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Service Protects Red Knot as Threatened Species under Endangered Species Act

December 10, 2014

On September 27, 2013, the Service released a proposal to list the rufa red knot as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and submitted that determination to the Federal Register by the legal deadline of November 28. The Candidate Notice of Review published in the Federal Register on December 5, 2014, listed the rufa red knot as a candidate species. The rufa red knot will be removed from the candidate list upon the effective date of the final listing determination.

During more than 130 days of public comment periods and three public hearings since September 2013, the Service received more than 17,400 comments on the threatened listing proposal, many of which were supportive form letters, while others raised issues with the adequacy of horseshoe crab management, the impacts of wind turbines, the inclusion of interior states in the range, and other topics. The agency requested additional time to complete the final decision so that we could thoroughly analyze complex information available after the proposal, such as national and global climate assessments, and so that we could carefully consider and address extensive public comments. A thorough response to comments is included in the final document.

Red Knot Info

Full News Release



New flows bring life back to section of Coosa River

November 20, 2014

River flows have been returned to a 20-mile section of the Coosa River as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) hydro relicensing process on the river.

A flow schedule was developed and implemented by engineers and biologists at Alabama Power, along with state and federal biologists, as a result of FERC license renewal negotiations with Alabama Power and a host of local stakeholders. The new water flow will restore habitat and launch recreational activities, such as fishing, canoeing and kayaking.

To create more efficient generation conditions, construction of Weiss Dam redirected flow away from 20 miles of the original river channel in 1960. Discussions about restoring some of these flows began with the discovery in 1998 of an endangered mussel in the original river channel below Terrapin Creek.

“The new flow regime, thanks to our partners at the ADCNR and Alabama Power, will deliver a constant flow somewhat similar to what it was prior to 1960,” said Jeff Powell, Senior Aquatic Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This flow will provide agencies the unique opportunity to reintroduce many native fishes and mollusk species back into historically occupied areas. As a result, these reintroductions will allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work toward species recovery and eventually removing species from the Endangered Species List.”

Like many of the rivers in the Southeast, the Coosa features a tremendous number of freshwater snails, mussels, fishes and crayfishes – once supporting the greatest freshwater snail fauna in the world. Although some of those species may have been lost during the last century to river development, increasing water flow to sections of the Coosa offers the unique opportunity study efforts to restore a portion of the fauna previously absent from the river.

Read the full News Release here: New flows bring life back to section of Coosa River



Recovery Plan for Two Endangered Snails and an Endangered Mussel Available

Interrupted rocksnail
Leptoxis foremani
Credit: Thomas Tarpley-ADCNR

November 6, 2014

Contacts: Denise Rowell, Denise_Rowell@fws.gov, 251-441-6630
Tom MacKenzie, Tom_MacKenzie@fws.gov, 404-679-7291
Jeff Powell, Jeff_Powell@fws.gov, 251-441-5858

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing the availability of the final recovery plan for the Georgia pigtoe mussel, interrupted rocksnail, and rough hornsnail, all federally listed as endangered.

The interrupted rocksnail, rough hornsnail, and Georgia pigtoe mussel have disappeared from 90 percent or more of their historical ranges, primarily due to impoundment, or damming of riverine habitats. All three species are endemic to the Coosa River drainage of the Mobile River Basin in Alabama and Georgia. The Georgia pigtoe also occurs in a Coosa River tributary in Tennessee.

“This final recovery plan provides direction the Service and its partners can take to recover these rare aquatic species,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “We are working closely with the State of Alabama, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, the Geological Survey of Alabama, industry, universities and conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy on several efforts to benefit these mollusks.”

The final recovery plan describes actions necessary for the mollusks’ recovery, establishes criteria for downlisting the two snails to threatened status, establishes recovery objectives and actions to help us establish criteria for the mussel, and estimates the time and costs for implementing the needed recovery actions.

According to the recovery plan, downlisting of the interrupted rocksnail and rough hornsail will be considered when we (1) protect and manage at least three geographically distinct populations for each species; (2) achieve demonstrated and sustainable natural reproduction and recruitment in each population for each species as evident by multiple age classes of individuals, including naturally recruited juveniles, and recruitment rates exceeding mortality rates for a period of five years; and develop and implement habitat and population monitoring programs for each population.

