Endangered Species Act Protection Not Needed for 10 Species in the Southeast
American eel. Credit: Greg Thompson; USFWS
October 7, 2015
Atlanta, GA – The Cumberland arrow darter, Shawnee darter, Sequatchie caddisfly, American eel, and six Tennessee cave beetles do not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – upon reviewing the status of these 10 species – found their status to be stable, and in some cases much better than expected. The Service’s close partnership with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency were crucial to this positive announcement.
“The species must face a threat large enough to cause a reduction in its range or the size of its populations, so that animals meet the definition of threatened or endangered,” said Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner. “Fortunately, that level of threat isn’t present for these species at this time and the populations are stable. It isn’t enough just to be rare.
“The Service could not get this work done on its own. We are proud of the partnership we have with our state fish and wildlife agencies, private landowners, federal agencies, conservation groups, and industry across the Southeast, who are working in a concerted effort to conserve species, keep working lands working and reduce regulatory burden.”
Read full Press Release: http://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ID=42CE9D85-C3E8-9F5E-E77456D9B12DF1BA
Black Pinesnake Added to Threatened and Endangered Species List;Timber management activities exempted & decision on critical habitat delayed to 2016
Black Pine Snake
Photo by Jim Lee
The Nature Conservancy
October 5, 2015
The black pinesnake, which can grow to six feet in length and is now only found in parts of Mississippi and Alabama, will be protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
At the same time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also announced today a series of exemptions for certain activities that can benefit the species’ recovery, help keep working lands working, reduce regulatory burden and ensure landowners know what is expected.
A threatened designation means a species is at risk of becoming endangered within the foreseeable future. The snake’s threatened status allows the Service to include exemptions permitted under Section 4(d) of the ESA allowing certain management activities to continue to occur with protection from the loss, injury or harassment of black pinesnakes in this case.
The black pinesnake decision is part of the Service’s effort to implement a court-approved settlement under a Multi-District Listing agreement aimed at significantly reducing a litigation-driven workload. For more information, please see http://www.fws.gov/southeast/candidateconservation/.
“We crafted the exemptions to provide landowners flexibility to manage for their objectives while still affording conservation benefits to the black pinesnake,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “The Service wants landowners to continue managing their land for forestry and keep working lands working. We realize how important active management is for the health of a forest, and our decision today will allow for active management and continued healthy ecosystems to help us recover the black pinesnake together.”
The Service revised the exemptions based on the valuable input from state conservation agencies, the forest products industry, and others that was received during two public comment periods totaling 120 days. The revisions include removing specific management guidelines and scaling back the criteria needed to meet the exemptions to include most normal timber management actions. Herbicide treatments, prescribed burning, thinning, and longleaf pine restoration are examples of normal forestry activities that also benefit the black pinesnake. These activities could continue to take place if the conservation measures in the rule are followed. However, actions that would harm the snake, like ones causing substantial subsurface disturbance, will not be exempted from take as these activities are not advisable for the conservation of the species. These exemptions are voluntary. If landowners prefer to not use the exemptions, they may consult with the Service on their forestry management practices if there is a potential to impact the snake.
“Our decision to list the black pinesnake was based on the best scientific information available and supported by species experts from outside our agency,” said Stephen Ricks, field supervisor for the Service’s Ecological Services Field Office in Mississippi. “And, because the black pinesnake is found in the same geographic areas as other listed species like the population of threatened gopher tortoises west of the Tombigbee Waterway, endangered dusky gopher frog, and endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, some protections are already in place.”
“Most landowners, and the forest products industry, will see little to no change from this listing in how they currently manage their forests,” Ricks added.
Black pinesnakes are found in the pine forests of southern Mississippi and Alabama. There are currently 11 known populations of the black pinesnake in nine counties in Mississippi (Forrest, George, Greene, Harrison, Jones, Marion, Perry, Stone, and Wayne) and three counties in Alabama (Clarke, Mobile, and Washington). Some populations span areas in multiple, neighboring counties.
While the snake has been listed throughout its historical range, it has not been seen in Louisiana in 40 years and is thought to no longer occur in the state.
The Service is delaying its decision to designate critical habitat for the black pinesnake. On March 11, 2015, the Service identified eight areas, encompassing approximately 338,100 acres, in Mississippi and Alabama as proposed critical habitat for the black pinesnake. The Service is continuing to consider which of these areas are essential to the snake’s conservation and expects to offer an additional public comment period on the critical habitat proposal in 2016.
