Safe Harbor Agreements

​A Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) is a voluntary agreement involving private or other non-federal property owners whose actions contribute to the recovery of species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agreement is between cooperating non-federal property owners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for most listed marine and anadromous fish species.  

In exchange for actions that contribute to the recovery of listed species on nonfederal lands, participating property owners receive formal assurances from the Service that if they fulfill the conditions of the SHA, the Service will not require any additional or different management activities by the participants without their consent.  

Central to this approach is that the actions taken under the SHA will provide a net conservation benefit that contributes to the recovery of the species included in the agreement. The contribution toward recovery will vary from case to case, and the SHA does not have to provide permanent conservation for the enrolled property. The benefit to the species depends on the nature of the activities to be undertaken, where they are undertaken, and their duration. The SHA and associated documents include a description of the expected net conservation benefit(s) and how the Service reached that conclusion. Examples of conservation benefits include:  

  • maintenance, restoration, or enhancement of existing habitats;  
  • reduced habitat fragmentation; increases in habitat connectivity;  
  • stabilized or increased numbers or distribution;  
  • the creation of buffers for protected areas; and  
  • opportunities to test and develop new habitat management techniques.  

In addition, at the end of the agreement period, participants may return the enrolled property to the baseline conditions that existed at the beginning of the SHA.​ 

Who Can Participate? 

Any non-federal property owner can participate in the Safe Harbor program. The owner can enroll the entire property in the SHA or just a portion of it. 

Property owners can also enroll in an existing programmatic or “umbrella” SHA that may have already been designed for prospective participants in a region or even an entire state. Such programmatic SHAs are administered by a sponsoring state or local agency or some other entity.  

It is important to emphasize the SHAs are authorized only when a net conservation benefit to a listed species will result from the landowner’s stewardship.​ 

Process 

Step 1 - Contact Field Office

  • To participate in the SHA program, landowners having a listed species or its habitat on their property are invited to contact the appropriate Ecological Services field office. 

Step 2 - Compile Property Information

  • If an SHA is feasible, the landowner and the Service work together to compile information about the land, including a map, the current management, and the management needs of the species and/or habitat. 

Step 3 - SHA Determinations

  • The landowner and the Service determine the baseline condition of the property for the species -- the number and location of individuals, a habitat assessment, or a combination of the two.  
  • The landowner and the Service identify voluntary actions that would provide a net conservation benefit for the species. They also determine the duration of the SHA, allowing enough time to achieve the desired benefit.  
  • The landowner and Service develop a draft SHA that specifies management actions that will provide a net conservation benefit to the species. The draft plan should describe the current and anticipated management of the property (farming, ranching, timber management, etc.) It should also address the monitoring needed to determine if the prescribed management actually benefits the species and/or its habitat.  
  • The Service identifies any anticipated incidental take of listed species that might result from the management planned under the SHA, including any “incidental take” of a listed species that could be expected if the landowner chooses to return the property to its baseline condition when the agreement ends.  

Step 4 - Submit SHA and Enhancement of Survival Permit

  • The landowner submits the completed SHA and an application for an “enhancement of survival permit” to the Service.  

Step 5 - Announcement and Public Comment Period

  • The Service then publishes an announcement in the Federal Register that it has received an application for an “enhancement of survival permit.” A 30-day public comment period follows. 
  • During the public comment period, the Service conducts internal reviews related to issuance of the requested permit.  

Step 6 - Sign Final SHA, Permit Issuance, and Conservation Actions Begin

  • Following a response to any public comments, and after incorporating any appropriate changes, the Service and the landowner approve and sign the final SHA. Assuming all criteria have been met, the Service then issues the enhancement of survival permit.  
  • The landowner begins any new conservation actions and/or continues with existing practices identified in the SHA and reports annually to the Service on the plan’s progress. 

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