Habitat Conservation Plan Implementation: Keeping Promises for Adaptive Management Within a "No Surprises" Policy

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Virginia Tech


Adaptive management is an approach to problem solving that acknowledges uncertainty. Adaptive management involves a systematic and rigorous process of learning from the outcomes of management actions, accommodating change and improving management. Plans, policies or management strategies influenced by new information and learning, are modified.

This study examines the implementation of adaptive management for endangered and threatened species covered in Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP). Introduced in 1982 as an amendment to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Habitat Conservation Plans are negotiated agreements that mitigate the incidental "take" (killing, harming) of endangered and threatened species during a development or resource extraction project. However, scholars found the scientific basis of approved HCPs to be inadequate and the efficacy of prescribed mitigation measures untested implying the need for adaptive management during implementation.

This case study evaluation investigates HCP landowner compliance and progress within the parameters of the federal 1994 "No Surprises" policy. That policy limits landowner liability and responsibility for additional conservation action due to failed mitigation measures during HCP implementation. "No Surprises" assumes we can predict all the consequences of implementing a HCP. The policy seems to work against the objectives of adaptive management to improve scientific knowledge and modify action. The cases include the Central Cascades HCP implemented in the Central Cascades of Washington and the Orange Central Coastal County HCP implemented within a nature reserve in Orange County, California. The study assesses the strengths and weaknesses of adaptive management implementation for protecting endangered species and their habitat, and 2) recommends mid-course corrections for improving adaptive management before HCP maturity.



Habitat Conservation Plan Implementation, Program Evaluation, Endangered and Threatened Species, Case Study Evaluation, Adaptive Management