Protected Species Management
Based on a review of available wildlife habitat at the HPS property, twenty protected species have the potential to occur in the region, but only seven have been seen on site during field reviews. HPS will implement protection measures for all species with the potential to occur on site, and species-specific conservation and permitting guidelines developed by state and federal wildlife agencies will be followed for all species with the potential to occur on-site. Additional special measures will be taken to protect the oval pigtoe mussel, the Suwanneemoccasinshell mussel, and the gopher tortoise, and those are discussed below.
Oval Pigtoe Mussel and Suwannee Moccasinshell Mussel
The oval pigtoe mussel is listed as endangered by the state and federal government, while the Suwannee moccasinshell mussel has been listed as threatened by both levels of government. The New River, which runs through the project area, has been identified as critical habitat for the oval pigtoe; no habitat has been designated as critical for the Suwannee moccasinshell, but this species is known to occur in the Santa Fe River in waters downstream of the site. Mussels can be found near the shoreline at depths of approximately one and a half to eight feet where the riverbed sediment is composed of a combination of clay, sand, and gravel substrates.
The only potential impact to oval pigtoe habitat comes fromtwelve wood pilings that will support the elevated conveyor system where it crosses the New River. HPS will survey the riverbed near where the pilings will be placed before proceeding to verify that no mussels are present. HPS then plans to avoid harm to the mussels’ habitat by placing the majority of the pilings in the center of the river where the water is at least 10 feet deep and the bottom is mostly sand. These conditions are not optimal mussel habitat. Water quality and flow in both rivers will be protected during construction, mining, and reclamation activities, as described in previous posts. The protection of water quality and flow in the rivers will prevent adverse impacts to these mussels.
Gopher tortoises and their burrows have been observed on the HPS site during wildlife surveys. The gopher tortoise is protected by the state as threatened and subject to strict permitting guidelines that require relocation of any tortoises that might be disturbed by site activities. Gopher tortoises are typically found in habitats with adequately drained and sandy soils that allow for burrowing.
Pre-construction surveys will be conducted in all potentially impacted areas before mining begins to locate gopher tortoises or their burrows. If any are found, HPS will consult with FWSand obtain relocation permits prior to any disturbance. All mining staff will also be trained on how to interact with gopher tortoises—and all other wildlife species—if they encounter them while working. Commensal species that may live in the burrows with gopher tortoises, such as Eastern indigo snakes or Florida pine snakes, will be allowed to vacate the area prior to tortoise relocation, which will occur prior to site development.