NOAA, FWS Establish Critical Habitat for Loggerhead Sea Turtles in Northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico
Nesting Loggerhead Turtle
Photo by Mike Reynolds
Contacts: Connie Barclay, NOAA: 301-427-8029
Chuck Underwood, USFWS: 904-731-3332
July 9, 2014
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) and the Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today announced two final rules to designate critical habitat for the threatened loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) in the Atlantic Ocean and on coastal beach habitat along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
The NOAA-designated marine critical habitat includes some nearshore reproductive areas directly off of nesting beaches from North Carolina through Mississippi, winter habitat in North Carolina, breeding habitat in Florida, constricted migratory corridors in North Carolina and Florida, and Sargassum habitat, which is home to the majority of juvenile turtles, in the western Gulf of Mexico and in U.S. waters within the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean.
The USFWS-designated terrestrial critical habitat areas include 88 nesting beaches in coastal counties located in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. These beaches account for 48 percent of an estimated 1,531 miles of coastal beach shoreline used by loggerheads, and about 84 percent of the documented numbers of nests, within these six states.
“Protecting endangered and threatened species, including loggerhead sea turtles, is at the core of NOAA’s mission,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Given the vital role loggerhead sea turtles play in maintaining the health of our oceans, rebuilding their populations is key as we work to ensure healthy and resilient oceans for generations to come.”
“The fate of more than just the loggerhead sea turtle rests on the health of Atlantic coastal environments,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe. “Coastal communities from North Carolina to Mississippi are also intrinsically tied to these shorelines and waters. By conserving the turtle and protecting its habitat, we are helping preserve not only this emblematic species, but also the way of life for millions of Americans.”
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires that NOAA Fisheries and USFWS, the two federal agencies responsible for administering the act, designate critical habitat when a species is listed, or within one year if critical habitat is not determinable at that time. Although loggerhead sea turtles were originally listed in 1978 worldwide, the listing was revised in 2011, when nine distinct population segments (DPS) were listed, including the Northwest Atlantic Ocean DPS and the North Pacific Ocean DPS, the only two that occur in areas under U.S. jurisdiction.
Under the ESA, critical habitat identifies geographic areas containing features essential to the conservation of a listed species. Critical habitat designations do not create preserves or refuges or affect land ownership, and only result in restrictions on human activities in situations where federal actions, funding or permitting are involved. In those cases, the federal agency concerned works with NOAA Fisheries or USFWS to avoid, reduce or mitigate potential impacts to the species’ habitat. Critical habitat is only designated within U.S. jurisdiction.
The loggerhead is the most common sea turtle in southeastern United States, nesting along the Atlantic Coast of Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina and along the Gulf Coast. It is a long-lived, slow-growing species, vulnerable to various threats including alterations to beaches, vessel strikes and bycatch in fishing nets.
The proposed rules, which were published in the Federal Register on March 25, 2013 (USFWS) and July 18, 2013 (NOAA Fisheries), were both made available for extended public comment. NOAA Fisheries and USFWS each held three public hearings during the comment periods on their proposed rules (NOAA Fisheries in Morehead City, Wilmington and Manteo, N.C.; USFWS in Charleston, SC, and Wilmington and Morehead City, N.C.).
To view the final NOAA Fisheries rule for marine critical habitat, visit www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/turtles/criticalhabitat_loggerhead.htm.
To view the final USFWS rule for terrestrial critical habitat and the associated final economic analysis and maps, visit www.fws.gov/northflorida/SeaTurtles/2014_Loggerhead_CH/Terrestrial_critical_habitat_loggerhead.html.
Service Designation of Terrestrial Critical Habitat for the Northwest Atlantic Population of Loggerhead Sea Turtles - Frequently Asked Questions.
Petitioned Action on West Indian Manatee May Be Warranted
West Indian Manatee
Photo by USFWS
July 7, 2014
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today it is moving forward on a status review for the West Indian manatee following an evaluation of information submitted in support of a 2012 petition to reclassify the species, including its subspecies, the Florida manatee and Antillean manatee, from endangered to threatened.
On December 14, 2012, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), on behalf of Save Crystal River, Inc., submitted a petition requesting the reclassification and included as supporting information an analysis of the Service's 2007 West Indian Manatee Five-Year Review which had recommended the status upgrade.
Today's announcement, referred to as a 90-day substantial finding, marks the start of a more in depth status review and analysis required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to determine whether reclassification of the West Indian manatee is warranted. The Service also is electing to simultaneously conduct an updated five-year status review also required by the ESA.
To ensure that the status review is complete and based on the best available scientific and commercial information, the Service is opening a 60-day comment period and requesting information concerning the status of the West Indian manatee throughout its entire range.
