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Delayed Nyse  -  03:59 2022-09-28 pm EDT
20.17 USD   +2.07%
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Serving Our Planet: PG&E Assist Boosts Protected Salamander Species on Road to Recovery

06/24/2022 | 07:26pm EDT

Santa Cruz Long Toed Salamander

By Benjamin Spillman

Instant gratification is a rare commodity in the world of species protection.

It's a big reason Kelli Camara was so thrilled to find a Santa Cruz Long Toed Salamander during a monitoring visit to the Ellicott Slough National Wildlife Refuge near Watsonville, where an existing wetland was improved to extend the period of ponded water for the endangered species.

Recovery of the species to a sustainable level is a career-long goal for Camara, Consulting Technical Director for the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County.

The fact that one showed during her first monitoring visit to the project that was constructed just last year only added to the satisfaction of seeing one of the amphibians in the wild.

"This pond is critical for the recovery of the species," Camara said. "It wasn't until 2020 when PG&E was able to dedicate funding for the project that building it became a reality."

The pond is one of many conservation projects within Pacific Gas and Electric Company's Habitat Conservation Plan Program portfolio, which is part of a broader Compensatory Mitigation Program.

Compensatory mitigation is the concept of offsetting intrusion into wild species' habitat in one place by enhancing an equal or greater amount of suitable habitat elsewhere.

It's what allows public or private entities, PG&E included, to receive permits to build or maintain important projects within species habitats without violating the Endangered Species Act or other species and habitat protections laws and regulations.

And habitat conservation plans (HCPs) are a systematic approach to balancing necessary and permitted habitat intrusion with an adequate amount of suitable habitat as an offset to help species survive and thrive.

Systematic approach maximizes value of conservation projects

Throughout the HCPs in the service area, working with government agencies, land trusts, conservation organizations and private landowners, PG&E already has conserved, protected or restored 8,200 acres of threatened and endangered species habitat since 2008.

PG&E developed these HCPs in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure they meet current avoidance and minimization standards and provide conservation or habitat enhancement when avoidance is not possible over the next 30 years.

The systematic approach helps keep projects on schedule by allowing PG&E to mitigate in advance for on-going maintenance activities. And working in tandem with public, non-profit and private conservation partners means PG&E ratepayer money goes to consensus-driven projects and stakeholders who can stretch resources to get the most conservation value for the dollar.

Monitoring habitat for Santa Cruz Long Toed Salamander includes tracking and measuring the amphibians.

Creating mitigation projects from scratch can cost more money per acre and take more time to develop, which could slow down permitting for critical energy infrastructure construction or maintenance. Working with partners speeds up the pace and can result in projects with lower costs per acre, which means the same amount of money can accomplish more conservation work. HCP program level approaches to conservation creates a mechanism for aggregation of many small, anticipated impacts over a 30-year planning horizon into a single conservation goal today. This results in larger conservation or enhancement projects that provide higher ecological benefit to listed species compared to individual project compensatory mitigation approaches.

To put the money into action, PG&E coworkers such as Matthew Brown, principal land consultant on PG&E's Environmental Resources and Mitigation team, identifies conservation opportunities or planned conservation projects around the service area that would have the most to gain from PG&E support.

"The biggest part of my job is finding the opportunities and vetting them," Brown said.

The salamander pond was just such an opportunity.

Its goal was to enhance an existing wetland within the range of the Santa Cruz Long Toed Salamander that would hold water long enough to allow the species to breed, grow legs and move into upland habitat which is required for its recovery.

Salamander's unique and threatened habitat

The salamander exists only in parts of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties and requires specific pond and wetland habitat for breeding alongside native oak woodland and willow riparian habitat where it can take refuge after it leaves the water.

The Watsonville location, just downslope from Highway 1, already had been identified as suitable for a pond, was close to another salamander pond which could contribute to genetic diversity and contribute to a habitat corridor and is on land owned by California Department of Fish and Wildlife and managed by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

With the appropriate land, qualified wildlife managers and agency support already in place, all that was missing was monetary resources to improve the wetland.

That's where PG&E stepped in.

With approximately $430,000 in funding, the team was able to construct a pond with the right depths to support salamander breeding.

"This is why we have habitat conservation plans," Brown said. "We are able to seize opportunities like this that are a win for our ratepayers and listed species."

The pond itself is engineered into the bottom of a small canyon that's home to requisite native oak, deer, mountain lion and birds.

It' has zones that are deep enough for winter salamander breeding with shallow zones for egg deposition from January to March when larvae hatch.

Critically, the pond needs to sustain water through July, which it appears on track to do despite severe drought conditions.

"The pond is already teeming with Pacific Tree Frogs, lots of invertebrates and we just found our first Santa Cruz Long Toed Salamander here," Camara said. "Just a few months after building it they are already successfully using the pond, which is really exciting."

Email Currents at Currents@pge.com


Pacific Gas and Electric Company published this content on 24 June 2022 and is solely responsible for the information contained therein. Distributed by Public, unedited and unaltered, on 24 June 2022 23:25:08 UTC.

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