Secretary Jewell Highlights Landmark Contra Costa Partnership Benefiting Imperiled Species, Supporting Economic Growth
Locally Led Conservation Plan Demonstrates Flexibility in Endangered Species Act to Protect Habitat While Allowing Land Use
Department of the Interior’s Secretary Jewell visited the East Contra Costa HCP in May 2014 to learn about the Plan’s successes and promote greater participation in landscape level conservation efforts. The Secretary is pictured here with SFWO Field Supervisor, Jennifer M. Norris and John Kopchik, Executive Director for the East Contra Costa HCP.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today hosted a discussion with East Contra Costa County community leaders and other experts from around the state to discuss the importance of partnerships between the federal government, states, private landowners and other stakeholders when it comes to conserving threatened and endangered species and supporting smart economic development.
The discussion, hosted at the East Bay Regional Park District’s Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve near the City of Antioch, spotlighted a model of collaboration known as habitat conservation plans (HCP). HCPs are agreements under the Endangered Species Act through which local land use agencies, landowners and other partners work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to proactively address long-term conservation needs, maintain local control over land use and provide flexibility to meet economic growth initiatives.
Photo by Carley Sweet
Prior to the stakeholder discussion, Jewell toured the East Contra Costa County HCP, which covers nearly 175,000 acres and provides for the conservation of 28 imperiled species, including the San Joaquin kit fox, the California red-legged frog and the western burrowing owl.
"The East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan is a model of how community partners can work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered species can go hand-in-hand with economic activities and development," Jewell said. "This community has shown through this collaborative approach that we don’t need to choose between protection of our wildlife and a strong economy – we can have both."
Beginning in 2002, Contra Costa County joined the cities of Brentwood, Clayton, Oakley and Pittsburg to develop the East Contra Costa HCP that gives local cities and agencies control over endangered species permitting in their jurisdiction. Under the plan, landowners and other developers fulfill their obligations under the Endangered Species Act by paying a fee or providing their own conservation measures designed to protect listed species and their habitat. In exchange, landowners can proceed with otherwise lawful activities related to land use or economic development.
"The approval and successful implementation of the East Contra Costa County HCP is a testament to the power of forging partnerships on difficult planning issues," said Mary Nejedly Piepho, Chair of the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservancy and a member of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. "Support from both business and environmental interests has enabled effective collaboration among local, state and federal agencies. The result will be a significant network of protected lands acquired from willing sellers and more certain, more efficient permitting of public infrastructure and private development."
In her meeting with stakeholders, Jewell noted that in the past six years, more than $59 million has been invested in conservation efforts under the plan, including acquisition of more than 11,000 acres, more than one third of the 30,000 acres required to be conserved over the HCP’s 30-year life.
Meanwhile, economic development continues with 56 projects receiving streamlined permitting through the plan to date, including the BART Station in Antioch, an interchange and lanes on Highway 4, and the Oakley Generating Station.
"These projects provide thousands of jobs and critical economic development," Jewell said. "In addition, the proactive, smart planning that the community did on the front end ensures that there is a network of open spaces that enhance our quality of life and allow for things like hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities."
"We have an obligation to conserve the natural landscape in our vibrant metropolitan area," said Robert E. Doyle, General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District. "By coordinating planning and funding sources through the HCP, we have an opportunity to do this conservation both for the benefit of threatened species and for the enjoyment of future generations."
The East Contra Costa County HCP is one of 14 regional HCPs in California that have been approved or are in development. Together, they are expected to eventually conserve more than 2 million acres of land near large urban areas and provide streamlined permitting for thousands of projects with a combined economic value of $1.6 trillion.
Nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved more than 650 HCPs, with many more in the planning stage. Most of the HCPs approved are for planning areas of less than 1,000 acres; however, eight exceed 500,000 acres and another eight exceed 1,000,000 acres.
The Endangered Species Act, signed into law by President Nixon over 40 years ago, is credited with saving hundreds of species from extinction. The landmark law has also been the catalyst for fully recovering 31 species, including the bald eagle, eastern population of Steller sea lion, American alligator, Lake Erie water snake and the Virginia northern flying squirrel. It continues to work today to protect and recover more than 2,100 animals and plants in the United States and around the world.