One of the major tasks that the Fort Ord Reuse Authority must complete before it dissolves next summer is to create a plan for the conservation of habitats for endangered species within the 36-square-mile boundary of the former Fort Ord military base. A Habitat Conservation Plan is now in its draft phase and the public is invited to review it and provide feedback.
The draft analyzes the expected impacts of future development on wild habitats and prescribes proper management of eight threatened species. Among these species are the California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, Monterey spineflower, and the Western snowy plover. With some Fort Ord lands expecting to be developed into housing, businesses, parks, and roadways in the coming years, the HCP is supposed to protect the oak woodlands, wetlands, dunes and grasslands where endangered species live and breed.
The HCP would have a 50-year lifespan, and within that time frame, any new development would have to adhere to guidelines restricting damage or destruction of habitats. The guidelines would also require mitigation measures such as landscaping with native plants and conducting prescribed burns as necessary for ecosystem health.
“It’s not good enough to say you’re going to put a fence around these habitats so no one can go there,” Michael Houlemard, the head of FORA says. “It’s not just about improving tourism, setting aside parkland, or developing businesses.” There’s a particular emphasis in the draft plan, Houlemard says, on the areas where wildlands and urban development meet and on corridors for the migration of creatures between protected habitats. “These listed species are critical to our local ecosystem,” he says.
Once the plan is completed and approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a new habitat conservation agency will be set up by local government entities. The future agency already has a name: Fort Ord Regional Habitat Cooperative.
“We have multiple agencies involved,” Houlemard says. “We have an opportunity to demonstrate to others in California and the nation that we can all agree to carry out this type of protection.”
FORA is giving members of the public an opportunity to provide input on the HCP and make themselves heard over an issue that will affect the entire region. The draft plan is over 600 pages, but Houlemard suggests readers start with the executive summary at the beginning of the document, a more digestible 14 pages. The deadline to submit comments is Monday, Dec. 16.
Submit comments in writing by mail to Stephen P. Henry, Field Supervisor, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003, or fax comments to 805-644-3958 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.