Elaine Imbruglia is the President and Environmental Consultant at Modica & Associates. As an Environmental Consultant, her career is crucial in protecting the beautiful and natural ecosystem of Florida. In this episode, Elaine dives into her typical ecological tasks as well as some of the interesting species she encounters.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. Listen above for the full podcast.
What is an Environmental Consultant? A lot of people call what we do: “Bugs and Bunnies”. Really, it's ecological consulting. We focus on the bugs and bunnies; the wetlands and the wildlife, more of the ecology.
How did you become an environmental consultant? At Mississippi State, I majored in Biology and earned my Master's in Biological Science. When I finished that, I sent my resume literally everywhere. I didn't know what I wanted to do or what was available. I actually ended up with an internship with the Nature Conservancy at Disney's Wilderness Preserve. The Disney Wilderness Preserve is basically a mitigation bank for Disney and their development. In my independent study, I helped with wetland monitoring and reporting for that preserve.
After that, I actually went into private consulting for a different firm. Then I worked for South Florida Water Management District for several years before I landed at Modica.
What do you do while on-site? We're usually one of the first consultants to start the due diligence process. This is because a lot of what we do in the field needs to be picked up by surveyors and engineers when a potential buyer is in the due diligence process. In that process, we look at old historic aerials and consider existing information on that property. Then we go out and do field work. We will delineate wetlands or look for bald eagles, caracaras, sand skinks, gopher tortoises, or the myriad of other species that we must consider here in Florida. Then we write a report for any potential buyer and we outline any concerns that they should consider like wetland impacts, cost of mitigation, cost of tortoise relocation, restrictions, if there's a bald eagle nest. All of those types of things they should consider while they develop their potential site plan with wetlands.
How do you identify wetlands? Well that's the interesting thing because a lot of people will look at aerials and say, “Okay, here are the wetlands,” but there's a little misnomer about wetlands. Most people think that wetlands are the cypress domes, the base swamps, or the floodplains that are obviously a swamp or a bayou. However, there are many wetlands out there that may not appear as wetlands on an aerial because they're not constantly holding water. They might hold water seasonally. So you can't just go by aerials. Sometimes you can even delineate it just on soils and vegetation and not necessarily water.
Why is identifying wetlands important? If you purchase a piece of property, whether you're a single family landowner or you're purchasing thousands of acres, you have to know what the limitations are. Many times with wetlands come floodplains and you have to consider the floodplain impacts as well. You can impact wetlands and provide mitigation but, with some of the deeper marsh areas where you have thick muck, you have to de-muck and fill and that has a cost to it.
What types of protected animals live in wetlands? Sometimes you can have bird rookeries, alligators, storks. There are several species of wildlife to consider that may live in your wetlands, but a lot of times your mitigation credit covers the impact of those species as well.
What are sand skinks? They are small legless lizards that swim through sand. They look like little miniature snakes and they only live on the central ridges of Florida. That's why they're federally protected. They're nowhere else in the world except here and there's a limited population.
We can do a survey and determine whether you have sand skinks present or not. If you do, you can apply for what's called an incidental take permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That allows you to go ahead and develop the land but for every acre of occupied habitat that you impact, you have to purchase credits at a conservation bank. Everything that we do is a balance between you’re able to impact something, but you have to provide mitigation and replace what you're impacting. You’ve got to pay to play.
Do the regulations change often? They do on both the state and the federal levels. They're always changing survey protocols and changing as they get new research on different species. It's something that we have to keep current with.
Why are wetlands important to Florida? They provide natural water storage, flood protection, and water quality improvement. They are important for wildlife habitats as well. Florida is covered in wetlands.
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For more info on environmental consulting and wetland delineation, please contact Elaine Imbruglia at 352.394.2000.
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