Collaborative Planning for Wetlands and Wildlife: Issues and Examplesby Douglas R. Porter (Editor), David Salvesen (Editor), Mary Jean Matthews (Contribution by), Mark B. Adams (Contribution by), Ed Finder (Contribution by)
<p>Collaborative Planning for Wetlands and Wildlife presents numerous case studies that demonstrate how different communities have creatively reconciled problems between developers and environmentalists. It answers questions asked by regulators, environmentalists, and developers who seek practical alternatives to the existing case-by-case permitting process, and offers valuable lessons from past and ongoing areawide planning efforts.
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Collaborative Planning for Wetlands and Wildlife
Issues and Examples
By Douglas R. Porter, David A. Salvesen
ISLAND PRESSCopyright © 1995 Island Press
All rights reserved.
David A. Salvesen and Douglas R. Porter
In many parts of the country, particularly in the Southwest and Southeast, shy, diminutive creatures such as the least Bell's vireo, the Stephens' kangaroo rat, the Mission blue butterfly, and the Key Largo woodrat have practically become household words. These rare animals gained instant notoriety for temporarily or permanently stopping development in its tracks. Similarly, all across the country, the presence of wetlands has prevented, delayed, or rerouted development, moving developers to search for dry land for their projects.
Conflicts between development and environmental protection are not new and likely will become increasingly common as urban communities continue to expand into exurban and rural areas. These conflicts become particularly acute in areas that are rich in wetlands or endangered species and that also have strong real estate markets—areas like Austin, Texas; San Diego, California; Orlando, Florida; and Lindhurst, New Jersey. While federal laws and some state laws protect wetlands and endangered species habitats, they also allow some development to occur in these environmentally sensitive areas. For example, one of the purposes of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is to protect wetlands by regulating dredging and filling of wetlands. Each year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps)—the permitting agency—reviews about 10,000 applications for dredge-and-fill permits, all on a case-by-case basis, and regularly approves the vast majority of them, usually with some conditions for mitigation of adverse environmental impacts.
In addition, even the Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of the strictest land use laws in the nation, allows development to occur under certain conditions in habitats of endangered species.
Environmentalists and developers have charged that the existing federal and state regulatory programs neither adequately protect wetlands and endangered species nor guide urban growth in a rational, consistent manner. Environmentalists have long complained that the case-by-case permitting process causes "death by one thousand cuts" of environmentally sensitive areas. While each individual development project may only minimally impact a particular wetland, cumulative impacts over time become significant as each project gradually reduces an entire wetland or habitat ecosystem.
Developers, on the other hand, chafe under a system of interminable delays, inconsistent decisions, and different objectives and guidance from one level of government to the next. Little coordination exists among federal, state, and local resource agencies, and developers must endure separate, often redundant, and sometimes conflicting review and permitting processes. Federal agencies typically respond only to development proposals currently before them and lack the authority, funding, or will to develop comprehensive policies and standards to reconcile conservation and development objectives. Under such programs, regulators cannot anticipate future conflicts and take steps to avoid them.
The problem of overlapping local, state, and federal permitting authority was cited over a decade ago in a report by the federal Office of Coastal Zone Management: "Developers may obtain all necessary state and local permits only to have a project denied by federal agencies. Often this occurs after specific sites have been selected, land acquired, local permits obtained, and large sums of money invested in engineering drawings, site investigations, and environmental analysis." In addition, applicants often get mixed signals from government policies. For example, local zoning maps may designate wetland or endangered species habitat areas for residential development. Developers may be falsely encouraged to build there, only to have federal agencies belatedly tell them otherwise.
The failure of existing regulatory programs to reconcile conflicts between development and environmental protection led policymakers in several jurisdictions, particularly those with a prevalance of wetlands or endangered species habitat, to initiate collaborative planning efforts to address such conflicts within a coordinated, consensus-building framework. Working with all affected interests, including developers, environmentalists, and regulators, the communities sought to develop comprehensive plans that balanced development with environmental protection in special areas, ensuring that critical natural resources would not be gradually degraded and providing a more predictable permitting process. Only a handful of such plans exist so far; many of them are described in this book.
Collaborative, Area-wide Planning
The concept of collaborative, area-wide planning, like regional planning, was born out of the need to address problems with greater than local significance. Area-wide planning differs from traditional regional planning, however, in its focus on conflicts between development and protection of natural resources in a specific geographic area, such as a watershed, estuary, or endangered species habitat. Typically, also, the areas encompass a number of land ownerships and several local jurisdictions.
