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Service Suspends Issuance of Incidental Take Permits in Accordance with Ccourt Order "No Surprises" Assurances



June 10, 2004

Hugh Vickery, DOI, 202-501-4633


In response to an order by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has suspended the issuance of new incidental take permits under the Endangered Species Act that contain "No Surprises" assurances based on habitat conservation plans with landowners.

Under a Habitat Conservation Plan, landowners agree to take actions to ensure the long-term conservation of listed species. The Service in turn issues a permit, allowing the landowner to incidentally take individuals of the species in the course of otherwise legal activities.

The Service adopted the "No Surprises" regulation in 1998 to give certainty to landowners that the Service would not ask for any further mitigation once the permit for the HCP was approved.

Spirit of the Sage Council and other plaintiffs sued the Service over the "No Surprises" policy. The plaintiffs argued that "No Surprises" was a violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

For more information on HCPs and No Surprises, go to the Service's endangered species Web page at

Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Craig Manson issued the following statement on the court's ruling:

"From the days of Teddy Roosevelt, conservation in America has been a partnership between citizens and government. The greatest conservation resource we can draw upon are the people who live on and work on the land. The willing cooperation of private landowners is essential to accomplish the conservation, restoration, and enhancement of habitat for threatened and endangered species. Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) have been the cornerstone of our efforts to make the Endangered Species Act work for both landowners and wildlife. Although HCPs may vary enormously in size, scope, and the activities they address, a key to all HCPs has been the 'No Surprises' policy.”

"This Administration believes that policy is a fundamental covenant with citizen stewards of our natural resources. These conservationists should be assured that the government will not come back in the future and require them to do more than is stated in the agreement. Simply put, the policy embodies the American value of 'a deal's a deal.' The policy gives landowners certainty and an incentive to take affirmative measures that they would not otherwise be required to do.”

"The inability to give "No Surprises" assurances to landowners would not only be a breach of faith with those landowners, it would also be a serious impediment to our ability to conserve and enhance habitat for imperiled wildlife.”

"Although disappointed with today's court decision, this Administration stands by the principles embodied in the 'No Surprises' rule and will continue to work to ensure that we are able to keep faith with America's citizen-conservationists and the natural resources that benefit from the fruits of their labor."

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