Specifically, the Service seeks information on:
• The species biology, including but not limited to distribution, abundance, population trends, demographics, and genetics;
• the factors that are the basis for making reclassification determinations for a species under Section 4(a) of the ESA;
• habitat conditions, including but not limited to, amount, distribution, and suitability;
• whether or not climate change is a threat to the species, what regional climate change models are available, and whether they are reliable and credible to use as step-down models for assessing the effect of climate change on the species and its habitat;
• past and ongoing conservation measures that have been implemented for the species, its habitat, or both;
• threat status and trends within the geographical range currently occupied by the species; and,
• any other new information, data, or corrections, including but not limited to, taxonomic or nomenclatural changes, and improved analytical methods.
Information can be submitted by one of the following methods:
• Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Keyword box, enter Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2014-0024, which is the docket number for this action. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen under the "Document Type" heading, click on the "Proposed Rules" link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on "Send a Comment or Submission."
• U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2014-0024, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
In order to allow sufficient time for biologists to review and consider submitted information and conduct the review, submissions must be received on or before September 2, 2014.
Secretary Jewell Announces Conservation Success Story in Down-listing of Wood Stork
Wood stork shading chicks at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo by Mary Ellen Urbanski
June 26, 2014
TOWNSEND, GA – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is down-listing the wood stork from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), reflecting a highly successful conservation and recovery effort spanning three decades. Jewell made the announcement at the Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, home to the largest wood stork rookery in Georgia.
“The down-listing of the wood stork from endangered to threatened demonstrates how the Endangered Species Act can be an effective tool to protect and recover imperiled wildlife from the brink of extinction, especially when we work in partnership with states, tribes, conservation groups, private landowners, and other stakeholders to restore vital habitat,” Secretary Jewell said. “From the cypress swamps of Georgia, to the inland waterways of Florida, wetlands and their wildlife are emblematic of the American Southeast. Through important conservation partnerships, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to rebuild a healthy wetland ecosystem, which, in turn, is helping restore the wood stork’s habitat, double its population since its original listing and keep the bird moving in the right direction toward recovery.”
“We are thankful for the great efforts of our conservation partners who are helping us shepherd this remarkable species toward recovery,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “Reclassification of the wood stork to threatened status does not diminish protection measures for the bird under the ESA, and we will continue to work with our partners to fully recover the bird, including with our counterparts in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, and great organizations like Ducks Unlimited and the Corps of Engineers.”
Read the full Press Release here: http://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ID=D8AEC082-A7E9-C4CA-C6375DE1198A72B1
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Estimates Economic Impact of Critical Habitat Designations for Three Southern Plants
Left: Short's bladderpod by John MacGregor
Right: Whorled Sunflower by Alan Cressler
May 28, 2014
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks additional public comment on proposed critical habitat for three plants found in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. About 2,488 acres on 30 parcels have been identified as habitat critical to the plants’ survival.
In addition, the Service seeks comment on a draft economic analysis that considers the cost of the critical habitat designation to federal, state and local governments. The estimated costs of the designation range from $410 to $21,000 per year, and is expected to be borne largely in administrative costs by federal and state agencies.
The deadline for public comment on the proposed critical habitat and draft economic analysis is June 30, 2014.
These actions are a result of the Service’s proposal in August 2013 to list the three plants as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The plants are the Short’s bladderpod, the whorled sunflower, and the fleshy-fruit gladecress. A final listing decision is pending. The proposed designation of critical habitat for these three plants and the associated draft economic analysis are part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan aimed at addressing a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA listing program. The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce a litigation-driven workload.
The plants are very rare. The fleshy-fruit gladecress is found in only two counties in Alabama; the whorled sunflower is found in four counties in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee; and the Short’s bladderpod is found in 11 counties in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Since 1992, twenty-seven percent of the known Short’s bladderpod population has been lost.
The plants face multiple threats to their survival including road maintenance and construction; development; industrial, forestry and agricultural practices; water-level fluctuations in reservoirs; off-road vehicle use; and competition from native and invasive non-native plants. In addition, many of the plant populations are small, making them less resilient to threats and vulnerable to loss of genetic variation.
All of the proposed critical habitat tracts are occupied by one of the three plant species. Short’s bladderpod is found in Indiana (Posey County); Kentucky (Clark, Franklin, and Woodford Counties), and Tennessee (Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Jackson, Montgomery, Smith, and Trousdale Counties). The whorled sunflower is found in Floyd County, Alabama; Cherokee County, Georgia, and Madison and McNairy Counties, Tennessee. The fleshy-fruit gladecress is found in Lawrence and Morgan Counties, Alabama. About 86 percent of the proposed critical habitat is on private land. The remainder is land owned by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and state and local governments.
