Habitat conservation planning has become the primary conservation tool for private landowners and developers under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Habitat conservation plans are newly evolving mechanisms and are challenged with addressing the conflicts and paradoxes inherent in integrating conservation and economic decision making. Research results of a 31-case analysis of habitat conservation plans (HCPs) are discussed to provide an objective understanding of the process through which HCPs are developed. A central finding is the significant variation in the ways HCPs have been developed, including who was involved, how decisions were negotiated, and how decision-making roles were designed and executed. The results also indicate that little attention has been given to HCP process design and management, and addressing this deficiency should be rewarding and challenging. Increased attention should be given to the roles of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and other organizations and individuals. These roles relate to stakeholder contribution, rules of engagement and participation, process efficiency, and the management of technical information. The practitioners surveyed indicated that HCP processes have often been sluggish and/or problematic; nevertheless, they generally characterized HCPs in positive ways. This suggests a positive base from which to improve HCP processes.