Section 7 Consultation
Operation & Maintenance
of the Upper Mississippi River for Navigation
Questions and Answers
Will implementing the biological opinion on Operation and Maintenance
of the 9-foot Channel on the Upper Mississippi River stop barge traffic?
A: Implementation of the biological opinion will not stop barge
traffic. The Service recognizes that commercial navigation is important
to the commerce of the nation. However, we believe fish and wildlife
resources should be given equal consideration with navigation on the
Mississippi River. In fact, Congress has recognized the UMR as both a nationally significant natural resource and commercial resource.
The Endangered Species Act requires all Federal agencies
to utilize their authorities to further the conservation of listed species
as well as to consult with the Service any time their planned actions
would affect those species. The Service and the Corps are working together
within their authorities and responsibilities to protect and save listed
threatened and endangered species from the adverse impacts of the operation
and maintenance of commercial navigation on the UMRS. The Service and
the Corps are required to seek species-protecting solutions or alternatives
that are consistent with project objectives and within the action agency's
responsibilities, authorities, and budget. Solutions that meet those
standards were developed for the biological opinion and are being implemented.
Q: Doesn't a finding of jeopardy for any species
require operation and maintenance to be stopped and that consequently
barge traffic on the river will be stopped?
A: No. The Service and the Corps have worked closely together
to develop reasonable and prudent alternatives (RPA's) or reasonable
and prudent measures (RPM's) to avoid jeopardy and/or harm to the species.
None of the RPAs/RPMs developed require cessation of operation and maintenance.
Following implementation of these alternatives, the status of the species
will be monitored to ensure that the project is not continuing to adversely
affect the species. If it is, then consultation would be reinitiated
to search for more and better solutions to the problem.
Q: What will the Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives
and Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPAs/RPMs) cost? Who pays?
A: Costs are uncertain but will be a small fraction of 1 percent
of the proposed 50-year UMR Navigation Project. The U.S. taxpayers,
through the Federal action agency and other parties, will share the
cost of conservation measures.
Q: Will the consultation delay needed channel
or lock and dam maintenance?
A: The Service anticipates no delay to maintenance or shipping
as a result of the consultation. However, the Act requires that the
Federal action agency not commit any resources that would preclude the
development of alternatives that might preclude jeopardy of any species.
The consultation may affect the scheduling of construction of some operation
and maintenance structures and may require the modification of some
structures. We will be working cooperatively and expeditiously with
the Corps of Engineers to avoid or minimize delays.
Q: What is the value of protecting species like
A: The Nation, through Congress and with the signature of the
president, decided to create the Endangered Species Act in a deliberate
national effort to prevent avoidable extinctions of plants and animals.
In its hearings and deliberations before drafting the Endangered Species
Act, Congress found these species have great value to the nation beyond
immediate practical utility. These other values include scientific,
educational, historical, cultural, and recreational values akin to those
of our great historical sites, architectural achievements, cultural
celebrations, and recreational pursuits. To be on a part of a river
with a healthy mussel populations is often to be on the most natural
part of the river. The mussels are a tangible reminder that a family
is making its best possible connection with a river close to the way
it was when Indians, European explorers, and early traders and settlers
paddled its surface above the ancestors of the very mussels beneath
them on their modern visit.
Americans care about endangered species from their heart
and feeling side, as well as from their material usefulness side. They
care about endangered species the way they care about other priceless,
non-utilitarian things like music, family photos, flower gardens, baseball
games, beautiful sunsets, and their wedding rings. They cared in such
large numbers that the Endangered Species Act was created and it continues
with overwhelming popular support.
Q: Why should we care if mussels (or any other
species) go extinct?
A: The natural values and the important, but intangible, cultural
and historical interest values of the river would both be diminished
if any of the river's species were lost. The river would be degraded,
a less natural place for angler and recreating family. The role of mussels
in the health of the overall aquatic community, including sport fish,
is still not understood. The loss of mussels in a river could have adverse
effects on the numbers of other desirable species -- or on the increase
of undesirable aquatic life forms.
Q: How has operation and maintenance of the navigation
channel affected federally listed species and their habitat?
A: Operation and maintenance of the navigation channel project
has greatly altered the natural fluvial and geomorphological processes
of the UMR through construction of locks and dams, channel regulating
works, and dredging/disposal. These processes were responsible for developing
the large river ecosystem that provided macro- and microhabitat requirements
of many species. The result has been alteration, degradation, and loss
of these habitats leading to reduced population numbers of some species.
Can the Service prove the project is jeopardizing the continued existence
of the Higgins' eye pearlymussel?
A: The Service cannot conclusively prove jeopardy. We recognize
the Mississippi River zebra mussel situation as unique in its newness.
Studies on zebra mussel impacts to native mussels in rivers have not
progressed to the point of formulas or rules of thumb that we can use.
The Service used published scientific information, insofar as pertinent
studies exist, but also made heavy use of logic and expert judgment.
The best information and expert judgment clearly indicate that, at this
time, zebra mussels are in the best Higgins' eye habitats, and are a
grave threat to the continued existence of Higgins' eye.
Q: Can the Service prove the project is not jeopardizing
the continued existence of the winged mapleleaf mussel?
