What Is A Habitat Conservation Plan?

While the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it illegal to negatively impact listed animal species (known as “take”), a permit (called an incidental take permit) can be issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows a limited amount of incidental take if the following conditions are met:

(1) A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is developed that describes how the impacts to the species will be monitored, minimized and mitigated.

(2) Funding to implement the HCP and procedures to deal with unforeseen circumstances affecting the species, its habitat or the HCP are ensured.

(3) The incidental take identified in the HCP does not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild (USFWS 1996).

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973. If a species is “listed” as endangered it is legally protected. Listing is a prolonged and not always successful process, involving study, counting, and documenting extinction danger. Once listed, a further requirement is formulation of a plan for building up populations and habitat for them so that the species can increase to the point where it is no longer endangered.

Landowners who are lucky enough to have property that is home to an endangered species can keep using their land – to grow crops, for example – by signing on to, and following An HCP. If they don’t, then these activities might actually be prohibited entirely, so participating in the HCP protects them from prosecution.

This is sometimes hard to get across to people who are worried about limits to the use of their property – joining allows you to continue an action that might harm an endangered species (you have a permit), as part of a plan that makes up for it in other ways. Not joining could mean less freedom to use your property.

The main reason for an HCP is not to allow take, however, but to establish best management practices to avoid it, and help people take care of their land and the species that belong to all of us.

I participate in a landowner advisory group with the Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, which is writing an HCP for Fender’s Blue Butterfly (endangered) and its larval host plant, Kincaid’s Lupine (threatened). I hope that the limited number of landowners in the county who have these species on their property will join us in caring for the habitat that supports them. It is so seldom we can say that our actions make a difference – what a wonderful opportunity!

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