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Know the West

'We've turned down bad HCPs'


Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

Curt Smitch is an assistant director for Region 1 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which covers Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho and Hawaii. He oversaw the region's Habitat Conservation Plan program when it took effect in 1994.

Curt Smitch: "We have 8 million acres under HCPs that have either been approved or are still under negotiation, and they are changing the way we do business, from a species level to a landscape perspective, and that's good.

"Washington requires buffers for fish-bearing streams as little as 25 feet. Our HCPs generally have 150-foot buffers. People quarrel with us, but I say, look at the current Legislature and tell me how soon you think the state Forest Practices Act will be changed from 25 to 150 feet.

"When we negotiate HCPs, if the landowner doesn't want to accept as much adaptive management (that the plan should change periodically to reflect changing conditions and information) then we require them to give us more habitat up front. The baseline condition of the land is very important for us to determine. If there isn't much habitat for species, then we can't require the landowner to create a bunch more.

"HCPs have to be scientifically credible, because sooner or later we'll be in court defending them. We won't approve an HCP unless the species out there will be a lot better off under it than without it. The landowner gets certainty, but we do, too - that for 50 years there will be adequate stream buffers and snags for wildlife. Some of these places will be all that we have left in 50 years.

"I don't buy the notion that these plans aren't adequately peer-reviewed. We contact scientists all over the region and ask for their advice. The Plum Creek plan (in Washington) has 15 technical documents with it that have been peer-reviewed by scientists such as Jerry Franklin. There's no benefit for us to try to hide the science.

"I sleep well at night, because I know we've scrubbed the science and we've turned down HCPs that were bad. We had one company in here for two days working with us on a plan and when we laid out our standards, they decided not to do it."