Two California species protected by the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) have been addressed by recent guidance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle
In May 2017, USFWS published its Framework for Assessing Impacts to the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus), replacing the 1999 USFWS conservation guidelines. The valley elderberry longhorn beetle, which remains listed as threatened under the ESA after withdrawal of a proposal to delist the species, occurs throughout California’s Central Valley from approximately Shasta County to Fresno County. Valley elderberry longhorn beetle is associated with undisturbed expanses of riparian habitat, and requires elderberry shrubs (Sambucus sp.) for egg-laying and development.
In the new valley elderberry longhorn beetle framework, USFWS has developed a decision tree for determining occupancy of the species within a project site and appropriate survey protocols. The new framework includes a greater emphasis on riparian habitat, recognizes that valley elderberry longhorn beetle exit hole surveys are not always reliable for presence/absence determination, and increases the size of avoidance buffers from 100 feet to 165 feet. Under this framework, future site assessments for this species will consider habitat suitability, historic habitat connectivity, and evidence of occupancy as part of a “conceptual ecological model.” The framework provides a streamlined field assessment method and a simplified transplant and compensatory mitigation process. Similar to the 1999 guidelines, the 2017 framework recommends transplanting elderberry shrubs that cannot be avoided or that would be affected indirectly such that stems or the entire shrub would die. The approach to compensatory mitigation includes consideration of habitat-level and shrub-level impacts, rather than reliance on stem size and present of exit holes.
California Tiger Salamander
In June 2017, USFWS published its Recovery Plan for the Central California Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense). Recovery plans are not regulatory documents; rather they provide guidance and voluntary planning for how to best help listed species recover. The Central California DPS of the California tiger salamander occurs within the Central Valley floor and in the foothills of the Coast Ranges and Sierra Nevada. California tiger salamander is listed as threatened under ESA and the California Endangered Species Act. Suitable habitat for this species includes annual grasslands and open woodlands, where they breed in vernal pools and ponds (natural or human-made) and occupy small mammal burrows in upland habitat.
The USFWS Recovery Plan for the Central California DPS of the California tiger salamander addresses major threats to the species, including habitat loss, predation, hybridization with invasive species, mortality due to car strikes, and disease. Recovery plan goals include elimination of these and other threats, as well as encouraging self-sustaining California tiger salamander populations through protection and management of upland and aquatic breeding habitat. The Recovery Plan covers a 50-year period through 2067 and includes four “recovery units” within central California.
Practice Implications for Environmental Planning and Impact Analysis
Projects that may affect valley elderberry longhorn beetle should be evaluated using the new 2017 framework. This framework provides guidance for an effects analysis and may allow for more flexibility in conservation measures and compensation than the previous guidelines. In some cases, removal of isolated elderberry shrubs without exit holes in non-riparian habitat may not be likely to affect valley elderberry longhorn beetle and compensatory mitigation may not be required. For projects in riparian habitat, the appropriate mitigation may include transplanting shrubs that would be directly affected by the project and compensating for loss of riparian habitat through purchase of credits at a USFWS-approved conservation bank or establishing a conservation area according to USFWS guidelines. Consultation with USFWS is still required for incidental take authorization through Section 7 consultation or a Section 10(a)(1)(B) permit.
Although the Recovery Plan for California tiger salamander does not establish regulatory requirements, conservation of threatened and endangered species is a shared responsibility. USFWS is actively working with federal and state agencies, as well as local communities, conservation partners, and the public to identify improved and innovative approaches to conservation and recovery that ultimately will allow for the long-term viability of California tiger salamanders and removal from the ESA listing. Consideration of recovery goals in environmental planning documents and impact analyses at a project level could assist conservation of the species and help to expedite permitting efforts.