Threatened and Endangered Species

AgSite reports include a list of threatened and endangered species that could inhabit the selected area. AgSite integrates data from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Environmental Conservation Online System to create the list, which may include both plant and animal species. For each species listed in the “Threatened and Endangered Species” table, users may click on the name to open a species profile. Within the profile, users can access information about a species’ listing status, recovery plans, petitions and other resources.

The AgSite table indicates the county where the species is considered endangered or threatened. A species listing in the table does not indicate that the species resides on the selected land in an AgSite report. It is merely a first indicator that the habitat for that species may exist in the selected area.

To qualify as an endangered species, the species must be recognized as nearly extinct throughout at least a significant part of its range. The extinction risk isn’t as imminent for threatened species; however, at some point in the foreseeable future, a threatened species will likely become endangered, according to the standard for being named a threatened species. Listing a species as threatened or endangered may originate from two different processes. In the first, any interested party may submit a petition requesting that the Secretary of the Interior add a species; a petition may also seek to remove a species from the list. In the second, called a candidate assessment, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologists recommend species candidates for listing.

In addition to federal protections for endangered species, states may add other measures. For example, Missouri has a Wildlife Code of Missouri that the Missouri Department of Conservation administers. The code includes all federally recognized threatened and endangered species and lists them as state-endangered. For other at-risk species in Missouri, the Missouri Department of Conservation may add those species to its state-endangered list.

Protections may differ for plants and animals. For example, the Missouri Department of Conservation specifies that landowners own threatened and endangered plants. They may choose to allow the plants to grow. Alternatively, they may destroy the plants, except in instances where federal funds are being used. Protections apply upon moving, selling, trading or transporting threatened or endangered plants. Animal species are considered public resources, even when on private land. Federal law prohibits killing or “taking” an endangered or threatened animal or harming its habitat; exceptions may be provided in some cases. State-level protections may vary. For example, in Missouri, state-endangered animals, not their habitats, are protected.

Assistance Programs:

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, private lands and other non-federal lands provide a home to more than two-thirds of species subject to the Endangered Species Act. As such, engaging private landowners and encouraging them to support threatened and endangered species are important goals. Several programs create partnerships with private entities to assist threatened and endangered species. For example, through a Safe Harbor Agreement, private or other non-federal landowners voluntarily agree to support recovering a threatened or endangered species. The agreements include formal assurances that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service won’t add or change the landowner’s management obligations unless consent is sought if that landowner adheres to the agreement. When a Safe Harbor Agreement ends, the landowner may also convert the land tract to baseline conditions that existed when the agreement began. With a Safe Harbor Agreement, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service intends to create conservation benefits such as habitat maintenance, restoration or enhancement; habitat fragmentation reductions; and population growth or stabilization. For more information about Safe Harbor Agreements, go to http://www.fws.gov/endangered/landowners/safe-harbor-agreements.html. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service created the first Safe Harbor Agreement in 1995 for the red-cockaded woodpecker. In 2015, the program had grown to benefit nearly 100 threatened and endangered species and involve more than 600 landowners.

As another voluntary program, Working Lands for Wildlife is coordinated by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The program emphasizes habitat improvement for wildlife species that are declining, near being listed as threatened or endangered or already listed as threatened or endangered. Landowners may qualify for technical and financial assistance, and participating in Working Lands for Wildlife assures landowners that farming, ranching and forestry activities can continue on their land if they maintain the necessary conservation approaches. In 2015, Working Lands for Wildlife had concentrated on habitat improvement and restoration for seven species: lesser prairie-chicken, New England cottontail, Southwestern willow flycatcher, greater sage-grouse, gopher tortoise, bog turtle and golden-winged warbler. To learn more, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/initiatives/?cid=stelprdb1046975.

Recently, farm bill legislation added wildlife-related support to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, (EQIP), which agricultural producers can use to access financial and technical assistance. Thus, landowners interested in implementing wildlife projects may consider EQIP as an assistance source. For more information, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/eqip/.

