The latest happenings at the Asheville Field Office

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Friday, August 5, 2022

Electric charger installed – The Asheville Field Office recently installed its first electric car charger. The charger will primarily serve the office’s Chevy Bolt electric car, which has proven to be extremely popular for non-field work trips. The installation occurred thanks to the dedication and perseverance of Karla Quast and Sandra Spivey, the current and former ASFO administrative officers.

Invasive species management – Asheville Field Office biologist Byron Hamstead joined N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission staff to manage an invasive plant, marsh dewflower, at a western North Carolina wetland within the acquisition boundary for Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge. The invasive plant was first documented at the site in 2021 and has since been the subject of intense management efforts.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery – Asheville Field Office biologist Sue Cameron joined staff from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and Zoo Knoxville to visit Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery. The team met with hatchery manager Kelly Taylor to provide technical assistance to their bog turtle captive breeding program. Although the bog turtle’s southern population – stretching from Georgia to Virginia – receives limited protection under the Endangered Species Action, the Service has been petitioned to provide it with stronger protections.

Rare bat elusive on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Working from a report that little brown bats were found roosting on a bridge on the Blue Ridge Parkway - a bridge slated for destruction and replacement - Asheville Field Office biologists Susan Cameron and Rebekah Reid joined National Park Service and Federal Highways Administration staff, as well as project contractors at the bridge for a closer examination. Once common, little brown bats are now being considered for Endangered Species Act protection and are exceptionally rare in western North Carolina. ​The team found big brown bats day roosting in the bridge and evidence that big brown bats and at least one other species, possibly little brown bats, are using the bridge as a night roost.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Showcasing stream prioritization - GIS, or geographic information systems, provide a way to process and display geographic data – for example, a user could use a geographic information system to combine state boundaries and election returns in individual voting precincts to display candidate support across the nation. Each year, ESRI, the predominant company in this industry, hosts the ESRI Users Conference, the largest conference in this field. Asheville Field Office GIS analyst Mark Endries presented a poster explaining how he used information collected by state biologists on what aquatic animals are or aren’t found in stream reaches across North Carolina to create a map that prioritizes stream reaches for conservation.  

Friday, July 15, 2022

Spruce restoration around site of historic logging camp - Camp Alice was a logging camp, named after the camp cook, near the peak of North Carolina’s Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. Today it’s part of Mount Mitchell State Park, and the site of a potential red spruce restoration effort to improve habitat for the Carolina northern flying squirrel and spruce-fir moss spider. Asheville field office biologist Sue Cameron joined staff from N.C. State Parks, N.C. Natural Heritage Program, and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to begin developing a restoration strategy for the site, with an eye toward spring of 2023 for on-the-ground work.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Staff from the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Forest Stewards Guild, U.S. Forest Service, and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission eye a possible red spruce restoration site in North Carolina's Black Mountains.

Black Mountains visit – Efforts to restore red spruce forests in North Carolina’s Black Mountains advanced this week as Asheville Field Office biologists joined staff from the U.S. Forest Service, N.C. State Parks, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, N.C. Natural Heritage Program, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Forest Stewards Guild to discuss a strategy for restoring spruce to a privately-owned block of conserved land. The area is home to the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel and spruce-fir moss spider, both of which depend on high-elevation conifer forests and would benefit from restoration. The first challenge in the rugged terrain is how to enable existing red spruce trees to grow into the canopy and become seed-producers while ensuring the squirrel has sufficient hardwood nesting trees and the boulder fields that may contain the spider remain undisturbed.

Reintroduction plan for two musselsAndrew Henderson of the Asheville Field Office, working with Rose Agbalog of the Southwest Virginia Field Office and Tim Lane of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, recently completed an augmentation/reintroduction plan for the Appalachian monkeyface and the Cumberland monkeyface mussels into the Clinch River, Virginia. In addition to basic species information, the plan outlines where and when augmentation/reintroduction will occur and addresses genetic, disease, and monitoring considerations. These mussel species haven’t been collected from the Clinch River in more than 20 years, though stocking should begin this summer with a long term goal of re-establishing populations in the Clinch River.

