Multiple agencies and stakeholders from the Sacramento area gathered recently at the Sacramento County Administration building to acknowledge and celebrate the formal adoption of the South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan (SSCHP).
The project has been twenty years in the making, and is a first-of-its-kind project. But what exactly is it? The SSHCP is a 50-year plan under the federal Endangered Species Act that balances the conservation of important species with planned development in a 317,655-acre area within Sacramento County.
While hundreds of habitat conservation plans exist in California, this is the first in the nation to include Clean Water Act permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in addition to the Endangered Species Act permits that are issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mike Jewell, chief of the Sacramento District Planning Division, was among several guest speakers at the celebratory event, which included Sacramento County District 5 Supervisor Don Nottoli and other agency representatives.
Jewell said that since 2004, the Sacramento District has actively collaborated with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and other SSHCP partners to craft a customized 404 permitting approach that is streamlined and synchronized with the HCP and local approval processes.
“Our ‘404 Permit Strategy’ synchronized with the South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan will cut the permit process timeline by more than half … It protects the most important aquatic resources, especially wetlands and streams, with buffers and conservation easements,” said Jewell.
“The habitat conservation plan and the county’s ordinance are about good government at the end of the day,” said Jewell.
According to Jennifer Norris of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the SSHCP is unique because it combines Clean Water Act Section 404 responsibilities with the Endangered Species Act.
“This is a real groundbreaking permitting strategy with the Corps of Engineers that’s never been done anywhere in the country,” said Norris. “This is the first!”
The Habitat Conservation Plan area includes wetlands, natural grasslands with vernal pools and oak savannas, and covers 28 species, most of which are wetland dependent, including vernal pool fairy shrimp, California tiger salamander, giant garter snake and Swainson’s hawk, among others.
“One of the biggest difficulties in getting one of these plans done is that it’s an absolute marathon. It’s not a sprint,” said Sean Wirth, co-chairperson for Habitat 2020 with the Environmental Council of Sacramento. “It took 24 years to get the South Sacramento HCP from idea to completion.”
“When we’re done, we’re going to have a preserve network that works …That’ll last in perpetuity,” said Wirth.
For more information on the landmark SSHCP project, check out the video from Sacramento’s USFWS!