Strategic Habitat Conservation
Southeast Region

Interagency cooperation monitors possible effects of proposed CERP project on the northern crested caracara

Lisa Kreiger of the South Florida Water Management District holds a caracara after placement of a satellite transmitter. Credit: Steve Schubert, USFWS

Lisa Kreiger of the South Florida Water Management District holds a caracara after placement of a satellite transmitter. Credit: Steve Schubert, USFWS

Since the beginning of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) in 2000, the Service’s South Florida Ecological Services Office in Vero Beach has been aware of the need to construct deep above-ground water storage and shallower treatment marshes throughout south Florida. While the field office supports the overall restoration goals of the CERP, many of these facilities would be located in the range of the threatened northern crested caracara. Florida has a distinct population of the crested caracara, which was originally placed on the list of threatened and endangered species as Audubon’s crested caracara. The caracara is a large, boldly patterned hawk with a crest. It has a naked face, heavy bill, elongated neck and unusually long legs.

Initial efforts focused on guiding the Service’s planning partners, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to locate facilities in areas that would minimize effects on the caracara, other listed species, and habitats of high value to fish and wildlife. Yet, all recognized impacts on the caracara would be unavoidable. The planned projects would include impacts on the vast areas of pasture in the heart of the species’ range, which covers five counties, primarily north and west of Lake Okeechobee in south central Florida.

Sample of the satellite tracking data from three caracaras, May to July, 2009. Credit: Steve Schubert, USFWS

Sample of the satellite tracking data from three caracaras, May to July, 2009. Credit: Steve Schubert, USFWS

We used the best available science to address the impacts of early stages of the overall project, proposed by the SFWMD. However, we did not know enough about the particular territories of nesting pairs or their reactions to construction and operation of water storage or treatment marshes within their territories. We have progressed from simple observation of birds through spotting scopes and binoculars, to radio-telemetry, and now to satellite tracking of birds. With satellite tracking, we can determine the extent to which pairs nesting close to the proposed projects currently use habitat that will be altered by the project, and begin to assess the reaction of the birds during and following construction.

Steve Schubert of our Service’s Vero Beach field office and Lisa Kreiger of the SFWMD have shown ingenuity and dedication, using existing resources, coordinating with researchers to capture the birds and affix the transmitters, and follow up when issues arise in the field. This is a shining example of interagency cooperation following the terms of a biological opinion, and the principles of strategic habitat conservation. Our office has traditionally provided comprehensive planning guidance, and this further demonstrates the need to follow the outcome of our consultations, learn from them, and improve our findings and recommendations.

Eureka!  Steve Schubert found the satellite transmitter (smaller item in his left hand) across a ditch from the area initially searched.  Credit: Jane Tutton, USFWS.

Eureka! Steve Schubert found the satellite transmitter (smaller item in his left hand) across a ditch from the area initially searched. Credit: Jane Tutton, USFWS.

To date, solar-powered transmitters were placed on birds in three territories that either overlap or are near a proposed 2,100-acre constructed treatment wetland on the former Lakeside Ranch in Okeechobee County, near the northeastern shore of Lake Okeechobee One of the transmitters provided six weeks of data, and although the bird is still alive, the transmitter was shed and never recovered. A second transmitter has continued to track the bird since May 18, of this year. The third was shed by another bird within about a week of deployment, but fortunately continued to face enough sun to keep it transmitting. It was found alongside a ditch by Lisa, Steve, and Jane Tutton, also from our Vero Beach office. The importance of finding this transmitter involved more than its $4,000 cost; the manufacturer has a waiting list to configure the units, and its recovery will allow it to be redeployed sooner, providing valuable baseline data before construction begins. Even though we knew the general area, locating it was a challenge; Steve was thrilled when he found the “needle in a haystack.” We will try to capture another bird to place this small but valuable tool back in the field, this time attaching it with an improved formulation of epoxy.

We were proud to attend a ceremony where the SFWMD honored Lisa with an Employee of the Month award. This served as a fine example of interagency cooperation.

Lisa Kreiger (center) was honored as Employee of the Month) by the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District. Bob Pace (left of Lisa) and Steve Schubert (right of Lisa) expressed the Service's gratitude. Credit: Courtesy of the SFWMD.

Lisa Kreiger (center) was honored as Employee of the Month) by the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District. Bob Pace (left of Lisa) and Steve Schubert (right of Lisa) expressed the Service's gratitude. Credit: Courtesy of the SFWMD.

Submitted by Robert Pace, South Florida Ecological Services Field Office, Vero Beach, Florida

Last updated: December 3, 2012