MOBILE, Ala. – In an effort to improve consultation under the Endangered Species Act for the state of Mississippi, representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Fish and Wildlife Service) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps of Engineers) Mobile District, Vicksburg District, Memphis District, and Nashville District signed a Memorandum of Agreement to implement Standard Local Operating Procedures for Endangered Species (SLOPES) on June 28. The SLOPES agreement includes 44 Federally-listed threatened and endangered species in the state of Mississippi. Four Corps of Engineers districts possessing regulatory authority in the state entered into the agreement with Fish and Wildlife Service making the implementation of this document the largest of its scope for the entire Corps of Engineers.
The agreement culminates more than a year of research and collaboration by each of the agencies and establishes a step-by-step process for assessing the potential effects of regulated actions on each of the 44 threatened or endangered species. The SLOPES document is expected to improve the accuracy of assessments and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort by resource agencies. In effect, the agreement will expedite regulatory processes while still protecting threatened and endangered species. Consequently, agencies will be afforded the opportunity to devote more resources to projects with potentially greater consequences. Prior to implementation of the SLOPES document, permit applicants in Mississippi were often delayed while waiting for the agencies to complete consultation under the Endangered Species Act, even for projects with minimal to no adverse effect to protected species.
“When we receive a permit application, we assess whether the work is going to impact threatened or endangered species,” explained Mobile District’s Biologist Allison Monroe. “If we think there is a possibility that it could, then we consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service. [Prior to the SLOPES agreement] we were unable to move forward in our assessment until we received written concurrence from the [Fish and Wildlife Service]. Essentially, the SLOPES document provides the necessary written concurrence up front for activities with known minimal effect to species. It also readily identifies activities that warrant greater review by resource agencies.”
“The document identifies regulated activities where there is no potential to adversely affect the species,” said South Mississippi Regulatory Branch Supervisor, Munther Sahawneh. “But if a project doesn’t meet the criteria, we will still consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service. And if a project manager feels circumstances warrant a more robust review, they can still initiate consultation at any time.”
Because conditions change and our knowledge of species continues to improve, the agreement will be reviewed regularly for any needed updates or modifications.
“It is going to be a living document because things do change,” said Sahawneh.
The SLOPES document serves as an in-depth, one-stop resource for each of the 44 threatened or endangered species, providing a more thorough overview of what activities carry the potential to cause an adverse effect.
“This is a great tool,” said Amiee Smith, Mobile District project manager. “It helps both agencies by providing a more efficient and consistent method of evaluating potential adverse effects to species while still protecting them. It also benefits the public by expediting the permitting process.”
With so many agencies working together to make the SLOPES agreement a reality, Mobile District Regulatory Chief Craig Litteken has set his site on the state of Alabama next.
“This SLOPES initiative represents outstanding interagency partnership, and is a great example of streamlining government,” said Litteken. “Due to the success of this initiative, we will now ramp up coordination with the Nashville District and Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a similar [agreement] for the state of Alabama.”