By Jeffery Robichaud
I was standing up in front of a class of students comprised mostly of seniors at Park University last Monday for their last class on U.S. Environmental Regulations. One of the questions I asked of them was which environmental law do they believe is the most important and why? Driving home after class I realized I’m not sure I could answer that question easily.
The reality is that it is tough to compare environmental laws, and even tougher to choose amongst those if forced to choose a single one. So I won’t, however the drive home gave me the idea that I might highlight environmental laws and regulations in the context of data and information, particularly of the geospatial kind. Most environmental regulations are better known by their acronyms; RCRA, SDWA, FIFRA, EPCRA, NEPA, etc., so today I bring you the first spoonful of environmental acronym soup.
My choice for the first environmental law was easy, since I briefly mentioned it in a January post. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was established in 1973 to conserve endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems on which they depend. It is administered primarily by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). You can find out more about the ESA by clicking here. The Environmental Protection Act interacts with the USFWS regarding the ESA routinely, most notably around what is known as consultations (Section 7 of the Act for those that want to look it up).
In conducting our work it is important to ensure that our actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or adversely modify critical habitat. Regarding the latter, the USFWS has helped all of us out with a Critical Habitat Portal, which allows individuals to search for habitat based on a particular species. You can download shapefiles and metadata for use in your own mapping projects or, use their convenient Critical Habitat Mapper to get some quick results (like the locations of Critical Habitat for the Topeka Shiner, a threatened and endangered (T&E) species here in Region 7).
Data on the locations of T&E species is a bit trickier. They can obviously be inferred from the Critical Habitat Mapper and many states maintain information usually at the county-level regarding known and historic ranges of T&E species. However, an organization called Nature Serve can provide more specific information regarding locations depending on the intended uses of the data and the project. They serve as the repository for detailed and reliable locality data (“element occurrences”) from State Conservation departments documenting the precise locations of rare and endangered species and threatened ecological communities. From time to time we need this information at a finer scale to ensure that a specific activity is mindful of the presence of these species.
So there you have it… the ESA with a side of T&E data. I haven’t decided what acronym I want to tackle next, but I’m taking requests. Be sure to tip your GIS specialist (with data of course).
Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division. Jeff’s favorite T&E species is the Gray Wolf but he also thinks the Plains Spotted Skunk is pretty darn cute.