With a strategic and forward-thinking goal to safeguard Guam’s unique biological and cultural heritage, the University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability (UOG-CIS), the Guam Department of Agriculture (DoAG), and the consulting firm ICF held a public meeting on October 17 at the University of Guam School of Business to hold community discussions about the development of the Guam Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).
The Guam HCP is a crucial 30-year plan aimed at protecting endangered species and their habitats, preserving the island’s distinct biodiversity, and promoting sustainable economic development. The HCP is also crucial to streamlining the development permitting process.
Community engagement at the public meeting, for almost 70 people, was fostered through multiple avenues. From opening remarks by several leaders in our community, to a thorough presentation about the Guam HCP by the HCP Development Team. The public also had the chance to interact with the HCP Team in the atrium, by visiting six tables to talk about different elements of the plan.
At one of the tables, the UOG-CIS natural resources team even displayed two listed species, Fadang (Cycas micronesica) and Tuberolabium guamense. The DoAG -DAWR team engaged with the public concerning the ko’ko’ and other endangered animal species. Light refreshments were provided. A species report card incentivized attendees to visit every table, after which they entered a raffle to win a native tree or plush ko’ko’ bird!
The HCP Development Team, comprising the DoAG, UOG/CIS, and ICF, received funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to develop this plan for Guam. The mission of the Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources (DAWR/DoAG) is to protect, preserve, and promote the conservation of Guam’s biological resources for our future generation. This effort exemplifies UOG CIS’s commitment to innovative approaches to protecting Guam’s environment and preserve Guam’s biocultural diversity.
ICF is an industry-leading consulting firm that provides expert strategic planning for Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance. Together, these entities are leading the development of the Guam HCP to strike a balance between development and environmental conservation in Guam.
The public meeting attracted support from across UOG and the Government of Guam.
Sharleen Santos Bamba, PhD, UOG Interim Senior Vice President and Provost, opened the public meeting by expressing pride in the process of developing the HCP. “UOG is supporting this groundbreaking conservation plan—a collaborative effort between academia and the public and private sectors. Partnerships like these help us build capacity, extend our reach, and utilize our resources,” Bamba said.
Meanwhile, Chelsa Muna, Director of DoAG, highlighted the importance of community understanding and participation in the HCP process. “The development of this habitat conservation plan is a pivotal event where conservation and development intersect. This (HCP) is the first of its kind on Guam,” she emphasized.
Clynt Ridgell, Deputy Chief of Staff at the Office of the Governor, offered a forward-looking perspective on the plan’s significance. “This plan is not about me or you. It is about Guam. It is about us. Most importantly, it is about what we leave behind to our future generations.”
In 2015, the United States Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) listed 23 species, of which 20 found in Guam under the ESA.
According to the team’s presentation at the meeting, while the ESA prohibits harming these species, an exception can be made for activities undertaken by non-federal agencies and developers, like land development projects, through the issuance of an Incidental Take Permit (ITP). As part of the ITP application, an HCP must be submitted to demonstrate that the impacts of the activities will be fully offset.
Currently, DoAG’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources staff, Jay Gutierrez, Jeff Quitugua, and their team, ensure compliance with the ESA by working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, developers, and other Government of Guam agencies to completely avoid harming endangered species on development sites. That’s why Jay and Jeff are driving the development of the HCP for Guam. The Guam HCP will streamline permitting while guaranteeing permanent conservation for Guam’s most vulnerable species, paid for by permitting fees. A win-win for all!
HCPs are designed to provide a structured approach to minimizing and mitigating impacts on the listed species that may be affected by land use activities. HCPs offer a streamlined and efficient method for environmental protection, by allowing careful consideration of applications for local projects.
Through the HCP, a balance is struck between human development and endangered species conservation, ensuring the preservation of endangered species while facilitating sustainable development projects, according to Else Demeulenaere, PhD, Associate Director at the UOG Center for Island Sustainability.
“We want to make sure our government balances the conflict between preserving natural resources and facilitating sustainable development. The Guam HCP is the plan that can meet that middle ground, protecting our species and their habitats while streamlining the permitting process for sustainable economic development,” Demeulenaere said.
The HCP Development Team is encouraging the community and stakeholders to stay informed and involved by visiting GuamHCP.com for regular updates.
Those interested in more hands-on involvement can join the stakeholder group by reaching out to Caley Chargualaf via email at email@example.com or by calling 671-797-5985. You can reach the DoAG’s permitting office at Permits@doag.guam.gov or by calling 671-735-0279.