North Natomas A lawsuit challenging a habitat conservation plan for Sacramento's North Natomas area has been filed in federal court by a group of environmentalists. A popular tool promoted by the Clinton administration, HCPs are intended to end disputes with landowners over plants and animals covered by the Endangered Species Act. Under the Natomas HCP, an acre of land is to be preserved for every two acres developed in the area, a few miles north of downtown Sacramento along Interstate 80. Habitat is to be protected for the threatened giant garter snake, the Swainson's hawk, and other plants and animals. Much of the land has been used for rice production and serves as winter habitat for waterfowl. The suit was filed by a coalition that includes the National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Council of Sacramento, Friends of the Swainson's Hawk, the Planning and Conservation League, and the Sierra Club. Environmentalists told the Sacramento Bee that they hoped the lawsuit — only the third filed to challenge a complete HCP — would force higher standards for all HCPs. "There's a lot of endangered species in the Natomas region that are not getting enough protection," John Kostyack, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation, told CP&DR. "It exemplifies all that is going wrong with the HCP process." Kostyack said the plan ignores species' recovery needs. He also contended the land preservation plan is speculative. "There's no real basis for believing funding will be there to do that," he said. The lawsuit is the latest dispute over North Natomas after earlier problems with failed development plans and flood control issues (See CP&DR, September 1994). Current plans call for mixed-use development. The North Natomas HCP covers 53,000 acres in the city of Sacramento, Sacramento County and Sutter County. Only the city of Sacramento has so far approved the HCP for the 7,000 acres within its city limits. Grading has been completed for an initial phase of home construction, according to Gregory Thatch, an attorney who represents developers and landowners in the area. The lawsuit does not seek injunctive relief to stop construction, he said Contacts: Gregory Thatch, attorney, (916) 443-6956. John Kostyack, National Wildlife Federation, (202) 797-6879.