This snake’s decline is primarily attributed to the loss and degradation of the longleaf pine ecosystem because of habitat fragmentation, fire suppression, conversion of natural pine forests to densely stocked pine plantations, and agricultural and urban development. Other threats to the snake’s survival include road mortality and killing by humans.
Black pinesnakes are non-venomous, egg-laying constrictors. Adults range in size from four to six feet. They are dark brown to black on both their upper and lower body surfaces, have small heads with pointed snouts, and are good burrowers. They prefer sandy, well-drained soils with an open-canopied forest of longleaf pine, a reduced shrub layer, and a dense, vegetative ground cover.
They may prefer longleaf habitat and are found in all types of pine forest. The species is closely aligned with the distribution of the longleaf pine ecosystem that once covered roughly 90 million acres across much of the southeastern United States. During the 20th century it declined, reaching a low in the 1990s of around three million acres. However, an extensive partnership of conservation agencies, non-profits, businesses, and industry have been taking steps to reverse that decline. Conservation actions taken to restore the longleaf pine ecosystem will also provide benefits for the many wildlife species that live there – listed and non-listed alike.
The black pinesnake final listing becomes effective on November 5, 2015 which is 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register on October 6, 2015. The Service published a proposed rule to list the black pinesnake as threatened on October 7, 2014. The black pinesnake was added to the Service’s list of candidates for federal protection in 1999.
The complete final rule 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.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Awards 2.5 Million Dollars To Address Deadly Bat Disease
Tri-colored bat with white nose syndrome
Photo by: Eric Spadgenske
September 29, 2015
As the international response to combat white-nose syndrome (WNS) continues, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is announcing an additional $2.5 million in grants for research, management and communications projects. These new investments will further the effort to stop the spread of this deadly fungal disease that has killed millions of North American bats, which are critical to the economy and environment, since it was first documented in New York in 2007.
The Service provided grants to 26 projects in three categories:
Federal agency projects to increase capacity for research and response to WNS;
Research and communication projects ($30,000 or less each) open to non-U.S. federal applicants;
Research projects to address priorities established by multi-agency working groups under a national response plan for WNS.
Individual awards ranged from $7,500 to $300,000. The $2,541,501 in grants will be matched with more than $1.3 million from recipient agencies and organizations.
Selected projects (below) included research on biological control of WNS, disease and bat population dynamics and education and outreach campaigns.
“Previous research funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has led to major breakthroughs in our understanding of white-nose syndrome, providing a measure of hope that we can defeat this devastating disease,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Bats are a critical part of our ecology and provide essential pest control for our farmers, foresters and city residents, limiting the need to spray harmful pesticides. As the disease continues its spread into new areas, it is more critical than ever that we continue our strong support for solid science to inform wise decisions about our natural resources.”
Since 2008, the Service has granted more than $24 million to institutions and federal and state agencies for WNS research and response. About $1.0 million was awarded earlier this year to state agencies.
Funding for the grants was provided through the Service’s Endangered Species Recovery and Science Applications programs.
Additional information about WNS is available at www.whitenosesyndrome.org/. Connect with our white-nose syndrome Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwswns, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfws_wns and download photos from our Flickr page at www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq/collections/72157626455036388/.
Read the full Press Release with Grant Recipients.
Well-Known Alabama Manatee Cause of Death Determined; Search Continues for Another Manatee
Zewie in 2010
Photo: Brinkman 2010
Media Advisory from The Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Media Contact: Lisa Young
Public Relations Consultant
Phone: (251) 861-2141, then press “8”
September 17, 2015
On August 21, 2015, the body of Zewie, one of Alabama’s most well-known manatees, was recovered from Mobile Bay. Necropsy results and subsequent veterinary assessment have identified the cause of death as probable acute watercraft strike. Zewie’s death is the first warm weather mortality of an adult manatee in Alabama since the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) began its manatee research program in 2007 and is the first known mortality due to a boat strike.
After a manatee dies, researchers can use
a special scanner to recognize some known
manatees like Zewie who have personal
identification tags. - Carmichael 2015
“We have always been proud to say that we did not have boat-related manatee mortality in Alabama waters,” said Ruth H. Carmichael, Senior Marine Scientist at DISL and Director of DISL’s Manatee Sighting Network. “This event is unfortunate because we lost an endangered species and valuable member of our local manatee population, but also because we have to face the reality that even in a large water body like Mobile Bay and with relatively few manatees, boat strikes are possible.”
