Green Diamond’s application for a new Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Northern Spotted Owl (NSO) is now past the scoping stage. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and Green Diamond are now in process of writing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EIS drafting process involves the development of alternatives to the proposed action, ie. an HCP with corresponding Incidental Take Permits (ITPs). These alternatives must include a no action alternative, i.e. maintaining the status quo.
Green Diamond plans to seek HCP coverage for the Northern Spotted Owl. Other possible species to be covered by this HCP include Pacific Fisher, Humboldt Marten, Red Tree Voles, and Sonoma Tree Voles. Green Diamond’s current NSO HCP is antiquated, allows incidental take of NSO, and allows intensive management around NSO activity centers. The old HCP did not anticipate, and thus did not address, the now critical situation involving impacts to NSO from Barred Owls.
The updated HCP would center on Green Diamond’s new proposals for managing Northern Spotted Owls. These proposals include an element for Barred Owl tracking and management. The HCP would propose to require Green Diamond to maintain 50 pairs of NSOs. Central to Green Diamond’s NSO conservation strategy is the reliance upon the creation of NSO habitat within riparian management zones (RMZs) established under the Green Diamond AHCP. Green Diamond is contending that these RMZ areas will develop into suitable NSO habitat in the future and that the RMZs will eventually be colonized by NSO.
A potential key element is the FWS and Green Diamond proposal to allow logging of habitat areas, “set-asides” that were established under the original NSO HCP. According to Green Diamond, there are areas that were set-aside that have not and do not support NSO. The question, of course, is why these areas were designated as set-asides in the first place when no NSO were present.
The FWS estimates that the draft EIS will be available between December and February. During this time, Green Diamond will model out its anticipated NSO habitat across the ownership for the next 50 years in 10-year increments. Green Diamond will also continue work on its abandonment model showing anticipated NSO take, site abandonment, and anticipated NSO relocation to RMZs and habitat retention areas (HRAs).
The US Fish and Wildlife Service appears to prefer the development of HCPs as opposed to enforcing the take prohibitions of the federal Endangered Species Act. In this climate, loss of NSO territories will continue to occur and recovery of the species will remain contingent upon Green Diamond’s theoretical models of habitat recruitment, take, site abandonment, and site colonization.