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Already work Investigation and Evaluation of Potential Blandings Turtle Nesting Habitat along the Potential Overhead Transmission

Line Route for the Cape Vincent Wind Farm Project


Draft Report Prepared for: Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc. 2003 Central Avenue Cheyenne, Wyoming 82001 Prepared by: Riveredge Associates, LLC 58 Old River Road Massena, New York 13662 September 25, 2010 Riveredge Associates is pleased to submit this report summarizing the purpose, background, methods, results and recommendations of a Blandings turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) potential nesting habitat investigation conducted along a proposed Overhead Transmission Line route for the proposed Cape Vincent Wind Farm, located in the Towns of Lyme and Cape Vincent, Jefferson County, New York. Riveredge Associates was contracted by Western EcoSystems Technology, Inc. (WEST) to complete work reported herein as part of pre-construction wildlife surveys conducted for the Project.

PURPOSE

Riveredge performed site visits to the study area to identify and evaluate areas within the zone of potential impact by a proposed Overhead Transmission Line at the Cape Vincent Wind Farm Project as potentially suitable Blandings nesting turtle habitat. The primary purpose of Riveredges investigation was to identify areas surrounding wetlands with potential to support Blandings turtles in the study area to determine whether the soil substrate, vegetative characteristics, and other habitat parameters represent suitable nesting habitat for Blandings turtle.

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STUDY AREA

The study area for the proposed Cape Vincent Wind Farm Project is located within the Town of Lyme and the Town of Cape Vincent, Jefferson County, New York (Figure 1). The study area is situated in the Eastern Ontario Plain ecozone (Will et al., 1982). The Eastern Ontario Plain ecozone consists of nearly level plains ranging in elevation from 76 to 152 m (250 to 500 feet) and averaging 91 m (300 feet). The bedrock consists of Trenton limestone. The soils are of medium productivity and are primarily glacial lake sediments belong to either the ChaumontGaloo-Wilpoint-Guffin series (moderately deep to shallow, clay or loam soils) or the KingsburyCovington-Livingston series (very deep, poorly drained clay soils) (USDA 1989). Annual snowfall is 152 to 203 cm (60 to 80 inches), and the growing season is 150 to 165 days. Agriculture is the predominant land use of the Eastern Ontario ecozone. Due to the moderating climatological effects of Lake Ontario, this zone is favorable to dairy farming and hay crops. All water bodies (Fox Creek, Shaver Creek, Three Mile Creek, Chaumont River and a large wetland along Swamp Road) within the study area flow generally southwest and drain into Lake Ontario.

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Figure 1. Location of the proposed Overhead Transmission Line for the Cape Vincent Wind Farm.

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BACKGROUND

The Blandings turtle is listed by the NYSDEC as Threatened in New York State (NYSDEC 1999). The Blandings turtle is documented to occur in the region of the study area (Petokas and Alexander 1981, Gibbs et al. 2007, New York Natural Heritage Program database), but detailed survey information within the immediate vicinity is limited. A large shrub/scrub, emergent wetland complex above the causeway at Wilson Bay is known to support a breeding population of Blandings turtles (A. Breisch, NYSDEC, personal communication; Johnson and Crockett 2009). Additionally, two Blandings turtles have been observed on County Route 9 where it crosses Kerns Creek in 2005 and 2007. A juvenile Blandings turtle has been observed on County Route 4 (Rosiere Road) approximately 1.5 km north of County Route 8 in 2007. Finally, a breeding Blandings turtle population, discovered in 2008, is known to exist northeast of Cemetery Road near the northeastern edge of the study area (Johnson and Crockett 2009). These records stem from the field work of Glenn Johnson (Johnson and Crockett 2009) and were submitted for inclusion in the database of the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP). The Blandings turtle records of Johnson are more current and inclusive than the database of NYNHP.

Primary wetland habitats occupied by Blandings turtle usually include productive, eutrophic inland and deep freshwater wetlands (Ernst et al. 1994) especially shrub swamps with alder, willow, cattail, and sedges, as well as emergent wetlands with shallow water composed of reeds, grasses, and cattail (Peipgras and Lang 2000), with a soft but firm organic bottom and abundant aquatic vegetation (Kofron and Schreiber 1985, Ernst et al. 1994). Specifically, Blandings turtles use areas with the following characteristics (Kiviat 1997):

1) both shallow (30 cm) and deep (120 cm) pools connected by channels; 2) open or absent tree canopy; 3) tree species often along the wetland perimeter;

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4) a dense cover of shrubs, particularly willow (Salix spp.) and buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), with components of forbs and graminoids dispersed as hummocks and tussocks throughout the wetland; and, 5) coarse and fine organic debris.

