Endangered Species Q & A’s

Estimating the cost of a Threatened and Endangered (T&E)Species survey can be very difficult due to the lack of predictability of the plant’s occurrence.  What can be done to best estimate the cost of the T&E survey for a project in Pennsylvania?

  1. First and most importantly, use a local botanist/ecologist with years of experience identifying plants and their habitats in eastern Pennsylvania.
  2. A PNDI project environmental review receipt must be obtained from the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program. This will give a list of likely species, but is not a definitive list for the site.
  3. The requested information on the PNDI receipt needs to be sent to DCNR. They then provide a definitive list of PSoSC for which a survey is required.
  4. Upon receipt of the final list, an ArcGIS map of the project should be created. This map will include the necessary physical characteristics and aerial photos needed to evaluate potential habitats for the required PSoSC surveys.
  5. Using this information to determine which habitats need to be surveyed and when is used as the basis of surveying costs. This can then be added to the set-up, access, travel, and time to complete the report to ascertain the anticipated costs. Estimates made using this method, occasionally result in as much as a twofold error. Without this process an unsubstantiated estimate can result in a tenfold error.

How does a botanist survey for Threatened and Endangered Species in a timely manner?

The botanist must be able to identify most species, even when the plants are not blooming without a botanical manual. When these manuals are needed to identify plants, they can be difficult (Gray’s Manual of Botany has about 1000 technical words in its glossary) and time consuming, even more so without the correct knowledge . It is also important to have a knowledge of the plant’s habitat requirements, including the growing range for soil pH, texture and organic matter, and the local geology, hydrology, topography and geomorphology, all of which help determine which plants grow in each specific habitat. This complexity of plant identification and habitats is why a local specialist is required. A botanist who works over a large geographic area is unlikely to have the same intricate regional expertise as the local botanists. A knowledgeable botanist with local experience can quickly pass through habitats that do not provide the necessary habitat requirements for the Threatened and Endangered Species, while concentrating field work on potential habitats, thereby drastically reducing field time and costs. Therefore, hiring the right person is critical for every Threatened and Endangered Species survey.

Why do you need a Qualified Botanist with a long relationship with the Government Agencies and experience in Eastern Pennsylvania?

Using a biologist who has experience in Eastern Pennsylvania and a working relationship with the agencies in Pennsylvania is necessary to complete the project in a thorough and timely manner. As stated above, the amount of time necessary to complete large projects can be prohibitive with the use of someone unfamiliar with the plants and habitats of Pennsylvania. In addition, each state handles endangered species in different ways, major delays can occur when the proper procedures are not followed. Without both the knowledge of the plants and their habitats and a good relationship with the agencies and how they work, problems and delays can result.

 How much of the necessary knowledge is taught in college?

Almost none of the required knowledge is taught in universities. Dendrology courses typically cover many of the native trees. Since there are only 118 native trees in Pennsylvania and another 68 non-native species, this only covers a small portion of the plants in the state. Also, most dendrology classes focus on species involved in timber or large land management, avoiding the rare and endangered species. While most plant taxonomy courses teach the families (e.g. rose, grass, etc), they do not provide the critical species level information, the level to which Threatened and Endangered plant species are identified. Also, one of the most useful tools to quickly and thoroughly evaluate whether Threatened and Endangered Species may be present is habitats. Understanding habitats is very complex, combining elements from multiple fields of study. Habitats are rarely taught as a whole, and what is taught is usually in separate classes that do little to integrate the parts and rarely involve specific Threatened and Endangered Species, yet this is critical knowledge for this job.

How does a botanist obtain the knowledge?

The best way to obtain this knowledge is spending many hours in the field studying the different habitats and learning which plants are found in each.  This takes years of studying the plants and their relationships to geology, soils, hydrology, chemistry, weather, and an assortment of other characteristics of the various habitats to understand which characteristics are important for each Threatened and Endangered Species.

Why is Mellon Biological Services, LLC Qualified?

We have over 50 years of ecological expertise working on plant and animal Threatened and Endangered Species in eastern Pennsylvania and have completed over 100 PPL Electric Utilities, Inc. projects and surveyed over 600 miles of right-of-ways.  Rick Mellon has testified before the PUC with successful outcomes and completed over 500 wetland delineations in eastern Pennsylvania.

He has also worked on botanical T&E species surveys and ecological consultant defining and mapping the habitats of Fairmont Park in Philadelphia for Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania.

In June 2002, James Bissell, Curator of Botany at the Cleveland Museum, and Rick Mellon started meeting in Tioga County, Pennsylvania to botanize one of the least studied counties in Pennsylvania. These trips continued every year through 2011. With word of plants discovered (new county records, including Northeastern Bulrush, a Federally Endangered species, among many others), DCNR personnel joined in the annual foray.  This has helped Mellon Biological Services, LLC develop a good working relationship with staff members from DCNR.

Mellon Biological Services, LLC has compiled a database of plants, their habitats and physical features over the last 35 years and has 3500+ data sites (mostly from eastern Pennsylvania) of which 115 data sites represent 60 Threatened and Endangered Species and over 400 data sites include associated soil chemistry data (pH, buffer pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, CEC and organic matter).  The database represents over 140,000 plant to plant associations and greatly enhances our ability to evaluate habitats.

Rick Mellon is a long-standing member of the Vascular Plant Technical Committee of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey, which makes recommendations on the plant’s state ranking for DCNR and PNDI and the Wild Resource Conservation Program Advisory Committee – DCNR.  This furthers a good working relation with DCNR – http://www.altoona.psu.edu/pabs/vascular_plants.htm.

Rick Mellon received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Vascular Plant Technical Committee of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey on the 25th meeting of the Pennsylvania Rare Plant Forum on March 29, 2003 “For Dedication to the Conservation of the Native Flora of Pennsylvania and in particular for your role in creating the first list of RARE AND ENDANGERED VASCULAR PLANT SPECIES IN PENNSYLVANIA as a member of the founding group that in 1978 started the annual tradition which has come to be known as the PENNSYLVANIA RARE PLANT FORUM”.

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