Recovery criteria for the Georgia pigtoe will be developed after the Service completes critical recovery actions and gains a greater understanding of the mussel species. Meanwhile, the Service identifies the following actions necessary to help prevent the extinction of this animal: (1) maintain and where possible implement habitat restoration activities and improve the Conasauga River population of the Georgia pigtoe; (2) develop and implement a monitoring plan to help ensure that the Conasauga River population does not decline further; and, (3) develop a captive propagation program and establish an ark population to help support the Conasauga River population of the Georgia pigtoe; (4) conduct research, such as, identification of an appropriate fish host, that is important to gain better understanding of this mussel’s life history; and, (5) identify, monitor, and where possible improve potential reintroduction sites in the historic range of the Georgia pigtoe and reintroduce the species into these habitats.

To view the recovery plan on the web, please visit http://www.fws.gov/endangered/species/recovery-plans.html. Request a paper copy of the plan by contacting the Service’s Daphne, Alabama, Ecological Services Field Office at 251- 441-5858.

Over the last 75 years, the Coosa River Drainage has been converted from a free flowing riverine continuum to a scattered collection of isolated stream segments some of which now function as refugia for imperiled mollusks. Conservation and recovery of the Georgia pigtoe, interrupted rocksnail, and rough hornsnail will require human intervention. It is known that human activities, human population numbers, and associated impacts will change within drainage watersheds. Therefore, to recover these species, it is essential to characterize and monitor aquatic habitats on a watershed scale, and respond to changing conditions rapidly, whether through negotiation and partnerships to alleviate threats, or through relocation or husbandry and reintroduction of endangered species populations to appropriate areas. This approach will require monitoring existing and reintroduced populations of the Georgia pigtoe, interrupted rocksnail, and rough hornsnail, and characterizing current conditions within six designated critical habitat units and their watersheds, along with routine periodic monitoring of habitat conditions.

Several organizations are working with the Service to help recover these three mollusks. Some examples of recovery activities discussed in the recovery plan include efforts by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), the Nature Conservancy, the Service and other partners to collect brood stock from several populations, initiate propagation and reintroduction protocols, and subsequent monitoring. It also discusses the creation of ADCNR’s - Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center (AABC) and its efforts to elevate recovery of these mollusks. AABC-led reintroductions and augmentations have been a tremendous asset by successfully reintroducing several imperiled aquatic species over the last two years.



Service Proposes to List the Black Pinesnake as Threatened

Black Pine Snake
Credit: Jim Lee TNC

Contact: Connie Dickard, 601-321-1121, connie_dickard@fws.gov

October 6,2014

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the black pinesnake as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with a proposed section 4(d) rule. If finalized, this 4(d) rule would exempt certain activities from the take prohibitions of the ESA that would positively affect black pinesnake populations and provide an overall conservation benefit to the snake. These activities include herbicide treatments, prescribed burning, restoration along river banks and stream buffers, and some intermediate timber treatments.

This harmless snake is only found in the longleaf pine forests of southern Mississippi and Alabama. Longleaf pine habitat once covered roughly 90 million acres across much of the Southeastern United States and over several decades shrunk to around three million acres in the 1990s. A large partnership of conservation agencies, non-profits, and businesses are taking steps to reverse that decline.

The public is invited to comment on the proposed listing of the black pinesnake as threatened with a proposed 4(d) rule for the next 60 days through December 2, 2014. A threatened species is defined as one which is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.

“The black pinesnake is an important part of the longleaf pine ecosystem in southern Alabama and Mississippi,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “Conservation efforts for the black pinesnake align closely with efforts already ongoing in this ecosystem for other wildlife like the gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake, dusky gopher frog, and the red-cockaded woodpecker.”

Conservation actions taken for the snake also provide for hundreds of other species in the same longleaf pine habitat.

The black pinesnake has been a candidate for federal protection since 1999. The proposed listing of the black pinesnake is part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan under a Multi-District Listing Agreement aimed at addressing a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA listing program. The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce a litigation-driven workload. For more information, please see http://www.fws.gov/southeast/candidateconservation/

The final decision to add the black pinesnake to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants will be based on the best scientific information available. All relevant information received during the open comment period from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties will be considered and addressed in the Service’s final listing determination for the species.

Black pinesnakes are non-venomous, egg-laying constrictors. Adults range in size from 48 to 76 inches. They are dark brown to black on both their upper and lower body surfaces, have small heads with pointed snouts, and are good burrowers. Habitat for these snakes consists of sandy, well-drained soils with an open-canopied forest cover of longleaf pine, a reduced shrub layer, and a dense, vegetative ground cover.

There are currently 11 populations of the black pinesnake known in 11 counties in Mississippi (Forrest, George, Greene, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Marion, Perry, Stone, and Wayne) and three counties in Alabama (Clarke, Mobile, and Washington). Some populations span areas in multiple, nearby counties. The black pinesnake has not been seen in Louisiana in more than 30 years and is considered eliminated from the state.

