DOINews: USFWS: HCPs — Agents J and K Would Be Proud

Last edited 09/05/2019

Two Karner blue butterflies feeding on orange-colored flowers
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and a number of partners prepared a Habitat Conservation Plan so that they may continue to conduct their normal activities while conserving the Karner Blue Butterfly and its habitat. Photo courtesy of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

When I started working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service several years ago, I saw a note on a co-worker's door that read "MIB for birds." Now I knew that we didn't have a Men in Black squad for birds – MIB turned out to mean Main Interior Building, where our Director Dan Ashe, Deputy Directors and ADs (Assistant Directors) work. But the idea that Agents J and K were out there protecting birds made me smile.

It also made me realize I needed to learn a bunch of acronyms.

HCP was one of those unfamiliar acronyms. It stands for Habitat Conservation Planning or Plan.

A Habitat Conservation Plan is basically insurance for the Endangered Species Act. If someone (landowner, developer, company, state or local agency – any non-federal agency) worries that their actions might accidentally harm a listed species (a big no-no), they can apply for an Incidental Take Permit, or ITP (arrgh, another acronym!). To get the permit, they have to submit an HCP, which among other things, describes potential damage to listed species, how it will be avoided and minimized, and how it will be mitigated or compensated for. It also talks about reporting – to ensure that the plan is followed – and how the HCP applicant will pay for the conservation.

In return for the conservation commitments outlined in the HCP, we give the applicant "no surprises" assurances. That means we'llhonor the HCP – and not require more conservation – just as long as the applicant honors it.

An HCP is often a way for the Service and others to balance economic development and species conservation. Our Director has said that the best conservation is often local, and an HCP is a way to put those words into action. And it's the local people who also see the very real benefits of conservation – clean air and water, flood control, tourism, jobs. This is their home – their wild things and wild places. It means something to them.

The mitigation to counter negative effects of a development can take many forms. Developers in the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Planin Texas, for example, set aside more than 30,000 acres of endangered species habitat to address the conservation needs of the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler, other endangered species and more. Other mitigation measures include payment into an established conservation fund, restoration of degraded or a former habitat, modified land use practices or restrictions on access.

Maybe it isn't as cool as the Men in Black and maybe our biologists don't dress quite so sharp, but HCPs help us keep alive species that might otherwise disappear as people develop more and more land to meet their needs.

I think Agents J and K would be proud.

Learn more about HCPs

By: Matt Trott, USFWS

Jan. 30, 2014

Matt Trott is a public affairs specialist at the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters Office. His story appears on the USFWS' Open Spaces Blog.

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