Legislator seeks public oversight on habitat plans
State officials worry new oversight would add to uncertainty
By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- A bipartisan bill before the Washington State Legislature would require legislative approval of any habitat conservation plan between state agencies and the federal government.
Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 1009, which would give legislators the final say in any plan proposed by a state agency.
"HCPs are comprehensive changes, lasting more than a generation," he said. "They have dramatic consequences."
Because such arrangements deal with the enhancement of the whole state, legislative oversight would ensure participation of the statewide community. "It's reasonable that citizens should be consulted, and the Legislature is the way to do that," Chandler said.
Jennifer Quan, manager of the lands division of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said she is concerned that such an oversight process would add uncertainty after time and expenses already have been committed to formulating an HCP.
The existing procedure already has a public review process and oversight by boards created by the Legislature.
Habitat conservation plans fall under Section 10 of the federal Endangered Species Act. Entities or individuals that engage in "otherwise lawful" activity that may impact an endangered species may need an incidental take permit. The plan spells out how that impact will be minimized or mitigated. It also describes the alternatives that were considered and why they are not being used.
"It's all about risk management," said Steve Landino, director of the state habitat office of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Developing a plan is expensive and usually takes several years, he said.
The plans are consistent with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's mandate, Quan said. Being consistent with the Endangered Species Act gives the state access to federal funding.
The plans can encompass large amounts of land.
One proposed HCP covers 860,000 acres of Washington state wildlife management area, addressing 32 ESA-listed species and 20 non-listed.
Lisa Veneroso, of the agency's habitat program, said one hydraulic project plan deals with 5 million acres, with 52 fish and shellfish species, both listed and non-listed.
Bridget Moran, with the Department of Natural Resources, said the Forests and Fish Report, one of four HCPs at her agency, covers 9.3 million acres. That's about the area of Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts.