What is a Habitat Conservation Plan?


The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)​ was passed by Congress in 1973 to "conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend, and to conserve and recover listed species." ​Endangered species are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges. Threatened species are considered likely to become endangered in the near future. Threatened or endangered species are listed under the ESA, and are sometimes referred to as listed species. Read more about the ESA here​​.​

Section 9 of the ESA prohibits activities that may result in death, injury, or harassment of endangered species, or destruction or modification of their habitat. Under the ESA, this is called take. Penalties for causing take of listed species range from warnings, to monetary fines, to criminal charges for the most egregious violators.

Section 10 of the ESA provides for exceptions for what is called incidental take.  Incidental take is a legal term for harm caused to listed species under federal and state statutes that is “incidental to and not the purpose of carrying out an otherwise lawful activity.” For instance, lights are needed for functions such as safety and security and the attraction of seabirds to the lights is incidental to, and not the purpose of, their use. 


The ESA covers federal listing of endangered species. The State of Hawai‘i law also protects endangered plants and animals. Section 195D-4​ of the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes (HRS) states that all species that are listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act have the same status at the state level. 


State and federal laws allow for the permitting of incidental take of an endangered species under certain circumstances.  The permitting process requires that an applicant submit a Habitat Conservation Plan​ (HCP). An HCP must specify, among other things, the impacts from the take and the measures that will be taken to minimize and offset the impact to the species. For example, if adult seabirds are being killed by light impacts and collisions with powerlines, other seabirds breeding in colonies in the mountains can be protected by controlling predation from non-native species such as rats or feral cats.  Such a measure is an example of a way to offset the impact of the take. 

Habitat Conservation Plans are voluntary and are a means for non-federal entities such as private, state, and local jurisdictions to obtain a permit for actions, projects, or facilities that cause unavoidable incidental take of listed or candidate wildlife species.  Congress intended HCPs to provide a mechanism to reduce conflicts between listed species and economic development, encourage cooperation and creative partnerships between the public and private sectors, and integrate land-use activities with conservation goals.

The advantage of an HCP for an applicant (entity desiring a permit) is the assurance of a permit for the proposed activity. The advantage of an HCP for the listed species is a coordination of conservation actions to maximize the potential benefits. For example, an HCP could fund the installation of a large-scale predator proof fence, predator removal, and maintenance over many decades. This has a higher conservation benefit than small-scale predator removal implemented on an intermittent basis.

Find more information about federal HCPs here​.

That's great, but what makes our HCP unique?