More problems uncovered with habitat conservation plans

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has published parts two and three of its special series on habitat conservation plans (HCPs) and, suffice to say, the story didn’t get any cheerier after part one. A proposed 9.1 million-acre HCP in Washington — which would cover the bulk of the state’s private forestland — promises big timber companies 50 years of immunity from Endangered Species Act lawsuits in exchange for a promise to keep salmon safe, but scientific reviews have called the plan “ill-informed.” Political and development pressures have slowly whittled away at an urban HCP in Austin, Texas. In Southern California, land set aside as habitat by several small HCPs has gone almost entirely unmanaged and is now covered with trash and invasive species. The litany goes on, prompting a growing number of conservationists to call for sweeping overhaul of the HCP program, including a requirement that the plans actually help recover, rather than just observe the decline of, the species they are meant to protect.