In an effort to improve conservation for the many imperiled wildlife species found along Florida’s beaches, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is partnering with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to develop the Florida Beaches Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). This plan will be submitted to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as part of an application for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) under the Endangered Species Act. The intent of the HCP is to minimize and mitigate any impacts to federally listed species that may occur as a result of activities permitted by FDEP's Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) Program. You will find answers to some common questions about the HCP planning process and the Beaches HCP on this page. The FL Beaches HCP Primer provides even more detailed information on the Plan. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
An Incidental Take Permit; does that mean that DEP will have a legal mechanism to harm protected species?
The Endangered Species Act and HCP’s
In 1973, the United States Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in order to "conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend, and to conserve and recover listed species." The ESA protects threatened and endangered species from extinction by limiting and regulating activities that impact listed species or their habitat. For more info: FWS Endangered Species Program
Take is defined in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as to "harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect." The terms "harm" and "harass" are further clarified in the ESA as activities that impact listed species habitat. Under the ESA, any activity that results in take of a listed species, including activities that reduce or modify its habitat is prohibited. Take is a very broad term and applies to actions that not only directly impact, but also to those actions that indirectly impact animals by preventing them from feeding, reproducing, or sheltering. Thus impacts to a federally listed species’ habitat may cause take.
Sometimes, take of a listed species can occur incidentally to an otherwise lawful activity. In 1982, Congress amended the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to allow the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to issue Incidental Take Permits (ITPs) to private parties undertaking otherwise lawful projects on non-federal land that might result in the take of a threatened or endangered species. The purpose of the ITP is to authorize the incidental take of a listed species, not to authorize the activities that result in take. Before an ITP can be issued, a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) must be prepared.
Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) provide a framework for people to complete projects while conserving at-risk species of plants and animals. Congress envisioned HCPs as integrating development and land-use activities with conservation in a climate of cooperation. An HCP must accompany an application for an incidental take permit (ITP). The purpose of the habitat conservation planning process associated with a permit is to ensure there is adequate minimizing and mitigating of the effects of the authorized incidental take. Once an ITP is issued, implementation of the conservation measures laid out in the HCP is enshrined within the conditions of the permit.
What is the CCCL?
The purpose of Florida's Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) Program is to "preserve and protect Florida's beaches from imprudent construction that can jeopardize the stability of the beach-dune system, accelerate erosion, provide inadequate protection to upland structures, endanger adjacent properties, or interfere with public beach access."
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems (BBCS) currently administers the CCCL permitting process for activities occurring on Florida's sandy beaches. There are 825 miles of open coast sandy beach areas within 1,180 miles of Florida shoreline. The CCCL defines the upland limits of the effects of a 100-year coastal storm. The seaward limit for the purpose of the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is the mean high water line. Maps of these areas are available at: FDEP MAP
Activities regulated by the CCCL Program through its permitting process include coastal armoring, post-storm emergency permitting activities, new construction, rebuilding or redevelopment, public infrastructure, beach berm or dune restoration, beach cleaning, and special events, among others. The HCP being developed by FDEP will address impacts related to each of these activities and will be implemented throughout the CCCL Program area of jurisdiction.
Florida’s beaches and dunes are home to a wide array of wildlife, including many threatened and endangered species that are protected under the ESA and by state law. Upland properties that border the beach are also home to a large and growing human population of seasonal and year-round residents. Although the plants and animals that inhabit the coastline have adapted to a dynamic environment, they are nonetheless vulnerable to human disturbance, particularly disturbances impacting the quality and/or quantity of available habitat. Thus, as coastal populations and shoreline development continue to expand, there will be an increasing need to balance human requirements with natural resource protection. It is against this backdrop that the FDEP has embarked on the development of the FBHCP
Although the FDEP endeavors to condition its CCCL permits to avoid impacts to sea turtles, incidental take of these and other federally listed species may still occur. The purpose of the FBHCP is to support application to the USFWS for an ESA Section 10 ITP. The FDEP and other coastal stakeholders feel that is a necessary and prudent action, as they foresee increasing potential for conflicts between regulated activities under the CCCL program and protections set forth in the ESA, particularly in the context of growing coastal populations, ongoing coastal erosion, and continuing shoreline development. An ITP will allow the BBCS to continue to fulfill its CCCL permitting responsibilities in full compliance with ESA regulations. The ITP will also remove FDEP’s exposure to third-party lawsuits alleging unauthorized take of federally listed species.
An Incidental Take Permit; does that mean that DEP will have a legal mechanism to harm protected species?
