The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is issuing two final policies that will guide its review of the potential impacts of land and water development projects on America’s wildlife and their habitats. The revised Mitigation Policy and Endangered Species Act (ESA) Compensatory Mitigation Policy provide a broad and flexible framework to facilitate mitigation that more effectively avoids, minimizes and offsets the negative impacts of development activities. Through collaborative mitigation planning, the revised policies will help reduce human impact on the environment.
“The impacts of development on fish and wildlife resources are myriad and complex, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” said Service Director Martha Williams. “Effective mitigation is a powerful tool to reconcile necessary development while sustaining and recovering species and the habitats upon which they depend. Through well-designed and sited mitigation, we can reduce the human impact on the environment and provide a sustainable future for our wildlife and their habitats.
Compensatory mitigation refers to the restoration, creation, enhancement, or preservation of habitat to offset unavoidable impacts that can sometimes occur through development. Mitigation helps to balance and accomplish the goals of clean energy and infrastructure development with the goals of protecting biodiversity and conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters through the America the Beautiful initiative. The policies released today will aid the Service in supporting the implementation of the Biden-Harris administration’s priorities, including the growth of good-paying jobs and delivering projects funded through President Biden’s and the Inflation Reduction Act.
The Service’s final revised Mitigation Policy seeks to improve the design and placement of mitigation on the landscape and, by doing so, maintain the overall health of species and habitats at risk. The policy will apply to all authorities under which the Service can require or recommend mitigation, including the Service’s role in administering the ESA. The policy will help the Service and project proponents successfully and strategically offset impacts to fish and wildlife and help maintain healthy ecosystems. It will help promote the most effective and efficient mitigation measures to be implemented across the landscape.
The ESA Compensatory Mitigation Policy puts into action the Service-wide Mitigation Policy to provide more specific guidance relating to mitigation under the ESA. The impacts of development activities on the environment are most acutely felt by wildlife already on the brink of extinction. These impacts, if unaddressed, can cumulatively push those species to the point of no return. The Service anticipates benefits to project proponents and mitigation sponsors, who can refer to the policy as they plan development or mitigation projects and ensure appropriate consideration of threatened and endangered species.
The final policies reflect input from other federal and state agencies, conservation partners, developers, the mitigation industry and the public. The Service published final revised policies in 2016 but later withdrew them in 2018. The policies finalized today are informed by input received on the 2016 policies during multiple public comment periods.
The mitigation principles and standards in these policies contribute to the Service’s efforts to improve implementation of the ESA. Today’s announcement comes as the ESA turns 50 years old in 2023. Throughout the year, the Service will celebrate the ESA’s importance in preventing imperiled species extinction, promoting the recovery of wildlife and conserving the habitats upon which they depend. The ESA has been highly effective and credited with saving 99% of listed species from extinction. Thus far, more than 100 species of plants and animals have been delisted based on recovery or reclassified from endangered to threatened based on improved conservation status, and hundreds more species are stable or improving thanks to the collaborative actions of Tribes, federal agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations and private citizens. For more information: https://www.fws.gov/esa50.
The final policies will publish in the Federal Register on May 15, 2023, and be available for viewing publicly on http://www.regulations.gov under docket number FWS-HQ-ES-2021-0014.