The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the Panama City Crayfish (Procambarus econfinae), an endemic, range limited species in Bay County, Florida as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in February 2022. The final decision was influenced by impacts associated with Hurricane Michael, a category 5 storm that made landfall in 2018 just east of Bay County. Housing redevelopment was a major need for the recovery efforts and as a result, the USFWS was concerned that acquisition of prime conservation areas for this species might be limited.
The USFWS partnered with Bay County to develop a recovery plan for the species that would also support housing. The plan was a four-pronged approach: conservation land acquisition, restoration, an entity to hold the land, and an endowment for long term management. For the fourth prong, USFWS reached out to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to seek support. Due to previous state protections, FDOT was already conducting several conservation measures as this species is often found in roadside ditches. A cost benefit analysis was performed to consider the long-term costs of ESA consultations compared to a monetary contribution to support species recovery. In addition, FDOT conducts species consultation as the lead federal agency through the NEPA Assignment Program and has responsibilities under Section 7(a)(1) of the ESA which states, “All other Federal agencies shall, in consultation with and with the assistance of the Secretary, utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of this Act by carrying out programs for the conservation of endangered species and threatened species listed pursuant to section 4 of this Act.”
As a result, FDOT and USFWS developed a unique landscape based programmatic approach (PA) to address this endemic species as well as complete consultation on future transportation projects. The Action Area includes all transportation right of way (ROW) within the range of the crayfish and additional nearby lands needed for future ROW and stormwater pond facilities. The PA provides FDOT coverage for future actions including clearing, repaving of existing roads, construction of new paved areas (roads, multiuse paths, sidewalks, and trails, creation of drainage features, ditches, swales, and culvert crossings), landscaping improvements, maintenance activities, and any other improvements required to maintain the integrity of the roadway system for the traveling public. FDOT is not required to conduct any species surveys or relocations, however, FDOT notifies the USFWS in advance of construction to allow the agency the opportunity to relocate crayfish. FDOT will continue to maintain roadside ditches to support crayfish habitat, will avoid impacts to critical habitat with pond siting, and will make a substantial monetary contribution to the crayfish endowment through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support long term management of conservation lands.