Author: Kimberly Peace

Kimberly Peace is an environmental consultant who grew up in Ohio and moved to New Hampshire 20 years ago with her husband and is still not used to all this crazy snow. She has a MS in Marine Science and before she jumped into consulting she had a variety of jobs working with sharks, and then high school students, which are much like sharks. She has two children who keep her busy running from one sporting event to another, and her car carries snow scrapers and sand castle building toys at the same time. She is also busy in her local town government, serving on the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board for Goffstown.

Celebrating National Endangered Species Day with Awareness of the Canada Lynx

Canada lynx in the snow

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was created in 1973 to protect at-risk species and the habitat those species use to complete their life cycles. This important piece of legislation came out of a growing recognition that the impacts from growth and development were having negative effects on the environment. It was issued shortly after the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, and together these two Acts provide the legal foundation for much of the environmental protection regulations that work to ensure that the many varied ecosystems within the United States remain, or strive to become, healthy, sustainable and well-balanced. 

Together these two Acts provide the legal foundation for much of the environmental protection regulations that work to ensure that the many varied ecosystems within the United States remain, or strive to become, healthy, sustainable and well-balanced. 

Species that are protected under the ESA are either classified as endangered or threatened. Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Threatened means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. All species of plants and animals, except pest insects, are eligible for listing as endangered or threatened.

The ESA is administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for terrestrial and freshwater species, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for marine species. More information on the ESA, including the list of species currently being protected, as well as “candidate” species, which are those proposed for protection, can be found at: https://www.fws.gov/endangered/species/us-species.html.

Our work on a wide variety of projects across six states and a range of habitats requires us to consult with USFWS and NMFS during project planning to ensure that we adhere to the requirements for species protection where necessary.

To determine potential impacts to environmental resources (including several parameters such as water, air quality, and noise) when we begin planning for a project, we review the project site using USFWS and NMFS online mapping. Online mapping helps to determine if there is habitat for a listed species. Each species that is listed under the ESA has a defined land range that is developed from data regarding current habitat needs for that species and species surveys; the result is that not only are locations where the species currently exist protected, but there is also protection offered in areas where the species could survive if their population numbers were to increase.

The result is that not only are locations where the species currently exist protected, but there is also protection offered in areas where the species could survive if their population numbers were to increase.

Projects in northern Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine have the potential to be located within the range of the federally-threatened Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). Canada lynx is a medium-sized cat with long legs, large, well-furred paws, long tufts on the ears, and a short, black-tipped tail. Their long legs and large feet are highly adapted for hunting snowshoe hares (Lepus americana) – their primary prey species – in deep snow conditions. The distribution of lynx in New England is associated with northern forests that are a mix of spruce and balsam fir, among other pine species, some hardwoods such as birch and aspen, and hardwood and softwood trees, such as pine. Lynx are more likely to inhabit landscapes that provide suitable habitat for snowshoe hare populations in regenerating forest environments rather than landscapes with very recent clearcut or partial tree harvests. There are a number of scenarios that may unfold when a project is located within Canada lynx habitat – depending on the size and amount of the project, and how much habitat alteration may occur.

Prior to project inception, we coordinate with USFWS to describe the project and provide details regarding any potential change that may occur to the existing habitat (including tree removal or land clearing and soil excavation). Depending on the amount of potential habitat alteration, we may develop a Biological Assessment to provide to the USFWS. This assessment includes an in-depth analysis of the potential use and value of the habitat within the project area, and helps make a determination of the effect on Canada lynx, both as individuals and as a regional population. Sometimes surveying for lynx within the project area may need to be completed by a wildlife biologist in order to determine if lynx are actively using the land.

If potential habitat exists in the project area but there is a low likelihood of lynx using that habitat, the project may be required to modify the design such that tree removal is limited to the smallest area possible. There may be requirements to complete this clearing at a time when the impact to any potential lynx using the habitat would be the least harmful, such as during seasons when females will not be giving birth. If it is identified that lynx are actively using the project area, then additional coordination with USFWS is necessary to ensure the project will not directly affect those individuals.

We recently completed a Biological Assessment for Canada lynx at the Sugarloaf Regional Airport in Carrabassett Valley, Maine where tree removal within potential lynx habitat was proposed.

We recently completed a Biological Assessment for Canada lynx at the Sugarloaf Regional Airport in Carrabassett Valley, Maine where tree removal within potential lynx habitat was proposed. We worked with USFWS biologists to reduce the potential impacts to this habitat, and any lynx that may be using the area, by strictly limiting the area of tree removal to only that which is necessary to complete this important safety project, to ensure the result will increase the safety of the public using this airport, while also minimizing the risk to Canada lynx.

