Hackers Creek – A Restoration Story

Hackers Creek – A Restoration Story

Compensatory Mitigation Overview

It is likely that you might not think about the planning and regulations behind land development while you’re traveling on the highway or visiting a favorite shopping plaza.  Large scale projects such as these typically involve years of planning and foresight and is often impossible to construct such projects without impacts to Waters of the United States (i.e. streams and wetlands). When an entity applies for a Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404 permit, they are required to perform compensatory mitigation if they plan to impact a tenth (0.10) or more of an acre of wetlands or 300 linear feet or more of streams.  Compensatory mitigation involves the restoration, enhancement, creation, and/or preservation of streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources to offset unavoidable adverse impacts.  Entities are normally only granted a 404 CWA permit once practicable aquatic resource avoidance and minimization measures have been demonstrated in the permit application.  Such restorative measures are required under federal law and defined in the 2008 Final Compensatory Mitigation Rule (33 CFR Parts 325, 332; 40 CFR Part 230).  According to the 2008 Final Rule, permittees have three options to create required mitigation including:

      • the purchase of credits from a mitigation bank (most preferred),
      • Utilizing the established In-Lieu-Fee program,
      • and permittee responsible mitigation.

Mitigation banks are projects undertaken by “Sponsors” in which they establish and document existing ecological site conditions and then typically restore or improve the site and protect the site forever from future development through deed restrictions such as a conservation easement.  Aquatic resource improvements (i.e. ecological lift) are measured through certain metrics to create credits, which are then released for sale to entities with projects requiring mitigation in the same watershed. In West Virginia (WV), ecological lift (credits) and ecological impacts (debits) are assessed using the WV Stream and Wetland Valuation Metric to ensure consistent comparisons between aquatic resources being impacted and aquatic resources being improved through mitigation projects to achieve no net loss of streams and wetlands.

Hackers Creek Mitigation Bank

AllStar Ecology, LLC (ASE) completed construction in early 2019 of its first mitigation bank along unnamed tributaries of Hackers Creek in Upshur County, West Virginia.  When searching for a mitigation bank site, it is preferable to find land that has been historically impacted in order to increase ecological lift and provide more environmental benefit.  The Hackers Creek Mitigation Bank site presented ideal conditions for restoration and enhancement of streams/wetlands due to historic impacts of mining, logging, and cattle grazing.  Stream reaches within the project area were severely degraded and essentially eliminated in sections due to legacy mine benches, logging roads, and cattle grazing. Relic road grades significantly altered drainage patterns and the floodplain resulting in rerouting of overland flow and disturbance of floodplain topography.

In order to successfully restore and enhance streams/wetlands, ASE conducted baseline surveys of all existing streams and wetlands to fully understand the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of these features to determine the necessary improvements.  Additional baseline impairment surveys were also conducted to assess the geomorphic conditions of existing streams such as pattern, profile, and dimension, as well as degree of impairment with regard to entrenchment, incision, and lateral instability (width/depth ratio).  ASE then took this baseline data and designed stream channels and wetlands based on Natural Channel Design techniques pioneered by stream restoration expert, Dr. Dave Rosgen. By understanding the level of impairment and degree of departure from stable reference stream conditions, ASE was able to design geomorphically stable stream channels that would increase aquatic habitat (i.e. undercut stream banks, deeper pools), raise the water table (thus increasing wetland conditions), and develop self-sustaining ecosystems with no required long-term maintenance.

The Hackers Creek Mitigation Bank is comprised of two sub-watersheds. One sub-watershed was significantly impacted by a road which channelized a perennial stream against the hillslope.  This is a common practice in watersheds historically utilized for agriculture given the increased area for grazing and hay production resultant of the straightened stream.  However, although stream channelization may be beneficial to agricultural production, biologic and geomorphologic functions are significantly degraded due to channel incision, which is characterized by vertical-containment and floodplain abandonment.  In essence, channelization is a short-term solution to increase agricultural land, because the resulting incision usually accelerates stream bank erosion and associated land loss.  Furthermore, such channelization goes against the geomorphic tendencies of low-gradient streams which, under natural conditions, meander across the valley bottom, allowing for energy dissipation, increased nutrient retention, and the establishment of riparian vegetation.

