Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) announced decisions for two species that have been the subject of intense advocacy on the part of FLA for many years: the black pinesnake and the Louisiana pinesnake.

Louisiana Pinesnake Final Rules Released

It was encouraging to see a swift response to the coalition letter that FLA led requesting that the Service finalize the 4(d) rule to provide regulatory certainty for landowners in Louisiana and East Texas. While the new rule is similar to the 2018 proposed rule, it takes into account feedback provided by the landowner community, including the addition of common forest management practices to the group of exempted activities that will not result in an illegal take.

FLA will continue to collaborate with the Service as it works on the recovery plan and critical habitat designation for this species.

Black Pinesnake Critical Habitat Revised

The Service also announced a revised critical habitat designation for the black pinesnake. While the revision was minor, the Service decreased the number of privately-owned acres designated as critical habitat by approximately 1,000 acres.

FLA used the proposed revision as an opportunity to voice concerns once again with the deficient economic analysis of the designation for critical habitat on this species, which greatly underestimated the economic effect on private forest landowners. In its final rule, the Service directly responded to the concerns raised by FLA, and we look forward to further dialogue with them.

While obstacles remain, we continue to advocate for the Service to revise the rules for the black pinesnake, providing more flexibility for landowners engaging in forest management and longleaf habitat restoration.

Engagement Programs for Your Regulatory Certainty

For several years now, FLA’s staff and leadership have held an influential series of focused meetings and events to engage Service officials from the local, state, regional and Washington, DC level — building relationships, understanding, and trust.

Forest Forums are utilized to bring Service officials together with a broad range of stakeholders to the table for open discussion of areas of concern, potential solutions, and actions we can take together. Organizing FLA Timber Talks gets agency officials, policymakers, and NGO partners out into the woods to see forest management from the private landowner’s perspective.

As a result of these Timber Talks and Forest Forums, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director Leo Miranda has gained a new insight into the stewardship and forest management of working forests, “Private landowners are doing the right things in the right places,” he said. “My commitment to you is to establish relationships to get to know the people who manage the resources. FLA has been a great partner in building relationships between the USFWS and forest landowners.”

From FLA’s 2015 Forest Forum on the black pinesnake to our 2019 Red-cockaded Woodpecker Summit to our recently successful coalition letter urging the Service to finalize the rules for the Louisiana pinesnake, we are encouraged to see that the relationships we have built within the Service and among forest stakeholders continue to yield results. As a result of these advocacy and engagement efforts, the Service has a better awareness of working forests and the landowners’ need for economic viability; and we are seeing rules that take into account the economic, ecological, and practical realities of forest management.

Working Together – Conservation & Economics

The regulations the Service is now adopting incorporate some of the flexibility and assurances that we and other private forest stakeholders have been urging them to consider. The relationships we have developed will endure for years to come, as we engage a broad spectrum of partners from the field biologists at the local level all the way up to the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This precedent-setting work is establishing the positive attributes of private working forests to species habitat and demonstrating the compatibility of economic and environmental goals,” said FLA CEO Scott Jones. We look forward to continuing our work with FLA members, the forestry sector, the conservation sector, policymakers, and the Service to promote regulatory certainty for forest landowners in species conservation.”