|The Mountain-Prairie Region|
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
Contact: George W. Cleek IV, NRCS, (307) 261-6457
Michael Long, USFWS, ( 307) 772-2374
Farm Bill Conservation Programs and the Endangered Species Act
Are landowners who accept Farm Bill Conservation Program dollars obligated to use part of those proceeds for endangered species? "No", according to Lincoln Burton, State Conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Casper. "Landowners who are receiving, or who have received, Farm Bill funding to implement conservation practices on private lands are not required to allocate a portion of the financial assistance to conserve endangered species or critical habitat, nor does Farm Bill funding of actions on private land automatically impose a requirement for habitat protection," said Burton.
NRCS, an agency under the United States Department of Agriculture, provides natural resource conservation technical assistance to private landowners. It also administers and provides both technical and financial assistance for several conservation programs under the 1996 Farm Bill and recently passed 2002 Farm Bill.
"Private landowners work with us on a voluntary basis, and they are the final decision makers about actions taken on their land," Burton said. "For Farm Bill programs, Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) does not require NRCS to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) unless NRCS has discretion and control regarding funding or implementation of the project and NRCS determines the action may affect a listed species or critical habitat. If NRCS does have to consult with the USFWS, the landowners can decide whether they want to proceed with the project. However, if all the payments have already been made and the action is already complete, or the landowner wants NRCS advice but does not want funding, no consultation with USFWS or actions to protect listed species or critical habitat is required. Of course landowners must still ensure that any actions they take on their own do not result in a take of a listed species."
What if producers have accepted Federal cost-share dollars, such as Farm Bill or Clean Water Act section 319 money, in the past? Will they be required to make special provisions for endangered species or critical habitat on their private property?" The answer is still "no" according to Michael Long, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Cheyenne.
"If the Federal (funding) agency has retained discretionary involvement or control over the previously funded action, the Federal agency will need to determine if the action may affect a listed species or critical habitat, " Long said. "If so, the agency will need to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service. However, if the cost-share dollars received in the past were used for an activity that is completed and for which the Federal agency no longer has any discretionary involvement or control, then no provisions for listed species or critical habitat would be necessary." The USFWS remains a strong supporter of Farm Bill programs that enhance wildlife habitat, and the agency works with NRCS through the Section 7 process to ensure funded projects do not have the unintended consequence of harming listed species. Long adds that the need for consultation does not grant USFWS employees access to private lands without landowner consent.
Burton elaborated by saying "For actions carried out under Farm Bill programs, discretionary involvement or control under the ESA generally would depend on whether payments were due the landowner under a program contract. If payments were due, NRCS would have to determine whether the action might affect a listed species or designated critical habitat. If NRCS determined there would be no effect, we would work with the landowner to carry out the planned conservation practices without consulting with USFWS. If NRCS determined the project may affect listed species or their habitat, then Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act would apply and NRCS would consult with USFWS to identify ways to minimize any adverse impacts (provided the landowner wished to continue with the project). This often involves minor changes, such as to the timing of the work or the configuration of the project."
"It is our intent to help our customers be aware of laws, rules and regulations while they carry out their land stewardship," Burton said. "Wyomings private landowners voluntarily implement many conservation practices that benefit wildlife and wetland habitat. We compliment and support them for these positive actions."
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