In addition, high quality Blandings turtle habitat consists of a habitat complex that provides all of the wetland and upland habitat types used during springtime, breeding, nesting, summer, and hibernation activities in close proximity to one another (Kiviat 1993). Springtime foraging and basking habitat consisting of deep, fluctuating pools represents crucial habitat for Blandings turtles (Kiviat 1993).

Blandings turtles nest in open upland areas and are known to utilize human-disturbed areas such as plowed fields, road side berms, active agricultural row crop fields, and sand and gravel pits for nesting (Linck et al. 1989, Johnson and Crockett 2006). Natural nesting sites have been observed in grasslands characterized by sandy loam or sandy soils (Ross and Anderson 1990) and areas with sparse herbaceous vegetation interspersed with bare mineral soil (Kiviat et al. 2000). In the vicinity of the study area, Blandings turtles are known to nest in piles of topsoil and along dirt roads (G. Johnson, unpublished data).

Blandings turtles may move more than 1.0 km from wetland habitats to upland habitats for nesting. The distance of potential nest sites from water varies from 2.0 m to greater than 1.0 km (Congdon et al. 1983), and nest observations in areas adjacent to wetlands where they are not considered residents have been recorded (Congdon et al. 1983, Ross and Anderson 1990). The nesting season in northern New York occurs primarily during the month of June (Johnson and Crockett 2006, G. Johnson, unpublished data). Both sexes of Blandings turtles occasionally make significant overland movements outside of the nesting season, often staying in retreats in forested uplands or vernal pools (Joyal et al. 2001, Johnson and Crockett 2006).

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METHODS

Prior to the field investigation, Dr. Glenn Johnson, Professor of Biology at SUNY Potsdam and Riveredge Senior Ecologist, reviewed available maps and aerial photography to identify areas of potentially suitable Blandings turtle nesting habitat in the study area. National Wetland Inventory (NWI) and State wetlands identified as consisting completely or partially of shrub/scrub were noted. The survey area for potential nesting habitat around potential Blandings turtle wetland habitats was approximately 0.5 1.0 km.

Dr. Johnson previously performed a Blandings turtle habitat investigation over the period 7 9 November 2007 in and around portions of the study area and all wetlands identified during that survey were visited to determine if suitable nesting habitat was available. That field work was not part of pre-construction surveys for this Project.

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FIELD INVESTIGATION AND RESULTS

On 17 June 2010, Dr. Johnson arrived on the study area and, after a period of orientation and review of property access, decided to begin the habitat assessment of the proposed Overhead Transmission Line at the intersection of Swamp and Burnt Rock Roads (Figure 1), and then followed it to its terminus on the east side of CR 179 above the east bank of the Chaumont River.

Two contiguous areas were identified as potentially supporting Blandings turtles in or adjacent to the study area and are referred to as 1) Swamp Road Wetlands and 2) Railroad Grade Wetlands. These are described below.

Swamp Road Wetlands

Areas of suitable Blandings turtle habitat in the Swamp Road wetland include approximately 336 acres southwest of Swamp Road and 74 acres northeast of Swamp Road (Figure 2). These two wetlands are designated NYSDEC Wetlands U-6 and U-5 on the state wetlands maps and they drain to the southwest into Fox Creek (Figure 2). On the southwest side of Swamp Road, the wetland is mostly a seasonally-saturated palustrine forested wetland dominated by American elm (Ulmus americana), green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) and maples (Acer rubrum and A. saccharinum). It is bisected by Swamp Road (Photo 1) where an extensive earthen dyke (Photo 2) has been constructed on the southwest side of the road. This portion of the Swamp Road Wetland contains open water channels (Photos 2 and 3), flooded forest with numerous submerged trees (Photo 4), and extensive shrub/scrub wetland (Photo 5). It has some potential to support Blandings turtles, however water levels were low at the time of the survey visit and water was not present in most of the shrub/scrub portion (Photos 6 8). The shrubs (Salix sp.) that make up this area were long dead, likely as a result of the initial flooding when the berm and water control structures were added. Some potential nesting habitat was observed in agricultural field and home sites along the southeastern edge of this wetland to the west and east of Swamp Road. This potential nesting habitat was approximately 40.8 acres.

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On the northeast side of Swamp Road, the wetland is mostly forested (Photos 9 and 10), dominated by wetland trees such as American elm, green ash and red maple in the canopy (closure between 35 and 65 %) and mid story. The understory was diverse and dense in patches. Standing water (between 10 and 30 cm deep) was present throughout this area. This portion of the wetland, at least within 200 m of Swamp Road, was not high-quality Blandings habitat due to the lack of hummock-forming shrubs and high canopy closure however, it may provide suitable foraging habitat.

