Potosi, Missouri 63664
Dear Ms. Stewart;
This letter is in response to your January 15, 2004, request for site-specific review, pursuant to section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, on the proposed Tornado Restoration Project on the Potosi-Fredericktown Ranger District (District) in Madison and Bollinger Counties, Missouri. On June 23, 1999, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a Programmatic Biological Opinion (Programmatic BO) for the Mark Twain’s National Forest (MTNF) Land Resource Management Plan (LRMP). This Programmatic BO established a two-tiered consultation process for LRMP activities, with issuance of the programmatic opinion being Tier 1 and all subsequent site-specific project analyses constituting Tier 2 consultations. When it is determined that a site-specific project is likely to adversely affect federally listed species, the Service will produce a “tiered” biological opinion.
In issuance of the Programmatic BO (Tier 1 biological opinion), the Service evaluated the effects of all U.S. Forest Service’s actions outlined in the LRMP for the MTNF, as well as a number of identified, proposed site-specific projects that were attached as an appendix to your biological assessment. The Programmatic BO evaluated the effects of Forest Service management program activities, including timber management and prescribe burning, on the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Curtis’ pearly mussel (Epioblasma florentina curtisi), Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), gray bat (Myotis grisescens), Meads milkweed (Asclepias meadii), pink mucket pearly mussel (Lampsilis abrupta), running buffalo clover (Trifolium stoloniferum), Topeka shiner (Notropis topeka). We concurred with your determinations of “not likely to adversely affect” for Curtis’ pearly mussel, pink mucket pearly mussel, running buffalo clover, and Topeka shiner. We also concurred with your determination of “likely to adversely affect” for bald eagle, gray bat, Indiana bat, and Mead’s milkweed.
Your request for Service review of the proposed activities associated with the Tornado Restoration Project is a Tier 2 consultation. We have reviewed the information contained in the Tornado Restoration Project Biological Assessment (BA), submitted by your office on January 15, 2004, describing the potential effects of the proposed project on the above federally listed species.
We concur with your conclusion that there are no additional effects to federally listed species associated with the Tornado Restoration Project beyond those that were previously disclosed and discussed in the Service’s Programmatic BO of June 23, 1999. We also concur with your determination that the only species that may occur within the project area are Indiana bat, gray bat, Hine’s emerald dragonfly, running buffalo clover, mead’s milkweed, and bald eagle.
Description of the Proposed Action/Preferred Alternative The Tornado Restoration Project is associated with activities that were implemented as part of the 2002 CEQ Alternative Arrangements because it proposes follow-up treatments to stands that have already been partially treated under the CEQ Alternative Arrangements. This project would also allow treatment of areas within the tornado path, but outside the areas covered by the CEQ Alternative Arrangements, with the same intent of reducing fuel loads and the potential for wildfires from the tornado affected areas.
A total of approximately 1,724 acres of National Forest and 40 acres of private land would be treated under this project. Approximately 763 of these acres have been previously treated under the CEQ Arrangements by implementing a commercial timber salvage operation that removed trees greater than 9 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) that were already on the ground, as well as felling and removal of all merchantable trees that were leaning greater than or equal to 45 degrees beyond vertical. The remaining 1,002 acres to be treated as part of the Tornado Restoration project would be located outside of areas that were previously treated as part of the CEQ Alternative Arrangements.
The Tornado Restoration project would involve the following site preparation activities:
Prescribed burning – Prescribed burning would occur on approximately 1,200 acres of National Forest and 40 acres of private land. Prescribed burning would be conducted any time of the year except during the Indiana bat maternity season (May 15-August 15) and would most likely occur during the spring or fall seasons. Only minimal (approximately 0.38 miles of dozer line) new ground disturbance associated with fire line construction would occur under this project, since nearly all fuel breaks were previously constructed during implementation of the CEQ Alternative Arrangements.
Tree Felling – Site prep activities would involve the felling and lopping of trees that have been damaged by the tornado but were not felled during the implementation of CEQ Alternative Arrangements. The trees to be felled for site prep activities would meet one or more of the following criteria:
Trees would be leaning > 45 degrees beyond vertical at some point along the bole;
Trees would be <9 inches dbh and suppressed.
The Forest has exceptions to the above. A tree would not be felled unless it poses an immediate threat to human safety during implementation of site prep activities if it meets one or more of the following criteria:
Is hollow, or has sloughing bark, or splits in the bole;
Has a completely severed top;
Is dead and is greater than 20 inches dbh, or alive and greater than 26 inches dbh;
Is within 100 feet of a fen, spring, seep, or permanent pond. Efforts would be made to avoid felling trees into glades, and tree tops and boles would be removed from glades if felling into glades in unavoidable.
No heavy equipment would be used for tree felling or removal.
Firewood Removal – Some areas proposed for tornado restoration activities would be opened for firewood removal following completion of the tree felling site prep activities. Firewood removal would only involve removal of trees that are already on the ground. No heavy equipment such as dozers and skidders would be allowed for firewood removal.
