Al Donner, 916-414-6566 or Steve Martarano, 916-414-65671
Due to a technical error, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today provided an additional 60 days for submittal of relevant information about the delta smelt, as part of a process to consider changing its listing category from "threatened" to "endangered."
The additional comment period, which closes Feb. 9, 2009, is due to an unintentional error by the federal website that receives comments. The Service opened a public comment period on July 10, 2008, asking for information to be submitted on the http://www.regulations.gov website. But the website was unable to receive electronic information during that comment period. To assure that all interested parties have had an opportunity to submit comments, the Service now has re-opened the comment period.
Parties who submitted comments can visit the website http://www.regulations.gov to verify that their comments were received.
The activity was triggered by a 90-day finding that a petition to upgrade the smelt's status contains substantial information that current threats may be greater than in 1993 when the smelt received protection as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The 90-day finding is the first step in the process of providing or changing protection for a species under ESA.
In its July 10, 2008 90-day review, the Service concluded that threats may be of higher magnitude or imminence than was thought at the time of listing. The Service cited substantial information about habitat loss and water diversions, inadequate regulatory mechanisms and low population size as factors in the decision to proceed with the next step. Delta surveys show a substantial decline in smelt abundance from 2002 through 2007, indicating that the threats may be of higher magnitude or imminence than was thought at the time of listing.
"Endangered" is the term in the ESA for a species which is in danger of extinction, while "threatened" means a species that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.
A change in listing category for the delta smelt would not by itself trigger any immediate actions on behalf of the species. While both categories protect species from unauthorized destruction (take), endangered status also prohibits issuing permits for incidental take that can be allowed for threatened species in some situations.
The public is encouraged to submit any scientific or commercial information that will help it conduct a complete evaluation and determine the correct classification of the species. Information may be submitted in two ways, either through http://www.regulations.gov or by mail to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-2008-0067; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
In an entirely separate process, under a federal court order the Service also is developing a new biological opinion (BO), in effect a permit, for protective actions to help reduce the destruction of delta smelt at two major water export pumps in the South Delta. The BO must be completed by Dec. 15.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.