Yolo County Natural Heritage Program

Summary: 
The Yolo County Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)/Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP) Joint Powers Agency (JPA) was created in 2002 in order to develop county-wide conservation plan. A 1982 amendment to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) allows the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) authorize incidental take permits for projects that take critical habitat of endangered species if the proposal provides a HCP. The conservation plan has been named the Yolo County Natural Heritage Program and will allow developers to take critical habitat in exchange for support of local conservation efforts. The process will be orchestrated by city and county government agencies. The plan is still under review by the USFWS and the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG).
Chronology: 

December 28th, 1973- The ESA was signed into law under President Nixon, authorizing conservation efforts for listed species and the prohibition of take.

November 10th, 1978- ESA provision allowed federal agencies to cooperate with state agencies in the application of conservation policy.

1982-Congress amends the ESA to allow HCPs

1991- The NCCP program was established under the California Department of Fish and Game

March 9th, 1999- The USFWS released a five point plan for improving HCPs

August 2002- The Yolo County Habitat/Natural Community Conservation Plan Joint Powers Agency (JPA) was formed.

March 2006- The independent science advisors' report was finalized

March 2007- The JPA launched the Yolo Natural Heritage Program

Relevant Parties:
1.Yolo County Habitat/Natural Community Conservation Plan Joint Powers Agency and consultants (JPA) (Maria Wong). The JPA represents Yolo County and the major cities of Yolo County (Davis, West Sacramento, Winters, and Woodland) as well as UC Davis. The coalition is responsible for the creation of conservation policy that is compliance with the state and federal requirements under the Federal Endangered Species Act (FESA) and the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).
2.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS; Craig Aubrey). The JPA must apply for a section 10 take permits and authorization to administer a conservation plan. USFWS officials may authorize or reject the requests based upon their evaluation. The USFWS is responsible for monitoring the Yolo County HCP/NCCP and ensuring compliance with any FESA regulations.
3.History of Yolo conservation California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG; Brenda Johnson)
4.The Independent Science Advisors: Wayne Spencer (Lead Advisor/Facilitator), Reed Noss Jaymee Marty, Mark Schwartz, Elizabeth Soderstrom, Peter Bloom, Glenn Wylie.

Introduction:
The goal of the Yolo Natural Heritage Program is to achieve a county wide multi-species conservation plan. The Sacramento area struggles to find policy that appropriately balances economics and environmental concerns. The need for agriculture and development as well as plant and wildlife is considered in project planning. The program multi-scalar evaluation techniques in order to determine the most suitable land for development and conservation. Land is conserved through easements on agricultural land.

Habitat Conservation Plans:
The management of section 10 of the ESA has evolved dramatically due to the implementation of HCPs. An incidental take permit must be accompanied by an HCP to be reviewed by the USFWS. HCPs city and county government to develop regional plans that. A HCP must be approved federally and the USFWS is responsible for monitoring compliance over the life of the plan. The USFWS is not sufficiently funded to effectively monitor either compliance or the success of a HCP. The resulting regional conservation policy has brought about very different levels of success and failure.

Properties of the Yolo County HCP/NCCP
The Yolo Natural Heritage Program is defined for the entirety of Yolo County, located west of Sacramento County in California. The program defines conservation measures for 28 species over 400,000 square miles and encompasses four major towns major towns (Davis, West Sacramento, Winters, and Woodland) and UC Davis. The plan coordinates with the general plans of the aforementioned cities.
The joint HCP/NCCP operates under the guidelines of the ESA, NCCP, and HCP regulations. In order to fulfill the regulations as thoroughly as possible the program has utilized GIS to use a “multi-scaled” development analysis approach. The HCP would operate for the next 50 years, allowing for policy and conservation to establish both long term and short term goals/ Most new development would be isolated to areas with the least amount of habitat damage.

Scoping

Issues:
1.The program has been endowed with federal and state funds, but lacks alternatives are not available.
2.Coordination with other local agencies is necessary for the restoration of riparian areas.
3.The plan considers 28 endangered, threatened, or candidate species.
4.The plan must consider a variety of habitats including wilderness urban interfaces, riparian zones, and agricultural land.

The Role of Science:
A panel of local experts of conservation science and policy have issued a report to guide the actions of the JPA. The 107 page document outlines problems that the Yolo Natural Heritage Program might face in its planning process and offers remedies. The report is vague and offers guidelines.
A graphic information system (GIS) will be utilized to optimize the effectiveness of planing. The mapping system allows developers and regional planners a way to visualize a combination of factors over an area. The algorithms of the program factor in “goods” and “bads” for development that differentiate favorable sites for development.

Points of Controversy:
HCPs are as individual as the ecosystems that they govern, and have therefore had mixed levels of success. The Yolo County HCP process is still in its infancy, so issues shortcomings are not yet realized. Problems could arise because HCPs in general may or may not:
1.Biological goals may not be explicitly stated. It is much easier to apply adaptive management techniques when success and failure are distinguishable.
2.The HCP may focus on the listed endangered or threatened species rather protecting overall habitats. In California we have lost over 90% of our riparian areas.
3.Create large conservation projects. Mitigation measures should contribute to large projects rather than small “postage stamp” lots. Healthy habitats are large and can support large range predators.
4.Plan conservation corridors. Mitigation projects need to be connected to maximize the effectiveness of conservation efforts.
5.Work with local government agencies.

Alternatives:
The Yolo Natural Heritage Program is does not require and EIS/EIR, has not generated alternatives to its adaptive conservation management technique. The program could be adopted or rejected, it is a dichotomous choice. Critical habitat of listed species will retain protection under the ESA, if the program is not installed.

Important Documents:
1.Joint Powers Agreement of the Yolo County Habitat/Natural Community Conservation Plan Joint Powers Agency
2.Report of Independent Science Advisors for Yolo County Natural Community Conservation Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP)

Geographic Area: 
Yolo County, California