Endangered Species Day was May 18, which is when we recognize and celebrate national conservation efforts to protect our nation’s endangered species and their habitats.
For those of us who live within the Memphis loop, we often forget that there are multiple ecosystems throughout West Tennessee and the Mid-South, including vast areas of hardwood forests, riparian sections and wetlands and the expansive alluvial plains of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
These ecosystems provide habitats for numerous species, and, depending on the specifics of a site for a new development project, you may need to consider the impact construction might have on threatened or endangered species.
By addressing endangered species up front, you will hopefully avoid additional costs for engineering redesign and save time that could otherwise be required for review.
Here are some questions you should ask if you have a project and think your site may be a habitat for endangered species:
Who enforces these protections?
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires that federally listed species and habitats not be adversely impacted during any activity utilizing federal funding or requiring federal authorization, such as construction projects that need stormwater permits.
The ESA lists the species protected at the federal level. Most states also maintain their own database of species within counties or local municipalities, which typically contain significantly more animals than the federal list and are required to be considered in some circumstances.
However, they are typically not regulated and enforced to the extent of the federal listings.
What species live in Shelby County and West Tennessee?
An ESA review from the Fish & Wildlife Service for Shelby County commonly requires assessing the presence of the Least Tern, a bird species that frequents the sandbars of the Mississippi River. There are also several bat species, such as the northern long-eared bat, that use the bottomland hardwoods and riparian areas along the rivers for summer mating and foraging.
The Tennessee Natural Heritage Program identifies 32 plant and animal species of concern in Shelby County.
Good practices include a review of both the federal and state lists — the latter of which are often critical when a project seeks certification, such as from the Tennessee Economic & Community Development’s industrial Select Tennessee Certified Site program.
How can I avoid project delays?
Assess the impacts on listed species as early as possible in the construction process to avoid delays. In the funding and design phases, consult with environmental professionals to aid this review.
Most projects only require a desktop review or minimal correspondence with the state and federal agencies, even if permitting for other activities is required.
In the event of real potential for a listed species to be present in your project area, an environmental professional can provide a site-specific habitat assessment or conduct a presence/absence survey.
If a species is present, you may choose to modify your project to avoid or minimize the impacts. If any potential is found that your activities could impact these species or habitats, you may be required to develop mitigation strategies