What is a Habitat Conservation Plan?
Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) can serve as a holistic, proactive landscape-scale approach to achieving economic, environmental and social benefits while protecting federally listed threatened and endangered species. An HCP describes the effects of forest management on covered species, how those impacts will be minimized or mitigated in the HCP, and how the HCP will be funded. A multi-species HCP, covering both fish and wildlife, requires obtaining Incidental Take Permits (ITPs) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as NOAA Fisheries. HCPs can include listed and non-listed species, and may provide conservation benefits that prevent the need for listing additional species.
Why is ODF considering an HCP?
The Board of Forestry has directed the agency to improve financial and conservation outcomes on state forests. ODF's current approach to threatened and endangered species management focuses on single species and is largely reactive. As species become listed as threatened or endangered in the future, it is likely to further restrict forest management options, negatively impact revenues to counties, and threatens the Division's ability to remain financially viable into the future. An HCP would enable the State Forests Division to think more holistically and proactively, achieving the greatest conservation benefits while retaining economic viability and ensuring long-term ability to continue generating revenue for counties, providing environmental benefits, and meeting the growing demand for recreation on public lands.
What is “take" in regards to threatened and endangered species?
Take of endangered and threatened species is prohibited under the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act defines “take" as “… to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct." The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defines “harm" as “significant habitat modification that actually kills or injures a listed species through impairing essential behavior such as breeding, feeding, or sheltering."
HCPs describe measures taken to avoid, minimize, or mitigate effects of actions by a landowner — in this case the State of Oregon — in order to ensure conservation of listed species.
In order to receive an incidental take permit, the state must be able to show that (a) taking will be incidental; (b) the state will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the impacts of the taking; (c) the state will ensure that the plan is adequately funded; (d) taking will not appreciably reduce chances of survival and recovery of listed species.
How will a Habitat Conservation Plan affect timber harvests and revenue production in state-managed forests?
The goal of an HCP would be to improve both financial and conservation outcomes over a 75-year permit term. The state has a duty to both provide sustainable timber harvest revenues to counties where state forests are located while also protecting habitat used by threatened and endangered species.
Without an HCP and ITP, future acres available for harvest are expected to decline over time due to increased protections for currently listed species and new species listings. ODF will be forced to continue to avoid any take of threatened and endangered species, and if protections increase for listed species or new species are listed, harvest will likely be restricted on more state forestlands. In contrast, total available acres for timber harvest are expected to increase over time with an HCP because an incidental take permit allows for some take to occur provided ODF successfully implements the conservation strategy outlined in the HCP.
How will a Habitat Conservation Plan affect conservation in state-managed forests?
Conservation measures under an HCP can be better aligned with long-term planning to provide more durable, high-quality habitat. The nature of take avoidance strategies creates shifting protections that, over time, will limit the quality and durability of habitat provided. Under an HCP, a broader variety of issues, such as climate change, can be addressed by the location of well-planned conservation strategies. Additionally, a monitoring program will be put in place to determine if the conservation strategies are successfully achieving the biological objectives defined in the HCP. The monitoring program will include the frequency of monitoring, the parameters being monitored, and the process for reporting monitoring results to the services.
What is the public process?
Public and stakeholder input is vital to making this project a success. The process has and will continue to include informational meetings open to the public, email and website updates, and stakeholder engagement meetings or workshops for deeper-level discussions at key milestones. The Board of Forestry will ultimately decide whether an HCP is in the best interest of the state.
ODF has convened a Steering Committee to help guide the process, and a Scoping Team that develops the technical content of the HCP. The Board of Forestry has been and will continue to be engaged throughout the process. Stakeholders and the public will also have numerous opportunities to provide input throughout the development of the HCP. Because of the special relationship with trust land counties, ODF engages with the Forest Trust Lands Advisory Committee at every opportunity, and has conducted proactive outreach to each Trust Land County with land that would be covered under the plan.
What role will existing science play in the development of the HCP?
The Scoping Team is working to identify the best available science and incorporate it when developing biological goals and objectives, conservation strategies, and the monitoring program for the HCP. In order to demonstrate a long-term improvement in species habitat, there must be an initial understanding of where the species is located, what habitat types it relies on, the threats that are present within the permit area, and the necessary conservation actions that can be utilized to alleviate those threats.
Since the HCP will cover at least a 50-year term, how is ecological uncertainty taken into account?
The required adaptive management process will allow ODF to respond appropriately if the monitoring program reveals that the conservation strategies are not working as planned. In many cases strategies need to be adapted over time as the environment changes. This required monitoring and adaptive management structure will ensure that ODF knows when changes need to be made and what those changes are likely to be.
If new information is found in the future during the HCP permit term, it is possible to amend the HCP. For example, an amendment could be made to add a new species to the list or a new covered activity. A major amendment would require a formal NEPA process, which when coupled with the time needed to revise and amend the HCP would likely occur over a 1-3 year period.
An HCP requires a secure funding source and restoration projects can be very expensive. What agencies are being considered for funding sources?
The State Forests Division is predominately funded by the sale of timber. Funding strategies are an important piece in developing the HCP and the process will include an analysis to determine if the funding for restoration and monitoring is sufficient. While ODF welcomes partnership with other agencies and organizations, ODF will not be asking for funding support from other organization nor will ODF be relying on outside funding as part of the HCP funding strategy.
It seems that the HCP process has the potential for delay if the project team and committees seek new data, solicit public input, and consider new science. How will the process take this potential for delay into account, and what does the timeline look like?
The Western Oregon HCP process is operating under an ambitious 4-year timeline driven by outcomes and deliverables, and includes a stakeholder engagement process. Momentum is valuable for maintaining progress, and the team will seek to stay on schedule while also being flexible if new data or input requires us to slow down. If new data arises or additional coordination on a particular topic is necessary, ODF will consider the implications on the overall schedule, and in every case determine if a schedule delay is worth inclusion of the data or completion of the coordination.
How does climate change fit into the HCP and how is that integrated and included in the discussion?
Climate change is viewed as a certainty and is the lens by which we view and predict the ecological future. ODF's approach to climate change is to develop a forest that is resilient and flexible to change. The intent is to develop conservation strategies for each species that are resilient within the context of climate change. The modeling and projections of the HCP design incorporates how habitat stressors change with climate changes.
What does it mean to have federal agencies provide “no surprises" assurances?
No surprises means that the services cannot change the strategies in the HCP without demonstrable evidence that the HCP is not meeting the biological goals and objectives. If it is determined that ODF is out of compliance with the terms of the HCP or ITP, the services hold the right to suspend or revoke the ITPs.