This snake’s decline is attributed to the loss and degradation of the longleaf pine ecosystem. Longleaf pine forests declined because of the increase in roads which caused habitat fragmentation, fire suppression, conversion of natural pine forests to pine plantations, and agricultural and urban development. Other threats to the snake’s survival include road mortality and killing by humans.

Comments and information may be submitted by one of two ways: (1) online at http://www.regulations.gov by entering FWS-R4-ES-2014–0046 in the search box and then clicking on “Comment Now”; or (2) mail or hand delivery to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2014–0046. You also can U.S. mail or hand-deliver comments to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2014-0046, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803. All comments received will be posted on www.regulations.gov. Request for a public hearing must be made in writing by November 21, 2014, to the Falls Church, VA, address.

The complete proposal can be obtained by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS–R4–ES–2014–0046. A copy also can be obtained by contacting U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Suite A, Jackson, Mississippi 39213; phone 601-321-1121.



Beach Vitex: An Unwanted Invader

Beach Vitex
Credit: Bill Lynn

September 25,2014

When you live on the beach, it’s important to plant vegetation in order to keep sand dunes stable and intact. But biologists say you must be very careful when selecting your dune plants. One plant you should avoid at all costs is beach vitex (Vitex rotundifolia).

Beach vitex is a vine native to Korea, and introduced to the Southeast in the 1980’s. The plant was introduced to the Alabama Gulf Coast after Hurricane Ivan in 2004. It was sold under the guise that it would help stabilize the beach. But beach vitex actually does quite the opposite. Although it produces beautiful purple flowers and round, silvery-green leaves, it’s also an invasive plant that can wreak havoc on dune habitat.

Beach vitex can actually crowd out native dune plants and dangerously alter beach mouse and sea turtle habitat. Native plants such as sea oats and panic grass aren’t able to get sunlight, water and nutrients because they can’t compete with the long and thick canopy of beach vitex. Although the plant was originally introduced to help stabilize sand dunes, beach vitex actually hurts beach stability.

Beach vitex isn’t just hurting other native plants. It’s also affecting wildlife that depends on stable sand dunes for nesting or habitat. The Alabama beach mouse depends on native sea oats for food. But most native plants cannot co-exist with beach vitex. In addition, the thick vegetation also makes it difficult for female sea turtles to nest. Hatchlings also get entangled in the plant, keeping them from their journey into the Gulf.

Beach vitex has been spotted in Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Boykin Court South and the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. If you suspect you have beach vitex on your lot, please give U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Bill Lynn a call at 251-441-5868. You can also email him at William_Lynn@fws.gov.



Fish and Wildlife Service Seeks Public Comment on Plan to Recover Endangered Frog

Dusky Gopher Frog.
Credit: John Tupy

Contact: Connie Dickard, USFWS
601-321-1121
connie_dickard@fws.gov


September 9,2014

The dusky gopher frog, a stocky frog with a loud, guttural call, is heard less often now in the longleaf pine forests of Mississippi. Once found in Louisiana and Alabama, as well as Mississippi, it’s now only found in four locations in Harrison and Jackson counties in southern Mississippi.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment on a draft recovery plan for the dusky gopher frog.

“The dusky gopher frog is considered to be one of the 100 most endangered species in the world,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “This recovery plan will help us improve the frog’s precarious position and the longleaf pine habitat it and other rare plant and animal species like the threatened gopher tortoise depend upon.”

The Technical/Agency Draft Recovery Plan for the Dusky Gopher Frog (Rana sevosa) lays out a strategy to help recover this endangered frog by ensuring sustainable and healthy populations and reducing threats to the species. It describes actions necessary for the frog’s recovery, establishes criteria for downlisting it to threatened status, and estimates the time and cost for implementing the needed recovery actions.

Read the full release...

 



Fish and Wildlife Service Conducts Five-Year Status Reviews of 27 Southeastern Species

Reticulated flatwoods salamander larva.
Credit: Kevin Enge, FWS.

Contact: Tom MacKenzie, USFWS
404-679-7291
tom_mackenzie@fws.gov


September 22,2014

The Atlantic salt marsh snake and the frosted flatwoods salamander are among 27 federally protected species that will be getting a check-up

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is launching five-year status reviews of 17 endangered species and 10 threatened species occurring in one or more of the 10 states across the Southeast Region and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Service is seeking comments and information from the public on all 27 species by November 24, 2014, 60 days from publication in the Federal Register.

