[Federal Register: October 28, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 208)]
[Page 58086-58093]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service
RIN 1018-AF63

Proposed Policy on General Conservation Permits

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: The Service announces a proposed policy to enhance the use of 
permits as conservation tools by granting general conservation permits 
under a number of wildlife and plant laws and treaties. The policy 
recognizes scientific and conservation professionals and institutions 
as partners in resource conservation and management and provides 
incentives for them to work with protected species and their habitats. 
It establishes a framework for us to evaluate permit applications based 
on a risk assessment and grant a general conservation permit under 
certain circumstances to professionals conducting scientific, 
management, and conservation activities. This proposed policy is 
intended to complement the current system used to process permit 

[[Page 58087]]

    The development of this policy is the first step in an ongoing 
review of our permits programs. We also are developing a long-term 
implementation plan for permits reform, will be conducting a study of 
existing successful permits programs and practices, and anticipate 
forming a permits process advisory committee.

DATES: Send public comments on this notice by December 27, 1999.

ADDRESSES: Send comments to the Chief, Office of Management Authority, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 700, 
Arlington, Virginia 22203. Materials received will be available for 
public inspection by appointment from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through 
Friday, at the Office of Management Authority.

Management Authority, at the above address, telephone (703) 358-2093 or 
fax (703) 358-2280.



    We implement a number of wildlife and plant laws and treaties, 
including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species 
of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), 
Lacey Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA), Wild Bird 
Conservation Act (WBCA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), and Marine 
Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Each of these laws and treaties provides 
for permits to be issued for otherwise prohibited activities under 
specific circumstances. Permits are a means of regulating human 
activities that can have an impact on populations of protected wildlife 
and plants, thereby conserving these species and their habitats for 
future generations. Our goal in administering the permits programs is 
to foster conservation of protected species and their habitats, while 
imposing the least possible burden on the affected public.
    Over the past several years, certain wildlife and plant 
professionals and conservation organizations have raised concerns about 
our permits programs. Their concerns have centered on the need for a 
better approach to programmatic permitting and the need to recognize 
scientific and conservation organizations conducting work with 
protected species as partners in resource conservation. These 
individuals and organizations believe that our current permits system 
is a disincentive to working with protected species, and at times even 
impedes scientific investigation, conservation, and endangered and 
threatened species recovery efforts.
    Last year, we established a Permits Work Group to review concerns 
raised about our permits programs and to make recommendations on how to 
address the concerns. Members of the work group include representatives 
from our permits programs in the Washington Office and in each of the 
seven regions. They include managers of permits programs, as well as 
legal instruments examiners and biologists who review permit 
    On August 10, 1998, we published a scoping notice in the Federal 
Register (63 FR 42639). We described the four programs that administer 
permits--Office of Management Authority, Office of Law Enforcement, 
Division of Endangered Species, and Office of Migratory Bird 
Management--and summarized the permits initiatives currently being 
undertaken within the four programs. We also asked for comments on the 
development of a policy that would approach permits as conservation 
tools and provide a more efficient permits process that would be 
consistently implemented Service-wide, with a focus on scientific 
research and scientific and conservation institutions that meet certain 
high biological and legal standards (i.e., paragraph C of the proposed 
policy outlines these standards).

