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New Minnesota Critical Habit Plate Brings Light to Endangered Species Protection

Minnesota has long offered license plate options that feature the state’s natural resources. A new design highlights the state bee, the rusty patched bumble bee, and state butterfly, the monarch butterfly. The license plate also features a native plant, the purple prairie clover, which is an important food source for pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

The rusty patched bumble bee was listed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as an endangered species in the lower 48 states. It is currently known to occur in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. Population surveys suggest the abundance of this species has declined 87% in the past two decades and occupies only 0.1 % of its historic range. Many potential factors are hypothesized as reasons for the bee’s decline including habitat loss, pesticide use, disease, and climate change. There are almost 20 species of bumble bee native to Minnesota, and the rusty patched bumble bee is the first that has been formally added to the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

The monarch butterfly is a well-known species that occurs widely throughout the lower 48 states and southern Canada. This species is remarkable for an insect because it migrates from the Canada and the United States to overwintering areas in Mexico. Each adult butterfly lives four to five weeks, so multiple generations are required to complete the annual migration cycle. The monarch butterfly was recently reviewed for listing as threatened or endangered species in response to petitions submitted to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The service declined to list the species for protection in December 2020, although it noted that recent declines in the abundance of the species justified listing under the Endangered Species Act. Listing was precluded because of higher priority listing actions of other species. The service will review the status annually. Many stressors that affect the rusty patched bumble bee also affect the monarch butterfly such as habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change.

One of the many natural resource services offered by Braun Intertec is screening proposed projects for potential impacts to threatened and endangered species. The first step in any assessment is a desktop review. We consult state and federal databases to determine what protected species are known from a project area, and then use aerial photographs and site photographs to determine what type of habitats are present on a site. This step compliments existing services offered by Braun Intertec that require site visits such as Phase I environmental site assessments and wetland delineations. Notes on land use and land cover combined with photographs and aerial photographs provide valuable information to assist our scientists in describing habitats or potential habitats.

The next step in our assessment is to compare the list of possible protected species and their habitat requirements with the list of habitats present. Frequently, we can make a definitive determination that a given endangered species is not present because the habitat is not present. In fact, most reviews for protected species end there. Because of past land use or disturbance, it may be obvious that there is no way a species could utilize that land as habitat – such as tree-roosting bats on sites with no woody vegetation or aquatic species on sites with no lakes, rivers, or ponds. Occasionally, our consultants find that the habitat of a species could be present on a site, and site surveys by a knowledgeable biologist may be required. If a protected species is present and may be impacted by a project, we can assist with obtaining an Incidental Take Permit and developing appropriate avoidance and mitigation measures.

In the case of the rusty patched bumble bee, we use methods developed by the Xerxes Society and recommended by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to evaluate the likelihood of appropriate habitat present. These methods consider site conditions such as the presence of native plants and natural plant communities which will have the greatest abundance of floral resources that the bee depends upon. Other important factors are the presence of sites for underground overwintering burrows, and inhospitable land use such as turfgrass, impermeable land cover, and areas of pesticide use. Offsite factors are also important, such as nearby undeveloped land or native plant populations. These factors are considered because bees are mobile organisms and exist in regional populations that may utilize foraging and burrow habitats across multiple sites.

Unlike traditional views of threatened and endangered species, the occurrence of the rusty patched bumble bee and monarch butterfly frequently corresponds with human populations. The increasing popularity of native plants in landscaping provides important habitat and resources for these two species, as well as dozens of other pollinator species. This contrasts with some protected species, such as the grizzly bear or Florida manatee, that are associated with wilderness or unique habitats.

When habitat for protected pollinators is found on a project site, we offer recommendations to avoid or minimize impacts to these pollinators, such as retaining areas of native plants, or recommendations to enhance their habitat, such as incorporating native plants into landscape designs.

Braun Intertec provides assessments of threatened and endangered species and migratory birds for compliance with various federal and state statutes.Often these assessments are required as conditions of federal permits (such as Corps of Engineers wetland permits), to support required plans (such as Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans, SWPPP), or as part of environmental review (such Environmental Assessments (EA) or Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA)).

For more information on threatened or endangered species, please contact Daniel DeJoode or Brady Turk and join them in our upcoming webinar, Wading through the Swamp: Wetlands, Endangered Species, and Environmental Assessments, on February 25th to learn more.

Daniel DeJoode, Ph.D. Senior Scientist

P: 952.995.2459