The reviews will ensure listing classifications under the Endangered Species Act are accurate and reflect the best available information. In addition to reviewing the classification of each one, a five-year review presents an opportunity to track the species’ recovery progress. It may benefit species by providing valuable information to guide future conservation efforts. Information gathered during a review can assist in making funding decisions, consideration related to reclassifying species status, conducting interagency consultations, making permitting decisions, and determining whether to update recovery plans, and other actions under the ESA.

Read the full release...

See the Federal Register Rule



Conservation Efforts Help Keep Georgia Aster off Endangered Species List

Photo by G.L. Nesom

September 19,2014

Asheville, N.C. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that Georgia aster does not require federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, a decision reflecting years of conservation work by myriad partners.

Georgia aster is a wide-ranging, but rare, purple-flowering plant found in the upper Piedmont and lower mountain regions of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The plant has been a candidate for the federal endangered species list since 1999.

“Today’s decision is a great step forward in our southeastern strategy to conserve as many at-risk plants and animals as possible, before they need federal protection,” said the Service’s Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner. “The Georgia aster is thriving thanks to the proactive conservation efforts of many partners.”

Led by the states, the at-risk species conservation strategy protects species, saves money, reduces future regulatory burden on landowners, and enables the Service to focus on plants and animals that need federal protection to survive. In addition, conserving one at-risk species often benefits others. Georgia aster, for example, needs the same type of habitat (open savanna or prairie) as some rapidly declining birds like the grasshopper sparrow, field sparrow, and eastern meadowlark.

The Service’s decision not to list the Georgia aster was based on a review of current information -- including the number, size, and health of populations -- as well as the imminence and severity of threats to the plant. This information shows significant gains made by the plant in recent years. Since 1999, more than 50 additional populations of Georgia aster have been discovered. There are currently 118 known populations, including 55 on conserved lands, where they are protected from development and actively managed.

This positive trend is expected to continue thanks to a diverse group of partners who recently formalized a commitment to work for the aster’s conservation. In May, nine partners that included federal, state and local agencies, a power company and a university, signed a Candidate Conservation Agreement in which they committed to proactive conservation actions to ensure the plant’s survival. Those actions include searching for new populations; monitoring known populations to estimate trends; and thinning forests with Georgia aster to provide ample sunlight.

Jon Ambrose, chief of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Nongame Conservation Section, said removing the Georgia aster as a candidate for federal listing is heartening to see, noting that while not every species will fit the same approach, “Georgia aster can serve as a good example of what can be done both on the research front -- identifying populations, finding out the habitat requirements, determining management needs-- and with partnerships to get an agreement in place that will conserve the species."

Georgia Power and the Georgia Department of Transportation, two partners to the agreement, committed to avoid mowing in rights-of-way from late spring to mid-fall, when the Georgia aster is at its tallest and reproducing. They also agreed to avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides near Georgia aster populations, and marking populations to avoid damaging the plants during right-of-way maintenance.

“Georgia Power has a long history of partnering with other organizations to promote the conservation of natural resources, and the natural habitat of many plants and animals across the state,” said Ron Shipman, vice president of Environmental Affairs. “This takes many forms, including sponsorship of conservation organizations, supporting reforestation, such as the longleaf pine restoration initiative, and protecting various plant and animal species on company land and rights-of-way across the state. In all, these efforts help make Georgia a better place to live, work and play.”

Many of the known Georgia aster populations are on national forest land.

“Conserving rare species such as the Georgia aster wildflower requires restoring healthy woodland habitat, and the Forest Service is appreciative and committed to this tremendous partnership,” U.S. Forest Service Regional Forester Liz Agpaoa said.

The 12-month finding will publish in the Thursday, September 18, 2014 Federal Register. The public may view the finding at http://www.regulations.gov, using the docket number FWS–R4–ES–2014–0027. The finding takes its name from the fact that it’s typically made 12 months after the receipt of a petition to list a plant or animal. This 12-month finding is part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan under a Multi-District Litigation Agreement aimed at addressing a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s listing program under the Endangered Species Act. The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce a litigation-driven workload. For more information, please see http://www.fws.gov/southeast/candidateconservation/.



U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Protects Georgia Rockcress

Photo by Michele Elmore - TNC

Contacts: James Rickard 706-613-9493 x 223 GJames_Rickard@fws.gov
Elsie Davis 404-679-7107 - Elsie_Davis@fws.gov

September 11,2014

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is listing the Georgia rockcress, a perennial herb, found only in Georgia and Alabama, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The listing becomes effective October 14, 2014, 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.

