Managing Unexpected Endangered Species

Even with environmental permits in hand and construction set to begin, routine pre-construction surveys sometimes result in the unexpected discovery of sensitive (endangered) species.

The San Diego County Water Authority’s project to raise San Vicente Dam – the largest such project in the United States – had been issued permits for three federally listed endangered species as the result of an Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultation between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Initial surveys had found the coastal California gnatcatcher, least Bell’s vireo and arroyo toad in the project area.

During pre-construction surveys, however, the federally listed Quino checkerspot butterfly was unexpectedly observed on site.To best avoid delays and address the situation, the Water Authority and Dudek biologists immediately requested informal consultation with the resource agencies.

Dudek biologists mobilized on the site and used a USFWS model to estimate the occupied Quino checkerspot butterfly habitat.

Working cooperatively with the resource agencies’ staff to conduct site visits, prepare graphics, provide model results and prepare necessary documents, the basis for amended permits was prepared and presented.

From this data, the project impacts were accurately calculated, the mitigation plan was negotiated, and the amended ACOE Section 404 permit and biological opinion were issued in less than 3 weeks, resulting in no change in the construction schedule.

“Typically, in California, this discovery and amendment process could take several months,” said Anita Hayworth, Ph.D, Dudek’s lead biologist on the project. “The process was drastically shortened and avoided the cost of construction delays by immediately addressing resource agency concerns, constructing the model and preparing the permit supporting documents.”

Hayworth suggests that public agencies pre-approve funding and prepare for emergency services to prioritize and expedite development of necessary measures to avoid potentially costly delays.