News Picks

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Unwise to Build in Fire Prone Areas

Recent article in Salt Lake Tribune, Building homes in forested areas is like playing with fire, questions the wisdom of building homes in fire prone areas. Building in fire prone areas is just as bad as building on floodplains. He makes some great points as to why communities, particularly in the west, need to consider urban growth boundaries to reign in sprawl and decrease risk to lives, property, and habitat.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Habitat Conservation Plans: Do they work?

Habitat conservation plans provide a means of complying with the federal Endangered Species Act. The basic notion is straightforward: Set aside and manage areas for rare plants and animals. In exchange, other areas may be developed, even if they are home to protected species.
Once a plan is accepted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "permittees" (usually local government agencies or large developers) receive "take" permits. The take permits allow development even if it may harm the protected species. With a habitat conservation plan in place, developments and public works projects need not be reviewed individually for their potential impacts on protected plants and animals.

HCPs include “no surprises assurances”. These are provided by the government to non-Federal landowners. Essentially, private landowners are assured that if “unforeseen circumstances” arise, the FWS will not require the commitment of additional land, water, or financial compensation or additional restrictions on the use of land, water, or other natural resources beyond the level otherwise agreed to in the HCP without the consent of the permittee. The government will honor these assurances as long as a permittee is implementing the terms and conditions of the HCP, permit, and other associated documents in good faith. In effect, this regulation states that the government will honor its commitment as long as the HCP permittees honor theirs.

Many of the 400 habitat plans across the country address only one or two rare species, and often cover only tens or hundreds of acres. In contrast, the latest and most admired habitat plans address the needs of dozens of species over vast territories. "A lot of parties have learned that it's best to do habitat planning on a larger scale — that is, on a regional basis with multiple jurisdictions and multiple species. If you try to set aside a few acres here and a few acres there, it often will result in fragmented habitat that is not going to do a lot of good for the species.

Some biologists have questioned the effectiveness of habitat conservation plans as species protection tools. The plans are nothing more than politically convenient answers to questions that should be answered scientifically, these biologists contend. But some scientists and even hardcore environmentalists are starting to sing a slightly different tune. The latest habitat conservation plans are based on far more scientific research, and more independent peer review, than earlier plans were. Some plans run 1,800 pages, much of them can be devoted to detailed biological data and analysis. This approach means a steep learning curve for both planners and scientists, a lot of time can be spent creating an atmosphere where biologists can learn about planning, and planners can learn about biology. Most scientists agree that science with good quantitative analysis of the resources on the site is the key to good habitat plans and that a state-of-the-art plan must be flexible and robustly monitored.

This broad yet comprehensive approach has two major drawbacks: time and money. Planning alone can cost millions of dollars, and implementation can cost billions. Riverside County, California moved very aggressively on an MSHCP for the western portion of the rapidly growing county and still took more than four years to write and adopt the plan. That's considered fast. Twelve years of work went into a multiple habitat conservation program adopted in 2003 for a slice of unincorporated San Diego County and seven cities. The team preparing a habitat plan for eastern Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area conducted 237 meetings before releasing a draft document. Habitat conservation plans try both to accommodate development and to preserve rare plants and animals.

Teams to develop HCPs, are usually made up of federal, state, municipal, and tribal governments. Also involved are consultants, environmental and farm organizations, the development industry, and university scientists. Even with all of this, the process can be tortuous.

Real and Potential disagreement among all involved is one of the biggest obstacles to moving forward. Practically no state has a system for true regional planning, so habitat plans serve as substitutes, especially because some of the regions with the greatest biodiversity are also the fastest growing. Therefore, only way to protect all of these species is to protect the habitat. But at the same time, we've got to build housing for the new people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Radical Environmentalism Doesn't Work

In May 2007, eight members of the group that called itself "The Family" stood in federal court and apologized for the damage they caused over the last decade -- $40 million worth. These terrorists (yes, make no mistake these are terrorists) committed various acts of arson, property destruction, and endangered people's lives in the name of "Mother Earth". I think that these ecoterrorists should go to jail for there natural lives. Earth Liberation Front has been broken up and with the arrests of these and other misguided individuals, it should be apperant that radical evironmentalism does not work in a society of of law.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Darfur's Underground Megalake

Recently, geologists and remote sensing scientists say they have found evidence of a vast buried lake in the Darfur region of Sudan. They believe the the lake to be the size of the U.S.'s Great Lake Erie. Darfur is one of the the driest, most arid places on earth. A major source of conflict in Darfur is, logically, the lack of fresh water. If this discovery proves to be accurate and fruitful, it could mean a much greater chance for peace in the war torn country.

Monday, July 23, 2007

1st BICEP Article Coming Soon

Stay tuned for 1st Article dealing with habitat conservation.