[Federal Register: April 1, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 62)]
[Rules and Regulations]               
[Page 15691-15704]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AE38

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Rule To List 
the Flatwoods Salamander as a Threatened Species

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, determine the flatwoods 
salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) to be a threatened species under the 
authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). This 
salamander occurs in isolated populations scattered across the lower 
southeastern Coastal Plain in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. 
Habitat loss and degradation from agriculture, urbanization, and 
silvicultural practices have resulted in the loss of more than 80 
percent of its pine flatwoods habitat. Surviving populations are 
currently threatened by the continued destruction and degradation of 
their habitat. This action extends the protection of the Act for the 
flatwoods salamander.

EFFECTIVE DATE: May 3, 1999.

ADDRESSES: The complete administrative file for this rule is available 
for inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jackson Field Office, 6578 Dogwood View 
Parkway, Jackson, Mississippi 39213.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Linda LaClaire at the above 
address, or telephone 601/965-4900, extension 26; facsimile 601/965-



    The earliest reference to the flatwoods salamander, Ambystoma 
cingulatum, was by Cope in 1867 from specimens he collected in Jasper 
County, South Carolina (referenced in Martof 1968). This salamander is 
a member of the family Ambystomatidae, the mole salamanders, which 
contains 15 North American species. Shaffer et al. 1991, conducted a 
phylogenetic (evolutionary history or genealogy) analysis of 
ambystomatid salamanders and determined that the flatwoods salamander 
is most closely related to the ringed salamander (A. annulatum), which 
occurs in portions of Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

[[Page 15692]]

    The flatwoods salamander is a slender, small-headed mole salamander 
that rarely exceeds 13 centimeters (cm) (approximately 5 inches (in)) 
in length when fully mature (Means 1986, Conant and Collins 1991, 
Ashton 1992). Adult dorsal color ranges from black to chocolate-black 
with highly variable, fine, light gray lines forming a netlike or 
cross-banded pattern across the back (Palis 1996). Undersurfaces are 
plain gray to black with a few creamy or pearl-gray blotches or spots. 
Sexual dimorphism (the existence of separable male and female forms) is 
only apparent in breeding males (swollen cloacal region) or in gravid 
(with fertilized eggs) females. Adults most closely resemble Mabee's 
salamander, A. mabeei, with which it shares part of its range in South 
Carolina (Martof 1968). Mabee's salamanders are often more brownish; 
have light flecking concentrated on their sides rather than the overall 
pattern of the flatwoods salamander; and have a single row of jaw teeth 
as opposed to multiple rows in the flatwoods salamander (Conant and 
Collins 1991).
    Flatwoods salamander larvae are long and slender, broad-headed and 
bushy-gilled, with white bellies and striped sides (Means 1986, Ashton 
1992, Palis 1995d). They have distinctive color patterns, typically a 
tan mid-dorsal (middle of upper surface) stripe followed by a grayish 
black dorsolateral (back and sides) stripe, a pale cream mid-lateral 
(side) stripe, a blue-black lower lateral stripe, and a pale yellow 
ventrolateral (belly) stripe (Palis 1995d). The head has a dark brown 
stripe passing through the eye from the nostril to the gills (Means 
    Optimum habitat for the flatwoods salamander is an open, mesic 
(moderate moisture) woodland of longleaf/slash pine (Pinus palustris/P. 
elliottii) flatwoods maintained by frequent fires. Pine flatwoods are 
typically flat, low-lying open woodlands that lie between the drier 
sandhill community upslope and wetlands down slope (Wolfe et al. 1988). 
An organic hardpan, 0.3 to 0.7 meters (m) (1 to 2 feet (ft)) into the 
soil profile, inhibits subsurface water penetration and results in 
moist soils with water often at or near the surface (Wolfe et al. 
1988). Historically, longleaf pine generally dominated the flatwoods 
with slash pine restricted to the wetter areas (Wolfe et al. 1988). 
Wiregrasses (Aristida sp.), especially A. beyrichiana, are often the 
dominant grasses in the herbaceous (non-woody) ground cover (Wolfe et 
al. 1988). The ground cover supports a rich herbivorous invertebrate 
community that serves as a food source for the flatwoods salamander.
    Adult and subadult flatwoods salamanders are fossorial (adapted for 
living underground) (Mount 1975). They enlarge crayfish burrows (Ashton 
1992) or build their own. Captive flatwoods salamanders have been 
observed digging burrows and resting at night with just the tip of 
their heads exposed (Goin 1950). Preliminary data indicate that 
flatwoods salamander males first breed at 1 year of age and females at 
2 years of age (Palis 1996). There are no data on survivorship by age 
class for the species. The longevity record for their close relative, 
A. annulatum, is 4 years, 11 months; however, many Ambystomatidae live 
10 years or longer (Snider and Bowler 1992). An adult female flatwoods 
salamander has been maintained in captivity for 4 years, 4 months (R. 
Ashton pers. comm. 1998).
    Adult flatwoods salamanders move to their wetland breeding sites 
during rainy weather, in association with cold fronts, from October to 
December (Palis 1997a). Breeding sites are isolated (not connected to 
any other water body) pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens), blackgum 
(Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora), or slash pine dominated depressions 
which dry completely on a cyclic basis. They are generally shallow and 
relatively small. Breeding sites in Florida have a mean size of 1.49 
hectares (ha) (3.68 acres (ac)) and a mean depth of less than 39.2 cm 
(15.4 in) (Palis 1997b). These wetlands have a marsh-like appearance 
with sedges often growing throughout and wiregrasses (Aristida sp.), 
panic grasses (Panicum spp.), and other herbaceous species concentrated 
in the shallow water edges. Trees and shrubs grow both in and around 
the ponds. A relatively open canopy is necessary to maintain the 
herbaceous component, which serves as cover for flatwoods salamander 
larvae and their aquatic invertebrate prey. Sekerak et al. 1996, did 
not capture flatwoods salamander larvae in sample plots with a high 
proportion of detritus (loose material from the disintegration of rocks 
and organic material) or open water in a study on the Apalachicola 
National Forest in Florida. Ponds typically have a burrowing crayfish 
fauna (genus Procambarus) and a diverse macroinvertebrate fauna, but 
lack large predatory fish (e.g., Lepomis (sunfish), Macropterus (bass), 
Amia calva (bowfin)).
    Before the breeding sites become flooded, the males and females 
court. The females lay their eggs (singly or in clumps) beneath leaf 
litter, under logs and sphagnum moss (grows in wet acid areas) mats, or 
at bases of bushes, small trees, or clumps of grass (Anderson and 
Williamson 1976, Means 1986). Egg masses have also been found at the 
entrances of and within crayfish burrows (Anderson and Williamson 
1976). Embryos begin development immediately, but the egg must be 
inundated before it will hatch. Depending on when eggs are inundated, 
the larvae usually metamorphose (change into adult form) in March or 
April; the length of the larval period varies from 11 to 18 weeks 
(Palis 1995d).
    The timing and frequency of rainfall are critical to the successful 
reproduction and recruitment of flatwoods salamanders. Fall rains are 
required to facilitate movements to the pond and winter rains are 
needed to ensure that ponds are filled sufficiently to allow hatching, 
development, and metamorphosis of larvae. In contrast, too much 
rainfall in the summer will keep pond levels from dropping below the 
grassy pond edge, as needed to provide dry substrate for egg 
deposition. This reliance on specific weather conditions results in 
unpredictable breeding events and reduces the likelihood that 
recruitment will occur every year.
    Adult flatwoods salamanders leave the pond site after breeding. 
Studies have suggested a homing ability, based on data that salamanders 
exit the breeding pond near the point of their arrival (Palis 1997a). 
In a study by Ashton (1992), flatwoods salamanders were found greater 
than 1,700 m (1,859 yards (yd)) from their breeding pond. Thus, a 
flatwoods salamander population has been defined as those salamanders 
using breeding sites within 3.2 kilometers (km) (2 miles (mi)) of each 
other, barring an impassable barrier such as a perennial stream (Palis 
    Flatwoods salamanders need to maintain moist skin for respiration 
and osmoregulation (to control the amounts of water and salts in their 
bodies) (Duellman and Trueb 1986). Since they may disperse long 
distances from their breeding ponds to upland sites where they live as 
adults, desiccation (drying out) can be a limiting factor in their 
movements. Thus, it is important that areas connecting their wetland 
and terrestrial habitats are protected in order to provide cover and 
appropriate moisture regimes during their migration. Using the 
available information on distances traveled by six species from their 
breeding sites to terrestrial habitats, Semlitsch (1998) determined the 
size area around a wetland needed to protect pond-breeding ambystomatid 
salamanders. The mean distance transversed by the six species was 164.3

