Protecting Wildlife With a Habitat Conservation Plan
Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) are valuable collaborative conservation tools that provide a balance between development and protected species conservation.
HCPs are voluntary agreements negotiated between the federal government (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS]) and private, state or local project proponents. These plans are applicable across energy markets and may vary depending on the species and habitat, project size, and anticipated impacts.
HCPs are required as part of an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) application under Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act. An ITP is needed when project activities result in incidental take (i.e., unintentional kill, harm or harassment) of a federally protected species.
Let’s consider the case of a wind energy development project and protected bats. While white-nose syndrome is the primary culprit behind bat population declines in the U.S., research suggests that the majority of bat fatalities at wind farms are caused by collisions with operating turbine blades.
Given this risk to bats at wind farms, a developer may prepare an HCP as a requirement to apply for an ITP. The issuance of an ITP and implementation of an HCP allows wind farms to operate while minimizing and mitigating impacts to bats.
The HCP Process
Using geospatial tools, species-specific data, and project site survey information, an experienced biologist or environmental consultant can help an applicant identify if an ITP is needed for a project.
If an ITP is appropriate, the process is initiated through correspondence with the USFWS to understand what level — type and scale — of HCP is suitable. The USFWS may also identify the level of National Environmental Policy Act analysis required.
HCPs should outline anticipated effects as a result of proposed activities, minimization and mitigation measures, and a plan for how the HCP will be funded.
Once the ITP is issued, applicants proceed with their activities and the implementation of HCP conservation strategies. This may be the most important phase of the HCP process, as it kicks off minimization measures, mitigation, monitoring, and reporting activities.
Mitigation is an important component to any HCP, and offsetting proposed impacts is a requirement of an issued ITP. In some cases, purchasing available credits from an approved conservation bank is preferred by federal resource agencies over other solutions. Purchasing credits from an approved bank streamlines the permitting process and removes liability associated with future performance.
Our team recently established such a solution through the development of the Chariton Hills Conservation Bank in northern Missouri, the first conservation bank approved by the USFWS for the protection of Indiana and northern long-eared bats.
Early engagement with an experienced environmental consultant to map an HCP approach, from gathering site specific data to impact minimization and then mitigation, will optimize the HCP process and expedite the issuance of an ITP.