Zewie was first tagged by the DISL team in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta near Mobile, Alabama in 2010. Zewie was known as a regular seasonal visitor to Alabama waters, becoming a popular and familiar sight to local residents during the past 5 years. Zewie proved to be an explorer, traveling from Crystal River, Florida as far west as Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana during his seasonal migration along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast. Zewie was also a gregarious manatee and was often sighted socializing with other manatees.
"Always be alert for manatees while boating in Mobile Bay and all Alabama coastal waters," added Dianne Ingram with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alabama Field Office. "Use polarized sunglasses and have a point person on watch as an observer. Manatees move slowly and are vulnerable to strikes from all motorized watercraft from personal watercraft to fishing boats or barges."
Meanwhile, the search continues for Brodie, who was originally captured and tagged in August 2012. Based on recent sightings, researchers anticipate that Brodie might be in the Choctawhatchee Bay area. There is also a chance that he could have moved northwesterly to Alabama or further east into Florida. We are asking for the public’s help in locating him. The tag is white with a white antenna and red/blue reflective tape.
DISL researchers are currently searching for Brodie,
a manatee wearing a small tag like the one shown here.
IF YOU SEE ANY MANATEE, PLEASE:
• As soon as possible, call DISL’s Manatees Sighting Network toll-free at 1-866-493-5803 or visit manatee.disl.org to report online.
• Stay 100 feet from the animal
• If boating, cut your engine and drift until you are certain the animals has moved away
• Take pictures and get GPS location, if possible
• Give the time, date, and location where you saw the manatee.
• Please leave a call back number, especially if you believe an animal is in distress.
DISL’s Manatee Sighting Network also distributes, free of charge, yellow manatee area caution signs to any waterfront property owners in Alabama or Mississippi who would like to display a sign to alert boaters that manatees have been sighted in the area.
“We hope that by educating the public about when and where manatees are spending time in our waters, we can avoid boat strikes and safely share waterways with manatees, said Carmichael. “This is a reminder for all of us just how important it is to boat with caution.”
For more information about DISL’s Manatee Sighting Network and research program, to receive a free manatee area caution sign, or to make a donation to support marine mammal stranding response and research contact email@example.com.
REQUIEM FOR A GENTLE GIANT
Suzi Mutascio touches the head of Zewie the manatee
as researches collect data on the gentle giant.
Credit: Ben Raines
August 31, 2015
By Suzi Mutascio, Dog River Resident
Once upon a time, almost like a story book, quite literally out of the blue, a Sea World Orlando vessel graced my beach, bearing a precious cargo – a 1365 pound passenger; a manatee named Zewie. He was escorted by an impressive entourage which included specialized veterinarians, US Fish and Wildlife officers, Senior Marine Biologist and founder of the Manatee Sighting Network, Dr. Ruth Carmichael, PhD, student researchers, and many more. Zewie was about to become an important foundation animal in the manatee research project.
I stood mesmerized during the entire event in knee-high water, leaning against the gunwale of the Sea World craft, observing Zewie receiving a medical exam, then being fitted with tracking equipment. The tracking system would give the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network exclusive information in near-real time. Researchers would learn about his location, whether he was sleeping, eating or swimming, his direction, the condition of the water, currents and more. This is loosely comparable to looking out your home window, and watching your personal animals.
Since that day that I met Zewie in August 2010, he has swum thousands of documented miles from Florida to many areas along the Gulf Coast, numerous times. Itinerant, adventuresome, intelligent, humorous, playful and even personable, are only a few of his endearing qualities, which has made him a favorite for the ‘adopt a manatee’ program.
He has returned to my river every year since the photo above was taken. I had been so focused on the procedures that day, that I was unaware that the press was present for the event, however the reporter captured the very second that I laid my hand on Zewie’s head. Reflecting back, that moment was sublimely surreal for me. I clearly recall the silent thoughts I formed, sent through my hand to him, for his continuing safety, as he was soon to return to his watery world, so full of unknown perils. It was a special moment for Zewie also, for he would soon be released to regain his freedom and buoyancy, and resume his creative manatee activities in his native liquid playground!
The scientific world discourages emotional involvement with study subjects, lest it interfere with the maintenance of objectivity. Zewie nevertheless, managed to wrap his endearing qualities around the hearts of many.
My heart is breaking today, as it is for many others. Zewie died last weekend. This was the first recorded manatee death in Alabama that was not related to cold stress. Deaths in recent years in Alabama have been caused by hypothermia. Results from a necropsy are pending.
Steeped today in this very new and very raw grief, I am remembering the Rainbow Bridge. Such a crossing would not be practical for a manatee, so Zewie, I wish you the perfect swim under the Rainbow Bridge. The water is the perfect temperature, calm, soothing, crystal clear, the most pure and fresh water you have ever tasted!
