Identifying the role of policy networks in the implementation of habitat conservation plans

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Conflict over management of natural resources may intensify as population growth, development, and climate change stress natural systems. In this dissertation, the role of policy networks implementing Habitat Conservation

Conflict over management of natural resources may intensify as population growth, development, and climate change stress natural systems. In this dissertation, the role of policy networks implementing Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) is examined. As explored here, policy networks are groups that come together to develop and implement terms of HCPs. HCPs are necessary for private landowners to receive Incidental Take Permits (ITPs) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) if approved development activities may result in take of threatened or endangered species. ITPs may last up to 100 years or more and be issued to individual or multiple landowners to accomplish development and habitat conservation goals within a region.

Theoretical factors in the implementation and policy network literatures relevant to successful implementation of environmental agreements are reviewed and used to examine HCP implementation. Phase I uses the USFWS Environmental Conservation Online System (ECOS) database to identify characteristics of policy networks formed to implement HCPs within the State of California, and how those networks changed since the creation of HCPs in 1982 by amendment of the 1973 Endangered Species Act. Phase II presents a single, complex, multiple-party HCP case selected from Phase I to examine the policy network formed, the role of actors in this network, and network successes and implementation barriers.

This research builds upon the implementation literature by demonstrating that implementation occurs in stages, not all of which are sequential, and that how implementation processes are structured and executed has a direct impact on perceptions of success.

It builds upon the policy network literature by demonstrating ways that participation by non-agency actors can enhance implementation; complex problems may better achieve conflicting goals by creating organizational structures made up of local, state, federal and non-governmental entities to better manage changing political, financial, and social conditions; if participants believe the transaction costs of maintaining a network outweigh the benefits, ongoing support may decline; what one perceives as success largely depends upon their role (or lack of a role) within the policy network; and conflict management processes perceived as fair and equitable significantly contribute to perceptions of policy effectiveness.