Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project

Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project

ABR’s team of subject matter experts provided technical assistance to AEA in planning and implementing the wildlife and botanical study programs for a large and controversial, proposed hydroelectric development in the upper Susitna River drainage in interior Alaska. ABR staff also assisted with the FERC licensing process for the project. This work included numerous public meetings with licensing participants (including AEA and FERC staff, management agencies, landowners in the project area, and interested citizens) to develop, implement, and update licensing participants on the status of each of the wildlife and botanical studies. In the field, ABR conducted aerial and ground-based surveys for birds and mammals, and prepared wetland, vegetation, and wildlife habitat mapping to facilitate impact assessments for biological resources for the project. We presented the findings in a set of Study Completion Reports and Study Implementation Reports, depending on whether all study tasks were completed.

The wildlife study program comprised 16 studies of which 9 were conducted by ABR and 2 were deferred by AEA. The wildlife studies were focused on wide-ranging field surveys for ungulates, large carnivores, terrestrial and aquatic furbearers, eagles and other raptors, waterbirds, landbirds, shorebirds, bats, and wood frogs. The moose, caribou, wolverine, and ptarmigan studies were conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), and the terrestrial fuurbearer study was conducted by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Large carnivores were studied collaboratively by ABR and ADF&G. The remainder of the studies were conducted by ABR. Most of the wildlife studies were conducted in areas upstream of the proposed dam site (where direct effects from the project would occur), but some studies also included sampling downstream of the dam site. These data were collected to facilitate impact assessments for wildlife species and to support the FERC licensing and permitting for the project.

The botanical study program comprised 5 studies focused on the mapping of wetlands, vegetation, and wildlife habitats both upstream and downstream of the proposed dam site, as well as studies of rare and invasive plants. The downstream studies included the classification and mapping of local-scale ecosystems (ecotypes), estimation of sedimentation rates on the Susitna River floodplain using radioisotope analysis, and coordination with the downstream studies of groundwater, instream flow, geomorphology, and ice processes to collect the data necessary to model changes in riparian vegetation post-development. In the upstream botanical studies, ABR classified and mapped multivariate wetland types, assessed wetland functions for the mapped wetland types, and classified and mapped mulitvariate wildlife habitat types to support impact assessments, licensing, and permitting for the project.

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