Virginia Field Office
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News and Highlights

Interior Department Takes Steps to Revoke Final Rule on Migratory Bird Treaty Act Incidental Take

May 6, 2021: Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed rule to revoke the January 7, 2021, final regulation that limited the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). Significant concerns about the interpretation of the MBTA have been raised by the public, legal challenges in court and from the international treaty partners.

This proposed rule provides the public with notice of the Service’s intent to revoke the January 7 rule’s interpretation of the MBTA and return to implementing the MBTA as prohibiting incidental take and applying enforcement discretion, consistent with judicial precedent.

“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a bedrock environmental law that is critical to protecting migratory birds and restoring declining bird populations,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Today’s actions will serve to better align Interior with its mission and ensure that our decisions are guided by the best-available science.”

“Migratory bird conservation is an integral part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “We have heard from our partners, the public, Tribes, states and numerous other stakeholders from across the country that it is imperative the previous administration’s rollback of the MBTA be reviewed to ensure continued progress toward commonsense standards that protect migratory birds.”

 Press Release

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Promotes Public Access to Hunting and Fishing in Largest Expansion of Opportunities to Date

May 4, 2021: Continuing the Department of the Interior’s efforts to increase recreational access on public lands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today a proposal for new or expanded hunting and sport fishing opportunities for game species across 2.1 million acres at 90 national wildlife refuges and on the lands of one national fish hatchery.

“We are committed to ensuring Americans of all backgrounds have access to hunting and fishing and other recreational activities on our public lands,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “Hunters and anglers are some of our most ardent conservationists and they play an important role in ensuring the future of diverse and healthy wildlife populations. Our lands have also provided a much-needed outlet to thousands during the pandemic and we hope these additional opportunities will provide a further connection with nature, recreation and enjoyment.”

Increasing access to public lands and waters is a central component of the Biden-Harris administration’s approach to conservation, including the efforts to conserve 30 percent of U.S lands and waters by 2030. This proposed rule would open or expand 939 opportunities for hunting or sport fishing (an opportunity is one species on one field station). The expansion proposed in this rule is the largest in recent history – including last year’s proposed rule which itself was larger than the previous five rules combined.

Hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities contributed more than $156 billion in economic activity in communities across the United States in 2016, according to the Service’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, published every five years. More than 101 million Americans — 40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older — pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting and fishing.

 Press Release

Secretary Haaland Announces Nearly $80 Million in Funding for Wetland Conservation Projects and National Wildlife Refuges

April 21, 2021: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland today announced that $78 million in grants has been approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which will provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners the ability to help conserve or restore nearly 500,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds across North America – including Canada and Mexico. The grants, made through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), will be matched by nearly $125 million in partner funds.

In addition, the Commission approved $1.8 million from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to conserve land in three national wildlife refuges for public use and hunt programs. The Commission, which is chaired by Secretary Haaland, convened today for the inaugural meeting of the Biden-Harris administration.

“It’s remarkable that the programs we are discussing were established before we appreciated what climate change was – or how threatened many bird populations are,” said Secretary Haaland. “Not too long ago, a study found that there are 3 billion fewer birds in North America than there were 50 years ago. This Commission’s investments are critical to keep habitats whole and connected and help birds flourish for the next hundred years and beyond.”

Wetlands provide many economic, ecological and social benefits. They are also important protections from the effects of climate change such as flooding and rising seas. NAWCA grants conserve bird populations and wetland habitat while supporting local economies and outdoor recreational opportunities, such as hunting, fishing and birdwatching. Partners in NAWCA projects include private landowners, states, local governments, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups, Tribes, land trusts and corporations.

 Press Release

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Finalizes Critical Habitat for Freshwater Mussel

April 7, 2021: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has finalized critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the yellow lance, a freshwater mussel found only in the rivers and streams of North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. The species was listed as threatened under the ESA in 2018 following population declines due to habitat loss and degradation.

