06:34 PM

Updated Handbook Expected To Improve Endangered Species Habitat Conservation


Contact: Jennifer Witherspoon, jwitherspoon@defenders.org, 202-772-0269 (office), 415-298-0582 (cell) 

WASHINGTON (December 20, 2016) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) released their revised Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook today.

Habitat conservation plans (HCPs) are an important tool under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to help conserve species while accommodating land use activities. The revised Handbook offers a comprehensive overview of the HCP process.

Defenders of Wildlife Vice President of Endangered Species Conservation Ya-Wei Li issued this statement:

“The revised Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook is a big step in the right direction. For example, it explains how landowners can expedite their ESA permit reviews while contributing to endangered species recovery. Compared to the original handbook, the updates incorporate better guidance on species monitoring, mitigation techniques, climate change, and other important issues.

“Revising the Handbook, however, is only the starting point. More crucial is how the Handbook will be implemented. We urge the Services to continue improving the transparency and effectiveness of the HCP program. Key opportunities include better public access to HCPs and their monitoring reports, and better methods to track the cumulative effects of activities covered by HCPs.”


Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) are agreements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) negotiated between the federal government and private landowners, state and local governments, or other land users. HCPs allow these regulated entities to receive a permit under section 10 of the ESA to unintentionally harm threatened or endangered species in the course of land use activities. This harm is called "incidental take." In exchange for a permit, HCP participants agree to minimize and offset the incidental take, such as by funding habitat improvement for the affected species. To date, over 1,110 HCPs have been approved.

The HCP Handbook describes the process for drafting, reviewing, approving, and implementing HCPs. Implementing an HCP often involves many steps, including carrying out prescribed minimization actions, funding habitat restoration, monitoring levels of incidental take, and reporting the monitoring results to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Because of inadequate congressional funding for the ESA, the Services often lack the capacity to properly monitor HCP implementation.

Defenders works with the Services and others to develop innovative ways to overcome these implementation challenges. For example, we use free satellite images to monitor the footprint of HCPs and use data analytics to identify trends in the types of HCPs approved. In recent years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has approved an increasing number of "low-effect" HCPs, which are intended to cover land use activities with only minor or negligible effects on ESA listed species. Most of these HCPs, however, are not posted online, making it difficult for the public to evaluate the actual nature of the covered activities. With adequate funding, the Services can readily address these and other gaps in HCP implementation.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.