If you would like to learn more about Canada lynx, or the other species listed under the Endangered Species Act and the steps you can do celebrate Endangered Species Day, check out the USFWS website. Our environmental experts are here to answer your questions and help guide you through the project process while avoiding or minimizing impacts to listed species. Reach out to me and our environmental team will be happy to help.


A New Decade Brings New NHDES Wetland Rules

wetland permit amherst nh

Think back 29 years, to 1991 – remember how different life was then? For some, this might be too far back to remember; others might recall images of the Gulf War, the AIDS crisis, grunge bands, the Simpsons had only been on for a few years, gasoline prices per gallon were $1.14, and the World Wide Web became publicly available. The year 1991 was also the last time the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) completely revised the Wetland Rules – until now.

New Hampshire’s Need for Updated Rules

The New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated (RSAs) are the laws of the State of New Hampshire that are adopted or amended by the NH Legislature each year. RSA 482-A: Fill and Dredge in Wetlands was adopted in 1989 that defined wetlands and gave the State the authority to protect these essential resources.

Over the past 29 years, NHDES has amended the rules and issued permit forms and publications, such as Best Management Practices (BMPs), that have helped clarify the requirements for addressing the Wetland Rules during project development. However, it had become apparent that a complete revision of the Wetland Rules was necessary to streamline the permitting process, clarify rule application and procedures, and document some informal processes that had resulted in rule implementation over time.

Public Comment and Listening Sessions

Streamlining the permitting process was a significant task to undertake. NHDES began in 2018 by issuing a draft of the new rules for public comment and hosting a series of public comment and listening sessions. Based on the amount and type of feedback received, NHDES established a Wetland Rules Workgroup consisting of a mix of professionals in the field of wetland science, state and federal agency staff, and private consultants who have experience with permitting wetland projects; this group met bi-weekly over summer and fall 2018. I was fortunate to be an invited member of this group, and we had lively and lengthy discussions as we reviewed and revised the proposed rules, chapter by chapter, line by line, to produce new rules that were clear, effective, and would streamline the permitting process, where appropriate, while still protecting the State’s wetland resources. On December 15, 2019, the revised wetland rules became effective.

Along with the new rules, NHDES issued several revised publications, BMPs and wetland permit application forms that can assist applicants in completing the permit application process, from the very beginnings of resource identification, preliminary design and impact analysis, pre-application dialogue with NHDES, through to successful receipt of the permit and conditions. NHDES staff hosted a series of training sessions across the state that reviewed specific chapters of the new rules and gave input regarding noteworthy changes between the old and new rules, new items that may need to be addressed in an application, and answered questions about the new rules and forms.

New Changes

Projects that involve repairs to certain sized bridges (routine roadway, replacement, repair, or extension of culverts) will be permitted faster and easier than under the prior rules using the new Permit by Notification (PBN) and Statutory PBN categories. The new rules have provided:

  • A new definition for when a stream crossing project may be “self-mitigating,” which helps determine when those kinds of projects may or may not need mitigation.
  • A reduction in the distance to an abutting property line for which impacts can occur without the abutting landowner’s permission from 20 feet to 10 feet; acquiring these permission letters can sometimes be a time-consuming step in the permitting process.
  • A comprehensive Wetlands Permit Planning Tool (WPPT) that allows for convenient review of multiple project parameters in one online location, including stream crossing and watershed data, National Wetland Inventory and FEMA flood maps, and Shoreland Protection areas; this tool will allow for a better understanding of the potential project impacts and permitting needs during preliminary design to eliminate costly or time-consuming “surprises.”

Through it All

The Hoyle, Tanner environmental coordination team, which consists of myself, Deb Coon, and Joanne Theriault, are well-versed in the new (and old) rules and will work with our clients to determine the best path through NHDES permitting for every project.

Endangered Species Day – Highlighting the Northern Long Eared Bat

Northern Long Eared Bat Photo

The United States has multiple federal laws and international treaties aimed to protect endangered species. Species conservation is a shared responsibility; our choices and actions are capable of making a difference for the better. As engineers, we at Hoyle, Tanner are committed to the protection of endangered and threatened species by working through strict permitting laws and utilizing environmental experts.

In 2015, the northern long eared bat received news coverage for becoming a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In 2016, it received a final 4(d) Rule, mandating that the species needs conservation help. Currently the main factor threatening these bats is a fungus called White Nose Syndrome, which is the disease responsible for a species decline of up to 99% in the Northeast.

