What is a Habitat Conservation Plan?

A habitat conservation plan (HCP) is a planning document that is recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act and is a recommendation in the application to obtain an incidental take permit (ITP). The HCP identifies certain conservation measures developed and agreed on by local stakeholders to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats.

What is an Incidental Take Permit (ITP)?

An Incidental Take Permit is a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), authorizing permittees the incidental “take” of a covered species during the implementation of habitat conservation activities. “Take” as defined by the ESA, means “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct”.

What are the covered activities under the ITP?

Covered activities are actions authorized by the Incidental Take Permit and are implemented by the Permittee(s) in accordance to a Habitat Conservation Plan.  Activities are generally outlined as conservation measures and are used to achieve the biological goals and objectives of the HCP.

What are the covered species?

Species listed in an Incidental Take Permit are individuals considered federally threatened or endangered pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Under the HCP, minimization and mitigation measures are designed to ensure that incidental take resulting from covered activities will be moderated to the maximum extent practicable and will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the covered species.

What is the science that supports the implementation of the HCP?

The implementation of a Habitat Conservation Plan is supported by scientific research and analysis.  Programs such as environmental modeling and applied research evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the conservation measures implemented in the HCP and provides scientific guidance in adaptive management processes.

What is a Refugia Program?

Refugia is a population of Covered Species, housed in at a series of facilities, for reintroduction into their native habitat. The establishment of a Refugia Program is used to preserve the Covered Species for subsequent re‑establishment in the event of hazardous ecological conditions, such as extreme drought or chemicals spills, and cause the population of the Covered Species to decrease significantly. In addition to species husbandry, the Refugia Program also provides the opportunity to research and observe the Covered Species in a captive environment.

What is a CCA and a CCAA?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defines Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCA) as “voluntary conservation agreements between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and one or more public or private parties. The Service works with its partners to identify threats to candidate species, plan the measures needed to address the threats and conserve these species, identify willing landowners, develop agreements, and design and implement conservation measures and monitor their effectiveness.” Additionally, Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) “expand on the success of traditional CCAs by providing non‑federal landowners with additional incentives for engaging in voluntary proactive conservation through assurances that limit future conservation obligations.”

What is NEPA and the role of NEPA in an HCP?

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a law that requires environmental assessments and/or environmental impact statements of proposed actions prior to decision making. Using the NEPA process, agencies evaluate the environment and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions. Under NEPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as part of the evaluation of a proposed Habitat Conservation Plan.

What is a Biological Opinion and their role in an HCP?

Prior to issuance of an Incidental Take Permit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service submits a Biological Opinion of the actions described in a proposed Habitat Conservation Plan. Consultation includes analysis of indirect effects, effects on federally‑listed plants, and effects on Critical Habitat. A Biological Opinion is generally produced near the end of the ESA permitting process to document conclusions regarding the likelihood of jeopardizing the continued existence of, or destroying or adversely modifying designated Critical Habitat for, any listed species.

An example biological opinion, Click the link to review the Biological and Conference Opinion for the Edwards Aquifer HCP: http://www.eahcp.org/documents/USFWS_ITP_Biological_Opinion.pdf

What is an Endangered Species, who decides lists?

An endangered species is an organism that is considered to be at risk of extinction. A species can be listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the NOAA Fisheries through the candidate assessment program or by a petition request for the FWS or NOAA to list a species. A species may be listed if it is threatened or endangered due to: 1) present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; 2) over‑utilization of the species for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; 3) disease or predation; 4) inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and 5) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 was established to protect those species listed as endangered or threatened and their designated critical habitat.

What is the benefit of an ITP?

An Incidental Take Permit grants landowners, developers, and municipalities authorization to proceed with an activity that would otherwise result in illegal take of a federally listed species. By utilizing a Habitat Conservation Plan, public and private agencies can facilitate development in environmentally sensitive areas and keep the health and protection of the environment a top priority.

Endangered Species Act: Plants vs. Animals

Under the Endangered Species Act, there are no Federal prohibitions for the take of listed plant species on non‑federal lands, unless taking of those plants is in violation of State law. In contrast, prohibitions on the take of listed animal species is applicable to both non‑Federal and Federal lands. Prior to the issuance of an ITP, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service reviews the HCP to ensure that conservation methods do not jeopardize any threatened or endangered species, including plants.

What are “no surprises” and “unforeseen circumstances”?

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “No Surprises assurances are provided by the government through the section 10(a)(1)(B) process to non‑Federal landowners. Essentially, private landowners are assured that if “unforeseen circumstances” arise, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will not require the commitment of additional land, water or financial compensation or additional restrictions on the use of land, water, or other natural resources beyond the level otherwise agreed to in the HCP without the consent of the permittee. The government will honor these assurances as long as a permittee is implementing the terms and conditions of the HCP, permit, and other associated documents in good faith.”