Endangered Species Act Compliance at NRCS
Introduction to the Endangered Species Act
NRCS has the distinction of providing technical and financial assistance to landowners through voluntary participation. NRCS also has a responsibility, as an agency of the federal government, to uphold the laws and regulations of the government and to protect the interests of the public. With the assistance of NRCS, landowners can apply conservation alternatives that avoid adversely affecting protected species or their habitats, or proactively create or enhance habitat. An awareness of habitat locations and an understanding of the impacts of conservation practices, including the long and short-term effects on habitat, are key to NRCS being able to fulfill its responsibilities under the ESA.
In passing the ESA, Congressional policy was established. The ESA states that:
(i) “It is further declared to be the policy of Congress that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species and shall utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of this Act.
(ii) “It is further declared to be the policy of Congress that Federal agencies shall cooperate with State and local agencies to resolve water resource issues in concert with conservation of endangered species.”
The purposes of the ESA are to:
(i) Conserve the ecosystems on which endangered and threatened species depend;
(ii) Provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species; and
(iii) Take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of international treaties.
(iv) NRCS works to conserve ecosystems on which endangered and threatened species depend. Section 7 of the ESA details Federal agency responsibilities to conserve listed species, and interagency consultation processes.
(v) Section 7(a) (1) of the Act requires Federal agencies to use their authorities to carry out programs for the conservation of threatened and endangered species. Technical and financial assistance programs afforded to NRCS customers provide a number of opportunities to carry out the ESA policies established by Congress.
General Agency Roles and Responsibilities
(i) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is a Federal land management and regulatory agency within the Department of Interior. The Secretary of the Interior has delegated responsibility for administering the ESA and coordinating with other Federal and State agencies, in the effort to conserve endangered and threatened species, to the FWS. As part of the FWS’ stewardship role, it administers the ESA for terrestrial, freshwater, and some diadromous species.
(ii) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is a regulatory agency within the Department of Commerce. It is responsible for stewardship of the Nation’s living marine resources. The Secretary of Commerce has delegated responsibility for administering the ESA and coordinating with other Federal and State agencies, in the effort to conserve most diadromous and marine species endangered and threatened species, to NMFS.
(iii) The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is an agency that provides technical and financial assistance to private land users on a voluntary basis and as such is considered an “action agency” with regard to compliance under ESA. NRCS is required by the ESA to protect and conserve federally listed species and species proposed for listing. This responsibility includes, but is not limited to research, protection, habitat acquisition, restoration, enhancement and maintenance.
Endangered Species Act- The Law and USFWS/NMFS Guidance
Safe Harbor Agreements and Policy for Compliance with Section 10 of the ESA