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[ Media Contact: TPWD News, news@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-8030 ]
Aug. 26, 2016
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Evaluating Houston Toad Safe Harbor Agreement
Proposal Would Allow Landowners Who Voluntarily Improve Toad Habitat To Receive Assurances
Media Contacts: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department: Tom Harvey, tom.harvey@tpwd.texas.gov, 512-389-4453; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Adam Zerrenner, Adam_Zerrenner@fws.gov, 512-490-0057, ext. 248 or Lesli Gray, Lesli_Gray@fws.gov, 972-439-4542
AUSTIN -- A proposal going out for public comment through Oct. 28 would allow Texas private landowners to voluntarily enter into agreements to benefit the endangered Houston toad, and in return receive assurances that they will not be held liable for incidental take (accidentally harming or killing an endangered species).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is evaluating a Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement for the Houston toad submitted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), as well as a draft environmental assessment. TPWD's proposed agreement would facilitate conservation actions by interested landowners that could help recover the Houston toad, which is listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The public will have 60 days to review and comment on the proposed agreement and draft environmental assessment.
"The Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department have been working closely on efforts to recover the imperiled Houston toad, and we greatly appreciate TPWD's efforts to develop a Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement." said Benjamin N. Tuggle, Ph.D., the Service's Southwest Regional Director. "Private landowners are critical to the successful conservation of the Houston toad and providing them with tools such as the proposed Houston Toad Safe Harbor Agreement would give them peace of mind that their actions to conserve a part of Texas's natural heritage would not result in future restrictions on their lands."
"This is a potential boon for landowners," said Meredith Longoria, TPWD wildlife diversity biologist. "They can improve wildlife habitat on their property without fear of increased liability, actively contribute to the recovery of an endangered species, receive ongoing technical guidance, and can rank higher for cost-share assistance for habitat improvement practices as a bonus for managing land for an endangered species. And through their efforts, they will improve habitat for many other wildlife species, including white-tailed deer, turkey, songbirds and others that will all benefit from a well-managed habitat."
The Houston toad is a small, greenish-brown, speckled amphibian that can be distinguished from other toads by its unique high-pitched, trill-sounding call that males emit during breeding choruses each spring. It was one of the first amphibians federally listed as an endangered species and is listed as endangered by the State of Texas. The Houston toad occurs mostly on privately owned property in nine Texas counties including Austin, Bastrop, Burleson, Colorado, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Milam, and Robertson.
A Safe Harbor Agreement is a voluntary agreement involving private or other non-federal property owners whose actions contribute to the recovery of species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In exchange for actions that contribute to the recovery of listed species, participating property owners receive formal assurances from the Service that if they fulfill the conditions of the agreement, the Service will not require any additional or different management activities by the participants without their consent. In addition, at the end of the agreement period, participants may return the enrolled property to the baseline conditions that existed at the beginning of the agreement.
The Houston Toad Safe Harbor Agreement is what is known as a programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement. Under this programmatic agreement, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department can enroll individual property owners within the nine county area and convey permit authorization and assurances to them through a certificate of inclusion. The programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement provides an efficient and streamlined tool for landowners interested in participating in Houston toad conservation actions including brush management, forest restoration, prescribed burning, pond management, invasive species control, and reintroduction of Houston toads.
The Service encourages the public to review and comment on the draft Houston toad Safe Harbor Agreement and draft environmental assessment. It will accept public comments until Oct. 28. Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods:
--U.S. Mail: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Austin Ecological Services Field Office, 1071 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758; by phone at 512-490-0057; or by fax at 512-490-0974.
--Electronically: fw2_hcp_permits@fws.gov