Wanted: HCPs with teeth
To win cooperation from landowners, over the last decade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has embraced Habitat Conservation Plans for saving endangered species on private lands (HCN, 8/4/97). It's an effective alternative to a "shoot, shovel and shut up" approach, say agency representatives. Critics continue to insist that the plans - which allow some habitat to be destroyed in exchange for preserving other lands - do no favors for endangered species.
In response to these concerns, the federal agency now proposes that conservation plans include more science, extend public comment periods and add more monitoring. Still, some conservationists aren't satisfied because they say the new guidelines don't contribute much to species recovery.
"The intent of the Endangered Species Act is to conserve and restore species; it doesn't say to keep them on life support," says the American Lands Alliance's Brian Vincent. He says the plans allow wildlife to become extinct while landowners and government agencies engage "in a big group hug."
To beef up the plans, Vincent wants agencies to set specific recovery goals for listed species and to subject proposals for private lands to independent scientific review.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Hugh Vickery says the goals go too far. "HCPs are endangered species conservation in the real world; we're not living in an ivory tower."