Service Proposes to Designate Critical Habitat and Announces Re-opening of Comment Period on Proposed Listing of Black Pinesnake
Black Pine Snake
Photo by Jim Lee
The Nature Conservancy
March 10, 2015
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to designate critical habitat for the black pinesnake under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A proposed rule to list the black pinesnake as threatened was published in the Federal Register on October 7, 2014.
At the same time, the Service also announces the availability of a draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat designation.
The public is invited to submit comments on all of these actions through a 60-day comment period ending May 11, 2015.
This harmless snake is native to the longleaf pine forests, an ecosystem that is also in peril. Longleaf forests once covered over 90 million acres -- about the size of Montana -- from the South Atlantic Coastal Plain of southern Virginia to the West Gulf Coastal Plain of Texas. Today, less than four percent -- about the size of Massachusetts -- remain. The longleaf pine ecosystem is one of the most ecologically diverse in the world, with more than 900 plant species that are found nowhere else.
“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. “Identifying critical habitat will highlight areas important to the pinesnake, complementing the proposed listing and enhancing some of the conservation efforts that are also already underway for other wildlife.”
Hutton Scholar Launches Career Through Fisheries Program
Garrett Lloyd (wearing gloves) picks through
a seine net after electro-fishing in 2009.
February 19, 2015
Working in the fisheries field can be one of the most satisfying jobs in the world, and a summer internship with the Alabama Field Office can be just the springboard to begin a career in conservation. Since 2009, the Alabama Field Office has been fortunate enough to host several future biologists through the American Fisheries Society’s Hutton Program…..an eight week mentoring opportunity that allows high school students to intern with fisheries professionals, as well as receive a $3,000 scholarship.
In 2009, Fairhope High School student Garrett Lloyd was selected by the American Fisheries Society from a pool of applicants to spend the summer at our office under the mentorship of a fisheries professional. Fishery biologist Andy Ford was Lloyd’s mentor. “I knew right away that Garrett would be an asset to our office. He was ready to hit the ground running and get his hands dirty,” said Ford.
Lloyd says he’s always been drawn to the outdoors, and he wanted to explore a possible career in conservation. With a jam-packed summer, Lloyd had plenty of opportunities to go out in the field and do the work of a professional biologist. Along with his mentor and various other biologists, Lloyd participated in mussel surveys, gopher tortoise relocations, sea turtle nest patrols, red-bellied turtle fencing, and stream fish sampling, just to name a few. “The project that I enjoyed most was mollusk sampling in the Alabama River tributary; searching for mussels and aquatic snail populations,” explained Lloyd.
For mentor Andy Ford, the experience was just as rewarding. “Garrett was attentive, enthusiastic, and easy to work with. I wanted to make sure he could experience many different aspects of conservation,” said Ford. “When you work in conservation, you need to network and develop partnerships to successfully do your job. During the summer that Garrett was here, we worked with multiple agencies and groups which exposed him to more experiences and opportunities.”
Lloyd said his mentor was an excellent example of someone who truly loves his work. “It was apparent from the beginning that Andy had dedicated many hours of work to plan so I could get a well-rounded learning experience,” said Lloyd. “He made sure I was well prepared prior to each field assignment, and gave me generous exposure to other organizations involved with fisheries science.”
It’s been six years since Lloyd spent the summer as a Hutton scholar with the Alabama Field Office. So where is he now? Thanks to his connections through the Hutton Program and continued mentoring by Ford, doors of opportunity opened and Lloyd received a job with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. During the previous summer, Garrett had an opportunity to work with and meet Dave Armstrong, District V Fisheries Supervisor, and that connection translated into a new job opportunity. A year later, and because of the previous opportunity, he got a job working for the Weeks Bay Foundation, a non- profit organization dedicated to conservation.
Most recently and likely because of the impressive resume that he had built prior to ever graduating from college, Lloyd was hired by the Natural Resources Conservation Services as a Pathways Intern. The Pathways program with the federal government selects college students and employs them within specific agencies that can lead to full time employment after graduation.