Identifying the Northern Long Eared Bat

The northern long eared bat is a brown-toned, medium sized bat with a body length of 3 to 3.7 inches. Named for its unusually long ears in comparison to other bats, the northern long eared bat species range includes 37 states across most of the Eastern and Northern Central United States.

During the winter months, the bats can be found hibernating in caves and mines with constant temperatures, high humidity and limited air flow as hibernacula. In the summer, the northern long eared bats preside primarily in the crevices of dead trees. At dusk they feed on moths, flies, leafhoppers, caddisflies, and beetles. A hibernating bat with White Nose Syndrome can be identified by white fungus on its muzzle, causing the animal to act strangely and often flying out of their hibernacula during the winter months. White Nose Syndrome is currently present in 25 of 37 states within the species range and there are indications that it will continue to spread.

Protecting the Northern Long Eared Bat

White Nose Syndrome was first identified in New York in 2007 and has since been primarily responsible for the severe decline in species population. Steps in disease management have been taken by many government, non-government and university organizations to decrease the rate the disease is spread.

Since being listed as threatened on April 2, 2015, the northern long eared bat is federally protected under Section 7(a)(l) of the ESA, which requires federal agencies to use their authorities to conserve listed species. In June 2016, the Federal Highway, Railroad and Transit administrations completed a range wide consultation and conservation strategy for transportation construction and expansion projects. According to the article, “The programmatic biological opinion that resulted will help expedite the consultation process related to transportation projects and provide a consistent approach to conservation for the bats. The strategy includes:

  • Proactive conservation measures that are most suited and needed for the conservation of the species,
  • Priority areas for mitigation measures,
  • Standardized effects analyses with avoidance and minimization measures associated with project types,
  • An informal programmatic consultation covering all states; and
  • A limited formal programmatic consultation.”

For more information, visit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services website.

How Can You Help?

We share the planet and the responsibility of being hospitable to other creatures. You don’t have to be an environmental specialist to help keep this disease from spreading. Here are a few things you can do:

Do Not Disturb: Cave and mine closures, advisories and regulations are there for a reason. Abide by them. By entering a cave or mine against security standards or recommendations, you could be risking the possibility of disturbing hibernating bats. Waking a hibernating bat can force it to use up valuable energy resources and in turn decrease its chances of surviving the winter. Furthermore, by entering a cave or mine without permission, you may be violating decontamination policies and exposing bats to White Nose Syndrome. Because we still do not know exactly how the disease is spread, you should never utilize clothing, footwear or equipment from an affected area in an unaffected area within the range

Save Dead Trees: A dead tree may be an eyesore compared to the rest of your beautiful yard, but before you cut it down, remember what could be depending on it for survival. Northern long eared bats are forest-dependent creatures that rely on different elements of forests to survive. By removing dead trees during a time when bats may be in the trees, you could be causing harm.

Build a Bat Box: Already cut the tree down? You can replace it with a bat box! By creating this backyard habitat, you are providing a safe and sound location for over 100 bats to roost. “Bat boxes are especially needed from April to August when females look for safe and quiet places to give birth and raise their pups.”

Tell Your Friends: Sometimes you can make the biggest impact by simply spreading the word. There are so many endangered species that need our protection and although a bat with unusually long ears isn’t as glamorous as a tiger or an elephant, it doesn’t make them any less important. Bats play a significant role in regulating the insect population and eliminating crop-destroying pests.

Many people do not understand the role they play in maintaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem. By spreading the word and telling people how they can do their part you will have a significant impact in the ongoing fight for the preservation of the northern long eared bat and endangered species as a whole.

Celebrate World Wetlands Day on February 2, 2018!

Body of water with green algae

February 2, 2018 has been designated as World Wetlands Day by the International/Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, with a focus on Urban Wetlands. What are urban wetlands, and why are they important?

Wetlands are land areas that are flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally, and include rivers, streams, floodplains, marshes, estuaries and bogs. Urban wetlands are these same bodies of water, but are found in or around cities and their suburbs.

Preserving urban wetlands is an important step to providing a sustainable future as our global population grows and becomes more urbanized. Currently, 50% of the world’s 4 billion people live in urban areas, with that number proposed to increase to 66% by 2050. The need to provide land for building and basic services should be balanced between the need to preserve and restore natural resources like wetlands in order to make cities more livable.

Historically, wetlands were viewed as land that should be filled in to create usable land. As upland or dry areas have been mostly built-out in our larger cities, wetlands are under more pressure to be filled and converted into “usable” space. Why is this a problem?