Summary of Comments

    We received 135 comments from 4 Federal agencies, 57 individuals 
(including 30 form letters from individuals who rehabilitate migratory 
birds), 6 foreign entities, 8 State or county government agencies, 17 
museums, and 43 organizations. There was a wide range of comments that 
addressed not only policy development for scientific and conservation 
permits, but the permits process as a whole for all types of 
    Members of one organization were strongly opposed to our specific 
proposal to identify cooperators from scientific and conservation 
institutions, streamline the approval of permits for these cooperators, 
and/or issue general permits. They considered the current permits 
process to be ``extraordinarily'' easy and expected to see a high 
threshold of proof applied to ensure that permits are granted in a 
precautionary manner. They did not believe that permit decisions could 
be generalized. They asserted that, while an institution may be 
noteworthy for its contribution to conservation of one particular 
species, it may have no expertise in the conservation of another. They 
also believed that any kind of pre-approval process would limit public 
access to information on applicants and their proposed activities.
    Other commenters generally supported the development of a new 
permits policy and either identified problems and/or made suggestions 
on changes that could improve the current permits programs. The 
following briefly summarizes these other general comments and suggested 
solutions received from the public and/or identified by the Permits 
Work Group. The identified problems and suggested solutions are not 
given in any priority order, nor is the inclusion of a problem or 
suggestion an indication that we agree with it or will be able to 
implement it. We have reviewed all the comments, incorporated some 
ideas into this proposed policy, and are considering others in the 
ongoing review of our permits programs.
    Problem Identified: Sometimes permit applications, amendments, and 
renewals are not processed in a timely manner, and there are no 
regulatory time limits for processing such actions.
    Suggested Solutions: Establish mandatory time frames for processing 
permit applications; specify review due dates for low-risk 
transactions; evaluate staffing needs; establish time frames/guidelines 
for reviewing offices; notify the public of any anticipated delays in 
processing permits; use the new computer system, Service Permit 
Issuance and Tracking System (SPITS), for more efficient permits 
processing; use general advices, findings, and biological opinions, 
where appropriate; streamline the renewal process and reporting 
requirements; allow electronic/faxed submission of applications; 
develop a system to check the status of an application by phone or 
internet; and allow payment of fees by credit card.
    Problem Identified: The permit process is too complex. It is 
difficult to understand how our programs process applications and what 
office to contact for a specific type of permit. Applicants must submit 
duplicate information for each permit.
    Suggested Solutions: Evaluate whether permits are being issued by 
the appropriate office or program; establish a single point of contact 
for permits; conduct a study of successful permit programs; establish 
an electronic species query for all wildlife and plant laws; provide on 
the internet general information on our permits programs and whom to 
contact; harmonize CITES and ESA species listings; simplify application 
forms with clear guidance on what is needed and why; establish an 
applicant master file for baseline

[[Page 58088]]

information that can be accessed by all permits offices to reduce 
duplication; register captive-breeding or plant propagation facilities 
to expedite issuance of permits; and issue or renew permits even if the 
project is not currently funded.
    Problem Identified: Permit regulations are not clear, are out of 
date, or take too long to develop. Policies and procedures are unclear 
and not available to the public. There is confusion about terms we use.
    Suggested Solutions: Establish time frames to update regulations, 
internal practices, and policies; establish a cross-program team to 
coordinate review and ensure consistency; convert regulations to plain 
English; involve constituents by establishing a task force or advisory 
council to assist in formulating regulations and policies and in 
discussions of permit issues; notify permittees of changes in a timely 
manner; develop guidance, policy, or regulations on the following: 
development of special rules under section 4(d) of the ESA; use of 
euthanasia; import of sport-hunted trophies; rehabilitation of 
wildlife; use of ESA-listed species in educational programs; and 
placement of salvaged, incidentally taken, deceased, or seized wildlife 
and plants.
    Problem Identified: Applicants have no specific guidelines on how 
to submit a successful application. The public is unfamiliar with laws 
and regulations that apply to their proposed activities and the 
multitude and complexity of the different permit application 
requirements and issuance criteria. Experts in conservation are not 
always experts in dealing with the permit process.
    Suggested Solutions: Create a permits clearinghouse and/or toll-
free hotline; develop a handbook for applicants; develop more fact 
sheets to assist the public in understanding the laws and permit 
procedures; test effectiveness of current application forms and 
continue to simplify the forms as appropriate; create one Service 
permits web page and fax retrieval system; develop a permits outreach 
plan; and publicize improvements in the permits system.
    Problem Identified: Permits need to be combined. A single 
transaction may require multiple permits with differing effective 
dates, reporting requirements, and conditions.
    Suggested Solutions: Review current permit types to develop 
combined terms and conditions so one permit can be issued for multiple 
authorizations; issue permits for longer periods of time, if 
appropriate; consolidate annual reporting requirements; expedite 
process to add new species or activities to an existing permit; and 
allow other Department of the Interior (DOI) agencies to act as 
subpermittees under regional permits.
    Problem Identified: Too many permits are required at different 
levels of government (i.e., State, Federal, and foreign). It is 
difficult to comply with foreign law.
    Suggested Solutions: Coordinate with State and other Federal 
permitting agencies; link our web site to other sites that contain 
information on State, Federal, and foreign permitting programs, 
including copies of foreign and State wildlife and plant laws and 
addresses of foreign and State conservation agencies; and work with 
other countries to standardize permits procedures.
    Problem Identified: Port clearance needs to be simplified. People 
would like to import or export wildlife through any Customs port. Some 
believe that the import and export clearance of non-protected wildlife 
is burdensome.
    Suggested Solutions: Register all permanently marked museum 
specimens and require no further permits (if existing laws and treaties 
allow) or clearance to transfer them; allow the clearance of low-risk 
specimens at Customs ports; increase the number of designated ports and 
inspectors at border ports; eliminate the filing of a Wildlife 
Declaration form for non-protected insects; and allow the electronic 
filing of the Wildlife Declaration form.
    Problem Identified: Weaknesses in the Service's internal 
communication and coordination have created inconsistencies in 
interpreting and implementing policies and regulations from region to 
region and among programs.
    Suggested Solutions: Establish one-stop shopping through one 
Service-wide permits program or one permits office in each region; 
create a Washington office permits coordinator for each program; create 
a national permits team; develop permits handbooks and national 
internal guidance; hold annual internal permits training and workshops; 
use SPITS to share data and improve coordination; harmonize permit 
applications across programs; review permit terms and conditions to 
make them consistent and reasonable; and establish a Washington office 
ombudsman to referee regional inconsistencies and consider complaints.
    Problem Identified: The Service neither recognizes the efforts or 
contributions of partners (including State agencies, research 
institutions, conservation organizations, non-Federal recovery team 
members, range states) and other NGOs, nor utilizes the expertise 
available in scientific and conservation institutions. We need to give 
greater recognition to the inherent value of research.
    Suggested Solutions: Include individuals, zoos, and landowners as 
partners; increase communication and outreach; utilize experts and peer 
review; increase collaboration with State wildlife and plant agencies 
in permit decisions; establish electronic links with institutional 
databases for tracking specimens; give public recognition to 
conservation partners; and develop incentive programs for private 
    Problem Identified: The current system serves as a disincentive to 
engage in conservation activities or work with protected species; 
impedes scientific investigation, conservation, and endangered and 
threatened species recovery efforts; and exists first to enforce 
regulations and only secondly to conserve wildlife and plants and their 
biodiversity. Current regulations and their implementation focus on 
each action and animal, rather than assisting in scientific or 
conservation efforts. The Service does not view the import of sport-
hunted trophies as a conservation tool and needs to be more supportive 
of foreign range countries' conservation programs.
    Suggested Solutions: Open up discussion of systemic shortcomings 
before moving forward with permit reform; issue programmatic permits; 
identify low-, medium-, and high-risk activities; allow for low-risk, 
non-specified activities; involve external conservation and research 
professionals in developing criteria for permit issuance; base 
decisions on good science; consider cumulative effects; simplify 
process for obtaining permits; expedite the processing of permits, 
especially for captive-bred animals; and establish a monitoring program 
for Safe Harbor Agreements.
    Problem Identified: The Service does not use risk management in 
administering the permits programs and micro-manages low-risk specimens 
(e.g., pre-CITES, accessioned museum specimens).
    Suggested Solutions: Evaluate program-based or general permits for 
activities and species within the scientific scope of a research 
project under all laws and across our programs; consider the following 
options: (1) For scientific and conservation institutions, develop 
standardized criteria for excellence that qualify them for general 
permits and pre-approve such