Offered in some states, the Healthy Forests Reserve Program from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service assists landowners and their private forestlands by providing easements, 30-year contracts and 10-year cost-share agreements that support threatened and endangered species recovery, plant and animal biodiversity and carbon sequestration efforts. Landowners who voluntarily participate for a given time may have limited Endangered Species Act provisions to which they must adhere. For more information, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/easements/forests/?cid=nrcs143_008410.

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Flood Hazards

AgSite reports share information about several parameters that can indicate flood hazards associated with a certain land tract. The flood hazards table presents the number of acres that fall within a floodway, 100-year floodplain and 500-year floodplain. It also shares any notes relevant to describing possible flood hazards.

The following definitions and discussion describe differences between a floodway and floodplain and their significance to landowners.

  • Floodway: A floodway includes both a river or stream channel and the portion of a river or stream’s surrounding floodplain area that would play a role in efficiently managing that channel’s flood water or flood flow. Although the floodplain itself would normally contain dry, relatively flat land, water would cover the area during a flood.
  • 100-year floodplain: In a 100-year floodplain, the area risks being flooded during a 100-year flood, which has a 1 percent probability of occurring annually. “Base flood” would be an alternate term for a 100-year flood.
  • 500-year floodplain: In a 500-year floodplain, the area risks being flooded during a 500-year flood, which has a 0.2 percent probability of occurring annually.

By clicking the “View map” link beside the “Flood Hazards” heading, users may load a map that shades the floodway, 100-year floodplain and 500-year floodplain areas that surround the selected site. The following map is a sample map that highlights the floodway, 100-year floodplain and 500-year floodplain areas. From the “Map Layers” window, users may modify the flood hazards map by selecting to add or remove various reference map features, such as highways, place names and topographic features.

From the map view’s “Tools” window, AgSite users may query the flood hazard data set as they search by flood zone code, flood zone subtype, mapping designation or special flood hazard area. After running a query that returns results, click “Show Attribute Table” to display search records that fit the query criteria. For example, a user may search for a specific special flood hazard area, which represents an area that a base flood would cover with floodwaters, an area subject to National Flood Insurance Program floodplain management regulations and an area requiring a flood insurance purchase. On the map itself, an AgSite user may click an area highlighted as a floodway or floodplain to open that area’s data profile.

Floodplain areas pose certain risks and possible rewards for landowners. For example, if a landowner builds a home within the floodplain, then that home would be more likely to experience damage during a flood and need additional insurance coverage relative to homes built on higher ground. From an agricultural perspective, however, the fertility found in floodplains makes these areas well-suited for farming. Flood waters move nutrient-rich sediment into a floodplain that can support crop growth, and a floodplain’s physical properties – relatively flat and containing few obstacles – would also support its potential for agricultural production. Floodplains also contribute to aquifers and create a habitat for wildlife populations.

Floodplains and the surrounding land are subject to the Clean Water Act. Neighboring water is a term used to describe water not actually considered a stream and subject to the Clean Water Act. Neighboring waters have at least part of their area situated within the 100-year floodplain and within 1,500 feet of a traditional navigable water, interstate water, territorial sea, impoundment or tributary’s ordinary high water mark. Persons with floodplains on their land may need to seek a permit to make management changes to land within 1,500 feet of the edge of a floodplain.

Assistance Programs:

The Emergency Watershed Protection Program – Floodplain Easement Option involves the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service purchasing a permanent floodplain easement. To qualify, the floodplain must meet one of three conditions. First, floodplains are eligible if they have had flood damage at once during the past calendar year or at least twice during the past 10 years. Second, other floodplain areas are eligible if they would support flood storage and flow restoration, control erosion or make managing the easement more practical. Third, land could qualify if a dam breach would inundate or negatively affect it. Both agricultural and open land or residential housing-based land may qualify. The easement price may be based on the land’s fair market value, the geographic area rate cap or a landowner’s voluntary written offer. Of these, the landowner would receive the lowest as the easement payment. For more information, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/financial/ewp/?cid=nrcs143_008225.

