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.

The Endangered Species Act – Saving the “Fluffy” Species?

In my career as an environmental scientist, with a focus on permitting and regulatory compliance, I review projects for the potential to affect species that are protected under the Endangered Species Act and assist our clients in understanding how their project can be revised, when necessary, to avoid or minimize impacting these species or their habitat while still meeting the project goals.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted in 1973 as one of the several federal laws passed in the 1970s to address the rising concerns about environmental protection. The intentions of the ESA are to protect and prevent species from becoming extinct, prepare and implement efforts towards recovering species that are trending towards extinction, protect and preserve the ecosystems and habitat on which these species depend, and provide for cooperation among state governments to assist in these efforts on a regional and local level.

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If this seems like a very large task, it is indeed! There are three different federal departments that administer the ESA: the Department of Interior (endangered animals and some plants), the Department of Commerce (marine mammals) and the Department of Agriculture (plants). Between them, over nearly 50 years, they have developed regulatory guidance that breaks this large effort down into some very specific actions and processes. They develop the official list of endangered and threatened species and enforce rules regarding the import, export, take, possess, selling or transporting any endangered or threatened species. In addition, they develop detailed descriptions and mapping of the critical habitat for listed species, including land that is presently occupied by the listed species and land that is important for its continued and future existence.

Creating The List

At the start of the process is The List – how to determine which species belong on the list and deserve the protective efforts of federal organizations? This can be a controversial topic, as critics of the ESA often say it targets the “fluffy” or “cute” species, or those that pull at our heartstrings like the Florida panther, Monarch butterfly, North Atlantic right whale, Green sea turtle. (You may also think of pandas, but we do not have pandas in the wild in the US!) You may not think the Ozark hellbender, the meltwater stonefly or the Atlantic sturgeon, all worthy of protection despite their lack of photogenic features, but these species are considered just as important as any other federally-listed species.

The biggest challenge is that we cannot protect all organisms; the financial realities are that budgets must be created to pay for enacting all of the sections of the ESA – someone needs to conduct surveys, develop Critical Habitat Plans, provide assistance in protection and enforce the rules when they are broken. It is up the federal agencies, then, to determine in a real-world way which species are essential to protect. The lists must be made based on valid science, and not swayed by popular opinions of which mammal is more huggable. And while there is certainly a school of thought that saving only certain species is by its very nature a flawed process, one must start someplace. Saving some is better than saving none.

Species are often identified for protection because that species is an indicator of the status of their ecological surrounding or is key to the regional ecological cycle – these are sometimes called “keystone species.” The sea otter, very cute and cuddly, is a great example –  they feed on sea urchins, and when sea otter numbers fell due to demand for their pelts, sea urchins boomed and munched their way through acres of kelp beds, which altered the ecosystem for the other fish and marine life dependent on the kelp forest microhabitat. Protecting the sea otter then protects a variety of other species. As another example, less cuddly, the Florida bonneted bat lives in the native forests of Florida and is a valuable source of pest control – reduction in their numbers has resulted in the need for additional pesticide use in those areas.  

Another concept is to protect “umbrella” species, like the Florida panther, which has a home range of several hundred miles in which it routinely travels. Development of new roads can fragment what are currently large blocks of contiguous habitat that allow for safe travel for panthers, so some protective measures include land use controls that are focused on reduction of expanding land development into these unfragmented areas. Leaving large areas unfragmented and undeveloped allows for protection for all of the other species that also live in these areas. In that way, the umbrella that covers the panther also covers other species.   

Decisions, Decisions…

But there is also a consideration of the fiscal realities and physical practicalities:

  • What are the measures necessary to save a species, and can we afford to?
  • Are some species too time-consuming to protect?
  • Is that species worthy of affording all of the time and effort spent preserving it?
  • Will it work? Will the effort to protect a single species result in other losses in areas that are important?

This circles back to the emotional potential for saving species that are “fluffy” and look nice on a brochure asking you to donate to the cause. These “flagship” or “charismatic” species are the celebrities of the natural world, and by pulling our attention to the plight of such species, organizations can educate and raise awareness for conservation of all protected species and natural areas. Which means that the fluffy species have a role to play.

What Can You Do?

If you can contribute to wildlife organizations, do so – time or money donated on behalf of fluffy species can benefit other species. But consider donating to organizations that actively support conservation measures for the “ugly” species, too, or to local land or wildlife conservation organizations. If you are working in land development, understand how the ESA requirements apply to your project, and be proactive in meeting those requirements. Hoyle Tanner’s team of environmental scientists is always prepared to work with our private, municipal and state clients to successfully address the ESA while advancing the needs of the project.

World Wetlands Day: A Global Call to Action

Spring Road Wetlands

On February 2, 2022, we join the global community in celebrating World Wetlands Day (WWD) to raise awareness about the important role of wetlands for humanity and the planet on which we live. WWD festivities take place every February 2nd to mark the adoption date of the Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran on the shores of the Caspian Sea in 1971. This convention was the first time that the world joined to discuss wetlands and their important protection measures.

This year’s celebration of World Wetlands Day is especially significant because on August 30, 2021, the UN General Assembly established February 2 as World Wetlands Day – this designation means that the day will be celebrated as a United Nations International Day. The United Nations designates International Days as occasions to mark particular events or topics in order to promote, through awareness and action, the objectives of the organization. This year’s theme, “Wetlands Action for People and Nature,” has the goal of calling people to action now; thus, protecting the health of both human and natural systems and ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

There are many events occurring across the world on this day, including a run, a children’s photo contest, clean-up and other service activities, self-guided walks, and opportunities for grant funding. More details can be found at the website: https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/

Why Should We Protect Wetlands?

