Rethinking Regional Habitat Conservation Plan Monitoring Programs: An Innovative Approach in San Diego, California

By Greer, Keith A.; Rocks, Melanie Johnson | Endangered Species Update, July-September 2006 | Go to article overview

Rethinking Regional Habitat Conservation Plan Monitoring Programs: An Innovative Approach in San Diego, California


Greer, Keith A., Rocks, Melanie Johnson, Endangered Species Update


Abstract

Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) have become a common, albeit still controversial, method for conserving endangered species at the regional level while balancing the social and economic needs of a region. Since 1982 when Congress first amended the Endangered Species Act to allow for HCPs, more than 400 HCPs have been implemented (USFWS 2005). Monitoring is a mandatory element of all HCPs (USFWS 1996) and is part of the implementation obligations. Without adequate and appropriate monitoring, the success of plans cannot be evaluated (Kareiva et al. 1999). This paper will focus on experiences in the review and revisions to the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) monitoring program. The MSCP, adopted in 1998, is a large and complex HCP covering portions 900 square miles (2330 [km.sup.2]) of San Diego County, California (Ogden 1996). We suggest that this process can serve as a model for other HCPs in the initial development and periodic review of monitoring programs.

Background

The Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, 11 local cities, and the County of San Diego. A multi-taxa monitoring plan was prepared for the 85 species and their habitats considered "covered" under the MSCP (Ogden 1996). The plan provided methods for "effectiveness monitoring," where the goal is to track the biological success of the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) in producing the desired results of species persistence and resilience (Kareiva et al. 1999). General groups of monitoring included (1) habitat monitoring (permanent and temporary loss, and change in the condition of vegetation), (2) wildlife corridor monitoring (movement of mega-fauna), (3) faunal species monitoring (avifauna and herpetofauna), and (4) endangered and rare plant monitoring. After several years of monitoring under the proposed plan, it was determined that a critical review of the monitoring plan was warranted due to methodology problems and questions about data reliability and analysis. Funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, and administered by the City of San Diego, it was determined that rare plants would be the first component of the monitoring plan to be reviewed. The process of revision (Figure 1) to the rare plant program would serve as a pilot for revision of other components of the monitoring program. This allowed staff to compartmentalize the review and revisions, focus on a specific group of taxa or processes, engage specific technical experts, and match available resources (staff and funding) to the task at hand.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Process

Early in the process, the lead agencies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game, and the City and County of San Diego) decided that the plan needed a dedicated Project Manager supported by an independent scientific advisory committee. All members of this team would be experts in their field, but not previously involved in the development or implementation of the MSCP. This was done to attempt to remove any bias regarding the plan. Dr. Kathryn McEachern, a botanist from the U.S. Geological Service (USGS), Biological Resources Division, was asked to fill the role of Project Manager. The USGS has played a critical role in defining monitoring programs regionally (Atkinson et al. 2004).

One of the fundamental tenets of the MSCP was collaboration and stakeholder involvement. With this in mind, the lead agencies utilized the vast amount of regional institutional knowledge on rare plants through an open public workshop. This workshop, hosted by the City of San Diego, gave the public an opportunity to meet the Project Manager, as well as to provide input on the location and general condition of rare plants in the MSCP, provide their input on issues that they felt need to be addressed in the monitoring of these plants, and provide insight on the expertise needed for the scientific advisory committee (City of San Diego 2005). …

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