For now, Lloyd is hitting the books. He graduates from Troy University in December with a degree in ecology and field biology. “After graduation, I plan to take some soils courses at Auburn University early next year,” explained Lloyd.
Lloyd is forever grateful for the time he spent as a Hutton Scholar. He says the opportunity catapulted him into a lifelong career in conservation. “Just like every organism has a unique niche, we as people have a niche in how we contribute to our world,” said Lloyd. “If you feel you have a calling in biology, the Hutton Program will help you find your passion and elevate you to new levels.”
If you are a high school student, and interested in applying to be a Hutton Scholar, visit the programs website at: http://hutton.fisheries.org. The deadline for application is March 6.
Partnership Prevails for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker
Photo of Steve Johnson
Conecuh National Forest
February 12, 2015
Decades ago, it wasn’t uncommon to find a beautiful red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) perched in the stately longleaf pine ranging across two thirds of Alabama. But as the southern pine belt was developed and converted, the woodpecker’s habitat declined. In 1973, the RCW was listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. Today in Alabama, the RCW is relegated to a few National Forests, and only two private land holdings. Fortunately, a group of dedicated biologists and landowners are helping to boost the RCW population in southeast Alabama. Crews from the National Forests of Alabama, Conservation Southeast Inc., and the Alabama Field Office kicked off another “insert blitz” to create roosting and nesting habitat for the beautiful birds.
“The development of the artificial cavity, or insert, is one of the most important advances in red-cockaded woodpecker management. Without these cavities, most woodpecker populations across the southeast would be declining or disappearing,” said Eric Spadgenske, lead project biologist and State Coordinator of the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program in Alabama.
With the financial support of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Alabama Forest Resources Center, the team installed 59 artificial cavities at Enon and Sehoy Plantations. These new cavities will serve as homes for RCWs. The crew from the National Forests in Alabama has been assisting with the annual insert blitz since 2008 and has been a significant factor in the success of this growing RCW population.
Mark Bailey, with Conservation Southeast Inc., has been monitoring this RCW population since the early 2000s anwas afraid they would eventually disappear. Without the conservation ethic of landowner Campbell Lanier, III, that fear would likely have been reality today. “Providing cavity inserts like this is a major part of what turned the Enon and Sehoy population around, from three groups in 2007 to 29 last year,” said Bailey. “Thanks to all involved, especially the landowners who support this project!”
Spadgenske says the effort is more proof that partnerships are powerful when it comes to preventing habitat loss and extinction.
“Being part of a successful, multi-partner effort to recover a small population of endangered woodpeckers is not only exciting in biological terms, but it is gratifying to see so many agencies, non-profits, and private landowners coming together for conservation,” said Spadgenske.
Howard Peavey of AL-DOT
sprays herbicide on Fort Morgan Peninsula
February 3, 2015
Not all vegetation is good for our environment. In fact, some plants are invasive and harmful to our ecosystems. Cogongrass is a particularly worrisome non-native species. Cogongrass is considered one of the ten worst weeds in the world. Its leaf blades can grow up to four feet tall, and the plant causes plenty of headaches for conservationists and foresters alike. The weed is so hated, many state, federal, and local agencies have launched a lengthy battle against it. “Cogongrass is a fairly recent invasive to the Fort Morgan Peninsula and can hinder the beauty of our coastline. However, cogongrass can be controlled,” said Bill Lynn with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined forces with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, the Alabama Department of Transportation (AL-DOT), and the Fort Morgan Volunteer Fire Department to control this invasive weed in parts of the Fort Morgan Peninsula. Using glyphosate, the same active ingredient used in Round-up, the team treated BLM lands within the Highway 180 AL-DOT right-of-way. BLM provided the herbicide and surfactant and AL-DOT provided the equipment and state-certified applicators. “We are pleased to be able to participate in this collaborative effort” – Howard Peavey, ALDOT Agronomist Manager.”
