PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 152, Spring 2008: Public-Private Partnerships for Conservation

Public-Private Partnerships for Conservation


A Win-win Solution for Landowners and Endangered Species

Safe Harbor for Landowners

Geoffrey Geupel

Finding Common Ground
CEO's Column
Avian Monitoring on Private Lands
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Informed Decision Making
Pocket Guides to Birds
California Bird Species of Special Concern
Long-billed Curlew Studies
Safe Harbor for Landowners
Recent Highlights from PRBO
Join the Tern Society
Bird-A-Thon 2008

Where the Least Bell's Vireo occurs on private land, a programmatic "Safe Harbor" could help protect dozens of at-risk riparian species from the Central Valley to Baja California. PRBO photo.
Given the immediate need to include private land in the conservation equation, solutions must be found for landowners unwilling to take conservation action because they fear government restrictions mandated by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under current regulations, the occurrence of a listed species can curtail grazing, farming—or even habitat restoration if it might impact a single listed species or its habitat. In fact, some landowners in California are "removing" habitat, to reduce the chance that an endangered species might some day appear and limit the use of their land. Not only can this negatively impact at-risk populations; it can also threaten once-common species, potentially adding to the number of species requiring protection.

To work through this roadblock—and produce a win-win situation for landowners and endangered species—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with California Department of Fish and Game, has begun developing agreements with private landowners called "Safe Harbors." These are voluntary agreements between USFWS and private landowners, using a third party (typically a non-governmental organization) as a go-between.

When a landowner enters into a Safe Harbor agreement for one or more named endangered species, the relevant populations and habitats are effectively "frozen" at their current levels. The landowner agrees to carry out enhancement and monitoring activities expected to benefit the endangered species (as well as many others utilizing that habitat). In return, USFWS assures landowners that their actions will not result in additional ESA responsibilities and regulations.

PRBO is currently developing a programmatic Safe Harbor for the Least Bell's Vireo throughout its range. (This endangered species nested in the San Joaquin Valley in 2005 for the first time in perhaps 60 years.) As landowners take advantage of this innovative agreement, dozens of at-risk riparian species—along with Least Bell's Vireos—will benefit from conservation projects, from the Central Valley to Baja California del Sur, that might not otherwise happen.

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