The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service (Services), announce the availability of the final revised Habitat Conservation Planning (HCP) Handbook, which describes requirements, procedures, and guidance for permit issuance and conservation plan development for incidental take permits under the Endangered Species Act. The purpose of the newly revised joint HCP 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. Although the Handbook is designed for the Services, it also can be useful to other HCP practitioners, such as applicants, consultants, and partners.
Since the original HCP Handbook was published in 1996 (61 FR 63854), over 1,000 HCPs covering more than 46 million acres of land have been approved nationwide. During that time, the development and implementation of HCPs has evolved in response to advances in science and technology, changing public expectations, and feedback from our partners. For example, advances in computer technology and geospatial sciences have dramatically improved the way we view and understand species, habitat, and their connection to the larger landscape. In addition, the human dimension of the HCP process has become more complex with changes in public perceptions and expectations. Our experiences and input from our partners have highlighted concerns about the complexity, cost, and time commitment required to develop HCPs.
The final revised joint HCP Handbook, which is intended to be more streamlined and user friendly than previous editions, provides guidance on the HCP process from start to finish.
Some of the most significant changes made include the following:
(1) Introduced the concept that applicants should “go fast by starting slowly,” which emphasizes the benefits to applicants of thorough pre-planning before jumping directly into HCP development, especially for landscape-level HCPs.
(2) Focused on the vital review and administrative steps without compromising legal integrity, in order to help streamline the process.
(3) Clarified the concept of minimizing and mitigating the impacts of taking “to the maximum extent practicable.”
(4) Ensured consistency with the most recent policies, such as the revised FWS Mitigation Policy, which was announced via a Federal Register notice on November 21, 2016.
(5) Clarified the use of implementing agreements.
(6) Updated and clarified permit duration.
(7) Provided guidance on how to comply with section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (54 U.S.C. 300101 et seq.).
(8) Provided guidance on addressing climate change.
(9) Updated and clarified what should be addressed through adaptive management versus changed and unforeseen circumstances.
(10) Provided guidance on when to initiate the National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) process and intra-Service ESA section 7 consultations, and when to seek assistance from the Solicitor or General Counsel.
(11) Updated and clarified information concerning take analysis, responding to public comments, public notices, permit decision documents, compliance monitoring, and incidental take permit suspension and revocation.
to download a copy.