Candidate species are plants and animals for which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has enough information regarding their biological status and threats to propose them as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but listing is currently precluded by higher priority listing activities. Candidate species are not subject to the legal protections of the ESA. Proactive conservation efforts for these species can, in some cases, eliminate the need to list them under the ESA.
Implementing conservation efforts before species are listed and their habitats become highly imperiled increases the likelihood that simpler, more cost-effective conservation options are available, and that conservation efforts will succeed. In addition, through early conservation efforts before species are listed, resource managers and property owners have more flexibility to manage their resources in using their land.
Conservation of animal and plant resources on non-federal lands is important because many species rely heavily – or even entirely – on such lands. However, due to concern about potential land use restrictions that could occur if a species becomes listed under the ESA, some property owners have been reluctant to engage in conservation activities that encourage use of their land or water by such species. A Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) addresses this concern by providing incentives for non-federal property owners to engage in voluntary conservation activities that provide a net conservation benefit to the species.
What is a CCAA?
A CCAA is a voluntary agreement that provides incentives for non-federal landowners to conserve candidate and other unlisted species likely to become candidates in the future. For the length of the agreement, landowners agree to undertake specific activities that address the identified threats to the target species. A range of conservation measures may qualify, such as:
- protecting and enhancing existing populations and habitats;
- restoring degraded habitat;
- creating new habitat;
- augmenting existing populations;
- restoring historic populations; and
- not undertaking a specific, potentially impacting/damaging activity.
In return for the participant’s voluntary conservation action(s), the Service issues an Enhancement of Survival Permit under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA. The permit, which goes into effect if the covered species is later listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, provides assurances that, if the species is subsequently listed and no other changes have occurred, the Service will not require the permittee to conduct any additional conservation measures without consent. Additionally, the permit authorizes a specific level of incidental take of the covered species, should listing occur.
Who can participate?
Any non-federal landowner owner can voluntarily participate in a CCAA. The CCAA can cover an entire property or just a portion of it.
Instead of developing an individual CCAA, property owners may choose to enroll in an existing programmatic CCAA that is designed for a region or an entire state and is typically administered by a non-federal entity.
Participants in the CCAA program range from individual landowners who own less than an acre to state agencies, tribes, or other entities with large acreages. States can also enter into CCAAs.
Step 1 - Contact Field Office
- Non-federal landowners and managers interested in working with the Service on a CCAA for a candidate or at-risk species contact the appropriate field office.
Step 2 - Compile Property Information
- When a conservation agreement is found to be feasible, the landowner and the Service work together to compile information about the property, including a map, the current management practices, and the management needs of the species and/or habitat. Any threats to the species on the property are also clearly identified.
- The landowner and the Service identify voluntary management actions to address known threats to the target species. They also determine the duration of the agreement, in order to allow enough time to achieve the desired conservation benefit.
- For the Service to enter into a CCAA, the conservation measures and resulting benefits must provide a net conservation benefit by addressing the key threats to the species on the landowner’s property that are under their control.
- The Service identifies any anticipated “incidental take” that might result from CCAA management actions if the species is listed at some point in the future.
Step 3 - Draft CCAA
- The landowner and Service develop a draft CCAA that addresses known key threats to the species through specific conservation actions. The CCAA also describes the current and anticipated management of the property (farming, ranching, timber management, etc.). Additionally, it determines how to monitor the prescribed management actions and interpret their results.
Step 4 - Submit CCAA
- The landowner submits the completed CCAA to the Service and an application for an “enhancement of survival permit,” which will take effect if the species is later listed.
Step 5 - Announcement and Public Comment Period
- The Service then publishes an announcement in the Federal Register that it has received an application for an “enhancement of survival permit.” A 30-day public comment period follows.
- During the public comment period, the Service conducts a series of internal reviews relating to issuing the requested permit.
Step 6 - Approve Final CCAA and Conservation Actions Begin
- After considering any public comments and incorporating any appropriate changes, the Service and the landowner approve the final CCAA. Assuming all issuance criteria have been met, the Service then issues the enhancement of survival permit.
- The landowner begins any new conservation actions and/or continues with existing practices, as identified in the CCAA, monitors the results of the actions, and reports annually on the agreement’s progress.