Not at all! The FDEP presently restricts its permitting actions to those activities that will not kill or injure sea turtles (nesting adults, eggs, and hatchlings) or significantly alter their nesting habitat. Each project is viewed individually, and the determination of take is based solely on site conditions at the time the action is undertaken. Although the FDEP attempts to avoid impacts to sea turtles via permit conditions and consultations with the FWC, incidental take that was not anticipated at the time of permit issuance may still occur. The ITP will not “legalize” this take, but rather acknowledge that it is occurring and that it is incidental to an otherwise lawful activity, and proscribe measures that will minimize and mitigate for it.
Furthermore, under the current system the CCCL program only has the legislative authority to deny or condition permits based on impacts to sea turtles or their habitat. This means that there are numerous shorebirds and beach mice whose habitat is potentially impacted by CCCL permitted activities without any protection measures in place. The HCP will give the CCCL program the authority to condition or deny permits based on adverse impacts to a much wider range of imperiled species, thus affording them protections that they do not have now. The ITP will not allow for more take, but rather it will allow for better conservation in the face of take that already occurs and is largely unavoidable.
What species will the HCP cover?
The Florida Beaches HCP will protect five federally listed subspecies of beach mice (Southeastern, Anastasia, Choctawhatchee, St. Andrews and Perdido Key); five federally listed species of sea turtles (loggerhead, green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, and leatherback); one federally listed birds (piping plover); and one bird currently petitioned for federal listing (red know). In addition, two species of coastal plants that are federally listed (beach jacquemontia and perforate reindeer lichen) will also be protected. The HCP will also address a suite of non-federally listed species. These species may be listed at the state level, or on a list of species being considered for future listing at the state or federal level. They include the Santa Rosa beach mouse, gopher tortoise, snowy plover, Wilson’s plover, American oystercatcher and black skimmer.
Once implemented, the Florida Beaches HCP will be a "win-win" for people and wildlife. The HCP will ensure that as human populations increase along Florida's beaches, the activities that they conduct will be in balance with the needs of wildlife. These activities will be well regulated, and their impacts minimized and mitigated, in order to ensure the survival of listed species. Additionally, taking a landscape view of the impacts to listed species will help in developing a more comprehensive, long-term and successful approach to the conservation of these species. For property owners, the Florida Beaches HCP will help ensure they remain in compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), while eliminating the need to pursue an individual ITP, which is both costly and time consuming. For county and local governments, the HCP will streamline the CCCL permitting process. By promoting positive stewardship of Florida’s natural resources, the FBHCP will enhance the beach experience for residents and tourists alike and, by extension, the associated economic, recreational, and ecological values of Florida’s sandy beaches.
DEP, as the applicant for the federal Incidental Take Permit (ITP), has determined which species, activities, and area will be covered and included in the Florida Beaches HCP. FWC and FDEP, with guidance from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), have begun drafting the content HCP. (See draft chapters already available on the “Draft HCP” tab.) FDEP has appointed a Steering Committee composed of diverse representatives in order to oversee and guide the HCP development process and provide expert input on a wide array of challenging issues that the plan has encountered throughout its development. These representatives are from the state agencies, local and county governments, the tourism industry, the scientific community, the conservation community and the regulated community. (Minutes from the quarterly meetings of this Committee can be found on the “Meetings” page.) Advice is also sought from the wider scientific community through a rigorous peer review process for all technological and biological documents related to the plan. Recommendations from these and other represent an important building block in development of the Florida Beaches HCP.
The Florida Beaches HCP will be one of the most complex HCPs developed to date, and its development has already been a multi-year process. It will require input and consensus from a very diverse range of participants. It is expected that the planning process will continue to raise difficult issues that will require agreement among the many stakeholder groups prior to inclusion in the HCP. It is important that sufficient time be afforded to this process to create an HCP that meets the needs of both stakeholders and the conservation needs of the protected species. As the plan enters the final phases of development, we hope to involve stakeholders in a robust feedback process that will ultimately help us develop a better plan. It is hoped that the draft plan will be submitted to the USFWS in late 2015 or early 2016, but we will work on it for as long as is needed to ensure that we deliver the best plan possible.
The Florida Beaches HCP has the potential to be a tremendously beneficial tool for conservation and growth management in Florida. This potential can be accomplished if the HCP is carefully crafted to take into consideration the wide range of issues that impact Florida's beaches. It will require the input of many stakeholders and scientific and policy experts, as well as local and county governments, if it is to become a successful tool. It is vital that interested parties join the planning process in the early stages to provide their input, thereby ensuring the development of a plan that is both balanced and thorough. If you are interested in working with us to help contribute to the HCP development process, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!