By Alyssa Fellow
When I started as a biologist in Upper Great Plains, I was challenged to develop a regionwide biological strategy, similar to that which had been created for archaeology resources.
In June, I provided some background about that effort. This time, I would like to show how the UGP biological risk assessment sets the stage for expediting Endangered Species Act compliance and doing what is right on the land. Here are some of the ways that assessment benefits UGP's relationship with the Topeka shiner fish, piping plover bird and Dakota skipper butterfly species.
The Dakota skipper butterfly is in the later peak of its flight period. There are about nine miles of UGP transmission line rights of way that fall within .6 miles of Dakota skipper critical habitat and about 154 miles that fall within townships that have known presence records. It is important to reduce the spread of noxious weeds and conduct operations or maintenance activities outside of June through August, if possible, in these areas. The intention is that future habitat ground-truthing fieldwork will document non-issues and substantially lessen the area of restrictions or where best management practices apply.
There are 35 counties in the Topeka shiner range in UGP. Fifty streams in which Topeka Shiner live overlap with WAPA's transmission lines. These areas are sensitive to sediment delivery and fish passage barriers, such as erosion from construction activities and improperly sized culverts.
If dead birds are found under our lines where they cross near nesting areas during the breeding season—late April through August—then there is an issue with piping plover mortality due to collision with transmission lines on our system. There are 84 miles where UGP transmission lines overlap the alkali lakes critical habitat of the piping plover and 47 miles of rights of way within 1.5 miles of known nests. This information helps UGP address the piping plover recovery action to protect populations during breeding and migration. This biological risk assessment outcome also helps UGP align with WAPA's Avian Protection Plan to “conduct design, construction and maintenance activities that resolve avian issues at the earliest stage possible."
Note: Fellow is a biologist.