The eleven critical habitat units designated for the yellow lance sit within the Patuxent, Rappahannock, York, James, Chowan, Tar and Neuse River Basins in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Totaling 319 river miles, the units fall within Franklin, Granville, Halifax, Johnston, Nash, Vance, Wake and Warren Counties, North Carolina; Brunswick, Craig, Culpeper, Dinwiddie, Fauquier, Louisa, Lunenburg, Madison, Nottoway, Orange and Rappahannock Counties, Virginia; and Howard and Montgomery Counties in Maryland. All units are currently occupied by the yellow lance and do not include upland habitats, only streambeds to the high-water mark. No unoccupied units have been designated.

The rule Docket No. FWS-FWS-R4-ES-2018-0094 is available and has an effective date of Monday, May 10, 2021.

 Press Release

America’s Bald Eagle Population Continues to Soar

March 24, 2021: Populations of the American bald eagle — the bold national symbol of the United States — have quadrupled since 2009, according to a new report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners. Bald eagles once teetered on the brink of extinction, reaching an all-time low of 417 known nesting pairs in 1963 in the lower 48 states. However, after decades of protection, the banning of the pesticide DDT, and conservation efforts with numerous partners, the bald eagle population has flourished, growing to more than 71,400 nesting pairs.

According to scientists from the Service’s Migratory Bird Program, the bald eagle population climbed to an estimated 316,700 individual bald eagles in the lower 48 states. This indicates the bald eagle population has continued to increase rapidly since our previous survey. The information is now available in the new technical report: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Final Report: Bald Eagle Population Size: 2020 Update.

“Today’s announcement is truly a historic conservation success story. Announcements like ours today give me hope. I believe that we have the opportunity of a lifetime to protect our environment and our way of life for generations to come. But we will only accomplish great things if we work together,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.

 Press Release

American Rescue Plan Provides Critical Support for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Programs

March 12, 2021: The American Rescue Plan (ARP) signed by President Biden March 12, 2021, invests $105 million to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners address pandemic-related impacts to wildlife. The funds will support work to prevent future pandemics by combating wildlife trafficking and addressing wildlife diseases that could impact the health and welfare of communities across the nation and around the globe.

“The Service serves on the front lines of the nation’s response to halting wildlife trafficking and to better understanding and preventing wildlife diseases that could lead to global pandemics such as COVID-19,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “We stand ready to deploy these critical funds to amplify our existing work to protect the American people and cherished wildlife resources at home and abroad.”  

Press Release

States Receive $55 Million to Protect Vulnerable Wildlife

February 26, 2021: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is distributing $55 million to state wildlife agencies through the State Wildlife Grant (SWG) Program to conserve imperiled wildlife and their habitats using the best available science. Ensuring species nationwide will benefit, grant funds are allocated to all states, commonwealths and territories according to a congressionally mandated formula based on population size and geographic area.

“State wildlife agencies conduct critical conservation work,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “The SWG Program allows the Service to support their unique authority and expertise in managing vulnerable species. Together, we create nationwide conservation networks that protect species before they need the conservation triage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).”

The SWG Program funds projects that accelerate the recovery of endangered species and can prevent others from being listed under the ESA. Since its inception 20 years ago, the Program has contributed to a myriad of conservation success stories.

Press Release

$1 Billion Sent to State Wildlife Agencies, Bolstering Conservation Projects and Recreation Opportunities

February 25, 2021: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is distributing $1 billion to state wildlife agencies through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR). Generated by the hunting and angling industry, these funds support regional conservation projects across the country. The 2021 WSFR apportionment is $121 million higher than the 2020 apportionment due to increases in firearm, fishing equipment and motorboat fuel revenues.

“The WSFR partnership among states, industry and the Service is a keystone conservation program in the United States because it creates a relationship between outdoor recreationists and the natural resources they enjoy,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “State agencies use these funds to manage wildlife and improve their habitats, which also benefits outdoor recreationists.”

Rooted in the Pittman–Robertson Act of 1937, the Dingell–Johnson Act of 1950, and the Wallop–Breaux Amendment of 1984, the WSFR program establishes a conservation partnership among state wildlife agencies, the outdoor industry and the Service. When hunters, anglers and boaters purchase equipment and fuel, the manufacturers, producers and importers of those goods pay into the Wildlife Restoration, Sport Fish Restoration and Boating trust funds. These funds are distributed by the Service to ensure wildlife agencies in all states, commonwealths and territories receive support.