Natural wetlands are being lost at a rate that is three times faster than forests, with 85% of the world’s wetlands either lost or degraded since the 1700s. This loss results in water scarcity, exposure to flooding and extreme weather events, loss of well-being and livelihood/jobs, and food insecurity. For the planet, wetland loss means a decline in biodiversity, increased carbon and methane emissions, and a loss of freshwater filtration. Globally, wetlands are critically important ecosystems that contribute to biodiversity, climate mitigation and adaptation, freshwater availability, world economies and more. For example, over 40% of the world’s population lives within 60 miles (100 Km) of the ocean and will ultimately be affected by changes to the health of the coastline and wetlands in those interfacing areas, and more than 3 billion people depend on the ocean for their income – those jobs include fishing and aquaculture but also tourism. Freshwater wetlands also provide jobs such as fishing, aquaculture (freshwater catfish), agriculture (cranberry bogs) and tourism (swamp buggies anyone?).  

What is a Wetland?

Wetlands can vary in size, shape, vegetation, location, and include large, complex systems like beaches and coastlines, coral reefs, bogs and swamps. The Everglades in southern Florida is a good example of a large tropical wetland system. Here in New Hampshire, we have several large protected bog wetlands – poorly drained wetlands that are acidic and rich in organic and plant material, usually associated with a body of open water – including the Ponemah Bog in Amherst, and the Quincy Bog Natural Area in Rumney.

A wetland can also be small; New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) defines a wetland as having three components: hydric soils, hydrophytic vegetation and wetland hydrology. When a project is in development, wetlands are identified, or delineated, on the site to determine the best ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate impacts (or alteration of the wetland that results in a loss of its functions) to that wetland. There are federal rules protecting wetlands and every state has their own set of wetland protection requirements as well. Local wetland protection rules and requirements can also occur. 

Below are some examples of wetlands we have delineated in our projects; these are forested wetlands, grassed or emergent wetlands, riparian wetlands that occur along the edges and floodplains of streams and rivers, and isolated wetlands that are a mixture of forested, grassed and scrub-shrub. Once the wetlands on a site have been delineated, we work with our clients to determine the best ways to develop the site that can meet their goals while also protecting these important resources.  

Photos 1 & 2: Different emergent wetlands
Photo 3: Riparian forested wetland
Photo 4: Riverine/stream floodplain wetland system

What Can I Do?

The WWD convention has identified three global actions as a focus in 2022 to protect wetlands: 1) value wetlands, 2) stop draining or cultivating wetlands, and 3) renew, reforest and restore altered wetlands. These may sound like actions that are on a larger scale than you can assist with; you can follow #ActForWetlands to find more concrete ways in which you can act locally to protect wetlands. Join a local river or beach clean-up, start one on your own, or just spend some time picking up roadside trash or debris in your neighborhood. Plant trees or vegetation in your yard, especially if you have any wetland or stream within it, or assist when there is a community organization that is doing a similar project. Talk to your friends and family about the importance of clean, healthy wetlands and their ecosystems to spread the word. If everyone makes one small change, they add up!

The Hoyle Tanner Environmental Permitting team can assist you in any stage of your project that may affect wetlands, including: wetland delineation and assessment; local, state and federal permitting of wetland impacts; avoidance and minimization of impacts via design alternatives; and development of mitigation opportunities such as wetland creation, restoration, enhancement or preservation. Reach out with any questions you may have regarding wetlands! 

Jacks: Not Just a Kid’s Game?

Photo of A-jacks laid out on ground

Streambed scour is defined as fluctuation in the vertical position of a streambed, or the depth of the stream, as material is eroded and/or degrades. Some degree of streambed fluctuation is a natural process within the types of gravel-bedded rivers that we see; however, scour can also occur as a result of a change in the natural streambed conditions. Hoyle Tanner is currently assisting the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) with providing scour stabilization measures using an innovative system: A-jacks.

The History of Stream Crossing Design – If Only we Knew Then What we Know Now!

When the initial network of roads and highways was developed in New Hampshire, there was a different thought process towards designing infrastructure such as bridges, culverts or pipes, that crosses rivers and streams than there is today. Currently we would examine a stream from all angles to determine how to best approach designing a stream crossing that will not change the stream’s natural flow, depth or substrate (riverbed material). Stream crossing designs in the 1970s did not prioritize this stream information, and, as a result, in some situations the crossing structure has changed the stream’s parameters such as width, depth and flow.

The Results: Scour Pools & Stream Channel Changes

The most common example of this is where a stream crossing is too small to meet the stream’s bankfull width, or the width the stream needs when it is at a maximum flow and creates a pinch-point in the stream. Think of a water hose: When you pinch it you can create more pressure as the water comes out. In those situations, as water is forced through the smaller opening, water flows increase in speed and energy, and the water exiting the crossing can erode, or scour, the streambed, banks, or both. This can often result in a small area immediately downstream of the crossing that is deeper than the stream is upstream of the bridge or culvert – this is called a scour pool. If the amount of scour comes close enough to the culvert, pipe or bridge foundations, it can erode the ground under the crossing and risk destabilizing the crossing, including the road on top of the crossing.

When faced with these situations, stabilizing the stream bed and banks while protecting the culvert/pipe and road from being affected are interconnected goals.

A-Jacks: New Technology to Address an Old Problem

NHDOT routinely surveys stream crossings to determine if they are stable or if work should be done to either prevent scour from occurring or resolve scouring that is currently happening and may impact the crossing structure. In Woodstock, the stream crossing of Interstate-93 over Eastman Brook that was installed in 1972 is composed of a twin cell (or 2-sided) concrete box culvert; each side is 18’ wide. Original installation included riprap (stone) at the inlet and outlet of the culvert to prevent scouring. This riprap has washed away at the downstream outlet, and despite repairs of adding riprap on several occasions, the stream continues to scour downstream. Over time, this scour will jeopardize the stability of I-93, which is not an acceptable situation. Eastman Brook carries water that flows out of the White Mountains that can seasonally flow fast enough to carry even the largest riprap boulders downstream, particularly in spring, due to snowmelt combined with heavy rainstorms. Is there a different solution?

Hoyle Tanner’s experienced bridge design engineers proposed the use of A-Jacks in this location. They consist of two concrete T-shaped pieces joined perpendicularly at the middle, forming six legs. A-Jacks are designed to interlock into a slightly flexible, highly permeable matrix that will remain in the streambed. The highlight of this design is the ability of the A-Jacks system to spread out the energy that comes from water flowing quickly out of the culvert, allowing for increased resistance to the erosive forces of flowing water. Because they lock together in place, they can flex yet effectively stay put where they are installed.

