706- 613-9493, Ext: 223
Elsie Davis, USFWS
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is listing the Georgia rockcress, a perennial herb, found only in Georgia and Alabama, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The listing becomes effective October 14, 2014, 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register.
At the same time, the Service is designating about 732 acres of river bluff habitat as critical to the plant’s survival. In Georgia, the critical habitat areas are located in Gordon, Floyd, Harris, Muscogee, and Clay Counties. In Alabama, the critical habitat areas are found in Bibb, Dallas, Elmore, Monroe, Sumter and Wilcox Counties. The plant is found in all of the 17 areas designated as critical habitat.
Only about 5,000 individual plants still exist. Georgia rockcress generally occurs on steep river bluffs with shallow soils overlaying rock or with exposed rock outcroppings. Habitat degradation and the invasion of exotic species are the most serious threats to the plant’s continued existence. Disturbance, associated with timber harvesting, road building, quarrying, grazing, and hydropower dam construction, creates favorable conditions for the invasion of exotic weeds, especially Japanese honeysuckle.
The Service is listing the Georgia rockcress as threatened throughout all of its range. The ESA defines a threatened species as likely to become endangered throughout its entire range within the foreseeable future. The Georgia rockcress was a candidate for listing under the ESA since 2000. The Service proposed to list the rockcress as threatened and designate critical habitat in September 2013.
The Service’s decision to list the rockcress with critical habitat 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 these comment periods.
Listing the Georgia rockcress with critical habitat 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 ultimate goal is to recover the Georgia rockcress so that it no longer needs protection under the ESA. The next step is to develop a recovery plan that provides guidance for the Service and its conservation partners to address threats to the plant’s survival and recovery.
Some recovery actions are already underway to conserve Georgia rockcress. For example, the largest population of the plant (more than 1,600 stems) occurs on Fort Benning, Georgia. The Service is working with Fort Benning to revise its Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan to protect Georgia rockcress and its habitat. In addition, Georgia Power also manages and maintains one of the largest populations of Georgia rockcress (about 1,000 stems) in Harris and Muscogee Counties.
The Service offers voluntary, non-regulatory conservation programs to landowners willing to help recover the Georgia rockcress as they live and work on their lands. Landowners interested in these programs or those who would like more information about the potential implications of the listing should contact James Rickard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Ecological Services Office, 105 Westpark Dr., Suite D, Athens, Georgia 30606 (telephone 706/613-9493, extension 223; facsimile 706/613-6059).
Federal landowners must comply with provisions of the ESA to protect the rockcress on their land. Under the ESA, it is unlawful to remove from federal lands a plant that is listed as threatened or to import, export, or sell such plants without first consulting with the Service.
Critical habitat identifies specific geographic areas that are essential to conserving a federally protected plant or animal. When an area is designated as critical habitat for a listed species, federal agencies are required by law to ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out is not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of the habitat. This is carried out through consultation with the Service. Although non-federal lands are included in the areas designated as critical habitat for the Georgia rockcress, activities on these lands will not necessarily be affected unless they are authorized, funded, or carried out by a federal agency. Activities in designated critical habitat that require federal involvement (for example, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to build a dam) would need to be reviewed by the Service. The federal agency would work with the Service to help landowners avoid, reduce or offset potential negative impacts to the critical habitat and the rockcress.
Critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. A critical habitat designation also does not allow the government or public to access private lands nor does it require implementation of restoration, recovery or enhancement measures by non-federal landowners.
A complete description of the rule will be published in the Federal Register on September 12, 2014. The rule and maps can be found at http://www.fws.gov/athens or http://www.regulations.gov, docket numbers: FWS-R4-ES-2013-0100 for listing and FWS-R4-ES-2013-0030 for the critical habitat designation.
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. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov/southeast. Connect with us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwssoutheast, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws, and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast.
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.
For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/. Connect with our Facebook page, follow our tweets, watch our YouTube Channel and download photos from our Flickr page.