By understanding the impairments associated with the mitigation site, as well as the ecological potential through reference stream surveys, ASE successfully designed and constructed a high-quality ecosystem that will achieve long-term geomorphic stability.

The AllStar Ecology Difference

ASE designed and constructed the Hackers Creek Mitigation Bank by relying upon our experienced multidisciplinary team of ecologists, geologists, landscape architects, soil scientists, and equipment operators.  ASE invests heavily in employee training, especially relating to stream and wetland restoration. Numerous ASE employees have been trained by Dr. Dave Rosgen as part of his natural channel design courses with several attaining Level IV certification.

ASE is utilizing a watershed approach to stream and wetland mitigation by continuing to develop a series of mitigation properties in the Hackers Creek watershed.  Restoring headwater systems in a watershed with significant historic impacts will result in long-term ecological benefits that go beyond compensation for stream and wetland impacts.  ASE’s watershed approach, combined with successful and meaningful mitigation projects, will benefit present and future generations through watershed protection, habitat restoration, and preservation of headwater systems.  Learn more about ASE’s stream and wetland restoration services by clicking here.

 

Timber Stand Improvement for Red Spruce Trees

Timber Stand Improvement for Red Spruce Trees

Red Spruce Forests

Picea rubens, most commonly known as red spruce, was once abundant in the West Virginia highlands covering over one million acres until the late 1800s. Its natural ecosystem contributions include providing food and cover for many animals such as the Northern flying squirrel and the Cheat Mountain Salamander. The dense canopy cover found in a red spruce forest creates a moist cool climate that provides a thriving environment for many of its inhabitants. Streams are also shaded by this canopy which helps to regulate temperature and light, thus sustaining water quality and biodiversity.

 

Forest Stand Reduction

Starting in the mid-1700s, clearing of red spruce forests for grazing and farming by slash and burn practices started the reduction of these forest stands. The mass harvesting of the late 1800s for lumber, paper, and musical instrument manufacturing, destroyed most of the spruce forests by 1920. This reduced spruce stands in West Virginia to approximately five percent. Today, only about 30,000 acres of red spruce remain in the West Virginia highlands.

Red Spruce Restoration

In an effort to help restore red spruce forests, Allstar Ecology was contracted by the U.S. Forest Service to work in the Monongahela National Forest within 27 timber stands totaling 1,095 acres in both Randolph and Pocahontas Counties, West Virginia. These forest stands were dominated by hardwood tree species, but had a red spruce component within their understories.

 

Beginning in 2016, Allstar Ecology Environmental Scientists started treating selected species of trees with herbicide utilizing a hack-n-squirt application method. Targeted trees included shade tolerant species such as beech and striped maple that compete with the red spruce in the understory. After the treatment of each stand, the Forest Service planned timber sales of the overstory hardwood trees. The following regeneration should result in the reestablishment of red spruce in these stands.

The project was completed in July of 2018 with the expectation that red spruce populations in these treated areas will not only thrive, but will continue to expand to form large-scale red spruce forests where they once historically flourished to sustain this unique ecosystem.

 

AllStar Welcomes New Staff

AllStar Welcomes New Staff

AllStar Ecology is excited to announce the addition of four new staff members with a wide range of biological and environmental experience and expertise.

Matthew Gilkay, Environmental Scientist I / Aquatic Biologist, is assisting AllStar with freshwater mussel surveys, flow monitoring, macroinvertebrate field and laboratory work, and water quality sampling. Matt obtained his B.S. in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology with minors in Environmental Science, Sustainability Studies, and Marine Biology in 2018. Mr. Gilkay also brings six years of open-water SCUBA diving experience in the Upper Midwest to AllStar’s dive team.

