The Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) and associated Section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental take permit went into effect on February 1, 2001. While this was a landmark plan for conservation in the County, the Desert Conservation Program (DCP) and the MSHCP Permittees have since determined that there is a need for obtaining an amended MSHCP and incidental take permit.
Why amend the MSHCP?
The process to obtain an amended MSHCP began in 2007. At the time, development in the County was still occurring at a very rapid pace, and incidental take under the current permit was dramatically outpacing projections. By 2007 more than 45 percent of the Take authorized for the 30-year permit had been exhausted in less than 7 years. A legislative amendment to the MSHCP, passed in 2014, added 22,650 acres of Take authorization to the incidental take permit, bringing the total Take authorization under the permit to 167,650 acres. As of February 2019 the Permittees have developed 103,494 acres of the permitted 167,650 acres (62 percent). Obtaining additional take authorization remains the primary motive for amending the MSHCP and incidental take permit.
Disturbance (i.e., Take) by Calendar Year
Additional Take authorization is needed largely to reduce the gap between what is currently permitted and the amount of land that is available for development in Clark County. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) identifies lands for disposal in their Resource Management Plan (RMP). Under the 1998 RMP disposal boundaries are identified which are in excess of what is currently permitted for development by the MSHCP and incidental take permit. These disposal boundaries, in combination with private and local development interests, have resulted in a gap of approximately 170,000 to 215,000 acres in excess of what is currently permitted.
The desert tortoise remains the principal species driving the need for an MSHCP and the need to obtain additional Take authorization. While the habitat of the desert tortoise is wide-ranging, the amount of habitat available for take is not infinite. The increasing pressures being placed on desert tortoise habitat across its range, in conjunction with recent reports highlighting the continuing decline of the species, combine to make obtaining additional Take in the future more difficult. Therefore, the Permittees have determined that the MSHCP must be amended in order to address the acreage gap and to continue to guide orderly development within the County while securing long-term assurances that would provide for continued economic growth and opportunity within the County.
What do we hope to achieve by pursuing an amendment to the MSHCP?
There are five primary goals for pursuing an amended MSHCP and incidental take permit:
- Obtain coverage for acres that are not currently permitted for Take. Existing and proposed disposal boundaries, combined with undeveloped private land and other development interests have resulted in a gap of approximately 170,000 to 215,000 acres of potentially available land in excess of what is currently permitted.
- To reduce the number of species covered by the MSHCP to focus on those most at risk. The current list of covered species is very large and has proven to be difficult to manage mitigation actions for given the constraints of program funding and the current budget and implementation process. Through the amendment process, the Permittees desire to focus the list of covered species on those that are most impacted by development, and would thus benefit the greatest from coverage under an amended MSHCP.
- To revise the conservation strategy to improve mitigation effectiveness and accountability. The conservation strategy will be revised to mitigate for the increased levels of habitat disturbance and to provide greater transparency and accountability for mitigation accomplishments.
- To restructure the MSHCP to improve efficiency and reduce bureaucracy. In an independent review of MSHCP program management, potential conflict of interest issues and other management inefficiencies were identified. To address these issues, the Permittees are re-evaluating the implementation structure of MSHCP program management. The amendment would also implement a governance structure that would better balance representation of all Permittees.
- Increase the permit term from 30 years to 50 years. The amendment would seek to increase the permit term to 50 years, which would provide a number of benefits to the Permittees. First, preparing a regional HCP of this scale is costly and time consuming. An increased permit term would provide assurances that the Permittees would not have to undergo this process again for quite some time. Additionally, increasing the permit term to 50 years would provide the Permittees with long-term assurances under the “no surprises” clause of the Endangered Species Act.
The amendment process is underway.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has published the Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the MSHCP amendment. You can see the News Release about this notice and download a Frequently Asked Questions document. You can also download the informational handouts developed for the public scoping process by clicking the links below.
Habitat Conservation Planning
The Current MSHCP
What is Take?
Mitigation under the Current MSHCP
Incidental Take Permit Issuance Criteria
Current status of the amendment process:
Since 2009, the DCP has met regularly with both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the BLM, and our contractors to discuss options and alternatives for developing the MSHCP amendment and implementing the reserve system. DCP has completed the analysis of the proposed Covered Species list and has provided early drafts of the major components of the MSHCP amendment and responded to comments and feedback from the USFWS. DCP has also submitted nominations to the BLM for areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs), which would serve as the proposed reserve units. The establishment of reserve units is a critical component of the proposed conservation strategy and DCP is pursuing both legislative and administrative means of establishing the reserves. Clark County has also provided a draft Conservation Management Agreement to BLM and USFWS that describes how the reserve system would be managed under an amended MSHCP.
Development of the MSHCP amendment plan documents is dependent on the establishment of the proposed reserve units. Once these have been established, either through administrative or legislative procedures, the MSHCP amendment plan documents can be finalized. Meanwhile, DCP continues to work with its contractors to develop tools and models that will be used in the analysis of impacts, the refinement of the conservation strategy, and for the adaptive management program under the amendment. Once a draft MSHCP amendment has been finalized by the DCP and reviewed by the Permittees, the USFWS will prepare an EIS that analyzes the potential impacts of implementing the MSHCP amendment. The draft MSHCP amendment and Draft EIS will be made available to the public for review and comment for a period of not less than 90 days. During the public review period, the USFWS will host public meetings to present the findings of the Draft EIS and to collect public comments on the draft MSHCP amendment and Draft EIS. The draft MSHCP Amendment and Draft EIS are anticipated to be released for public review and comment by 2025.