At the same time, the Service is designating about 732 acres of river bluff habitat as critical to the plant’s survival. In Georgia, the critical habitat areas are located in Gordon, Floyd, Harris, Muscogee, and Clay Counties. In Alabama, the critical habitat areas are found in Bibb, Dallas, Elmore, Monroe, Sumter and Wilcox Counties. The plant is found in all of the 17 areas designated as critical habitat.

Only about 5,000 individual plants still exist. Georgia rockcress generally occurs on steep river bluffs with shallow soils overlaying rock or with exposed rock outcroppings. Habitat degradation and the invasion of exotic species are the most serious threats to the plant’s continued existence. Disturbance, associated with timber harvesting, road building, quarrying, grazing, and hydropower dam construction, creates favorable conditions for the invasion of exotic weeds, especially Japanese honeysuckle.

The Service is listing the Georgia rockcress as threatened throughout all of its range. The ESA defines a threatened species as likely to become endangered throughout its entire range within the foreseeable future. The Georgia rockcress was a candidate for listing under the ESA since 2000. The Service proposed to list the rockcress as threatened and designate critical habitat in September 2013.

The Service’s decision to list the rockcress with critical habitat is based on the best scientific information available, and considers all relevant information provided by the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, and other interested parties during these comment periods.

Listing the Georgia rockcress with critical habitat is part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan under a Multi-District Listing Agreement aimed at addressing a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA listing program. The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce a litigation-driven workload. For more information, please see http://www.fws.gov/southeast/candidateconservation/



NOAA, FWS Establish Critical Habitat for Loggerhead Sea Turtles in Northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico

Nesting Loggerhead Turtle
Photo by Mike Reynolds

Contacts: Connie Barclay, NOAA: 301-427-8029
Chuck Underwood, USFWS: 904-731-3332

July 9, 2014

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today announced two final rules to designate critical habitat for the threatened loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) in the Atlantic Ocean and on coastal beach habitat along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The NOAA-designated marine critical habitat includes some nearshore reproductive areas directly off of nesting beaches from North Carolina through Mississippi, winter habitat in North Carolina, breeding habitat in Florida, constricted migratory corridors in North Carolina and Florida, and Sargassum habitat, which is home to the majority of juvenile turtles, in the western Gulf of Mexico and in U.S. waters within the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean.

The USFWS-designated terrestrial critical habitat areas include 88 nesting beaches in coastal counties located in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. These beaches account for 48 percent of an estimated 1,531 miles of coastal beach shoreline used by loggerheads, and about 84 percent of the documented numbers of nests, within these six states.

“Protecting endangered and threatened species, including loggerhead sea turtles, is at the core of NOAA’s mission,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Given the vital role loggerhead sea turtles play in maintaining the health of our oceans, rebuilding their populations is key as we work to ensure healthy and resilient oceans for generations to come.”

“The fate of more than just the loggerhead sea turtle rests on the health of Atlantic coastal environments,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe. “Coastal communities from North Carolina to Mississippi are also intrinsically tied to these shorelines and waters. By conserving the turtle and protecting its habitat, we are helping preserve not only this emblematic species, but also the way of life for millions of Americans.”

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires that NOAA Fisheries and USFWS, the two federal agencies responsible for administering the act, designate critical habitat when a species is listed, or within one year if critical habitat is not determinable at that time. Although loggerhead sea turtles were originally listed in 1978 worldwide, the listing was revised in 2011, when nine distinct population segments (DPS) were listed, including the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS and the North Pacific Ocean DPS, the only two that occur in areas under U.S. jurisdiction.

Under the ESA, critical habitat identifies geographic areas containing features essential to the conservation of a listed species. Critical habitat designations do not create preserves or refuges or affect land ownership, and only result in restrictions on human activities in situations where federal actions, funding or permitting are involved. In those cases, the federal agency concerned works with NOAA Fisheries or USFWS to avoid, reduce or mitigate potential impacts to the species’ habitat. Critical habitat is only designated within U.S. jurisdiction.

The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle in southeastern United States, nesting along the Atlantic Coast of Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina and along the Gulf Coast. It is a long-lived, slow-growing species, vulnerable to various threats including alterations to beaches, vessel strikes and bycatch in fishing nets.

The proposed rules, which were published in the Federal Register on March 25, 2013 (USFWS) and July 18, 2013 (NOAA Fisheries), were both made available for extended public comment. NOAA Fisheries and USFWS each held three public hearings during the comment periods on their proposed rules (NOAA Fisheries in Morehead City, Wilmington and Manteo, N.C.; USFWS in Charleston, SC, and Wilmington and Morehead City, N.C.).

To view the final NOAA Fisheries rule for marine critical habitat, visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/criticalhabitat_loggerhead.htm.