The proposed Overhead Transmission line leaves Swamp Road at a 90 degree angle approximately 2.38 km (1.48 miles) from its beginning, and is oriented northeast (Figure 1). It crosses Shaver Creek (Photo 11) and a disturbed wetland (Photo 12) before crossing open agricultural fields (Photo 13) to the bed of abandoned railroad grade (see next section).

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Photo 1. View southeast along Swamp Road which bisects the Swamp Road Wetland.

Photo 2. View of berm (foreground right), open water channel and drowned forest in the background of the Swamp Road Wetland.

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Photo 3. View of open water areas west of the berm in the Swamp Road Wetland, showing open water. Note painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) basking on log near waters edge.

Photo 4. Closer view of the drowned forest west of the berm in the Swamp Road Wetland.

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Photo 5. View of drowned shrub/scrub wetland across the channel formed by the large berm in the Swamp Road Wetland.

Photo 6. View of formerly flooded section of Swamp Road Wetland.

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Photo 7. View of channels and dykes in the southern end of the Swamp Road Wetland. Note numerous dead willows.

Photo 8. Close view of drowned shrubland and open, formerly flooded area in the Swamp Road Wetland.

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Photo 9. View of Swamp Road Wetland northeast of Swamp Road.

Photo 10. Another view of Swamp Road Wetland northeast of Swamp Road.

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Photo 11. Shaver Creek near the point where the proposed Overhead Transmission line will cross.

Photo 12. Shaver Creek at point where proposed Overhead Transmission line will cross.

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Photo 13. View from railroad grade across fields where proposed Overhead Transmission line is sited. Note: some of these fields are currently used for corn production.

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Railroad Grade Wetland

This wetland area is continuous and hydrologically-connected with the Swamp Road Wetland at its northeastern edge, is bisected by an unused railroad grade, and is largely outside of the study area. The wetland contains approximately 103 acres of suitable Blandings turtle wetland habitat and 72.7 acres of nesting habitat nearby (Figure 3).

The Railroad Grade wetlands consist of shrub/scrub (Salix spp.) seasonally-to-permanently saturated wetland surrounded by forested wetland (Photos 14 16) and has some limited potential to support Blandings turtles. Tree species present include American elm, green ash and red maple. Construction of the railroad grade (Photo 17) and two highly-channelized watercourses and the actions of beaver (Castor canadensis; Photo 18) in the wetland may have contributed to the currently-observed water depth. This wetland has most of the elements required to support Blandings turtles, including shrub-scrub wetlands with hummock formation, deep and shallow pools, reduced tree canopy, and potential nesting habitat in close proximity.

Potential nesting habitat near the Railroad Grade Wetland includes the parts of surface of the railroad grade (Photo 19) and fields adjacent to the railroad grade on the southwest side, including fields planned to support the proposed Overhead Transmission line (Photos 13 and 20). At the time of the survey visit, portions of these fields were in active row crop agriculture, while other portions were in hay crops. This potential nesting habitat extends to the southwest nearly to Shaver Creek and Swamp Road.

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Figure 3. Railroad Grade Wetland.

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Photo 14. Typical view of Railroad Grade Wetland.

Photo 15. View of the northeastern edge of the Railroad Grade Wetland, where it contains more wetland shrubs.

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Photo 16. Another view of Railroad Grade Wetland; northwest of the image in Photo 15.

Photo 17. Railroad Grade Wetland as seen from the bed of the railroad grade.

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Photo 18. Beaver dam near railroad grade that facilitates flooding on northeast side of grade.

Photo 19. Depredated turtle nest (species unknown) found in open area on railroad grade.

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Photo 20. View of open fields and wet areas adjacent to railroad grade (southwest side).

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Eastern two thirds of study area

Based on field investigation and examination of available aerial photographs and wetland maps, the remainder of the proposed Overhead Transmission line in the study area does not support Blandings turtle wetland habitat (Figure 4).

Photos 21 23 depict several typical views of the fields and woodlands that the proposed Overhead Transmission line will cross and roads the line will follow. Between CR 5 and Merchant Road, the proposed line will cross Three Mile Creek (Photo 24); however this creek and associated riparian wetlands are unlikely to support Blandings turtles. Similarly, the riparian cattail wetlands along the Chaumont River (Photos 25 and 26) do not provide suitable Blandings turtle habitat.

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Figure 4. Eastern two-thirds of study area.

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Photo 21. One of many fields through which the proposed Overhead Transmission line will cross on the eastern two-thirds of the study area.

Photo 22. View of a shrubland and conifer stand (background) from Root Road (Getman Road on topo) through which the proposed Overhead Transmission line will cross.