Several models already exist for large-scale resource management. For example, the Pinelands Commission, comprising state, federal, and local representatives, guides development in the Pinelands National Reserve—an ecologically unique area encompassing approximately one million acres in southern New Jersey. The reserve contains a core preservation area, where strict land use controls apply, and an outer protection area, with less rigid controls in force. Similarly, the Adirondack Park Agency guides land use in roughly six million acres in northern New York.
Area-wide plans, however, typically apply to much smaller areas, usually a few hundred or few thousand acres. They generally focus on only one or two resources, such as wetlands or endangered species. But probably the most important distinction is the way the plans are developed. Area-wide planning is a collaborative, often voluntary, ad hoc process that brings developers, environmentalists, and government regulators to the negotiating table to balance natural resource protection with development for a particular area.
Typically, such planning efforts occur in areas where intense development pressures collide with strong interests in protecting an imperiled natural resource, like wetlands. The plans generally set aside high-value resource areas for preservation and identify areas where development may readily occur. For example, in Austin, Texas, an ad hoc coalition of developers, public officials, and environmentalists has been working to identify and preserve suitable habitat for a number of endangered species, including the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo, and to earmark areas for development in advance of permit applications. By providing assurances to all parties, the plan can help avoid future land use conflicts and reduce permit processing time as well.
Ideally, collaborative, area-wide plans offer something for everybody. Developers gain greater predictability, reduced regulatory burdens, and a streamlined permit process. Moreover, such plans offer developers certain economies of scale: the cost of conducting environmental studies and of acquiring sensitive lands to preserve can be spread among many developers. Environmentalists receive greater assurance that environmentally valuable natural areas will be protected in perpetuity and that individual development projects will not ultimately consume an entire ecosystem. And federal agencies reduce the number of individual permits they must process.
With so much to gain, why haven't regulatory agencies and the private sector enthusiastically embraced and promoted collaborative planning? Because, unfortunately, planning consumes large amounts of time and talent, and for the most part, no institutional mechanism exists to fund the necessary studies, countless meetings, and negotiations, or to develop and implement a plan. Instead, the process relies primarily on voluntary contributions of both money and time.
Moreover, no guarantee exists that the process will result in long-term benefits or in definite regulatory products. Collaborative planning may end in stalemate, with no agreement on levels of preservation or development. Furthermore, collaborative, area-wide plans involve trade-offs and compromises—for example, allowing development in degraded wetlands in exchange for preserving pristine wetlands—but some agencies and conservationists simply cannot bring themselves to label any environmental resources as expendable.
One of the first examples of collaborative, area-wide planning occurred in 1975 in Grays Harbor, Washington, where a planning group of local, state, and federal government agency representatives developed an estuary management plan for the region. The protracted and rather inconclusive planning process in Grays Harbor has been considered ultimately unsuccessful, however, primarily because two of the main groups that would be affected by the plan, developers and environmentalists, were not officially involved in the planning process.
Federal Planning Mechanisms to Support Collaborative Planning
Federal agencies such as EPA, the Corps, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have three main planning devices at their disposal to support collaborative, area-wide planning: advance identification, special area management plans, and habitat conservation plans. Under Section 230.80 of the EPA 404(b)(1) guidelines, the EPA and the Corps may carry out studies and, in advance of permit applications, designate wetlands as suitable or unsuitable for disposal of dredged or fill material. Advance notice of where fills should or should not occur guides developers in their site selections and also should minimize conflicts between the Corps and EPA.
The 1980 amendments to the Coastal Zone Management Act allow the Corps, in conjunction with federal, state, and local resource agencies, to develop a comprehensive plan—called a special area management plan (SAMP)—to provide both natural resource protection and reasonable coastal-dependent development in a specific geographic area. The plan contains a comprehensive statement of policies and criteria to guide land use.
Finally, under the Endangered Species Act, the USFWS can approve plans, called habitat conservation plans, that allow some development to occur in endangered species habitat if the development will not substantially reduce the survivability of a species.
All three area-wide planning mechanisms attempt to balance conservation with development in a way that reduces future conflicts, provides predictability, and protects important ecological areas. Recently the EPA, the Corps, and the private sector have shown much greater interest in moving away from the case-by-case permit process, as evidenced by the increase in the number of SAMPs, advance identification plans, and habitat conservation plans. However, although a number of such plans have been completed, few guidelines exist to assist the planning process, and there is no record indicating successes and failures of those efforts.
