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Overview

HabITS consists of a national geodatabase used to organize spatial feature classes and attribute data relevant to the reporting requirements of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and Coastal Program. This document is representative of the geodatabase and its respective feature classes. It is intended to help make users of the HabITS model more familiar with the system structure and provide guidance for data entry.

Habitat Improvement

Habitat is a combination of environmental factors that provides food , water, cover and space that a living thing needs to survive and reproduce. Habitat types include: coastal and estuarine, rivers and streams, lakes and ponds, wetlands, riparian areas, deserts, grasslands/prairie, forests, coral reefs, marine, perennial snow and ice, and urban.

Habitat Improvement is defined as on-the-ground habitat restoration, enhancement, establishment, or protection actions to restore or artificially provide physiographic, hydrological, or disturbance conditions necessary to establish or maintain plant and animal communities including periodic manipulations to maintain intended habitat conditions on completed projects.

Habitat improvement projects are implemented through a written mechanism (e.g., cooperative agreement) that describes the role of the Service as a partner. In addition, habitat improvement must include a specific treatment to the identified habitat (e.g., a physical, chemical, or biological alteration, such as prescribed burning, grazing, or planting), and/or the habitat is protected through a conservation easement, contract, or fee-title acquisition.

Habitat improvement projects delivered by Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program or Coastal Program staff should be recorded as a HabITS "project" regardless of funding source (e.g., Endangered Species Recovery, Natural Resource Damage Assessment, etc.).

Accomplishment Types

Habitat improvement projects are identified according to the different accomplishments types conducted as a part of the implementation process.

Habitat Assessment is an activity supported by a written mechanism under which program staff evaluate habitat of a specified area of land and/or water as habitat for a population, species, or community, with the goal of developing and/or implementing habitat improvement projects through the Coastal Program and/or the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program functions for the purpose of benefiting Federal trust species.

Examples:

Baseline inventories

Watershed assessments.

Evaluations of management actions.

Monitoring of changes over time.


Habitat Restoration
is the manipulation of the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of a site with the goal of returning the majority of natural function to lost or degraded native habitat for the purpose of benefiting Federal trust species.

Examples:

Removal of tile drains.

Plugging drainage ditches in former or degraded wetlands.

Returning meanders and sustainable profiles to straightened streams.

Removing constructed barriers to promote movement of aquatic species.

Planting native vegetative communities.

Installation of a water control structure in a swale on lands isolated from overbank flooding by a major levee to simulate natural hydrological processes.

Placement of streambank or instream habitat diversity structures in streams that cannot be restored to original conditions or profile.

Removing invasive species using biological/chemical/mechanical controls.


Habitat Enhancement
is the manipulation of the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of a habitat to change specific function or the seral stage present functions for the purpose of benefiting Federal trust species.

Examples

Increasing the hydro-period and water depth of a wetland beyond what would naturally occur

Improving waterfowl habitat conditions.

Establishing water level management capabilities (moist soil management) for plant communities or to create mudflat conditions important for shorebirds.

Cross-fencing and establishment of rotational grazing system to improve grassland nesting bird habitat conditions.

Removing invasive species using biological/chemical/mechanical controls.

Burning an established native grass community to reduce or eliminate invading brush or exotic species.

Brush shearing to set back early successional plant communities.

Forest management that promotes a particular seral staqe.

Fencing livestock out of a riparian area.

Fencing off sea-grass areas.

Enforced restricted access.

Gating a bat cave.

Removing constructed barriers to promote movement of aquatic species.

Inclusions:

  • If the installation or removal of a structure eliminates a degrading element and the adjacent habitat requires no further improvement activity during the term of the agreement, the enhanced acres or miles adjacent to the structure should be entered as an accomplishment.  If possible, supporting documentation identifying the potential area of impact affected by the degrading element should be attached.

Exclusions:

  • If the installation or removal of a structure does not enable the habitat to reestablish or become fully functional (eq, nest boxes, animal burrows, marking fences to prevent bird strike, educational signage, crab pots, guzzlers, traps), only the structure should be entered as a point or linear accomplishment. The adjacent acres or miles should not be entered as an accomplishment.
     
  • Subsequent, regularly scheduled and routine maintenance and management activities such as annual mowing or spraying of invasive vegetation.
     
  • Mobile and non-mobile invasive species control can be counted as an accomplishment once within the term of the mechanism; subsequent treatments within the same geographic area should be categorized as maintenance/follow-up.


Habitat Establishment
is the manipulation of the physical , chemical, or biological characteristics present to create and maintain habitat that did not previously exist on the site for the purpose of benefiting Federal trust species.

Examples:

Construction of shallow water impoundments on non-hydric soils.

Construction of side channel spawning and rearing habitat where none previously existed


Habitat Re-opened
is in-stream or wetland habitat made available for aquatic species to move into, as a result of bypassing or removing a barrier for the purpose of benefiting Federal trust species.

Examples:

Dam removal (in-stream) to restore fish passage.

Levee or drainage ditch removal to restore wetland hydrology for aquatic species.

Ditch plug to restore wetland hydrology for aquatic species.

Exclusions:

  • Stream miles or wetland acres re-opened due to fish passage barrier removal or modification must have associated documentation demonstrating the value of the habitat re-opened to target species.


Habitat Maintenance I Follow-up
 is additional work that involves the manipulation of the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics present which are critical for the successful completion of the restoration process for the purpose of benefiting Federal trust species.

Examples:

Burning a site several years after native grassland is established.

Planting seedlings several years after hydrology is restored to a wetland.

Repeated biological/mechanical/chemical invasive species control.

Exclusions:

  • Maintenance/follow-up should not be confused with regular management practices such as management of water levels in a restored wetland or managing grazing pressure on grasslands. Management activities should be recorded initially under the existing agreement as a habitat restoration or enhancement accomplishment.

Habitat Protection is a long-term action to safeguard habitats of significant importance to fish and wildlife species for the purpose of benefiting Federal trust species.

Examples:

Fee-title transfers from other agencies to the Service (e.q., Farm Service Agency).

Conservation easements with a minimum duration of 30 years to perpetual (e.g., WRP, Private Land Trusts).

Conservation contracts with a minimum duration of 50 years (e.q, Debt for Nature program).

Land acquisition in perpetuity by conservation entities such as local, state and federal agencies as well as private non-profit land conservation organizations.

Establishment of legally designated protected natural areas.

Inclusions:

  • Habitat Protection activities shall be recorded as a Habitat Improvement project in HabITS when the Service provides funds through the obligating mechanism or when the Service provides significant contributions to implement an on-the-ground habitat protection project.  Significant contributions should be supported by a written mechanism (e.g., MOU, MOA) between the Service and one or more of its partners involved with the project.

Exclusions:

  • The Partners for Fish &Wildlife and the Coastal Programs cannot provide funds for the acquisition of interests in land (i.e., will not use funds to purchase, or help to purchase, legal interests on land). Program staff and resources could be used to identify, evaluate, and assess resources on lands prior to acquisition by another entity, and to improve habitats after acquisition by another conservation entity.
     
  • If an agreement document does not exist, but our technical expertise is used to protect habitat, it should be recorded as a Strategic Planning activity.

 

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