The use of habitat conservation plans (HCPs) has exploded over the past several years. This is due in part to an effort to define a role for private lands in species conservation and in part to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) institution of policies designed to make the use of HCPs easier. Seeing a need to learn from current efforts and address the development and use of future HCPs, the National Wildlife Federation sponsored a national conference on HCPs in Washington, D.C. in May of 1997. This Special Issue of the Endangered Species UPDATE features many of the conference's speakers, and focuses on the concerns surrounding the use of HCPs: their benefits, drawbacks, challenges, as well as the uncertainty and unknowns inherent within HCPs.
The Special Issue is divided into several sections. The first is intended to lay the groundwork for the issue. Articles include an explanation of the history and nuts-and-bolts of habitat conservation planning; the view from the FWS, the agency responsible for approving HCPs; a history of the Endangered Species Act to provide historical perspective for HCPs; a look at the lack of data in our current knowledge of HCPs; and an explanation of the need for a regional approach to species conservation.
The next three sections highlight species conservation efforts in three regions of the United States: southern California, the Pacific Northwest, and the southeastern states. Section Two focuses on the Natural Community Conservation Planning (NCCP) approach being developed in southern California, including an article that provides an interim report on NCCP, and one that raises the question of who benefits from the approach. Section Three examines the Pacific Northwest, with articles on the use of HCPs in industrial forests and the role of mitigation and citizen participation in plan development; the relationship between HCP efforts and adaptive management; and a description of one timber company's HCP and species conservation efforts. Section Four focuses on management of a single species found in the southeastern United States, the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis). Articles provide an overview and evaluation of the FWS's private lands conservation strategy; a discussion of alternative ways to encourage involvement of private landowners in species conservation; and the importance of basing conservation strategies on a species' biological needs.
The last two sections address issues underlying all HCP efforts across the country. Participation by independent scientists and concerned citizens in the HCP process is the focus of Section Five, with articles emphasizing the value of citizen involvement; lessons that can be learned from participation efforts in watershed analysis; and the role of academic scientists in the development and implementation of HCPs. Section Six focuses on the issues of landowner assurances and recovery of species. Two authors discuss the No Surprises policy and its role in providing assurances necessary for involvement of private landowners. The third article addresses the issue of recovery and where this fits within the HCP approach. In an attempt to distill the issues in the debate over the role of HCPs, we have written concluding comments that draw together the main points presented in the articles throughout this Special Issue. We hope that this Special Issue as a whole will provide a foundation and point of departure from which to move as we question, debate, and determine future directions for successful species conservation.
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