The patented, two component design allows economical transport and on-site assembly. Just as you would picture a pile of jacks when you dump them onto the floor to play the game, A-Jacks interconnect and are assembled by sliding one half into another to form a complete unit. Rows of A-Jacks are assembled to interlock in horizontal as well as vertical directions. A-Jacks can be installed either randomly or in a uniform pattern. NHDOT has previously installed A-Jacks in four locations across the state and was open to the idea of using this alternative for the Woodstock scour stabilization project.

A-Jacks were installed downstream of the stream crossing in Woodstock this summer for approximately 87 feet. As shown in the photos, the streambed was excavated to  a depth to allow for installing a double row of 48” A-Jacks that raised the streambed elevation to meet the bottom lip of the outlet of the culvert and tied into the natural grade of the stream downstream of the crossing; this will allow for improved aquatic organisms and fish passage through the crossing by preventing the situation shown in the before photo, which is called a perched outlet. Thus, the design will accommodate the highest stream flows and will keep water running through the culvert during the low flows of summer so the stream doesn’t disconnect, and wildlife and fish can pass freely. Can’t see them? Clean washed gravel and stone was placed on top of the A-Jacks to fill the small voids (or spaces) between the individual units, resulting in simulation of a natural streambed.

If you look closely at this photo, you can see the tips of some of the A-Jacks sticking out of the streambed. This was intended to produce the natural variation in depth that a natural cobble-gravel-bolder streambed would have. 

Hoyle Tanner’s Environmental Coordination team effectively coordinated between NHDOT, the bridge designers, the NH Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the NH Fish and Game Department (NHF&G) to obtain agreement from each respective permitting agency that the A-Jacks, despite technically being viewed as “fill” in the streambed, were necessary in this location and would result in the best overall result that met the goals of the agencies involved.

By using innovative design techniques, our team was able to effectively stabilize an important piece of infrastructure, prevent future scouring of the stream and damage to the stream crossing, and re-create a natural streambed with improved functionality for fish and wildlife. Just a day’s work for our talented bridge designers and environmental coordinators. Let us know if you have a tricky scour issue that you would like us to take on!

How do Airport Development, Wetlands and Land Conservation Connect?

Image of Moose River Area aerial view

Part 1: Airport Development – Location, Location, Location

The Town of Jackman, Maine, owner and operator of the Newton Field Airport, is working with Hoyle Tanner to expand the main airport runway for emergency medical aircraft. This is an important and necessary change that will allow emergency flights to supplement the regional health care offerings in this rural part of Maine.

Hoyle Tanner created multiple alternative designs for the runway expansion at the Newton Field Airport in order to avoid and minimize wetland impacts. Ultimately, as with any airport project where the runway is expanded, the location of the existing runway dictates where the site alteration has to occur, and wetlands are proposed to be impacted as part of the project.

Newton Field, like many airports built in New England before the 1970s, is surrounded by wetlands; in the 70s, wetlands were viewed more as low-cost land to be filled rather than valuable resources to be protected. Because of the location of the existing runway, and the limited areas in which runway expansion could occur, the runway expansion will require permitting for impacts to wetlands.

Part 2: Wetland Impacts – Now What?

Wetland impacts are permitted by Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). As a condition of the permits that were issued for the project, the Town is required to provide compensatory mitigation for wetland impacts – this is often referred to as wetland mitigation.

Wetland mitigation can come in a variety of ways in the State of Maine: 1) the applicant can create wetlands in another location, either on-site or off-site; 2) the applicant can repair, restore or enhance an existing wetland that needs assistance in restringing it to complete functionality, i.e., removing invasive species or silt from an eroding bank; 3) the applicant can preserve parcels of land that contain wetlands, surface waters or vernal pools and are under threat of development, which is often done by working with a non-profit organization to place the parcels of land under a permanent conservation easement; or 4) the applicant can make a payment to the In Lieu Fee (ILF) Compensation Program, in which case those funds are used to provide grants to fund wetland conservation, creation or enhancement projects. 

Hoyle Tanner’s environmental experts have a full understanding of the pros and cons of each of these types of wetland mitigation and are able to determine what is best for each of our clients and their respective projects. In this example, our work with the Town over the past several decades gave us insight into the unique land conservation opportunity that could be used for wetland mitigation.

Part 3: Land Conservation – Protecting Wetlands While Achieving Development Goals

The Town of Jackman was proactive in their approach to future airport development, wetland mitigation and conservation goals with the assistance of Hoyle Tanner’s aviation staff. With an eye towards expanding the use of the airport and understanding that any wetland impacts that result from that development would require wetland mitigation, the Town purchased a 117-acre parcel of land along the beautiful Moose River to prepare for future airport development. This parcel of land is located within a floodplain delta for the Moose River and contains a variety of natural communities and habitats, including a 34-acre, rare spruce bog wetland and associated floodplain wetlands. Hoyle Tanner’s environmental permitting team worked with the Town,  DEP and USACE to come to an agreement that placing a conservation easement on this parcel of land, including both unique wetlands and the uplands surrounding them, would be an excellent wetland mitigation opportunity.

Part 4: The Connection

Hoyle Tanner’s staff continued to lead the Town through completion of the wetland mitigation process by working with all parties involved to place 57-acres of the Moose River parcel under a conservation easement to serve as compensatory mitigation for the development of a hangar, taxilane and an apron at the airport in 2010. The Forest Society of Maine (FSM) agreed to hold the easement because the parcel indirectly connects to other large conservation easements they hold in this region of Maine.

In 2021, Hoyle Tanner continued this effort to conserve the rest of that parcel, approximately 55 acres, under conservation easement with FSM so that the entire parcel, including 3,500 linear feet (or almost ¾ of a mile!) of the frontage along Moose River will be permanently protected from development.