Grant Maltba, Environmental Scientist II / Bat Biologist, has joined our Bat Services team bringing eight years of experience in environmental services. Grant has a Federal Recovery Permit and West Virginia Scientific Collecting Permit for Indiana, gray, and northern long-eared bats. In 2013, he obtained his B.S. in Environmental Studies. Mr. Maltba is assisting AllStar with bat mist netting and acoustic surveys, bat box construction and installation, permitting and report writing, and bat habitat research.

Matt Safford, Environmental Scientist I / Bat Biologist, has also joined AllStar’s Bat Services team with five years of experience in wildlife and ecological monitoring and research. Matt obtained his B.A. in Ecology in 2013 and his M.S. in Entomology in 2018 studying the interactions between bats and their insect prey. Mr. Safford has a West Virginia Scientific Collecting Permit for bats and is assisting AllStar with bat box construction and installation, mist netting and acoustic bat monitoring, report writing, and bat habitat research.

Jason Clingerman, Environmental Scientist II, has joined our Stream and Wetland Delineation team. Mr. Clingerman has 8 years of experience in environmental consulting, and 12 years of experience utilizing GIS for various natural resource applications. He obtained his B.S. and M.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Resources in 2005 and 2008, respectively. He is assisting AllStar with stream and wetland delineations, permitting, and report writing.

Please join us in welcoming these four great additions to the AllStar Team!

To read more about AllStar Ecology, visit our About Us page.

TALK WITH US

Thanks for reading,
AllStar Ecology
info@allstarecology.com
304-816-3490

Pollinator Conservation:  West Virginia’s Native Bees

Pollinator Conservation: West Virginia’s Native Bees

Native Bees are Important to West Virginia

West Virginia’s native bees including bumble bees, mason bees, leaf-cutter bees, miner bees, and sweat bees are important to the pollination of most flowering trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants within the forests and fields of the Mountain State. Therefore, our native bees are important mechanisms for feeding West Virginia’s people and wildlife. West Virginia is rich with a diversity of habitats such as large river valleys, high-elevation mountains, forests, fields, etc. that are home to a diversity of flowering plants that provide pollen and nectar for a diversity of native bees. There has been a rapid decline of bumble bee species (Bombus spp.) throughout much of North America, including some that were once common in West Virginia. This has created the need for inventories to determine the current status of all native bee species. The use of published bee research, museum specimens, and historical records coupled with field data is needed to develop a list and determine the status of West Virginia’s native bees.

Top left: Megachile latimanus;  Bottom left: Halictus ligatus;  Center: Augochloropsis metallic; Top right: Coelioxys sayi;  Bottom Right: Osmia texana

Surveying West Virginia’s Native Bees

In 2018, AllStar Ecology began coordinating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (WVDNR) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to document West Virginia’s native bees. The WVDNR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USFS), West Virginia State Parks, and private landowners granted permission for AllStar Ecology personnel to survey native bees on lands under their ownership and management. Four AllStar Ecology Environmental Scientists conducted 242 native bee surveys using hand nets within 45 of the 55 West Virginia counties that resulted in the collection of 6,377 bees. These surveys identified 124 species including a new location of the rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis), which is currently on the USFWS’s Endangered Species List (List). The male was discovered in Tucker County and with a rare color pattern. The yellow-banded bumble bee (Bombus terricola), a candidate species to be placed on the List was found at eight locations, representing the first records of this species in West Virginia since 1979. Also found were 16 species of specialist bees, which are species that only collect pollen and nectar from a specific plant species or plant group.  Four species of the located specialist bees are considered to be rare. Three species that were not previously recorded in West Virginia were discovered, including a cuckoo bee (Nomada graenicheri), leaf-cutter bee (Heriades leaviti), and mining bee (Andrena illinoiensis) in Ritchie, Mingo, and Lewis Counties, respectively. This initial data is useful in determining which bee species are common and help to determine the distributions of rare, threatened, and endangered bee species. Future surveys will likely discover new species records for the state and additional locations of rare, threatened, and endangered native bee species.  Click here to view the 2018 rusty-patched bumble bee collected in Tucker County, WV along with other WV native bees on the USGS Native Bee Monitoring and Inventory Lab’s Flickr page.

