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-   -   Original Message: Question by David Magney June 27, 2008 (

njensen 07-08-2008 12:18 PM

Comment from Lynn Houser, Botanist, Milo Baker Chapter (Sonoma Co) CNPS
“Great comments, everyone. I agree that a full species list (more than one visit!) should be made whenever possible. It can help in mitigation monitoring (what was there?) and serves as a record to the public. More funding for herbarium time would assist the biologists who need help identifying the plants, so the spp. list can number in the 200's instead of the 40's as was reported.”

njensen 07-08-2008 12:19 PM

Comment from Margot Griswold, Principal/Senior Restoration Ecologist, EARTHWORKS
“As a plant ecologist specializing in habitat restoration, I rely on a qualified botanist to perform detailed plant surveys of projects if no good survey or species checklist is available. So I whole heartedly agree with Carl [Wishner] that a checklist must be complied by QUALIFIED BOTANISTS, and that this should be essential to any project and especially a CEQA development type project. In reviewing projects for LA CO ERB, I find that good species lists are hard to find ... usually a cut and paste job and not specific to the site. I thought that it was a requirement to have a specific plant checklist. Another important issue is the qualification of the botanist compiling the checklist. In my long ago job as a project manager for a consulting firm that shall remain nameless, I learned the hard way why it is essential to have a qualified botanist perform plant surveys. I will never forget receiving a castigating review of the plant list for a project that was compiled by the consulting firm's "botanist". I was presented with SEATAC's review, and the fact that many species on the list were outside of their range .... Needless to say, I don't work without consulting a botanist that is qualified for specific areas. I think that there are very few truly qualified botanists as demonstrated by the number of species Carl comes up with versus an inexperienced biologist's list. This leads to the idea of some type of certification process that I believe might be in the works now.

njensen 07-08-2008 12:19 PM

Comment from Allison Shilling, CNPS Representative
“As a non-botanist who nevertheless uses the results of botanical surveys, I think that a species list can be invaluable. A few years ago, Andy Sanders of UC Riverside was employed, in September of a dry year, to survey an area proposed for an OHV park. He listed many species with a notation to the effect "suitable habitat, not observed at this time", and it enabled me to argue that a supplementary survey was needed, and I got it in the budget.”

njensen 07-08-2008 12:20 PM

Comment from Jim Greaves, Ornithologist
“In fairness, it might be pointed out to the email listees that all of my surveys have been done in NON-NCCP areas, so I wonder how relevant your comments are to my point, since those areas require different criteria, my point being that agencies rely on non-ornithologists to determine whether or not something is "suitable LBV habitat", and that reliance is based on a simple-minded botanical species list, which is often as useless as a simple-minded bird species list. Remember, the purpose of the list is for current project, not some nebulous future plan that may or may come forward, at which time a rare plant or bird discovered decades earlier, may or may not be relevant. A willow does not LBV habitat make - yet agencies are asked daily to determine whether or not costly surveys are necessary based on a botanical survey, with no other data or information being provided by botanists as to whether or not their "professional" NON-ornithological assessments is even nearly correct. I KNOW this because I have just completed two site assessments (1 in Santa Barbara and 1 in Santa Cruz) whose project proponents were told by government agents, based on plant lists, and the presence of "willows" at both sites, and who'd never even seen the sites (to my knowledge), based on plant species lists, that LBV protocol-level surveys were needed [that's 7 unnecessary surveys, spread over an additional 60 days from the first site visit by the ornithologist -- potentially delaying and/or costing a project proponent unnecessary expenses]. At neither site did I think it necessary -- even before I visited the sites -- and my site visits confirmed it - -at least in my mind -- that protocol-level surveys were warranted (habitat was wrong, too small, isolated or distant from known areas (including historical from Grinnell and Miller) -- based on my 30 years of experience and KNOWLEDGE of whether or not LBV would even be in the two locations, regardless of the sites being "within the range" (the point of my sarcasm about the 8000 feet -- as anyone with any knowledge of LBV knows, they do not breed at that elevation, nor likely in pine forests even at their "preferred" elevations).”

njensen 07-08-2008 12:21 PM

Comment from Fred Roberts, Botanist
“While Jim may make a valid point in a limited number of cases, species lists are not used universally to determine whether there is appropriate endangered species habitat on a site. More often this would (and should) come from the assessment of vegetation communities. Every list or assessment method runs a small risk of being abused or misunderstood by a third party. Just as if you want to be critical there are mistakes in the CNDDB. However these are often limited and in now way diminishes the overall value of the CNDDB. In that same way, species list are critical to better understanding a site. Once and a while some one will overestimate the value of something on the list, real or not. The solution to this though is better training of the agency personal and those that review these lists, not eliminating the lists themselves.”

