North Coast Chapter - CNPS

Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act

CNPS is circulating a sign-on letter which lays out the requirements for successful implementation of Natural Communities Conservation Planning in California. The purpose of the letter is to outline key principles for NCCPs that, if incorporated into law, policy, and practice, will promote genuine protection of rare plants and other species through the NCCP program. We will be presenting the letter to the state legislature, with the signatures of many scientific and conservation groups, in order to make certain that all legislation on NCCP's incorporates these principles.

Please help us to circulate this letter. If you are a member, or if you know of members, of local, regional, or statewide organizations that might be interested in signing this letter, please pass the letter on to those groups for review and possible endorsement. Please also let Emily Roberson know which groups are reviewing the letter so she can follow up with them.

We are operating on a VERY short time schedule here so the quicker we can circulate the letter, and the quicker it can be reviewed, the better. Groups should be encouraged to sign-on even if they have a quibble with this or that detail. The letter is meant only a general statement of principles, not as the draft of any legislation.

The letter is below, followed by the names of the groups who have already signed on.

Emily Roberson,
CNPS Senior Land Management Analyst
emilyr@cnps.org

Joe Willingham
CNPS VP-Legislation
pepe@dnai.com
(510) 841-4681

********** START OF LETTER **********

The Honorable Denise Ducheny, Room 6026
The Honorable Byron Sher, Room 2054
The Honorable Tom Hayden, Room 2080
The Honorable Dion Aroner, Room 2163
The Honorable Michael Machado, Room 5136
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Legislators:

California's Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act, like the Federal Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) Program, was created to address conflicts between plant and animal species conservation and the development impacts on species and their habitats. Conservationists and biologists had long been concerned that mitigation measures for project impacts under the federal Endangered Species Act often failed to achieve long-term protection and recovery of species. At the same time, developers expressed a desire for a process that would give greater certainty as to which projects could go forward and that would be less cumbersome. The Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP) process allows the Department of Fish and Game to enter into agreements that permit the incidental take of species, and may "cover" both listed and unlisted species. The NCCP process is intended to insure long-term perpetuation and protection of species while allowing development and to protect species in advance of listing. A local, State or Federal agency can prepare an NCCP independently or in cooperation with other persons or jurisdictions. According to the NCCP Guidelines of the California Department of Fish and Game, a Natural Community Conservation Plan is:

A plan for the conservation of natural communities that takes an ecosystem cooperation approach and encourages between private and governmentarea-wide interests. The plan identifies and provides for the regional or protection and perpetuation of plants, animals, and their habitats, while and allowing compatible land use economic activity. An NCCP seeks to by anticipate and prevent the controversies caused by species' listings focusing on the long-term stability of natural communities.

While the undersigned organizations support of the concepts behind NCCP conservation planning, we find that in practice NCCPs in most cases fail to protect adequately endangered species and their habitats. The NCCP program has many problems:

  • The plans often fail to promote recovery of wild populations of endangered species;

  • Plans are often based on inadequate surveys of plants, animals and habitat types;

  • No provision is made for independent scientific review of the plans and monitoring of their results;

  • There is a disproportionate focus on a few high-profile animals species to the exclusion of other equally important species, especially invertebrates and plants;

  • Inadequate protection is made for plant species of limited distribution, which are important both for themselves and because they are often key components of the habitats on which other species depend;

  • Reserve areas are disconnected, or too narrow to protect species and their habitats;

  • Management is often assigned solely to local agencies, which often lack the scientific expertise or the funds needed for the job;

  • Plans are typically locked into place for 50 or 100 years, which precludes the flexibility needed to meet changing conditions and advances in knowledge;

  • The plans are too often shaped by economic concerns and political pressure rather than biological science;

  • Plans often lack adequate funding for basic implementation, let alone monitoring.

  • Legislation on NCCP standards must be based on

    1) thorough analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the NCCP process as it affects conservation goals and

    2) the best available scientific knowledge. The following principles represent a broad consensus in the scientific and conservation communities on the requirements for sound NCCPs, and we urge you to incorporate them in any legislation on NCCP standards.

    PRINCIPLES FOR NCCP/CONSERVATION PLANNING LEGISLATION

    1. Where Threatened and Endangered species are included in a conservation plan, the plan must contribute to recovery of the species. For other species, plans must prevent decline to the point where listing is needed. No species take shall be allowed under 2081 of the California Fish & Game Code until mitigation funding is secured to produce recovery of listed species. No net loss of habitat value that would threaten the continued viability of other species covered in the plan shall be permitted.

    2. There must be an enforceable interim agreement for protecting the ecosystem during preparation of a plan.

    3. No habitat-based conservation plan can serve as a substitute for listing of Threatened and Endangered species.

    4. Scientific panels, including recognized experts on the habitat and species in the plan, shall establish the specific principles to be used in the planning of each NCCP - habitat and ecosystem definitions, survey techniques, conservation guidelines, reserve design standards, etc. There must also be standards for what constitutes a viable population and for
    determining whether a species is truly protected. Being on public land does not in itself constitute protection.

    5. The panels shall be appointed jointly by DFG, by appropriate representatives of academic institutions, and by professional scientific societies, and shall be publicly funded.

    6. The work of the scientific panels and all draft sub-area and regional plans and plan amendments shall be subject to public review. The panels shall review all resource assessment and conservation planning documents.

    7. Implementation plans must delineate roles and responsibilities, specify measurable biological goals and objectives, and set thresholds for remedial action. The plans shall be based on "adaptive management", which requires that programs should describe specific actions that will be taken if monitoring shows that viability or recovery goals are not being met. The plans shall establish specifications for monitoring and provide for public access to the data. Wherever possible, project mitigation protocols will be scientifically demonstrated to meet species management goals before large-scale take occurs.

    8. Implementation plans must also specify a method for identifying habitat reserve lands and lands to be developed and for balancing the rate of habitat conservation and land development.

    9. The implementation plan shall provide full funding for monitoring, acquisition and management of reserve areas, and for necessary management changes to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. Public funds should primarily support the recovery aspects of an approved plan.

    10. Violation of an approved conservation plan shall result in civil and/or criminal penalties and termination of authority to take threatened or endangered species by the violator.

    Thank you for your attention to our concerns.

    Yours truly,

    California Native Plant Society
    California Trout
    Cal PIRG
    Friends of the River
    Western Ancient Forest Coalition
    National Parks and Conservation Association

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    California Native Plant Society - North Coast Chapter
    P.O. Box 1067 Arcata, CA 95518-1067
    Last Updated July 1998