Bombus affinis                                        Bombus terricola                                          Heriades leavitti

West Virginia, a Mountain Refuge

The rusty-patched bumble bee found in 2018 is the second to be documented within West Virginia since the 1990’s. This is encouraging that there are additional areas where the species is finding refuge within the Mountain State. The West Virginia locations, along with locations found in western Virginia over the last few years, are the only locations where the rusty-patched bumble bee is being found east of Illinois. The USFWS has a rusty-patched bumble bee map that shows the areas where the species has been found in recent years.   Click here to view USFWS map.

The rediscovery of yellow-banded bumble bees in WV is also encouraging. All eight locations where yellow-banded bumble bees were recorded are within the USFS Monongahela National Forest and occur in high-elevation habitats, averaging close to 4,000 feet above sea level.

Native Bee Pollinator Awareness

With the importance of native bees to the health and well-being of West Virginia’s people and wildlife, an effort is being made by AllStar to share the data and knowledge gained from these surveys with scientists and the general public. Mark Hepner is leading this effort and has presented about West Virginia’s native bees to community groups and organizations, encouraging everyone to learn about our native bees and to provide habitat wherever possible. A key point of Mark’s message is the need to provide flowers, native flowers are best, throughout the spring, summer, and fall. This is something most West Virginian’s can provide for our native bees by mowing less frequently or not mowing certain areas to allow flowers to bloom. The more we can learn about West Virginia’s native bees, the better we can understand the role they play in pollinating our forests and fields to help keep our state Wild and Wonderful.

Halictus ligatus

Useful Native Bee Resources

  • Colla, S., L. Richardson, and P. Williams. 2011. Bubble Bees of the Eastern United States
  • Discover Life, https://www.discoverlife.org/20/q?search=Apoidea
  • The Very Handy Manual: How to Catch and Identify Bees and Manage a Collection. 2015.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, WV Division of Natural Resources, and The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, 2012. West Virginia Pollinator Handbook. A Field Office Technical Guide Reference to management of pollinators and their habitats.
  • USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab | Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/
  • Williams P., Thorp, R., Richardson, L., and Colla, S. 2014. Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide. Princeton University Press.
  • Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, http://www.xerces.org

References

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, WV Division of Natural Resources, and The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, 2012. West Virginia Pollinator Handbook. A Field Office Technical Guide Reference to management of pollinators and their habitats.
  • Cameron S., J. D. Lozier, J. P. Strange, J. B. Koch, N. Cordes, L. F. Solter, and T. L. Griswold. 2011. Patterns of widespread decline in North American bumble bees. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108(2):662-667.
  • Evans E., R. Thorp, S. Jepsen, and S. H. Black. 2008. Status review of three formerly common species of bumble bee in the subgenus Bombus.
  • Fowler, J. Host plants for specialist bees of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States. http://jarrodfowler.com/host_plants.html
  • Fowler, J. and S. Droege. Specialist bees of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States. http://jarrodfowler.com/specialist_bees.html
  • McKinney M. Bee Natural History, Diversity, and Management in West Virginia. Dissertation submitted to the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design at West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia 2016.
  • Schweitzer D. F., N. A. Capuano, B. E. Young, and S. R. Colla. 2012. Conservation and management of North American bumble bees. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, and USDA Forest Service, Washington, D.C.
  • Williams P., Thorp, R., Richardson, L., and Colla, S. 2014. Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide. Princeton University Press.
  • Ascher, J. S. and J. Pickering. 2018. Discover Life bee species guide and world checklist Hymenoptera: Apoidae: Anthophila). http://www.discoveerlife.org/mp/20q?guide=Apoidae_species
  • The Very Handy Manual: How to Catch and Identify Bees and Manage a Collection. 2015.
  • USFWS Rusty-patched bumble bee webpage. https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb/index.html
AllStar’s Mitigation Expertise Featured in Professional Book: Wetland & Stream Rapid Assessments