Friday, July 1, 2022

New refuge manager visits - The Asheville Field Office welcomed Jake Tuttle, new manager for Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge. Asheville staff Laura Fogo and Holland Youngman joined Tuttle as he visited the site of a Partners for Fish and Wildlife project adjacent to the refuge that is designed to improve wildlife passage between blocks of conserved land. In addition to Mountain Bogs NWR, Tuttle also manages Piedmont and Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuges in central Georgia.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Uwharries National Forest - Asheville Field Office biologist Jason Mays joined Forest Service biologist Sheryl Bryan for a site visit to the Uwharries National Forest where the two planned steps to minimize impacts to aquatic species from proposed infrastructure improvements, and discussed longer-term mussel conservation efforts.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Pisgah/Nantahala Forest Plan – The Asheville Field Office completed their review of the new Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Land Management Plan under Section 7 Section 7
Section 7 Consultation The Endangered Species Act (ESA) directs all Federal agencies to work to conserve endangered and threatened species and to use their authorities to further the purposes of the Act. Section 7 of the Act, called "Interagency Cooperation," is the mechanism by which Federal…

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of the Endangered Species Act. In development for years, the plan will guide forest management on the two western North Carolina forests for at least 15 years to come. Biologists Rebekah Reid was the lead in the review, with support from Bryan Tompkins, Sue Cameron, Jason Mays, Andrew Henderson and field office supervisor Janet Mizzi.  

Virginia spiraea range map updated – In an ongoing effort to align species range maps with ecological features instead of political boundaries, like county lines, Mark Endries worked with Byron Hamstead and Rebekah Reid, all of the Asheville Field Office, to update the range map for the threatened Virginia spiraea as it occurs in North Carolina. One practical aspect of the updated range is it dramatically reduces the North Carolina area where federally funded or authorized projects are reviewed for impacts to the plant under the Endangered Species Act, from 2,153,577 acres down to 261,146 acres, an 88% reduction. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Pollinators and the National Park Service – Asheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins trained 22 Great Smoky Mountains National Park technicians and seasonal employees in non-lethal bumble bee survey techniques and identification. While bumble bee monitoring won’t be their primary job, the knowledge will enable them to make casual observations across the park throughout the warm season. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is within the range of the endangered rusty-patch bumble bee, but hasn’t been seen there since 2001.

Invasive plant response – The invasive plant marsh dayflower has been discovered in a western North Carolina bog, prompting a response from area biologists in hopes of eradicating the plant from the site before it gets established. Asheville Field Office biologist Sue Cameron joined staff from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and Conserving Carolina land conservancy to remove the plant. The site is home to the at-risk bog turtle and within the acquisition boundary for Mountain Bogs NWR.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Carolina heelsplitter – Staff with the Asheville and South Carolina field offices refined the range map of the Carolina heelsplitter mussel. Working with biologists Morgan Wolf and Jason Mays, GIS analyst Mark Endries shifted the official range of the Carolina heelsplitter from an area based on county boundaries, i.e. a county range map, to one based on watersheds. The result is a more accurate range map, and a 54% reduction in the area where federally funded or authorized projects are reviewed for impacts to the mussel under the Endangered Species Act.

Bog turtles – Asheville Field Office biologist Sue Cameron joined biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and Project Bog Turtle to assist with a portion of the state’s annual bog turtle monitoring. Cameron joined the team for three sites - one of which is in the acquisition boundary for Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge - though turtles were only found at two of those. Though the bog turtle’s northern population is listed as threatened, the southern population, currently listed as threatened due to similarity of appearance, was recently petitioned for full listing.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Asheville Field Office biologist Bryan Tompkins prepares bee specimens during a pollinator monitoring class at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Pollinator conservation - Four southeastern biologists joined other Service and U.S. Geological Survey biologists in the inaugural Pollinator Field Methods and Lab Techniques course May 16-19 at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD. Throughout the week-long class, we studied and practiced various field survey methods and USFWS/USGS lab techniques to help ensure quality data collection for this under-researched taxa. Sean Christopherson (Florida Field Office), Samantha Hermann (Florida Field Office), Meg Hedeen (Georgia Field Office), and Bryan Tompkins (Asheville Field Office) were happy to represent the southeast and look forward to continued collaboration.

