Amherst Residents for Environmental Accountability (AREA)

How will the BlueWave Industrial Facility affect the grasshopper sparrow?

Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum)The Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) is listed as threatened by the State of Massachusetts. Threatened species are native species which are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, or which are declining or rare as determined by biological research and inventory. Click here to view the threatened species list.

Grasshopper Sparrow is a small, secretive sparrow that is more often heard than seen. It depends on dense grasses for foraging and nesting cover. The nest is built on the ground at the base of a clump of vegetation and consists of a deep cup of stems and grasses with over-hanging vegetation creating a dome with a side entrance. Pairs will raise 2 to 3 broods per year and will construct a new nest each time. Young leave the nest after 9 to 10 days but are unable to fly. They run or walk along the ground in dense cover to avoid disturbance. Threats to the grasshopper sparrow population include loss of nests due to mowing of fields during the nesting season.

The proposed BlueWave Industrial Facility will cover the majority of the existing landfill with concrete and gravel. It is not clear how much of the existing dense vegetation, which is critical for nesting and the protection of the fledglings, will be preserved. Mowing is necessary to properly maintain the industrial facility. An environmental impact analysis is needed before impacts to the grasshopper sparrow can be understood. This analysis should consider the possibility that the species could be listed as endangered within the next 30 years. The analysis also should consider impacts from maintenance activities, lights, noise, and other issues associated with an active industrial facility.

The April 7, 2010 Request for Advisory Opinion  sent by the Town of Amherst to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (click here to view the document) contains the following language about habitat disturbance and restoration:

Temporary Habitat Disturbance and Habitat Restoration

The corrective maintenance required on this site cannot be completed without direct disturbance to vegetated areas and existing Grasshopper Sparrow habitat on the Landfill site. A Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) Project Review is currently being completed and will be submitted to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife for review.

The Town has had preliminary discussions with a wildlife biologist at the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to identify measures that will be implemented to minimize and mitigate impacts to the habitat. These measures include phasing of the proposed work to, limit the area of disturbance, retain greater areas of existing established vegetation and habitat, promote the rapid reestablishment of vegetation and habitat and reduce the potential for erosion and sedimentation. The site will be covered with sandy loam and seeded with a New England Warm Season Grass Mix, resulting in ideal habitat for the sparrow.

In addition, The Town of Amherst will be consulting with local bird expert Mr. Harvey Allen during the implementation of this project. Mr. Allen would be willing to inform the Department of Public Works to the arrival of the Grasshopper Sparrow in the spring, identify current nesting sites that may be located within the impending work area, and provide information on the departure of the sparrow in the fall. The information provided to the Town would allow the Department of Public Works to adjust the location of the work area within each phase of the project as well as make adjustments to the timing of the grading and seeding work.

This project proposes only limited temporary impacts to the Priority Habitat located on the Old Landfill site. Once this project is completed the landfill vegetation and habitat will be reestablished and the current site maintenance practices will resume.

A fact sheet on the grasshopper sparrow prepared by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation can be found at the following link:

The following link provides a fact sheet prepared by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wild Life:

The picture of the Grasshopper Sparrow is courtesy of the Maine Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.