The Biological Evaluation for the Tornado Restoration project provides protective measures in addition to the RPM’s and TC’s that MTNF will implement in accordance with the Programmatic BO.
Based on the site-specific information above, we concur with your determination that the Tornado Restoration Project “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” the gray bat, bald eagle, Hine’s emerald dragonfly, running buffalo clover, Mead’s milkweed, and Curtis pearlymussel. As described in the Service’s Programmatic BO, we believe that adverse effects are likely to occur to the Indiana bat.
The following biological opinion is based on likely adverse effects to the Indiana bat from activities associated with the Tornado Restoration Project. In conducting our evaluation of the potential impacts of the project on Indiana bat, our review focused on determining whether: (1) this proposed project falls within the scope of the Programmatic BO issued for MTNF’s LRMP; (2) the effects of this proposed action are consistent with those anticipated in the Tier 1 Programmatic BO; and (3) the appropriate implementing terms and conditions associated with the reasonable and prudent measures identified in the Tier 1 biological opinion are adhered to. This Tier 2 Biological Opinion also identifies the incidental take anticipated with the Middle River Project and the cumulative total of incidental take for the MTNF for the 2003-2007 planning seasons. It conforms to the Service’s Programmatic BO (page 88) pertaining to individual projects the Service reviews following the issuance of the Programmatic BO.
Status of the Species Species description, life history, population dynamics, status and distribution for the Indiana bat are fully described on pages 40-62 of the Programmatic BO and are hereby incorporated by reference. Since issuance of the Service’s Programmatic BO, a biennial survey was conducted on Indiana bat Priority 1 hibernacula. Approximately 105,420 Indiana bats were counted during surveys conducted in 2000 and 2001. Surveys by Rick Clawson (Missouri Department of Conservation, email March 14, 2003) in 2003 show 93, 955 Indiana bats in priority one caves and other caves. Mist net surveys were conducted for bats on the Mark Twain National Forest between 1997 and 2001. These surveys resulted in the capture of 501 individual bats of 9 species during 594 hours of mist netting, but no Indiana bats were captured. In September 2002, mist netting efforts at Lake Wappapello led to the capture of three Indiana bats. Additional male and one reproductively active female Indiana bats were captured in the summer of 2003 at Lake Wappapello (not on MTNF lands). Mist net and Anabat surveys in May 2003, led to the capture of one reproductively active female Indiana bat on the Potosi/Fredericktown Ranger District.
The nearest Indiana Bat cave is 18 miles to the northwest of the project area. The nearest capture site of a reproductive female is approximately 9 miles west of the project area. Surveys that utilized a combination of Anabat and mist netting techniques were not conducted in the project area in 2003; therefore the exact status of Indiana bats in the Tornado Restoration Project area is unknown. The project area is not in an Indiana bat area of influence (MTNF Management Area 3.5).
Environmental Baseline The environmental baseline for the MTNF was established and fully described in detail on pages 7-16 of the Service’s June 23, 1999 Programmatic BO. Since issuance of the Service’s Programmatic BO, the environmental baseline on the MTNF has changed. The percentage of trees in the 50 years or older class has increased from 72% to 73% (956,841 acres to 970,131 acres) that includes a 4% increase of trees 90 years old or older-old growth (159,474 acres to 212,631 acres). Additionally, there has been a decrease of 11% to 9% in the 0-9 years old age class (146,184 acres to 119,605). The relative percentages of the other two age classes (20-49 years old and 10-19 years old) was unchanged. Other changes relate to the decrease in timber harvest on the forest between 1996 and 2000. The average timber harvest on the MTNF has decreased from an average annual harvest of 18,215 acres between 1986 and 1997 to 11,567 acres between 1997 and 2000. Between 1985 and 2000, the average annual harvest volume on the MTNF was 55.3 million board feet of commercial timber, which decreased to an annual harvest volume of 32 million board feet between 1998 and 2000.
Timber management practices utilized on the MNTF have also changed. Of the 11,567 acres harvested annually on the MTNF between 1996 and 2000, an average of 5,487 acres (47%) involved thinning, salvage, and miscellaneous operations (e.g., firewood permits); 3,389 acres (29%) included uneven-aged management (i.e., group selection, single tree selection, and single tree selection with groups harvest technique); and 2,691 acres (23%) were associated with even-aged regeneration harvest techniques (i.e., shelterwood, clearcut, and seedtree harvest methods). Although approximately 9,300 acres of reforestation via natural regeneration has occurred per year since 1986, the average of such activities decreased to about 7,000 acres (~25%) between 1998 and 2000. Between 1986 and 1997, timber stand improvements (TSI) averaged about
3,850 acres per year. Since 1998, TSI activities averaged 1,938 acres per year, a reduction of approximately 50%. Activities to benefit wildlife (e.g., prescribed fires, tree planting in riparian corridors, construction of ponds or waterholes, brushhogging, planting of food plots, conversion of cool season grasses to native warm-season grasses, etc.) decreased from an annual average of 9,000 acres between 1986 and 1997 to an annual average of approximately 6,000 acres (a reduction of approximately 33%) between 1998 and 2000 (Jody Eberly, U.S. Forest Service inlitt. August 13 and 22, 2001).
