Policy and Responsibilities - Land Acquisition

341 FW 1
FWM Number
Originating Office
Division of Realty

1.1 Purpose. This part provides Service personnel with a basic understanding of the land acquisition planning process and provides the procedures to complete planning for projects where land acquisition is the proposed method of land protection.

1.2 Scope. Planning for acquisition of land, water, or other interests is initiated with the identification of a need to meet resource objectives that require a real property base. Acquisition involves obtaining full control (fee title) or partial control (easements, leases, or agreements). For purposes of this part, planning for land acquisition usually terminates when the decision document package is completed.

1.3 Policy. Official Service land acquisition policy is as follows:

A. Land Acquisition Policy. The Service will acquire lands and waters consistent with the legislation or other congressional guidelines and Executive orders for the conservation of fish and wildlife and related habitat and to provide wildlife-oriented public use for educational and recreational purposes.

(1) Basic Service policy is to acquire land only when other means, such as zoning or regulation, of achieving program goals and objectives are not appropriate, available, or effective. When lands are to be acquired, the minimum interest necessary to reach management objectives is to be acquired or retained. If fee title is required, full consideration will be given to extended use reservations, exchanges, or other alternatives that will lessen impact on the owner and the community. Donations of desired lands or interests will be encouraged.

(2) To carry out this policy, where there is evidence of a need for additional resource protection at any proposed or existing refuge, fish hatchery, research station, or similar facility, a Land Protection Plan shall be developed that conforms to Departmental and Service policies and applicable laws. The plan shall be simple and concise. It shall be prepared with appropriate public participation and shall include consideration of the sociocultural impacts.

(3) In terms of various authorizing acts and other congressional mandates, acquisition units are divided into two categories for the purpose of this land acquisition policy. They are:

     (a) In those areas specifically authorized by Act of Congress, acquisition is carried out in accordance with the policies and procedures prescribed by the Congress in the authorizing legislation.

     (b) Acquisitions in areas under general authorities such as the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act, the Refuge Recreation Act of 1962, and the Emergency Wetlands Resources Act of 1986 shall be on a willing seller basis. However, the Service may acquire land through litigation (also termed condemnation) to prevent uses that would cause irreparable damage to the resources for which the unit was established to protect; to determine the legal owner (clear title); or to settle a difference of opinion of value. Requests to the Solicitor to initiate condemnation will be made only after receiving prior approval from the Director and notice to the landowner.

B. Land Acquisition Policy for Urban Refuges. The Service seeks to provide refuge visitors with an understanding and appreciation of fish and wildlife resources through environmental education and interpretation and through wildlife-oriented recreational experiences to the extent these activities are compatible with the purposes for which a refuge is established.

(1) The official Service land acquisition policy for urban refuges is to acquire lands and waters in or adjacent to metropolitan statistical areas to protect fish and wildlife resources and habitats that will provide the public wildlife-oriented recreation, education, and interpretation opportunities. A metropolitan statistical area is defined as a city with a population of at least 50,000, or a Census Bureau-defined urbanized area of at least 50,000 with a total metropolitan population of at least 100,000 (75,000 in New England).

(2) Some urban refuges may protect habitats of great significance to the conservation of fish and wildlife resources, including endangered and threatened species. However, the primary purpose for establishment of new urban refuges will be to foster environmental awareness and outreach programs, and to develop an informed and involved citizenry that will support fish and wildlife conservation. If Service lands already exist in the same urban area, the Service will only acquire additional habitat types of sufficient size to meet habitat needs as determined by the Regions, as well as by education, interpretation, and recreation needs that are not currently being met by the existing refuge or other State or county agencies. These refuges will provide public use benefits associated with fish and wildlife resources that include, but are not limited to, bird watching, fishing, scientific research, environmental education, open space in an urban setting, and protection of cultural resources.

(3) General Service authorities and the Service's acquisition policy (i.e., to acquire the minimum interest necessary to reach management objectives) shall apply to these urban refuges. In areas specifically authorized by an Act of Congress, acquisition will be carried out in accordance with the policies prescribed by Congress in the authorizing legislation. Management, operational, and acquisition considerations for urban refuges will include:

     (a) Education, interpretation, and wildlife-oriented recreation value;

     (b) Opportunities for partnerships with State and local governments, private individuals, or citizens groups;

     (c) Potential role of non-profit or volunteer groups for management purposes;

     (d) Adequacy of buffer areas and habitat corridors where possible that contribute appreciably to the long-term preservation of habitats.

1.4 Objectives. Land acquisition is a strategy used by the Service in achieving its goals and objectives for certain species and activities. The first six objectives (A-F) correspond to target categories in the Land Acquisition Priority System (LAPS). The last objective supports the Service’s Urban Refuge Policy.

A. Migratory Birds. The objective is to maintain and manage an appropriate distribution and diversity of high-quality waterfowl habitat. This habitat will maintain current distribution of waterfowl populations and sustain an abundance of waterfowl consistent with population objectives stated in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.