[[Page 15693]]

m (534 ft). This value was used as a radius to generate a buffer zone 
surrounding a breeding site. Semlitsch estimated this area would 
encompass 95% of a population of any of the study species, but 
cautioned that this may be an underestimate of the habitat used by 
other species, including the flatwoods salamander. He further clarified 
that his definition of a buffer zone focused on the conservation of 
local populations and did not take into account habitat quality or the 
issues of metapopulation dynamics and landscape-level processes. A 
metapopulation is an interacting network of local subpopulations with 
varying frequencies of migration and gene flow among them. Local 
subpopulations may become extinct, but can be reestablished by 
individuals from other subpopulations.
    High quality habitat for the flatwoods salamander includes a number 
of isolated wetland breeding sites within a landscape of longleaf pine/
slash pine flatwoods having an abundant herbaceous ground cover 
(Sekerak 1994). Since temporary ponds are not likely permanent fixtures 
of the landscape due to succession, there will be inevitable 
extinctions of local populations (Semlitsch 1998). By maintaining a 
mosaic of ponds with varying hydrologies and by providing terrestrial 
habitats for use as colonization corridors, some protection against 
extinction can be achieved. A mosaic of ponds will ensure that 
appropriate breeding conditions will be achieved under different 
climatic regimes. Colonization corridors will allow movement of 
salamanders to new breeding sites or previously occupied ones 
(Semlitsch 1998).
    The historical range of the flatwoods salamander included parts of 
the States of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina that are in 
the lower Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States. 
Knowledgeable researchers discounted a museum record from Mississippi 
that was previously thought to be a flatwoods salamander (Moler pers. 
comm. 1988). However, it is possible that flatwoods salamanders once 
occurred in extreme southeastern Mississippi due to similarities in 
habitat to historical sites in adjacent Alabama. Recent surveys (Kuss 
1988, L. LaClaire pers. obs. 1995) have not documented the occurrence 
of flatwoods salamanders in Mississippi.
    Historical records for the flatwoods salamander are limited. 
Longleaf pine/slash pine flatwoods historically occurred in a broad 
band across the lower southeastern Coastal Plain. The flatwoods 
salamander likely occurred in appropriate habitat throughout this area 
(Means pers. comm. 1995). The present distribution of the flatwoods 
salamander consists of isolated populations scattered across the 
remaining longleaf pine/slash pine flatwoods. We have compiled 110 
historical records for the flatwoods salamander. Historical records are 
defined as those localities found before 1990. Localities consist of 
collections made either by sampling breeding sites or of individuals 
crossing highways on their way to or from breeding sites. During 
surveys of these localities over the last 8 years, 97 historical 
records were visited. Flatwoods salamanders were relocated at only 12 
localities (12 percent). The exact site was located for 52 records (47 
percent) and the general area (within several miles) was determined for 
45 others (41 percent). Thirteen sites could not be located due to 
limited information in the record.
    Range-wide surveys of available habitat in Alabama, Florida, 
Georgia, and South Carolina have been ongoing since 1990 in an effort 
to locate new populations. A total of at least 1,303 wetlands, which 
had a minimum of marginal suitability for the flatwoods salamander, 
were sampled, most of them multiple times. Of these, flatwoods 
salamanders were found at 110 sites (8 percent success rate). Most 
surveys were presence/absence searches for larvae in the grassy edges 
of ponds and we cannot infer an estimate of total population size or 
viability from these data.
    Information on the current status of the flatwoods salamander by 
State follows:
    In Alabama, there are five historical localities for the flatwoods 
salamander, all in the extreme southern portion of the State. Surveys 
conducted from 1992 to 1995 at the historical breeding ponds and from 
1992 through 1998 at other potential breeding sites were unsuccessful 
at locating any flatwoods salamander populations (Godwin 1994, pers. 
comm.; Southeastern Amphibian Survey Cooperative 1998). The salamander 
was last observed in Alabama in 1981 (Jones et al. 1982).
    Thirty-three historical records in 19 counties have been reported 
for Georgia (Goin 1950, Seyle 1994, Williamson and Moulis 1994); 
however, flatwoods salamanders have not been relocated at any of these 
sites in recent years. Surveys over the last 8 years of at least 478 
wetlands with potential habitat for the flatwoods salamander have 
resulted in the location of 28 new breeding sites (6 percent success 
rate). These 28 breeding sites comprise 11 populations (sites within a 
3.2 km (2 mi) radius of one another are considered the same population) 
(Seyle 1994; Jensen 1995; Moulis 1995a, 1995b; Jensen and Johnson 1998; 
K. Lutz, The Nature Conservancy of Georgia pers. comm. 1994; D. 
Stevenson, The Nature Conservancy of Georgia pers. comm. 1996; L. 
LaClaire pers. obs. 1995, 1997). Most of these breeding sites occur on 
Fort Stewart Military Installation.
    In South Carolina, there are 29 historical records for the 
flatwoods salamander. Despite annual surveys since 1990, flatwoods 
salamanders have been relocated at only three of these sites (all sites 
represent a different population). One site is located on the Francis 
Marion National Forest and the other two are on private land. A new 
flatwoods salamander breeding site, representing a fourth population, 
was recently found on the Francis Marion National Forest (Moulis pers. 
comm. 1998) during state-wide surveys of approximately 118 wetlands 
considered to be potential habitat for this species.
    In Florida, 39 of the 43 historical sites were relocated (or the 
general area thought to be the location). Nine (23 percent) contained 
flatwoods salamanders. Additional survey work over the past 8 years, in 
23 counties and at least 530 wetlands with potential habitat, resulted 
in the location of 81 new breeding sites (15 percent of total sites 
surveyed). Fifty-six (69 percent) of these new breeding sites occur in 
Liberty and Okaloosa counties. These sites were found due to extensive 
surveys of the Apalachicola National Forest and Eglin Air Force Base, 
both of which contain some of the best remaining pine flatwoods habitat 
in the Southeast. The total number of extant flatwoods salamander 
populations known to occur in Florida is 36 with 15 (42 percent) 
occurring on the Apalachicola National Forest and Eglin Air Force Base 
(Palis 1993, 1994, 1995a, 1995b, 1995c; Printiss and Means 1996; Means 
1998; Southeastern Amphibian Survey Cooperative 1998; H. Cooper, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service pers. comm. 1998).
    The combined State data from all survey work completed since 1990 
indicate that 51 populations of flatwoods salamanders are known from 
across the historical range. Most of these occur in Florida (36 
populations or 71 percent). Eleven populations have been found in 
Georgia, four in South Carolina, and none have been found in Alabama. 
Some of these populations are inferred from the capture of a single 
individual. Slightly more than half the known populations for the 
flatwoods salamander occur on public land (32 of 51, or 63 percent). 
Federal land holdings

