Under the ESA, non-federal landowners, such as states and private parties, can "take" endangered and threatened species if they obtain "incidental take permits." An incidental take permit can be issued only after the landowner submits a habitat conservation plan (HCP) that contains sufficient mitigation to allow listed species to survive and minimizes any take of such species.
Since many endangered and threatened species depend on habitat that is on state or private land, HCPs play a critical role in their chances for recovery. By the year 2002, HCPs will cover an estimated 27 million acres of endangered species habitat in the U.S. Unfortunately, the federal government has come under heavy criticism from the scientific community for approving HCPs based on insufficient data and inadequate mitigation of damage to species' habitats.
Earthjustice has brought and won two key challenges to HCPs in recent years and these cases have set the stage for attacking weak forestry HCPs in the Northwest. Earthjustice is currently preparing to challenge one for private timberlands in Washington once it becomes final. In addition to our work in Washington, we are investigating a potential challenge to the HCP for the Pacific Lumber lands surrounding the recently established Headwaters Forest Reserve in northern California. This controversial HCP fails to provide adequate protection for threatened coho salmon and other species, both outside and within the reserve, from the harmful effects of logging.