The wolf is at the door, but its wearing sheeps clothing.
Today, federal agencies are knocking on property owners doors
across the West and asking them to join with the federal government
in habitat management agreements for endangered and non-listed
species on their private property. With silky words, they say
that by signing a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) with the federal
agencies, property owners can gain Safe Harbor against the ravages
of the Endangered Species Act, and be free to develop and use
the rest of their property.
The concept is alluringprotection against the ESA, the ability
to use your property in peace and a little bit of security in
a very precarious time. But there are no protections for property
owners in the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The section on Safe Harbor and Habitat Conservation Plans in the
ESASection 10(a)(1)(B)is as bad for private property owners
as the rest of this ill-conceived law. It provides no protections
for private property owners, just a means for federal agencies
to get their foot in the door on management of your private land.
When giving HCPs a careful look, here are some points to consider:
Federal AgenciesHCPs invite and allow the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National
Marine Fisheries Service and other federal agencies to be a party
to management of your private land.
Adaptive ManagementA clause in new HCPs allows the plan to be changed as new data
is gathered. In reality, this provision means management can change
at any time, for any reason. Only the property owner is bound
by an HCP, not the government.
PrivacyAs a federal program, any member of the public and extreme environmental
organizations can be a party to a landowners HCP. They can bring
their science to the table, sue for greater restrictions, and
access any information held by federal agencies concerning your
ExtortionBeyond management restrictions, federal agencies often use the
ESA and the Clean Water Act as justification to demand cash payments
from landowners for alleged damage to the habitat of an endangered
species on private land.
The ConstitutionHCPs stand the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution
on its head, forcing property owners to pay to use and develop
their property, rather than making the government pay the property
owner for taking his property for a public purpose. In short,
HCPs violate the concept of private property and just compensation
that is the foundation of our system of government.
VoluntaryAlthough property owners can turn down the offer to sign an HCP
with the federal government, the government can also use the full
force of the ESA to ensure cooperation. Especially when a property
owner is one of the few in his area who refuse to become involved
in an HCP, it can be used as a tool of coercion.
Critical HabitatCritical habitat for endangered species cannot be designated
on private lands if federal dollars are not used on any projects,
but can be designated on private lands covered in an HCP.
Statewide and Regional HCPsNot content with signing up individuals, federal agencies are
pursuing larger and larger HCPs, including statewide HCPs on state
and private land, and regional HCPs that can impact state and
private property in several jurisdictions. Statewide HCPs force
the state to become the enforcement arm for the ESA. Additionally,
placing state lands into federal management could violate state
constitional mandates and force severe restrictions on land use.
Local ControlBigger HCPs mean less local control, and more national control
of state and private property and water rights. This is federal
land use planning.
Tax BaseHCPs restrict land owners from using and developing their land,
thus reducing the value of the property. This could result in
reduced property taxes, further crippling western counties already
harmed with drastic reduction in their tax base from lost timber
receipts and lost revenue from other resource industries. The
remaining property owners could face even greater burdens.
As a person who loves the culture and the heritage of the West,
you can see why Im so concerned with this latest ploy by federal
agencies. HCPs are simply another attack on private property.
When a Habitat Conservation Plan or a Safe Harbor agreement is
presented to you, remember that there is a wolf harbored in this
Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth-Hage is Chairman of the House Resources
& Forest Health Subcommittee. The Idaho Republican believes Safe
Harbor will become a most critical issue for ranchers in coming