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Species Research and Analysis: 

Background

In the last five years, ecosystem management has emerged as a major objective of public agencies that manage fish and wildlife resources. An ecosystem approach to overall agency performance was formally adopted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 1994 and reaffirmed, recently, despite a rather negative independent evaluation of implementation. A philosophical commitment, at least, to ecosystem management has occurred in various forms among other federal and state resource management agencies, too. 

As a practical matter, ecosystem management for threatened and endangered species of fish, wildlife, and plants finds its most telling application in the development of habitat conservation plans (HCPs) and their counterparts in southern California authorized by the state's Natural Communities Conservation Planning (NCCP) Act. These plans stretch the limits of science and strain the capacities of agency decision makers

Although the HCP/NCCP process is staunchly defended and even lauded in the 1997 issue of the Ecology Law Quarterly devoted to ecosystem management (and used as a text for this course -- see the articles by Ebbin, Bosselman, and Zedler), the process also has a fair share of vigorous critics. A former UC Davis student, Daniel Hall, is one of these critics and keeps a watching brief on the process from the offices of the Western Ancient Forests Campaign and the American Lands Alliance in Portland, Oregon. A less harsh but still analytical assessment of the HCP/NCCP process comes from the detailed
case studies
recently completed by the National Center for Environmental Decision Making Research.

The impetus for the kind of species and habitat conservation planning that now preoccupies fish and wildlife agencies was provided by the strong political reaction to the United States Supreme Court decision in TVA v. Hill (1978) and the subsequent inclusion by Congress in the 1982 Endangered Species Act Amendments of section 10(a) [16 USC
1539(a)(2)(B)]. This permits incidental takings of listed species as a result of private actions, provided an HCP is prepared and provided assurance is given that the survival and recovery of the species in the wild will not be appreciably reduced if the private project goes forward. 

Research and Analysis 

Using the research resources cited, above, the balance of this Web page addresses three major questions: 

1. What are the principal scientific deficiencies of the HCP/NCCP process revealed by recent research?

2. What are the major bureaucratic reasons why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been unsuccessful in implementing an ecosystem approach to species management?

3. What concrete steps can be taken to improve the HCP/NCCP process, given that it has scientific deficiencies and faces bureaucratic constraints? 

HCP Process and Science 

HCP's standers should be based on knowledge of the basic population biology of all species, ecological requirements and a quantitative estimate of the impact of take on population viability.  HCP would evaluate the cumulative effects of multiple plans and activities on covered species and potential interactions among effects.  To achieve these foundation, HCP is lacking in data which is to support documents.  Their are mainly three aspects of data missing to be sufficiently managed.  The three insufficient aspects are 1)existence of the data, 2)standards of data, and 3)all sources of formally documented data.  These deficiency should be improved because:

1) data should be available for analysis 
2) explicitly summarized data on each covered species which  include  overall distribution, abundance, population trends, ecological requirements, basic life history, and the nature of the causes of endangerment should be standardized to be scientifically credible.
3) an explicit acknowledgement of what data is available and  not should be formally  documented to allow accurate assessment of uncertainty and risk in the planning process. 

SOURCE: Using Science in habitat conservation plans

HCP Process and Bureaucracy 

The major bureaucratic reasons  why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been unsuccessful in implementing an ecosystem approach to species management is revealed clearly in  "An Assessment" published in January 1998.  This points out that
US Fish and Wildlife Service is in the preliminary stages of implementing the Ecosystem Approach, despite three years of activity.  The reasons why FWS is in this stage is as follows:

1) the concept of the Ecosystem Approach is unclear and not widespread. 
2) Washington officials have not changed the way they did business in light of the  Ecosystem Approach efforts. 
3) lack of integration of EA into normal business 
4) internal operations are insufficient
5) technical expertise is week
6) leadership of EA and the agency is insufficient
7) programmatic consistency is insufficient

SOURCE: Ecosystem Approach to Fish and Wildlife Conservation

Recommendations

Substantial net losses of habitat are resulting from most ITPs and HCPs, particularly those which fail to use credible scientific assessments, alternate land management practices, and/or meaningful mitigation measures.
(
Moving From Habitat Destruction to Habitat Conservation)
There are many dimensions of objectives which habitat conservation plans (HCPs) need  to deal with, such as political, economic, social and scientific objectives to improve its quality and effectiveness.  The lack of the scientific process can lead to a critical problem.  Here are the steps that can be taken to improve the HCP/NCCP process:
1) Explicit scientific standards which are flexible enough to distinguish low impact HCPs and high impact HCPs needs to be studied.
2) Explicit summary of available data on covered species, including distribution, abundance, population trend, ecological requirements and causes of endangerment should be included in  HCPs which have potentially large impact.
3) HCPs should be more quantitative in stating their biological goals and in predicting their impact on listed species.
4) In case of information deficiencies,  estimate the uncertainties associated with impact, mitigation and monitoring, and go forward, if risks are acknowledged and minimized.
5) Flexibility should be built into mitigation plans which enables managers to be responsive to the results of monitoring during the period of the HCP
6) When highly critical information is missing, the agencies should be willing to withhold permits until the information is obtained.
7) Information about listed species should be maintained in accessible, centralized locations, and that monitoring data should be made accessible to others.
8) Scientific advisory committee and increased use of independent peer review should be established during the early stages of the design of potentially high-impact HCPs and stages  that are likely to lack important information. 


These steps require major agency initiatives and policy alterations that are suggested below: 
 
1) The coordination of efforts to protect and recover threatened and endangered species must be improved and will be essential to the accurate estimation of the cumulative impacts of various management efforts for threatened and endangered species.  This  does not require any legislative changes, but require a funding commitment to put a centralized data base in place
2) Academic and agency scientists should become more involved in the HCP process.
3) U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and NMFS should conduct their own review of the HCP process from the perspective of identifying mechanisms for making the job of their agency scientists more clearly defined.  

SOURCE: Using Science in habitat conservation plans

Also 12 recommendations regarding 1)Planning and Definition, 2)Leadership and Accountability, 3)Boundaries, Teams and Partnering, and 4)Structure and Budget. are listed in Ecosystem Approach to Fish and Wildlife Conservation.



 December 09, 1999e-mail: tyoshida@ucdavis.edu |