The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is seeking public input on an application for an Enhancement of Survival Permit associated with a proposed Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement with the East Foundation that would support the recovery of endangered ocelots by expanding their range in South Texas.
“Once roaming widely across Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona, in the U.S. ocelots have now been reduced to a small group in South Texas largely due to habitat loss,” said Amy Lueders, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “With this agreement, the East Foundation has proposed an innovative strategy to aid in the ocelot’s recovery by expanding their range in South Texas. We encourage the public to review the proposed agreement and provide us their input during the public comment period.”
The ocelot is listed as an endangered species throughout its range in South and Central America, Mexico, and southern Texas and southern Arizona. In Texas, ocelots are currently only known to occur in two small, isolated breeding populations that total less than 100 individuals on private ranch land and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.
The proposed Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement would reintroduce behaviorally and genetically suitable ocelots on the East Foundation’s San Antonio Viejo Ranch in Jim Hogg and Starr Counties, and provide additional habitat for reintroduced ocelot dispersal onto private lands proximate to the San Antonio Viejo Ranch in Brooks, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Starr, and Zapata Counties. Other proposed conservation measures in the agreement include ocelot monitoring, habitat management, and research.
A Safe Harbor Agreement is a voluntary agreement involving private or other non-federal property owners whose actions contribute to the recovery of species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In exchange for actions that contribute to the recovery of listed species, participating property owners receive formal assurances from the Service that if they fulfill the conditions of the agreement, the Service will not require any additional or different management activities by the participants without their consent.
In addition, an Enhancement of Survival Permit is issued to authorize take of the covered species from otherwise lawful activities identified in the Safe Harbor Agreement on the enrolled lands. At the end of the agreement period, participants may return the enrolled property to the baseline conditions that existed at the beginning of the agreement.
As a Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement, the East Foundation can enroll individual property owners and convey the permit authorization and assurances to them through a “certificate of inclusion.” The Enhancement of Survival Permit would authorize incidental take of ocelots that may result from the implementation of the proposed conservation and management activities on the enrolled properties during a 30 year permit term.
The proposed Safe Harbor Agreement was developed after a multi-year ocelot reintroduction research and planning effort between East Foundation and other private landowners, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, universities, conservation organizations (U.S. and Mexico), and zoological institutions.
The Service offers a variety of incentives for private property owners, federal agencies, state and local governments, tribes, and other non-federal landowners and managers to engage in voluntary conservation partnerships. Tools like Safe Harbor Agreements benefit imperiled species while making it possible for landowners to continue to use their land.
Throughout the year, the Service 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. Hundreds of plants and animals have been recovered or are stable or improving thanks to the collaborative actions of tribes, federal agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations, and private citizens.
The Service encourages the public to review and comment on the Enhancement of Survival Permit application for the proposed Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement for Ocelot Reintroduction, and associated draft screening form pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Public comments will be accepted through Oct. 16. 2023.
Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods:
- Internet: https://www.regulations.gov. Search for and submit comments on Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2023-0160; or
- U.S. mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2023-0160; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
For more information about the ocelot reintroduction project in Texas, visit www.RecoverTexasOcelots.org..