Scrub-Jays Not in Danger According to AAF Final Environmental Impact Statement


Scrub-Jay Group

SURELY EVERYONE’S READ ABOUT HOW THE FEDERAL DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (FDOT) released their final All Aboard Florida Environmental Impact Statement 24 hours before the Florida Development Finance Corporation (FDFC) meeting on  August 5, 2015 and the FDFC Board of Directors approved (unanimously – although two Board members were not present) $ 1.75 billion in Private Activity Bonds for the AAF Project.

Would you call the release of the Final Impact Statement 24 hours before the FDFC meeting suspicious?  One reader referred to it as a “scandal,” and another referred to the whole group involved at AAF, FDOT and FDFC as “scoundrels.”

This is one of two articles that focus on how the Final Environmental Economic Impact Statement responded to two of too many concerns addressed in St. Lucie County’s Critical Assessment document.

The Critical Assessment Document was addresses to Mr. John Winkle of the United States Department of Transportation (FDOT) Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) concerning All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) dated September 2014.

You can access our previous article about St. Lucie County’s Critical Assessment document with this link:

In this first article we are focusing on the AAF’s FEIS with respect its’ dismissal of any danger to the Florida Scrub-Jays.  In our second article we focus on the Loxahatchee River Train Bridge.

The Florida Scrub-Jay is the only species of bird endemic to the U.S. State of Florida and one of only 15 species endemic to the U.S. The Scrub-Jay is known to have been present in Florida as a distinct species for at least 2 million years. For our previous article on the danger to the Scrub-Jays from the AAF Project you can access this link.

But before we cite how the FEIS dismissed any danger to the Florida Scrub-Jays, we would like to provide this response from a reader to our last article:

“Thank you for your article on the Florida Scrub-Jays and All Aboard Florida. I have been trying to get U.S. Fish & Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers and All Aboard Florida to recognize that All Aboard Florida will put Scrub-Jays at risk. I have written several emails to them. There are many Scrub-Jays in Indian River County and southern Brevard County that I have personally observed crossing the tracks for food. Plus the train whistles scare them away from harvesting of acorns disrupting their important food supply. North Sebastian Conservation Area alone has nearly 50 Scrub-Jays and it directly abuts the railroad ROW for approximately one whole mile. Thank you again for addressing this issue. Jane Schnee Sebastian, FL”

We replied to Ms. Schnee’s comment and asked he if she would be able to attend the FDFC meeting in Orlando on August 5 to perhaps express her views.  She indicated she would, but needed a ride.  Thanks to the efforts of Phyllis Frey, an advocate against AAF, a ride was arranged and Ms. Schnee attended the meeting.

Now here is how the FEIS addressed the risk to the Skrub-Jay population.  Would/could you be satisfied with this assessment?  (Emphasis added with italics.)

“The scrub-jay field surveys conducted along the N-S Corridor, the documented presence of scrub-jays at Savannas Preserve State Park, and observations of scrub-jays crossing the tracks all indicate it is likely scrub-jays will occur within the rail corridor at times. The action alternatives will result in passenger trains passing through these areas at maximum speeds ranging from 79 mph to 110 mph at a frequency of 32 trips per day. The increase in train frequency as well as the higher operational speeds in comparison to the existing freight rail service increase the likelihood scrub-jays will collide with a train resulting in an “incidental take.Scrub-jays are cooperative breeders, meaning a breeding pair which defends a territory is usually assisted by helpers. This breeding strategy provides for the replacement of a lost member of the breeding population from a large pool of these helpers, a behavior which buffers the population from losses of individuals by providing a quick replacement for a lost breeder (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1984). Therefore, the USACE found that the anticipated “incidental take” will not jeopardize the continued existence of the species or significantly affect local populations.

Are you comfortable with this statement of AAF Scrub-Jay “mitigation?”

The Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) defines an endangered species as “any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” The Act also defines a threatened species as “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

In an October 30, 2012 letter from the South Florida Office of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (SFWS), with respect to the AAF Project, it confirmed the Florida Scrub-Jay as a “species of concern.”

However, in a September 19, 2013 letter based on SFWS’s findings, the US Army Corps. of Engineers (USACE) wrote specifically about the Florida Scrub-Jay, as follows, with respect to the AAF Project: “May effect, but is not likely to adversely impact the Florida scrub‐jay.”

But by letter from the USACE dated January 29, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed its prior determination that the Florida Scrub Jay from “is not likely to adversely affect” to “may affect;” which results in the requirement under the Endangered Species Act that a Biological Opinion be prepared on the impacts of the proposed AAF project on the impacts to the Scrub Jay. As of the date of this letter, the Biological Opinion has not been issued.

Without the Biological Opinion, it is impossible to assess or ascertain the impacts to the Scrub Jay. Additionally, according to Passarella & Associates, the Scrub Jay survey prepared for the DEIS is “inadequate and invalid.” Do you suppose the Biological Opinion will be railroaded and not become part of the process?

this a wonderful opportunity for birders here; and for birders elsewhere who come from all across the country to observe and count the Scrub-Jays.

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