[[Page 15694]]

that harbor flatwoods salamanders include the Apalachicola National 
Forest, Osceola National Forest, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, 
Eglin Air Force Base, Hurlburt Field, and Naval Air Station Whiting 
Field's Holley Out-lying Field in Florida; Fort Stewart Military 
Installation and Townsend Bombing Range in Georgia; and Francis Marion 
National Forest in South Carolina. State agencies manage three 
additional populations--in Florida, Pine Log State Forest and Pt. 
Washington State Forest harbor a single population each; and in 
Georgia, the Mayhaw Wildlife Management Area supports a recently 
discovered population. The remaining 19 populations are on private 

Previous Federal Action

    We identified the flatwoods salamander as a Category 2 candidate 
species in our notices of review for animals published in the Federal 
Register on December 30, 1982 (47 FR 58454), September 18, 1985 (50 FR 
37958), January 6, 1989 (54 FR 554), November 21, 1991 (56 FR 58804), 
and November 15, 1994 (59 FR 58982). Before 1996, we defined a Category 
2 candidate species as one that we were considering for possible 
addition to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, but 
for which conclusive data on biological vulnerability and threat were 
not currently available to support a proposed rule. We discontinued 
designation of Category 2 species in the February 28, 1996, notice of 
review (61 FR 7956).
    On May 18, 1992, we received a petition dated May 8, 1992, from the 
Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Boulder, Colorado, and Elizabeth 
Carlton, Gainesville, Florida, to list the flatwoods salamander as an 
endangered or threatened species throughout its historic range and to 
designate critical habitat. The petition stated that available evidence 
indicated that the flatwoods salamander had declined precipitously, 
that it was on the threshold of extirpation in many locations, and that 
it had been extirpated from a large portion of its historic range.
    We announced a 90-day finding that the petition did not present 
substantial information that the requested action may be warranted in 
the Federal Register on May 12, 1993 (58 FR 27986). On August 23, 1993, 
attorneys representing the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Jasper 
Carlton, the Director of the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, and 
Elizabeth Carlton notified us of their intent to sue the Service for 
violation of the Act. The petitioners felt that we had, in effect, 
already made a determination of ``may be warranted'' through the 
inclusion of the flatwoods salamander as a Category 2 species on the 
comprehensive notices of review for animals published before 1993. On 
April 25, 1994, the suit was filed. In response to an agreed upon 
settlement of this suit, and based upon our 1994 draft guidance 
relating to petitions for listing former Category 2 species, we 
rescinded the 90-day finding announced on May 12, 1993, and replaced it 
by a finding that the petitioned action may be warranted. We announced 
this finding in the Federal Register on September 21, 1994 (59 FR 
48406), and included a request for comments and biological data on the 
status of the flatwoods salamander.
    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act and implementing regulations at 50 
CFR 424.14, require the Secretary of the Interior, to the maximum 
extent practicable, within 12 months of receipt of a petition, to make 
a finding whether the action requested in the petition is (a) not 
warranted, (b) warranted, or (c) warranted but precluded. Because of 
budgetary constraints and the lasting effects of a congressionally 
imposed listing moratorium from April 1995 to April 1996, we processed 
petitions and other listing actions according to the listing priority 
guidance published in the Federal Register on December 5, 1996 (61 FR 
64475). The guidance clarified the order in which we processed listing 
actions during fiscal year 1997. The guidance called for giving highest 
priority to handling emergency situations (Tier 1) and second highest 
priority (Tier 2) to resolving the status of outstanding proposed 
listings. We gave third priority (Tier 3) was given to resolving the 
conservation status of candidate species and processing administrative 
findings on petitions to add species to the lists or reclassify 
threatened species to endangered status. The processing of the petition 
and the proposed rule to list the flatwoods salamander fell under Tier 
3. The proposal to list the flatwoods salamander as threatened was 
published in the Federal Register on December 16, 1997 (62 FR 65787).
    On May 8, 1998, we published Listing Priority Guidance for fiscal 
years 1998 and 1999 (63 FR 25502). This guidance gives highest priority 
(Tier 1) to processing emergency rules to add species to the Lists of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants (Lists); second priority 
(Tier 2) to processing final determinations on proposals to add species 
to the Lists, processing new proposals to add species to the Lists, 
processing administrative findings on petitions (to add species to the 
Lists, delist species, or reclassify listed species), and processing a 
limited number of proposed or final rules to delist or reclassify 
species; and third priority (Tier 3) to processing proposed or final 
rules designating critical habitat. Processing of this final rule is a 
Tier 2 action.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    In the December 16, 1997, proposed rule (62 FR 65787) and 
associated notifications, we requested all interested parties to submit 
factual reports or information that might contribute to the development 
of a final rule. We contacted appropriate Federal and State agencies, 
county governments, scientific organizations and other interested 
parties and requested their comments. Legal notices announcing the 
proposal and inviting public comment were published in newspapers 
across the range of the species. We published notices in The Albany 
Herald and The Claxton Enterprise on February 5, 1998; in The Dothan 
Eagle and the Tallahassee Democrat on February 6, 1998; in The Florida 
Times-Union, the Mobile Press Register, and the Pensacola News Journal 
on February 7, 1998; in the Coastal Courier and the Savannah Morning 
News on February 8, 1998; in The Berkeley Independent and the Jasper 
County Sun on February 11, 1998; and in The Darien News on February 12, 
1998. The comment period for the proposal closed on February 17, 1998.
    During the initial comment period, Rayonier (Southeast Forest 
Resources) and the Florida Forestry Association in Florida; Georgia-
Pacific and Gilman Paper Company in Georgia; and the American Forest & 
Paper Association in Washington, D.C., submitted requests for a public 
hearing. As a result, on March 25, 1998, we published a notice in the 
Federal Register (63 FR 14414) announcing two public hearings and the 
reopening of the comment period until June 1, 1998. In addition, we 
announced the public hearings and invited public comment in The 
Berkeley Independent and the Jasper County Sun on April 8, 1998; in The 
Claxton Enterprise and The Darien News on April 9, 1998; in the Coastal 
Courier, the Mobile Press Register, and the Savannah Morning News on 
April 10, 1998; and in the Tallahassee Democrat, The Florida Times-
Union, and the Pensacola News Journal on April 11, 1998. We conducted 
public hearings on April 14, 1998, at the Savannah Technical Institute 
in Savannah, Georgia, and on

[[Page 15695]]

