By Bruce Loucks, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission. Loucks is the Charlotte County administrator.
Scrub jays continue to have an impact on the way we do business in Charlotte County and how some of our property owners develop their properties.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service regulates development in and around scrub jay habitat. Until recently we have assisted our citizens in determining the impacted areas by providing maps showing scrub jay red and yellow zones. USFWS, with increasing frequency has been identifying scrub jay habitat outside of these zones, as certain scrub jay territories expand. As a result it has been decided that a map delineating potential scrub jay habitat is no longer an effective way for property owners to determine if their property is affected.
Just last week Charlotte County provided access to data obtained from the USFWS through an online search engine that will allow the information to remain more current. The property owner can simply insert their address or parcel identification number and find out the current scrub jay status. The scrub jay search engine can be accessed at www.CharlotteCountyFL.com. This information is provided to aid you in your development decisions, however, it has been documented that scrub jays can and will move. Therefore, you should exercise environmental due diligence by investigating potential environmental impacts in relation to regulatory requirements prior to your commitments or development decisions.
The USFWS has noted that this method has the potential to remove approximately 3,200 properties found in the red and yellow zones from the USFWS review process; however, properties with documented scrub jay activity outside the red and yellow zones will now be included in the USFWS review process.
The scrub jay continues to be protected under both state and federal laws. This includes their habitats, eggs and nests. While the county will assist citizens with scrub jay issues whenever possible, our assistance will be limited. The county cannot relieve an applicant of the federal or state regulations regarding these birds (or other endangered species). For any properties that contain scrub jay habitats, consultation is required with USFWS. Charlotte County government must follow the same permitting process and USFWS regulations as the public. In many cases this has impacted timelines for construction projects and in other cases has greatly increased the cost of projects as we are required to purchase additional land for mitigation. We continue to actively pursue these issues with USFWS.
The county has submitted a Habitat Conservation Plan application to the USFWS that addresses scrub jay impacts for several county capital projects including Winchester and Edgewater/Flamingo Road. The HCP application is in the final review stage by USFWS Atlanta Office. The application identifies the county’s mitigation plans for the project’s impact to Scrub jays.
More information can be obtained from the USFWS Web site: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/hcp/.