Because of the extent of the wetland impacts for the runway expansion project, the conservation of the rest of the Moose River parcel was not enough to fully mitigate the project impacts. Hoyle Tanner led the team to identify two other parcels of land that will be placed into conservation: a 9-acre parcel of land along River Road that contains approximately 1,000 linear feet of frontage along Heald Stream, a tributary to Moose River; and, a 15-acre parcel of land on Tapley Road that also contains 1,700 linear feet of frontage along Heald Stream. Both of these parcels are owned by the Town and have frontage along a main road in Jackman, which means they could be developed in the future. By placing them under conservation easements to be held by FSM, this will allow for protection of the important floodplains and riparian buffers within the watershed of this stream. Hoyle Tanner coordinated the acceptance of these additional parcels of land conservation with DEP and USACE to successfully meet the permit conditions and fully mitigate the wetland impacts from the project.

Heald Stream frontage showing Alder floodplain wildlife habitat

In summary, because of the work that Hoyle Tanner completed with the Town of Jackman, the Forest Society of Maine, Maine DEP and USACE, this project:

  • Provided runway length allowing for much needed medical services to a rural area of Maine;
  • Avoided and minimized impacts to wetlands; and
  • Placed over 141 acres of land into permanent protection via conservation easement

Hoyle Tanner is pleased to partner with state, federal and local agencies and conservation organizations. Our environmental permitting experts are confident in determining land conservation opportunities for wetland mitigation at airports, among our other areas of expertise. Please contact me if you have questions about environmental permitting at your airport or municipality!

Endangered Plants Hiding in Plain Sight!

Closeup of Hempvine Flowers

Did you know that the State of New Hampshire has a list of over 400 plant species that are classified as either endangered or threatened under the NH Native Plant Protection Act (RSA 217-A)? The NH Natural Heritage Bureau maintains the state’s database of locations where the plants on this list have been identified. When a project is in the early stages of development, it is an important step to check this database to determine if a site may contain a habitat for one of these protected species.

What happens when—surprise—Natural Heritage Bureau determines that a site contains habitat for a listed plant? This determination is based on records of locations where the plants have been found, and those records can be recent or old, and based on site conditions that may have shifted over time. For example, a record noting a historical population of field plants may no longer be on a site that is currently a developed building and parking lot. Sometimes by reviewing the site records and history along with information regarding current site conditions, Hoyle Tanner’s staff can  determine if that plant may or may not be located on the site. In cases where that kind of preliminary analysis cannot be used to rule out the presence of a listed plant, the next step in the process would be to have an experienced botanist perform a field review of the site to look for the plant. Often this needs to be completed during a certain time of year, for example, when the plant is flowering, since with certain species of plants, it can be tricky to identify the protected species from another similar looking species. Natural Heritage Bureau staff can sometimes complete this field review, or a qualified botanist, such as Joanne Theriault at Hoyle Tanner, can do the site work instead.

Case Study: Finding Unexpected Species

Hoyle Tanner has been working with a municipality on a bridge replacement project. This work requires a wetland permit from New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), and per their permit requirements, a review of the Natural Heritage Bureau records for state-listed plants was completed. Natural Heritage Bureau reported the endangered Engelmann’s quillwort (Isoetes engelmannii) was reported in a historical record from 1946 in a location downstream of the bridge and proposed work area. Because of this historical record, and the fact that the site contains habitat for this plant that is similar to the habitat where it was previously found, Natural Heritage Bureau staff conducted a site review to see if these plants were growing in the project area.

Natural Heritage Bureau did not find Englemann’s quillwort; however, a new, previously unidentified population of a different endangered plant, climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens), was found within the proposed work areas.

A Balancing Act: What to Do When you Find an Endangered Plant?  

This particular bridge has undergone extensive engineering analysis to determine how best to keep this important piece of the Town’s infrastructure safely operational. The bridge was determined by New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) to be “functionally obsolete,” which means that it is not built to current standards and may have inadequate lane widths, shoulder widths, or vertical clearances to serve the current traffic demand. Repairs to the bridge were deemed infeasible because the cost of necessary repairs to bring the bridge to current standards would be comparable to the cost of installing a new bridge. The engineering team at Hoyle Tanner examined the proposed replacement in light of the identified plants’ locations to avoid and minimize impacts to these plants; however, it was determined that some clumps would not be able to be avoided.

Hoyle Tanner worked with Natural Heritage Bureau to determine if the plants in the work areas could be transplanted to new locations. After reviewing the specific habitat needs and ecology of this species, it was determined that the plants would likely survive a transplanting effort if similar habitat could be identified to serve as their new homes. Hoyle Tanner turned to a locally experienced botanist Basswood Environmental LLC to assist in identifying options along the river that could provide such habitat.

Luckily, the Town, and the Southeast Land Trust, have been very proactive in preserving parcels of land that abut the river. Sites that are currently protected under conservation easements that have frontage along the river are currently being investigated to determine the best possible location for replanting. Once those sites have been agreed upon with the landowner, Natural Heritage Bureau and the Town, the plants will be moved. Based on this plant’s unique life cycle, Hoyle Tanner is targeting early October 2021 for this to take place. Hoyle Tanner’s Environmental Coordinators Deb Coon, Joanne Theriault, and myself will assist Natural Heritage Bureau staff and Mr. Lema in the transplanting efforts.

While it is often a surprise to discover that an endangered or threatened plant species are growing on a project site, it does not have to be an unhappy one. Protection of state-listed plants can be an important part of any infrastructure project that we design, manage and permit at Hoyle Tanner. Our team of knowledgeable professionals is capable of working with clients and regulatory staff to ensure that the efforts required to meet the state and federal requirements for such protection are in line with the project’s budget and schedule and do not result in significant delays or additional costs. Contact me for more information about endangered and threatened species!

A History-Mystery: Determining the shoreline of a lake before it was dammed

Hoyle Tanner is working to repair the causeway and replace the Crystal Lake Road bridge over the northwest section of Crystal Lake where Nelson Brook enters in the Town of Gilmanton, New Hampshire

It is unknown when the bridge was first installed, however, we know that it consisted of a timber superstructure* supported on dry-stacked stone masonry abutments constructed along a manmade causeway. The bridge was rehabilitated in 1929 when the superstructure was replaced by a reinforced concrete rigid frame. The replacement bridge will be a precast-prestressed concrete deck beam superstructure founded on a precast concrete cap with deep foundations.

