Habitat Conservation Plan: Too Good To Be True?

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Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

hcpEPIC recently submitted scoping comments on Green Diamond’s new Northern Spotted Owl Habitat Conservation Plan proposal. The new HCP is meant to supersede the existing document and Incidental Take Permits and issue new ones.

Habitat Conservation Plans are a method via the Endangered Species Act whereby landowners can obtain Incidental Take Permits (ITP) for a listed species.  ITPs allow what are considered ‘lawful activities’ i.e. logging, to result in “incidental take” i.e., habitat modification, harm, harassment, or take of a listed species. In exchange, mitigations are proposed, such as set-aside areas.  Despite the name, a Habitat Conservation Plan is more like a habitat modification strategy.

EPIC contends in its scoping comments on the new Green Diamond HCP that if Habitat Conservation Plans actually functioned to recover species, we would be the first in line to advocate for them. Our experience with Green Diamond’s first HCP and the Pacific Lumber HCP has been that they are a flawed strategy which contribute to decline rather than stability, let alone any recovery, of Northern Spotted Owls. In practice, HCPs undermine the strategy of the Endangered Species Act and do irreversible damage to endangered species habitat without mitigation to truly outweigh the damage. It is our contention that the US Fish and Wildlife Service should enforce the Endangered Species Act, not provide “work-arounds”.

The original Green Diamond  Northern Spotted Owl HCP is littered with inadequacies.  The habitat standards, definitions, and home-range size utilized under the old HCP have all proven to be inadequate to facilitate anything other than owl take.  EPIC believes that issuing Green Diamond another ITP  is inappropriate given the amount of take that has already occurred without any tangible benefit to the public or the owls.

The alternatives available under the current notice would likely result in more of the same as we’ve seen under the old HCP. EPIC has proposed additional options, including an alternative to manage for landscape restoration and owl recovery.

Any proposed new Northern Spotted Owl HCP must be based on the premise of survival and recovery for the species, and not on allowing more take using the same old habitat definitions, retention standards, home-range size, and survey methods. The quality and quantity of owl habitat on Green Diamond lands has diminished over the life of the current HCP, and take has not been offset by recolonization of emerging habitats.  Any new HCP must therefore focus on retention and recruitment of actual habitat that provides authentic benefits to the owls in the immediate and over time, in order to promote long-term survival and recovery of the species on Green Diamond lands.