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Photo 23. View NNE along Root Road (Getman Road on topo) from its intersection with Cheever Road; the proposed Overhead Transmission line will follow this road for approximately 0.75 miles.

Photo 24. View of Three Mile Creek at point where the proposed Overhead Transmission line will cross.

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Photo 25. View along existing overhead transmission line towards the Chaumont River where the proposed Overhead Transmission line will be sited.

Photo 26. View across Chaumont River from the west bank at the point the proposed Overhead Transmission line will cross.

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CONCLUSIONS Riveredges June 2010 Blandings turtle habitat survey determined that, over most of its length, the proposed Overhead Transmission line is not likely to impact Blandings turtles. There were two areas of concern at the western end of the transmission line. The first, Swamp Road Wetland, likely does not provide suitable Blandings turtle habitat at the present time although it is a large wetland and areas well beyond the study area were not visited. At the time of the survey, water levels were clearly below maximum. Some potential nesting habitat was observed in agricultural field and home sites along the southeastern edge of this wetland to the west and east of Swamp Road. The vegetative structure, vegetative species composition, and other habitat parameters present in and around the Railroad Grade Wetland within the study area represent suitable habitat for Blandings turtles. Potential nesting habitat was identified within this wetland.

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REFERENCES

Congdon, J.D., D.W. Tinkle, G.L. Breitenbach, and R.C. van Loren Sels. 1983. Nesting ecology and hatchling success in the turtle Emydoidea blandingii. Herpetologica 39(4):417-429. Dowling, Z., T. Hartwig, E. Kiviat, and F. Keesing. 2010. Experimental management of nesting habitat for the Blanding's turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). Ecological Restoration Vol. 28 (2):154-159. Ernst, C.H., J.E. Lovich, and R.W. Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington, D.C. Gibbs, J. P., A. R. Breisch, P. K. Ducey, G. Johnson, J. Behler, and R. Bothner. 2007. Amphibians and reptiles of New York. Identification, natural history, and conservation. Oxford University Press, Oxford UK. Kiviat, E. 1993. Tale of two turtles: Conservation of the Blandings turtle and Bog turtle. News from Hudsonia 9:1-7. Kiviat, E. 1997. Blandings turtle habitat requirements and implications for conservation in Dutchess County, New York. Proceedings: Conservation, Restoration, and Management of Tortoises and Turtles An International Conference. pp. 377382. Kiviat, E.G., G. Stevens, R. Brauman, S. Hoeger, P.J. Petokas, and G.G. Hollands. 2000. Restoration of wetland and upland habitat for the Blandings Turtle, Emydoidea blandingii. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 3(4):650-657. Kofron, C.P., and A.A. Schreiber. 1985. Ecology of two endangered aquatic turtles in Missouri: Kinosteron flavescens and Emydoidea blandingii. Journal of Herpetology 19:27-40. Johnson, G. and T. Crockett. 2006. Distribution, population structure, habitat relationships and nesting ecology of Blandings turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) populations in northern New York: Final Report to Biodiversity Research Institute. 30 p. Johnson, G. and T. Crockett. 2009. Distribution, population structure and habitat relationships of Blandings turtle populations in northern New York. Final Report AMO5122, Grant T-2-1. New York State Dept. of Environ. Cons. 144 pp. 29
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Joyal, L.A., M. McCollough and M.L. Hunter. 2001. A landscape ecology approaches to wetland species conservation: A case study of two species in southern Maine. Conservation Biology 15:1755-1762. Linck, M.H., J.A. DePari, B.O. Butler, and T.E. Graham. 1989. Nesting behavior of Emydoidea blandingii, in Massachusetts. Journal of Herpetology 23:442-444. Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. 2009 (Draft). Advisory Guidelines for Creating Turtle Nesting Habitat. http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw/nhesp/conservation/pdf/creating_turtle_nesting_sites.pdf New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). 1999. List of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Fish & Wildlife Species of New York State. Available: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7494.html (Accessed June 10, 2007.) Peipgras, S.A., and J.W. Lang. 2000. Spatial ecology of Blandings turtle in central Minnesota. Chelonian Conservation and Biology 3(4):589-601. Petokas, P.J. and M.M. Aleaxander. 1981. Occurrence of the Blandings turtle in northern New York. New York Fish and Game Journal 28:119-120. Riveredge Associates. 2010. Blandings turtle habitat improvement project: 2009 nesting habitat monitoring activities. Draft Final Report prepared for the New York Power Authority, White Plains, New York. January 2010. 38 pp. Ross, D.A., and R.K. Anderson. 1990. Habitat use, movements, and nesting of Emydoidea blandingii in central Wisconsin. Journal of Herpetology 24:6-12.

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