Recently the Western Landowners Alliance held a conference focused on the Economics of the Working Wild. As part of the discussion, Tim Griffiths with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) presented on the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) program.  

As part of the program, the NRCS works with partners and private landowners to focus voluntary conservation on working landscapes. The NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers, which helps them plan and implement conservation practices that benefit target species and priority landscapes. WLFW focuses on eight target species and eleven priority landscapes. The program attempts to get out in front of declining species that may be listed by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) if populations continue to diminish. 

Working Lands for Wildlife National Project Boundaries
Working Lands for Wildlife Projects

According to Griffiths, only 8% of the populations of animals listed in the ESA recover enough to be classified as "improving" after the species are officially listed. 

The traditional regulatory approach applied to listed species is often simply that policy change equals recovery. Of the listed ESA species, 84% are classified as conservation-reliant species. The approach applied to conservation-reliant species differs from the traditional regulatory approach. For conservation-reliant species:

policy change + voluntary action = recovery

For example, an approach that is just the traditional regulatory would say, "don't drill here", but a conservation-reliant approach would say "don't drill here and also proactively remove the invasive species that exists in this landscape". 

The conservation-reliant approach works especially well for working lands. Of lands available for wildlife, 70% are working lands. 

The WLFW recipe for success includes the following key components:

  1. Trust & Credibility
  2. Shared Vision
  3. Strategic Approach
  4. Accountability
  5. Leverage
  6. Regulatory Predictability

NRCS has restored and protected 6.7 million acres of habitat since 2012. These efforts have led to the rebound and recovery of many target species.