FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Habitat plan waiting game continues

By From page A8 | January 05, 2014

Another year has come and gone without Solano County’s long-awaited habitat conservation plan.

We can thank state and federal bureaucracies for that.

The project to develop the habitat plan, now entering its 15th year, is required under the federal Endangered Species Act. The countywide plan seeks to preserve habitat for 36 rare species of plants, animals, birds and fish. A key element of the plan is the creation of a reserve system of about 25,000 acres using public lands, conservation banks and lands with conservation easements.

Among the ideas is protecting up to 15,000 acres of valley floor grasslands and vernal pool areas, 5,970 acres of farmland used as foraging habitat and 3,300 acres of upland hills.

The idea behind the plan is to allow developers – who would pay to create and manage the system as a condition to forward their projects – to know ahead of time what they must do concerning endangered species issues. That’s laudable. It’s good business to know the costs associated with a project before committing to it.

The Solano County Water Agency took the lead on the project. The ball passed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Department of Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries Service. Each must sign off on the environmental work before it can return to Solano County for further consideration and adoption by various local agencies.

Those state and federal reviews have not been done. Therein lies the rub.

Let’s assume that protecting such endangered flora and fauna as the California tiger salamander, Bogg’s lake hedge-hyssop, giant garter snake, vernal pool ferry shrimp, the Swainson’s hawk, the Suisun thistle, the salt marsh harvest mouse and the valley elderberry longhorn beetle is a worthwhile undertaking.

Let’s further assume that it’s worthwhile to allow some sensitive habitat to be destroyed to allow for people-driven projects, and replace the lost habitat with comparable, protected habitat so those species may flourish.

Finally, let’s assume that it makes sense for such plans to be developed at the local level, and then reviewed at the state and federal levels before final adoption at the local level.

The question then becomes, how long should that process take? Certainly not the better part of two decades.

It’s absurd that any plan takes so long. Sadly, we won’t be surprised if 12 months from now, we’re entering a 16th year of waiting.

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