chicken.
Lesser prairie chicken. © Alan W. Eckert

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Interior Department Rescinds Key Species Protections

Latest in Series of Moves Undermining Interior’s Conservation Mission

Arlington, Va.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today put in motion the withdrawal of two key policies designed to support compliance with the agency’s authorities to protect wildlife and their habitat, including endangered species. The agency did not announce a replacement policy would be forthcoming, instead reverting to a policy established in 1981 that does not cover endangered species.

The agency’s Mitigation Policy and Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy provided guidance on the appropriate use of mitigation to advance the conservation of wildlife and habitat under the agency’s existing authorities. Mitigation is the sequential process of seeking to avoid, minimize, and compensate for impacts to certain habitat or resources. The Department of the Interior (DOI) – which oversees FWS – has acknowledged mitigation can be an appropriate tool for reducing and offsetting impacts from actions that may affect species and habitat.

The decision is just the latest in a series of steps taken by DOI that eliminate or weaken tools to advance its conservation mission and balance that mission with other Interior responsibilities. Earlier this week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced it would no longer require compensatory mitigation to address impacts from development on public lands. Late last year, DOI rescinded its Landscape-Scale Mitigation Policy, two BLM mitigation policies and a Solicitor’s Opinion outlining the agency’s authority to require mitigation.

“This disappointing decision throws away many years of effort to develop and implement conservation practice that supports species and habitat while providing predictability for the development community,” stated Lynn Scarlett, Co-Chief of External Affairs at The Nature Conservancy. “Rescinding these policies outright without a commitment to replace them creates an unstable and unpredictable policy landscape, leaving field staff with insufficient guidance and direction on how to comply with their mandates to protect species and their habitat.

“To succeed in protecting species and providing opportunity for continued economic development, we need well-designed federal mitigation policies to help balance development and conservation. We urge the Department of the Interior to reverse its decision.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.