Bunched arrowhead – Asheville Field Office staff Rebekah Reid, Karla Quast, and Byron Hamstead joined staff from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission in the field to familiarize everyone with bunched arrowhead, a threatened wetland plant. Although the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission doesn’t have state purview over plants, they recently acquired 87 acres adjacent to the French Broad River in Henderson County, NC, with the aim of restoring natural hydrology and ecological function of the site which may improve habitats for foraging/commuting listed bat species and possibly rare wetland plants. The outing also included a visit to a known bunched arrowhead population on conserved land that was the site of a Partners for Fish and Wildlife wetland restoration project.  

Golden-winged warbler – Biologists with the Asheville Field Office spent two mornings monitoring for at-risk golden-winged warbler at a total of 10 points along two routes in far western North Carolina. The effort was the field office’s contribution to a widespread golden-winged warbler monitoring effort coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. A decision on whether to place the warbler on the federal threatened and endangered species list is expected in 2026.   

Friday, May 20, 2022

Thee Fish and Wildlife Service staff identify birds during a visit to the Great Balsam Mountains of western North Carolina, and area that's the subject of red spruce restoration efforts to support the Carolina northern flying squirrel.

Learning the landscape - To help familiarize new staff with key species and habitats, and build connection during the return to the office, staff from the Asheville Field Office recently visited a high-elevation area that has been the site of red spruce restoration for the threatened Carolina northern flying squirrel, and a southern Appalachian bog that’s home to the threatened swamp pink. 

Friday, May 13, 2022

Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander - The Service learned we will soon be petitioned to place the Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander on the threatened and endangered species list. The salamander is new to science, having been split from the green salamander, which was the subject of a now-withdrawn petition. The Hickory Nut Gorge green salamander is only known from the Hickory Nut Gorge region of North Carolina, southeast of Asheville. 

Bog turtles - Byron Hamstead and Susan Cameron from the Asheville Field Office joined biologists from the state and NRCS at a bog outside Asheville to deploy a survey technique that’s showing tremendous promise for monitoring bog turtles. The method uses trail cameras along likely bog turtle paths – a technique already in use for other reptile species, but just beginning its second year of use for southern bog turtles. The Service was recently petitioned to place the southern population of bog turtles on the threatened and endangered species list.  

Gray bat – In conducting a bat survey on a NCDOT bridge, Asheville Field Office biologist Lauren Wilson found an endangered gray bat, marking the second known occurrence of the species in Henderson County, N.C. Henderson County is part of the French Broad River basin, which has seen a dramatic increase in gray bat numbers in recent years.  

Friday, May 6, 2022

Service biologist Jason Mays fills a tank holding sicklefin redhorse. The tank, mounted in the bed of a truck, will be used to carry the fish to where they will be outfitted with radio telemetry tags.

Sicklefin redhorse field work blitz - The annual blitz of sicklefin redhorse field work has concluded, with Asheville Field Office’s Jay Mays, and Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery’s Haile Macurdy representing the Service in work agreed to under a Candidate Conservation Agreement. The week’s effort included collecting sperm and eggs, tracking the fish’s seasonal migration, and surgically implanting radio telemetry tags. Once considered for the threatened and endangered species list, the Service, states of North Carolina and Georgia, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Duke Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority committed to conserving the fish that’s only found in the western tip of North Carolina and a sliver of north Georgia.  