April 15, 1998, at the Hermitage Centre in Tallahassee, Florida. Each 
hearing began with our opening comments followed by oral statements by 
the public. In Savannah, Georgia, 9 of the 44 people attending the 
hearing presented comments. In Tallahassee, Florida, 28 of the 110 
people attending the hearing presented comments. At both hearings, the 
majority of comments concerned the effects listing the flatwoods 
salamander would have on private landowners.
    We received 193 comments (letters and oral testimony) including 7 
from State agencies and 186 from individuals, groups, and 
organizations. Of these, 136 opposed, 39 supported, and 18 were neutral 
on the proposed action. We received an additional 19 letters from a 
sixth grade class in Georgetown, South Carolina. The Georgia Department 
of Natural Resources and Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural 
Resources supported the listing action. The Florida Game and Fresh 
Water Fish Commission requested that we consider the development of a 
Candidate Conservation Agreement instead of listing. We received no 
comments from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. We 
have reviewed all written and oral comments received during the comment 
period and have incorporated comments updating the available data in 
the ``Background'' or ``Summary of Factors Affecting the Species'' 
sections of this rule. We have organized opposing comments and other 
substantive comments concerning the rule into specific issues, which 
may be paraphrased. We grouped comments of a similar nature together by 
issue and summarized as follows.
    Issue 1: Status surveys for the flatwoods salamander were 
insufficient to make a listing determination. Commenters expressed 
concern over sampling methodologies (including lack of quantitative 
sampling), sites sampled, interpretation of historical data, and the 
difficulty in documenting the species' presence at sites. Commenters 
stated that surveys were not long-term or comprehensive enough to 
provide evidence for the decline of the species and that more surveys 
were needed during periods of optimum environmental conditions. Other 
commenters stated that more data are needed to determine if the 
remaining populations of the flatwoods salamander represent ``normal'' 
natural life cycles of a species without high population densities.
    Response: Surveys were conducted during the breeding season using 
D-frame or flat-bottomed dip nets, a standardized field method for 
sampling larval amphibians (Shaffer et al. 1994). The Service, State 
wildlife agencies, and flatwoods salamander researchers recognize the 
difficulties associated with conducting flatwoods salamander surveys. 
For this reason, qualified surveyors repeatedly surveyed previously 
documented flatwoods salamander sites, that still bore evidence of 
potentially suitable habitat, before concluding that flatwoods 
salamanders were indeed extirpated from the site. In order to have the 
highest probability of finding flatwoods salamanders, most surveys for 
new populations targeted areas of remaining intact pine flatwoods 
habitat. We do not consider quantitative sampling essential to 
determine the status of rare species. Rare species, including the 
flatwoods salamander, are often distributed non-randomly. Random 
quantitative sampling is less efficient than choosing sites based on 
criteria such as available habitat.
    Since 1990, numerous studies have addressed the status and 
distribution of the flatwoods salamander (see ``Background'' section). 
Weather conditions during these years have covered the range of 
extremes from drought to flooding. Scientists surveyed a total of at 
least 1,303 sites where flatwoods salamanders had not previously been 
documented to determine occupancy by the species, most multiple times. 
Only 8 percent of these sites were found to harbor the species. Limited 
access to private lands has hampered survey efforts at some locations; 
however, we believe that the information gathered during the field work 
is of sufficient extent and duration to document the rarity of the 
flatwoods salamander and a decline in its distribution due to habitat 
alteration or destruction.
    Populations of most species are cyclic in nature, responding to 
such natural factors as weather events, disease, and predation. 
However, populations of the flatwoods salamander are small, fragmented, 
and isolated by various human-related factors including habitat 
conversion. Fifty-five percent of extant populations are widely 
separated from each other by unsuitable habitat. Only 18 percent of the 
original acreage of pine flatwoods habitat remains and much of it 
exists as isolated fragments imbedded in agricultural and urban-
dominated landscapes (see ``Background'' section for more discussion). 
The isolated nature of flatwoods salamander populations makes them 
vulnerable to extirpation by random events. If their populations do 
cycle naturally at low densities, they will be less likely to rebound 
or become reestablished after a catastrophic event. Extinction becomes 
a possibility following a catastrophic event, if adjacent habitat is 
degraded or destroyed and no source populations to recolonize the area 
occur within dispersal distance.
    Information, studies, field data, and site analyses provided by 
biologists and others familiar with the flatwoods salamander and its 
habitat provided adequate information on the distribution, habitat 
requirements, and threats to the species to warrant the present action. 
The listing process includes an opportunity for the public to comment 
and provide information that we evaluate and consider before making a 
final decision. The additional data provided by respondents during the 
comment period, and other appropriate information available to us, 
support our determination that listing is warranted.
    Issue 2: More research on the flatwoods salamander's life history 
and habitat needs is necessary before a listing determination can be 
    Response: We agree that there is limited information on the 
flatwoods salamander's life history and specific environmental 
requirements. However, the information standard in section 4(b)(1)(A) 
of the Act--``A determination to list a species shall be based on the 
best available scientific and commercial information on the species' 
status'' does not require us to possess detailed or extensive 
information about the general biology of the species or to make an 
actual determination of the causes for the species' status to make a 
listing determination. The Act's information standard requires only 
that the best available information must support a conclusion that the 
species meets the Act's definition for threatened or endangered after 
consideration of the five factors defined in section 4(a) of the Act 
(see discussion in the ``Summary of Factors Affecting the Species'' 
section). The most compelling threat to the flatwoods salamander is the 
severe reduction of available habitat and its continued loss from 
conversion, fragmentation, and degradation. Additional information on 
flatwoods salamander life history and habitat needs is not necessary to 
support a listing determination. However, this information will be 
important in the development of a recovery plan and management 
guidelines for the flatwoods salamander.
    Issue 3: Timber harvesting and pine plantation management are not 
well documented as threats to the flatwoods salamander. The location of 
existing flatwoods salamander breeding sites adjacent to intensively 
managed forests indicates the species has some level of

