The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program: Bog Turtles and PNDI Searches. New System = Timely Benefits.
From the desk of Teresa Amitrone, Project Manager, Qualified Bog Turtle Surveyor
I’ve been performing Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III bog turtle surveys and construction monitoring since 2000, three years after the species was listed as Threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. During that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects for a wide array of clients including residential and commercial developers, state and municipal transportation agencies, municipal water authorities, petroleum and gas pipeline developers, municipal and county recreational authorities, and private homeowners.
One factor that all of these projects have had in common are deadlines. Some have fiscal deadlines – the finances for the project are only available for a given amount of time. Some have construction schedules – wetland or watercourse crossings will have a specific date or dates on which they will take place. Some have permit deadlines – requiring the client to file specific information with the agencies of oversight regarding the natural resources to be impacted. Deadlines form the key scheduling driver behind the projects performed by the consulting industry.
In Pennsylvania, when impacts to natural resources are unavoidable within the scope of a proposed project, a Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) search of the project area is necessary to determine what species of concern may be affected. The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program (PNHP) maintains a website to address this portion of preliminary project planning. If aquatic resources are present within the project area and earth disturbance may occur at or within 300 feet of those resources, a Phase I bog turtle habitat assessment is necessary within the 15 counties where bog turtles occur. In the past, a Phase I survey for habitat was performed and if bog turtle habitat was found to be present, a Phase II survey was required to be conducted between April 15 and June 15. However, if bog turtle habitat was not found to be present, a report stating such was prepared and sent to the USFWS for their review and concurrence. Given the limited reviewing resources of the USFWS, the letter of concurrence could require up to 60 days, and sometimes longer, to receive.
Fortunately, the PNHP database recently underwent an overhaul and developed a new system called the PA Conservation Explorer. PNDI searches are now conducted within the PA Conservation Explorer system, and the resulting information generated from the new database is more accurate and current. In addition, the final receipt generated through a PNDI search now depicts an area encompassing the original search boundaries. If a Phase I bog turtle habitat survey is performed by a USFWS/Pennsylvania Fish and Boat commission qualified bog turtle surveyor within this prescribed area, and habitat is found to be not present, the qualified surveyor may sign a statement to that effect.
Once the qualified bog turtle surveyor develops the report and provides the signed PNDI receipt as an attachment to the report, these documents may then be attached to the permit application without the need for a letter of concurrence from USFWS. The environmental planning, as well as the project, can then proceed on a more timely basis.
Liberty Environmental provides timely, insightful and cost-effective services for your natural resources permitting needs. Teresa Amitrone can be reached at 800.305.6019 ext. 2220 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.