Conference presentation - The 2022 Municipal Wet Weather Stormwater Conference was held in Asheville, N.C. May 2-4. Gary Peeples of the Asheville Field Office was a keynote speaker, addressing approximately 150 people about the Endangered Species Act, with a focus on situations when project review under the Endangered Species Act may change from what people were used to, i.e. when our knowledge about a species changes, when the status of a species changes, or when efficiencies are applied to the project review process. 

 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Young red spruce trees grown in a greenhouse at Southern Highlands Reserve, a native plant arboretum and research center in western North Carolina.

Southern Highlands Reserve – In advance of this year’s planting season, Asheville Field Office staff Sue Cameron and Gary Peeples visited Southern Highlands Reserve, a non-profit arboretum and research center, to meet with executive director Kelly Holdbrooks and plan the supply of red spruce trees for forest restoration in North Carolina’s Black Mountains. The Service has contracted with Southern Highlands Reserve to produce red spruce trees for restoration efforts on the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, where forests were decimated by logging and catastrophic wildlife fire a century ago. This forest restoration expands habitat for the endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel.

Understanding Bats' Use of Small Culverts – Asheville Field Office biologist Lauren Wilson completed a white paper 1) compiling information on imperiled bat's use of small culverts and 2) identifying the smallest sized culvert, by species, that we recommend be surveyed during project reviews under the Endangered Species Act. Wilson coordinated with more than 15 state and federal biologists across the Eastern U.S., and requested data from members of the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network’s Bats in Transportation Structures Working Group.  

Speaking to UNC-Asheville students – Students in Dr. David Gillette’s Environmental Restoration course at UNC-Asheville learned about red spruce restoration efforts in the southern Appalachians from Asheville Field Office biologist Susan Cameron. Cameron was the class’s final guest speaker, with speakers providing a different organizational perspective – government, NGO, and private business – and insight on different ecosystems - aquatic, wetland, and upland. 

Sunflower planting – Last week forty five endangered Schweinitz’s sunflowers were transplanted onto conserved private land in Stanly County, North Carolina, where they will be monitored for five years. The plants were the last of 271 held by the North Carolina Botanical Garden, having been moved there from the footprint of a North Carolina Department of Transportation highway widening project. Asheville Field Office staff Rebekah Reid, Holland Youngman, and Karla Quast helped with the planting, while the effort was initiated by Eastern North Carolina Field Office biologist Gary Jordan. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Fish and Wildlife Service staff (l-r) Lauren Wilson, Holland Youngman, Byron Hamstead, and Andrew Henderson talk through a mock medical emergency as part of wilderness first aid training.

Asheville Field Office trained for field season - Coinciding with the return to the office, Asheville Field Office staff were trained in CPR and wilderness first aid. The two-day American Red Cross course covered CPR and choking response for adults, kids, and infants; and how to deal with medical emergencies when emergency medical services are at least an hour out, including not only providing care for a variety of problems, but deciding when and how to evacuate someone from the backcountry.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Gray bat detected earlier than expected - In the planning for a proposed road and bridge widening along a stretch of Hwy 276 in western North Carolina, Lauren Wilson, transportation liaison in the Asheville Field Office, conducted a bat survey of a bridge that’s a known roosting site for endangered Indiana and gray bats. Her survey documented an at-risk tricolored bat, and three gray bats – the earliest in the season gray bats have been documented using the bridge. The gray bat’s presence reflects a recent trend showing a dramatic increase in the presence of gray bats across the river basin. 
 

Tri-colored bat roosting on a western North Carolina bridge.

Friday, April 8, 2022

James spinymussel range map updated– In an ongoing effort to align species range maps with ecological features instead of political boundaries, like county lines, Mark Endries and Jason Mays of the Asheville Field Office, in coordination with state biologists, recently helped update the range map for the endangered James spinymussel. One practical aspect of the updated range is it dramatically reduces the North Carolina area where federally funded or authorized projects are reviewed for impacts to the mussel under the Endangered Species Act, from 929,200 acres down to 24,494 acres, a 97% reduction.  