[[Page 15696]]

compatibility with pine plantation management. Commenters felt that 
silvicultural activities considered by the Service to be detrimental or 
degrading to flatwoods salamander habitat are based on anecdotal or 
circumstantial evidence rather than data from controlled experiments. 
Other commenters recommended that the Service more completely describe 
silvicultural activities, especially those related to continued or 
future management of pine plantations, that would be likely or unlikely 
to result in section 9 violations on private lands.
    Response: Land uses that have a dramatic adverse impact on 
flatwoods salamander habitat can present significant threats to the 
existence of the species. The relationships between timber management 
and flatwoods salamander populations are undoubtedly complex and need 
further study. The manner, timing, and extent of silvicultural 
activities all dictate what effects they may have on the flatwoods 
salamander and its habitat. We are aware of flatwoods salamander 
localities adjacent to pine plantations. However, the viability of 
these populations is unknown. The best available information on the 
effects of timber management on the flatwoods salamander, cited in the 
``Background'' and ``Summary of Factors Affecting the Species'' 
sections, indicates that habitat alteration, including destruction of 
ground cover vegetation and alteration of hydrology at occupied sites, 
has been a causative factor in the decline of flatwoods salamander 
populations. We believe, however, that silvicultural activities that 
avoid adverse effects to important habitat characteristics (i.e., 
ground cover, hydrology) are compatible with maintenance of flatwoods 
salamander populations.
    We have relied on the best available scientific and commercial data 
in making this listing determination. Silvicultural activities are 
included as just one of the threats identified in our analysis of the 
status of the species under the ``Summary of Factors Affecting the 
Species'' section of this rule. Using the best available information, 
we have developed guidelines for silvicultural practices that would not 
be likely to result in a violation of section 9 of the Act (see the 
``Available Conservation Measures'' section). We look forward to 
working cooperatively with the timber industry, researchers, and others 
to refine these guidelines and determine what levels of timber 
extraction, site preparation, and other management activities are most 
beneficial to the recovery of the flatwoods salamander.
    Issue 4: Documentation of historical flatwoods salamander 
occurrences is limited. In addition, there are no data showing a 
correlation between pine flatwoods conversion and loss of suitable 
flatwoods salamander habitat nor data indicating flatwoods salamanders 
were evenly distributed throughout historic pine flatwoods areas. As a 
result, commenters felt that the listing proposal was based on habitat 
trends without supporting data on declining population trends. In fact, 
new flatwoods salamander populations have been discovered in recent 
surveys. Therefore, even with the loss of historical sites, the number 
of known sites is stable or increasing.
    Response: In assessing the status of the flatwoods salamander, we 
reviewed the best available information regarding past and present 
distribution of the species. In the past, this reclusive species was 
not frequently studied or collected. However, lack of historical data 
is not a consideration in determining whether a species is endangered 
or threatened. It has been well documented that the distribution of 
pine flatwoods has declined precipitously throughout the Southeast. 
Therefore, it is logical to assume that populations of animals 
associated with this habitat, including those of the flatwoods 
salamander, have also declined. Surveys of the known historical 
localities, conducted over the past 8 years, have resulted in the 
relocation of a limited number of populations (12 percent success 
rate). We believe that newly discovered localities, in counties where 
the species was not previously recorded, do not represent newly 
colonized sites but rather extant sites in areas not previously 
surveyed by field biologists. These newly discovered isolated 
populations, within the described range of the species, provide 
evidence of a broad historical distribution of the species across pine 
flatwoods habitat in the Southeast.
    Issue 5: There is no range-wide estimate for the total number of 
flatwoods salamanders.
    Response: We agree that an estimate of the total population is 
lacking for the flatwoods salamander. However, we considered several 
additional factors that also are important in developing a biologically 
accurate species status assessment. The biological security of many 
declining species is more a function of the number of healthy local 
populations than the total number of individuals in the wild. Besides 
considering the number of sites and distribution of subpopulations 
across the species' range, we also considered the historical and 
current rates of decline, distribution and proximity of subpopulations, 
quantity and quality of available habitat, and imminent and potential 
threats to the species and its habitat. Therefore, although 
quantitative sampling has not been completed for the species, pertinent 
and significant information regarding the other aspects of the species' 
status is available. The decreasing quality and quantity of flatwoods 
salamander sites throughout the species' historical and current range 
are a more accurate reflection of the salamander's status than is a 
rough estimate of total population.
    Issue 6: The flatwoods salamander has always been a rare species 
and this rarity does not justify listing it as a threatened species.
    Response: Historical rarity of the flatwoods salamander has not 
been quantitatively documented. It is true that historical collections 
of the species are limited; however, most amphibians have not been 
extensively surveyed, even species that are considered common. Surveys 
have confirmed the current rarity of the flatwoods salamander and also 
the decline in quantity and quality of the pine flatwoods habitat 
needed for its survival. This decline in habitat was a significant 
factor in determining that the flatwoods salamander warranted listing.
    Issue 7: There is a need to research the impacts of predatory 
species, such as armadillos and coyotes, on the flatwoods salamander. 
The imported red fire ant may also be a potential threat to the 
    Response: While the flatwoods salamander has coexisted with a 
community of predators over time, little is known regarding the effect 
of predators on the species. Human development, for example, may 
increase the numbers of armadillos, coyotes, and fire ants that inhabit 
flatwoods salamander localities. However, there are no data to indicate 
predators are a significant threat to the flatwoods salamander.
    Issue 8: Much of the data used in support of the proposed rule was 
not peer reviewed. The Service also relied on personal observations 
that were not part of any report for such subjects as optimum habitat, 
movements, and activity ranges.
    Response: We consider all available information in making a listing 
determination. This includes reliable unpublished reports, non-
literature documentation, and personal communications with experts. The 
public reviewed the proposed rule, which also was peer reviewed 

