The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has received the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) biological opinion of the Fire Island Inlet to Moriches Inlet stabilization project concluding that while project activities will affect piping plovers, the project will not jeopardize the continued existence of this species.
The biological opinion, developed to fulfill the Corps’ obligations under the Endangered Species Act, analyzes the possible effects of the project to the threatened piping plover and other protected species. It also outlines measures that the Corps and other partner agencies would implement to minimize or mitigate for those effects.
The biological opinion is the result of several months of discussions with the Service, the Corps, Suffolk County, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The agencies refined the project to minimize and mitigate for the effects to endangered species, particularly the plover, while not sacrificing the coastal storm risk management features of the project.
In addition, an interagency team will be formed to ensure the conservation measures in the biological opinion are effectively implemented.
“This biological opinion represents an excellent example of the good partnerships between agencies at the local, state and federal level,” said New York District Commander, Col. Paul Owen. “Coastal restoration of the barrier island is crucial to managing storm risk and reducing damages to the south shore of Long Island’s communities.”
“The Fire Island stabilization project has challenged us to meet multiple interests for this storm-affected area,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Regional Director Paul Phifer. “Ultimately, we believe the significant commitment by the Corps and partners will help us protect the community while also creating a strong local, state and federal partnership to aid in the continued conservation efforts of the threatened piping plover.”
“Working with the various agencies to craft a plan that would satisfy the needs of all parties highlighted once again the complexity of Fire Island,” said Chris Soller, Superintendent of the Fire Island National Seashore. “By working collaboratively, we developed a plan that balances the competing and often conflicting interests of protecting the natural environment, ensuring protection of the island’s infrastructure and development, and ensuring access for residents and visitors alike to enjoy this special place.”
“I compliment the efforts made by all the governmental parties in addressing the need to rebuild the devastated dune structure on Fire Island, while taking efforts to provide for piping plover habitat,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens. “The monitoring and maintenance provisions agreed upon will further the knowledge and efforts being taken to protect this federally and state listed species.”
On Fire Island, the plover population has dropped by half since 2008, to less than 30 pairs in 2013. Every spring, plovers fly from as far south as the Bahamas to Long Island to nest and begin raising their young. Piping plovers were once common but now number less than 3,800 along the Atlantic Coast. The species nearly went extinct due to excessive hunting for the millinery trade in the early 1900s, and the current population decline is attributed to increased development and recreational use of beaches since the end of World War II.
The Endangered Species Act provides federal protective measures for the plover, which is also protected by State of New York endangered species law. The Endangered Species Act directs all federal agencies to ensure their activities are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species.
USACE, June 3, 2014; Image: USACE