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.
Service Proposes to List the Black Pinesnake as Threatened
Black Pine Snake
Credit: Jim Lee TNC
Contact: Connie Dickard, 601-321-1121, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Credit: Bill Lynn
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.