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Safe Harbor for Listed Species

Helping Landowners Help Imperiled Species

Florida's Safe Harbor program is a voluntary conservation incentive plan for private landowners who want to manage their lands to provide habitat for imperiled species. In 2007, under Florida's Wildlife Action Plan, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) initiated a Safe Harbor type program for state-listed species other than the red-cockaded woodpecker, which is already covered under this program. The federal Safe Harbor program was created in 1995 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a conservation tool to help protect threatened and endangered wildlife on private lands.  Its purpose is to provide private landowners with assurances that they will not be penalized by endangered species laws, when they manage their land to conserve listed species.

Florida's Safe Harbor program will be modeled after the federal program but the actual form of an agreement can be varied and adaptable. Private landowners can voluntarily develop their own Safe Harbor agreements or agreements can be programmatic, in which case an intermediary such as an agency or conservation organization administers an umbrella-type agreement under which individual landowners are enrolled. Generally, Safe Harbor agreements cover a single listed species but others may be multi-species or habitat based.

How does the Safe Harbor program help imperiled species?

Habitat loss is the primary cause of species imperilment today. Over-exploitation of wildlife for commercial purposes, the introduction of harmful exotic organisms, environmental pollution, diseases, and other natural or man-made factors can also affected a species continued existence.  Extinction of species does occur naturally but the current rate of extinction is much greater than in the past   and species loss continues to increase due to the environmental effects of human activities.

Since a large portion of imperiled species occur on private lands, landowners who actively manage critical habitat for these species can make a significant contribution to their continued existence. Habitat is the area or environment where an animal naturally lives or occurs; it provides the animal with food, water, shelter, and other survival essentials. Managing for wildlife habitat is a part of good land stewardship which fosters healthy sustainable use of natural resources and is beneficial to both wildlife and humans.

How does a Safe Harbor Agreement help private landowners?

Safe Harbor's underlying principle is that in exchange for voluntary cooperation in implementation of specific management practices that benefit state and/or federally listed species, private landowners will receive regulatory assurances against future land use restrictions. In addition to providing regulatory certainty regarding state, and possibly federal, endangered species laws, a crucial component of a Safe Harbor agreement is the creation of a specific habitat management plan for imperiled species recovery that also incorporates the landowner's management goals and is compatible with other land uses such as timber harvesting, cattle production or quail management. To help offset the cost of some land management activities for imperiled species, state and federal cost-share programs are also available to landowners.

How does a Safe Harbor Agreement work?

After the landowner contacts FWC, a biologist or other appropriate staff will work with them to draft a specific agreement based upon the following procedures:

  • The baseline condition of the property is determined (either in numbers of listed animals or acres of habitat).
  • Conservation measures are identified that will benefit species while achieving landowner objectives (i.e., conservation measures that provide a "net conservation benefit" to the species).
  • The landowner implements conservation measures, and monitors and reports results.
  • The landowner can return the property to the baseline condition in the future even if additional numbers of listed species have inhabited a landowner's property.
  • Agreements can be terminated at any time upon notification.

If your land contains suitable or potentially suitable habitat for imperiled species, you can learn more about the types of management activities that could benefit these species by contacting FWC, USFWS, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Florida Forest Service, certain other governmental agencies and conservation organizations, as well as many consulting biologists and foresters. If such activities are consistent with your overall land management objectives, a Safe Harbor Agreement can allow you to pursue them without incurring additional land use restrictions.

How do I find out more about Safe Harbor and other FWC conservation incentive programs?

To learn more about FWC's incentive based conservation programs, please contact Tom Ostertag by phone at (850) 488-3831 or by email at  To learn more about FWC's Red-cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program, please contact Rebecca Pfaller by email at