Where Does a Lake Begin?

Since replacing the bridge is going to result in some disturbance, or impact, to the lake on the downstream side of the bridge, a Wetland Permit was required to be issued by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES). However, as our environmental coordination staff began to complete the permit application, it became evident that one important piece of information was lacking: Where does the shore end and the lake begin?

This may seem to be a pretty simple question to answer – the lake begins at the edge of the water! However, the State of New Hampshire, which has legal authority to regulate and permit work done in lakes, has a set definition of a lake that comes from both New Hampshire RSA 485-A:2 and Chapters 100 and 400 of the NHDES Wetland Rules. Those define a lake as a surface water with the normal high water line as the elevation of the boundary between a lake and upland or shore. For most naturally-occurring lakes or ponds (that have not been created by a dam), a licensed surveyor can visit the site of the proposed work area and use visual evidence to determine the water elevation where under normal or typical conditions the waters of the lake are at their highest on the adjacent bank or shore.

But for Crystal Lake, there are factors to consider that made this a bit more challenging. Crystal Lake is approximately 450 acres in size, making it large enough to be considered a public water per New Hampshire RSA 271:20 II: Public waters in New Hampshire include natural or artificially impounded (dammed) surface water bodies that are over 10 acres in size. NHDES issues an Official List of Public Waters (OLPW) that includes data for each water body such as location, dammed status (dammed or not?), the Dam Bureau number if it is dammed, and for some water bodies, the normal high water line/elevation. Crystal Lake in Gilmanton is listed as RD or raised by damming, Dam # 91.11, without providing a normal high water elevation. Why not?   

A lake that is noted as RD is a water body that was a natural lake that was more than 10 acres in size originally, but at one point the water level has been elevated by construction of a dam at the outlet, or “raised by damming.” Per the RSA and NHDES rules, only the areas of land underwater that are below the original normal high water elevation before the lake was dammed are Public Waters. Because there is not elevation provided on the OLPW, that elevation has not been officially determined by NHDES. How do you determine that elevation? By doing quite a bit of sleuthing!

Establishing a Timeline

For Crystal Lake, we enlisted the assistance of both the local surveying team, Sandford Surveying and Engineering, Inc., and our in-house super-sleuth and Right-of-Way acquisition specialist, Betsy Bosiak. Together, they reviewed current and historic mapping such as tax maps, USGS maps and survey plans for lots around the lake as they were recorded as sold or subdivided. In addition, deed records were reviewed for when the land near the dam and bridge changed ownership; other local Town records were reviewed and local authorities were interviewed. Historic books and internet sites were also scoured for any available historical information. From this collective information, our team was able to determine that the dam has been in place for at least 100 years and a timeline of ownership for the property along the lake was established.

Data from the time of the dam’s installation was gathered and reviewed in detail to glean any water elevation data that could provide the water elevations in the lake before the dam was installed.

The first available plans for the dam come from references to notes that were unable to be found, however the first photo of the dam was found dated July 1934, so we believe that the dam was installed around that time.

Careful review of plans from 1957 for a dam reconstruction project provided enough information to determine the natural mean high water elevation before damming was  617.2 feet – this was based on plan figures showing the bottom elevation of the dam to be set at 616.7 feet, with an assumed normal flow depth of 6 inches. To compare that to current conditions, the water elevations for the full lake conditions (that is, when the lake is reached its maximum volume as regulated by the dam) is 624.25 feet, or more than 7 feet deeper than the historic water levels! 

The History Mystery Took…A While

Identifying this elevation took over six months! Ultimately, all of the supporting data that was used to “tell the story” was provided to NHDES in order for the Dam Bureau and the Wetlands Bureau to determine if the proposed elevation could be used for identifying impacts to the lake and Public Waters of the State of New Hampshire. NHDES ultimately concluded and agreed with the water elevation that we presented based on the depth of supporting evidence that was uncovered.

Identifying such an important piece of information was quite a challenge for our team; however, we were able to meet this challenge while keeping the project on schedule and within the Town’s expectations of cost. Additionally, Hoyle Tanner’s bridge design team worked hand-in-hand with the environmental coordination team to successfully design a bridge replacement project that resulted in no impacts to Public Waters of the State.

At the Airport: Good Fences DO Make Good Neighbors!

Chainlink fence running through grassy area with blue skies in background

If you have ever had a close encounter with wildlife while driving your car – glimpsed a deer, coyote or even a large turkey or raccoon at the side of the road – or worse, been involved in an accident caused by hitting wildlife – then you can understand how frightening and dangerous these situations  are for a pilot  flying a multi-million dollar airplane. Seeing  a deer or coyote on the runway before take-off could cause a string of heart palpitations and sweaty palms!

Interactions between wildlife and aircraft can result in human injuries, even fatalities, along with injuries and fatalities to the animal, and costly repairs to damaged aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – the federal transportation agency with the authority to regulate all aspects of civil aviation, including safety – has deemed prevention of wildlife from accessing airports as one of their primary safety concerns.

The first step to resolving any issue is identifying the extent of the problem: how many and what types of wildlife have access to the airport, where they come from, what attracts them to the airport, and how many interactions have occurred at the airport between wildlife and aircraft.

FAA keeps a National Wildlife Strike Database that is available to the public and provides accounting at each airport in the US of the wildlife strikes – or moments where a wildlife physically interacted with an aircraft. These strikes are reported annually and include data such as what type of animal, what type of aircraft, time of day, and height of the aircraft at the strike. Airport operations staff keep track of wildlife strikes and provide the data to FAA so that this database can be available for review. It is one important tool to assessing the extent to which wildlife interactions are an issue at an airport.

According to the National Wildlife Strike Database, deer and coyote are the most frequently struck terrestrial mammals (37 and 34 percent, respectively). Deer are responsible for 92 percent of the mammal strikes that resulted in damage. From 1990 to 2015, over 1,107 deer-aircraft collisions and 487 coyote-aircraft collisions were reported to FAA. Of these reports, 932 of the deer strikes (84 percent) and 43 of the coyote strikes (9 percent) indicated the aircraft was damaged as a result of the collision (FAA CertAlert No. 16-03, 8/3/2016).

