page 2 Northern Longeared Bat Potential listing and survey methods NEWS FROM THE WEST FALL 2014 page 6 PV Solar & Avian Interactions Photo-voltaic solar panels and effects on avian species page 8 Greater SageGrouse Critical Habitat and Conservation west-inc.com page 2 Solving Natural Resource Problems NORTHERN LONG-EARED BAT Potential Listing and Survey Methods By Tim Sichmeller and Jeff Gruver, WEST biologists The northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis; NLEB) is a small bat in the genus Myotis, similar to the little brown bat (M. lucifugus) and the federally endangered Indiana bat (M. sodalis). NLEBs are found in 39 states from Maine to Montana, and were historically most common in the Northeast and Midwest. The NLEB was proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in October of 2013, and a final decision on listing is expected to be made by April 2, 2015 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). EMPLOYEE PROFILE page 3 NLEB is the first bat species to be proposed for listing under the ESA due to white-nose syndrome (WNS), an infectious mycosis that has led to the loss of 5.7 to 6.7 million bats since its discovery in upstate New York in late 2006. In the Northeast U.S., NLEB populations are estimated to have declined by approximately 99% due to WNS. This unprecedented level of mortality and the steady spread of WNS westward was the driving factor in the proposed listing of NLEB by USFWS. During hibernation, NLEB and other similar bat species are most at risk of WNS. Like most species of small insect-eating bats, NLEB spend the winter hibernating in caves, mines, or other similar structures, collectively referred to as hibernacula. Hibernacula typically contain several species of bats, and may harbor 100’s of thousands of hibernating individuals. Mating occurs in the fall in and near hibernacula before actual hibernation begins. In spring, the bats arouse, and exit the hibernacula to migrate to summering areas. For NLEB, migration distances between winter and summer areas of 180 miles are known, though most are thought to move shorter distances. During the summer months, female NLEB form maternity colonies in the cavities, crevices or bark of live or dead trees. Pregnant females give birth to their young in these colonies with upwards of 60 bats in one colony. Young bats spend 3 – 5 weeks with their mothers in roost trees until they are able to fly and forage on their own. NLEB (CONTINUED) page 4 Once young are able to forage for themselves, maternity colonies begin to disperse and the bats begin their fall migration towards their hibernating sites. WEST performs a variety of types of studies for NLEB and Indiana bats within their range. A common type of study involves surveys designed to determine if one or both of these species are present in or near a specific development, and if so, how are the species using the landscape relative to the development’s footprint. Typical methods used to establish presence or absence involve “eavesdropping” on bats that are actively foraging in an area and use species-specific vocalization patterns to learn which species are present. Another useful method involves the use of fine mesh nets, called mist-nets, to capture bats. If a NLEB or other species of interest are captured, miniature radio-transmitters can be attached to the bat so that WEST can track the bats to locate roosts, describe the habitat the bat is foraging in, and count the number of individuals in the maternity colonies using the roost trees. If listed under the Endangered Species Act, the Act will prohibit any person or entity from “take” of the species (which can be broadly and generally defined as actions that result in harm, harassment or death of individuals of a protected species). Therefore, if NLEB or another protected species is present at a development, that development may be at risk for take. Because of the biological and ecological similarity between Indiana bats and northern long-eared bats, developers can expect that many of the same issues that have been encountered with Indiana bats will also arise when considering NLEB. For example, tree clearing during summer may lead to take of Indiana bats if they are roosting in a felled tree. The similarity between the two species also means that many of the same remedies and strategies that are used to address risks to Indiana bats will also be useful when addressing risks to NLEB. For example, tree clearing in winter when the bats are hibernating is one way to avoid take of both Indiana bats and NLEB. Another avenue that may be available to a project whose otherwise lawful activities may lead to unavoidable take of NLEB is an Incidental Take Permit (ITP), which can be issued by the USFWS. Issuance of an ITP requires that the project develop a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) that details, among other things, what specific actions have been or will be taken to avoid and minimize take. WELCOME If the NLEB becomes listed under the Endangered Species Act, project owners, developers and operators with projects within the range of the species should consider engaging with the USFWS about potential impacts and strategies to avoid impacts. WEST welcomes Karl Kosiuch, Ph.D. to our team Karl joins WEST as a Biologist and Project Manager in our Laramie, Wyoming office. Karl received his Bachelor of Science degree from East Stroudsburg University, a Master of Science from Texas A&M University, and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Biology from Kansas State University. Prior to joining WEST, Karl worked as a senior biologist