The US Fish and Wildlife Service today released its long-awaited national policy on endangered species “safe harbor” agreements. Safe harbor agreements allow private landowners to create, restore, or enhance habitat on their property for endangered species without incurring regulatory restrictions on the use of their property. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which was instrumental in establishing the nation’s first safe harbor program in North Carolina, calls safe harbor agreements “an innovative new tool to make landowners partners in conserving rare species.”
“We hope that the new policy will encourage even more landowners to join those already helping conserve endangered species through these agreements,” said Michael J. Bean, who heads EDF’s wildlife efforts.
The first landowner in the nation to sign a safe harbor agreement was the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina. One of Pinehurst’s premier golf courses is the site of this week’s US Open golf tournament. Earlier this year, endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers began nesting at a Pinehurst Club site that had been restored for this rare bird under the Club’s safe harbor agreement. “The fact that an endangered species is now breeding at a safe harbor site is proof that this novel approach really works,” said Robert Bonnie, an EDF economist.
Safe harbor programs have been initiated in North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas and cover over one million acres of private lands. Under these programs landowners are restoring habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker, Attwater’s prairie-chicken and the northern aplomado falcon. These are among the rarest birds in North America.
Today the Environmental Defense Fund unveiled its own “virtual library” of information about incentives for landowners to conserve endangered species. A comprehensive handbook on safe harbor agreements, intended to help landowners understand how they work, appears on EDF’s website at www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/929_handbook.pdf. The EDF library also provides a host of other materials about endangered species safe harbor agreements, including the new policy, related state laws, sample landowner agreements, and commentaries about the new safe harbor tool. Eventually, the website will be expanded to include information about other economic and regulatory incentives for landowners to conserve endangered species on their property.