The Press Herald recently published an editorial by The Seattle Times on the Endangered Species Act (hereafter ESA) that demonstrated ignorance of how to achieve endangered species recovery in the 21st century, and the many subtleties of effective conservation in today’s world. I have worked on endangered species for 47 years, began my career in the office that wrote the 1973 ESA, later worked in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Endangered Species, and personally designed many recovery programs including the California condor, which was at 18 birds remaining and now boasts over 1,000, the grizzly bear, which has surpassed recovery targets every year since 2007, whooping crane, bald eagle, peregrine falcon, sea turtles and Atlantic salmon among many.

Today over 80 percent of endangered species habitat nationwide is on private lands.

Maine is 95 percent privately owned. How are you going to recover endangered species if you do not collaborate and involve private landowners in a state like Maine, or Texas, which is also 95 percent private land? The favored approach of the last 50 years has been for public entities to buy habitat, but the federal government now sports debt levels north of $20 trillion, and most states are teetering on insolvency. Buying all endangered species habitats is not an option, and the record of public land management is less than stellar.

In 1993, as executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, I gave a $1.7 million grant to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to create the first state private land conservation program. TPWD now has 33 million acres enrolled in conservation management agreements representing 20 percent of Texas’ land base. Later in the 1990s, I gave grants to create the California, Colorado and Texas agricultural land trusts to bring a conservation platform to ranchers; these three land trusts are now the largest in their respective states. The Seattle editorial admits that Interior avoided listing the sage grouse, because of “collaboration with landowners in the West.” Sage grouse spend late fall and winter months on benches of public land and in spring descend to wet meadows that are on irrigated private lands. where they mate and raise their broods. Western ranchers’ cooperation is key to recovery of sage grouse.

Maine has relatively few endangered species, and most are on the pathway to recovery. The most difficult species to manage for recovery is the Atlantic salmon, most of whose riparian habitat is bounded by private lands. Again in my NFWF years, I gave grants to protect virtually the entire watershed of the Ducktrap River, and to improve stream passage on Down East rivers of Washington County (Project Share). I also funded the removal of Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River, which opened up miles of salmon spawning habitat. The key to salmon recovery, however, is to reduce the mortality caused by Greenland and Faroe Island salmon fisheries, which the North Atlantic Salmon Fund is pursuing without any federal funding since my days at NFWF in the late 1990s. The Downeast Salmon Federation is pioneering a new salmon hatchery and stream release methodology that is vastly superior to traditional USFWS programs.

In the early 2000s with the New England Forestry Foundation, we did the Pingree Forest conservation easement (762,000 acres), and the Downeast Lakes conservation easement (342,000 acres), which are still the two largest conservation easements in the U.S., and represent a third of all conservation lands in Maine. These projects are emblematic of the fact that Maine is blessed with some of the best managed and most productive forest lands operated by companies and families who are conservation stewards, and the state hosts a collaborative ethos that harnesses both entrepreneurship and stewardship. There is no question that harnessing a collaborative approach with private landowners to expand stewardship to a scalable level will be the key to scale endangered species recovery, particularly in Southeastern states, which are both overwhelmingly privately owned and host our most endangered ecosystem, long leaf pine, and the greatest number of endemic species of any region in the U.S. It is this reason that my foundation, Land Conservation Assistance Network, has built the largest conservation information platform in the U.S., targeting the 13.2 million private landowners across America.

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