Airports are also encouraged (or, if the airport is large enough, required), to complete a review of the airport for potential wildlife use and develop a plan for prevention of strikes per the FAA Advisory Circular 150/ 5200- 38–Protocol for the Conduct and Review of Wildlife Hazard Site Visits, Wildlife Hazard Assessments and Wildlife Hazard Management Plans. An airport is also required to complete these steps if there has been multiple wildlife strikes over a certain time-period, or there is a single strike that either affects an engine or results in substantial damage that would result in major repair or replacement of the aircraft. 

These site reviews, performed by professionals trained in providing this type of review, coupled with the strike data over time, offer a good view of the potential risk at each airport for wildlife strikes.

The next step for an airport is to develop a Wildlife Hazard Management Plan, which identifies the specific actions the airport will take to mitigate the risk of wildlife strikes on or near the airport. Possible steps include:

  • reduction of habitat on the airport, including areas of water or vegetation (grasses and trees);
  • monitoring of the airport, runways, and taxiways, to quickly identify when wildlife access the airport and address the situation; and
  • steps that should be taken if wildlife are identified to prevent a strike from occurring.

Airports have a list of wildlife “harassment” techniques to scare wildlife away from the airport to prevent strikes that includes, some of which are similar to those you may use in your backyard garden-  shiny or flashy pinwheels or reflective tape, or “googly-eyed” owl or hawk statues to scare away smaller birds. Loud noises, flares or even air cannons can be shot from a gun or cannon to scare wildlife and birds from the area.

One of the most effective ways to prevent wildlife strikes of medium- to large-sized mammals such as deer, coyotes and raccoons is to install a fence that surrounds the airport and prevents wildlife from physically entering the airport. This fence, sometimes referred to as a wildlife deterrent fence or wildlife exclusion fence, can be of varying heights and materials, but the FAA recommended design is an 8-foot chain link fence with three strands of barbed wire running along the top positioned so that the barbed wire sections are angled away from the fence to deter animals from climbing over the top. Often, the fence will have a horizontal bottom section called a “wildlife skirt” that is anchors the bottom edge of the chainlink fabric to the ground and is buried several feet deep to prevent animals from digging under the fence.

Hoyle, Tanner has assisted several of our aviation clients with installing, repair, and maintaining wildlife fences. One key project was initiated in 2012 after a wildlife strike between a plane and a deer at the Tweed New Haven Airport (HVN) in New Haven, Connecticut. This dangerous incident prompted FAA and Tweed New Haven Airport Authority to work together to plan for, fund, design, and install fencing to surround the airport to prevent future such interactions completely. This project had several challenges, including the fact that this airport is situated at the southern edge of Connecticut and has several areas of coastal marsh on the airport and freshwater wetlands that could not be avoided to achieve the goal of complete fencing. The success of this project was due to obtaining the required permits to allow for installation of the fence through wetlands from US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) while keeping the project on schedule and within the proposed budget. The fence was completed in 2014 to the cost of approximately $1.5 million.

 Similarly, we assisted the Groton-New London Airport (GON) in Groton, Connecticut with the installation of wildlife fencing along several airport sections. However, because the southern side of the airport faces Long Island Sound, fencing could not be installed around all areas; fences must be offset from runways and taxiways by set distances so that they do not become hazards to aircraft as they take-off and land. In essence, the FAA design criteria for fencing ensures no trade-off between one problem (wildlife) to another (fences becoming hazards). The required offsets at this airport would have placed the fence into deep water within the tidal channel on the southern side, not a permittable action. As a compromise, we worked with airport staff, wildlife biologists, and state and federal permitting agencies to determine the best fencing locations to reduce the spots where wildlife could access the airport to the greatest extent feasible. This solution allowed airport staff to focus observation and deterrence measures in the unfenced areas, which resulted in better vigilance. This airport also installed a varying mesh fence, instead of a chain link, in areas that faced a public park so that the visual impact of the fence would be reduced while still providing an effective deterrent.

We also modified the fence to include a 6-inch opening in the fence bottom at set intervals to allow for the state-listed species of special concern northern diamondback terrapin to enter and exit fenced areas so that their nesting and feeding would not be interrupted.

Northern diamondback terrapin. Click the photo to find out more information about this species!

Hoyle, Tanner has successfully worked with airport owners to assess wildlife hazards and install deterrent fences across New England. We have worked collaboratively with FAA and state permitting agencies in order to avoid or minimize natural resource impacts while meeting the goals of improving safety for the public, pilots and staff who utilize these airports. Contact us if you have any questions regarding wildlife at your airport and we would be happy to help!

Vernal Pools: Springing to life!

hand holding eggs over water

Here we are, it’s March! You made it through the cold dark winter! The days are getting longer, the sunlight is feeling warmer, and maybe this year more than ever, many of us are feeling the push to move more, get outside, feel that sun on our faces. To be sure, there will be one more snowy day that will surprise us – and is it really a surprise when it happens every year? – but the idea that winter is behind us lifts our human spirits.

The wildlife around us are feeling it too; they are awakening from their winter hide-aways and are starting to move around, looking for food and mates. The extra daylight, warmer ground temperatures and spring rains trigger movement for a special group of animals that use temporary vernal pool habitat to complete their life cycles. If you hear the high-pitched call of the spring peepers, or the quacking sound of a wood frog chorus, chances are you are near a vernal pool. 

What is a vernal pool? Vernal pools are seasonal bodies of water that form only in the spring in shallow depressions that occur throughout the glaciated region of eastern North America, including the Great Lakes and New England. One key factor that separates vernal pools from any old puddle that we see in the spring as snow melts, groundwater rises and rain collects in low places is the lack of an outlet or connection to running water, such as a stream, brook or creek. This specific difference allows for a special habitat that lacks fish, where certain amphibians, insects and other invertebrates can lay their eggs and complete a portion of their life cycle. The other important factor in identifying a vernal pool is that while they may stay on the landscape for at least two months, vernal pools are generally ephemeral, or temporary, so as spring rains pass and temperatures rise, the pool will disappear. This drying also prevents fish from establishing permanent populations. You may walk by a vernal pool on your summer day hikes and not notice this very special habitat.

