What is a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)?
Although Section 9 of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) prohibits the take of listed species, take can be authorized under certain circumstances through the issuance of incidental take permits (ITPs) to agencies, developers, and other entities engaged in otherwise lawful activities. Loosely defined, take means to injure or kill a listed species or alter the habitat on which it depends.
A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is a planning document required as part of an application for an ITP that grants incidental take authorization for nonfederal entities whose otherwise lawful activities may result in the incidental take of species listed in the federal ESA. HCPs function as long-term planning tools that support the conservation of threatened and endangered species, or those species that are likely to become listed as such.
The HCP process recognizes the impact of land use activities and establishes a program to avoid, minimize, and mitigate the impacts of such activities to listed species. HCPs enable nonfederal agencies to continue implementation of their projects and activities by requiring that project proponents implement measures to avoid, minimize, or compensate for effects on listed species and their habitat. An HCP extends its incidental take permit coverage, or take authorization, to all projects and activities it covers.
Without an HCP in place, local government agencies, private entities, or individuals evaluate projects and activities individually in consultation with a variety of federal and territorial regulators to mitigate for potential impacts on species. This process can cost all parties considerable time and money. This approach also results in a less comprehensive approach to wildlife protection, because project- or activity-specific mitigation measures result in land being set aside on a piecemeal basis, resulting in fragmented habitats that are less ecologically viable and also more difficult to manage. HCPs represent an important integration of land use planning, regional and interagency coordination, and habitat conservation. HCPs offer a more efficient process for protecting the environment and processing applications for local projects and activities that may affect endangered species.
What is “take”?
“Take,” as defined by the federal ESA, means “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” Harm is defined as “any act that kills or injures the species, including significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering” (50 CFR 17.3).
The Guam ESA defines take differently than the federal ESA. Take for plants is defined as to “cut, collect, uproot, destroy, injure or possess, threatened or endangered species of plants, or attempt to engage in any such conduct.” Take for wildlife is defined as to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, snare or collect.”
What is the Guam HCP’s purpose?
The Guam HCP is intended to provide a mechanism to protect and conserve threatened and endangered species and their habitats and support Guam’s rich biological and cultural heritage for future generations to enjoy while facilitating sustainable economic development. The HCP process seeks to balance the needs for sustainable development and activities with the protection of species and habitats that may be affected by such activities. When implemented, the HCP will ensure that holders of building or development permits avoid, minimize, and mitigate take of the species addressed in the plan and further the purposes of the Guam ESA.
What will the Guam HCP NOT do?
The Guam HCP would not change or amend any existing policies regarding zoning or allowable growth; the HCP is not a land use plan. It would not slow or stop development in Guam or prioritize certain types of projects over others. The HCP is designed to streamline development and make project permitting easier and more predictable. It would not include requirements for or restrictions related to species not covered by the HCP (i.e., non-covered or non-listed species). Lastly, it would not change the need for developers to obtain grading permits from the Guam Department of Agriculture. The HCP would eliminate the need for developers to seek incidental take permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
How will the Guam HCP affect me?
Conserving rare species and their habitats will foster protection of natural spaces that provide value to residents of and visitors to Guam. The Guam HCP will benefit residents of and visitors to Guam by raising awareness about the ecological, social, and cultural significance of Guam’s natural resources. For project proponents and landowners, the HCP will provide a vehicle for complying with the ESA that provides regulatory certainty and clarity.
Where is the HCP process currently?
The HCP team is in the early stages of development. The project team is collecting data and information about the potential covered species and covered activities, designing stakeholder involvement and public outreach processes, and drafting the HCP chapters.
How can I get involved in HCP development?
The project team will hold public meetings to present updates on the HCP development process, answer questions, and solicit community feedback. Public meetings, open to all members of the public, are expected to occur twice per year, on average.
Additional coordination with stakeholder groupings is underway. The stakeholders represent a variety of interests, ranging from business and development to local culture to environmental protection. Stakeholders are entities with an interest in the outcome of the HCP, based on overlapping goals and objectives, relationship to the covered activities, etc.
How can I communicate with the HCP team?
Questions on the HCP can be sent to the following email address: GuamHCP@icf.com.
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