Tag: Endangered Species

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.


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.

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.