While many people in the Edwards Aquifer Region have an idea of what the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan is undertaking and accomplishing, word of this unique program is spreading to a wider audience as well. Dr. Lindsay Campbell, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervisory biologist and point person on the EAHCP refugia program, has spoken to other HCP program managers about the EAHCP in the last several months and has stirred thinking about improvements in overall habitat conservation plan methodologies.
“Last September, I spoke at the regional fisheries and aquatic conservation meeting, which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project leaders from Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma attended, and was able to spread the news about how we’re conducting the EAHCP refugia program,” Campbell commented. “That talk resulted in another invitation to speak at the American Fisheries Society meeting in Puerto Rico about a month ago. I received some great feedback on the EAHCP program and made some good contacts that could help us in the future. The best part of the experience was sparking some creative thinking among other scientists and having them tell me that our work methods inspired them to try something different with their own projects.”
This is the first habitat conservation plan for groundwater in the U.S. and has required a new model for thinking about how these preservation efforts can be accomplished. Researchers with the EAHCP are not only working on habitat conservation of the endangered species, which most HCPs focus on, but they are also developing a significant refugia program to be able to reintroduce the species back into the wild if something catastrophic happens to their habitats in the future.
“As resources for these types of efforts shrink across the U.S., it makes sense for us work with others managing HCPs to learn from each other and become more efficient and effective in our work,” Campbell said. “Because the EAHCP is so different than other HCPs, we’re really looking at being pioneers with our work. Most HCPs focus on terrestrial animals. But, the EAHCP takes into account aquatic organisms and the actual water flows which support the species. There are water rights to account for and various uses of the water in different areas in the Edwards Aquifer Region that come into play here. So this program reaches across many more levels than other HCPs and requires different approaches from our team.”
In addition to the multilayered elements of managing the EAHCP refugia program, some of the species being studied are not well known to researchers. That fact in itself poses interesting challenges to the team.
“There are some species in the program we know a lot about, but there are those that we’re just starting to gather information on,” Campbell explained. “This presents interesting challenges in collecting the species from the wild and figuring out how to best maintain them in the lab.”
Given that aspect of dealing with many unknowns, the original 10-year research plan was revamped to be a document that sets out research goals. It was difficult to outline what the team would be doing in year 10 of the plan without first understanding the basics of what the species need to survive and reproduce in the refugia. So, the team established strategic goals referred to as creating a “functional refugia” that addresses collection, maintaining, reproduction, reintroduction and a genetic management plan for the species they are studying.
“I’m a researcher at heart and always look forward to being in the field and doing the hands on work that is essential to overall understanding of these unique species,” concluded Campbell. “Our team of young scientists are extremely engaged and enthusiastic. We learn things each day and then have to assemble those bits of information into sound science we can pass on to other researchers and the EAHCP team. That’s truly exciting and a story well worth telling to others around the country.”