njensen 07-08-2008 12:21 PM

Comment from Sula Vanderplank, Botanist, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
“Steve [Boyd] forwarded this message, and I just wanted to echo that to me this is an issue of standards, and standards need to be higher. I think many consultants are trained just to look for the 3 rare species suspected in a given area and may miss a lot by not taking a floristic approach. Also, the value of a site, as you both mention, is often more dictated by species composition and richness and the presence/absence of invasive weeds, than by the presence/absence of a handful of rare species. Certainly higher standards in floristic surveys should be enforced, and a serious pressure should be arising within our community to carry out such surveys with due diligence, making herbarium specimens and documenting floristic diversity for future generations.”

njensen 07-08-2008 12:22 PM

Comment from Rob Preston, Botanist, Jones & Stokes Associates
“I agree entirely with you on the reasons that it is very important to have a species checklist as part of the CEQA documentation. My specific comments:
1) A general species checklist is worthless. This type of checklist is what was done 30 years ago, based on what someone would expect to occur on a site, not what was actually observed. What is needed are specific checklists based on current site surveys.
2) A species checklist is useful, but the complete site survey report should be part of the public record. To suggest that access to the survey reports is “not needed” would be disingenuous. I’ve seen EIRs in which the information from the original survey report was distorted, misrepresented, or misinterpreted by a non-botanist who did the write-up; you need to see the original report to assess the veracity of the EIR section.
3) Publication and distribution costs can be a legitimate reason for not publishing all of the technical reports in appendices. However, these technical reports are still part of the public record and must be made readily available. I agree that the practice of making documents available only as hard copies in a few locations is inexcusable. If not published as appendices, technical reports should still be readily available via the web.”
“The only reason for not including a survey/checklist in a CEQA document (either as an appendix or as part of a web-accessible public record) is to conceal information, either about the project or about the survey methods.”

njensen 07-08-2008 12:23 PM

Comment from Deborah Hillyard, CDFG Staff Environmental Scientist
“I am compelled to chime in here on two counts, one we need to remember why we do surveys at all, and the other is that professional biologists should be exercising their professional judgment when asked to do professional work. CEQA is a disclosure document, and the point is to identify potential impacts of a project, and then mitigate those impacts, or make findings as to why that was not feasible. In addition, the ESA and CESA regulate "take" of listed species, and surveys for those species have even more importance, since unauthorized take of listed species would be a violation of the state and/or federal acts. Identification of listed species on a project site (or their confirmed absence) is important responsibility of the consulting biologist to keep their clients from engaging in a violation via unauthorized incidental take of a listed species, and to keep the approving agency (City or County) from being an unwitting, but equally responsible, accomplice to an illegal act. The standard for doing rare plant surveys has included the requirement for doing a floristic survey and submitting a complete species list, and that standard has been in place since 1983, when DFG and CNPS first put together the Guidelines (which Roxanne so kindly distributed the newest soon-to-be-adopted version to everyone on the list). That would be for the last twenty five (25) years, the STANDARD for doing rare plant surveys includes doing a complete floristic survey... so Counties/Cities that accept something less are way behind the times. In addition, it requires that the surveys be done by knowledgeable individuals, at the appropriate time of year, and that associate disinformation be collected and reported. The guidelines disallows focused plant survey work (looking only for one or two T&E species); as well as "predictive" surveys since they do not identify what is on site, nor do they identify what is not on site, only what could be on site. Additionally, many, many occurrences of rare species have been discovered during floristic surveys...and some of those occurrences have been for species which were not known from any "potentially occurring" list that was based on an NDDB print-out...things like Plagiobothrys diffusus or Trifolium depauperatum hydrophyllum, both taxa thought to be extinct until sharp-eyed botanists identified them on site during floristic surveys. A professional botanist knows when it is too early, too late, or just too dry that year to detect plants which may occur on site, and should schedule multiple visits, or a recommendation to revisit the site the following season; all of that information should be in their report as well. This applies similarly to LBV, where there is a certain amount of professional judgment which has to be exercised. The very first part of the LBV protocol, which you can view at, states that if unusual circumstances occur, the surveyor may request a reduced survey effort, with the example of "small, marginal, or extra-limital habitat" as possibly warranting a reduced effort. That path is always available to the surveyor, and should be exercised when an experienced professional surveyor believes that it is justified. The guidelines also indicate that if the experience surveyor believes that additional, more rigorous protocol with an extended season or additional visits is warranted, then they should be conducted. The purpose of rare plant surveys, as well as protocol surveys for animal species, is as important for what is NOT there, as it is for what is there. For the LBV surveys which provided the animal example, the Service and DFG rely on protocol level surveys to make the call of "not present", which then leads to the determination that no take would occur, and no permits required (and no mandatory finding of significance and no preparation of an EIR). Imagine what a bummer it is for the applicant to have a consultant say that their professional recommendation is to dispense with "7 unnecessary surveys" (or a complete botanical survey) and then have a listed species identified on site, delaying the project while permits are negotiated, and the environmental document re-written to address impacts to listed species. Again, I think that we need to remember why we do these surveys...for disclosure under CEQA, and to guide compliance with other state and federal laws...and follow recommendations of the public trust agencies, and organizations like CNPS, as to what constitutes a reasonable effort to identify sensitive resources on the project site.”