[[Page 58089]]

cooperators to receive individual CITES permits on a streamlined basis; 
(2) develop a two-tiered, risk-based system that would not require 
people to obtain individual permits for research activities for low-
risk species (i.e., species other than ones listed under the ESA as 
endangered or threatened or migratory birds of special concern); (3) 
develop an accreditation system that would allow legitimate members of 
the scientific community to conduct their research programs without 
intensive oversight; and (4) allow multiple-use permits for low-risk 
    Problem Identified: The current process places too much emphasis on 
preventing unqualified persons from getting permits, not on 
facilitating conservation by qualified persons. There are no policies 
outlining factors to be considered for the issuance of program-based or 
general permits.
    Suggested Solutions: Criteria for issuing permits should be 
flexible and consider principles of adaptive management; factors to be 
considered should include: (1) The types of activities (e.g., 
ecosystem-level activities; conservation efforts; import and export of 
tissue samples; activities and species that are the same or similar to 
those previously approved; and activities with SSP (Species Survival 
Plan) species); (2) qualifications of person or institution (e.g., a 
specific person based on their research; a master permit holder who 
designates subpermittees; an individual with demonstrated successful 
conservation activities; members accredited by a professional 
organization such as the American Museum Association; or an institution 
registered under CITES); (3) record of compliance with wildlife and 
plant laws; (4) resources available to accomplish the project; (5) 
record of compliance with permit terms and conditions; (6) permit terms 
and conditions that require permittees to submit annual reports that 
allow us to spot check activities and records, and to re-qualify 
periodically; and (7) revocation of permits if requirements are not 
    Problem Identified: There has been an increase in the complexity of 
permit issues and numbers of permits without a corresponding increase 
in staff.
    Suggested Solutions: Analyze workload, issues, and priorities of 
permits programs; allocate resources between management of generally 
harmless activities (e.g., import of research samples collected 
ancillary to species' conservation programs and education) versus 
activities that are potentially harmful (e.g., lethal take of ESA-
listed species); and develop an ongoing approach to identify permit 
problems and dialogue to resolve them.

