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Know the West

'Landowners need more incentives'


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

Many consider Michael Bean, a senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, the dean of endangered species protection in the United States. Others say he weakened the Endangered Species Act in the name of practicality when he helped craft the 1982 amendments that created the authority for Habitat Conservation Plans. He recently helped negotiate HCPs for several species of birds.

Michael Bean: "If we are simply keeping people from doing bad things, and not giving them a reason to do good things, then we are hurting the chances for many species.

"The red-cockaded woodpecker is a good example. It needs open, longleaf pine forests in the Southeast. Hardwoods have started choking the habitat while landowners have twiddled their thumbs. A mixed forest won't support the birds. Habitat Conservation Plans with "safe harbors' provisions allow landowners to thin or burn the hardwoods without retribution. It is solving a problem that the (Endangered Species) Act hasn't been able to solve: How do we compel landowners to do good things for endangered species?

"We need to go even further, though, and create more incentives for landowners. We need to sweeten the pot with tax incentives and cost-sharing to carry out land management activities. The red-cockaded woodpecker needs 60-100 acres of foraging lands. Those lands need to be managed with prescribed burns, which cost $11-$12 an acre. That's a lot of money for some people. Someone's got to pick up the tab.

"The mental construction for HCP was one landowner wanting to build one house that could affect one species. That's what people had in mind back in 1982. Now, HCPs are dramatically different. The plans can encompass thousands of landowners, whole counties the size of Rhode Island and dozens of species. It's like trying to put a shoe on a foot that has grown; it's not a good fit and that's why people are chafing now.

"Multispecies planning means that we may lose some species on the margins while saving the vast majority. That's a tough pill for our community to swallow: We want large-scale planning and we want to protect every individual species."