent restrictions on land use.


How long does it take to develop a Safe Harbor Agreement?

Many Safe Harbor Agreements can be developed within 3-4 months. More complex Safe Harbor Agreements may take 6-12 months, depending on the species' ecology, size of the project, number of parties to the Safe Harbor Agreement, and funding available for the Safe Harbor program.


What if I sell or transfer ownership of my land? Does the Safe Harbor Agreement go with the sale?

Yes. If you sell or give away your enrolled lands, we will honor the Agreement, providing the new owner signs the original Agreement or a new mutually agreeable one.


Can Safe Harbor Agreements be Renewed?

Yes, Agreements can be renewed for as long as the landowner wishes and as long as the landowner follows the terms of the Agreement.


What Are Statewide Safe Harbor Agreement?

Statewide Agreements authorize individual States to implement Safe Harbor programs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides an Enhancement of Survival permit to the State, who then can then offer individual landowners "certificate of inclusion" (which make them part of the Permit). Several southern States have implemented statewide Safe Harbor Agreements for the red-cockaded woodpecker.


What are "No Surprises" assurances?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will provide assurances that, when the SHA agreement ends, the participating landowner may use the property in any otherwise legal manner that doesn't move it below baseline conditions determined in the Agreement. These assurances operate with the enrolled lands and are valid for as long as the participant is complying with the Safe Harbor Agreement and associated permit. In return for the participant's efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will authorize incidental take through the section 10 (a)(1)(A) process of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This permit would allow participants to take individual listed plants or animals or modify habitat to return population levels and habitat conditions to those agreed upon as baseline.


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Last updated: June 10, 2014