Future Steps

    This proposed policy is the first step in a series of actions we 
will undertake to make the processing and administration of permits 
more effective. It also serves as a model for us to evaluate other 
types of permit activities, the risks to a species and its habitat 
associated with those activities, and how we can look at them 
    In addition to considering the concerns we have heard to date, we 
believe we need to work to a greater extent with others to find 
innovative solutions to the increasingly complex issues associated with 
species management and conservation, and human activities. Thus, we are 
developing a long-term implementation plan, will be conducting a study 
to see what successful approaches to permitting are in place by other 
private organizations and public agencies, and will consider forming an 
advisory committee that would establish a forum for continuous dialogue 
on creative approaches to permitting and ensure that we hear diverse 
points of view.
    At the same time, we will proceed with the permits initiatives 
undertaken in the last few years. These initiatives are in various 
stages of development and implementation. It is worth noting that many 
overlap with suggestions listed in the Summary of Comments section. 
They include efforts to:

Make the Process More Efficient and User Friendly

    <bullet> Review permit application forms under the Paperwork 
Reduction Act. (Such a review was completed on January 31, 1998, 
resulting in redesigned, simplified forms that are tailored, where 
possible, to a particular type of activity or species. Since we 
formally review the information collected by application forms every 3 
years, we intend to incorporate changes identified by the ongoing 
permits reform at the next review in 2001.)
    <bullet> Develop a new computer system to allow for more efficient 
tracking and issuance of permits. (SPITS went online nationwide for 
permit issuance in 1998 and will be online for species tracking by the 
end of 1999.)
    <bullet> Provide better access to permit information through the 
development of new fact sheets, a faxback system that allows 
application forms to be ordered by using a toll-free number, and the 
internet (our web site--http://www.fws.gov).
    <bullet>  Increase the number of ports designated for the import 
and export of wildlife and the number of wildlife inspectors to clear 
shipments, including an increase in wildlife inspectors at Canadian and 
Mexican border ports.

Ensure Consistent and Fair Implementation

    <bullet> Develop permits handbooks to assist in training persons 
reviewing permit applications and ensure consistency by them in 
interpretation of laws and treaties and the processing of permit 
    <bullet> Draft new policies and permit regulations to clarify 
permit procedures and issuance criteria.
    <bullet> Share data and improve coordination between offices within 
programs and between programs through SPITS.

Foster Partnerships for Wildlife and Plant Conservation

    <bullet> Increase outreach through conferences and meetings.
    <bullet> Use program-based permits to expedite the issuance of 
specific import or export permits for conservation activities.
    <bullet> Lessen import and export requirements for accredited 
scientific institutions by eliminating the requirement to obtain an 
Import/Export License and allowing the use of U.S. Customs ports and 
international mail for shipment of non-protected scientific specimens.

Focus on Risk Management and Conservation

    <bullet> Expand SPITS to track and analyze cumulative wildlife and 
plant data for species management.
    <bullet> Re-assign law enforcement wildlife inspectors to ports 
with high numbers of shipments.

Examples of Potential Applications for General Conservation Permits

    Although many of the permits initiatives outlined above affect all 
types of permits, we are narrowing our focus at this time in this 
proposed policy to general conservation permits. After giving careful 
consideration to the concerns raised and suggestions given on 
programmatic or general permits, we are proposing that general 
conservation permits be issued only under specific circumstances. We 
would combine permit requirements of all laws and treaties across our 
programs, when appropriate, into one permit that authorizes multiple 
transactions for approved species and activities and allows for 
expedited processing of individual import and export permits

