The Endangered Species Act 101: Habitat Conservation Plans

Threatened and endangered species on private lands need protection too. Megan Evansen, our Conservation Science and Policy Analyst explains how Habitat Conservation Plans work.

Click to view video transcript The Endangered Species Act, or the ESA, is the world's strongest law for protecting wildlife, and it does a great job - almost every species that has ever been listed under the ESA is still with us today.

Part of that strength comes from the fact that the ESA doesn’t just consider the needs of species on public lands, like national forests or parks.

It also considers the needs of species on private lands and approximately two-thirds of all threatened and endangered species in the United States have some habitat on private lands.

Specifically, section 10 of the ESA deals with how we can protect species on private lands while also allowing landowners to use their property. Usually, someone can be in legal trouble even if they inadvertently harm such a protected species. This can be a problem for people trying to use land where such species live.

So how can they protect themselves? Through an incidental take permit.

An incidental take permit is a special permit issued under the ESA to private landowners, states, and local governments who are undertaking projects that might result in harm to an endangered or threatened species incidental to otherwise legal activities and protecting the landowner from liability. The permit also helps limit the harm done to species that may occur through activities carried out on those lands.

Critically, in order to get an incidental take permit under the ESA, private landowners must develop something called a Habitat Conservation Plan, or HCP.

An HCP is a planning document that describes the project, how it might affect any listed species, and what the private landowner will do to minimize or mitigate any harm to protected species.

HCPs can cover everything from half an acre of a backyard to huge stretches of land that cover multiple states. But the goal remains the same - allow for private property owners to use their land while also ensuring we meet the needs of the country’s imperiled species.

Once an HCP is approved, permit holders may be required to submit monitoring reports to make sure that they’re not going over the allowed amount of harm in their incidental take permit and ensure that projects on the property are complying with the terms of the HCP.

To learn more about other sections of the Endangered Species Act and how they protect and recover threatened and endangered species, you can follow along with the rest of our ESA 101 series.

Meg Evansen
Conservation Science and Policy Analyst

As the Conservation Science and Policy Analyst in the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders, Meg assists with the analysis of scientific research and policy implementation to find new and creative solutions for wildlife conservation.