and project manager at Tetra Tech for 8 years. Karl’s graduate research focused on bird demography, and he conducted a large scale cowbird removal experiment at the Konza Prairie Biological Station in Kansas for his PhD research. Professionally, Karl has worked at the forefront of wildlife conservation and energy development including oil and gas, wind, solar, and transmission. He has worked across a broad range of sensitive species including lesser prairie-chicken, American burying beetle, whooping crane, black-capped vireo, desert tortoise, and northern long-eared bat. Karl’s regulatory experience extends to NEPA documents, Eagle Conservation Plans, Habitat Conservation Plans, and state and county permitting for energy facilities. In addition, Karl has provided expert testimony regarding wildlife impacts at county and utility commission hearings, and has presented at 14 industry-related conferences on wildlife issues. WILDLIFE O&M TRAINING By Kristen Chodachek, WEST biologist With the increased demand from the Nation for energy production from renewable resources, wind energy has become an important power source. With this expansion it is important to be proactive rather than reactive when dealing with environmental compliance requirements. Regulatory drivers include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act, Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and State protected species and wildlife laws. Adequate training, reporting, and documentation can reduce the likelihood of compliance issues, and in extreme cases, enforcement actions from wildlife agencies. Strong compliance programs are necessary to avoid and/or reduce risk associated with federal wildlife acts and state wildlife laws for the life of the project. WEST has been a leader in post-construction avian use and bat mortality monitoring surveys, bald and golden eagle surveys, whooping crane monitoring, and other sensitive species surveys nationwide since 1994. Based on this expertise, WEST can assist with the development of management tools to further the longevity and financial success of wind energy production. This includes developing operations wildlife reporting systems, cost-effective long-term monitoring/reporting, and site-specific wildlife issues awareness training for facilities operations and management teams. Wildlife awareness training materials may include representative modules for Tier 4 post-construction monitoring, modules for protected wildlife species, visual training materials, videos, and on-site training. The WEST team is an internationally recognized leader in the study of wind energy-wildlife interactions and is prepared to meet your needs related to wildlife operations and maintenance training. page 5 EMPLOYEE PROFILE page 6 SOLAR/AVIAN INTERACTIONS Providing Scientific Solutions By Paul Rabie, WEST biometrician Energy production from photo-voltaic (PV) solar panels is increasing rapidly due in part to a 60% drop in the cost of PV solar panels since 2011. Here in the United States, Power Purchase Agreement prices for PV power were much higher than for wind-generated power in 2008 but more recently, PV and wind power are nearly at cost-parity. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are 20 gigawatts (GW) of installed or contracted utility scale PV facilities with another 28 GW of new and un-contracted projects announced. Undoubtedly, PV solar will comprise a significant portion of the new electric generation facilities over the next several years. As energy production from PV solar facilities increases, concerns regarding impacts to avian wildlife may become elevated. Developers, government agencies, and consultants are all grappling with questions that are familiar from the wind industry: How do we accurately assess the direct and indirect impacts? How large are the impacts? Which species are being affected? Is there anything we can do to reduce the impacts? Should we be thinking about impact reduction before we know the extent and significance of the impacts? WEST is helping to answer these questions as advisors to the solar industry and other stakeholders, in developing reasonable approaches to assessing impacts through site screening and site characterization studies (Tier 1 and 2 in Wind Energy Guidelines terminology), baseline and post-construction studies (Tier 3 and 4) where appropriate, in development of other risk assessment approaches, and in development of Bird and Bat Conservation strategies. There are still very limited data available from which to draw conclusions, but WEST’s comprehensive synthesis of the available data suggests that most birds reported at facilities will be song birds and that impact to water-associated birds is likely to be variable depending on the size, location, and types of the facilities. However, based on the limited information available, the impacts to songbirds may be very small when considering the populations of those species and evidence that a significant portion of the fatalities might be from causes unrelated to the solar arrays (ie. background mortality). Habitat modifications are of a primary concern, because PV solar facilities may use 5 to 8 acres of land per megawatt of capacity. As with wind, there may be a premium on proper siting of the projects in a way that minimizes impacts. WEST has developed an assortment of tools and approaches for siting projects utilizing existing habitat and other information early on in the process. But there are important differences between PV and wind, and WEST’s integration of ecological and statistical expertise positions us to help developers