3 Things You Need to Know Before Hiring Biological Construction Monitors
Biological construction monitoring may be required whenever development is on or near sensitive species or habitat. Construction monitors are trained biologists with expertise in the species and habitats your construction activities might affect, and choosing which construction monitoring firm to use can be a difficult task. When evaluating construction monitoring firms, there are three things to weigh, in order of importance: credentials, reputation, and experience. We’ll give you a brief background on what construction monitoring is and detail each of the things to consider when choosing a construction monitoring firm for your project.
A Quick Background
Construction monitoring often is required as a condition of approval from regulatory agencies like the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, or your local County planning department wanting assurances that construction will not disrupt the ecology that they expect you to avoid.
Various environmental acts and regulations such as the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) and the Federal Endangered Species Act (FESA) (and regulatory agencies that oversee these acts) dictate the need for biological construction monitors. Adverse effects to species regulated by these acts are often preventable, through implementation of mitigation measures described in the appropriate permit or mitigation plan. In the simplest terms, any take to a species protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is strictly prohibited. For example, species like California red-legged frog and salt marsh harvest mouse frequently require permits for surveys and construction activities in the Bay Area. Thus, biologists that are permitted to handle these species under Section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act would be required in these cases.
Take is defined in the ESA and CESA as any activity that would “harm, harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect any wildlife within the United States.” Words like “harm,” “harass,” and “pursue” have loose definitions that have resulted in strict construction monitoring requirements. To add another layer of complication, biologists are permitted on a by-species basis. This means that you cannot hire a biologist with a blanket federal recovery or 10(a)(1)(A) permit, but instead need biologists permitted to handle the specific species present on your construction site. For instance, if the species within the range of your project include California tiger salamander and California clapper rail, you need monitors with permits for each of these species.
Construction monitors often hold multiple permits, but be sure to check their credentials before you decide which monitors to hire. In some cases you may require only a “qualified” biologist. Qualified biologists require agency approval before they can be employed on a project. Qualified biologists include federal recovery permit holders, as well as biologists with experience on multiple projects dealing with a particular species. A degree in biology and, at a minimum, some handling and identification experience, is usually required.
Reputation: Very Important
A biological construction monitor’s on-site role is to prevent issues associated with development activities while implementing the biological requirements of the mitigation plan or permit. This role also includes compliance with avoidance and mitigation measures, providing guidance on avoiding any take, and communicating hazards. Biological construction monitors’ interests are aligned with yours; they are happiest when everything is going as planned and permitted. Any project that is completed without incident and on-time is a job well done for all parties.
A biological construction monitor’s job is not to police the site and enforce the regulations or permit requirements. Rather, their job is to understand project constraints, increase awareness, communicate risk, problem-solve, and prevent impacts whenever possible. Understanding whether construction monitors have a reputation for involvement beyond their hired requirements is an important part of your due diligence process. Be sure to check references and ask past clients what their experience has been with monitoring firms that you are considering.
Different development projects have different requirements and procedures, but we’re not telling you anything you didn’t already know. In short, projects like solar installations in the middle of the desert have much different issues than residential building projects in Orange County. Where possible, hire biological monitors well-versed in construction projects that are similar to the project you are planning to undertake. Their ability to train your crew and foresee impacts will be greatly improved if they have worked on a comparable project.
Making the Call
At the end of the day, you’ll have to pick up the phone and check some references just like any other hiring exercise. With this information in mind during the hiring process, your evaluation process should be much simpler.