Wildlife Habitat

Wildlife habitats are where wildlife species normally live and meet their basic needs for food, water, cover, breeding space, and group territory.

Wildlife habitats can range widely in size, from hyperlocal areas restricted to only a few square meters for many invertebrates, to hundreds of square miles for some large species, such as the mountain lion. Additionally, avian species regularly migrate thousands of miles to residential or breeding sites, on an annual basis, using resources across an expansive geographic range.

Urbanization has generally been at odds with the maintenance of natural habitats. Urban habitats are often located in neglected and unused areas, such as along riverbanks and railroad alignments and in parks, easements, institutional grounds, and vacant tracts of land. While protecting wildlife habitats can appear at odds with urban development, developers can take certain actions to avoid undue disruption and to protect rare and endangered species and other non-threatened species that are protected through other legislative means, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Important Considerations

The questions on animal life address disruption, habitat alteration or removal, rare species (including those that are considered threatened or endangered), pest species, and game species.

  1. Will the project create special hazards for animal life? What types and numbers of animals will the project affect and how?
  2. Will the project impact migratory birds? Most birds protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act are not included in the Endangered Species Act yet are protected by similar protections against a “taking” of birds' nests or eggs. Consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Construction activities should occur outside the migratory bird nesting season. Alternatively, survey the site for migratory bird nests prior to construction.
  3. Does the project site host any species that local, state, tribal or the federal government list or monitor?
  4. Will the project damage or destroy existing wildlife habitats (e.g., removal or blockage of wildlife corridors, such as a riparian buffer)?
  5. Will excessive grading alter the groundwater level and thus cause the death of trees and ground cover which in turn diminish animal habitats?
  6. Will the project damage game fish habitat or spawning grounds? When answering this question, consider off-site damage resulting from erosion and stormwater run-off.
  7. Will the project create conditions favorable to the proliferation of pest species?
  8. Will the project create conditions (e.g., excessive noise, pesticide usage) that could harm or harass wildlife species that are nationally, regionally, or locally rare or protected by state or local ordinance?
  9. How will the project affect species or habitats that are particularly at risk due to climate change or other changing environmental conditions?
  10. How will the project impact the ecosystem as a whole? For example, will impacts on keystone species or ecosystem engineers lead to broader ecosystem consequences?

Analysis Techniques

As with assessing the impact on vegetation, review lists of threatened and endangered species and compare the project location to existing ecologically sensitive areas such as open space, wetlands, and undeveloped areas. Also, consider reviewing:

  • Biotic surveys
  • State and local Threatened and Endangered Species lists
  • Vegetation maps
  • Natural community databases prepared by state agencies
  • The USFWS ECOS critical habitat online ArcGIS mapviewer and Information for Planning and Consultation (IPaC) tool
  • Satellite photography resources

The USFWS Environmental Conservation Online System (ECOS) critical habitat online ArcGIS mapviewer provides accurate life history information and spatial data for all plant and wildlife species with Critical Habitat designations and other protected species. The USFWS Information for Planning and Consultation (IPaC) tool provides identification of USFWS managed resources and suggested conservation measures for projects. The tool is useful for mapping the location of endangered species, critical habitats, migratory birds, and other natural resources. Furthermore, Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology has developed a highly reputable online citizen science platform, called eBird, which provides recent spatial and location data for nearly all avian species. It should be noted that the Endangered Species Act requirements are addressed separately in the related laws and authorities section of the environmental assessment.

Additional Considerations

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 implements treaties with Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia to protect populations of certain migratory birds. The Act prohibits the taking of these species without permission from the Department of the Interior, USFWS. The list of regulated species can be found at 50 CFR 10.13.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976 established federal management of marine fisheries in U.S. waters. The goal of the act is to prevent overfishing, rebuild fish stocks, and increase the economic and social benefits of a healthy marine fishery. It seeks a collaboration with the fishing industry to promote a safe and sustainable supply of seafood.

Mitigation Measures

  • Alter project design (either in construction or in implementation) to avoid impact on habitat areas that are known to support special-status species or communities under local, state, or federal determination. Additional project design features unrelated to habitat area protection could include the incorporation of bird-safe window design.
  • Plant native vegetation to help feed and shelter protected species, paying special attention to how such vegetation interacts with the broader ecosystem in which it will play a conservation role.
  • Establish an essential or critical habitat area as a park or reserve to prevent it from being subject to development.
  • Develop migration pathways (e.g., provide wildlife crossings, conserve migration corridors) when developments impact the migratory routes of animals. Further consideration should be taken when the development alters the migratory route of a species that another community relies upon for hunting/fishing.

Resources to Reference/Experts to Contact

  • Supplement technical studies with field observation of the site for signs of the likely presence of particular species.
  • Consultation with Biologists and Ecologists with either state or federal agencies also may help.
  • The USFWS of the Department of Interior can also provide useful information.