Vernal pools vary in size and can be surrounded by wetlands, swamps or dry land, depending on where they sit in the regional landscape. In some cases, deeper sections can look like a pond and have vegetation reflective of that such as water lilies or grasses, while others may be only a few inches deep and have a layer of leaves or moss at the bottom. While they are most often found in forested areas, they can also occur in fields or roadsides. Some pools can fill in the autumn or winter and remain ice-covered until the magical combination of spring weather allows for ice to thaw and the organisms to come out, while others remain dry through summer, fall and winter and are only apparent in the spring.

Why are vernal pools protected? One reason is because the unique set of species that depend on these pools cannot exist anywhere else, and they in turn play a role in the ecological life cycle that supports all life on this planet. Vernal pools are considered a type of wetland or water body, and in New England, are regulated and protected at the federal level by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Each state also has regulations specific to vernal pool identification and protection, and in Maine and Massachusetts, mapping and recordation as well. In New Hampshire, vernal pools are regulated and protected per the state wetland rules Env-Wt and are defined under Chapter 100. Vernal pool identification is based on physical factors as well as the primary and secondary indicators, which are specific species that only use vernal pools as habitat.

Vernal pools come to life in different times of year within New England, as early as late February along the Rhode Island and Connecticut coasts, while upper Vermont and Maine will not see vernal pool activity until mid-April. Here in New Hampshire, we start to see amphibian migration on warm rainy nights starting in late March and extending through late May.  

Vernal pool organisms also rely on the undisturbed upland surrounding the pool, what is often called the pool envelope. Vernal pool amphibians spend most of the year in the upland discretely feeding, hibernating, and preparing to breed in the spring. Protection of uplands around vernal pools from development or alteration is an important part of the regulatory and permitting process, which is why identifying vernal pools during the correct time of year is an important part of planning for any development type of project, including not only residential and commercial development, but also infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges.

Hoyle, Tanner’s Certified Wetland Scientist, Joanne Theriault, has the training and experience to investigate your site for vernal pools – and given the length of time spent indoors this winter assisting her children with remote learning, she is eager to get outdoors again! Reach out to her with questions!

Using Ground Penetrating Radar to See What Lies Beneath the Surface


Beneath the Surface

Do you ever wonder about the history of the people who came before you and what remains they left behind that might be buried beneath your home, yard, or office? As part of project development, our staff has to think about this for every project to satisfy several federal and state requirements to protect those hidden resources. The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) was passed in 1966 to protect the Nation’s historical and cultural resources. Section 106 of the Act requires federal agencies to consider the effects on historic properties of projects they undertake – sometimes called a “Section 106 review.” For any project that requires a federal permit or uses federal funding, a completed Section 106 review is necessary to identify those crucial resources that may be affected by the project.

Federal funding for transportation projects within New Hampshire comes primarily through the NH Department of Transportation (NHDOT), which receives funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Because of this, many of the projects that we work on require Section 106 review. The first step in this process is to identify the historic or cultural resources within the project’s work limits, which is also called the Area of Potential Effect (APE). This step includes those resources above-ground, such as homes, foundations, or structures that were built more than 50 years ago, and below-ground, such as remnants of prior human activity associated with both the Native American and European American periods. This is where we need an archaeologist’s assistance – enter thoughts of Indiana Jones!

Archaeologists are responsible for more than finding buried treasures, and their process begins with historic and environmental research followed by an archaeological survey of APE. This process is much tamer than what is shown on the big screen and involves less chasing and more research and excavation. (the professional term is excavation – gardeners dig, archaeologists excavate!) The first step is to check historic maps and records of what has been documented in APE; was there a town, house, settlement, camp, road? The site is also carefully examined to determine any clues to what may lie underground. Sometimes this can include a shovel test, which means excavating a small 0.5 meter/1.5 foot square area, obtaining soil information, and evaluating the level of historic soil disturbance. Once this information has been reviewed, if the site is determined to contain additional underground information, a plan is developed to complete further excavation across APE – more test pits, often within a grid pattern, to cover the areas to be impacted. While this method is the standard, any excavation can be a very disruptive and time-consuming process. Is there a better way to find buried evidence? Couldn’t we take a picture of what lies beneath, like an X-ray or ultrasound?

Seeing What Lies Beneath

Yes, we can! The idea of “seeing” using radio waves was first introduced in 1904 and was initially developed for locating ships at sea in storms, but was put to use on a larger scale in World War II to find aircraft that were too far away to be viewed by the eye. Using radar involves bouncing radio waves off the object from a distance and using the time the wave travels back to calculate distance. The term “radar” came from the US Navy in the 1940s as an acronym for Radio Detection And Ranging. Radar has many uses, including the police speed-detector guns you may have been unlucky enough to encounter. While the concept of bouncing radar waves underground to create a picture of what lies beneath our feet (or Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)), was developed only six years after radar was first developed, the use wasn’t fully explored until the 1970s when the first affordable commercial equipment was developed.

GPR is now a widely-accepted tool that is used to identify a variety of underground features, such as:  utility lines and pipes, geological features such as large boulders, changes in the subsurface soil layers that may affect construction, or the depth to groundwater to develop wells for drinking water. GPR equipment looks a bit like a lawnmower and is rolled slowly across the survey area in a grid pattern (as seen below). The unit’s base sends an electromagnetic wave or pulse into the ground, and the echoes that bounce back are recorded using specialized software that translates these echoes into images of the objects in the subsurface.

GPR is ideal for supplementing underground archaeological surveys, primarily because the pictures that it creates can be used to identify features without the risk of damaging them that could occur during an excavation. This feature makes it an excellent tool for surveying areas where there is potential to find buried human remains. Cemeteries, graveyards and burial grounds might seem to be locations that would be well-documented (where did we bury Grandma, was it by the barn?); however, historical records can be lost, misplaced or damaged, or not recorded if the site was small. Even the oldest European settler burial ground in New Hampshire, the Old Odiorne Point Cemetery, located within Odiorne Point State Park grounds, has a complex history with scattered documentation regarding the location and number of burials.

