What is an HCP?
Thurston County is currently home to four federally-listed threatened and endangered species. Other local species could be listed in the future, such as the Western gray squirrel. The Endangered Species Act protections associated with these listings means some property owners have federal rules to work through before they can break ground on building projects. The largest hurdle in the rules is a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). An HCP is a technical study detailing how to offset project impacts to protected species. Anyone who can't avoid impacts to habitat must have an HCP.
Why do we need an HCP?
County government wants to continue efficient processing of land-use permits. Applicants want to avoid lengthy delays caused by extra layers of regulation as a result of species being federally-listed as threatened and/or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). To achieve those ends and still meet the federal requirement, Thurston County government can develop an umbrella habitat plan on behalf of its building permit applicants.
Under such a plan, individuals would no longer have to navigate the complexities of an HCP alone. An umbrella HCP developed by the County government would provide the County’s permit applicants with one-stop permitting to cover most necessary project approvals – federal and County – in a single process.
How does an HCP help me?
An umbrella habitat plan can eliminate the need for you to work directly with the federal government to develop your own HCP. In other words, it can shorten the time it takes for you to get a permit. It can also create a fixed process that is consistent from project to project. It can allow you to work directly with the County’s permitting staff.
What do I do in the Interim?
While the County completes its umbrella habitat conservation plan, it has partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the overseers of the Endangered Species Act) on a temporary habitat screening process. This allows the County to keep issuing permits if you have an affected project. The County calls this the "gopher review process" . This process involves biologists visiting your project sites between June and October to look for signs of the protected species. The main sign of species activity is the mounds of dirt that appear above the surface of their burrow system.
This shows an approximate ratio for actual applications received, approximately 4,500. Of those 4,500, approximately 400 applications require either an internal or external gopher review. Of those 400, approximately 40 have gopher activity on-site. During the past three gopher review seasons, there have been approximately 1% of all applications received with actual gopher activity on-site.