OLYMPIA - Yesterday, the Thurston County Commissioners submitted the County's habitat conservation plan (HCP) to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), overseers of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and of the ESA-protected species in Thurston County.
The plan spells out how the County will offset development impacts to the habitat of protected species that result from building permits issued by the County.
The HCP will lead to a federal Incidental Take Permit for the County which will provide federal regulatory coverage for applicants who receive a County building permit. It will also eliminate the need for each affected applicant to prepare their ‘individual’ HCP for USFWS on a project-by-project basis.
“This brings us closer to our goal of helping permit applicants resolve cumbersome regulatory issues that have frustrated them since four species were added to the federal list of Threatened or Endangered species in 2013 and 2014, including the Mazama pocket gopher,” said Commission Chair Bud Blake.
In an effort to keep County building permits flowing, and to shield applicants from federal liability, the County agreed to a June-October on-site property review process for the Mazama pocket gopher formulated by USFWS, who, in turn, agreed to fund the effort for a time. The review process has proven to be expensive and time-consuming for applicants.
The next steps for the HCP include a thorough review by USFWS. The County’s plan would do away with the multi-step review process, and bring more certainty to the building process countywide. Commissioners believe this plan, as presented, provides assurance to citizens, while balancing economic development and care for our natural environment.
The plan’s estimated lifetime cost is approximately $54 million, a figure reduced from $151 million in previous drafts. To learn more, visit www.ThurstonPlanning.org
and select ‘Habitat Conservation Plan’ from the menu on the left. Citizens can submit comments about the plan to email@example.com
. More opportunities for citizen involvement will be announced at a later date.