The number of habitat conservation plans ( HCP) has risen dramatically since the first plan was written over 18 years ago. Until recently, no studies have quantitatively investigated the scientific foundations underlying these documents. As part of a larger study of HCPs, we examined 43 plans primarily to assess the availability and use of scientific data and secondarily to determine the extent of involvement by, and influence of, independent scientists within the process. Specifically, our analysis focused on five key steps taken when an HCP is developed: assessing status of a species, determining take, predicting the project effects, mitigating for those effects, and monitoring of take and mitigation. In general, we found that the preparers of HCPs utilized existing scientific information fairly well, with 60% of plans not missing any available information described by our study as “starkly necessary.” The most common types of underutilized available data included those describing the influence of stochastic processes and habitat quality or quantity on species persistence. For many species, however, data on biology or status simply did not exist, as demonstrated by the fact that we could locate quantitative population estimates for only 10% of the species. Furthermore, for 42% of the species examined we had insufficient data and analysis to determine clearly how predicted take might affect the population. In many cases, mitigation measures proposed to offset take frequently addressed the most important local threats to the species with moderately reliable strategies. Species with monitoring programs rated as sufficient had plans that proposed to collect a greater amount of “quantitative” data than did those programs rated insufficient. Finally, when species “experts” were consulted, plan quality was generally higher. Overall, available scientific information in a majority of categories was fairly well utilized, but for many species additional studies and more in-depth analyses were required to provide adequate support for issuance of an incidental take permit.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/jperrine/4/