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New Web-Based Resource Documents Important Role of Builders in Species Conservation Efforts

Builders and developers are playing an important role in species conservation under the federal Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) program, and their efforts to set aside private land for preserving the essential habitat of endangered and threatened species are documented in a new NAHB Web-based resource at www.nahb.org/HCP.

The analysis from NAHB includes case studies and weighs some of the pros and cons of the HCP program.

Established under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the HCP program allows property owners to work with conservation experts to identify and preserve essential habitat as part of the land development process. Property owners work with biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop plans to conserve habitat so that they can meet the housing needs of their communities while ensuring that wildlife is adequately protected.

“As one of the few options available for proactive species conservation efforts, Habitat Conservation Plans are a win-win situation for our members and the environment,” said NAHB President Bobby Rayburn. “The HCP program is smart policy that treats property owners as cooperative partners, not enemies.”

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However, NAHB’s case studies on actual HCPs reveal that developing a plan can be time-consuming, taking nearly two years on average from the consultation phase to approval. This can have a significant impact on construction costs and housing prices, and it is a disincentive to establishing the plans.

Greg Miller, who owns Fort Morgan Realty in Baldwin County, AL, developed an HCP for a half acre of oceanfront property to protect the endangered Alabama beach mouse and three species of sea turtles. His HCP has yet to be approved more than three years after his permits were submitted.

“For the past three years, we have been totally shut down when it comes to construction,” said Miller. “At this point, we are sitting on three lots and have several clients for single-family home projects that have been caught in the permitting process for years.”

Miller’s situation is just one example of the many problems that have led NAHB to support a number of changes to the HCP program, including:

  • Not subjecting any land areas covered by an approved or pending HCP to the critical habitat designations under the Endangered Species Act
  • Establishing mandatory time frames for HCP approvals
  • Expanding financial options available to small private property owners
  • Codifying the “No Surprises” Rule, which ensures that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cannot impose any additional conservation and mitigation measures on the property owner once an HCP is approved, to protect both endangered species and private landowners

“Congress should confirm its original intent and codify the existing No Surprises policy as part of the ESA to give private property owners, state and local governments and community organizations the necessary certainty to continue their species conservation efforts,” said Rayburn.

Click here to read more of NAHB’s analysis and to learn more about the role builders and developers play in species conservation using Habitat Conservation Plans.

For additional information about HCPs and NAHB’s new Web-based resource, e-mail Christopher Galik or call him at 800-368-5242 x8663.

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