[[Page 15697]]

to our policy (see ``Peer Review'' section).
    Issue 9: A buffer area defined by a 1.6-km (1-mi) radius around a 
known flatwoods salamander breeding site is not supported by the 
scientific literature. Placing a protective area around a breeding site 
should be on a site-specific basis.
    Response: We have received new data (Semlitsch 1998) on protective 
buffer areas needed around salamander breeding ponds (see discussion in 
``Background'' section). In addition, we have received information 
gathered from a meeting of herpetologists, State agency biologists, and 
other experts that was held to review management issues relative to the 
flatwoods salamander, including the applicability of Semlitsch's paper 
to the species (Jensen in litt. 1998). Of the six species reviewed by 
Semlitsch, the marbled salamander (A. opacum) was judged to be the most 
similar in habitat needs to the flatwoods salamander. The maximum 
recorded distance moved by the marbled salamander was 450 m (1,476 ft) 
(see Semlitsch 1998). Therefore, in order to estimate the dimensions of 
a buffer that would protect the majority of a flatwoods salamander 
population, a radius of 450 m (1,476 ft) out from the wetland edge was 
suggested. Forest management recommendations within the buffer included 
harvesting only in dry periods, clear-cutting if no more than 25 
percent of the buffer is cut at each harvest, restricting the use of 
mechanical site preparation techniques or other actions that would 
disturb the upper soil layers, and restricting herbicides to use for 
control of woody shrub encroachment only when fire could not be 
employed. An inner zone within the buffer with a radius of 164 m (538 
ft) out from the wetland edge, the area needed to protect 95 percent of 
an ambystomatid population as estimated by Semlitsch, was considered to 
be important. Within this inner zone, it was recommended that clear-
cutting be excluded.
    Based on this new information, we have revised the dimensions of 
the buffer area and associated management scenario that would not be 
considered ``take'' (see discussion of violations of section 9 under 
``Available Conservation Measures'' section). Whether or not ``take'' 
is a consideration, we will work with any interested landowner to 
determine the specific set of conditions appropriate for protection of 
a known flatwoods salamander site on his or her property. Depending on 
the needs of the landowner, a protective area might be developed in 
conjunction with the issuance of an incidental take permit through the 
habitat conservation planning process.
    Issue 10: The social and economic impacts of listing the flatwoods 
salamander were not considered. Timber harvest will be restricted in 
the Southeast and the timber industry will be negatively impacted. 
Listing will negatively affect the ability of non-industrial private 
landowners to make a profit from their lands and they should be 
compensated for any financial loss resulting from the listing of the 
flatwoods salamander. Without financial compensation, there is no 
incentive for landowners to keep land in timber, and habitat available 
for the flatwoods salamander will be lost through conversion to 
agriculture and urban development.
    Response: Under section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act, we must base a 
listing determination solely on the best scientific and commercial data 
available. The legislative history of this provision clearly states the 
intent of Congress to ``ensure'' that listing decision are ``. . . 
based solely on biological criteria and to prevent nonbiological 
criteria from affecting such decisions . . .'' H.R. Rep. No. 97-835, 
97th Cong., 2d Sess. 19 (1982). As further stated in the legislative 
history, ``. . . economic considerations have no relevance to 
determinations regarding the status of species . . .'' Id. at 20. 
Because we are specifically precluded from considering economic 
impacts, either positive or negative, in a final decision on a proposed 
listing, we did not consider the economic impacts of listing the 
flatwoods salamander.
    Issue 11: As an alternative to listing, populations of flatwoods 
salamanders should be established on Federal and State lands by using 
animals removed from private lands or bred through captive propagation.
    Response: The purpose of the Act is to provide a means whereby the 
natural ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend 
may be conserved. Loss of suitable habitat is the primary threat to the 
flatwoods salamander. Therefore, continued loss of habitat by removing 
the salamander from occupied sites would be counter to protection for 
the species and would accelerate its decline. We are working with the 
Department of Defense, the U.S. Forest Service, and States within the 
range of the salamander to ensure that conservation of the flatwoods 
salamander is carried out on all public lands where it currently 
exists. While several Federal land holdings support apparently stable 
populations of flatwoods salamanders, they represent widely separated 
sites that compose a small fraction of the total range of the species. 
We believe protection of these sites alone would not alleviate the need 
to list the flatwoods salamander.
    Issue 12: The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission 
(Commission) proposed that the concept of a Candidate Conservation 
Agreement (CCA) be explored as an alternative to listing. The 
Commission stated that a CCA, involving voluntary cooperation by 
private landowners, would provide a greater benefit to the species than 
listing. The additional benefit of a CCA would result because more 
landowners would be willing to participate in the recovery of the 
flatwoods salamander if Federal intervention and regulation was 
minimized. Another governmental agency, the Florida Division of 
Forestry, expressed support for this concept. Many other commenters 
supported some type of voluntary public/private sector cooperation 
instead of listing.
    Response: CCAs are formal agreements between the Service and one or 
more parties (e.g., landowners, land managers, or State fish and 
wildlife agencies) to address the conservation needs of proposed or 
candidate species. The participants take on the responsibility of 
developing the CCA, and voluntarily commit to implementing specific 
actions that will remove or reduce the threats to the subject species, 
thereby contributing to stabilizing or restoring the species. The 
ultimate goal of any CCA is to adequately remove threats to the 
species, so that the need for listing under the Act can be eliminated.
    To preclude the need to list the flatwoods salamander, a sufficient 
number of CCAs on both public and private lands would have to be 
developed and implemented to adequately remove threats, so that we 
could conclude that protection under the Act was no longer be needed. 
Although the Commission suggested the development of such an agreement, 
they did not provide a specific plan. Also, the Commission would not 
have control over implementation of such a plan since they own or 
manage land containing only two of the approximately 50 known flatwoods 
salamander populations.
    We fully realize that recovery of the flatwoods salamander will 
partially depend upon voluntary cooperation of private landowners, and 
welcome them as partners in the recovery effort. We will work to 
provide technical assistance to those property owners and land managers 
who wish to implement conservation measures for this species.
    Although we cannot delay the listing process while an agreement or 
plan is