The purpose of critical habitat is to identify specific geographic areas that are essential to conserving a federally protected plant or animal. It serves as a general guideline to help ensure that federal agencies and the public are aware of the needs of the species, or the three plants in this case. Although private, local and state government lands are included in the proposed critical habitat for these plants, the designation should not affect activities on these properties. Those landowners would only be affected if they seek federal funding or require federal permits for land-use activities on their property. In such cases, the lead federal agency will need to consult with the Service to ensure their actions do not jeopardize the plants or adversely modify their critical habitat. It is important to note that critical habitat does not affect land ownership, nor does it grant government or public access to private lands.
The economic analysis estimates the cost of consultations with the Service when a federal agency does work in an area designated as critical habitat, or funds or permits work done by others. Local governments and businesses may incur costs for work involving federal funding or a federal permit. The estimate does not include any costs incurred as a result of the listing.
The benefit of designating critical habitat for a listed plant or animal is that it informs government agencies, landowners, and the public of the specific areas that are important to the conservation of the species. Identifying this habitat also helps focus the conservation efforts of other conservation partners, such as state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals. The Service’s identification of critical habitat areas is based on the best scientific information available, and considers all relevant information provided by the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry and other interested parties during the public comment period. The Service offers willing landowners a number of voluntary and non-regulatory conservation programs to help these plants survive as they live and work on their lands.
This is the second comment period for the proposed critical habitat designation for the three plants. The Service first released the proposal for public comment on August 2, 2013. The plants have been candidates for listing since 1999.
To submit written comments on the draft economic analysis and/or proposed critical habitat designation for these three plants go to http://www.regulations.gov, and enter docket number FWS-R4-ES-2013-0086. For more information on how to comment on the proposed critical habitat and the economic analysis, please visit www.fws.gov/cookeville/
Landowners interested in helping the Service recover the Short’s bladderpod and the whorled sunflower, or seeking more information about the potential implications of the listing and critical habitat designation, should contact Geoff Call in the Service’s Tennessee Field Office at 931-525-4983, or via e-mail at Geoff_Call@fws.gov. For fleshy fruit gladecress, please contact Shannon Holbrook in the Service’s Alabama Field Office at 251-441-5871, or via email at Shannon_Holbrook@fws.gov.
Three Plant FAQ's Three Plants FAQ's.pdf
How to submit comments: How to Submit Comments - Three Plants.pdf
State and Federal Agencies Work to Ensure Endangered Species Act Protections are Not Needed
Burrowing Bog Crayfish
Photo by Susan Adams - USFS
May 13, 2014
Contact: Stacy Shelton, Public Affairs Specialist,404-679-7290, email@example.com
A collaborative effort with federal and state agencies in the Southeast, industry and private landowners to proactively conserve at-risk species is starting to pay dividends.
Thanks to new information, five more species will not require federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The five species were under evaluation for possible listing as a threatened or endangered species are southeastern crayfishes that occur in parts of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. They are the blackbarred crayfish, burrowing bog crayfish, Chattooga River crayfish, lagniappe crayfish and least crayfish.
The new information came from several sources, including the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Geological Survey of Alabama, and Dr. Susan Adams of the U.S. Forest Service’s Southern Research Station. They provided valuable data and supporting information.
In addition, Service-funded surveys of the crayfish were conducted over the course of the last three years by three regional crayfish experts: Dr. Chris Taylor of the Illinois Natural History Survey; Dr. Guenter Schuster, a retired biology professor from Eastern Kentucky University; and Dr. Bob Jones from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks’ Museum of Natural Science.
“We’re excited about leading the way with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This proactive conservation effort is keeping Alabama’s wildlife under state management,” said Charles “Chuck” Sykes, Director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Fisheries. “By pooling our resources, we’re learning more about our species, bringing efficiency to conservation, and making a difference on the landscape for the people of Alabama.”
The Service’s Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner said, “This is a great example of the value of having the best information as we evaluate whether to extend federal protection to fish, plants and other wildlife. Decisions, based on the best science, enable us to focus our limited resources on those species that need them the most. That’s good for fish and wildlife and it’s cost effective.”
Today, the average federal administrative cost to list a single species can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, a price tag that will be avoided in light of this new scientific information. By comparison, the cost incurred to conduct surveys and research on these crayfish totaled about $62,000. That’s a significant savings to federal taxpayers.
Precluding the need to list additional plants and animals also benefits landowners, including state and federal agencies. Primarily, they avoid additional regulatory burdens.
