USFWS Finalizes ESA Rule To Allow Reintroduction Of Listed Species Outside Historical Ranges When Habitat Become Unsuitable

The Department of the Interior has announced significant action to better facilitate species recovery by providing more flexibility for the introduction of threatened and endangered species to suitable habitats outside their historical ranges.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized revisions to section 10(j) regulations under the Endangered Species Act that will help improve the conservation and recovery of imperiled ESA-listed species in the coming decades, as growing impacts from climate change and invasive species cause habitats within species’ historical ranges to shift or become unsuitable.

The prior regulations restricted the reintroduction of experimental populations to only the species’ historical range except under extreme conditions.

“The impacts of climate change on species habitat are forcing some wildlife to new areas to survive, while squeezing other species closer to extinction. The Interior Department is committed to using all of the tools available to help halt declines and stabilize populations of the species most at-risk,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, these new revisions will help strengthen our efforts to conserve and recover imperiled species now and for generations to come.”

“At the time the original 10(j) regulations were established, the potential impact of climate change on species and their habitats was not fully realized, yet in the decades since have become even more dramatic,” said USFWS Director Martha Williams. “These revisions will help prevent extinctions and support the recovery of imperiled species by allowing the Service and our partners to implement proactive, conservation-based species introductions to reduce the impacts of climate change and other threats such as invasive species.”

Throughout the year, the Interior Department says it “is celebrating the importance of the ESA in preventing the extinction of imperiled species, promoting the recovery of wildlife and conserving the habitats upon which they depend. The ESA has been highly effective and credited with saving 99% of listed species from extinction. Thus far, more than 100 species of plants and animals have been delisted based on recovery or downlisted from endangered to threatened based on improved conservation status. Hundreds more species are stable or improving thanks to the collaborative actions of Tribes, federal agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations and private citizens.”

Reintroducing species of plants and animals back into areas where they have disappeared has been a regularly used technique in wildlife conservation for decades. The Service has used the section 10(j) tool to advance the recovery of numerous listed species by designating populations as “experimental” to support collaborative reintroduction efforts with partners that foster species’ recovery.

Updating this proven conservation tool will allow the Service to keep pace with corresponding science, which has shown that climate change and invasive species are pushing plants and animals into completely new geographic areas for the habitat needed for their continued survival.

For example, increasing invasive species encroachment is causing habitats to become unsuitable within listed species’ historical ranges. This is of particular concern for species on the Hawaiian Islands and other island communities.

Improving the ESA’s experimental population regulations will prevent more species from becoming stranded when conditions change in their current habitat and help establish them in more suitable habitats given these rising threats.

Section 10(j) rules provide regulatory flexibility and predictability for partners in their recovery efforts. The Service will continue to coordinate closely with affected state, Tribal, local governments, non-governmental stakeholders, and landowners before establishing an experimental population in or outside of a species’ historical range. The rulemaking processes for designating a 10(j) experimental population will not change with this revised regulation or require reevaluation of existing experimental populations.

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