The Gulf County Habitat Conservation Plan (the Plan) is a required part of an application to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for an Incidental Take Permit authorizing the take of federally listed species incidental to otherwise lawful activities. This will facilitate legal compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for all public and private stakeholders within the Plan boundaries.
www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/hcp.pdf (fact sheet)
The Habitat Conservation Plan is being developed by the Gulf County government with a grant from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
The species covered by the Plan will include 4 species of sea turtles: green (Chelonia mydas), Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and loggerhead (Caretta caretta); piping plover (Charadrius melodus); red knot (Calidris canutus rufa); and St. Andrew beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus peninsularis).
These species were selected for inclusion in the Plan based on their federal listed status, occurrence within coastal areas of Gulf County, and the likelihood of “take” or negative effects to their populations resulting from development, recreation, or resource management.
The Plan will cover selected areas of coastal Gulf County. It will include areas where there are potential conflicts between coastal development and management activities and federally listed species that occupied beaches, dunes and scrub. Specifically, the Plan area will cover unincorporated lands from Beacon Hill and St. Joe Beach waterward of Highway 98 south to Windmark Beach; county and private lands on the St. Joe Peninsula between St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (SJPSP) and Eglin Air Force Base (AFB); and some public and private parcels east of Eglin AFB to Indian Pass. Coastal areas that are covered by previous USFWS approvals and areas within the City of Port St. Joe will not be included in the Plan. Areas of the County away from the coast will also not be included in the Plan.
Boundaries as shown on the map are general.
The Plan will apply only to areas providing habitat for the covered species, and is limited to areas that currently lack regulatory approval. We determined boundaries using a mapping analysis of dune, scrub, and beach habitats to determine the areal extent of habitat that could support the listed species. Public lands with approved listed species management plans and private development already approved by the USFWS will not be included in the Plan boundary.
These actions are defined by the federal Endangered Species Act as follows:
Incidental take is the unintentional take, harm, or harassment of a federally listed species incidental to an otherwise lawful activity. The USFWS can authorize incidental take through issuance of an Incidental Take Permit that implements an HCP.
For landowners wishing to develop land, the Plan will streamline the permitting process. Because the Plan will be administered locally, the time and costs for permitting should be reduced compared to what would be required if each landowner had to apply directly to the USFWS. With the Plan, permitting requirements will also be more predictable for applicants allowing landowners seeking endangered species permits to pursue their projects with increased certainty of project timelines and associated costs. Projects approved consistent with the HCP will not be in violation of the ESA is incidental take of a listed species occurs.
The Plan will benefit the environment by providing for the protection of the covered species and the habitats that they require for survival. The comprehensive approach offered by the HCP will provided increased benefits over what might be provided in a piecemeal fashion if land owners permitted and implemented their projects independently
The Plan is not a land use plan and does not change or amend the County’s growth management plan, zoning, allowable residential densities, or development review process. The intent of the plan is to streamline the federal listed species permitting process with the USFWS. The Plan will also not change the requirements of other state and federal agencies.
The Plan permit term will be 30 years.
The Plan is in preliminary development stages at this time, and therefore we cannot provide a final estimate of cost. By streamlining the permitting process, the goal of the Plan is to lower permit review time frames and costs when compared to those if applicants had to apply individually to the USFWS.
Gulf County’s HCP development grant is for the period of one year. During this time period the consultant team will gather background data, develop components of the plan, interact with interested stakeholders and scientists, and provide opportunities for adequate review and comment (public and private). Because the development of an HCP is a complex process requiring significant coordination with multiple interested parties, the total time that may be required to get from Plan development to issuance of the ITP could be more than one year. Other similar plans by counties in Florida have taken several years to be fully implemented.