[[Page 15698]]

being developed, we still encourage their development subsequent to a 
final listing decision. Such plans may serve as a foundation for a 
recovery plan and could lead to earlier recovery and delisting.
    Issue 13: The Commission requested that a listing decision be 
postponed for 12 months to allow development of a CCA in Florida. The 
Florida Division of Forestry also requested that a listing decision be 
postponed for 1 year.
    Response: The Act requires that we use the best scientific and 
commercial information available to make a final determination on a 
proposed listing within 1 year of the date a species is proposed. The 
flatwoods salamander was proposed in December 16, 1997. The Act 
stipulates that this 1-year deadline may be extended for up to 6 months 
to solicit additional data only if there is substantial scientific 
disagreement among the scientists knowledgeable about the species 
regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the data used in the proposed 
determination. We find no substantial disagreement among scientists 
knowledgeable about the flatwoods salamander that would serve as a 
basis for extension of the 1-year deadline.
    Issue 14: Use of herbicides and fertilizers has not been proven to 
be detrimental to flatwoods salamanders. In fact, given the proper 
selection and use of herbicide, rate, method, and timing, herbicides 
may be useful in maintaining or enhancing habitat conditions for the 
flatwoods salamander.
    Response: Management of flatwoods salamander habitat is best 
accomplished through a regime of growing season burns. In some cases 
though, burning may not be a viable option, due to smoke liability or 
other concerns, and herbicides may be needed to control woody 
vegetation. Amphibians have shown a vulnerability to herbicides and 
other chemicals in their environment (see factor E under ``Summary of 
Factors Affecting the Species''). However, we agree there is likely a 
role for herbicides in the management of flatwoods salamander habitat 
if Best Management Practices (BMPs) are used and herbicides are 
carefully selected to target hardwood encroachment.
    Issue 15: All private landowners who would be affected by a 
potential listing of the flatwoods salamander were not contacted. They 
should have a say in the listing decision.
    Response: We published legal notices in 12 local newspapers. In 
addition, we contacted appropriate Federal and State agencies, county 
governments, scientific organizations, forestry associations, and other 
interested parties. The public had the opportunity to comment on the 
proposed rule for over 4 months. The Act requires listing be based 
solely on the five criteria in section 4(a).
    Issue 16: If the flatwoods salamander is listed, Alabama should be 
omitted from the listed range. The Service can then concentrate 
recovery efforts in States where the species still occurs.
    Response: We will concentrate recovery efforts in States where the 
species still occurs. It is possible, however, that isolated 
populations of the flatwoods salamander may still be extant in Alabama. 
Nevertheless, species may be listed in the States where they have been 
documented to occur historically, regardless of the current 
distribution of the species.
    Issue 17: State BMPs designed to control water quality problems 
with chemical applications are already in place that would protect 
flatwoods salamander breeding ponds.
    Response: Landowners who use State BMPs around existing flatwoods 
salamander breeding ponds will be benefitting the salamander. These 
BMPs do not protect against the conversion of upland sites, however. 
Thus, the use of BMPs does not completely alleviate the threat of 
habitat destruction to the flatwoods salamander.
    Issue 18: The 3.2 km (2 mi) distance used as a basis for 
identifying separate populations of the flatwoods salamander is not 
justified based on the movement data from other ambystomatids. As a 
result, the actual number of populations may be higher than that 
reported by Service.
    Response: The only movement data available for the flatwoods 
salamander indicate the species is capable of moving distances greater 
than 1,700 m (1,859 yd). Historically, the species was most likely 
distributed as metapopulations dispersed throughout available pine 
flatwoods habitat. We believe, based on the best available data on the 
flatwoods salamander, that the use of a 3.2 km (2 mi) distance as a 
basis for identifying separate populations is justified.
    Issue 19: Listing the flatwoods salamander will halt timber sales 
on public lands.
    Response: Section 7(a) of the Act states that Federal agencies have 
a responsibility to conserve endangered and threatened species and use 
their authorities to further the purposes of the Act. On Federal lands 
containing populations of flatwoods salamanders, modifications of some 
timber practices may be needed in the vicinity of known breeding sites 
to further the recovery of the species. However, we consider 
appropriate timber management to be the land use activity most 
compatible with the continued existence of the flatwoods salamander 
(see discussion of section 9 in ``Available Conservation Measures'' 
    Issue 20: The conversion of pine flatwoods habitats to pine 
plantations has been reduced and does not represent a threat to the 
flatwoods salamander. Since future conversion to plantations will be 
minimal, more flatwoods salamander sites will be threatened by 
urbanization and agricultural development.
    Response: Most of the remaining pine flatwoods habitat is in 
private ownership. Many consulting foresters recommend that private 
landowners convert existing pine flatwoods sites to short rotation 
timber management with high stocking rates to maximize short-term 
financial gain. Data compiled through State forest inventories between 
1989 and 1995 indicate that the loss of pine flatwoods through land use 
conversion is still occurring (see discussion in factor A of ``Summary 
of Factors Affecting the Species''). Therefore, we consider conversion 
of existing flatwoods sites to pine plantations to be a continuing 
threat, along with conversion of habitat through urban and agricultural 
    Issue 21: The proposed rule did not provide compelling reasons for 
not designating critical habitat.
    Response: We have determined that designation of critical habitat 
will not provide additional benefit beyond that achieved by the listing 
of the flatwoods salamander (see the ``Critical Habitat'' section). We 
may reevaluate designation of critical habitat at some future time if 
new information becomes available or circumstances change.