AllStar’s Mitigation Expertise Featured in Professional Book: Wetland & Stream Rapid Assessments

AllStar Ecology recently authored a chapter in the professional book Wetland and Stream Rapid Assessments: Development, Validation, and Application.  This book describes the scientific and environmental policy background for rapid wetland and stream assessments, how such assessment methods are developed and statistically verified, and how they can be used in environmental decision-making—including wetland and stream permitting.

AllStar Ecology’s Dane Cunningham, Ryan Ward, and Walter Veselka (formerly with AllStar) co-authored Chapter 4.2.1 – “The West Virginia Stream and Wetland Valuation Metric (WVSWVM) Crediting Procedures and Assessments in Developing a Stream and Wetland Mitigation Banking Site”. This chapter details the assessment methodologies that comprise the WVSWVM, use of the metric, and the framework for using with regard to mitigation banking.  AllStar Ecology takes pride in being a leader in environmental consulting and research, with employee’s specialties ranging from aquatic entomology to stream/wetland restoration design and construction.

To learn more about our Mitigation and Restoration Services team, visit our Mitigation and Restoration page.

To learn more about our Stream and Wetland Permitting team, visit our Stream and Wetland Permitting page.

To read more about AllStar Ecology, visit our About Us page


 

TALK WITH US

Thanks for reading,
AllStar Ecology
info@allstarecology.com
304-816-3490

Surveying for Threatened & Endangered Crayfish of the Southern Coalfields

Surveying for Threatened & Endangered Crayfish of the Southern Coalfields

In 2016, two species of Appalachian crayfish, the Big Sandy Crayfish (Cambarus callainus) and the Guyandotte River Crayfish (C. veteranus) were awarded federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Due to their limited range and degrading habitat, the Big Sandy Crayfish was designated as a threatened species and the Guyandotte River Crayfish was designated as an endangered species. These designations provide each species protections through United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) management and oversight of activities which may alter species distribution and/or habitat.

The Big Sandy Crayfish (C. callainus) was first observed in 1937 and is only known from the Big Sandy River watershed in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and southern West Virginia. More specifically, it is only found in McDowell and Mingo Counties within West Virginia. The Big Sandy Crayfish is currently considered threatened because of its potential to become endangered if populations continue to decline in number and habitats continue to become limited.

Cambarus callainus

The Guyandotte River Crayfish (C. veteranus) is currently only known to occur in two streams of its historic range in Wyoming County, West Virginia. The species has a well-known population in Pinnacle Creek and a recently found population in Clear Fork. The Guyandotte River Crayfish is considered to be endangered because known populations are small and are isolated from each other. This makes the species vulnerable to die-offs as result of single pollution events and lack of genetic diversity.

Cambarus veteranus

Both species are habitat specialists, meaning they have specific habitat requirements for the establishment and success of their populations. Large slab boulders within swift moving creeks and streams are the preferred refugia for both species. Unfortunately, these habitats can become increasingly scarce as a result of increased sediments to streams such as sand and silt. In addition, historic industrial activities and poor infrastructure in the region have also resulted in water quality issues throughout each species’ historic range.

With habitat availability declining, these two-protected species are forced to compete with common native crayfish species for resources and refugia. Interspecies competition can further inhibit the likelihood of their success.

Crayfish Presence/Absence Surveys

Over the past two years, AllStar Ecology has conducted numerous presence/absence surveys in McDowell, Logan, and Wyoming Counties, West Virginia for bridge enhancement projects and utility lines. Due to the instream work associated with these projects, the surveys were necessary to avoid potential disturbance to endangered crayfish and their habitats.