[[Page 58090]]

under CITES. In most cases, an applicant wishing to conduct activities 
on multiple species and/or with multiple cooperators must obtain a 
separate permit from each affected program. Under the proposed policy, 
a single general conservation permit could be issued in lieu of a 
number of individual permits. The scope of activities allowed under 
such a permit would be based on potential risk to the conservation of 
the species and its habitat. A general conservation permit would only 
be available to individuals and institutions that have outstanding 
professional credentials (i.e., has demonstrated expertise over time to 
conduct the activities with the same or similar species) and that are 
conducting scientific, management, and conservation activities.
    This proposed policy provides an opportunity for us to work closely 
with the scientific and conservation community, to test the concept of 
a general permit that is similar to a State scientific collecting 
permit, to establish general factors to be considered in approving 
these broader-based permits, and to better coordinate with existing 
State programs. Some components of this proposed policy come from 
approaches we currently apply to the processing of permits. However, 
the proposed policy should clarify our procedures, streamline them for 
applicants who want to conduct activities that will benefit species' 
conservation, and provide consistency in administering permits. The 
proposed policy also lets us try a risk-driven system, which will allow 
us to apply our limited resources toward those species considered to be 
at the greatest conservation risk and that can receive the maximum 
benefit from our enhanced attention. We believe that the use of general 
conservation permits will provide benefits not only to the permittees 
but also to the resource.
    A potential example with ESA-listed species and their habitats 
might be to issue a general conservation permit that allows qualified 
consultants to perform a wide variety of actions, such as the survey 
and salvage of several mussel species, over several States and across 
several regions.
    The following describes two types of permits we recently issued 
that could also fall into potential applications for the general 
conservation permit. The first example involves a permit issued to an 
organization based on its conservation program in foreign countries for 
a species listed under the ESA, WBCA, and CITES. The application was 
published in the Federal Register to notify the public and receive 
comment on the program's activities for 5 years. The permit authorizes 
multiple imports of live birds for rehabilitation, imports of injured 
birds for captive breeding, and imports of biological samples for 
scientific research. It also authorizes the export of live birds for 
reintroduction, re-export of rehabilitated birds, and export or re-
export of biological specimens. Although CITES limits the issuance of 
import permits to 1 year and requires a separate original export permit 
for each shipment, these permits can be issued expeditiously since the 
scientific and legal findings have already been made for the program as 
a whole for 5 years.
    The second example involves the import and export of biological 
samples for scientific and conservation purposes. We issued a permit to 
an applicant authorizing imports of unlimited quantities of biological 
samples from any species listed under CITES or the ESA. As with the 
previous example, the findings are valid for 5 years and successive 
import permits will be issued for 1 year to meet the requirements of 
CITES. The permit was conditioned based on the risk associated with the 
activity or/and with the species. For example, samples collected 
invasively must be collected by the permittee's staff or by other 
appropriately trained personnel who are pre-approved in writing by the 
permittee. The permittee must retain a record of whom it approves. 
These conditions do not apply to samples that are collected non-
invasively. Samples from wild animals of CITES Appendix-I species can 
only be collected in cooperation with local management authorities. 
Separate permits are required for each export or re-export because of 
CITES requirements, but issuance of these permits can be done quickly 
since all the required findings were made for both import and export at 
the time the import permit was issued.

Public Comments Solicited

    We invite interested organizations and the public to comment on 
this proposed Policy on General Conservation Permits. We particularly 
seek comments on factors to consider in evaluating applications for 
general conservation permits and how we could by the issuance of these 
permits foster partnerships for wildlife and plant conservation; focus 
permits on risk management and conservation; reduce paperwork, 
streamline the permit process, and provide user-friendly service; and 
implement the process fairly and consistently while still focusing on 
our conservation mission. At this time, we are seeking comments on this 
proposed policy, not on other types of permits or steps in our ongoing 
permits reform efforts.

Required Determinations

    This proposed policy has not been reviewed by OMB under Executive 
Order 12866.
    A review under the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980, as amended 
(5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) has revealed that this proposed policy would not 
have a significant economic effect or adversely affect an economic 
sector, productivity, jobs, the environment, or other units of 
government. The groups affected by this rule are a relatively small 
number of wildlife and plant professionals and conservation 
organizations who will be eligible to apply for general conservation 
permits that combine authorizations under various wildlife and plant 
laws and treaties into one permit while meeting the existing permit 
regulations and fulfilling our conservation mission. The primary 
economic impact is the reduction in burden hours for applicants 
applying for multiple permits. We estimate these benefits are less than 
$700,000 annually.
    Similarly, this proposed policy is not a major rule under 5 U.S.C. 
804(2), the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, and 
will not negatively affect the economy, consumer costs, or US-based 
    We have determined and certified pursuant to the Unfunded Mandates 
Reform Act, 2 U.S.C. 1502 et seq., that this proposed policy will not 
impose a cost of $100 million or more in any given year on local or 
State governments or private entities.
    Under Executive Order 12630, the proposed policy does not have 
significant takings implications for the same reasons as described 
above under the Regulatory Flexibility Act.
    Under Executive Order 12612, this proposed policy does not have 
significant Federalism implications. We have evaluated possible effects 
on Federally recognized Tribes and determined that there will be no 
adverse effects to any Tribe.
    Under Executive Order 12988, the Office of the Solicitor has 
determined that the proposed policy does not unduly burden the judicial 
system and meets the requirements of Sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of the 
    The proposed rule does not contain new or revised information 
collection for which OMB approval is required under the Paperwork 
Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.). Information collection is 
covered by existing OMB approvals and assigned clearance numbers 1018-
0092, 1018-0093, 1018-

