NESARC Files Comments with FWS and NMFS on Joint HCP Handbook

29 August 2016

(WASHINGTON, DC) — The National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition (NESARC) today filed comments with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (“the Services) to offer input on the draft joint Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook. The Draft Handbook describes requirements, procedures, and guidance for the development of habitat conservation plans supporting the issuance of incidental take permits under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).

NESARC commends the Services for revising the Handbook in an effort to reflect the experiences gained and lessons learned over the 30-year history of implementing the HCP program. Given that the existing Handbook has not been significantly revised since its issuance in 1996, this effort provides an important opportunity to address existing inefficiencies and to streamline the HCP development, approval, and implementation processes.

The Services state that the goal of revising the Handbook is to help streamline and
improve the efficiency of the HCP program. To accomplish this goal, the Services attempt to address stakeholder concerns that the HCP and incidental take development and approval processes are inefficient due to: the length of time and costs associated with HCP development, the complexity of negotiations, implementation expense, lack of certainty, and lack of readily apparent benefits associated with the HCP program.

While well-intentioned and providing some measurement of improvement in certain
areas, the Services’ present revisions in the Draft Handbook do not fully address the ambiguities, complexities and lack of certainty that the Services have acknowledged as persisting in the process for developing and approving HCPs. In particular, the Services’ proposed revisions appear to exacerbate previously identified inefficiencies and impose more burdensome documentation and data requirements. Moreover, and of particular concern, the Draft Handbook appears to put in place administrative measures that raise the threshold for HCP approval and erode the No Surprises commitment that has been so fundamental in encouraging voluntary development of HCPs. Without further improvements, NESARC expects that the Draft Handbook will act as a disincentive for participation in habitat conservation planning.

NESARC’s comments may be accessed here.