New Changes to Guidelines for Habitat Conservation Plans under the Endangered Species Act

(03/09/1999) - Statement by Laura Hood
Conservation Planning Program Manager
Defenders of Wildlife

The new policy guidelines to improve habitat conservation plans (HCPs) for endangered species released today in the Federal Register can improve the survival prospects for the affected species -- if they are fully implemented. In the guidelines, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service address most of the major concerns about HCPs that Defenders of Wildlife identified in a 1998 report, Frayed Safety Nets: Conservation Planning Under the Endangered Species Act. By addressing five HCP issues--including HCP biological goals, adaptive management, monitoring, plan duration, and public participation--the Services have provided a framework for substantially decreasing the risk that HCPs pose to endangered species.

We are disappointed, however, that government officials and landowners will not be required to follow this framework. Without the teeth of regulation, landowners are free from any legal responsibility for implementing these necessary improvements in HCPs. In contrast, landowners have received legally enforceable assurances under the "No Surprises" rule that "a deal is a deal" for HCPs--even if those HCPs have unintended detrimental consequences for species or new information is discovered a decade later.

Under the law, landowners and the government can choose to agree on HCPs that do not include the protections in today's guidelines, but the "No Surprises" provisions are mandatory. The gap between the strong assurances provided for landowners and lack of assurances provided for species is unacceptable. Although we applaud the fact that these improved guidelines for HCPs have been put forward, we will work toward consistent, enforceable implementation of these improvements in the future.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270

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