[[Page 58091]]

0094, and 1018-0022 with an expiration date of February 28, 2001. We 
will use the information to review permit applications and make 
decisions, according to criteria established in statutes and 
regulations, on the issuance or denial of permits.
    We have also determined that this proposed policy is categorically 
excluded under the DOI's procedures for complying with the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (516 DM 2, Appendix 1.10).
    Executive Order 12866 requires us to write regulations that are 
easy to understand. We invite your comments on how to make this 
proposed policy easier to understand, including answers to the 
following questions: (1) Are the requirements in the proposed policy 
clearly stated; (2) does the proposed policy contain technical language 
that interferes with its clarity; and (3) what else could we do to make 
this proposed policy easier to understand?

Policy on General Conservation Permits

A. Why approach permits as conservation tools?

    The purpose of this policy is to encourage greater involvement of 
qualified individuals and institutions in protected species' 
conservation through the issuance of general conservation permits. Our 
goals in administering the permits programs are to: (1) Create 
incentives to foster partnerships for the conservation of species and 
their habitats while meeting our basic statutory responsibilities of 
species' protection and management, (2) focus on risk management when 
processing permit applications, (3) impose the least possible burden on 
the affected public, and (4) implement permits fairly and consistently.
    We are committed to carrying out our statutory obligations and will 
apply Federal authorities in a manner to ensure sound resource 
decisions while understanding the importance of partnerships in 
wildlife and plant conservation. We are only one component of a greater 
conservation community and acknowledge that teamwork among Federal, 
Tribal, State, local, international, and private stakeholders is an 
essential ingredient for the management and conservation of wildlife 
and plants. Thus, this policy recognizes scientific and conservation 
professionals and institutions as partners with us in resource 
conservation and management and provides incentives for them to work 
with protected species and their habitats.

B. What is the scope of a general conservation permit?

    This policy establishes a framework for us to use in evaluating 
permit applications and deciding whether or not to issue a general 
conservation permit. These general conservation permits are available 
to approved individuals or institutions conducting non-commercial 
scientific, management, and conservation activities when the provisions 
of all applicable wildlife and plant laws are met and when the benefits 
gained from the proposed activities counter any potential harm to the 
affected species and its habitats.
    We will, as appropriate, consolidate authorizations under the 
various wildlife and plant laws listed in section H of this policy and 
issue one general conservation permit, rather than separate permits. 
This permit may cover most or all of the regulated activities in a 
program described by an individual or institution. In the case of ESA-
listed species, a general conservation permit would only be available 
for activities under section 10(a)(1)(A) that involved intentional take 
of species for the purposes of scientific research, management, or 
conservation, excluding Safe Harbor and Candidate Conservation 
Agreement with Assurances permits. It does not include permits issued 
under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA which authorize take that is 
incidental to otherwise lawful activities (which in this context means 
economic development or the use of land or water). Nor does it replace 
the need to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan under the incidental 
take permit regulations.
    The scope of the activities authorized in the permit will vary 
depending on the risk assessment as outlined below. A general 
conservation permit may authorize multiple transactions, depending on 
the applicant's program and the species involved, and allow for 
streamlined issuance of specific CITES permits for import and export. 
We will explore the feasibility of providing a single point of contact 
in each regional office, across regional and programmatic boundaries, 
for the processing of applications and administration of the general 
conservation permit.

