OLYMPIA—The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will begin a year-long public outreach and scientific-information gathering process as it explores the feasibility of developing habitat conservation plans (HCPs) for two of its management responsibilities.
Under consideration are two HCPs—one covering the department’s hydraulic project approval (HPA) program for fish protection, and the other affecting 830,000 acres of WDFW-owned and managed wildlife areas.
The separate scoping efforts will be funded with two federal grants totaling $1.2 million, announced today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Development of either plan would entail a multi-year, public participation process.
In considering the HCPs, WDFW will collaborate closely with stakeholders including private property owners, tribes, federal and state agencies, legislators and other citizens, said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings, PhD.
HCPs are long-term plans aimed at providing certainty that approved activities meet federal species-protection requirements. Over the past decade, HCPs have been developed by a variety of entities, including state agencies, to ensure that various management activities are carried out in compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
An HCP for the fish-protection program would not affect earlier conservation plans such as the Forest and Fish report, which previously laid out a long-term species conservation strategy on non-federal forestland, said Koenings.
“A future HCP will not supplant agreed-upon adaptive-management processes that are already in place,” Koenings noted. “Thus, WDFW stands by Forest and Fish and similar agreements, as we seek federal endorsement of the rest of the HPA program.
“Seeking federal approval for our HPA program and lands management is good business,” Koenings added. “Habitat conservation plans can provide a streamlined permit process and certainty for HPA applicants—or assurance that our land-management activities meet federal standards—while ensuring that fish and wildlife species are protected.”
On WDFW lands, an HCP also would provide certainty that activities ranging from weed control to recreational use comply with federal ESA requirements, Koenings said.
The HCP-development process would assist WDFW in implementing recent task-force recommendations for HPA program improvements, Koenings said. Those recommendations included streamlining the permit-application process and assuring equivalency between state and federal habitat-protection requirements.
An HCP also would reduce the potential for lawsuits while allowing the state to maintain control of the HPA program, which was instituted in 1949 to protect fish and shellfish by requiring state review and approval of activities in state waters.
The state issues about 5,000 HPAs annually, covering a range of activities.
If federal funding is continued, the HCP-development process could provide for scientific data collection, furthering WDFW’s effort to improve its HPA program and land-management practices.
An HCP for wildlife areas would be created within the context of WDFW’s recently completed policy guidance for department lands, "Lands 20/20: A Clear Vision for the Future,” which was developed with input and review from citizens including the department’s Lands Management Advisory Council.