You requested that I comment on current conservation initiatives, what conservation plans have been successful, what initiatives have been planned but not implemented, what are the obstacles to engaging people in conservation efforts, and what can we do to encourage more participation in conservation planning.
It is crucial that the Service work cooperatively with our state, Tribal, and private partners on species conservation. Recognizing this the Service has developed and is implementing many approaches which enable cooperative conservation efforts. These approaches are flexible so as to encourage locally-based solutions to complex and sometimes contentious conservation challenges. The initiatives and agreements I will discuss are a result of these approaches. We need to continue seeking, and indeed expand opportunities for local communities and private landowners to share in the development of conservation solutions.
Let me start by providing you with a review of current activities in Nevada. Last year we and our partners signed two major conservation efforts, the Clark County Multi Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) and the Amargosa Toad Conservation Agreement.
The Clark County MSHCP covers 78 species, only two of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This plan will allow for a permit to be issued under Section 10 of the ESA for an incidental take of the listed species due to development in southern Nevada. The MSHCP covers over 145,000 acres that are subject to development over the next 30 years.
The goal of the MSHCP is to conserve healthy ecosystems and the species that are supported by them, while allowing for development. A $550 per acre fee is paid to the County with the issuance of development permits. The proceeds from the fees fund desert tortoise conservation and recovery activities, as well as other actions needed to protect the 78 species covered under the Plan. The plan provides certainty for Clark County developers while ensuring conservation measures that will help recover the listed species and prevent the other species from being listed.
The establishment of the MSHCP was successful because of the cooperation between Clark County, State and Federal agencies, the University of Nevada, Reno, environmental groups, recreational interests, and resource users.
The second major conservation action that was solidified last year was a conservation agreement for the Amargosa Toad that resides in the Oasis Valley. This agreement brought together Nye County, the city of Beatty, private landowners, the State of Nevada, several Federal agencies, environmental groups and The Nature Conservancy. The premise of the agreement provides the Nature Conservancy the ability to purchase valuable habitat for the toad from a private landowner. On October 14, 2000 the agreement was signed with the parties, and they are currently working together to manage the land and other resources for the protection of the toad and the other species that depend on the riparian wetland habitat.
Both of these plans depend upon private and public dollars for their success. Private funding supports mitigation efforts and conservation actions to protect the species listed in the agreements.
We are currently working on several other conservation actions. I will list them here and then discuss some of them in greater detail. Current initiatives include the following:
-- Tahoe Yellow Cress Conservation Agreement;
-- Coyote Spring Valley Habitat Conservation Plan;
-- Lahontan cutthroat trout restoration, Truckee River;
-- Sage Grouse Conservation Agreement;
-- Spotted Frog Conservation Agreement;
-- Lincoln County Multi Species Habitat Conservation Plan; and
-- Nye County Multi Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
Tahoe Yellow Cress Conservation Agreement
A planning team has been formed to develop a conservation agreement for the Tahoe yellow cress, a plant that is found on the shores of Lake Tahoe. Some of the habitat occurs on private lands, so involving associations like the Lake Tahoe Lakefront Homeowners Association will be a key element to the success of finalizing such an agreement. One important measure to protect the Tahoe yellow cress is simply to build fences around the plant. Should a private landowner agree to fence an area to protect habitat, funds may be available through Candidate Conservation Agreement Grants for the costs of the fencing or other conservation activities the landowner may desire to make.
Coyote Springs Valley Habitat Conservation Plan
We are also working closely with a developer in Southern Nevada on the Coyote Springs Valley Habitat Conservation Plan. Coyote Springs Valley is critical habitat for the desert tortoise. Coyote Springs Limited Liability Corporation has indicated a willingness to work, by signing a Memorandum of Agreement with the Service and BLM, to create a plan encompassing more than 40,000 acres of private and leased lands within the valley, that would conserve desert tortoise habitat while providing opportunities for residential and commercial development. This plan is envisioned to also address the long-term water needs of the developers, as well as the listed fishes in the nearby Muddy River, which could be affected by long-term groundwater use. This type of pro- active, early involvement with landowners is acknowledged by the Service as one of the most important objectives in our efforts to reduce conflicts and foster general acceptance of species conservation.
Lahontan cutthroat trout restoration Truckee River
In our efforts to recover Nevada's state fish, the Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT), we have received funding to conduct habitat restoration work on non-Federal lands along the Truckee and Walker Rivers. We are working with the Nature Conservancy to conduct habitat restoration work on the Truckee River that will benefit the river, the riparian corridor, and all the fishes that live in the river. Our next step will be to develop Safe Harbor Agreements with private landowners to compliment our LCT recovery efforts.