Photo by Susan Adams - USFS
Fish, wildlife and plants benefit as well. Focusing limited resources where they are most needed helps species win on a larger, landscape scale. In addition, state, federal and private landowners are engaging in voluntary, proactive conservation efforts to boost declining species. The goal is to keep their numbers healthy so they are no longer edging toward extinction when they would require protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The Service’s Southeast Region has been working since 2011 with multiple partners to hopefully avoid the need to list hundreds of other species. Due to litigation and petitions under the Endangered Species Act, the Region is required to evaluate whether more than 400 species need federal protection over the next decade. The Service’s goal is to work with the states, universities, industries, large landowners and many other partners to acquire the best science, document conservation activities already taking place, and proactively conserve as many of these species as possible, so listing will not be necessary.
The five crayfish species were withdrawn earlier this month from one of the largest single petitions ever received by the Service to list species under the Endangered Species Act. Filed in 2010, the mega petition originally included 404 species. That number is now down to 367.
In 2012, two other species were also withdrawn from the mega petition by the petitioner, the Center for Biological Diversity. The Lower Florida Keys striped mud turtle and the seepage salamander were withdrawn due to new information from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the published work of researchers from The Pennsylvania State University, Nash Community College and East Carolina University.
For more information about how the Service and other federal agencies and the states are working to proactively conserve more than 400 at-risk species, with the goal of precluding the need for federal protection, please visit www.fws.gov/southeast/candidateconservation.
Procedures for Working with the Indiana Bat in Alabama
Photo by USFWS
March 18, 2014
Karen Marlowe, 205-726-2667, Karen_Marlowe@fws.gov
Alabama, like most states, is experiencing significant growth. Projects associated with growth can cause the loss, degradation, and fragmentation of natural habitats as the alteration or development of these formerly natural to semi-natural habitats occur. Examples of such projects include land clearing for development (residential, commercial, industrial, and other), utility line (gas, electric, water, sewer, etc.) construction and maintenance, wind energy projects, communication tower construction, and road construction and maintenance. Additionally, natural resource activities such as surface coal mining and silviculture (forest management and timber harvest) can result in similar impacts to natural and semi-natural habitats.
These types of impacts have the potential to adversely affect the Indiana bat. Projects proposed in areas where suitable habitat occurs and the Indiana bat is known or assumed to be present require project proponents to determine if potential adverse effects to Indiana bats are likely to occur and, if so, how they can avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate for those adverse effects.
Download the Procedures for Working with the Indiana Bat in Alabama PDF or go to the Indiana Bat page located in the Endangered Species tab under Program Information on the left side of the page for a list of procedures.
HELP PROTECT SHOREBIRDS ON THE GULF COAST
LOCAL SHOREBIRD STEWARD VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR COASTAL ALABAMA AND MISSISSIPPI- MAY through AUGUST 2014
The parents of these 1-day old Wilson's Plover chicks will defend
the area around the chicks until they fledge, typically within 33-35 days.
Photo by Margo Zdravkovic
January 21, 2014
By Coastal Bird Conservation
Coastal Bird Conservation/CONSERVIAN is seeking local Shorebird Steward Volunteers for statewide monitoring of beach-nesting birds on the Alabama and Mississippi coast. Work will begin in May and continue through early August. The focus of the work is monitoring and protecting beach-nesting bird breeding pairs, nests, and young, including Snowy and Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and other colonial nesting species. Stewards will work cooperatively with CBC field staff as part of a team. Monitored sites will include but are not limited to Bon Secour NWR, Pelican Island, Gulf State Park, the Mississippi Gulf Islands, and Deer Island. Stewards will report to and assist CBC field staff with monitoring of beach-nesting birds, posting and signing of nesting areas, interacting with partner site managers, and the beach-going public. The goal of this project is to build a long-term local network of dedicated volunteer shorebird stewards in Alabama and Mississippi to assist Conservian’s field staff to increase shorebird numbers and habitat quality. All shorebird monitoring is conducted on foot. Boats are used to access some sites.
Qualifications: Volunteer Stewards must be responsible, in good physical condition, like working in teams, and be able to walk several miles in summer temperatures in coastal Alabama and Mississippi. Stewards that would like to participate in monitoring on island sites should be comfortable riding in small boats. Shorebird experience is not required, only enthusiasm. An excellent opportunity to learn about breeding shorebirds, and help to stabilize and restore their populations. Applicants must be at least 18 years old. Send email of interest and availability to Margo Zdravkovic, CBC Director at MargoZ@Coastalbird.org.
Conservian will provide training and supervision. Hours are flexible. Binoculars and scopes will be provided as needed. Conservian is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving coastal birds and their habitats throughout the Western Hemisphere. Every volunteer hour contributed provides required inkind match for our grant awarded under the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Power of Flight program. All regular volunteers will receive the CBC logo patch below.
Go to https://www.facebook.com/CoastalBirdConservation on Facebook for more information on Conservian’s work on the Gulf Coast.