Special Series: Habitat Conservation Planning
Where Property Rights and Biodiversity Converge
Part II: The Role of Science

Gregory A. Thomas
Natural Heritage Institute, 2140 Shattuck Ave., 5th Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704; gat@n-h-i.org

This article is the second in a three part series synthesizing independent reviewers' recommendations for improving Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs). It focuses on the need to ensure that plans provide a net survival benefit for endangered species and the important role for independent science in plan development. Although the objective of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the ultimate recovery of imperiled species, HCPs are currently not required to confer a net survival benefit to species, and are therefore often criticized as reducing, albeit marginally, the prospects for survival rather than contributing to biodiversity conservation.
One way to recalibrate HCPs to recovery goals would be to link the regulatory assur-ances given to the applicant with the quality of a plan’s conservation measures such that plans consistent with recovery goals would be afforded a greater level of assurances. The quality of HCPs could also be improved if state-of-the-art knowledge and independent biological expertise were utilized during plan development. The participation of independent scientists can improve the efficacy of the conservation and mitigation strategies used in plans, arbitrate differences in scientific opinion, and increase the level of public trust in the final plan. To fulfill these roles effectively, independent scientists must be involved early and throughout the planning process, not simply as post hoc reviewers. To permit this level of participation, we recommend that the HCP approval agencies, rather than the applicant, serve as the 'gatekeeper' to determine who is involved in plan development. Because participation of independent experts can require substantial
logistical and financial support, the Natural Heritage Institute is developing a HCP Resource Center to facilitate scientific participation in these processes.