The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposes extending conservation credit to all landowners who participate in early voluntary conservation actions for declining or at-risk species. Currently, non-federal landowners are eligible to participate in a similar program known as the Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances. Under the proposed policy, however, parties may earn credit for efforts to conserve at-risk species that are not currently listed. After the species is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the credit may be applied to offset the detrimental impacts of a project to that species.

Under the proposed policy, credit may only be earned for voluntary conservation efforts directed at at-risk species that are not yet listed. Efforts must be voluntary and undertaken as part of a state-administered conservation program.  While the conservation effort must be directed at a specific species and the credit may only be used after that species is listed, there is no required level of benefit to qualify under the proposed policy. The only requirement is that there be a net overall benefit to the species—the benefit of the voluntary effort for which credit is given must exceed the detriment to the species against which the credit is applied. Under the proposed policy, the credits are transferable to third parties. These credits could also be applied to mitigate the impacts to the listed species for non-federal actions that would require a take permit under Section 10 of the ESA, or in the case of a federal action requiring consultation under Section 7 of the ESA, to mitigate the adverse effects of a proposed action.

Due to the expanded range of possible landowners who may use the policy and the transferability of credits, the policy has a broad range of possible impacts—especially in the context of Section 7 consultation under the ESA, or take permits under Section 10.  The proposed policy was published in the Federal Register on July 22, 2014. The USFWS is seeking comments on a range of issues, including: how to best quantify the value of conservation actions and credits, how to implement a trading system for credits, and how to define “overall benefit”.  Public comments will be accepted until September 22, 2014.