Missouri experienced severe weather in the spring of 2002. Several tornados in 2002 damaged timber stands on both private and public lands in Missouri. Flooding occurred in many drainages, uprooting trees and causing other structural damage. Some landowners are removing the downed timber in many areas and many are burning the wood that is unsuitable for other products (e.g. sawlogs, firewood, etc.). However, all or most of the downed timber on public and private lands cannot be removed. Once the wood dries out, an unnaturally high fuel loading in Missouri forests will have been created, and the risk of catastrophic fire will increase.
Thousands of acres affected by oak decline are causing concern for the health of forests in Missouri and Arkansas. Many large northern red, southern red, black, and scarlet oaks are declining and dying. The reason for this problem is complex and is not linked to any one cause but trees that are old (70 to 90 years), on shallow, rocky soils, ridgetops and upper slopes, and that have been stressed from drought, are predisposed to decline. There are other factors that contribute to this oak decline: red oak borers, twolined chestnut borers, armillaria root rot, and others (from brochure “Why are the oak trees dying?” produced by the USDA Forest Service 2001). The oak decline problem will create habitat for the Indiana bat, but could also pose a risk from catastrophic wildfire.
Effects of the Action Based on our analysis of information provided in your January 15, 2004 BE for the Tornado Restoration Project, we have determined that the potential effects of the proposed action are consistent with those addressed in the Programmatic Biological Opinion and are hereby incorporated by reference. Indiana bats could be potentially impacted from the proposed activities. Adverse effects to the Indiana bat from this project could occur from the removal of potential roost trees in the timber harvest areas. The project will not have any direct or indirect effects on hibernating Indiana bats, since there are no hibernacula in or very near the project area. The prescribed burning will be conducted before May 15th and after August 15th to minimize any adverse effects from smoke. The project area is far enough from the hibernaculum that smoke would have no effect on the Indiana bat. In order to minimize the potential for direct adverse impacts upon roosting Indiana bats, trees that are hollow, or have sloughing bark or splits in the bole; have a completely severed top; and are dead and greater than 20 inches dbh , or alive and greater than 26 inches dbh, would not be felled unless it poses an immediate threat to human safety during project implementation. A more complete discussion of these effects can be found in section D- Effects of the action (direct and indirect effects), on pages 62-65 of the Service’s June 23, 1999 Programmatic BO.
Harm to Indiana bats could also occur if the removal of suitable roost trees causes bats to abandon a traditionally used roost site. The likelihood of cutting a tree containing an individual roosting Indiana bat, however, is anticipated to be extremely low because of the rarity of the species on this district and the large number of suitable roost trees present on the MTNF.
Implementation of the terms and conditions associated with the reasonable and prudent measures (RPMs) provided on pages 75-81 in the Programmatic Biological Opinion will minimize any potential adverse effects to the Indiana bat by maintaining suitable Indiana bat roosting and foraging habitat.
Conclusion The actions and effects associated with the proposed Tornado Restoration Project are consistent with those identified and discussed in the Service’s Programmatic BO. After reviewing the size and scope of the project, the environmental baseline, the status of Indiana bat and its potential occurrence within the project area, the effects of the action; and any cumulative effects, it is the Service’s biological opinion that this action is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Indiana bat.
Incidental Take Statement The Service anticipates that the proposed actions associated with the Tornado Restoration Project will result in the incidental take of Indiana bat habitat (acres) as outlined in Table 1. The type and amount of anticipated incidental take is consistent with that described in the Programmatic BO and does not cause the total annual level of incidental take (forested acres) in the Programmatic BO (page 74) to be exceeded (Table 1).
The Forest Service must implement all pertinent reasonable and prudent measures and implementing terms and conditions stipulated in the Programmatic BO to minimize the impact of the anticipated incidental take of Indiana bats, and to be exempt from the take prohibitions of Section 9 of the Act.. We have determined that no new reasonable and prudent measures, beyond those specified in the Programmatic BO, are needed to minimize the impact of incidental take anticipated for the Tornado Restoration Project. Implementing the measures outlined in your conservation program for federally listed species on the MTNF (approved March 2000) will further reduce potential adverse effects on the Indiana bat.
This fulfills your consultation requirements for this action. Should the proposed project be modified or if the level of take identified above is exceeded, reinitiation of consultation as outlined in 50 CFR 402.16, is required.
We appreciate your continued efforts to ensure that this project is consistent with all provisions outlined in the Programmatic BO. If you have any questions regarding our response or if you need additional information, please contact Theresa Davidson at (417) 683-4428 ext. 113.
Charles M. Scott
cc: Field Supervisor, Indiana ESFO, Bloomington, IN
Table 1. Incidental take of Indiana bats for the Tornado Restoration Project (forested acres affected annually) and its contribution to the cumulative totals for the Mark Twain National Forest as outlined on page 74 of the Service’s Programmatic Biological Opinion of June 23, 1999.