Ed. Note: This blog post introduces you to Michael Bean, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
America supports more than 200,000 unique plants and animals, making us one of the top 10 countries in the world for our wildlife diversity. Our Endangered Species Act (ESA) represents one of the world’s first and best laws designed to protect species. We are proud of the constant innovation that has made us more effective at saving special species and places that matter to all Americans.
Last month, a small fish called the Oregon chub, was declared the first fish to be recovered and taken off the endangered species list. It joins 30 other plant and wildlife species successes announced since President Obama took office, including fully recovered ones and others that never needed federal protection because private and government action turned them around in time.
And now, we have the opportunity to see more of the public-private partnerships that make those recovery successes possible. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the approval last week of the first conservation banks that will bring private investment and a market-based approach to conservation efforts in Wyoming.
Conservation banks are an innovation in endangered species policy first launched in 2002, with more than 130 banks now established. At a bank site, private investors or local government permanently protect property and restore habitat to create ‘credits’ measured by the level of endangered species benefits produced. Once benefits for species have been achieved and measured, credits are released and can be used to offset harm that may be caused by a development project happening elsewhere. Conservation banks are just one example of the flexible, win-win approaches possible under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that help spur wildlife recovery, support farmers and ranchers, and facilitate progress on infrastructure projects.
The new conservation bank in Wyoming is part of an 11-state effort to save a bird called the greater sage grouse. The privately-funded bank will allow impacts in low quality habitat, for example from oil and gas drilling, to be offset with credits for protecting and enhancing habitat in the most important landscapes for the bird’s survival and recovery. The bank protects more than 100,000 acres of high quality habitat for this iconic Western bird now being considered for listing under ESA.
The now-recovered Oregon chub benefited from ‘safe harbor’ agreements with private landowners in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Those landowners have allowed fish to be reintroduced to ponds and streams on their property in exchange for the promise that they will face no additional regulation as a result of their good actions. More than 40 percent of chub populations are on private lands whose owners are voluntarily participating with this or other federal and state programs.
Through tools like the ones described above, there are already more than 62 million acres of non-federal land across the country where partnerships between local government, private landowners and federal agencies allow wildlife recovery and other activities to fit together. That’s an area bigger than the State of Minnesota. We will continue to find innovative and effective ways to make wildlife conservation efforts more successful while allowing businesses and local communities to thrive.
Michael Bean is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the U.S. Department of the Interior.