Streamlined Permitting Process for addressing Endangered Species Act and federal and state wetlands regulations

An important component of the NE-PES program is a streamlined permitting and environmental review approach that will allow ranchers to meet wetland permitting requirements that integrate both state and federal wetland regulations as well as listed species protections. The FRESP team understood that upon completion of their ten-year contract they would want assurances that there would be no regulations prohibiting them from returning to the water management baseline following the timeline and process described in their contract’s reversion plan. To create these assurances and a streamlined process for obtaining the required permits, the FRESP management team worked with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FLDEP), SFWMD, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to develop permitting procedures designed specifically for the NE-PES program.

The FRESP management team and agency partners developed three important tools designed specifically for the NE-PES Program and that are critical to the streamlined approach: (1) a joint NRCS and FWS Endangered Species Act (ESA) Consultation Guidance Matrix (CGM) for federally listed species in the NE-PES Program area; (2) a regional general permit from the Corps (RGP 106); and (3) the development of state and federal government agency memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and related guidance that identify roles and responsibilities in implementing and permitting the NE-PES Program.

US ACOE Regional General Permit (RGP) 106

The RGP 106 created specifically for the NE-PES program identify conditions that if adhered to by the landowner during;

  • WMA design and construction;
  • Operation and maintenance over the course of the contract; and
  • Reversion to the water management baseline after the contract expires, then

the landowner can be assured that all federal regulations regarding protected resources such as wetlands, cultural resources, and threatened and endangered species have been addressed.

USDA NRCS & US FWS Consultation Guidance Matrix

The FWS and USDA NRCS created a NE-PES Consultation Guidance Matrix (CGM) adapted from an existing statewide matrix. The NE-PES CGM creates a guidance document that informs the landowner on procedures to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts to threatened or endangered species. The CGM guidelines, if followed, keep the landowner in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. The NE-PES CGM identifies 14 NRCS conservation practices that likely would be used in a WMA design. The FWS determined that for the 8 listed species found on ranch habitat types in the Northern Everglades, WMA construction and operation utilizing these NRCS conservation practices would have “no effect” or would “not likely to adversely affect” T&E species, with the exception of one practice for Wood Storks which was determined to result in a “beneficial effect”.

State and Federal Government Agency Memorandums Of Understanding (MOU)

To facilitate the streamlined permitting process FRESP partners developed:

  • A MOU signed by the NRCS, the FDACS and the SFWMD that identified the roles and responsibilities of each agency in the implementation of the NE-PES program, including initial site assessments, permitting, construction, and authorization of the reversion plan to return to baseline conditions;
  • A guidance document prepared by NRCS and the SFWMD that reflected agreed upon wetland hydroperiod enhancement limits for use in WMA design;
  • A MOU between the SFWMD, FDACS and FDEP that reconciled guidelines on state wetland delineation procedures and content, and implementation of the reversion plan that would be followed if a rancher elected to return the WMA to baseline conditions at the end of a contract.

The eligibility requirements for the RGP 106 and therefore the streamlined permitting and environmental review approach are specified in the RGP. A NE-PES program WMA project that does not meet the requirements of the RGP 106 is not eliminated from consideration in the NE-PES program. NRCS, the District and /or FDACS may advise the rancher and/or rancher’s Agricultural Engineer (AE) about areas of concern that may need to be addressed in order to meet the requirements of the RGP 106. In cases where the rancher does not meet the eligibility requirements and or chooses not to modify the conceptual plan, they may apply individual or other types of Section 404 permits from the USACE.

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