Guide to Regional Conservation Planning in California
Key benefits of regional conservation planning
Legal basis for regional conservation planning: HCPs and NCCPs
Regional conservation planning spreading across California
Relationships to wetlands conservation and permitting
Controversial nature of regional conservation planning
Six steps for effective regional conservation planning
Articles in our periodical Linkages
to web sites and on-line reports
Books and articles
Guide to Regional Conservation Planning in California
Download pdf file (0.5 MB)
This Guide explains the nature and purposes of regional conservation planning in California. Local jurisdictions are preparing these plans at the county and sub-county scale to meet provisions of the federal and California Endangered Species Acts and the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act.
Part I is a short introduction. Part II provides a very brief picture of California’s biological wealth and outlines some scientific issues relevant to conservation of species and habitat. Part III explains the federal and state legal and regulatory requirements. Part IV examines the process of preparing a regional conservation plan. Part V explores topics that are common to the various regional conservation plans.
If you would like to obtain a CD version with additional items as appendices, contact IEH (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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Benefits of Regional Conservation Planning
California is a global hot-spot of endangered biodiversity,
with hundreds of plant and animal species and many types of
wildlife habitat at risk. Continuing rapid growth at the
fringes of metropolitan regions results in repeated conflict
between the conservation of nature and proposed developments.
A variety of development activities, such as construction of
housing subdivisions and shopping malls and the extension of
infrastructure, destroys high value wildlife habitat and
individuals of rare or imperiled animal and plant species.
Some ongoing maintenance activities for roads, flood control
levees and other structures also impact habitat and species.
Regional-scale conservation plans, termed Habitat Conservation
Plans (HCPs) and Natural Community Conservation Plans (NCCPs),
are often prepared when there are significant conflicts
between endangered species and proposed or potential
development in a region. A good regional conservation plan
sets up a system of large-scale reserves, together with
wildlife corridors, that will ensure the long term survival of
the covered species, and aid the recovery of listed species.
The reserves will also protect ecosystem functions and
processes. A permanent system of biological monitoring and
adaptive management allows the inevitable problems and
surprises to be addressed.
In the absence of a regional conservation plan, development
project proponents negotiate their own arrangements with the
wildlife agencies. These tend to result in the conservation of
small, fragmented bits of habitat, including fragments
surrounded by urban development. The fragments have relatively
little biological value and in the long-term will likely lose
their rare species.
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for Regional Conservation Planning: HCPs and NCCPs
As regional conservation plans in California address both
species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act and
species listed under the California Endangered Species act,
they require approval and issuance of incidental take permits
by both federal and state governments.
Section 10A of the Federal Endangered Species Acts provides
the legal basis for Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs). U.S.
Code, Title 16 Chapter 35. (Download
from U.S. House of Representatives Downloadable U.S. Code web
site) The law authorizes issuance of an incidental take
permit for one or more covered species upon approval of a
Habitat Conservation Plan, providing -
- take is incidental
- impacts of take are minimized and mitigated to the
maximum extent practicable
- there is adequate funding to implement the plan
- taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of
survival and recovery
There are additional regulatory and policy requirements
detailed in the Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook,
the Assurances (“No Surprises”) rule (Federal
Register Vol 63, pages 8859-8873. February 23 1998) and the
Five Point Policy Guidance (Federal Register, Vol
65, pages 35242 -35257, June 1 2000 ).
Download these items
Section 2081 of the
California Endangered Species Act allows the California
Department of Fish and Game to issue incidental take permits
(Fish and Game Code, Section 2081)
The new (2002) version of the state’s
Natural Community Conservation Plan law (Fish and Game
Code, Sections 2800-2835) provides the legal basis for
conservation planning at the biological community scale. The
law has a set of requirements for the planning process and
also requires the California Department of Fish and Game to
make a set of substantial biological findings before approving
a plan. The Department issues an incidental take permit for
covered species upon approval of the Plan
Requirements for the NCCP and the preparation process
- independent scientific input, including recommendation
of conservation strategies and goals, reserve design and
- public participation throughout plan development;
- plan based on best available science;
- meet the biological need of the covered species and aids
the recovery of listed species;
- an adaptive
management and monitoring program;
- a system of landscape or ecosystem scale conservation
that protects the ecological integrity of large habitat
blocks, ecosystem function, and biological diversity;
- reserves with linkages (corridors) that support
sustainable populations of the species covered by the plan
and conservation of a variety of environmental gradients.
Local jurisdictions prepare a regional conservation plan
and submit it to the federal and state agencies for approval
and issuance of incidental take permits. Most current plans
are NCCP/HCPs (NCCP for the state permit and HCP for the
federal permit). Some regional conservation plans are just
multi-species HCPs, seeking a 2081 permit from Fish and Game
to provide the state coverage.
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Conservation Planning Spreading Across California
Conservation planning for multiple species and habitat types
is taking place in more and more California counties. Local
jurisdictions develop multi-species, multi-habitat
conservation plans according to provisions in federal and
state laws. The plans provide for permanent conservation of
species listed under federal and state endangered species
acts, other at risk species, and the different types of
natural communities. Federal and state wildlife agencies
approve the plans and issue incidental take permits that allow
development and other activities to result in some take of
habitat and/or listed species in return for the permanent
This type of conservation planning began in San Diego and
Orange Counties in the 1990's where coastal sage scrub with
many animal and plant species, was disappearing rapidly under
a sea of sprawling urban-suburban development. Remaining
natural landscapes with coastal sage scrub were becoming more
and more fragmented. In 1991 California approved development
of voluntary Natural Community Conservation Plans (NCCPs) in
this region.. In 1993 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
listed the California gnatcatcher as a threatened species,
with a special rule that incidental take was allowed when it
resulted from activities carried out according to provisions
of a NCCP plan. As of early 2004, several regional
conservation plans are approved and a number are still under
development in south-west California.