A: The same lack of well established scientific information
pertinent to Higgins' eye exists for the winged mapleleaf mussel. We
are using all available information in conjunction with the best expert
judgments and best logic we can develop. At this time, zebra mussels
are not in the winged mapleleaf habitats. It is possible, but not certain,
that zebra mussels will invade and establish in the winged mapleleaf
habitats. Furthermore, it is unknown how well zebra mussels would do
in winged mapleleaf habitats as they are quite different from areas
of high zebra mussel density. Most of all, it is not certain that elimination
of the Corps' Upper Mississippi River Navigation operation and maintenance
would quickly eliminate the possibility of zebra mussels entering the
St. Croix. In sum, the relationship of the project to winged mapleleaf
is less clear and more dependent on the occurrence of uncertain chance
events than it is to Higgins' eye. The standard of demonstrably likely,
quantifiable, project-caused jeopardy level harm to the winged mapleleaf
simply does not exist as it does for Higgins' eye. However, the biological
opinion does provide for reinitiation of consultation if certain densities
of zebra mussels are exceeded.
Q: What can be done to protect the mussels?
A: One promising measure that has been incorporated as a Reasonable
and Prudent Alternative (RPA) is to collect mussels and attempt to relocate
them to other uninfected watersheds in an attempt to preserve at least
a small population to reintroduce into the UMR in case the zebra mussel
wipes out native mussels. The real difficulty will be in finding suitable
locations which will not be infested by zebra mussels in the future.
At this time, candidate areas appear to be in the upper pools above
Lake Pepin, the St. Croix River, and UMR tributaries. The zebra mussel
invasion presents a formidable challenge in conserving all species of
mussels on the UMR, including Higgins' eye pearlymussel and winged mapleleaf.
Q: How does the Service know relocations will
A: Careful follow-up study of mussel relocations indicates
very good survivorship for years after the relocations. Relocation of
mussels is now a standard operation. Other ways of relocating mussels
that do not involve relocation of adult mussels also exist. For example,
fish carrying mussel larvae can be moved to a new area where the larvae
will drop from the transported fish to the bottom of the new water body.
This has been done successfully and the Service and CE will be looking
into it with other experts.
Q: What will the Service do if the relocations
A: The Service and Corps of Engineers will reopen the consultation.
We will try to determine why the relocation didn't work and fix the
problem, if possible. If not, we will seek other actions that might
preserve the species. Zebra mussels are under intense scientific study
across the country. There is no way to know what options may be available
in a few years, but it seems a near certainty that we will know more
about fixing the problem than we do today.
Q: What could be done instead of relocations to
protect the species?
A: Ideas, such as vessel inspections, public education, and boat cleaning
have been explored. Some of the measures are partially helpful, but
all lack the comprehensive protection we believe relocations will provide.
Q: Why doesn't the Service recommend shutting
down the 9-foot navigation project as a way to save Higgins' eye pearlymussel?
A: The threat to Higgins' eye pearlymussel on the UMR is zebra
mussels. Stopping commercial navigation on the UMR in itself will not
"cure" the zebra mussel invasion and their effects on Higgins'
eye pearlymussel. Zebra mussels are already present in the UMR and have
infested areas where Higgins' eye pearlymussels are found. To save the
species we need to establish populations of Higgins' eye pearlymussel
in areas that will not be infested with zebra mussels in the future.
Q: But isn't commercial navigation the cause of
the zebra mussel invasion on the UMR?
A: Commercial navigation is responsible for transporting zebra
mussels upstream on the UMR from the Illinois River which was infested
by zebra mussel veligers from Lake Michigan. However, the problem isn=t
commercial navigation per se C the problem is barges and other
equipment that are infested with zebra mussels. The difficulty is no
one can say to what extent zebra mussels would decrease if shipping
ceased -- or if the decrease would be fast enough to prevent the loss
of Higgins' eye in the lower St. Croix and mainstem Mississippi Rivers.
How big of a problem is illegal harvest to the pallid sturgeon?
A: We don't know that illegal harvest is a problem but we suspect
it may be. The Service is working with state departments of natural
resources and other pallid experts to determine the extent of the illegal
harvest problem and measures to curb the problem. The Service is also
working with the pallid sturgeon recovery team to determine the best
approach to addressing this issue. This effort, however, is outside
the bounds of the section 7 process. The section 7 consultation regulations
apply only to actions by Federal agencies, such as the Corps' Nine foot
Q: Aren't the Corps' existing and proposed environmental
projects already doing enough to help the pallid and the least tern?
A: What the Corps has done (wing dams modification) and what
the Corps proposes to do (wing dam modification and side channel restoration)
has been and will be beneficial to the pallid sturgeon and least tern.
However, those measures were considered in the analysis of future effects
of the project, and they are not enough or too speculative due to cost-share
funding requirements to offset anticipated detrimental effects.
Why does the Corps have to undertake measures through their O/M program
to protect Middle Mississippi River least terns, when least tern numbers
throughout its range (on the Lower Mississippi River, especially) are
increasing? Isn't there a lot of sandbar habitat?
A: The implication of the question is that the Service should
balance, over the life of the Project, anticipated increases in tern
numbers in the Lower Mississippi with expected reductions in the Middle
Mississippi. The ESA requires under section 7 that the Service determine
if a project will: 1) cause jeopardy, i.e. appreciably reduce the likelihood
of survival and recovery of a listed species, and 2) result in incidental
take of the listed species. The Service has determined that this Project
will not cause jeopardy to the least tern, but it will result in some
incidental take in the form of habitat loss over the project life as
proposed by the Corps. It is the Service's opinion that the amount and
quality of sandbar habitat on the Middle Mississippi River will be reduced
over the project life, which meets the definition of incidental take
in the section 7 regulations. Under those same regulations, the Corps
must take steps through elements of the project (O/M) , i.e. reasonable
and prudent measures, to minimize take that is incidental to the project.
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