Private Landowners and Listed Species
Texas is a private lands state (over 93% of Texas is privately owned), and private land stewardship is crucial to maintaining the diverse array of habitats needed to support the unique and varied wildlife that we enjoy in our state. There are a variety of tools and incentives available to encourage and assist private landowners with creating, enhancing and maintaining quality habitat capable of supporting the wildlife diversity that is our natural heritage. These tools are designed to encourage management activities that benefit rare and at-risk species by protecting the interests of private landowners, and some include financial incentives as well.
If you are interested in any of the programs below, contact your local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Texas Field Office or feel free to contact our Conservation Initiatives Specialist (Meredith Longoria) to help you decide which programs might best suit your needs and goals.
Tools for Conservation
Section 10 of the ESA may be used by landowners including private citizens, corporations, Tribes, States, and counties who want to develop property inhabited by listed species. Landowners may receive a permit to take such species incidental to otherwise legal activities, provided they have developed an approved habitat conservation plan (HCP). HCPs include an assessment of the likely impacts on the species from the proposed action, the steps that the permit holder will take to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the impacts, and the funding available to carry out the steps. HCPs may benefit not only landowners but also species by securing and managing important habitat and by addressing economic development with a focus on species conservation.
Safe Harbor Agreements (SHAs) provide regulatory assurance for non-federal landowners who voluntarily aid in the recovery of listed species by improving or maintaining wildlife habitat. Under SHAs, landowners manage the enrolled property and may return it to originally agreed-upon baseline conditions for the species and its habitat at the end of the agreement, even if this means incidentally taking the species.
Candidate Conservation agreements (CCAs) are voluntary agreements between landowners, including federal land management Agencies, and one or more other parties to reduce or remove threats to candidate or other at-risk species. Parties to the CCA work with the USFWS to design conservation measures and monitor the effectiveness of plan implementation.
Under Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAA), non-federal landowners volunteer to work with the USFWS on plans to conserve candidate and other at-risk species so that protection of the ESA is not needed. In return, landowners receive regulatory assurances that, if a species covered by the CCAA is listed, they will not be required to do anything beyond what is specified in the agreement, and they will receive an enhancement of survival permit, allowing incidental take in reference to the management activities identified in the agreement.
Conservation banks are lands that are permanently protected and managed as mitigation for the loss elsewhere of listed and other at-risk species and their habitat. Conservation banking is a free market enterprise based on supply and demand of mitigation credits. Credits are supplied by landowners who enter into a Conservation Bank Agreement with the FWS agreeing to protect and manage their lands for one or more species. Others who need to mitigate for adverse impacts to those same species may purchase conservation bank credits to meet their mitigation requirements. Conservation banking benefits species by reducing the piecemeal approach to mitigation that often results in many small, isolated and unsustainable preserves that lose their habitat functions and values over time.
Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements between a landowner and the "holder" of the conservation easement that are designed to protect certain features (natural, cultural or productive) of the land in perpetuity, according to the landowner's wishes. The conservation easement holder is usually a nonprofit conservation organization, or land trust. Some conservation easements will qualify landowners for significant tax benefits. To learn more about conservation easements in Texas, visit Texas Land Trust Council.
The Texas Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) is a collaborative effort between TPWD Wildlife and Inland Fisheries Divisions to meet the needs of private, non-federal landowners wishing to enact good conservation practices on their lands for the benefit of healthy terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. LIP is funded through partnerships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and other partners.
The Farm Bill is the largest source of federal funding for private lands conservation. As a result, it provides tremendous opportunities for the conservation of habitat for fish and wildlife species. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers Farm Bill programs, primarily through the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. These agencies work closely with partners including conservation districts, state fish and wildlife agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, agriculture organizations, and conservation groups. The most important partners are the agricultural producers and other private landowners who participate in Farm Bill conservation programs.