On a blustery spring morning, Jeffrey Fry, a biologist in New York District’s Environmental Analysis Branch, Planning Division, travels to Great Kills Park on the south shore of Staten Island, with binoculars, spotting scope (a portable high-power telescope), field guide and waterproof boots.
What is he doing? Ensuring threatened and endangered species are not potentially impacted by an impending civil works project.
Endangered Species Act
As part of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance, federal agencies may have to monitor the avian population on work sites and surrounding areas to ensure activities do not impact any listed species. Where applicable, the Corps may be required to develop a conservation program and avoid actions that might harm a species and their critical habitat. No project can begin construction until Section 7 requirements are met.
“Ensuring threatened and endangered species protection is a high priority for Army Corps activity,” noted Peter Weppler, chief, Environmental Analysis Branch, Planning Division, adding, “Project biologists on site are trained to observe, document and minimize or eliminate any potential threats; it’s a comprehensive monitoring effort we take very seriously.”
Species common to the area include: the Atlantic Coast piping plover, a small shorebird that breeds and nests along coastal areas; sea beach amaranth, a low-growing plant whose primary habitat consists of overwash flats at ends of islands accumulating more sand, and upper strands of non-eroding beaches; and a recently added species, the red knot, a medium-sized shore bird breeding in the Antarctic and migrating some 9,000 miles to coastal areas worldwide.
Scouring the Shore
Scouring the shoreline for several hours, Fry hones in on a variety of species, including those not on the threatened or endangered list. With the spotting scope mounted on a tripod, Fry looks out 500 feet to get a close-up view of areas of interest. His strong knowledge of birds and wildlife becomes apparent as he reels off dozens of species that can be found in and around the project area along with their migration and mating habits.
Fry’s work is extensive: Over the past three years he has visited the Staten Island site some 120 times, amassing a database of more than 7,000 birds ̶ 300 in this day’s visit alone. This information is important documentation that a project is not likely to negatively impact species and to avoid a no construction window when the project is initiated.
Biologists Monitor Project Sites
Staff monitor project areas before, during and after work is completed. A team of biologists regularly visit work sites from April to September, within the District’s area of responsibility, including New York City, Long Island and parts of New Jersey. Findings are documented on observation sheets or in a full report, depending on the level of monitoring required.
The Army Corps works closely throughout the monitoring process with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. If it’s found that a project may adversely affect a listed species or designated critical habitat (Fish and Wildlife covers species on land, National Marine Fisheries covers those in water), the Army Corps initiates consultation.
Biological Opinion, Alternative Methods
During consultation, District biologists submit a written assessment of the potential impacts of the project on the affected listed species. Data is analyzed and a biological opinion (a formal statement evaluating the potential effects on listed species and designated critical habitat) is rendered. If it’s determined a project is likely to impact a species survival and recovery, alternatives are provided allowing work to progress in ways that do not impact the species.
Regardless of the final determination (each project is individual and specific to species and habitat) the New York District, and other Army Corps Districts throughout the North Atlantic Division stand ready to execute this important environmental mission.