Management of Special Status Herpetofauna as Related to Reclamation Projects in the Rocky Mountain States

Project ID: 4345
Principal Investigator: Stanton Moore
Research Topic: Ecosystem Needs
Funded Fiscal Years: 2005
Keywords: None

Research Question

* What are the primary reptile and amphibian species of concern in Reclamation managed watersheds in the Rocky Mountain States?

* What are their habitat requirements?

* What management strategies can be implemented to avoid Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of these species?

Native aquatic herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians), because of their reliance on water for the proper functioning of some or all of their life stages, are often affected by management of aquatic environments. Unfortunately, these species are often overlooked by biologists and little is known of the distribution, status, and/or habitat requirements of these species at Reclamation projects. This proposal's goal is to increase the information base for these species, and to identify management strategies--compatible with the continued delivery of water and hydroelectric power--that would preclude the ESA listing of these species.

Need and Benefit

Reclamation operations throughout the Rocky Mountain States have altered many river systems and have potentially affected many aquatic or semi-aquatic species of herpetofauna that rely on these systems. Many of these systems suffer from a lack of data regarding the distribution, habitat requirements, and management options of the herpetofauna that currently or formerly occupied them. Federal listing of herpetofauna in Reclamation project areas and the adherent critical habitat designation could severely impact Reclamation's abilities to manage rivers and provide the water and hydropower resources required by Reclamation stakeholders. Federal listing could potentially mean not only a loss of revenue from power and water deliveries, but lengthy, expensive litigation to determine Reclamation's culpability in the declines of federally listed species.

A prime example of this potential situation is the spiny softshell turtle in the Bighorn River in Wyoming and Montana. This species is listed as a Species of Concern in Montana and a Species of Potential Concern in Wyoming, which means that, given further population declines, the species could become a candidate for Federal protection under the ESA. This is of great concern to Reclamation because listing of this species under the ESA could result in altered timing, duration, and magnitude of irrigation releases and power generation from facilities such as Yellowtail Dam and Boysen Dam. Not only would this result in a loss of revenue from power and water delivery, it is likely that a listing under the ESA would result in Reclamation being involved in costly litigation.

A proactive assessment of the distribution, status, and habitat requirements of these species in relation to Reclamation operations is of the utmost importance in terms of preserving Reclamation's ability to manage river systems and continue providing water and power to its stakeholders. This proposal seeks to spend a small amount of money up front to prevent Reclamation from losing revenue and spending large amounts of money in the future.

Contributing Partners

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Last Updated: 6/22/20