U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes revisions to mitigation policy

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed revisions to the agency’s 1981 policy guiding recommendations by the Service on mitigating impacts on land and water developments of fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats.

The policy applies to all activities conducted, authorized, or funded by federal agencies, and to non-federal activities subject to one or more of the Service’s statutory authorities. The proposed revisions are incorporated in a draft policy that appeared in the March 8, 2016 issue of the Federal Register (81 FR 12380–12403).

New features of the revised policy include an emphasis on landscape-level planning, consideration for applicable landscape-level conservation plans, and consideration of projected climate change and its effect on ecosystems. Also, unlike the 1981 policy, the revised policy is applicable to conservation of species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The revised policy, however, states that nothing in it “supersedes the statutes and regulations governing prohibited ‘take’ of wildlife (e.g., ESA-listed species, migratory birds, eagles).”

The announcement states that the revisions are motivated by “changes in conservation challenges and practices since 1981, including accelerating loss of habitats, effects of climate change, and advances in conservation science.”

Thus, the Service has proposed a framework for applying a landscape-scale approach that seeks “a net gain in conservation outcomes, or at a minimum, no net loss of resources and their values, services, and functions resulting from proposed actions.”

The Service indicates that “the primary intent of the policy is to apply mitigation in a strategic manner that ensures an effective linkage with conservation strategies at appropriate landscape scales”

The Service will accept comments from all interested parties until May 9, 2016.