“State fish and wildlife agencies are critically important to this nation’s on-the-ground conservation efforts,” said Sara Parker Pauley, Director of the Missouri Department of Conservation and President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “The Wildlife and Sportfish Restoration (WSFR) Program provides funding for states to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, their habitats and the hunting, sport fishing and recreational boating opportunities they provide for generations to come.”

Press Release

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Awards More Than $27 Million to Help Coastal Wetland Ecosystems Become More Resilient, Boost Economy and Support Conservation

February 24, 2021: Coastal areas are highly vulnerable to climate change, and many have already been dramatically altered and stressed by storms, sea level rise, human activity and invasive species. Coastal wetland habitat conservation is critical to ensure that important habitat, wildlife and coastal communities continue to thrive for future generations. Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will award more than $27 million to support 33 projects in 14 coastal states to protect, restore or enhance almost 28,000 acres of coastal wetlands and adjacent upland habitats under the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program.

State, local and tribal governments, private landowners, conservation groups and other partners will contribute more than $22.2 million in additional funds to these projects. These grants will have wide-reaching benefits for local economies, people and wildlife – boosting coastal resilience, reducing flood risk, stabilizing shorelines and protecting natural ecosystems.

“The projects funded by the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program will strengthen partnerships with numerous public, non-profit and private stakeholders while directly conserving and restoring thousands of acres of vital coastal habitat and inland wetlands,” said Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams. “These grants will help ensure that coastal resources that are put at risk by pollution, development and the uncertainties of a changing climate are conserved.”

The 2021 grants will also help recover coastal-dependent species, enhance flood protection and water quality, provide economic benefits to coastal communities and tribes, and increase outdoor recreational opportunities.

Press Release

Service Announces $7.4 Million in Grants to Help Protect Imperiled Species

January 13, 2021: Vulnerable wildlife across the nation will benefit from approximately $7.4 million in grants thanks to the Competitive State Wildlife Grant (C-SWG) Program. The program supports projects led by state and commonwealth fish and wildlife agencies protecting imperiled wildlife and their habitat. This year’s grantees include agencies in Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, South Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. They will implement 17 conservation projects that span 28 states and four commonwealths.

“No administration has recovered more imperiled species in their first term than the Trump Administration. State agencies are essential conservation partners for the Service and the administration, and through the C-SWG Program, we can empower local leaders as they work to protect nationally and locally important species,” said Service Director Aurelia Skipwith. “By protecting these species now, we can potentially prevent them from being listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).”

The C-SWG Program employs a nationally competitive process to select and fund projects that conserve species listed in State Wildlife Action Plans. All 56 state, territorial and commonwealth wildlife agencies have such plans, which target state-identified Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Supporting these projects can accelerate the recovery of endangered species and potentially prevent others from being listed. The Program also facilitates collaboration among state, federal, tribal and non-governmental fish and wildlife managers, creating nationwide conservation networks. Fortifying this spirit of collaboration are $2.8 million in non-federal funds provided by states and their partners.

Press Release

Interior least tern incubating eggs at Glacier National Park.
An interior least tern incubating eggs. Credit:USFWS

Trump Administration Celebrates Recovery of America's Smallest Tern

January 12 , 2020: After more than three decades of conservation partnerships inspired by the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is celebrating the delisting of the interior least tern due to recovery. Thanks to the diverse efforts of local, state and federal stakeholders across an 18-state range, the interior least tern's populations are healthy, stable and increasing.

Press Release

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Finalizes Regulation Clarifying the Migratory Bird Treaty Act Implementation

January 5, 2021: Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is publishing a final regulation that defines the scope of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

Consistent with the text, purpose and history of the MBTA, the final regulation clarifies that conduct resulting in unintentional (incidental) injury or death of migratory birds is not prohibited under the MBTA. This rule provides regulatory certainty to the public, industries, states, tribes and other stakeholders about implementation of the MBTA and best practices for conservation.

“This rule simply reaffirms the original meaning and intent of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by making it clear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not prosecute landowners, industry and other individuals for accidentally killing a migratory bird. This opinion has been adopted by several courts, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt.

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Last updated: May 18, 2021