Special Series: Habitat Conservation Planning
Where Property Rights and Biodiversity Converge
Part III: Incorporating Adaptive Management and the Precautionary Principle into HCP Design

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

Concluding a three-part series synthesizing reviewers' recommendations for improving Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs), this article focuses on the inherent scientific uncertainty in conservation planning and the two primary strategies that performance reviewers have recommended to deal with incomplete data: adaptive management and the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle holds that, in the face of poor information or great uncertainty, managers should adopt risk-adverse practices. Where critical information is scarce or uncertain, application of the precautionary principle counsels that HCPs should adhere to the following recommendations: be shorter in dura-tion, cover a smaller area, avoid irreversible impacts, require that mitigation measures be accomplished before take is allowed, include contingencies, and have adequate monitoring. Under adaptive management, HCPs are acknowledged to be mere working hypotheses of how species will respond to changes in habitat size, location, configuration, and quality. To truly integrate adaptive management into an HCP, a plan must include a monitoring program to evaluate the performance of mitigation measures and a system that automatically triggers alternative conservation actions in the event that
performance fails to meet conservation goals. Reviewers, however, have found that few HCPs have well developed and statistically valid monitoring programs. Incorporating adaptive management into HCPs will require a fundamental change in the way that regulatory assurances (for instance, 'no surprises') are structured so that plans remain flexible and contingent rather than immutable, as they are now. Two possible solutions include converting the assurance package from regulatory immunity to regulatory indemnity and calibrating the duration or rigor of the assurance to the quality or expected performance of the HCP's conservation strategy.