Do you know if threatened species, endangered species, or critical habitats are present at your project site? You may need to schedule Threatened and Endangered Species Surveys to scope out the situation and ensure that you comply with the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). Passed by Congress in 1973, the ESA aims to prevent the extinction of native and foreign animals and plants in the United States. It helps protect at-risk American species so that they don’t disappear forever.
Two federal agencies administer the Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS or USFWS). The NOAA, which includes the NOAA Fisheries (also called National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS), is responsible for all endangered and threatened marine species, and the FWS is responsible for freshwater fish and all other species. Although some exceptions exist, the ESA generally prohibits any activities that will negatively impact protected species unless authorized by a permit from the FWS or NMFS. So as you begin assessing your project site, schedule a survey to check for at-risk species so that you can take the appropriate actions going forward.
Definitions of Endangered and Threatened Species
According to the ESA, the term endangered species refers to any species that is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range other than a species of the Class Insecta determined by the Secretary to constitute a pest whose protection under the provisions of this Act would present an overwhelming and overriding risk to man.” A threatened species is defined as any species that is “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
Threatened and Endangered Species Surveys
If you have a construction project proposed that will require a federal permit from the Corps of Engineers, or a state-issued stormwater permit for construction activities, these agencies may ask for feedback from FWS or the state’s Department of Conservation as to whether there are any concerns regarding potential threatened and endangered species in the project area. This is referred to as a Section 7 Consultation, and the FWS or Department of Conservation may request that you have a consultant assist with this evaluation.
The Section 7 Consultation Process
The first step in this process is to determine if there are any listed threatened, endangered, proposed, or candidate species in the county where the work will be completed.
If there are no species or critical habitats listed, the department or consultant can conclude “no species are present” and no further investigation is required. If there are listed species or habitats, and the project is (1) within a developed area, (2) an HUD project, (3) a pipeline or buried utilities project, or (4) a telecommunication project, there is a streamlined process you can follow. These types of projects almost always warrant a “No Effect” determination.
If your project is of a different type and there are listed species for the county, the consultant will need to use their professional judgment to determine the likelihood of whether listed species or critical habitats are present at the project site. This usually involves a site visit called a Threatened and Endangered Species Survey.
Qualified individuals with the appropriate level of education, training, and expertise should complete Threatened and Endangered Species Surveys, looking for species or habitats that are listed for that area. If suitable habitat is not present in the project area, this should be documented and no additional investigation is required. If suitable habitat is present, data may need to be collected (such as acoustic surveys, visual observations, infrared cameras, or live species traps) to determine if there are any listed species within the project area.
Bats in the Midwest
In the Midwest, bats are one of the more common listed species showing up within project areas. This is because of the epidemic of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), which has been spreading throughout the U.S. and Canada since 2006. Click here to view a map that shows where White-Syndrome has been found in North America.
White-Nose Syndrome is a disease caused by a fungus that looks like white fuzz on bats’ faces. WNS generally infects bats while they’re hibernating and causes them to be more active, burning up the stored fat they need to survive the winter. WNS has caused population declines for many species of bat, such as the Northern Long-Eared Bat, which was added to the Threatened and Endangered Species list in 2015.
Bats normally spend the winter in caves, mines, or rock crevices, but during the warmer months they roost and raise their young in trees. So if your development project requires you to clear trees, you may need to consult with the FWS. Felling trees in summertime could directly lead to the harm or death of protected bats or suitable habitats for bats. For this reason, the FWS may prohibit the knocking down of trees between April 1st and November 1st without first undergoing an appropriate consultation.
For projects with a federal nexus, a federal agency like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may consult with the FWS to determine if the project will impact threatened or endangered bat species. Typically this begins with the FWS requesting a bat habitat assessment. If suitable habitat is identified and will be impacted by project activities, the FWS may demand summer surveys and restrict tree clearing (source).
If you have a project and need help determining if threatened and endangered species or critical habitats may be present at your site, contact Environmental Works. Our staff includes biologists and wildlife management professionals with experience in completing Threatened and Endangered Species Surveys. We can also assist with bat assessments, such as acoustic surveys and mist netting. To get started with your Threatened and Endangered Species Surveys, contact us today.