Building on Experience
This book begins to build a record and suggest guidelines for more effective planning for wetlands and wildlife protection. Although the examples illustrated in this book are not intended to serve as infallible models of collaborative, area-wide planning—this is not a how-to book—the studies demonstrate how different communities have creatively reconciled the often competing goals of development and environmental protection. The plans they developed and their experiences in developing them offer valuable insights for other communities facing similar dilemmas. In addition, the issues and problems encountered in their experiences have important implications for future actions of state and federal agencies.
The book begins with Lindell Marsh and Peter Lallas's penetrating analysis of the limitations of traditional regulatory approaches and their detailed elucidation of approaches to and benefits of collaborative planning efforts, which they term focused, special-area planning.
Next, Timothy Beatley presents a comprehensive overview of the current state of habitat conservation planning; he argues for a multi-species approach that integrates conservation plans with local planning efforts. Chapters 4 and 5 describe multi-species habitat planning for a large region around Austin, Texas, and efforts of three counties in Southern California to provide a multi-species planning framework for habitat conservation plans, respectively.
The next seven chapters describe specific planning efforts involving wetlands as the key issue, including two in large, complex regions, Chesapeake Bay and the Columbia River estuary, and five focused on smaller but significant areas. In two of the smaller planning efforts, Chiwaukee Prairie and Anchorage, advance identification of wetlands played an important role in the plans, and in one, the Hackensack Meadowlands, a special area management plan was a key element of the planning process. The final chapter draws conclusions about these experiences and defines the obstacles that remain to be overcome.
Throughout, the book attempts to answer the questions asked by regulators, environmentalists, and developers who seek practical alternatives to the existing case- by-case permitting process: Will wetlands and wildlife have greater protection and will developers have greater certainty under collaborative, area-wide plans than with the case-by-case process? Why have some efforts failed miserably while others worked admirably? What are the requisites for success? What potential funding sources might be tapped? Finally, the book offers valuable lessons learned from past and ongoing area- wide planning efforts.CHAPTER 2
Focused, Special-Area Conservation Planning: An Approach to Reconciling Development and Environmental Protection
Lindell L. Marsh and Peter L. Lallas
Traditional project-by-project, "command and control" approaches to ensuring environmental protection in urbanizing areas have addressed issues in a fragmented manner, promoted conflict among the interests involved, allocated costs of development and environmental protection inadequately, and resulted in questionable outcomes. Marsh and Lallas argue that environmental protection can be reconciled with development objectives better if collaborative area-wide planning processes are employed to address conflicting interests and concerns. They describe some mechanisms for this type of planning that are available through state and federal environmental rules and regulations. Although focused approaches to special-area planning are not problem-free, wider use of these and similar mechanisms promises improved, more long-lasting results than the more common project-focused review process.
During the past several years, the use of focused special-area conservation plans to resolve conflicts between development and environmental conservation interests has won an increasing number of proponents. Such plans seek to focus on specific needs, such as wildlife conservation, in the broader context of competing concerns, such as urbanization and timber production, in a defined subregional area. The plans generally include prescriptions and standards, as well as assurances that the plans will be implemented. Also, the plans may limit impacts on the other concerns, assuring a reconciliation between competing concerns. The plans are designed and carried out by local interests and agencies, working together in a special planning process.
The focused process and resulting plan remain subject to all existing regulatory rules and requirements and are intended to support their implementation and increase their effectiveness. Nevertheless, in its focus on specific issues, inclusion of diverse interests, and collaborative planning approach, the process differs in important ways from more traditional approaches to land use governance.
The Traditional Paradigm in Land Use Regulation
Historically, planning and development of privately owned lands generally has been delegated to the private sector and carried out on a project-by-project basis, with public review occurring primarily at the local level. The public review process, which evolved from early English judicial procedures, traditionally has been characterized by the presentation of privately initiated and prepared project proposals before judge-like panels, with the public and others cast as critics or supporters of the proposals.
Excerpted from Collaborative Planning for Wetlands and Wildlife by Douglas R. Porter, David A. Salvesen. Copyright © 1995 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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Meet the Author
Douglas R. Porter is former president of The Growth Management Institute and is a planning and development consultant in Chevy Chase, Maryland. While director of public policy research at the Urban Land Institute, he assisted in convening the working group discussions and research studies that led to this book.
Davis A. Salvesen is an environmental writer and consultant in Kensington, Maryland. His studies of Anchorage and Bolsa Chica were prepared while he was senior research associate for the Urban Land Institute, where he also assisted in managing the working group discussions that led to this book.
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