Wetlands perform valuable services in our landscape in six major ways:

1) They are the source of almost all drinkable water consumed by urban populations. Wetlands filter water before it enters groundwater aquifers, helping to replenish this important water source.

2) They support the plant life that acts to filter waste, absorb harmful toxins (including agricultural pesticides and industrial waste), treat sewage and improve water quality.

3) They improve air quality by increasing humidity and providing oxygen (from plants) into the local atmosphere, the combination of which results in natural cooling.

4) They act as sponges to absorb flood waters and then release water slowly to reduce flooding and storm surges.

5) Wetlands are often an important part of parks and conservation areas that offer space for recreation (kayaking, fishing, walking or jogging, etc.) and access to a diversity of plant and animal life, which has been shown to increase happiness and satisfaction in residents. Studies have confirmed that interacting with nature reduces stress and improves the overall quality of life.

6) They offer a way for citizens to make a living by providing opportunities for fishing and agriculture or collecting plants for weaving, medicine, and food products. Wetlands can also provide tourist attractions, such as recreational fishing, diving, and sight-seeing that enable local citizens to make a living from secondary service opportunities such as restaurants and hotels.

Man cutting tree branch to volunteer

Sean James, PE, Vice President, cuts branches along a walking trail as part of a recent community volunteer event.

Wetlands are important to our ecosystem. Here are some ways you can protect wetlands: get involved in local planning efforts and speak out in support of preserving new parks and conservation areas; volunteer to restore or clean-up existing parks, streams and wetlands that have been neglected or run-down; organize a volunteer day or event in your community to pick up trash, plant trees or flowers along your local river or stream bank; stay informed on proposed land-use changes in your community; support legislation that protects or preserves wetlands; reduce water consumption to reduce the demand on groundwater aquifers; reduce or avoid pesticide use, which can run-off into streams and wetlands and be toxic to fish, plants and wildlife; reuse or recycle natural materials; and reduce your waste where you can.

Integrating wetland preservation and restoration into urban policy and planning efforts is key to improving urban life now and in the future.

26 in 2017: Environmental Permitting Experience Recap

Hoyle, Tanner Staff Inspecting River Bed for Permitting

Environmental permits give clear instructions on how the environment must be protected to maintain a precise balance between development and environmental protection. Environmental permitting is the process by which impacts to the natural environment are regulated and monitored to ensure minimal damage or disruption to environmental and human health. Because of permitting, activities that may cause pollution are prohibited by environmental protection agencies as well as local authorities.

With rigorous regulations established around environmental protection, a proactive approach for obtaining permits is required for projects to minimize impacts while maintaining the project’s schedule. As we look back at the permitting efforts completed in 2017, we are proud of the accomplishments our team has made to assist in leading these projects to successful completion. Our team members permitted 26 new projects in addition to the activities continued from prior years, here is what some of them entailed:

State Permitting Efforts:
20 NHDES Wetland Permits
10 NHDES Shoreland Permits
1 CT DEEP Wetland Permit
2 Maine DEP Natural Resource Protection Act (NRPA) Permits
3 Maine DEP Site Location of Development Act (SLDA) Revisions /Amendments
1 NHDES Alteration of Terrain (AoT) Permit
1 VT ANR Wetland Permit

Federal Permitting Efforts:
4 FAA NEPA Categorical Exclusions
1 FAA NEPA Environmental Assessment (Florida)
7 FHWA NEPA Categorical Exclusions

Extensive coordination with federal, state and local regulatory agencies strengthens our relationships to facilitate successful consultation throughout the permitting and planning process. With 2017 wrapped up, 2018’s permitting efforts have started off just as strong.

What’s the Buzz on Bumble Bees?

After a minor delay by President Trump’s Administration, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the Rusty Patched Bumblebee (Bombus affinis) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)- effective March 18, 2017. Species that are listed under the ESA are afforded protection bat-quote2for not only individuals but also their habitat, which, for those who are involved in any type of development, engineering, architecture or construction projects, can result in conflicts.

In addition to reviewing a project for potential affects to species protected under the ESA, coordination is also required to identify potential impacts to state-listed species protected under the regulations in each of the New England states. For example, in New Hampshire, Hoyle, Tanner has designed and provided construction oversight to avoid impacting the following species: the federally-threatened small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides), a terrestrial orchid which prefers acidic soil often found along streambanks and slopes; the federally-endangered dwarf wedgemussel (Alasmidonta heterodon) that lives in the beds of relatively slow, clean rivers and streams; and the state-endangered Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) and Eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platyhinos), which use wetlands and rivers for breeding and feeding.

