Friday, July 18, 2014
Aaron Ball and Eric Petterson, Environmental Assessment
For being a diminutive bird, the lesser prairie chicken (LEPC) has no idea the large impact its presence is having on industries that focus on renewable energy and oil and gas. The grassland nesting bird was recently listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and Olsson Associates has the expertise to help its clients navigate the new federal regulations designed to protect the species.
The LEPC is native to five states within the southern Great Plains. The species inhabits the shinnery oak prairie of Texas and New Mexico; the mixed grass prairie of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas; the shortgrass prairie of Kansas; and the sand sagebrush prairie of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. (See map below)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) bestowed the threatened listing on the LEPC on May 12, 2014. Along with the listing, the USFWS issued a final, special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA. This rule provides new regulatory challenges for multiple sectors within the areas where the LEPC are present.
For example, the rule sought to address the threat of fragmenting or losing the LEPC’s habitat, primarily because the LEPC has been shown to avoid nesting and brood rearing near vertical structures (such as oil and gas infrastructure, wind turbines, transmission lines, etc.). As a result, actual habitat loss and fragmentation can extend well beyond the construction impacts. These threats apply to Olsson’s renewable energy, oil and gas production, and linear infrastructure clients who regularly build vertical structures as part of their projects.
In its attempt to mitigate the negative effects the threatened listing may pose to industries, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies developed the LEPC Range-Wide Conservation Plan (RWP). Under the 4(d) rule, the USFWS endorsed the plan, which states that incidental activities conducted by a participant enrolled in—and operating in compliance with—the plan will not be prohibited or subject to regulatory enforcement. The RWP established best management practices and impacts for multiple industries. It is also currently the only method outside of consulting with the USFWS to mitigate for impacts to the LEPC.
Olsson Associates is certified as an RWP technical service provider and can assist clients with the plan’s administration. In addition, Olsson has ecological expertise in the oil and gas and renewable energy industries to assist in the planning and regulatory processes associated with protecting the LEPC. Olsson also has expertise across multiple regions to assist clients with plan development, risk assessment, and regulatory permitting to comply with the regulations.