To view the final USFWS rule for terrestrial critical habitat and the associated final economic analysis and maps, visit www.fws.gov/northflorida/SeaTurtles/2014_Loggerhead_CH/Terrestrial_critical_habitat_loggerhead.html.

Service Designation of Terrestrial Critical Habitat for the Northwest Atlantic Population of Loggerhead Sea Turtles - Frequently Asked Questions.

Petitioned Action on West Indian Manatee May Be Warranted

West Indian Manatee
Photo by USFWS

Contacts: Chuck Underwood, Chuck_Underwood@fws.gov, 904-731-3332
Tom MacKenzie, USFWS , Tom_Mackenzie@fws.gov, 404-679-7291

July 7, 2014

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it is moving forward on a status review for the West Indian manatee following an evaluation of information submitted in support of a 2012 petition to reclassify the species, including its subspecies, the Florida manatee and Antillean manatee, from endangered to threatened.

On December 14, 2012, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), on behalf of Save Crystal River, Inc., submitted a petition requesting the reclassification and included as supporting information an analysis of the Service's 2007 West Indian Manatee Five-Year Review which had recommended the status upgrade.

Today's announcement, referred to as a 90-day substantial finding, marks the start of a more in depth status review and analysis required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to determine whether reclassification of the West Indian manatee is warranted. The Service also is electing to simultaneously conduct an updated five-year status review also required by the ESA.

The finding and additional information on the West Indian manatee is available online at http://www.fws.gov/northflorida and http://www.fws.gov/caribbean/ES/Index.html.

To ensure that the status review is complete and based on the best available scientific and commercial information, the Service is opening a 60-day comment period and requesting information concerning the status of the West Indian manatee throughout its entire range.

Specifically, the Service seeks information on:

• The species biology, including but not limited to distribution, abundance, population trends, demographics, and genetics;

• the factors that are the basis for making reclassification determinations for a species under Section 4(a) of the ESA;

• habitat conditions, including but not limited to, amount, distribution, and suitability;

• whether or not climate change is a threat to the species, what regional climate change models are available, and whether they are reliable and credible to use as step-down models for assessing the effect of climate change on the species and its habitat;

• past and ongoing conservation measures that have been implemented for the species, its habitat, or both;

• threat status and trends within the geographical range currently occupied by the species; and,

• any other new information, data, or corrections, including but not limited to, taxonomic or nomenclatural changes, and improved analytical methods.


Information can be submitted by one of the following methods:

• Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Keyword box, enter Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2014-0024, which is the docket number for this action. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen under the "Document Type" heading, click on the "Proposed Rules" link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on "Send a Comment or Submission."

• U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2014-0024, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

In order to allow sufficient time for biologists to review and consider submitted information and conduct the review, submissions must be received on or before September 2, 2014.



Secretary Jewell Announces Conservation Success Story in Down-listing of Wood Stork

Wood stork shading chicks at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo by Mary Ellen Urbanski

June 26, 2014

TOWNSEND, GA – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is down-listing the wood stork from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), reflecting a highly successful conservation and recovery effort spanning three decades. Jewell made the announcement at the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, home to the largest wood stork rookery in Georgia.

“The down-listing of the wood stork from endangered to threatened demonstrates how the Endangered Species Act can be an effective tool to protect and recover imperiled wildlife from the brink of extinction, especially when we work in partnership with states, tribes, conservation groups, private landowners, and other stakeholders to restore vital habitat,” Secretary Jewell said. “From the cypress swamps of Georgia, to the inland waterways of Florida, wetlands and their wildlife are emblematic of the American Southeast. Through important conservation partnerships, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to rebuild a healthy wetland ecosystem, which, in turn, is helping restore the wood stork’s habitat, double its population since its original listing and keep the bird moving in the right direction toward recovery.”

“We are thankful for the great efforts of our conservation partners who are helping us shepherd this remarkable species toward recovery,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Reclassification of the wood stork to threatened status does not diminish protection measures for the bird under the ESA, and we will continue to work with our partners to fully recover the bird, including with our counterparts in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, and great organizations like Ducks Unlimited and the Corps of Engineers.”

Read the full Press Release here: http://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ID=D8AEC082-A7E9-C4CA-C6375DE1198A72B1



U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Estimates Economic Impact of Critical Habitat Designations for Three Southern Plants

Left: Short's bladderpod by John MacGregor
Right: Whorled Sunflower by Alan Cressler

May 28, 2014

Contacts: Geoff Call, 931/525-4983, Geoff_Call@fws.gov
Tom Mackenzie, 404/679-7291, Tom_MacKenzie@fws.gov

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks additional public comment on proposed critical habitat for three plants found in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. About 2,488 acres on 30 parcels have been identified as habitat critical to the plants’ survival.