Trivia: While the terms graveyard and cemetery both refer to a burial ground, graveyards are located on sacred or church grounds, while cemeteries are located on public or private grounds.

What We Saw

As part of the required Section 106 review for a project, Hoyle, Tanner recently worked with NHDOT in the Town of Conway to use GPR for investigating the Town’s first documented cemetery area, Meeting House Hill Cemetery, where the original Meeting House stood. Historic review completed for NHDOT in 1965 while constructing Route 302 indicated that this cemetery was used as early as 1740 to bury local settlers and included Revolutionary War soldiers. In the 19th century, the Town removed several sets of remains to other cemeteries in Conway to allow for road and railroad development in the area. Local information suggested that these areas were not thoroughly surveyed and that human remains could still be underground within the area.

Hoyle, Tanner worked with Independent Archaeological Consulting, LLC (IAC) to complete an archaeological investigation in the area around the cemetery marker using GPR. IAC contracted with Nearview, LLC to provide the highly specialized and hard-to-find GPR unit and conduct the survey. What does GPR look for? GPR imagery can show disturbed soil associated with a grave shaft, or echo reflections related to bones, coffins, grave goods, or clothes that would be different from the soil around these items. It can also locate changes in the soil layers that can be due to the digging from installing a grave – the mixing of soil when that happens creates reflections that differ from the surrounding area.

The GPR unit was rolled slowly across the ground in a grid pattern (like mowing your lawn, making sure you cover all of it!). Shovel test pits (STPs) were excavated in targeted locations to specifically intersect with GPR survey to check against any revealed soil anomalies or differences. While the GPR survey identified a single anomaly, the test pits excavated near the anomaly revealed soil layers that did not indicate the type of disturbance that would show the location of burial or human remains.

Eliminating this area as a location of unidentified burial spaces or human remains is valuable to the Town, its citizens and the families who have wondered for decades about this site. It also provided a timely and cost-effective process for NHDOT to clear this area of potential impacts to archaeological resources so that future roadway changes at the intersection of Route 302 and East Conway Road will not need to exclude this area.

GPR technology has come a long way since it was first developed, and we are excited to add it to our toolbox for Section 106 review. Using GPR can provide a better picture and give a definitive answer to what lies beneath. Find out more about GPR Technology by reaching out to me.

Your Holiday Decorations May Contain an Invasive Species

Decorating for the holidays can bring joy to households, and putting your decorations up early could make you happier, but watch out for Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)! If you are a DIYer or like to craft your wreaths or other holiday decorations using materials from your backyard or local outdoor environment, you may be mistakenly causing harm to the environment and creating future landscaping challenges for yourself and neighbors. Oriental Bittersweet is covered with bright red fruits and yellow capsules, making this vine alluring, but according to the UNH Cooperative Extension service, the vine is also highly invasive and poses a significant threat to native plants.

Oriental bittersweet is native to Eastern Asia and was intentionally introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s as ornamental landscaping and for use in erosion control because it is both pretty and effective; it is fast-growing, spreads easily and is not finicky about soil or water conditions. Oriental bittersweet has escaped cultivation because it grows in full sun as well as shade, and in many different locations including meadows and grasslands, woods and woodland edges, along roadsides and even on dunes and beaches! After the invasive species made its way to New Hampshire in 1938, by the 1970s it was recognized as an aggressive invader, and by 2011 it was widespread across New England. It is now found throughout 21 of the 33 states where it was introduced, a region extending from Maine south to Georgia and west to Iowa.

Wherever Oriental bittersweet is found, it grows very rapidly, wrapping around trees, damaging, and sometimes suffocating or killing them. The vines can uplift tree roots and can take down trees that reach 90 feet in height. The extra weight on the trees can cause limbs to drop and contribute to power outages or cause damages.

Try American Bittersweet
When making holiday decorations or wreathes, a good alternative to Oriental bittersweet is American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), but this species is less widespread in New Hampshire and is typically found only in landscaped locations actively maintained by a homeowner, since it cannot compete with Oriental bittersweet in areas that are not maintained such as roadsides and open wooded areas. The two species can be easily confused because they are similar in color and appearance. Oriental bittersweet fruit (pictured below) has a bright yellow outer covering with red centers, is located along the vines in leaf axils and has bright, yellow colored leaves in the fall that are easy to see. American bittersweet fruit (pictured below) can sometimes have a yellow outer covering but tends to be more orange or even red over a red interior and tend to cluster at the stem’s end.

Oriental bittersweet (left) and American bittersweet (right)

Winterberry

Try Winterberry
Another good decorative option that may be available locally is winterberry (Ilex verticillata) – this species (pictured right) is easily noticeable in the swamps, wetlands, damp wood edges, and along the edges of ponds and streams throughout New Hampshire. Showy, clustered red berries pop out from the vegetation in the late fall, and, different from bittersweet, persist on branches well into the winter months, explaining how winterberry got its name. It is often considered one of the best plants for providing winter interest in the garden.  

Ask for Help at Garden Centers
If you are cutting your own vegetation to use in holiday decorating, take the time to look further than roadsides, since those habitats tend to be invaded by Oriental bittersweet, or consider asking for scraps at garden centers or local nurseries since they may have remnant cuttings of native plants for free or low cost. Maybe even think about your holiday decorating in the summer and fall, so that while you walk, run, hike or explore your local surroundings, you can keep an eye out for winterberry, holly or American bittersweet locations. 

I Already Have Oriental Bittersweet – Now What?
Don’t worry, you can save the trees and your holiday spirit! If you see Oriental bittersweet in your holiday decorations, the best thing to do is throw it away. You can also burn it in your fireplace or woodstove. It’s best to avoid throwing it outside or composting since the fruit, or “berries” can survive through winter and will create new vines in the spring. If DIY isn’t your area of expertise, remember to ask when you purchase decorations with berries if they are real or plastic, and if they are real, where they came from, and does the seller know which species they are? Again, if you are ever unsure, best to throw them in a fire rather than outdoors to prevent the unintentional spread of invasive species.

Reach out to our Senior Environmental Coordinator Kimberly Peace if you’d like more information.

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.