Finally Zewie, I thank you for your presence on my beach those five years ago, which brought wonderful people into my life, and rewarding experiences also in my ongoing connection with the manatee program.
It is time now to get from your name sake, Golden Doodle Zewie, a big comforting hug. He possesses many of your same traits, including now a penchant to swim underwater!
R.I.P. much beloved Zewie... You will not be forgotten.... Promise.
Services propose reclassification into 11 Distinct Population Segments for Green Sea Turtle along Florida and Pacific Coasts
Kate Brogan (NOAA Fisheries) at 301-427-8030 or 202-603-9651 (cell)
Brian Hires (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) at 703-358-2191
August 25, 2015
NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to reclassify the green sea turtle under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and list turtles originating from two breeding populations currently considered endangered as threatened due to improvements in their populations
After a review of the global status of green sea turtles, the agencies are proposing to reclassify the species into 11 Distinct Population Segments (DPS) under the ESA, which maintains federal protections while providing a more tailored approach for managers to address specific threats facing different populations. Years of coordinated conservation efforts have resulted in increasing numbers of turtles nesting in Florida and along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. As a result, the agencies are proposing threatened rather than endangered status for the two DPS that encompass those breeding populations.
More information about the 11 DPS and the proposed status of each population can be found here:http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/green.htm. The Florida and Mexican Pacific Coast breeding populations are encompassed within the North Atlantic and East Pacific DPS respectively.
Green sea turtle populations will continue to be protected under the ESA.
The agencies are beginning a 90-day public comment period for this proposal to gather new information relevant to the status change. This includes potential critical habitat for the green sea turtle and information that will help ensure that the final determination is based on the best available scientific and commercial information. Critical habitat in Puerto Rico that was designated in 1998 is proposed to remain in effect for the North Atlantic DPS. The deadline for comments was recently extended to August 26, 2015; see link below for notice.
Submit comments, information or data on this document, identified by the code NOAA-NMFS-2012-0154 via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0154, click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
Federal Wildlife Officials Respond to a Petition to List Dozens of Species under the Endangered Species Act
A Pigeon Mountain salamander. Credit:
Credit: John Clare, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
June 30, 2015
In response to a 2012 petition claiming 53 reptiles and amphibians require federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today published a batch of 90-day findings affecting 15 species of frogs, salamanders, snakes, skinks and crayfish found in the Southeast. Five petitioned species will not be given further consideration for federal protection at this time, and 10 species have triggered a deeper scientific review.
A 90-day finding is the Service’s first step in assessing whether the plants and/or animals identified in a petition may require federal protection. A “substantial” finding triggers a closer look at the species’ status, also known as a 12-month finding. A “not substantial” 90-day finding marks the final decision point for a species, indicating that the actions requested in a petition were not substantiated by the petitioner.
How Black Pinesnake Proposal Really Affects Landowners
Summary: The May 7th article in the Clarke County Democrat titled "Can 6 snakes stop forestry practices on 39,000 acres?" has sparked some concern among the timber industry. We'd like to clear up any misinformation stemming from this.
Black Pine Snake
Photo by Jim Lee
The Nature Conservancy
June 24, 2015
The sentence stating the black pinesnake “could limit or prohibit forestry practices on over 39,000 acres in Clarke County …” and “If the black pinesnake is listed … and the areas proposed as its critical habitat, forestry practices could cease in those areas.” are incorrect.
If the black pinesnake is listed, landowners can continue to manage their property as they normally would. In fact, we think there will be minimal to no impact on timber operations. The gopher tortoise is a good example – it was listed 28 years ago in Mobile, Choctaw, and Washington counties, and this listing has not stopped forestry operations in Alabama.
Another misconception in the article is that landowners would not be able to manage their land for the maximum financial return, and would not be able to clearcut, site prepare their land, or plant loblolly. Those statements are not right either.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will not tell a landowner how to manage their land. Landowners certainly can still manage for a maximum financial gain if they wish, and listing the black pinesnake will not ban clearcutting nor prohibit the planting of loblolly.
What we are doing is identifying habitat that is beneficial to the black pinesnake, as well as other native wildlife. We do not want to get in the way of forestry management and have proposed some exemptions that identify those normal timber management activities that also benefit the snake, such as herbicide treatments, prescribed burning, longleaf pine restoration, thinning and many other forestry activities. If there ever is an issue, we would work through it with the landowners so they can go forward with what they want to do. We have programs to assist landowners like Habitat Conservation Plans and even incentives for landowners who manage their land in a certain way.