In addition, the Service seeks comment on a draft economic analysis that considers the cost of the critical habitat designation to federal, state and local governments. The estimated costs of the designation range from $410 to $21,000 per year, and is expected to be borne largely in administrative costs by federal and state agencies.

The deadline for public comment on the proposed critical habitat and draft economic analysis is June 30, 2014.

These actions are a result of the Service’s proposal in August 2013 to list the three plants as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The plants are the Short’s bladderpod, the whorled sunflower, and the fleshy-fruit gladecress. A final listing decision is pending. The proposed designation of critical habitat for these three plants and the associated draft economic analysis are part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan aimed at addressing a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA listing program. The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce a litigation-driven workload.

The plants are very rare. The fleshy-fruit gladecress is found in only two counties in Alabama; the whorled sunflower is found in four counties in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee; and the Short’s bladderpod is found in 11 counties in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Since 1992, twenty-seven percent of the known Short’s bladderpod population has been lost.

The plants face multiple threats to their survival including road maintenance and construction; development; industrial, forestry and agricultural practices; water-level fluctuations in reservoirs; off-road vehicle use; and competition from native and invasive non-native plants. In addition, many of the plant populations are small, making them less resilient to threats and vulnerable to loss of genetic variation.

All of the proposed critical habitat tracts are occupied by one of the three plant species. Short’s bladderpod is found in Indiana (Posey County); Kentucky (Clark, Franklin, and Woodford Counties), and Tennessee (Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Jackson, Montgomery, Smith, and Trousdale Counties). The whorled sunflower is found in Floyd County, Alabama; Cherokee County, Georgia, and Madison and McNairy Counties, Tennessee. The fleshy-fruit gladecress is found in Lawrence and Morgan Counties, Alabama. About 86 percent of the proposed critical habitat is on private land. The remainder is land owned by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and state and local governments.

The purpose of critical habitat is to identify specific geographic areas that are essential to conserving a federally protected plant or animal. It serves as a general guideline to help ensure that federal agencies and the public are aware of the needs of the species, or the three plants in this case. Although private, local and state government lands are included in the proposed critical habitat for these plants, the designation should not affect activities on these properties. Those landowners would only be affected if they seek federal funding or require federal permits for land-use activities on their property. In such cases, the lead federal agency will need to consult with the Service to ensure their actions do not jeopardize the plants or adversely modify their critical habitat. It is important to note that critical habitat does not affect land ownership, nor does it grant government or public access to private lands.

The economic analysis estimates the cost of consultations with the Service when a federal agency does work in an area designated as critical habitat, or funds or permits work done by others. Local governments and businesses may incur costs for work involving federal funding or a federal permit. The estimate does not include any costs incurred as a result of the listing.

The benefit of designating critical habitat for a listed plant or animal is that it informs government agencies, landowners, and the public of the specific areas that are important to the conservation of the species. Identifying this habitat also helps focus the conservation efforts of other conservation partners, such as state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals. The Service’s identification of critical habitat areas is based on the best scientific information available, and considers all relevant information provided by the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry and other interested parties during the public comment period. The Service offers willing landowners a number of voluntary and non-regulatory conservation programs to help these plants survive as they live and work on their lands.

This is the second comment period for the proposed critical habitat designation for the three plants. The Service first released the proposal for public comment on August 2, 2013. The plants have been candidates for listing since 1999.

To submit written comments on the draft economic analysis and/or proposed critical habitat designation for these three plants go to http://www.regulations.gov, and enter docket number FWS-R4-ES-2013-0086. For more information on how to comment on the proposed critical habitat and the economic analysis, please visit www.fws.gov/cookeville/

Landowners interested in helping the Service recover the Short’s bladderpod and the whorled sunflower, or seeking more information about the potential implications of the listing and critical habitat designation, should contact Geoff Call in the Service’s Tennessee Field Office at 931-525-4983, or via e-mail at Geoff_Call@fws.gov. For fleshy fruit gladecress, please contact Shannon Holbrook in the Service’s Alabama Field Office at 251-441-5871, or via email at Shannon_Holbrook@fws.gov.


Three Plant FAQ's Three Plants FAQ's.pdf

How to submit comments: How to Submit Comments - Three Plants.pdf



State and Federal Agencies Work to Ensure Endangered Species Act Protections are Not Needed

Burrowing Bog Crayfish
Fallicambarus burrisi
Photo by Susan Adams - USFS

May 13, 2014

Contact: Stacy Shelton, Public Affairs Specialist,404-679-7290, stacy_shelton@fws.gov

A collaborative effort with federal and state agencies in the Southeast, industry and private landowners to proactively conserve at-risk species is starting to pay dividends.

