Over the last 11 years, Tall Timbers has worked to develop and implement the first-of-its-kind, multi-state plan that enhances habitat for at-risk species.
The “Quail Country Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances,” gives private landowners reassurance that they won’t be won’t be required to do any additional conservation beyond what they agree to under the plan if animals are federally listed.
The plan was finalized on September 15 and involves Tall Timbers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The first people to sign up for the program are Gadsden County landowners Helen and Tom Roth who are doing extensive conservation work on their unique property in North Florida.
The Roths, who own the 100-acre Spring Canyon along the Apalachicola Bluffs, signed onto the agreement as a way to further their work in preserving ecosystems that support at-risk species.
“It’s very consistent with what I’m already doing with my conservation easement,” said Helen Roth. “I’m all about protecting the plants and the animals. This program is specifically focused on the animals but they go hand in hand.”
Roth’s property, which is held in conservation easement by Tall Timbers, includes old-growth longleaf pine-wiregrass savanna and steephead ravines, one of the rarest habitats in Florida. Roth does most of her work by hand, including hardwood removal, spreading wiregrass seed by hand and planting longleaf pine seedlings.
In signing, she agrees to enhance habitat for the covered species and in return avoid further regulatory oversight should the species require additional protection under the Endangered Species Act.
What is covered under the Quail Country CCAA?
The CCAA, which covers 28 Georgia Counties and seven Florida counties, is the first such agreement to involve multiple states. The agreement protects the following at-risk species: striped newt, gopher frog, swallow-tailed kite, southeastern American kestrel, Henslow’s sparrow, frosted elfin, monarch, gopher tortoise, southern hognose snake, Florida pine snake, eastern diamondback rattlesnake and southeastern pocket gopher.
The agreement is focused on preserving and enhancing habitat, a leading cause of the covered species’ decline , making it a unique tool for conservation, said Michele Elmore, a biologist with USFWS in Georgia’s ecological services field office in Athens.
“If we can do landscape scale conservation with private landowners, give them assurances under the agreement that if these species were to become listed, everything that they’re doing for the agreement is all covered that there is no additional regulatory oversight,” Elmore said. “That gives them some comfort, I hope, that would encourage them to do even more and help to keep these species as common as we can.”
The rattlesnake, Florida pine snake, frosted elfin, gopher frog and monarch butterfly all have federal listing decisions imminent.
Elmore said work done in connection with the CCAA would hopefully help head those decisions off. The agreement is focused on landowners with a strong conservation vision for their property.
“This is a really cool opportunity and project because it’s a proactive way to conserve the species before its necessary to list them under the Endangered Species Act,” Elmore said. “This is a special tool that we can do in the USFWS that can be proactive to prevent the listing and work with private landowners.”
The CCAA is important for species that are isolated from the rest of the ecological landscape through habitat loss. It can, if the habitat is right, also lead to efforts to promulgate at-risk species, said Tall Timbers Biological Monitoring Coordinator Kim Sash.
Sash has worked with a host of partners to spearhead the CCAA for more than a decade and said she was excited to attract more private landowners to the program. An interested landowner meeting is planned for early 2024.
“I’m excited to be part of the first multi-state CCAA. It was truly a journey to get the Quail Country CCAA to the finish line and I’m really proud of the product and the partnerships it created among Tall Timbers, FWC, GADNR, and USFWS,” Sash said. “We are all committed to the CCAA and the conservation it will spur as well has some rare species translocations. We look forward to having our first landowner meeting to introduce the CCAA in early 2024.”