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Karst Geology

A karst landscape has geologic features such as caves, springs, sinkholes and losing streams. Karst areas contribute to aquifers, too. Two factors characterize karst landscapes. First, limestone, dolostone or other soluble bedrock are located near the soil surface. Second, the soil layer that covers bedrock is thin; usually, the soil is shallower than 50 feet. Within a karst environment, precipitation erodes the limestone or dolostone bedrock found beneath the thin soil layer. The following definitions describe attributes of karst landscapes.

  • Sinkhole: As water erodes bedrock, soil may collapse into the eroded area and create a cone- or bowl-shaped depression called a sinkhole. After a sinkhole forms, a round pond can fill in it if soil or other materials block the passage from the surface to underground.
  • Cave: Like sinkholes, caves develop when water triggers rock dissolution. For caves, however, a cavity forms below the soil surface.
  • Spring: Springs expel water naturally from bedrock or soil. They may supply water to streams during dry periods.
  • Losing stream: Although a losing stream originates as a surface stream, it loses some water flow as the water trickles through bedrock fractures and moves below the land surface. Sinking streams or disappearing streams are alternative terms.

Within an AgSite report, landowners can determine whether a given property has any karst features and the size of the karst area in acres. The “Karst Geology” table reports information about areas with karst or the potential to develop karst or pseudokarst. If a selected area has a karst type reported, then the karst geology table also classifies the karst type by geologic unit. AgSite users may click on the geologic unit’s name to generate a more detailed report about the area’s geologic composition.

Karst landscapes are fairly prevalent in the U.S. The USGS estimates that one-fifth of the U.S. land area has a karst landscape. In some areas, karst features are more common. For example, nearly 60 percent of Missouri’s area has carbonate rock underpinnings that fit in a karst landscape, and the state has recorded more than 6,000 caves. An estimated 40 percent of groundwater-derived drinking water in the U.S. originates from karst aquifers.

As such, maintaining water quality is a priority in karst landscapes, especially because karst landscapes have characteristics well-suited for possible water contamination. Karst geology causes surface water and groundwater to commingle as the surface water passes through karst features, undergoes little to no filtration and mixes with groundwater. Thus, if a pollutant enters surface water or a karst element, then the whole aquifer would risk contamination.

To avoid potential environmental concerns, such as water contamination, landowners may adopt several management practices. For example, establishing a vegetative buffer – made from grass, bushes and trees – that surrounds a sinkhole would enable the vegetative matter to filter contaminants from surface water runoff. The vegetative matter’s roots would also stabilize the sinkhole’s walls, and the buffer may reduce equipment wear as it removes the sinkhole’s surrounding area from agricultural production. Other sinkhole stabilization efforts could involve excavating the sinkhole to the bedrock and filling it with rock. Installing a fence 25 feet from the sinkhole’s depression rim would exclude livestock from the area. By prohibiting livestock from being near sinkholes, landowners limit manure, sediment and pollutant runoff from reaching the sinkhole, and they avoid their livestock being injured by the sinkhole.

Assistance Programs:

Several groups have formed state-wide conservancies dedicated to addressing karst landscapes. The Missouri Caves and Karst Conservancy, Michigan Karst Conservancy, Indiana Karst Conservancy, Karst Conservancy of Illinois and Kentucky Karst Conservancy are examples. These groups may assist landowners interested in managing karst features.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offers both financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers. The program caters to efforts that promote natural resource conservation. In 2015, EQIP named karst sinkhole treatment as an eligible conservation practice. For more information, go to http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/eqip/. The University of Kentucky recommends leveraging technical assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service before treating or closing a sinkhole or other karst feature.

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