Clarification about critical habitat:
Just because a line is drawn on a map does not mean that every acre within that area is critical habitat. Lands within that area must meet the habitat and landscape features essential to the species for it to be considered critical habitat.
Critical habitat does not require private landowners to manage their land in any particular way – they do not have to restore, recover or plant different trees on their property.
A critical habitat designation does require federal agencies to avoid adversely modifying (altering) the habitat features that are important for the black pinesnake. But, timber companies don’t need a federal permit to do timbering, so critical habitat would not come into play since there is no federal connection.
Fish and Wildlife Service conducts five-year status reviews of 27 southeastern species
June 1, 2015
Repost from September 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.
This notice announces reviews of 17 species currently listed as endangered: Florida salt marsh vole, Bachman’s warbler, reticulated flatwoods salamander, southern acornshell, ovate clubshell, southern clubshell, upland combshell, triangular kidneyshell, Coosa moccasinshell, dark pigtoe, southern pigtoe, Kentucky cave shrimp, Florida golden aster, Harper’s beauty, scrub lupine, scrub plum, and wide-leaf warea.
Read full Article: Fish and Wildlife Service conducts five-year status
The Federal Register notice announcing the status review of these 27 federally listed species is available on-line at http://www.fws.gov/southeast/. Today’s version is the pre-publication draft. The final version can be viewed in tomorrow’s Federal Register, as well as on the above website.
Dead Songbirds Can Indicate Unsanitary Feeders, Bird Baths
April 28, 2015
If you are a bird lover who enjoys keeping feeders and bird baths, it may be time to do a little summertime cleaning. ”This is the time of year alarmed residents often call us reporting dead song birds in their yards, thinking the birds have been poisoned.”said Dianne Ingram, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A bacterial disease, Salmonellosis, is easily spread by infected birds sharing the same bird feeders or bird baths, and outbreaks tend to coincide with seasonal periods of greatest use of backyard bird feeder use, winter and spring.
Here are some tips on practicing good bird bath and feeder hygiene:
• Wear gloves, clean feeders outside, and wash hands thoroughly afterwards
• Empty bird bath of water, scrub with chlorine solution and change water daily.
• Use one part chlorine and nine parts water-cleaning solution
• Soak feeder in solution for five minutes, then, scrub, clean and rinse thoroughly
• Clean birders twice a month; weekly where deaths have occurred
• Let feeder dry completely before remounting and adding seed
• Use only clean, dry seed
• Store feed in covered and sealed container so it stays dry and does not rot or get moldy
• Clean accumulated seeds and seed hulls in area below your feeder
• Consider not feeding birds for a week to help disperse birds
Feeding birds is a satisfying past-time and a great way to learn about birds. If you enjoy it, continue to feed birds, but learn about and use clean feeder practices.
For more information, click on this link. http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/disease_information/other_diseases/salmonellosis.jsp
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Protects Northern Long-eared Bat as Threatened Under Endangered Species Act
Also Issues Interim Special Rule that Tailors Protections to Eliminate Unnecessary Restrictions and Provide Regulatory Flexibility for Landowners
Northern Long-eared bat.
Photo by Pete Pattavina/USFWS.
April 1, 2015
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it is protecting the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), primarily due to the threat posed by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has devastated many bat populations.
At the same time, the Service issued an interim special rule that eliminates unnecessary regulatory requirements for landowners, land managers, government agencies and others in the range of the northern long-eared bat. The public is invited to comment on this interim rule as the Service considers whether modifications or exemptions for additional categories of activities should be included in a final 4(d) rule that will be finalized by the end of the calendar year. The Service is accepting public comments on the proposed rule until July 1, 2015 and may make revisions based on additional information it receives.
“Bats are a critical component of our nation’s ecology and economy, maintaining a fragile insect predator-prey balance; we lose them at our peril,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Without bats, insect populations can rise dramatically, with the potential for devastating losses for our crop farmers and foresters. The alternative to bats is greater pesticide use, which brings with it another set of ecological concerns.”.
In the United States, the northern long-eared bat is found from Maine to North Carolina on the Atlantic Coast, westward to eastern Oklahoma and north through the Dakotas, reaching into eastern Montana and Wyoming. Throughout the bat’s range, states and local stakeholders have been some of the leading partners in both conserving the long-eared bat and addressing the challenge presented by white-nose syndrome.
Read the full news release: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/778.html.
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.