B. Endangered Species. The objective is to prevent species from becoming extinct and to return them to the point where they are no longer listed on the Federal “List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.” Commonly, a species becomes endangered because of a loss of essential habitat. Often, the species can be preserved no other way than by protecting habitat through land acquisition. These habitats are usually under stress from competing uses and can be costly, both socially and economically, to acquire. For the purposes of using the LAPS, habitat protection must be identified in an approved recovery plan prior to being submitted for budgeting.

C. Nationally Significant Wildlife Habitat. Projects in this category prevent permanent loss of nationally significant fish, wildlife, and plant resources. This includes all Service wildlife management actions related to essential habitat for these species and ensures the perpetuation of habitat important to fish and wildlife species. Criteria have been established to qualify projects for protection and an extensive national effort has been made by States and other outside consultants to identify such ecosystems and alternate means of protecting them. Candidate areas for protection cover an extremely wide range of projects with respect to habitat, cost, and size. Proposed sites must contain a concentration of different species or a variety of species of a magnitude that sets them apart from similar sites around the country.

D. Nationally Significant Wetlands. The objective is to protect the Nation’s more important, scarce, and vulnerable wetlands, particularly those representing a declining wetland type within an ecoregion and those having high public benefit. A variety of benefits are associated with wetland preservation. Habitat will be provided for endangered species, migratory birds, and/or a unique diversity of species including resident species, commercial and/or sport fishes, and wildlife-oriented recreation. Benefits will also be derived from continuation of or improvement in surface and groundwater quality and quantity and flood control. For the purposes of using LAPS, wetlands projects must be included in Regional Wetlands Concept Plans.

E. Nationally Significant Fishery Resources. The objective is to protect and facilitate restoration of depleted, nationally significant fishery resources.

(1) The term “nationally significant” refers to finfish resources comprising a continuum of one or more unit stocks; i.e., reproductively discrete stocks represented by a single or an assemblage of closely related species, anadromous in character, and/or interjurisdictional (interstate or national) in distribution.

(2) Target fishery resources are primarily those whose performance and contribution have been reduced to suboptimal levels by a wide variety of factors associated mainly with habitat degradation and excessive use. Emphasized are anadromous and Great Lakes resources represented by indigenous or native species within their original ranges. Although not a criteria for LAPS, land acquisition is also used to perfect or protect water supplies and watersheds.

F. Significant Biodiversity. The objective is to protect representative examples of nationally significant native ecological communities. Sites contain or provide potential for restoring nationally significant elements of our Nation's heritage. Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability among native organisms, communities, and the ecological complexes in which they occur.

(1) Biodiversity may be viewed at many levels, ranging from landscape complexes and complete ecosystems to the chemical structures that are the molecular basis of heredity. The term biodiversity, therefore, encompasses the numbers and relative abundance of different ecosystems, species, and genes native to any particular area of interest.

(2) Biodiversity acquisitions are those that contain all, or most, of their naturally occurring biotic components and functions. Emphasis is placed upon the native aspects of the biota. The native species are those that occur as a result of natural succession and are not the result of humans or their commensals. The objective of protecting biodiversity is to capture, protect, and, where possible, restore the native characteristics of the landscape, not to strive for areas of great numbers of species.

G. Education, Interpretation, and Wildlife-Oriented Recreation. This objective is in support of the goals of the Service’s Urban Refuge Policy. The category is designed to protect fish and wildlife resources and habitats in or adjacent to metropolitan statistical areas that will provide the public with wildlife-oriented recreation, education, and interpretation opportunities that are compatible with the purposes for which specific refuges are established.

1.5 Authorities. Land protection/acquisition, like other Service activities, can only be accomplished in accordance with authority given by Congress and interpreted by regulations and guidelines established in accordance with such authority. A general description of applicable legislative authorities is contained in Exhibit 1. More detailed descriptions of these authorities are given in 340 FW 1.

1.6 Definitions. The following definitions will assist in interpreting this part.

A. Decision Document (DD). A compilation of those documents prepared during detailed planning that demonstrates compliance with all applicable laws, Executive orders, regulations, and policies. It usually includes a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) document (an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)), or an Environmental Action Memorandum (EAM) for a Categorical Exclusion with an Executive Summary; Land Protection Plan; Realty Feasibility Report; Engineering Assessment; and Compliance Certificate. The DD is approved by the Regional Director.

B. Director’s Approval Memorandum. A memorandum signed by the Director that approves the preliminary project proposal and authorizes the Regional Director to proceed with detailed planning on a project.

C. Land Acquisition. Acquisition of full or partial ownership rights to real property. Acquisition can be by such methods as direct purchase, exchange, transfer between Federal agencies, donation, condemnation, or withdrawing land from the public domain.

D. Land Acquisition Priority System (LAPS). An automated resource-based process that provides a uniform and objective approach to prioritizing refuge land acquisition. The LAPS is used to determine the national priority of a proposed acquisition. It is used in all aspects of the budget process and provides easily accessible historical and future data on specific projects. The LAPS provides a biological basis for ranking projects and redirects acquisition efforts toward those projects having the highest overall national value.