Multi-species plans are completed in some other locations,
such as metropolitan Bakersfield, San Joaquin County, and the
Natomas Basin (portions of Sacramento and Sutter Counties). A
growing number of local jurisdictions in central and northern
California are developing county and sub-county scale plans.
Most of these are NCCP/HCP plans, a few just HCPs plus use of
the state’s 2081 incidental take permit.
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Regional Conservation Plans to Wetlands Conservation and
The conservation and development-permitting of wetlands is
addressed by a different federal law, Section 404 of the Clean
Water Act. Historically the 404 process has been a permitting
system for individual development projects, not a conservation
planning process. And it is administered by the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers, with guidance and oversight by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The differences between
the 404 system and the HCP system and the involvement of
different federal agencies has made it difficult for regional
conservation planning to effectively address wetlands and
Two efforts are underway to overcome many of the difficulties.
In Southern California the Los Angeles District Office of the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is developing very large area,
Special Area Management Plans (SAMPs) for portions of
Orange, San Diego and Riverside Counties. In southern Orange
County, where an NCCP is under development, there are parallel
processes for an NCCP, section 404 / SAMP, and a
General Plan amendment.
In northern California a partnership of several county-scale
regional conservation planning efforts is working with the
Corps of Engineers and with EPA to develop effective regional
404 planning that takes place in parallel with conservation
planning (E-mail email@example.com
for current information),
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Controversial Nature of Regional Conservation Planning
HCPs and NCCPs have
been controversial among a variety of interests.
Scientific critiques of many early HCPs found serious flaws
and questioned their ability to provide the needed biological
conservation. Many environmental organizations are skeptical
that the plans will work, seeing them as primarily an aid to
metropolitan sprawl, and have concerns about a number of
issues, especially the assurances rule. Farmers, ranchers and
agricultural organizations worry about negative impacts on
agricultural operations and infringements on property rights.
Developers worry about the size of mitigation fees and whether
a plan really provides them with certainty.
On the other hand, the mistakes of earlier plans have provided
many lessons about what to do and what not to do. The new
generation of regional conservation plans now under
preparation, with their independent scientific advisors,
stakeholder steering committees, public participation and the
legal requirements of the new NCCP law, have the potential to
overcome many of the past ecological shortcomings, especially
if they utilize effective adaptive management. The plans, and
how they are implemented, have the ability to address the
concerns of the various interests.
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Six Steps for
Effective Regional Conservation Planning
- Involve all stakeholders
- Base plan on good science
- Meet needs of different interests
- Ensure long-term conservation and aid species recovery
- Include public involvement
- Provide adequate funding for implementation, including
monitoring and adaptive management
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Regional Conservation Planning Information in Linkages
Regional Conservation Planning Takes Hold Across
California and Other Western State s
including the basis of regional conservation planning and what
a plan should achieve.
Making Regional Conservation Planning Work - from
Stakeholders to Science
stakeholder involvement, the scientific basis of a plan,
science advisory panels and coping with biological uncertainty
Adaptive Management, the Future of Habitat
Explanation of the
various types of adaptive management and discussion of its use
in regional conservation planning
Linkages #5, Fall
Can we Make Conservation Planning Work in California?
Discussion of the
need for regional; conservation planning and needs for
developing an effective plan
Perspectives on Conservation Planning
the development, agricultural, local government and
environmental communities give their perspectives on regional
Natural Community Conservation Planning - a 1997
The status of NCCP
development in south-west California and lessons learned to
Conservation Banks : Regional Planning’s Newest Tool
The nature and
promise of conservation banking
Review: Science and Conservation Planning
Review of The
Science of Conservation Planning : habitat Conservation under
the Endangered Species Act by Reed Noss et al (1997)
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Useful Web Sites and on-line Reports
Fish and Wildlife Service. Access to various USFWS
material and articles in the Endangered Species Bulletin.
California Department of Fish and Game, Conservation Planning.
This web site provides access to information on NCCPs and HCPs,
including a variety of down-loadable reports.
Adaptive Management Practitioners' Network
This web site provides a variety of very useful materials on
Regional Conservation Planning - California Native Plant
Society Includes access to CNPS’s 1999 HCP-NCCP
Frayed Safety Nets: Conservation Planning Under the Endangered
Species Act. (2001) Hood, LC (1998 Defenders of
Wildlife, Washington, DC. Review of the status of regional
conservation planning in 1997, with an examination of key
issues. Includes recommendations.
The Future of Habitat Conservation? The NCCP Experience in
Southern California. (2001) Pollak, D. California
Research Bureau, California State Library, Sacramento, CA.
Detailed examination of the NCCP program in southwest
Using Science in Habitat Conservation Plans.
(1998) Kareiva P et.al. National Center for Ecological
Analysis and Synthesis and American Institute of Biological
Sciences. Detailed analysis of 43 HCPs nationwide (and survey
of many more) plus recommendations. Study found many problems
with these early HCPs.
Leap of Faith: Southern California’s Experiment in Natural
Community Conservation Planning. (1997) Jasny, M.
Natural Resources Defense Council. Critical analysis of NCCP
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The Science of Conservation
Planning : Habitat Conservation under the Endangered Species
Act. (1997) Noss R et. al.
Habitat Conservation Planning : Endangered Species and
Urban Growth. (1994) Beatley T
University of Texas Press. Examines the development and
design of 10 early HCPs, including stakeholder issues
When a Habitat is not a Home. (1997) Kaiser J
Review of conservation biologists’ criticisms of conservation
Habitat Conservation Plans: Compromise or Capitulation?
(1998) Luoma JR Audubon 100(1):36-44.