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Representation: Habitat Planning: WCMSHCP

Habitat Plan Continues | 153,000 Acres | MSHCP Recommendations

HCP gets on track

Plans for a western county multiple species habitat conservation plan seemed to get back on track in a meeting with wildlife officials Thursday, August 3, 2000, with direction to develop four alternatives for the plan and with growing consensus about funding and implementation.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Mike Spear and California Department of Fish and Game Habitat Conservation Division Deputy Director Ron Rempel didn't actually contribute to the solutions, but they answered questions, offered encouragement and smoothed over local worries. The meeting also gave them a sense of the views and attitudes of stakeholders.

Stakeholders gave a clear message to the consultant working on the MSHCP program to develop four alternate conservation strategies:

1. A no-project alternative, relying solely on existing public lands;

2. An alternative to conserve listed and proposed species;

3. An alternative to conserve listed, proposed and strong candidate species; and,

4. An alternative to conserve all 164 species originally targeted for an MSHCP.

Stakeholders also agreed to a process -- that could be completed in 90 days -- for the delivery of the four alternatives and for their review by stakeholders, a university scientific review panel, and the wildlife agencies. The wildlife agencies will determine whether the alternatives will earn take permits for target species.

The consultant also seemed to have gotten the message that implementation is a separate decision from conservation analysis -- that the reserve design should be developed without worrying about how it will be acquired or implemented.

Stakeholders seem to be developing a consensus that implementation will involve early acquisition -- purchase of key properties from willing sellers -- with a funding process using existing and new local fees, federal and state funding sources, and upfront money from bonds.

The main obstacle to consensus is the Endangered Habitats League. Spokesman Dan Silver repeatedly suggested that implementation should include requirements for interim land use restrictions, mitigation demands or habitat transaction credits in addition to a fee. Farm Bureau has said, just as repeatedly, that land owners will not accept interim controls or a plan that uses policy requirements to restrict private property, mitigation demands added to fees, or the habitat transaction method as now proposed.

"No surprises" means no surprises, USFWS indicated ... unless there's a surprise. Answering questions about the federal policy not to spring new conservation requirements on a local government participating in a habitat plan, Spear affirmed that if new biological information requires added land to protect an HCP-covered species, the Service would pay the added cost ... if the problem is anticipated in the HCP permit. Michelle Shaughnessy of the USFWS Carlsbad office indicated "no surprises" wouldn't cover "unforeseen" circumstances.

Representatives of Farm Bureau, Building Industry Association, Property Owners of Riverside County, Endangered Habitats League and the MSHCP Advisory Committee participated, along with consultants, county staff, Supervisors Tom Mullen and Jim Venable, and a number of USFWS and CDFG staff.

The separation of conservation strategy from implementation and the commitment to present four alternative reserve designs comes after months of wrangling between stakeholders and the consultant. Farm Bureau and other stakeholders have repeatedly asked to see how much land will be required to conserve different levels of species, so they can assess how much the plan will cost. The consultant has resisted providing this analysis, asking the stakeholders to say how they plan to pay for and implement the plan and how big it will be before producing a reserve design. It's been a chicken-and-egg argument that now appears to be resolved.

Habitat Conservation Plans have become the focus of Endangered Species Act enforcement and compliance. They bring a new set of challenges to an already difficult regulatory process.

As if the "endangered" listing of the Stephens' kangaroo rat wasn't bad enough, local governments in Riverside County punished farmers, taxpayers and land owners with the disastrous process of developing a Stephens' Kangaroo Rat Habitat Conservation Plan. Now local governments are crafting multiple species habitat conservation plans in two parts of the county.