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The Healthy Forests Initiative and Healthy Forests Restoration Act
Interim Field Guide

Threatened and Endangered Species

Section 102(a)(5) of the HFRA authorizes projects that will enhance protection from catastrophic wildland fire for threatened and endangered species or their habitats and that maintain and restore such habitats. Projects are authorized on NFS and BLM lands containing threatened and endangered species habitat where:

  1. Natural fire regimes are identified as being important for, or wildland fire is identified as a threat to, a threatened or endangered species, or the habitat of a threatened or endangered species, in a:
  • Species recovery plan prepared under Section 4 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1533), or a
  • Notice published in the Federal Register determining a species to be endangered or threatened, or designating critical habitat.
    AND
  1. The authorized hazardous-fuel reduction project will provide enhanced protection from catastrophic wildland fire for the endangered species, threatened species, or the habitat of the threatened or endangered species
    AND
  1. The Secretary complies with any applicable guidelines specified in any management or recovery plan described in A.

Determining the Threat of Fire and the Need for Enhanced Protection

Many threatened and endangered species require fire to maintain their habitat. Disturbances, such as fire, provide the ecological basis for conservation management in many forest ecosystems. The endangered red-cockaded woodpecker (figure 11) and Kirtland’s warbler are two examples. Projects that return fire to the ecosystem in a manner that improves or maintains habitat effectiveness should be considered important for such species. If such projects also provide enhanced protection from catastrophic wildland fire for threatened and endangered species or their habitat, they may be authorized under the HFRA.

Photograph of a red-cockaded woodpecker pecking at a tree trunk.
Figure 11—The red-cockaded woodpecker is an example of an endangered
species that depends on frequent fires to maintain its habitat.

Some threatened and endangered species can be adversely affected by wildland fire. Whether a potential wildland fire may pose a risk to a species, and the degree of risk, depend on many factors, including the likelihood that a fire may occur; the fire’s size, intensity, and severity; fire frequency; the time of year of the fire; the availability of needed replacement habitat; and the species’ habitat requirements. These factors should be considered when determining the threat of wildland fire to species and habitats (figure 12). Fire regime condition class assessments also should be considered when determining whether a treatment or series of treatments would reduce the likelihood of an uncharacteristically severe wildland fire and benefit the species overall.

Photograph of a sage grouse on rangeland.
Figure 12—Rangeland resources often occur within a wildland-urban interface.
Rangeland treatment can help reduce fuel and improve habitat management
for species such as the sage grouse, which has been petitioned for listing under the ESA.

Threatened and endangered species recovery plans, final listing rules, the Fire Effects Information System, the NatureServe Explorer, USDA Forest Service and DOI BLM resource management plans, and the scientific literature are important sources of information when determining whether hazardous-fuel treatment will benefit threatened and endangered species or their habitat (see References). The expected effects of wildland fire on species limiting factors and the threats to a species are key considerations.

Many threatened and endangered species have approved recovery plans that identify specific tasks needed to recover species and ecosystems and the significance of fire (natural and prescribed) to the species. All final rules to list species under the ESA identify the factors that contributed to a need to list the species. These rules may include information on fire’s ecological importance for the species.

The potential beneficial and adverse effects to the species, over the short and long term, need to be identified when determining whether a project will produce a net positive benefit. Resource managers should refer to the 2002 HFI Net Benefits Guidance (see References) issued by the USFWS and NOAA Fisheries for a more thorough discussion.

Coordination among fuel and fire specialists, ecologists, biologists, and researchers—internal and external—is especially important. The design and evaluation of fuel treatments at project and landscape scales should be appropriate for the geographic ranges of any relevant threatened and endangered species.

Projects based on Section 102(a)(5) of the HFRA must comply with guidelines in approved threatened and endangered species recovery plans or final listing rules and with the management requirements they include. If such rules or plans do not identify the need to reduce the risk of wildland fire, resource managers should weigh the positive and adverse effects that fuel-reduction activities would have on the species, using the best available information (see References).

Documentation

The analysis and documentation for projects under Section 102(a)(4) of the HFRA are intended to be integrated with the analysis and documentation done under current NEPA guidance and other relevant guidance. This documentation should be included in the NEPA documents normally prepared during project planning, the Decision Records or Records of Decision prepared before project implementation, or in the project file itself.

All projects implemented under this section of the HFRA should include documentation in the administrative record on the factors that were analyzed and the assumptions that were made when determining the net benefit to threatened and endangered species as provided for in the Judicial Review section.


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