Conservation Planning Assistance Grants, available through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, provide federal financial assistance to states and territories to support the development of Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs), Safe Harbor Agreements (SHAs), and Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs). Funding may also be used to support the renewal or amendment of existing HCPs, SHAs, and CCAAs. The development of HCPs that include only candidate or at-risk species (i.e., no federally listed species covered by the HCP), such that the HCP would be in place if the species is listed, is also supported through this program.
Habitat Conservation Plans
Prior to 1982, non-federal landowners undertaking otherwise lawful activities that were likely to take listed species risked violating section 9 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which prohibits the "taking" of a listed species. In the 1982 amendments to the ESA, Congress established a voluntary mechanism under section 10(a)(1)(B) that authorizes the Service to issue to non-federal entities a permit for the "incidental take" of endangered and threatened wildlife species. A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) must accompany the application for an incidental take permit to demonstrate how the applicant intends to meet minimization and mitigation commitments to meet the permit issuance criteria under section 10(a)(2)(B) of the ESA. The commitments made by the applicant in the HCP become part of the permit.
In some states, HCPs have become a broad-based, landscape-level planning tool. In addition to conserving listed species, HCPs often include conservation measures for candidate or at-risk species, as well as other rare species in the plan area. By including these species in the HCP, developers and landowners can also help prevent their decline or need for future listing under the ESA. Should a non-listed species that is covered under the HCP become listed during the permit term, the HCP can provide a seamless process to authorize the take to the newly listed species and eliminate the need to amend the permit. Thus, landowners have an incentive to conserve both listed and unlisted species that may become listed in the future.
Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances
Section 10(a)(1)(A) authorizes the Service to issue enhancement of survival permits to landowners participating in Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAA). These voluntary agreements serve as an incentive to non-federal landowners to engage in conservation activities that provide a net conservation benefit to candidate and at-risk species. Landowners participating in a CCAA, who are implementing certain conservation actions for species included in the agreement, receive a permit containing assurances that they will not be required to implement additional conservation measures beyond those in the CCAA. If the species is ultimately listed, additional land, water, or resource use limitations will not be imposed on them, unless they consent to such changes.
Safe Harbor Agreements
Section 10(a)(1)(A) also authorizes the Service to issue enhancement of survival permits to landowners participating in Safe Harbor Agreements (SHA). An SHA is a voluntary agreement involving private or other non-federal property owners whose actions contribute to the recovery of species listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. In exchange for actions that contribute to the recovery of listed species on non-federal lands, participating property owners receive formal assurances from the Service that if they fulfill the conditions of the SHA, the Service will not require any additional or different management activities by the participants without their consent. In addition, at the end of the agreement period, participants may return the enrolled property to the baseline conditions that existed at the beginning of the SHA.
Conservation Planning Assistance Grants
Established in fiscal year 2001, the Conservation Planning Assistance Grant program provides funding to states and territories to support the development of HCPs, CCAAs, and SHAs. Funding may also be used to support the renewal or amendment of existing HCPs, CCAAs, and SHAs. The development of HCPs that include only candidate or at-risk species (i.e., no listed species covered by the HCP), such that the HCP would be in place if the species is listed, is also supported through this program. Funding may be used to support plan and agreement development and planning activities such as document preparation, public outreach, baseline species surveys, habitat assessments, and inventories. The preparation of environmental compliance review documents, such as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), is also an eligible use of grant funds.
While unlisted species can be included on a section 10 permit, only the following species proposed for inclusion on the permit will be considered when evaluating applications for funding through this opportunity.
Federally Listed Species
Species listed as threatened or endangered through section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Species for which the Service has sufficient information on biological status and threats to propose them as endangered or threatened under the ESA, but for which development of a proposed listing regulation is precluded by other higher priority listing activities.
For the purposes of this funding opportunity, at-risk species are those that are the subject of a positive 90-day finding, species that are the subject of a positive 12-month finding but not yet the subject of a proposed rule, species that are the subject of a proposed listing rule but not a final rule, and species included on the National Listing Workplan as of the funding opportunity's postdate.
Large-scale and multiple-species planning efforts with the greatest potential contribution to species conservation will be prioritized. These plans and agreements can significantly reduce the burden of the ESA on small landowners by providing efficient mechanisms for compliance, distributing the economic and logistical impacts of endangered species conservation among the community, and bringing a broad range of landowner activities under the plan’s legal protections.
To be eligible for funding, a state or territory must currently have, or enter into, a cooperative agreement with the Secretary of the Interior pursuant to section 6(c) of the Endangered Species Act and provide a minimum non-federal cost share of 25 percent, or 10 percent when two or more states or territories implement a joint project. While funding may only be awarded to States and Territories, local governments such as counties or groups such as conservation organizations may work in partnership with a State or Territorial agency as a sub-grantee.
States and Territories must submit applications through Grantsolutions.gov. Detailed guidance on how to prepare applications is provided in the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) available online at Grants.gov and Grantsolutions.gov. The NOFO should be read carefully to ensure that applications meet all eligibility requirements and are complete upon submission.