njensen 07-08-2008 12:23 PM

Comment from Tony LaBanca, CDFG Environmental Scientist
“Thanks to Dave for asking the question. I can concur with many of the comments regarding the essential nature of species lists for disclosure under CEQA, as well as while analyzing projects and impacts. It is an important piece of the analysis puzzle, to be used in coordination with other pieces, to get a more complete picture of what is and is not present, make a accurate assessment, and take appropriate action. Also, thanks to Diana [Hickson] for suggesting mining the group for potential presenters for the 2009 CNPS Conservation Conference. Other writers have suggested, and I agree, the topic could use more in-depth coverage. This specific topic, along with many other aspects of botany resource assessment, impact and conservation needs improved outreach to expose agencies, project proponents, and citizens to the importance on conserving native plants and native plant communities. Please consider submitting an abstract for a presentation at the 2009 CNPS Conference helping us to share your work assessing impacts and conserving native plants and native plant communities. The session I am hoping to assemble will:
• Provide an overview of policy and methods related to assess impacts to sensitive plants and communities.
• Identify specific biological parameters to be considered when developing mitigations
• Provide examples of successful and unsuccessful mitigation approaches
• Develop a better understanding of the role effectiveness monitoring and monitoring methods
• Share and discuss ideas and present case studies on impact assessment and mitigation.”
“The deadline for submission of abstracts has been extended to July 25, 2008. You can find instructions for submitting abstracts at: Please contact me if you have any ideas or questions.”

njensen 07-08-2008 12:24 PM

Comment from Jim Greaves, Ornithologist
“When I used the example of "7 unnecessary surveys" I was referring to sites with "a few willows" and/or EVEN "perennial water" along a deeply cut ravine next to houses on one side and less than 100 feet away a major highway on the other in Santa Cruz County, over-canopied by Eucalyptus and other "montane" trees, underlain with the usual "northern California understory vegetations", hardly a situation that an "experienced" LBV surveyor would, or might, or rationally COULD, even SUSPECT LBV to be present, regardless of how many surveys some CEQA requirement, or disclosure, "might" reveal [to Deborah's point about nebulous expectations]. I was NOT attempting to even remotely suggest circumventing the "intent" of CEQA, which is usually clear, and was clear, for instance, in the cases of "coastally-dependent" projects that "should" only allow for fishing or other maritime industry construction, but are often perverted to provide "low cost" or other houses for rich yuppies or major CEOs, obvious "exceptions" that are not "coastally-dependent". Yet the process gets perverted -- even, as I recall, by Governor [Moonbeam] Jerry Brown's own environmentally-aware and liberal appointees to the Coastal Commission [former LA Mayor Brown, for example], who, one would have THOUGHT, might keep the requirement of "coastally-dependent" in mind while approving unparalleled filling of coastal wetlands and creeks for houses and other "tax-producing" projects throughout the southern coast of California -- the supposed anathema of every "liberal" politician of every stripe when running for election in environmentally/politically-correct-controlled California.... However, I agree and have no problem with, it being up to the intelligent, professional opinion of the professional hired to make SOME kind of judgment call as to whether or not "full protocol" for (for example) Least Bell's Vireo should be made [in my example, Santa Cruz County], where none have been recorded as having bred in at least a hundred years of surveying, nor might even be likely to breed due to the constraints of a site -- including before Cowbirds and the DDT blitzes of the 1940's and 1950's, the latter of which I contend has more to do with having depressed birds and some other wildlife than any single or conglomeration of projects or biological parameters in the history of California [aside from cattle in the interior, or the cutting of redwoods for decks and hot-tubs used by liberal environmentalists attempting to "get back to nature"]. Just my 2 cents' worth.”

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