Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands: A Guide for Natural Resource Managers 3rd Edition

Managing for Threatened, Endangered and At-Risk Species

Introduction 

Although landscape-scale conservation is by far the most cost-effective means of preserving biodiversity, some species can fall through cracks in protection and decline to the point that they need targeted management to prevent extinction. Several species were already reduced to perilously low populations by the time the conservation community reached a consensus on the importance of landscape-scale conservation in the 1990s. Others simply have unusual habitat requirements or small ranges that make them naturally susceptible to imperilment. These species need targeted conservation actions to prevent further population decline and extinction.

The numbers of Threatened, Endangered, and Sensitive (TES) species occurring on military bases may seem disproportionately high relative to other sites. This observation likely is the result of the protection that bases confer on natural ecosystems compared to private lands that have widely been converted to agricultural and housing development. Regardless, because of legal concerns and the potential for interfering with the military mission on bases, TES species require special attention. In this chapter, we discuss TES species, describe tools that are available to work with them, and explain some of the more popular strategies for protecting them.

Threatened, endangered, and sensitive species

In this manual, Threatened and Endangered species refers to those that have received designations under the Endangered Species Act (ESA); see Chapter 4 “Laws, Policies, and Program Related to Conservation and Natural Resource Management on and Around DoD Lands” for more information about the ESA. ‘Sensitive’ species are those with characteristics and threats that make them likely to qualify for Threatened or Endangered status under the ESA. Sensitive species include those designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as ‘candidates’ for listing (i.e., the species warrants listing but cannot be listed yet due to higher priority work within the listing program) and may include ‘petitioned’ species (i.e., species that the public has formally requested the FWS review for listing consideration). Some federal land management agencies have specific definitions for sensitive species or use alternative labels for these species.

The immediate goal of managing Threatened and Endangered species is to prevent them from becoming extinct, with recovery and delisting as a longer-term goal. Page 257 of 293 Management of sensitive species is not subject to the strict legal constraints and outside scrutiny of Threatened and Endangered species, allowing for more creativity in designing recovery plans. Management success, though, is still critically important to achieving the goal of keeping these species off the ESA list and consequent land use restrictions that could result. Base managers will want to include management plans for each of these species in their Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans (INRMP).

Concepts and regulations with endangered species

Because many bases harbor Endangered and Threatened species protected by ESA, base managers should be familiar with provisions of the Act. Here is a brief review of ESA concepts relevant to Department of Defense (DoD) personnel.

review of ESA concepts relevant to Department of Defense (DoD) personnel. Authority—The FWS is responsible for the listing, conservation, and recovery of terrestrial and freshwater species whereas NOAA (specifically, the National Marine Fisheries Service) assumes these tasks for marine species. This distinction is important because the FWS Environmental Conservation Online System (ECOS) database—an excellent source of information on listed plants and animals—has no information on listed marine animals. For these species, refer to NOAA’s database on Threatened and Endangered species.

Threatened and Endangered species. Listing factors—NOAA and the FWS consider five factors in their decisions about whether species merit listing:

  1. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its range
  2. Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes
  3. Disease or predation
  4. The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms
  5. Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence

Critical habitat—Areas of habitat believed to be essential to the species’ conservation, usually defined as part of a listing decision. These areas are mapped spatially.

Recovery plan—Unique plans for each listed species that describe how federal agencies and other partners will collaboratively work to conserve the species. Recovery plans have measurable criteria and are reviewed every five years.

Section 7 Consultation—Section 7 of the ESA requires federal agencies to consult with FWS or NOAA to ensure actions carried out by the agency do not jeopardize listed species or adversely modify their critical habitat. Section 9 ‘Take.’—Section 9 of the ESA prohibits the taking of listed species, including both direct harvest and adverse modifications of their habitat.

One reason that INRMPs are so important is that the FWS and NOAA will not designate critical habitat on bases if satisfactory measures are taken to protect Threatened and Endangered species in INRMPs. This arrangement allows the wildlife protection agencies to ensure that effective conservation is taking place while giving bases flexibility to coordinate their military mission with natural resources management.

Next Page: Planning for TES species management