But really, a bumble bee? First off, this is not the first invertebrate species to be listed for protection- maybe they are less cuddly or sweet to look at than a bald eagle, but the American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) and Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) have a role in their own environments that are important enough to prevent their loss. Second, it is not the first bee to be listed, as 7 bee species were placed on the ESA in September 2016, however they are only found in Hawaii. The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is currently protected not just because the number of individuals has declined by as much as 87% since the 1990s and it is important to protect environmental diversity along all taxonomic groups, but also because their decline affects the wide-scale pollination process and ultimately could have an impact on our economy and food-supplies. This species relies on tall grass prairies and grasslands along the upper Midwest and Northeast, including Maine and Massachusetts, areas which have been lost, degraded or fragmented as development has converted the land. This colonial insect requires access to a continuous supply of flowering plants from early spring through fall. The increase in monoculture farming that has resulted in a lack of plant diversity means that the bumble bees only find flowers during portions of their life cycle, or have to travel long, exhaustive distances to find food.

The USFWS recognizes that the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee only remains on lands where management or land use has allowed them to survive, and in these areas conservation goals will be targeted. Project proponents will need to consult with USFWS staff for project review, as they currently do for all projects, to ensure this bumble bee will not be affected by the proposed actions.

More information can be found on the USFWS website: https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb/index.html

Important Note: An identified project that has the potential to impact a listed species habitat is far from a road block! Proper and timely coordination with the appropriate state and federal regulatory officials can result in resolving conflicts for the project to proceed, in most cases. Often there may be a time-of-year (TOY) restriction placed on the work schedule to avoid nesting or breeding seasons, or certain design changes can be implemented, such as the use of non-plastic erosion control matting or netting to protect reptiles and amphibians. In certain cases, a survey can be conducted of the project area by an experienced biologist to determine if the species is present or using the area; this can be helpful where habitats have been identified based on older soil mapping or vegetation surveys data, or the species reports are historic and the species has not been seen in the area in recent years. If the species is not identified during a site-specific survey, not only is this helpful in allowing the project to move forward without restrictions, but it also provides the agencies with valuable data on the locations of protected plants and wildlife.

 

Presidential Power Sways Environmental Perception

Who would you say was one of the most significant environmental Presidents? Would it surprise you if I told you I think it is Richard Nixon? Yes, the only US President to resign from office, and who commonly made such un-eco-friendly statements as comparing environmentalists to a bunch of animals, was also the President who signed into creation the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969. This was one of the first laws that established the legislative framework for protecting the environment, outlined national environmental policies and goals, and developed the Presidential Council on Environment (now known as the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)) within the executive office. NEPA requires federal agencies to integrate our national environmental values into their decision making processes by considering the environmental, human and social impacts of their proposed actions as well as the reasonable alternatives to those actions.

In 1970, President Nixon also created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Before the agency was created, our nation had no central authority overseeing the protection of the environment. Shortly afterwards, he signed into effect the Clean Air Act Extension. This is one of the most significant air pollution control bills in American history. It required the newly formed EPA to create and enforce regulations to protect people from airborne pollution known to be hazardous to human health, specifically targeting sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone and lead.

President Nixon also signed into effect the Endangered Species Act (1973) creating the concept of preserving species and their habitats listed as threatened and endangered; this act has been called “the Magna Carta of the environmental movement.”

Finally, in the midst of his impeachment concerns, Nixon also proposed and lobbied through Congress the Safe Drinking Water Act that was ultimately signed by President Gerald Ford in 1974. This act initiated national efforts to protect the nation’s lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and other bodies of water. It is fundamental in protecting aquatic resources including public drinking water supplies.

It comes as no surprise that during such an important environmental awareness period the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, then a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, proposed the idea of a “national teach-in on the environment” to the national media and ultimately gathered a national staff of 85 to promote events across the country. On that first Earth Day over 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in many wonderfully creative ways.

In the 45 years since the origin of NEPA and these other ground-breaking legislations, environmental protection and regulation has become extensive and complex. In my role as Environmental Coordinator, I work hard to ensure our clients and projects comply with the applicable laws and regulations that govern our projects. I work to guide projects from preliminary design through construction and operation while successfully acquiring the relevant federal and state environmental permits, including NEPA compliance for impacts to streams, rivers, floodplains, wetlands, and state- and federally-listed species, among others.

Earth Day 2015 will celebrate the 45th anniversary of the event that raised environmental issues awareness to unprecedented heights and brought the concept of working towards a cleaner and safer nation from a wild “hippie” idea to mainstream citizens. For more information on how you can participate in Earth Day celebrations and events visit Earth Day Network.