So, how does this weed wreak so much havoc? Much of Alabama’s wildlife depends on native plants for food and habitat. But cogongrass grows so densely, most native plants cannot compete with it. For instance, the Alabama beach mouse depends on sand dunes with sea oats and other native plants for food and habitat. But cogongrass can overtake the dune, and ruin the habitat. The invasive plant can also harm gopher tortoise burrows and indigo snake habitat. “Due to the high silica content in cogongrass, even deer will not eat it,” explains Lynn. “Dense stands can also affect wild turkey and Bob-white quail brood rearing habitat.”
So what’s the next step for the war on cogongrass? Biologists say they will monitor the progress of the treatment, and plan to follow-up with another treatment next spring. But they say controlling the weed will be more like a marathon, not a sprint. “We’re excited about the partnership and the collective skills and resources it brings to the fight against cogongrass and other non-native invasive plants on Fort Morgan,” says Faye Winters with BLM. “Early intervention is our best bet to sustain these native habitats and the species that depend on them.”
ABM Population Stable, Still Vulnerable
January 26, 2015
Entrepreneur James Cash Penney once said “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” This statement couldn’t be truer when it comes to the status of the Alabama beach mouse (ABM). First listed as endangered in 1986, the ABM seemed to be fighting an uphill battle. The mouse needs vegetated sand dunes in order to survive. However, coastal development and tropical storms nearly wiped out its habitat. After protections were put in place, the ABM population was on the upswing. But Hurricane Ivan eradicated nearly all vegetated dunes in 2004. “When Hurricane Ivan ripped through the Gulf Coast, we knew the Alabama beach mouse was in trouble,” says lead ABM biologist Bill Lynn with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Before Ivan, we knew we had the largest population and habitat occupation in coastal Alabama. But we lost 90 to 95% of its habitat, which led to a significant population reduction,” says Lynn.
Since then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked with multiple partners to get the ABM population back on track. Both private and public restoration efforts have made significant improvements to the species’ habitat. “Those efforts included dune planting, sand fencing, organized workshops to replant dunes at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Morgan State Historical Park and using Christmas trees to create dunes at Gulf State Park,” says Lynn. “The Service also received federal dollars to help restore the habitat.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Special Rule to Focus Protections for Northern Long-Eared Bat
Rule Would Apply if Species is Listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act
Northern Long-Eared Bat
Credit: Steve Taylor - University of Illinois
January 15, 2015
Contact: Georgia Parham : Georgia_Parham@fws.gov
812-334-4261 x 1203
812-593-8501 - Mobile
In response to the rapid and severe decline of the northern long-eared bat – a species important for crop pest control – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a special rule under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that would provide the maximum benefit to the species while limiting the regulatory burden on the public.
If finalized, the rule, under section 4(d) of the ESA, would apply only in the event the Service lists the bat as “threatened.” The Service’s proposal will appear in the Federal Register Jan. 16, 2015, opening a 60-day public comment period.
“White-nose syndrome is having a devastating effect on the nation’s bat populations, which play a vital role in sustaining a healthy environment and save billions of dollars by controlling forest and agricultural pests,” said Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. “We need to do what we can to make sure we are putting commonsense protections in place that support vulnerable bat species but are targeted to minimize impact on human activities. Through this proposed 4(d) rule, we are seeking public comment on how we can use the flexibilities inherent in the ESA to protect the bat and economic activity.”
The Service proposed to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered under the ESA in October 2013 and is due to make a final decision by April 2, 2015. The Service’s options include listing the species as endangered; listing as threatened; listing as threatened with a 4(d) rule; and withdrawing the proposal to list.
“While we originally proposed the northern long-eared bat as endangered, the ongoing scientific review of threats to the species could possibly lead to a final listing determination of threatened rather than endangered,” Melius added. “Although a final listing decision has not yet been made, we believe we can best serve the American people by proposing and seeking comment on a potential 4(d) rule now, so if we determine listing as threatened with a 4(d) rule is appropriate, the rule can be implemented immediately.”
Read the full News Release here: Service proposes special rule focusing protection for Northern Long-Eared Bat
Northern Long-Eared Bat: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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.
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
Credit: Thomas Tarpley-ADCNR
November 6, 2014
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.