DoD Biodiversity Conservation Handbook
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Chapter 6: Managing for Threatened, Endangered, and Sensitive Species

Planning with Endangered Species in Mind

Few pieces of national legislation are as important to military land managers, and to the biodiversity they conserve, as the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Military lands may be scenes of recurring bombardment, fire, troop maneuvers, and assorted other disturbances, but they also are sanctuaries for species of plant and animal life whose very existence is threatened. The Department of Defense (DoD) and other federal agencies estimate that the military's lands and waters harbor more than three hundred species classified as endangered or threatened. Why? For security and safety reasons, military installations are generally off limits to the sort of development pressures that produce habitat loss elsewhere. And the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has given this protection the force of law.

Congress enacted the esa in 1973. It replaced two much weaker endangered species laws dating to 1966. (For the legislation's history, see The law charged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), part of the Department of the Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), part of the Department of Commerce, with the job of administering the act and maintaining a record (commonly called the "Endangered Species List") of the flora and fauna it protects (known as "listed species"). The USFWS is responsible for terrestrial and freshwater species while NOAA is responsible for marine species. As a federal agency, the DoD is required to identify and protect the threatened or endangered species on its lands or in its waters, as well as listed species it may impact elsewhere.

More information on ESA can be found in chapter 3, "The Legal and Policy Context for Conserving Biodiversity on Military Lands," and on the Internet at or In this chapter, we discuss implementing an endangered species program on a military installation, Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee.

Basic to the job of protecting endangered species is the idea of "critical habitat" – the place where the endangered species live. Here, military land managers have an important tool at their command: A thoughtfully-written and implemented Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan (INRMP), which installations are required to produce and keep up to date, can allow the USFWS to forgo designating critical habitat on a military installation, thus eliminating a significant administrative burden for the military natural resources manager. (For more on INRMPs, see chapter 11. For more on recent legislation affecting critical habitat see chapter 3.) 1

Any installation with federally listed species must address their protection in the INRMP. But, if properly prepared the INRMP can substitute for critical habitat designation as long as the species of interest are addressed to the satisfaction of USFWS.

It is especially important for military land managers to work with their local USFWS ecological services field offices ( in the development of this section of the INRMP. Natural resources managers should clearly identify the status of any critical habitat designation, or exemption, in the endangered species section of the INRMP (see box below).

Critical Habitat and the INRMP

What is "critical habitat?" Section 3 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) defines the term this way:

. . . The term critical habitat, for a threatened or endangered species means . . . the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the provisions of section 4 of this Act, on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special management considerations or protection; and

  • Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed in accordance with the provisions of section 4 of this Act, upon a determination by the Secretary [of the Interior] that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species.
  • Critical habitat may be established for those species now listed as threatened or endangered species for which no critical habitat has heretofore been established as set forth in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph.
  • Except in those circumstances determined by the Secretary, critical habitat shall not include the entire geographical area which can be occupied by the threatened or endangered species.

Section 4 of the ESA describes the relationship between critical habitat and the INRMP:

  • The Secretary shall not designate as critical habitat any lands or other geographical areas owned or controlled by the Department of Defense, or designated for its use, that are subject to an integrated natural resources management plan prepared under section 101 of the Sikes Act (16 u.s.c. 670a), if the Secretary determines in writing that such plan provides a benefit to the species for which critical habitat is proposed for designation.
  • Nothing in this paragraph affects the requirement to consult under section 7(a)(2) with respect to an agency action (as that term is defined in that section).
  • Nothing in this paragraph affects the obligation of the Department of Defense to comply with section 9, including the prohibition preventing extinction and taking of endangered species and threatened species.

Proceed to Next Section: Inventories are Critical

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About This Chapter's Author
John Lamb is a conservation biologist.

Kevin Willis is a plant ecologist.

George R. Wyckoff is a wildlife ecologist at Arnold AFB, Tennessee.

Literature Cited
Click here to view literature cited in this chapter.

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