Thanks to new information, five more species will not require federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The five species were under evaluation for possible listing as a threatened or endangered species are southeastern crayfishes that occur in parts of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. They are the blackbarred crayfish, burrowing bog crayfish, Chattooga River crayfish, lagniappe crayfish and least crayfish.

The new information came from several sources, including the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Geological Survey of Alabama, and Dr. Susan Adams of the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Research Station. They provided valuable data and supporting information.

In addition, Service-funded surveys of the crayfish were conducted over the course of the last three years by three regional crayfish experts: Dr. Chris Taylor of the Illinois Natural History Survey; Dr. Guenter Schuster, a retired biology professor from Eastern Kentucky University; and Dr. Bob Jones from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks’ Museum of Natural Science.

“We’re excited about leading the way with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This proactive conservation effort is keeping Alabama’s wildlife under state management,” said Charles “Chuck” Sykes, Director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Fisheries. “By pooling our resources, we’re learning more about our species, bringing efficiency to conservation, and making a difference on the landscape for the people of Alabama.”

The Service’s Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner said, “This is a great example of the value of having the best information as we evaluate whether to extend federal protection to fish, plants and other wildlife. Decisions, based on the best science, enable us to focus our limited resources on those species that need them the most. That’s good for fish and wildlife and it’s cost effective.”

Today, the average federal administrative cost to list a single species can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a price tag that will be avoided in light of this new scientific information. By comparison, the cost incurred to conduct surveys and research on these crayfish totaled about $62,000. That’s a significant savings to federal taxpayers.

Precluding the need to list additional plants and animals also benefits landowners, including state and federal agencies. Primarily, they avoid additional regulatory burdens.

Lagniappe Crayfish
Procambarus lagniappe
Photo by Susan Adams - USFS

Fish, wildlife and plants benefit as well. Focusing limited resources where they are most needed helps species win on a larger, landscape scale. In addition, state, federal and private landowners are engaging in voluntary, proactive conservation efforts to boost declining species. The goal is to keep their numbers healthy so they are no longer edging toward extinction when they would require protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service’s Southeast Region has been working since 2011 with multiple partners to hopefully avoid the need to list hundreds of other species. Due to litigation and petitions under the Endangered Species Act, the Region is required to evaluate whether more than 400 species need federal protection over the next decade. The Service’s goal is to work with the states, universities, industries, large landowners and many other partners to acquire the best science, document conservation activities already taking place, and proactively conserve as many of these species as possible, so listing will not be necessary.

The five crayfish species were withdrawn earlier this month from one of the largest single petitions ever received by the Service to list species under the Endangered Species Act. Filed in 2010, the mega petition originally included 404 species. That number is now down to 367.

In 2012, two other species were also withdrawn from the mega petition by the petitioner, the Center for Biological Diversity. The Lower Florida Keys striped mud turtle and the seepage salamander were withdrawn due to new information from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the published work of researchers from The Pennsylvania State University, Nash Community College and East Carolina University.

For more information about how the Service and other federal agencies and the states are working to proactively conserve more than 400 at-risk species, with the goal of precluding the need for federal protection, please visit www.fws.gov/southeast/candidateconservation.




Procedures for Working with the Indiana Bat in Alabama

Indiana Bat
Myotis sodalis
Photo by USFWS

March 18, 2014

Karen Marlowe, 205-726-2667, Karen_Marlowe@fws.gov

Alabama, like most states, is experiencing significant growth. Projects associated with growth can cause the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of natural habitats as the alteration or development of these formerly natural to semi-natural habitats occur. Examples of such projects include land clearing for development (residential, commercial, industrial, and other), utility line (gas, electric, water, sewer, etc.) construction and maintenance, wind energy projects, communication tower construction, and road construction and maintenance. Additionally, natural resource activities such as surface coal mining and silviculture (forest management and timber harvest) can result in similar impacts to natural and semi-natural habitats.

These types of impacts have the potential to adversely affect the Indiana bat. Projects proposed in areas where suitable habitat occurs and the Indiana bat is known or assumed to be present require project proponents to determine if potential adverse effects to Indiana bats are likely to occur and, if so, how they can avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate for those adverse effects.

Download the Procedures for Working with the Indiana Bat in Alabama PDF or go to the Indiana Bat page located in the Endangered Species tab under Program Information on the left side of the page for a list of procedures.







 

 

Last updated: December 10, 2014