U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Southeast Region News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        Diana M. Hawkins or

March 13, 1997                               Vicki M. Boatwright



As part of the first pilot program to help states acquire lands that support habitat conservation plans, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded $500,000 to the State of Florida to protect the nesting habitat of endangered sea turtles.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director Noreen K. Clough, the dollars awarded to the State will be spent by Volusia County to augment a habitat conservation plan that was approved in November 1996, to allow beach driving on county beaches.

"We are delighted to have been selected for this grant award," said Volusia County Manager Lawrence Arrington. "This is a testimonial to the soundness of Volusia County's habitat conservation plan and our efforts to protect the environment. This money will be a tremendous help as we address future off-beach parking needs."

Essentially, habitat conservation plans, or HCPs, are voluntary agreements drawn up by private landowners and local or state agencies that have endangered species on their land. These agreements allow them to develop their resources while providing for the conservation of the species.

Conservation plans today are enjoying tremendous acceptance by states, the business community and private landowners all across the country, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt said recently when he announced the $500,000 award to the State of Florida. "They clearly demonstrate how well the public and private sectors can work together and these plans are a model for conservation and open space planning for the future."

Historically, Volusia County's wide, hard-packed beaches have been used for driving and even racing. To minimize the number of turtles that might be lost because of beach driving, Volusia County has removed vehicular traffic from 9 miles of beach in areas of heaviest sea turtle nesting activity. With the implementation of the plan came criticism that, by eliminating on-beach parking with no firm plans to increase off-beach parking adjacent to closed areas, authorities were unfairly restricting the public's beach access.

"The intent of this grant is to assist Volusia County with its off-beach parking needs in the natural areas," said Assistant County Attorney Jamie Seaman.

HCPs enable land development projects to proceed on land that is occupied by endangered or threatened species as long as the project minimizes and mitigates the impact to these species. While the plan acknowledges that some individuals of a species may be lost "in the pursuit of otherwise lawful activities," it ensures that the greater population will benefit.

"I'm always delighted when we can improve on a success story, and that's what this pilot program is about," Babbitt said, noting that in 1992, there were just 14 habitat conservation plans in existence and today there are 197, with 200 more in the development stage.

The pilot program, established under Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, provides that money may be obligated to appropriate state agencies but ensures that the funds are used for specific land acquisitions that support HCPs where either states or territories are involved as partners. The funds do not supplant private sector or local government responsibilities that are required for mitigation during the implementation of HCPs.

Clough said that by helping Volusia County buy land to develop alternative off-beach parking areas, the Service is, in effect, purchasing beach habitat used by five species of sea turtles for nesting. "Each alternative parking space created will remove a car from the beach, cumulatively reducing impacts of vehicular driving and parking, making the habitat far better for sea turtles," she said.


Release #97-29

1997 News Releases

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