County seeks proposals for butterfly habitat

By: Hannah Hoffman, Yamhill Valley News Register
February 5, 2011

Yamhill County issued a request for proposals Monday, aimed at private-sector consultants to proceed at county expense, for development of a habitat conservation plan for the endangered Fender’s blue butterfly and its Kincaid’s lupine host.

The county issued its RFP after a coalition of environmental activists, angered at the county’s 2-1 rejection of a $391,000 federal grant to fund development of a broader, multispecies habitat conservation plan, threatened to seek recourse in federal court.

Issuance of the RFP, aimed at heading off action that could prove protracted and expensive, grew out of two months of behind-the-scenes talks between county officials and the would-be plaintiffs. The environmental coalition was led by Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society.

The grant turndown, following on a 2-1 vote pitting Commissioners Leslie Lewis and Kathy George against Commissioner Mary Stern, triggered the legal threat. It caught most observers off guard, even those holding key county leadership posts, as the same commissioners had unanimously authorized pursuit of the federal funding initially.

The grant money was subsequently awarded to the Yamhill Soil & Water Conservation District for a habitat protection project aimed at private landowners, so is no longer available. That means the county will have to pay, at a cost yet to be determined.

However, it is envisioning a project limited to the two species and county-owned portions of their habitat, not to all endangered species in all parts of the county, public and private, as was the case with the original. It is expected the bids will reflect that.

Stern and George agreed that development of a plan for protection of the rare butterfly and host plant on county lands is necessary to protect the county from future liability. They agreed it made the most sense both environmentally and financially at this juncture, with the soil and water agency already committed to developing a protection plan for privately held lands at federal expense.

George said she thought the smaller scope was more appropriate and manageable for the county’s public works department, which will serve as both the liaison and implementation agency. She noted it already has a working mitigation strategy to keep from harming butterflies or their habitat along county roadsides as it undertakes routine maintenance work.

Stern said she’s hoping the more sharply focused plan will be at a cost approximating what the county’s local match requirement would have been on the broader plan, thus proving a financial wash, or nearly so.

Stern said, “I hope that, in conjunction with Soil & Water Conservation District, we’re doing everything possible to comply with the law and protect the county — as well as private property owners — from liability.”

Private consultants have until 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18 to submit bids.

The county does not have to accept the lowest bid. It has the right to base its choice on a cost-benefit analysis that factors in the quality and scope of proposals as well as the price tag.

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