>Date: Sat, 27 Dec 1997 13:43:57 -0800 (PST)
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>From: jkaufman@igc.org (Josh Kaufman)
>Subject: NY Times On HCPs
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> The New York Times
> December 23, 1997
> Many Habitat Conservation Plans Found to Lack Key Data
> Agreements that allow landowners to destroy or harass members of endangered
> species in exchange for pledges to compensate for their actions suffer from
> a variety of problems, chief among them a lack of key biological
> information, the first large-scale scientific study of the plans has found.
> The agreements, known as habitat conservation plans, or HCPs, are viewed by
> some as a long overdue compromise between landowners and conservationists,
> and by others as a dangerous sellout of the Endangered Species Act.
> A team of 119 scientists who studied the plans reported this month that
> they can work well -- particularly when enough is known about the biology
> of the species involved. However, for the vast majority of species, the
> crucial scientific information does not exist, making reliable planning
> difficult or impossible.
> In addition, researchers uncovered a wide array of problems, from the
> misuse of scientific methods and biological data to the implementation of
> procedures that while intended to protect populations, were likely to do
> the opposite.
> "There are a huge number of HCPs that probably should not have been
> written," said Dr. Peter Kareiva, an ecologist at the University of
> Washington who organized the effort by 106 graduate students and 13
> professors from eight universities. "That's a pretty gloomy message. On the
> other hand, people have said there's no science in HCPs and that's just not
> the case. Where the information exists maybe half get the science pretty
> well."
> The researchers, financed by the National Science Foundation and the
> American Institute for Biological Sciences, reported their results at a
> workshop at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at
> the University of California at Santa Barbara.
> "This is, by far, the greatest scientific scrutiny that has been brought to
> bear" on habitat conservation plans, said Dr. David Wilcove, senior
> ecologist at the Environmental Defense Fund and an outside evaluator at the
> workshop. Like others, he said the study provided the first quantification
> of problems many were already aware of.
> A 1982 amendment to the Endangered Species Act allows landowners to take
> actions, for example the building of a mall, that could harm a listed
> species, if the landowners submit a habitat conservation plan for
> mitigating the impact. The plans are approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
> Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.
> The new study comes at a time of keen interest in these ever more popular
> plans. Laura Hood, policy analyst at Defenders of Wildlife, said numerous
> organizations, including her own, and the National Audubon Society,
> National Wildlife Federation and Natural Resources Defense Council, had
> recently been gathering information on the habitat conservation plans.
> Yet in spite of intense interest, researchers discovered that surprisingly
> little was known about the plans; they said there was not even a central
> list of those that had been approved. The team evaluated 206 plans in total
> and 44 plans in detail, with graduate students gathering data on individual
> plans.
> Amanda Stanley, a graduate student at the University of Washington, said
> she and another student spent approximately 400 hours tracking down data on
> a single complex plan involving 1.6 million acres and a host of species,
> including the spotted owl. Plans varied tremendously in size, from over a
> million acres to less than half an acre.
> The most glaring problem researchers found was a crippling lack of
> biological data. Even the most basic information, like life span, was
> lacking for a third of the species.
> In addition, crucial information on such things as rates of change in
> population sizes and habitat were not known for the vast majority of
> species. For example, rates at which populations were waxing or waning in
> the area of the proposed plan were missing in 80 percent of the species
> examined.
> Despite the lack of data, the study found that habitat plans typically did
> an adequate job of determining both the status of populations and of
> estimating the number of individuals to be harassed or killed.
> Scientists said the plans were much weaker, however, in the next crucial
> step: estimating the impact of those losses on the greater population. "I
> think the results are clear," said Dr. Peter Brussard, a conservation
> biologist at University of Nevada at Reno. "In terms of actually assessing
> the impact of an HCP on a species, the HCPs fell flat on their face."
> In addition, researchers said methods used to mitigate the impact were
> generally untested, making the likelihood of success impossible to predict.
> Worse still, some of the plans proposed mitigation strategies that were
> already known to do more harm than good.
> Dr. Sandy Andelman, a conservation biologist at the University of
> California at Santa Barbara, said one plan proposed to protect Utah Prairie
> Dogs by moving animals to a new location, a technique that had already been
> shown to result in the death of 97 percent of relocated animals within
> three months.
> The most consistent problem, however, was monitoring, with plans for 56
> percent of the species deemed inadequate.
> The range of problems did not surprise Steve Landino, program manager for
> the Habitat Conservation Planning Program for the National Marine Fisheries
> Service's northwest region and an outside evaluator at the workshop.
> He said such problems remain because "we don't want to make it so hard to
> do our plans that people won't try to do them," adding, "We want to
> encourage people to come in to get permits."
> To reach the happy medium "somewhere between 'We need to do a 20-year study
> before we do anything' and 'Let's cobble this thing together next week,' "
> Brussard said, requires a clear outline of requirements for a
> scientifically sound plan.
> Kareiva described the handbook for preparing habitat plans as very vague.
> He said the team of researchers would continue analyzing the large database
> now assembled in an attempt to prescribe such things as the minimum amount
> of data required and to provide guidelines for tailoring plans to such
> things as the amount of scientific information available and the types of
> threats to the species.
> In the meantime, Landino said, those in the trenches will simply proceed
> with the plans. "We're not going to stop doing them," he said. "We're going
> to be doing more of them."
David M. Walsh
P.O. Box 903
Redway, CA 95560
Office and Fax(707) 923-3015
Home (707) 986-1644

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