RARE PLANT SURVEY Conducting a full season of rare plant surveys before designing your project can help you avoid last-minute redesigns and costly project delays. The first step is conducting a habitat assessment to determine whether rare plants have potential to occur on your site and whether surveys are needed. Because different rare plants bloom at different times throughout the year, protocol surveys may require more than one site visit by a botanist. The first survey could start as early as February, so it’s important to know what plants have potential to occur and when surveys are needed. Surveys should be conducted this season if you plan to submit permit applications or CEQA documentation for a project in the next year.
NESTING BIRD SURVEY Starting around February, birds may begin breeding, making nests, and laying eggs. The vast majority of birds in California are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the California Fish and Game Code, which prohibit the deliberate destruction of active nests belonging to these species. Nest protection is typically required in California Department of Fish and Wildlife permits and in CEQA mitigation requirements. If you are planning to remove vegetation, do it before February 1 or plan to conduct pre-construction breeding bird surveys prior to beginning work.
CALIFORNIA GNATCATCHER SURVEY Protocol surveys for California gnatcatcher are often required for projects affecting coastal scrub habitats in southern California. While surveys for the California gnatcatcher can occur year round, the protocol requires fewer visits during the spring, which can reduce cost.
AQUATIC CALIFORNIA TIGER SALAMANDER SURVEY Protocol surveys for California tiger salamander require a spring aquatic survey, a drift fence-trap survey the following winter, and a final spring aquatic survey. Negative results for each of these surveys are required to prove salamanders are not present. Approval from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife is needed before conducting the surveys, so plan to seek approval early.
CALIFORNIA RED-LEGGED FROG SURVEY Protocol surveys for California red-legged frog require five surveys from February through July. Surveys are intended to cover the full breeding period for the frog, with the final non-breeding season survey completed after June 30. Each survey event involves a night survey or a combination of day and night surveys. Starting surveys early can determine absence or identify the presence of California red-legged frog and any changes that may be required to your project design to protect the species.
FOOTHILL YELLOW-LEGGED FROG SURVEY In 2017, the State of California listed the Foothill yellowlegged frog as a candidate threatened species, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife has been requiring specific analyses of development projects for potential impacts to this species. Habitat evaluation and/or surveys can often be conducted at the same time as some other amphibian species, but be sure to include this species on your list to avoid delays, especially if your project has a stream on or adjacent to it.
OTHER HERPETOLOGICAL SURVEYS Spring is the season that many special-status reptile and amphibian species breed, while others are developing from juvenile stages and growing into adults. During the spring, these species are much more visible, making it easier to accurately detect their presence. If one or more species is suspected of being present on or near a project, spring is the ideal time to conduct surveys to confirm presence or absence.
BUTTERFLY SURVEYS The Monarch, Quino Checkerspot, and Bay Checkerspot butterflies are best surveyed in late winter or early spring. Monarchs overwinter in coastal areas until February, making early spring an ideal time to detect winter roosts. Many other invertebrate species emerge when the wildflowers begin to open in spring and food is abundant, as early as February for many of our wildflowers.
WETLAND DELINEATION Although wetland delineations can be conducted at any time of year, the three indicators needed to identify wetlands – plants, soils, and hydrology – are best observed in spring. Conducting delineations in April and May produces the most accurate wetland delineation. Completing a delineation at this time of year also leaves plenty of time to submit the delineation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and schedule a site review before the next season’s rains arrive, as early as October or November.
WETLAND FUNCTIONAL AND CONDITION ASSESSMENTS Some projects require functional wetland assessments, such as the California Rapid Assessment Method, to estimate the positive or negative effects that a project may have on wetlands. For many common wetland types, the recommended time to perform such assessments is in the spring, when the majority of plants are in bloom and wetland conditions are at their peak. Assessments performed outside the appropriate survey window are less reliable and may not be accepted by regulatory agencies.
RESTORATION OR LANDSCAPE PLANTING The ideal season to install plants for habitat restoration or landscaping is fall just prior to the winter rains; however, spring planting can be acceptable if irrigation is available through the dry summer months. Planting should be completed as soon as possible to take advantage of the cool weather and extra moisture in the ground.
REGULATORY PERMIT APPLICATIONS Applications for regulatory permits, such as from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Regional Water Quality Control Board, or California Department of Fish and Wildlife, typically require a minimum processing time six to nine months under the best of conditions. If a project has a few twists that may be unique, add another three to six months for processing. Projects that require construction at specific times of year should apply for permits early.
MITIGATION PLANNING Satisfying a proposed project’s mitigation obligation is a key part of project entitlement. If you intend on purchasing credits from an established mitigation bank, checking current credit availability and price will help with budget planning and early reservations can ensure you are able to purchase the credits when the time comes. If bank credits are unavailable and you are planning an on-site or off-site permittee-responsible mitigation project, numerous time-sensitive tasks need to be coordinated simultaneously.
CEQA STUDIES Although there is no particular season for CEQA, completing the CEQA process can take a minimum of three months for a Negative Declaration or Mitigated Negative Declaration, and up to one year or longer for an Environmental Impact Report. This includes completion of substantial project analyses and documentation and often requires seasonally timed technical studies, including some of the studies listed in the Initial Study checklist. Therefore, CEQA should be initiated as soon as possible for any projects you are contemplating for 2018.
STORMWATER MONITORING In this wet year, it is a good time to revisit the new regulations under the Industrial General Permit, which went into effect in 2015. Definitions and requirements for permit holder have changed and require appropriately timed stormwater sampling and analysis from multiple Qualified Stormwater Events throughout the year, with reporting periods from January 1 to June 30 and July 1 to December 31. Spring is a great time to inspect your BMPs and ensure your project is meeting all permit requirements.