Northern long-eared bat, North Carolina, 2016

Addressing bats on Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians trust lands – Forest covers about 86% of ​Eastern Band of Cherokee​ Indian (EBCI) trust lands in North Carolina, and those forests are home to two listed, tree-roosting bats – the Indiana and northern long-eared. Due to a federal obligation to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources, as well as a duty to carry out the mandates of federal law with respect to Native Americans, tribal tree clearing and prescribed burning are subject to review under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  ​Bryan Tompkins lead Asheville Field Office staff in completing a programmatic, formal consultation ​with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and EBCI ​that expedites ESA review by looking at prescribed fire and tree clearing as a whole, instead of reviewing individual events. The effort includes measures to address impacts to bats from tree removal, prescribed fire, excessive noise, direct human disturbance; and includes best management practices to protect water quality, as bats forage over water, feeding on insects with an aquatic life stage.   

Coordinating with the Natural Resources Conservation Service – Byron Hamstead of the Asheville Field Office and John Ann Shearer and Jennifer Archambault of the Eastern North Carolina Field Office, recently completed a memorandum of understanding with the North Carolina office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), projects funded or authorized by the federal government are reviewed for impacts to threatened or endangered species and those impacts are minimized or eliminated. The MOU, good for five years, provides a framework that expedites ESA review for 145 types of conservation practices that NRCS funds/subsidizes instead of reviewing activities on an individual basis.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Biologist Jason Mays walks Stevens Creek, in Mecklenburg County, N.C., running a detector across the stream bottom to find previously stocked mussels. The mussels were fitted with a tag that has a unique, identifying letter/number combination, just like the chips used on pets. When the wand passes by one of the tagged mussels, the data logger logs the number of the mussel detected.

Hands-on mussel education - Asheville Field Office staff Jason Mays and Gary Peeples worked with Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation to host a community workshop on freshwater mussels. The workshop was at the Stevens Creek Nature Center, in the Goose Creek watershed, which is home to the endangered Carolina heelsplitter mussel. The portion of Stevens Creek that runs through the nature center property was recently the focus of a restoration effort and participants were able to help stock the creek with three species of common mussels, helping pave the way for one day possibly placing Carolina heelsplitters in the stream reach. 

Value of the French Broad River measured - The French Broad River Partnership, which includes the Asheville Field Office, unveiled a report identifying the river’s economic impact to the region at $3.8 billion. The river is home to the endangered Appalachian elktoe mussel and is used extensively as a feeding and migration corridor for endangered gray bats. The partnership received a grant from the Community Foundation of North Carolina, Duke Energy Foundation, Ecology Wildlife Foundation Fund, and Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce for the work, which was done by Steve Ha at Western Carolina University, in the hope that defining the economic importance of the river would help drive community stewardship of the river.                            

Sicklefin redhorse crew hits the water - Asheville Field Office biologist Jason May joined a volunteer and staff from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources on North Georgia’s Nottely River, tracking radio-tagged sicklefin redhorses. The fish, whose range extends into north Georgia, is the subject of a Candidate Conservation Agreement, an agreement designed to conserve a species so it doesn't need the full protection of the Endangered Species Act. The work was a follow-up to a pilot study that includes the surgical implanting of radio tags to track the fish’s movements while simultaneously looking deeper at the Georgia portion of the fish’s range. 

Lending a hand for bog management - Asheville Field Office biologist Holland Youngman joined staff from multiple organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, the N.C. Plant Conservation Program, the Highlands Biological Station, and Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, for a workday at western North Carolina’s Dulany Bog. Much of the work consisted of clearing woody vegetation that threatens to compete with the plants that depend on the bog.         

