The State of Oregon has submitted a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Elliott to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries. A HCP is an agreement with federal fish and wildlife agencies responsible for overseeing the protection of species listed under the Endangered Species Act, which allows for a specific amount of incidental take of listed species in exchange for binding agreements to protect and advance recovery of the species elsewhere. In the case of the Elliott HCP, the State is seeking to advance the agreements that underpinned the legislation and which were supported by conservation groups, tribes, timber interests, recreational interests, educational interests, and rural communities. It can be confusing, but think of this as the next step in advancing the unprecedented collaborative agreements that have evolved around the Elliott over the past three years.
The federal agencies are currently seeking scoping comments from the public on the review process for HCP submitted by the State of Oregon. These are high level comments regarding what the agency should consider as it reviews the draft HCP. There will be another formal comment period later in the year that will delve more deeply into the specifics of the HCP.
Using the talking points below, submit comments by June 6.
It is important that the State and Agencies hear from the public as they initiate the HCP process:
The following are key points to make:
- We strongly support the collaborative efforts that led to the creation of the Elliott State Research Forest earlier this year by the Oregon Legislature and which underpin the Habitat Conservation Plan currently being reviewed by the Federal Agencies.
- It is critical that in reviewing the HCP, that the federal agencies ensure very strong protections for Northern Spotted Owls, Coastal Coho and Marbled Murrelets. The Elliott is an important stronghold for all three of these species.
- One of the most controversial aspects of the plan is a proposal to conduct limited research 0n the impacts of light harvest of trees in 500 acres of Marbled Murrelet habitat. As a term of the HCP, USFWS must retain final approval of the research design to ensure that a strong research plan, adequate funding and adequate protections are in place before this research is initiated.
- The agencies are required to consider a range of alternative strategies as they review the draft HCP. They should consider an alternative with even stronger environmental protections including zero harvest in older forests and in occupied Marbled Murrelet habitat, elevated protection for Northern Spotted Owls, stronger restrictions on road building, stronger protections for steep slopes and a more aggressive timeline for removal of fish barriers.
- The proposed term of the HCP is 80-years. The agencies should consider an alternative with a shorter term. 80-years is a very long time for an HCP, especially given the uncertainties around the impacts of climate change.
- The HCP covers Marbled Murrelets, Northern Spotted Owls and Coastal Coho, but does not cover federally listed coastal martens. The state and federal agencies should consider adding provisions to protect the marten as well as this species will likely be found on the Elliott in the future.
- The federal agencies should allow at least 60-days for the public review comment period later in the process. The Elliott is of tremendous importance to the public and the HCP and associated NEPA documents will be long and complex. Adequate time must be allowed for public review.
Efforts to protect the Elliott remain on track. This is simply another step in a long process. Ensuring a strong HCP will give the State the flexibility it needs to implement the Elliott State Research Forest while also ensuring strong and durable protections for federally listed species.
Thank you for continuing to work to protect the Elliott!