THE DESERT CONSERVATION PROGRAM
The Clark County Desert Conservation Program (DCP) manages Endangered Species Act compliance on behalf of Clark County and the cities of Boulder City, Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Mesquite and the Nevada Department of Transportation (collectively, the Permittees) through implementation of the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) and associated Section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental take permit. The DCP was established in 1990 through a collaborative forum of local government representatives, public land managers, private landowners, interest groups and individuals. Clark County serves as the implementing agent on behalf of the Permittees and the DCP is the Plan Administrator for the MSHCP.
The Clark County MSHCP and associated incidental take permit allow private landowners to develop land in Clark County without the need for individual project-by-project consultations and negotiation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to comply with the Endangered Species Act. This permit provides a streamlined process for compliance with the Endangered Species Act by private landowners.
The DCP implements actions to ensure survivability of covered species in the wild. These actions include research, acquisition of sensitive habitats, habitat restoration, public information and education, the Wild Desert Tortoise Assistance Line and installation and maintenance of fencing along roadways to reduce tortoise mortality.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN - In 1989 a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was filed by local environmental groups alleging that the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) was not being adequately protected. This led to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service emergency listing the species as endangered on August 4, 1989. Following the emergency ruling in 1989, the U.S. fish and Wildlife determined the Mojave population of the desert tortoise to be a threatened species in a final ruling published on April 2, 1990.
The Clark County community was taken aback by the immediate listing of the desert tortoise as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. This emergency listing resulted in an immediate and total moratorium on all new construction. In the months following the emergency listing rule the City of Las Vegas, Southern Nevada Home Builders Association and local developers filed an injunction and lost, then filed an appeal, which they also lost.
Desert Tortoise Slowing Pace of Interchange Overpass Building - LVRJ Oct 4 1989
Developers Lose Verdict to Tortoises - LVSun Dec 14 1989
Lawyer Says Tortoise Ruling Will Slow Projects to Crawl - LVRJ Aug 22 1989
Tortoise Delays Building One Year - LVRJ Dec 05 1989
SHORT-TERM HABITAT CONSERVATION PLAN - Unable to successfully overturn the listing of the desert tortoise, the Clark County community began to explore options for obtaining an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act that would allow take of this newly listed species and thus lift the moratorium on all new construction. From December 1989 to August 1991, Clark County led the effort to obtain a short-term incidental take permit in exchange for the implementation of a Short-term Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City, and Mesquite (collectively, the cities) entered into an Interlocal Agreement wherein the County and the cities agreed to fund the preparation of an HCP to provide conservation measures for the desert tortoise. That plan was designated the Short-Term HCP for the Desert Tortoise.
The Short-Term HCP was approved and an incidental take permit was issued on August 24, 1991 (PRT 756260) for an initial term of three years, during which time the County and the cities agreed to continue working to develop appropriate additional conservation measures for the desert tortoise and to thereafter apply for a long-term permit with a term of 30 years.
A Solid Approach on Desert Tortoises - LVRJ Aug 14 1989
Agreement Reached on Tortoises - LVSun Aug 13 1991
Tortoise Pact Ends Construction Delay - LVRJ Aug 13 1991
THE CLARK COUNTY DESERT CONSERVATION PLAN - Over the next several years, the County, cities and other stakeholders continued to work on the long-term HCP for the desert tortoise. This plan was designated the Clark County Desert Conservation Plan. This plan was approved in August 1995 and a new incidental take permit (PRT 801045) was issued to allow the incidental take of desert tortoises for a term of 30 years. In addition to providing funds to implement conservation measures for the desert tortoise, the plan made funding available for inventories and research on other species of concern in Clark County for the purpose of developing a county-wide multiple species HCP. However the permit (PRT 801045) only covered incidental take of desert tortoises.
THE CLARK COUNTY MULTIPLE SPECIES HABITAT CONSERVATION PLAN - In May 1996, the County and cities began discussing the possibility of preparing another HCP which would provide adequate conservation to support an incidental take permit for the desert tortoise as well as a broad range of species and all habitats located within Clark County. In August of 1996, the County and the cities authorized the preparation of the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). In November 1999, the County, the cities, and Nevada Department of Transportation submitted the MSHCP along with their application for an incidental take permit. The MSHCP was approved and the new permit (TE34927-0) was issued for 78 species in early 2001.
This new plan directs measures that proactively conserve species through an ecosystems approach. Compliance with this plan and the associated incidental take permit provides two benefits to Clark County. First, it reduces the likelihood that future species will be listed and second, it ensures Clark County protection against further requirements if any of the species covered in the plan become listed a threatened or endangered in the future.
The key purposes of the MSHCP are to:
Achieve a balance between long-term conservation and recovery of the diversity of natural habitats and native species of plants and animals that make up an important part of the natural heritage of Clark County;
Maintain an orderly and beneficial use of land in order to promote the economy, health, well-being, and custom and culture of the growing population of Clark County;
Provide substantial recovery and conservation benefits to species and ecosystems in Clark County;
Maximize flexibility and available options in developing mitigation and conservation programs;
Reduce the economic and logistical burden of these programs on individual landowners and state and Federal land managers by distributing their impacts in a fair and effective manner;
Reduce uncoordinated decision making, which can result in incremental habitat loss and inefficient project review;
Provide the community with long-term planning assurances and increase the number of species for which assurances can be given; and
Bring a broad range of activities under the permit's legal protection.