Keeping tabs on high-elevation climate - Asheville Field Office biologist Susan Cameron took advantage of warming spring weather to visit Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi, to collect ongoing climate data. The endangered spruce-fir moss spider is found only in cool, moist habitats  at the highest elevations of the southern Appalachians, and Cameron collects data on temperature and humidity as these sites which are likely extremely susceptible to climate change climate change
Climate change includes both global warming driven by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases and the resulting large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Though there have been previous periods of climatic change, since the mid-20th century humans have had an unprecedented impact on Earth's…

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.  Her first visit of the spring was delayed slightly by near-zero degree wind-chill.  

Friday, March 18, 2022

Sicklefin redhorse conservation committee - The annual sicklefin redhorse conservation committee meeting, focused on implementing a 2015 Candidate Conservation Agreement, recently occurred, with Jason Mays of the Asheville Field Office, and Ian Paige and Haile Macurdy of Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery representing the Service. The team is dealing with some setbacks, including the departure of several key members and the massive release of sediment from a reservoir into the fish’s spawning range. Fortunately, the team is able to move their annual gamete collection effort from the sediment-inundated stream to another river, and is planning future work flowing from a successful translocation pilot study last fall. 

New Asheville Field Office staff - The Asheville Field Office welcomes Jeff Quast as their new administrative assistant. Jeff comes to Asheville after a career in the U.S. Air Force, where he met his wife, also an Air Force veteran, and also an Asheville Field Office staff member. Welcome Jeff! 

Partners for Fish and Wildlife project gets students planting trees - With support from the Asheville Field Office, Mountain Valleys RC&D, the Greater Ivy Community Citizens Association, and SM Soil and Water Solutions, local high school staff and students spent an educational workday at Beech Glen Community Center in western North Carolina’s Madison County. About 40 high school students attended, along with science teachers, as part of their ongoing project to develop a design for further recreation opportunities and public access at the facility. After a live staking demonstration, the students helped plant 50 trees and shrubs, worked on a walking trail, removed trash from the river and around the property, and mulched the playground.
 

Friday, March 4

Asheville Field Office biologists Holland Youngman examines bat roosting structures to be installed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation on a bridge crossing the French Broad River.

Bat roosting structures installed - Asheville Field Office biologist Holland Youngman joined the NCDOT as they installed the last in a series of bat roosting structures beneath a handful of bridges crossing western North Carolina’s French Broad River, part of a suite of conservation measures offered by the NCDOT related to work along I-26. The roosts attach to the bridges using expanding pressure bars, leaving the integrity of the bridges’ structural materials intact. Most of the roosting structures are similar to standard bat box designs in their use of spaced, ridged panels; while others mimic natural, cavernous roosts by using concrete surfaces molded to actual rock face.

Geospatial workshop - Mark Endries of the Asheville Field Office, Doug Newcomb of the Raleigh Field Office, Paul Lang of the Florida Field Office, and Kurt Snider of the Tennessee Field Office were all among the instructors and presenters at this week’s Fish and Wildlife Service Geospatial Training Workshop, organized by the National Conservation Training Center. Topics covered by the southeastern participants ranged from modeling species distributions to remote sensing to discussing the southeastern GIS community of practice.

Conservation communication class - Gary Peeples, of the Asheville Field Office, recently presented to the Conservation Communication class at Warren Wilson College. The guest lecture is the latest activity in the partnership with the college, which currently has students working on a short documentary about spruce restoration efforts involving in the Service, and whose students previously created a short documentary about southern Appalachian bogs, home to a handful of federally-protected species.

Friday, February 25

Fine-tuning the Endangered Species Act Project review process - In an effort coordinated by GIS analyst Mark Endries, the Asheville Field Office continues to refine species range data in an effort to support the Service’s OneRange mapping effort and create efficiencies in the ESA Sec. 7 review process. In shifting from political boundaries (e.g. counties) to ecological boundaries, they have reconfigured the range for 11 species thus far. The increased accuracy of the range maps reduces the area where ESA Sec. 7 consultation is needed by a total of more than 20.7 million acres across the 11 species.