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Florida Scrub-jay Translocation Guidelines
June 6, 2011
SUMMARY AND OBJECTIVES
The Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) as a threatened species due principally to habitat loss from development and agriculture and habitat degradation from fire exclusion. Translocation, the movement of a species from one location to another by people, is a potentially useful tool for scrub-jay conservation. The objective of translocation is to promote the persistence of scrub-jay metapopulations by increasing the size of, and connectivity among, local populations. To accomplish this objective, translocations can involve reintroduction (returning scrub-jays to areas from which they have been extirpated) or augmentation (increasing the size of extant populations). Translocation is only one tool for conserving scrub-jays; habitat management remains the most important conservation method for this species.
These guidelines represent recommendations of the USFWS and the FWC to help land managers, researchers, and others considering translocation of Florida scrub-jays for conservation purposes. Use or application of the following guidelines are not intended to satisfy Federal regulatory requirements and, therefore, do not substitute for minimization or mitigation measures associated with Federal permitting requirements. The methods and techniques in these guidelines represent what the USFWS and the FWC consider the minimum standards for scrub-jay translocation based on past and current translocation efforts. Conservation practitioners may choose to exceed these standards (e.g., by using radio transmitters for more detailed monitoring).
The USFWS and the FWC support limited scrub-jay translocation efforts using the recommendations provided in these guidelines. We believe adoption of these recommendations will reduce risks to source populations, increase translocation success, and target translocation activities where a conservation need has been demonstrated. Scrub-jay translocations are experimental in nature. Methodologies are not developed sufficiently for translocation to be considered a routine management tool for scrub-jays, and translocations are not appropriate in all situations. The USFWS and the FWC will evaluate proposals on a case-by-case basis to determine if the potential conservation benefit outweighs the risks inherent in conducting a scrub-jay translocation. These guidelines will be amended as new information becomes available.
Florida scrub-jays are sedentary and highly territorial, have strong site fidelity, and rarely disperse long distances. In addition, scrub-jays are highly social and exhibit conspecific attraction.
Therefore, when scrub-jays disperse, they are less likely to settle in unoccupied patches of potential habitat. As a result, when scrub-jays are extirpated from patches of suitable habitat, successful recolonization may take many years, or may not occur at all. Suitable habitat is generally defined as an oak-dominated scrub or scrubby flatwoods with low, open shrub structure, exposed sandy openings, and few trees.
Additionally, much of the remaining scrub-jay habitat is reduced in size, fragmented, and overgrown due to fire exclusion. Fragmentation increases isolation of scrub-jay populations and reduces the probability of immigration. As scrub-jay habitat is restored on conservation lands, immigration may not be sufficient to increase small remaining scrub-jay populations. Without sufficient immigration, small populations will continue to be vulnerable to the adverse effects of stochastic events.
The long-term persistence of scrub-jays will require that some currently small populations increase in size and that some extirpated populations be restored. Because of the limitations described above, however, natural immigration alone may not be enough to augment small populations to self-sustaining population levels. In some cases, human-assisted dispersal (i.e., translocation) of scrub-jays may be necessary.
The translocation of scrub-jays has been conducted at three locations. Valuable information has been, and continues to be, gained from these efforts about appropriate methodologies and techniques that may increase translocation success. As we learn more, these guidelines will be modified. The USFWS and the FWC believe adherence to these guidelines will help future efforts provide valuable information to refine translocation methodologies.
CONSERVATION OF GENETIC HETEROGENEITY
Recent analyses indicate there is a substantial amount of genetic variation among some scrub-jay metapopulations (Coulon et al. 2008). Conservation of genetic diversity provides the evolutionary potential necessary for species to adapt to changes in their environment over time and therefore is beneficial to the long-term survival of species. Genetic diversity can serve an important role at the metapopulation level as well as the species level by ensuring that long-isolated metapopulations remain uniquely adapted to local environmental conditions
There remains much debate about how genetic information should be used in the formulation of conservation or management practices. Given current data on scrub-jay genetic diversity, it seems prudent to maintain existing scrub-jay genetic heterogeneity to the maximum extent possible. Translocations should not occur between genetic clusters (see Figure 1), except in extenuating circumstances to be determined by consultation with the USFWS and the FWC.
Ideally, the source of scrub-jays for translocation would come from very small, isolated populations with little chance of long-term persistence or from healthy and growing populations that would not likely be affected demographically by the loss of translocated birds. Previous efforts have translocated both entire family groups and non-breeding helpers ranging from yearlings to older birds. The conclusions from these previous case studies suggest: 1) moving helpers, especially young of the year, is likely to have the least impact on source populations; 2) the establishment rate of non-breeding helpers is relatively high when these individuals are used for re-introductions; 3) moving entire family groups is more likely to have an impact on source populations; 4) but moving entire family groups seems to be more successful than moving non-breeders when augmenting existing populations. Given these considerations, source populations should meet one or more of the following criteria:
1. Individual birds and/or family groups on private lands that are covered by Federal incidental take permits/authorizations where any legally required minimization and/or mitigation obligations have been fully met.
2. Individuals and/or family groups from healthy and growing populations on public or private conservation lands that meet the following criteria:
Translocations may involve the reintroduction of scrub-jays to previously occupied areas or the augmentation of existing populations to achieve the objective listed earlier in this document. The USFWS and the FWC will evaluate each potential recipient site based on the benefit to its larger metapopulation and/or genetic unit. A list of priority sites is not currently available. Characteristics of recipient sites will depend on circumstances specific to each metapopulation and/or genetic unit. Generally, we anticipate high conservation benefit from translocation proposals that conserve scrub-jays on well-managed sites that are part of a functioning metapopulation. Appropriate recipient sites or populations should meet the following minimum criteria:
1. The site has been reviewed and approved by the USFWS and the FWC as a priority recipient site and meets the following criteria:
2. The site contains the necessary spatial extent of scrub-jay habitat, including:
3. Habitat quality at the time of the translocation should include the following:
CAPTURE, TRANSPORTATION, HACKING, AND RELEASE
1. Appropriate Federal and, in some cases, local authorizations are necessary prior to initiating translocation activities and include, but are not necessarily limited to:
Those planning a translocation should contact the USFWS and, in some cases, local authorities to ensure that appropriate permits and authorizations are in place. Those planning a translocation also should coordinate with FWC’s Avian Taxa Coordinator.
2. Translocation of scrub-jays should occur from late-November through January, when resident scrub-jays tend to be less territorial. Exceptions may be made when donor populations are at risk of habitat loss due to imminent land alteration (urban development, agricultural conversion, etc.) that has been reviewed and where incidental take has been authorized by the USFWS.
3. Donor scrub-jays should be habituated to supplemental food and traps before scheduled capture. “Dummy” traps may need to be baited several times p