Estela de Llanos signs commemorative Habitat Conservation Plan amendment

USFWS Approves SDG&E’s HCP Amendment to Strengthen Conservation of Regional Biodiversity and Streamline Climate Adaptation Work

SAN DIEGO, October 24, 2023 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved an amendment to SDG&E’s 55-year Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), following several years of analysis and collaboration. The HCP Amendment will continue SDG&E’s environmental stewardship of biodiversity in our region, while streamlining critical wildfire mitigation and clean energy projects throughout SDG&E’s service area.

Originally approved by U.S. Fish & Wildlife in 1995, the HCP is a permit streamlining tool that facilitates SDG&E’s compliance with the Endangered Species Act when carrying out its operations, maintenance and construction activities that could otherwise harm protected species. And with a service area that includes the most biologically rich county in the continental United States — a biodiversity hot spot with approximately 200 protected plants and animals according to The Nature Conservancy – the HCP plays a key role in SDG&E’s conservation and sustainability efforts.  The updated HCP was revised to cover SDG&E’s entire service area; adds new species that will benefit from conservation actions and removes other species that have begun to recover; and it creates a mechanism to promote landscape-scale conservation.

          "This marks a tremendous milestone for both the company and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and I am thrilled that we can continue to be a partner in the conservation and recovery efforts for one of the most biodiverse regions in the United States," said SDG&E Chief Sustainability Officer Estela de Llanos, who oversaw the multi-disciplinary team that pursued the HCP Amendment. “Ultimately, this intensive effort led to a regional conservation plan that supports the utilities’ need to invest in climate adaptation and wildfire resiliency to protect public safety as well as natural resources and endangered species.  The updated HCP allows SDG&E to construct and maintain its infrastructure in a timely and environmentally responsible manner while conserving protected species and their habitats.”

          SDG&E continues to work with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to incorporate the HCP Amendment into both a federal and state regional conservation plan that will replace the company’s 1995 NCCP (Natural Communities Conservation Plan)/HCP (Plan) through 2050.

Building on 28 Years of Habitat Conservation

          In 1995, SDG&E became the first regulated, private utility in the U.S to be approved and permitted for a Habitat Conservation Plan that benefits federally threatened and endangered species, migratory birds, and bald and golden eagles in our service area. While new at the time, a Habitat Conservation Plan is a strategic, long-term conservation approach that aims to protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats while accommodating reasonable land development – in this case, utility operations and construction.  An HCP’s core objectives include avoiding and minimizing impacts to protected species and their habitats, identifying and mitigating potential impacts from an activity or group of activities (that usually span many years), and providing regulatory certainty to the permit holder.  An HCP replaces the need to undergo project-by-project review, which saves time, money, and resources for both regulatory agencies and SDG&E.

          Last year, SDG&E filed an application with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to amend the 1995 Habitat Conservation Plan.  The goal was to modernize the natural resource protection measures within the plan to support industry-leading wildfire safety and mitigation work. With this update, SDG&E also prepared a separate Eagle Conservation Plan, making SDG&E one of the first utility companies to develop such a plan.        

What the Updated Plan Covers

  • A 25% increase of the size of the Plan Area, which now covers everywhere SDG&E operates and maintains infrastructure.
  • 28 species of plants, birds, butterflies, vernal pool shrimp, mammals, and amphibians currently listed as threatened or endangered.
  • 11 species of birds, plants, reptiles and one amphibian not currently listed as threatened or endangered, but which may be listed in the future.
  • Bald and Golden Eagles.

What the Updated Plan Will do to Contribute to the Recovery of Protected Species

The new HCP Amendment focuses SDG&E’s commitment on over a dozen species that require specific conservation actions to sustain recovery across the service area. Many species will require the protection of certain lands and habitats to contribute to the conservation planning of San Diego Couty. Under the Amendment, SDG&E will acquire landscape-scale conservation parcels that will benefit many covered species.

          SDG&E's updated Habitat Conservation Plan represents a significant investment in the recovery of endangered species and protection of the region’s unique natural resources.  The HCP is a crucial step forward in our company's journey toward a more sustainable future and is the product of our dedication to this region and our collaboration with environmental groups and natural resource agencies.