The Endangered Species Act and How it Can Affect Your Land

Endangered Species Act

Many regulatory measures can affect how a ranch owner utilizes their land. From hunting rights to the presence of wetlands, a variety of factors can impact the access and development of property. One such important factor is the Endangered Species Act. Here’s what you need to know.

The Endangered Species Act

Established in 1973, the Endangered Species Act is a landmark legislation directed toward the conservation of animals listed as threatened or endangered. This act is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, and dictates how habitats occupied by at-risk species can be developed and maintained. These regulations affect both public and private land, and may place limitations on a landowner’s rights to utilize their property.

If a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act, law prohibits individuals from “taking” the species. This term encompasses harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, or collecting the animal, even when it resides on their land. By extension, any land alteration or development that threatens or disrupts the standard behavioral patterns of the at-risk animal is also prohibited. Should an individual incidentally take a listed animal in the process of protecting themselves from direct harm, that individual will not be subject to penalties. However, in the majority of cases, taking a listed species in order to protect an individual’s property from damage is a direct violation of the Endangered Species Act; violations can carry severe consequences.

Incidental take permits are available for application, which may authorize private landowners to modify their land even if a member of the endangered species has the potential to be harmed. These permits require landowners to submit an extensive habitat conservation plan, detailing how the land development will affect the listed species, how the landowner plans to reduce that effect, and how the plan will be funded. The majority of habitat conservation plans solicit the aid of a qualified biologist who can best create a thorough plan of action. Every plan is different in its requirements, and should a permit be approved, processing times can range from 6 months to over 1 year. 

How the Law Can Affect Your Land

In cases where a listed species uses your land as a habitat, the Endangered Species Act may become an obstacle for any planned development, as well as some ordinary land-use actions such as cutting down trees or plowing fields. Any alterations deemed to disrupt the normal behavior of an at-risk animal may require a permit, and these permits may be difficult to acquire for significant developments or in circumstances involving critically endangered species.

For landowners seeking incidental take permits, the Endangered Species Act does allow for “safe harbor” agreements, also known as Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances. In this circumstance, a landowner agrees to develop the land to benefit and attract an at-risk species. In exchange, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service will provide the landowner with incidental take permits in the future.

When buying or selling a ranch property, it’s important to be aware of any past or potential regulations and permits relating to the Endangered Species Act. The ability to freely develop land can be a primary factor in purchasing a ranch, so it’s vital to understand the conservation efforts tied to the property of interest. At Ranch Marketing Associates, we have decades of experience with the Endangered Species Act, along with every other regulatory component on ranch properties. We understand the importance of land stewardship and conservation, and can impart our dedication through our expert ranch management services. Whatever your ranching need, we have it covered. Contact us today.

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