A Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is a long-term land management plan authorized under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designed to protect endangered or potentially endangered plant and animal species and their habitats, it is one of the ESA’s most innovative conservation programs. It is an agreement between a landowner or local government and federal agencies, integrating species conservation into land management activities. HCPs are designed to reduce conflict and encourage the development of “creative partnerships” between the public and private sector. More than 475 HCPs have been approved covering hundreds of species on nearly 31 million acres in the United States.
On June 5, 2006, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries did sign the Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan. The Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan (FPHCP) (also known as the Forests & Fish HCP) is a statewide, programmatic HCP protecting 60,000 miles of streams on 9.3 million acres of forestland, set in motion by the Forests & Fish Law. It ensures landowners that practicing forestry in Washington State meets the requirements for aquatic species designated by the federal Endangered Species Act. The Forests & Fish HCP is one of a kind because of its scope and collaborative development. It is a 50-year agreement with the federal government to increase protection of Washington’s streams and forests. Local, state, federal government, tribes, and forest landowners worked together to develop this plan.
Adaptive management will keep the HCP fresh and current. The plan contains clear resource objectives for the protection of fish habitat and clean water. It also contains a comprehensive scientific research and monitoring program to test to see if resource objectives are being met. If the objectives are not being met, the plan has a defined process to make necessary change to ensure the protection of fish habitat and water quality.
Private, State, County and Tribal forest landowners have set-aside nearly 2.6 million acres for conservation in streamside buffers for fish and wildlife species representing more than 20% of their working forest. This is due to the tough forest practices laws and requirements Forests & Fish Law, the most comprehensive set of forestry regulations in the nation, endorsed by the federal government through Washingtyon’s 50-year Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan.
We all receive enormous benefits from working forestlands. In addition to clean water, clean air, beautiful landscapes, open space, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities, working forestlands and a thriving forest products industry provide communities with economic benefits, including good jobs, tax revenues, and environmentally sensitive, locally produced wood products. There are substantial environmental benefits that result from the use of structural wood instead of other less environmentally friendly building materials. These benefits can only be derived if we keep working forests on the landscape. Providing incentives for conservation, or maintaining working forest on the landscape benefits us all.