By Rob Schell
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Recovery Plans list actions that will assist in the recovery of listed vernal pool branchiopods, including a variety of listed fairy shrimp and vernal pool tadpole shrimp species. These plans include separate actions to develop survey guidelines and to conduct directed species status surveys or monitoring surveys.
In 2015, the USFWS updated their survey guidelines for vernal pool branchiopods. While much of the new guidance institutionalizes what surveyors have known and have been implementing for years, there are a few key differences that project owners should be aware in planning for the upcoming wet weather season, which is anticipated to include a heavier than normal rainfall due to the El Nino weather patterns.
Frequency of surveys is now dependent on where the site is located. California has been divided in to three survey zones (shown inset). Generally, the more arid the site the greater frequency and duration of wet season surveys are required.
- Northern and Coastal California counties (including Monterey County) will require surveys every 14 days for 90 days following pool inundation. This is the same survey frequency as the previous protocol across California.
- San Joaquin Valley east to the Nevada border, and including San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, will require surveys every 10 days for 90 days following pool inundation.
- Ventura, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino counties south will require surveys every 7 days for 120 days following pool inundation.
- Wet season survey results, if negative, may be rejected if conducted during a drought year. Careful planning, foresight, and agency coordination is critical to ensuring valid results and avoiding cost overruns.
- For dry season sampling, the previous guidance required 10 samples be collected from each pool regardless of size. The new guidance requires the number of samples be scaled based on pool size. Pools larger than 2,300 square meters (0.56 acres) will require 100 samples minimum.
- Dry season soil samples may only be processed by those possessing special training and may increase turn-around time and cost.
- Branchiopod eggs isolated from soil samples may require additional steps to identify the species including DNA analysis performed at a lab or cultivating the eggs to hatch, and subsequent identification of the resultant individuals for confirmation.
- For project owners seeking to prove absence from their project sites, full protocol-level surveys are required which include one wet and one dry season survey conducted within a three-year period provided climatic conditions are suitable.
For further information about the revised guidelines or to schedule a survey, please contact Rob Schell.