A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is a planning document intended to help landowners and communities and to provide long-term benefits to species and their habitats. An HCP is designed to accommodate economic development to the extent possible by authorizing the limited and unintentional “take” of Endangered Species Act listed species when incidental to otherwise lawful activities.
HCPs are required as part of an application for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP). If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finds an HCP meets the specified criteria, it issues an ITP, which allows the permit holder to proceed with an activity that could otherwise result in the unlawful take of a listed species.
HCPs can apply to both listed and non listed species, including those that are candidates or have been proposed for listing. HCPs describe the anticipated effects of the proposed taking on species, how those impacts will be minimized or mitigated, and how the conservation measures included in the plan will be funded.
Q: Why should we save endangered species?
In the introduction to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, Congress recognized that endangered and threatened species of wildlife and plants “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.” Although extinctions occur naturally, scientific evidence strongly indicates that the current rate of extinction is much higher than the natural or background rate of the past. The main force driving this higher rate of loss is habitat loss. Over-exploitation of wildlife for commercial purposes, the introduction of harmful exotic (nonnative) organisms, environmental pollution, and the spread of diseases also pose serious threats to our world’s biological heritage.
Q: What is Take under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?
A: The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) defines take as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct." The ESA prohibits take of wildlife species listed as threatened or endangered without a permit from the federal government. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administers the ESA for most listed species.
Q: What is the Yelm HCP?
A: The Yelm HCP, led by the City of Yelm, will serve as the basis for an ITP application for effects on species covered under ESA. The Yelm HCP and ITP will:
▪ Describe how to avoid, minimize, and mitigate effects from activities and projects in the City on ESA endangered and threatened species, and species expected to become listed.
▪ Facilitate development by allowing growth in the City in accordance with local and state laws while protecting ESA-listed species and their habitat.
▪ Enable the City in development of a long-term framework for management tools (such as protocols, incentives, and acquisition strategies) that provide for the long-term preservation of covered species and assurances for all participants.
▪ Build on local efforts by Thurston County, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and others to maintain and restore the South Puget Sound prairie ecosystem, a rare and declining natural community of native species.
Q: What is the Yelm HCP Plan Area? What are the Yelm HCP Permit Areas?
A: The Yelm HCP Plan Area is defined as the area where covered species may occur within City limits and Urban Growth Areas at the time of approval of the HCP, and any additional area where mitigation may occur.
The Yelm HCP Permit Area is the geographic area where the ITP applies for most covered activities. It includes the areas where the City exercises permitting authority.
The Yelm HCP Permit Area for Conservation Only will includes areas in which some lands may be acquired and managed by the City for the purposes of covered species conservation.
Q: What are covered species, and what species are covered under the Yelm HCP?
A: Covered species are those species for which incidental take is authorized. The Plan Area provides habitat for a variety of species, including species listed under state and federal endangered species protection laws. Covered species were selected for the Yelm HCP based on review of all species of conservation concern known or suspected to occur in the Plan Area during the permit term. The following species are recommended for coverage under the Yelm HCP.
▪ Yelm Pocket Gopher (Thomomys mazama yelmensis)
▪ Oregon Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus affinis)
▪ Taylor’s Checkerspot Butterfly (Euphydryas editha taylori)
Q: What kind of activities will be covered by the Yelm HCP?
For the City of Yelm HCP, covered activities must be:
▪ Otherwise lawful: activities that may legally be carried out under compliance with other local, State, and Federal rules and regulations
▪ Non-Federal: not funded, authorized, or carried out by a Federal agency Under the direct control of the City of Yelm: Yelm controls each activity through jurisdictional authority, employment, contracts, leases, or land ownership)
In identifying activities to be covered in an HCP, USFWS guidance suggests examining activities related to permanent projects that may result in permanent loss of habitat, and both longer term and short-term activities projected to result in temporary effects. The preliminary list of covered activities include public and private development, and public and private operations and maintenance.
Q: What is the benefit of an incidental take permit and habitat conservation plan to a private landowner?
The permit allows the permit-holder to legally proceed with an activity that would otherwise result in the unlawful take of a listed species. The permit holder also has assurances from the FWS through the “No Surprises” regulation.
Q: Will the Yelm HCP affect my project?
A: Maybe. Many projects within the City of Yelm will not be affected by the HCP because they will have no adverse impact on the covered species. Projects that remove habitat for the covered species will likely be affected by the HCP, and will be required by the City to follow the procedures outlined in the HCP. The HCP will spell out clearly which projects are exempt from the HCP and which projects are subject to the HCP. These requirements are part of the HCP that will go through public review prior to adoption by the City.
Q: If my project will be built soon, do I need to comply with the Yelm HCP?
A: No. The Yelm HCP will only apply to projects that seek development authorizations from the City after the HCP is adopted. Projects that get their City authorizations prior to HCP adoption do not have to use the HCP, but may need to receive take authorization through another process.
Q: Does the public get to comment on our HCP? How do public comments affect the HCP?
A: The Act requires a 30-day period for public comments on applications for incidental take permits. In addition, because NEPA requires public comment on certain documents, the USFWS operates the two comment periods concurrently. Generally, the comment period is 30 days for a Low Effect HCP, 60 days for an HCP that requires an environmental assessment, and 90 days for an HCP that requires an environmental impact statement. The USFWS considers public comments in permit decisions.
Q: How will you pay for mitigation land?
A: If covered activities (projects that need City approval) have the potential to result in take of covered species (e.g., habitat loss) then a permitting fee will be collected from those projects. In return those projects will have ESA coverage under the HCP. Those fees will then be pooled and conservation land, which supports the covered species, will be protected to offset habitat losses from projects. The fees will be based on the total cost of the conservation strategy and an estimate of how many projects will need permit coverage during the 30-year permit term. HCP fees have not yet been determined, but will go through public review before being adopted.
Q: What kinds of actions are considered mitigation?
A: Mitigation measures are actions that reduce or address potential adverse effects of a proposed activity on species included in an HCP. They address specific conservation needs of the species and should be manageable and enforceable. Mitigation measures may take many forms, including, but not limited to:
▪ Payment into an established conservation fund or bank
▪ Preservation (via acquisition or conservation easement) of existing habitat
▪ Enhancement or restoration of degraded or a former habitat
▪ Establishment of buffer areas around existing habitats
▪ Modifications of land use practices
▪ Restrictions on access.
Mitigation measures are determined on a case-by-case basis determined by the needs of the affected species and type of impacts anticipated.
Q: How does the Yelm HCP differ from the Thurston County HCP?
A: They are separate documents serving different jurisdictions. The permit area for the Yelm HCP is limited to Yelm city limits, while the permit area for the Thurston County HCP applies to the rest of unincorporated Thurston County (i.e., outside incorporated cities). The Yelm HCP also covers only a subset of species addressed in the Thurston County HCP. The ITP for the Thurston County HCP will be issued to the County. Projects that occur under County jurisdiction can obtain ESA compliance through the Thurston County HCP. Projects under the jurisdiction of the City of Yelm can obtain ESA compliance through the Yelm HCP.