Every spring biology survey is slightly different. While some species—plants and butterflies to name two—have variable survey seasons, others have well-established or federally mandated survey seasons. Missing a survey window can adversely impact a project’s schedule. Working closely with project biologists can help identify biological constraints early in the process, helping a project stay on schedule.
The key to managing mandated spring biology surveys is to balance the needs and schedule of the development project with a thorough understanding of the various species survey protocols and regulatory requirements. Depending on your site conditions, multiple surveys can be required for different plant and wildlife species that could occur. Tricia Wotipka, a senior Dudek biologist who has completed hundreds of such surveys said, “It’s important to know what type of surveys will be required and when they should be performed in order to ensure that the window of opportunity is not missed. If you miscalculate, it could set the project back an entire year.”
Wotipka gives the following tips to ensure you get the most from your surveys.
Planning for an Effective Spring Biology Survey
1. Determine whether a spring biology survey is needed this year based on the project’s schedule, or if it’s better to complete it next year to more effectively utilize immediate funds and ward against survey aging.
2. Plan ahead and contact a biologist to determine what sensitive resources may be present on or within a 10-mile buffer of the development site (e.g. soil types, vegetation communities, wetland resources if any). A biologist can provide initial assessment of the potential resources that might affect the project and help devise a plan for conducting the appropriate studies to get you through the regulatory process.
3. Determine which surveys are required. Specific vegetation communities and other factors may necessitate different surveys, each with its own timing and protocol. Missing one of these survey windows can adversely affect agency coordination, project roll-out, or lead to additional surveys down the road.
4. Check to see if your property is located within a habitat conservation plan (HCP) area. Across San Diego, Riverside, and Sacramento counties, for example, there are numerous conservation planning efforts in place designed to streamline protection efforts for a number of sensitive plant and wildlife species.
Communicating Often throughout the Process
5. Communicate early with the resource agencies and gain approval on the survey approach. This is especially important if not all of the special-status species that can occur on the property will be covered during a single survey. Regulatory agencies appreciate the opportunity to participate early in the process and are more willing to work through logistical issues with project proponents when they are at the table early and feel like they are a partner in the spring biology survey process. Seemingly daunting issues, such as out-of-season surveys or too few surveys, can often be handled when there is trust and partnership.
6. Communicate often with your biologist to keep spring biology surveys moving forward. Sharing property information such as any previously attained reports can provide some insight into previous survey results and habitat constraints, which can save time and money.
Executing your Spring Biology Survey
7. Combine surveys, when possible, to save money and time. For example, least Bell’s vireo and southwestern willow flycatcher surveys can be combined so that eight visits cover both species during a survey season. Often, upland species such as burrowing owl, California gnatcatcher, and cactus wren can be surveyed for concurrently. This is a much simpler, cost-effective process that makes the best use of time and resources.
A good biologist should also be conversant with the relevant local policies, wetland permitting policies, and habitat conservation planning efforts taking place in your region. Dudek biologists regularly attend workshops and seminars and consult state and federal resource databases to stay current on the latest scientific information regarding species distribution, species life history, and survey protocols.