Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, Caracara Conservation Efforts Boosted
by Ken Warren, USFWS
March 7, 2013
Audubon’s crested caracara
VERO BEACH, Fla. – Two of Florida’s imperiled species--Audubon’s crested caracaras and Florida grasshopper sparrows--are getting some help in the form of a $400,000 contribution to be used for monitoring, research and other conservation activities.
The voluntary donation was made by BP out of concern about existing and potential populations within the site of a proposed ethanol production facility in Highlands County.
These concerns arose after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s review of the Highlands Ethanol Project, which proposed construction of an ethanol production facility in Highlands County, Fla. This project would have involved the leasing of approximately 34,000 acres of land for the production of energy crops to generate the ethanol.
The Service issued a biological opinion (BO) for the effects of this proposed project on habitat for the Audubon’s crested caracara. The BO provided an incidental take statement for the caracara. The Service also concurred with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ determination that the project “may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect” the Florida grasshopper sparrow, Florida panther and eastern indigo snake.
Last October, BP announced it would not be moving forward with plans for the ethanol facility as originally planned, but followed through on its commitment to fund these conservation activities.
“BP has been a fantastic partner as this project and the various ecological concerns unfolded. We greatly appreciate BP for working with us to ensure the needs of these imperiled species were addressed,” said Service Biologist Al Begazo, primary author of the BO.
After several discussions with the Dept. of Energy, BP and its environmental consultant, the Service concluded that proposed conservation measures for these species were acceptable. These measures included continuing to survey for caracara nesting on site, avoiding the immediate area around active caracara nests, limiting disturbance within an expanded area surrounding these nests, and contributing to further research and conservation efforts.
BP donated $200,000 to the Caracara Conservation Fund and the same amount to the Florida Grasshopper Sparrow Conservation Fund, which are administered by the Wildlife Foundation of Florida (WFF), the nonprofit, citizen-support organization of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. While the caracara contribution was recorded as a term and condition which served to help offset the impacts to known caracara territories, the contribution for Florida grasshopper sparrows was a wholly voluntary donation provided as a recommended conservation measure.
“This is wonderful news,” said Brett Boston, Executive Director of the Wildlife Foundation of Florida. “The funds will enhance our ability to support habitat restoration and monitoring in Florida for these federally endangered and threatened species.”