Federal agencies release revised habitat conservation planning handbook

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (Services), announced the availability of the final revised Habitat Conservation Planning and Incidental Take Permit Processing Handbook. The announcement of the new HCP Handbook appears in the December 21, 2016 issue of the Federal Register (81 FR 93702).   

To obtain a permit under the Endangered Species Act for “incidental take” of a threatened or endangered species (i.e., harm that is incidental to otherwise lawful non-federal activities), applicants must submit Habitat Conservation Plans to the responsible Service. Habitat Conservation Plans must specify the impacts likely to result from incidental take and measures that the applicants will take to minimize and mitigate any such impacts. 

The Services have approved more than 1,000 Habitat Conservation Plans covering more than 46 million acres of land nationwide. However, development of a Habitat Conservation Plan is often costly and time consuming.

The original HCP Handbook was made available in 1996 and was subsequently revised in 2000. The Service indicates that the 2016 revision was motivated by changing public expectations, feedback from their partners, and advances in in science and technology, such as in computer and geospatial technology. 

The Services indicate that the purpose of the newly revised Handbook is “to instruct the Services on how to assist applicants to develop HCPs in an efficient and effective manner, while ensuring adequate conservation of listed species.” (81 FR 93702). Although the Handbook is designed for use by the Services, it also can be useful to others, such as Habitat Conservation Plan applicants and consultants.

In revising the Handbook, the Services indicate that they have reorganized the content to reflect each phase of the habitat conservation planning process, added discussion of tools and templates, clarified important concepts like maximum extent practicable, adaptive management, and changed and unforeseen circumstances, and refined guidance on compliance with other federal laws and regulations. The revision also includes guidance for addressing climate change and effective communication and coordination with stakeholders.

The revised HCP Handbook may be accessed at https://www.fws.gov/endangered/improving_ESA/hcp-handbook.html.