C. What factors will we consider in evaluating permit applications for 
general conservation permits?

    Because general conservation permits may authorize a broader scope 
of activities, we will consider the following factors in evaluating 
applications for such permits:
    (1) Whether any potential risk to the species in the wild or its 
habitat and/or to the captive population, if applicable, is appropriate 
for the conservation benefits to be gained from the proposed 
    (2) Whether the purpose of the activity is for non-commercial 
scientific research, management, or the conservation of the species or 
its habitat. The proposal must provide clear biological goals and the 
means by which the goals will be achieved, including proposed time 
frames as appropriate. Through the permits process, we will discuss 
with you, the applicant, the proposed activities in view of species' 
biological and management needs, provide technical assistance, and 
resolve issues to ensure species' conservation.
    (3) Whether you have adequate resources to accomplish the proposed 
    (4) Whether you have the biological and legal qualifications, 
including whether you have been a permittee in good standing with a 
long-term record of compliance in the use of similar Federal wildlife 
and plant permits. You should provide copies of any publications that 
demonstrate your biological expertise to conduct the proposed 
activities. We also would consider the qualifications of an individual 
acting as your subpermittee and your ability to retain oversight over 
the actions of that individual.
    (5) If the activities involve holding live wildlife and plants, 
whether the facilities are adequate to accomplish the goals, including 
your prior record of care and maintenance of the same or similar 
wildlife and plants.
    (6) Whether you and your proposed activities meet statutory 
requirements. The proposed policy is intended to complement the current 
permits processing system and not supersede or alter any Federal law or 
regulation related to species' conservation.

D. How do we calculate potential risk?

    Our basic statutory responsibility under the various wildlife and 
plant laws and treaties is to conserve fish, wildlife, plants, and the 
ecosystems upon which they depend for future generations. The scope of 
the activities and the species authorized in a general conservation 
permit will be based on an evaluation of the degree of conservation 
benefit to the wild and captive populations of the species and its 
habitat versus the degree of potential risk posed by the proposed 
activities outlined in the application. The evaluation will be based on 
the best scientific information available and the

[[Page 58092]]

conservation needs of the species and its habitat. The proposed policy 
limits these permits to scientific, management, and conservation 
activities. Some actions generally may have such low risk to the 
conservation of the species and its habitat that we may grant a permit 
for a broader scope of activities. On the other hand, some actions with 
some species may have such a high degree of risk that we may limit the 
scope of activities or terms and conditions of the permit, or we may 
deny a permit for the proposed activity.
    Within this framework, we will look at a number of factors to 
perform a risk assessment. Each of these factors (outlined below) has a 
continuum of risk associated with it. The factors are not listed in any 
order of priority. Neither is the list meant to be an exhaustive list 
of the factors used in performing a risk assessment, nor to be a rigid 
hierarchy since other aspects of the proposed activities and species 
status may affect the degree of risk.
    (1) Level of species protection. We will look at how the species is 
protected. For example, if a species is listed under the ESA, there is 
a continuum based on the risk of extinction recognized by the law from 
high risk to low risk as follows:
    Threatened with a special rule (often referred to as a 4(d) rule);
    Experimental population; and
    Similarity of appearance.
    This same recognition of differences in risk exists in programs 
under other laws and treaties. Each law and treaty outlines the 
purposes for which the fish, wildlife, plants, and their ecosystems may 
be used and standards for making decisions on whether to allow the 
proposed activity. When a species is regulated under more than one law 
or treaty, all the requirements are evaluated.
    (2) Potential effect of the proposed activities. We will review the 
intended purpose of the proposed activities in relation to their 
potential effect on the species' biological, ecological, and management 
needs (e.g., population status, best management practices, available 
scientific information). Again, there will be a continuum of risk, 
depending on how the proposed activities may affect the species' 
population status, habitat, or management. For example, risks 
associated with the source or type of specimen in general have a 
continuum from high risk to low risk such as:
    Intentional killing of wild animals;
    Permanent removal of live animals and plants from the wild;
    Removal from the wild as part of a recovery effort or 
reintroduction program;
    Death or permanent removal from an essential captive population;
    Invasive collection of tissue samples from wild animals;
    Non-invasive collection of tissue samples with captive or wild 
    Culled or surplus specimens; and
    Salvaged dead specimens when not intentionally killed for the 
purpose of collecting.
    We will conduct this review using our own scientists (e.g., the 
Office of Scientific Authority), outside experts, and peer review as 
needed. We will take into consideration the level of biological 
uncertainty in the available scientific information and management 
strategies. The degree of risk may be higher when there are significant 
gaps in the biological data about the species' ecology, management 
techniques, or potential effects of the proposed activities on the 
species and its habitat. You may want to anticipate these uncertainties 
and design your activities to provide for flexibility by outlining 
alternative methods or strategies to achieve your biological goals. 
This may allow us to issue a permit with specific terms and conditions 
in response to the proposed alternatives and anticipated changing 
    (3) Benefits. At the same time, we will consider net or overall 
benefits to the species and its habitat that may be gained by the 
    (4) Part of a management plan or strategy. We will consider if the 
activity is part of a recognized management plan or strategy. For ESA-
listed species, we will consider whether the activity is a task 
identified in a final recovery plan or outline.
    (5) Level of pressure on the species. This would include the degree 
of risk associated with whether the transaction would encourage or 
allow for commercial use.
    (6) Potential cumulative effects. We would look at cumulative 
effects on the species' wild and captive populations and its habitat.
    (7) Safeguards. Terms and conditions of general conservation 
permits, including monitoring of activities through reports and field 
visits, will be based on the degree of risk to the species and its 
habitat. For example, permits to conduct activities with threatened or 
endangered species, and migratory birds of management concern are more 
likely to have closer and more frequent monitoring and more restrictive 
permit terms and conditions.
    For high-risk activities, we may accompany the permittee when take 
activities are being conducted. This allows us to develop closer 
partnerships with researchers; check information on species, habitat, 
and techniques; identify unanticipated deficiencies or benefits 
associated with the activities; help prevent accidental violations of 
the terms and conditions of the permit; and work out any adjustments 
that may be needed in the permit.
    Generally through the use of annual reports, we will periodically 
review the activities to ensure the terms and conditions of the permit 
are being implemented; to look at the level and impacts of authorized 
take; and to determine if the activities are producing the desired 
results. We will use the information to assess cumulative trends in 
species' populations or changes in its habitat.