efficiently address the ecological conditions that are specific to solar energy production. For example, the sheer extent of land that is surveyed at solar energy facilities means that search protocols for PV solar facilities need to be especially efficient to keep monitoring costs at reasonable levels. The size of the search areas also means that natural background avian mortality can become a substantial component of fatality estimates, and WEST is working to design efficient monitoring programs that can account for background mortality. WEST is also exploring the use of radar and other technologies as part of detect and deter systems should there be a need in extenuating circumstances to reduce wildlife impacts at certain facilities for targeted groups of birds. This is an exciting time for PV solar developers, and WEST is pleased to be in a position to help navigate wildlife-related challenges that accompany this opportunity. PUBLICATIONS EMPLOYEE PROFILE You can view WEST authored publications at; www.west-inc.com Clement, M. J., Murray, K. L., Solick, D. I. and Gruver, J. C. 2014. The effect of call libraries and acoustic filters on the identification of bat echolocation. Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1201 Nielson, R. M., Mcmanus, L., Rintz, T., Mcdonald, L. L., Murphy, R. K., Howe, W. H. and Good, R. E. 2014. Monitoring abundance of golden eagles in the western United States. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 78: 721–730. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.704 Nielson, R. M., and L. McManus. 2014. A survey of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) in the western U.S.: Midwinter 2014. Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Erickson, W.P., M.M Wolfe, K.J. Bay, D.H. Johnson, and J.L. Gehring. 2014. A Comprehensive Analysis of SmallPasserine Fatalities from Collision with Turbines at Wind Energy Facilities. PLoS ONE 9(9): e107491. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107491 www.west-inc.com page 8 Managers throughout the west are trying to conserve GRSG populations by implementing numerous conservation measures to maintain and enhance GRSG populations. These conservation measures include prioritizing areas for conservation, implementing energy development thresholds, and identifying research needs. Understanding and implementing conservation measures such as these are important to GRSG population viability. WEST has supported various client needs by assisting in designing and sighting projects to avoid disturbance to important GRSG habitats and by helping locate projects within unsuitable or low quality habitats to minimize direct and indirect impacts to the birds. WEST is also collaborating on projects designed to restore disturbed habitats back to suitable GRSG habitat. GREATER SAGEGROUSE By Chad LeBeau, WEST biologist and Brian Heath, WEST biologist Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; GRSG) is a sagebrush obligate prairie grouse species that occurs in 11 western states and two Canadian provinces. GRSG are experiencing range-wide declines and currently occupy 56% of its historical range. The range-wide declines have been attributable to the loss or fragmentation of sagebrush habitats due to conversion for agriculture development, large scale vegetation treatments to remove sagebrush to improve rangelands for livestock grazing, urban development, invasion of exotic species, large wild fires, and energy development. Other threats that have contributed to GRSG regional declines include drought, infectious diseases, and predation. In March of 2010, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that listing the GRSG as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was warranted but precluded by higher priority listings. GRSG is considered a candidate species under the ESA and currently the USFWS is reviewing the status of this species and expected to propose a listing determination in September 2015. Conserving and managing key GRSG habitats is important to the viability of sage-grouse populations. One such project entailed assisting a restoration team with determining the density and spatial position of where to plant locally adapted containerized sagebrush seedlings that would help restore recently burned rangelands back to suitable GRSG habitat. Fire kills sagebrush and plants do not resprout after burning; therefore, it could take between 50 – 150 years or longer for sagebrush to naturally recolonize these wildfire areas. WEST worked with various technical specialists and the landowners to determine the best sites for restoring big sagebrush where the seedlings would mature, produce seed, and naturally spread accelerating the return of the burn areas back a condition that would provide habitat for local GRSG populations. page 9 WHERE WE HAVE BEEN Chad LeBeau presented on Sage Grouse and Energy Development at the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority Energy Conference on October 7. Dr. Bryan Manly presented at an the Alfred Wegener Institute’s Biologische Anstalt Helgoland Conference in Germany; September 26. The conference will focus on the importance of time series observations for the assessment of biological and societal impacts of climate change. Wally Erickson presented September 17 at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) WINDExchange Webinar on Wind Energy and Eagles: The Problem, the Permit, and the Path Forward. Wally’s presentation was on the conservation and permitting challenges associated with wind energy and eagles.
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