E. Land Protection. The elimination of undesired, incompatible, and usually detrimental impacts to fish and wildlife habitat. Federal land protection can be accomplished through management of lands acquired by fee acquisition, conservation easement conservation easement
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or qualified conservation organization that restricts the type and amount of development that may take place on a property in the future. Conservation easements aim to protect habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife by limiting residential, industrial or commercial development. Contracts may prohibit alteration of the natural topography, conversion of native grassland to cropland, drainage of wetland and establishment of game farms. Easement land remains in private ownership.

Learn more about conservation easement
, permit, lease, or cooperative agreement. Land protection may also be provided by local regulatory control such as zoning, ordinances, or regulatory permits.

F. Land Ownership. The rights inherent in the ownership of real property, wherein each right represents a distinct and separate privilege of ownership. These rights are guaranteed by law, but subject to certain limitations and restrictions. They are the right to use real property, to sell it, to lease it, to enter it, give it away, and the right to refuse to exercise any of these rights. Acquisition may involve all or part of the property rights.

G. Objective. An attainable, quantifiable, or verifiable target toward which concerted effort is directed. It is a precise statement of purpose sufficiently detailed so as to be measurable in the degree of attainment. It includes at least two of the following elements: time limit (when it must be accomplished); standard of performance (percentage, amount, or dollars); or criterion of measurement (test, questions, opinion, or objective observation). Several specific objectives may be derived from a goal, which is a generalized statement of purpose.

H. Land Protection Plan (LPP). A separate document prepared during detailed planning that is intended to inform landowners and the local interested public of the land protection project and how and when it may affect them.

I. Preliminary Project Proposal (PPP). A conceptual presentation of a land protection proposal showing how it would meet certain Service objectives. This brief document is based on Service concept plans (i.e., North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Regional Wetlands Concept Plans, endangered species recovery plans) or congressional direction and serves as the basis for the Director’s approval early in the planning process.

1.7 Responsibilities. Officials listed below are responsible for the functions indicated. A schematic of these responsibilities is illustrated on Exhibit 2.

A. Director.

(1) Determines Service land acquisition policies and priorities.

(2) Prior to the initiation of legislative or budgetary actions, approves in writing all land acquisition PPPs except those for which approval authority has been assigned to the Regional Director.

B. Assistant Director – Refuges and Wildlife (ARW).

(1) Makes recommendations relative to approval of land acquisition PPPs.

(2) Evaluates and recommends Service land acquisition policies, strategies, and priorities.

C. Division of Realty, Headquarters.

(1) Provides pertinent information to ARW concerning land acquisition planning and related issues.

(2) Receives, coordinates, and reviews all acquisition proposals for Headquarters for policy and procedural compliance.

(3) Develops national LAPS analysis ranking.

(4) Recommends land acquisition scheduling and budget formulation.

(5) Ensures that all pertinent issues are presented during the decision-making processes.

(6) Coordinates Migratory Bird Conservation Commission activities.

D. Regional Director (RD).

(1) Is responsible for land acquisition activities for the Region.

(2) Reviews and submits PPPs to the Director for approval. Approves PPPs for which approval authority has been assigned to the Regional Director.

(3) Reviews and approves all components of the DD as appropriate. Provides three copies of the DD to Headquarters ARW for filing.

(4) Maintains proper coordination with affected Service programs to achieve a well-orchestrated land acquisition planning process.

E. Assistant Regional Director – ARD/RW.

(1) Selects candidate areas to be studied based on Service resource plans.

(2) Develops and maintains proper coordination with affected refuge management, ascertainment, and realty staffs to achieve a well-orchestrated land acquisition process.

(3) Ensures Regional realty staff preparation of a PPP and LAPS documentation for the area(s) selected for subsequent submission to Headquarters ARW.

(4) Ensures Regional realty staff preparation of appropriate detailed studies, appropriate compliance documentation, and development and distribution of the NEPA documentation and LPP.

F. Senior Realty Officer and Staff.

(1) Prepares a PPP and LAPS documentation for the area(s) selected for subsequent submission to ARW.

(2) Conducts appropriate detailed studies for land acquisition planning including preliminary realty information and appropriate land acquisition compliance documentation.

(3) Develops and coordinates the NEPA documentation process with appropriate Service offices and affected public. Distributes the document to the affected public and other appropriate parties.

(4) Develops LPP. Distributes LPP to the affected public and other appropriate parties.

G. Refuge Managers and Project Leaders.

(1) Furnish information to the ARD/RW on new areas or additional lands for an existing area that would contribute to the objectives set out in acquisition concept plans.

(2) Assist ascertainment biologists in developing the PPP and the EA or EIS, or in obtaining public participation once a decision is made to proceed with the land acquisition planning process.

(3) Assist Regional realty staff by providing answers to management questions and becoming more familiar with any special concerns that a potential landowner may have. Aid appraisers and negotiators by familiarizing them with areas, introducing them to county commissioners and other key individuals, and setting up meetings with landowners.

(4) Manage and develop lands acquired as a result of the land acquisition planning process.


Attachments (Exhibits, Amendments, etc)