Sage Grouse Conservation Agreement
We are working with the State on the conservation of the sage grouse. We appreciate the State of Nevada's leadership by heading up this coordination effort, with the establishment of the Governor's Sage Grouse Working Group. The working group is bringing together private landowners, counties, environmental groups and Federal agencies to develop a conservation agreement.
For private landowners with suitable sage grouse habitat, and who are willing to protect it, there are a variety of funding options and incentives from the Service. Congress authorized funding beginning in Fiscal Year 1999 for the ESA Landowner Incentive Program to provide financial assistance and incentives to private property owners to conserve listed, proposed, and candidate species. I will discuss these and other finding sources below.
As you are aware, under Section 6 of the ESA, funds are provided to the states for species and habitat recovery actions on non-Federal lands.
In Fiscal Year 2001, Congress appropriated 105 million for the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund. The Service will use these dollars for-Safe Harbor Grants, Habitat Conservation Planning Grants, Species Recovery Land Acquisition Grants and Candidate Conservation Agreement Grants. Each of these grants programs requires states to provide at least twenty-five percent of the project costs in order to receive funds from these grants. Additionally, some of the funds will be used for Habitat Conservation Land Acquisition by states.
The Nevada Office of the Service recently worked with a number of non-Federal partners on proposals for grants under the Service's Partners in Wildlife Program. Of the six proposals submitted, five grants were awarded through the Partners Program. Last fiscal year we worked with the Nevada Division of Wildlife to develop and submit applications for Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund grants, which led the Service to award $176,000 to the State. These funds benefit 11 projects in Nevada.
In addition to the Section 6 monies, Congress provided $50 million in the FY 2001 Commerce-Justice-State appropriations to be allocated among the states for wildlife conservation, with the objective of fulfilling unmet needs of wildlife within the states. One of the primary means of accomplishing this goal is to encourage cooperative planning by state governments, the Federal government, and other interested parties. Another $50 million for competitive wildlife grants to the States was provided in the Interior appropriations.
You asked for examples of successful conservation agreements in Nevada. The Amargosa Toad Conservation Agreement is such an example. It came together after 6 years of meeting with local officials and private landowners to ensure they were comfortable with the direction of the program.
This agreement gave Nye County an opportunity to play a leading role in species conservation and is a good example to demonstrate that local communities are willing, and able, to be leaders on species conservation.
The Amargosa Toad's total range is limited to a 12-mile stretch of the Amargosa River in Nye County's Oasis Valley. The alarm over the toad's status was triggered by a 1994 survey that found only 30 adult toads, resulting in a petition to list the toad as an endangered species. Recent surveys conducted in cooperation with private landowners, however, lead scientists to estimate that as many as 16,000 adult Amargosa toads may live in the Oasis Valley.
The Nature Conservancy purchased the Torrance Ranch, an area that provides habitat for the Amargosa Toad, the Oasis Valley speckled dace, the Oasis Valley spring snail, and 10 species of birds, including yellow warbler, blue grosbeak, yellow-billed cuckoo, and Bullock's oriole. The Nature Conservancy's purchase of the Torrance Ranch was made possible with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and private donations.
The partners will undertake the restoration and monitoring of the ranch with financial support provided by the Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and The Nature Conservancy and the University of Nevada, Reno's Biological Resources Research Center. The land acquisition, combined with other actions specified in the agreement, will secure the toad's future.
One of the obstacles that has impeded local people from getting involved in conservation planning in Nevada in the past has been a lack of personal communication between employees of government agencies and landowners. Landowners may not know what incentives and options are available to them for funding conservation measures. We in the Fish and Wildlife Service's Nevada Fish & Wildlife Office are committed to doing a better job of reaching out and communicating with landowners and informing them on how they can play a bigger role in species conservation.
One way we are working to support local conservation efforts is by dedicating a staff person in our office to identify what grants and incentives are available for conservation, and to reach out to state and county agencies and private landowners to inform them of how they can take advantage of these opportunities.
There may be other obstacles, but the Service is working to identify and resolve them so that states, counties and private property owners can and will take more active roles in species conservation.
There are numerous threats in Nevada that impact ecosystems and cause species to decline, including: urban growth; invasion of non-native grasses (such as cheat grass and white top); fire damage; conversion of habitat to agricultural lands; and over-grazing. Involving more people in conservation and protection of public and non-Federal lands is crucial to preserving the health of the land and maintaining the biological diversity of Nevada.
I thank you for the opportunity to be here today and welcome any questions you may have.