Tag: Environmental Protection

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.


Landslides: Prevention & Repair Through Slope Stabilization

Slope failure photo with blog title

In New England, March marks the last weeks of winter and the start of spring rains and snow melt.  Paying attention to erosion control during this time of year is always on the minds of municipal public works staff, state agencies, construction companies, and even homeowners, especially those fortunate enough (or perhaps not) to have water frontage. 

A 2018 study conducted by the USDA found that precipitation is increasing in the northeast more than any other region in the United States. The frequency of consecutive wet days is generally increasing in the northeast and precipitation extremes have also become more frequent. Given these trends, it is no surprise that peak flows in rivers and streams are also increasing and occurring earlier in the year which can result in a greater risk of flooding.

While it is difficult to prevent major erosion of stream and river banks due to extreme precipitation events, damage can be mitigated by inspections of at-risk areas combined with prioritization of these areas for repair. It is important to address slope failures quickly because bank degradation can cause significant damage including loss of property and infrastructure, sedimentation of the waterbody, water quality issues and damage to critical riparian buffer areas. As civil engineers, we can provide assistance with erosion control issues that range from preventative design practices, culvert replacements and stabilization of failed embankments.

Below is a list of some stabilization practices along with before and after photos of our recent embankment stabilization projects.

One such embankment failure occurred in Lancaster, New Hampshire, when high flow conditions in the Connecticut River resulted in severe washouts along an 800 foot long embankment causing loss of land and unstable soil conditions. Hoyle, Tanner designed and permitted solutions to repair and stabilize the slope using native riparian vegetation and rip rap armament. Live willow and dogwood stakes were planted in soil between the rip rap stones.

Terms to know:

  • Live willow & dogwood stakes: Living shrub cuttings that take root quickly in bank environments – provides natural habitat and additional erosion control
  • Rip rap: Large stones used for protection and dissipation of energy from high water flows
Washout along the Connecticut River in Lancaster
Lancaster Embankment after Stabilization

Hoyle, Tanner also designed and permitted repairs to a steep slope in Rochester, Vermont, when intense rainfall events undermined the toe of the bank, causing the slope and roadway above to fail and slide into Brandon Brook 90 feet below.  The repair solutions included installation of a blast rock toe detail and stone facing with grubbing material along the hillside to restore the slope. The roadway was reconstructed and a mid-slope underdrain was installed to intercept groundwater seepage. Debris from the slope failure was removed from Brandon Brook and the streambed was restored.

Terms to know:

  • Stone facing with grubbings: Combination of stone and native material to promote vegetation growth
  • Blast rock toe: Large rocks placed at the toe of the re-stabilized slope to combat undermining
Rochester Slope Failure at Brandon Brook
Brandon Brook Stabilized Slope Repair

Improving safety and combatting damage from growing peak flows and extreme storm events is an important part of our job. Hoyle, Tanner is excited to offer solutions to slope stability issues and challenging site conditions. For more information on how we can be of assistance, please contact me.

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.