E. What are the benefits of these permits?

    The granting of general conservation permits generally offers 
benefits in four broad areas. We will take the identified actions to 
help further these benefits.
    (1) Foster partnerships for wildlife and plant conservation.
    <bullet> Issue general conservation permits that consolidate the 
terms and conditions for multiple activities. This will enhance our 
existing partnerships, and may encourage new partnerships, by reducing 
the paperwork burden on our conservation partners and simplifying the 
permit process.
    <bullet> Reach out to current and potential partners by providing 
permit information at scientific meetings and conferences, in 
newsletters, etc.
    <bullet> Use our own scientists and outside experts and encourage 
peer review to obtain the best available scientific information when 
evaluating permit applications. The results of any external review will 
be entered into the administrative record of the decision and made 
available for public review consistent with provisions of the Freedom 
of Information Act and the Privacy Act.
    (2) Focus permits on risk management and conservation.
    <bullet> Continue to base our permit decisions on the best 
available scientific information within the bounds of the laws and 
    <bullet> Consider cumulative effects of permit issuance over time. 
Use the computer system, Service Permit Issuance and Tracking System 
(SPITS), to analyze cumulative wildlife and plant data.
    <bullet> Base our permits programs on conservation risk management 
to ensure

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that our limited resources are directed toward species at the greatest 
conservation risk and that can benefit from our enhanced attention.
    (3) Reduce paperwork, streamline the permit process, and provide 
user-friendly service.
    <bullet> Explore the feasibility of providing a single point of 
contact in each regional office for the processing of permit 
applications and administration of the general conservation permit.
    <bullet> Develop and use harmonized permit application forms to 
consolidate the information needed to apply for a permit under multiple 
wildlife and plant laws and actively seek comments from the public 
during the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)-approval process for 
forms under the Paperwork Reduction Act.
    <bullet> Develop and use general findings (e.g., no-detriment 
advices under CITES, programmatic biological opinions under the ESA) to 
decide when an application meets the permits issuance criteria.
    <bullet> Issue and track the processing of permits through SPITS.
    <bullet> Issue general conservation permits for up to 5 years for 
ongoing activities, depending on the results of the risk assessment.
    <bullet> Consolidate annual reporting requirements and, when 
possible, tailor the report due date to the activities conducted. This 
would allow the permittee to submit a single report and meet the 
requirements of more than one law or treaty.
    (4) Implement the permit process fairly and consistently.
    <bullet> Develop standardized permit conditions for activities with 
the same species or related groups of species.
    <bullet> Use the computer system SPITS to share data and ensure use 
of consistent permit terms and conditions.

F. What if I don't qualify for a general conservation permit?

    Individuals or organizations that do not qualify for permits under 
this policy may apply for individual permits under existing 
regulations, just as they do now.

G. What is the scope of this policy?

    This policy applies Service-wide to programs that process permit 
applications for all species of wildlife and plants under the law and 
treaties listed in section H of this policy.

H. Authority

    The authorities for this action are the Bald and Golden Eagle 
Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668a); Convention on International Trade 
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (27 U.S.T. 1087); 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.); 
Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42); Marine Mammal Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 
1361 et seq.); Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712); and 
Wild Bird Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. 4901-4916).

    Dated: August 30, 1999.
John G. Rogers,
Acting Director.
[FR Doc. 99-28232 Filed 10-27-99; 8:45 am]