Peer Review

    In conformance with our policy on information standards, published 
on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we solicited the expert opinions of 
independent specialists regarding pertinent scientific or commercial 
data and assumptions relating to the supportive biological and 
ecological information for the flatwoods salamander. The purpose of 
such review is to ensure that the listing decision is based on 
scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analyses, including input 
of appropriate experts and specialists.
    Three peer reviewers commented upon the accuracy of the information 
presented within the proposed rule. We asked them to provide any 
relevant scientific data relating to taxonomy, distribution, or to the 

[[Page 15699]]

biological and ecological data used in the analysis of the factors for 
listing. All reviewers expressed their support for Federal listing of 
the flatwoods salamander. We have incorporated their comments into the 
final rule, as appropriate, and summarized their observations below.
    All three reviewers discussed threats to the flatwoods salamander. 
Threats identified included loss of forested pine flatwoods habitat, 
alteration of hydrology of existing pine flatwoods sites, soil 
disturbance, fire suppression, and changes in ground cover that 
resulted in a sparse herbaceous component and a dense weedy shrub 
layer. Based on their field experience with the species, all three 
reviewers expressed the view that the decline of the flatwoods 
salamander was a result of loss of both wetland and forested habitat. 
One reviewer stated that Federal listing of the species was important, 
because at present there is no protection against the loss of the 
flatwoods salamander's habitat.
    One reviewer stated that due to the cyclic nature of breeding in 
many amphibians, caution should be used in interpreting the absence of 
flatwoods salamanders at previously occupied sites. The reviewer felt 
that the status of amphibians, including the flatwoods salamander, 
should be evaluated based on the disappearance of known habitats (see 
discussion of habitat loss under factor A in ``Summary of Factors 
Affecting the Species'' section).
    The reviewers discussed specific impacts to the flatwoods 
salamander. One reviewer, experienced with the species and its habitat 
in several States, described quality sites as fire-maintained, open, 
mature longleaf pine woodland with a well developed and diverse 
herbaceous ground cover. When these conditions were found, flatwoods 
salamanders could be abundant. On the other hand, when flatwoods sites 
were ditched and/or drained and converted to even-aged slash pine 
plantations with a sparse herbaceous component, flatwoods salamanders 
were rarely found. Another of the reviewers also agreed that hydrologic 
changes and heavy soil disturbance were a problem for the species. This 
reviewer pointed to drainage of habitat types as a threat to the 
species that probably reduces overall activities including feeding. He 
also stated that direct mechanical impact to upper soil layers likely 
destroys the burrow complexes required by this fossorial species.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    After a thorough review and consideration of all information 
available, we determine that the flatwoods salamander should be 
classified as a threatened species. We followed procedures found at 
section 4(a)(1) of the Act and regulations (50 CFR part 424) 
implementing the listing provisions of the Act. A species may be 
determined to be an endangered or threatened species due to one or more 
of the five factors described in section 4(a)(1). These factors and 
their application to the flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum 
Cope) are as follows:

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Its Habitat or Range

    The major threat to the flatwoods salamander is loss of both its 
longleaf pine/slash pine flatwoods terrestrial habitat and its 
isolated, seasonally ponded breeding habitat. The combined pine 
flatwoods (longleaf pine-wiregrass flatwoods and slash pine flatwoods) 
historical acreage was approximately 12.8 million ha (32 million ac) 
(Wolfe et al. 1988, Outcalt 1997). Today, the combined flatwoods 
acreage has been reduced to 2.3 million ha (5.6 million ac) or 
approximately 18 percent of its original extent. These remaining pine 
flatwoods (non-plantation forests) are typically fragmented, degraded, 
second-growth forests.
    Land use conversions, primarily urban development and conversion to 
agriculture and pine plantations, eliminated large acreages of pine 
flatwoods (Schultz 1983, Stout and Marion 1993, Outcalt and Sheffield 
1996, Outcalt 1997). Surveys of historical flatwoods salamander 
localities documented the destruction of nine sites from urban 
development or agriculture and loss of three additional sites due to 
their conversion to pine plantations. State forest inventories 
completed between 1989 and 1995 indicate that flatwoods losses through 
land use conversion are still occurring (Outcalt 1997). In Florida and 
Georgia, the States where flatwoods habitat is concentrated and where 
most flatwoods salamander populations occur, 52,600 ha (130,000 ac) 
were lost to urban and agricultural use during the survey cycle of 8 
years (Outcalt 1997). Conversion of existing pine flatwoods second-
growth forests to managed plantations is also continuing. In Georgia 
and Florida, there was a yearly loss of this habitat to pine 
plantations of nearly 20,200 ha (50,000 ac) in each State with a loss 
of 24 percent and 20 percent, respectively, during the 8-year survey 
interval (Outcalt 1997). Most of the remaining second-growth pine 
flatwoods (56 percent) occur on private non-industrial lands (Outcalt 
1997). Many of these sites are converted after harvest to intensive 
management regimes (i.e., heavy mechanical site preparation, high 
stocking rates) similar to pine plantations. Urban development is 
expanding into forested areas, especially in rapidly developing areas 
of Florida and Georgia. If present rates of loss continue, in 25 years 
nearly all natural pine flatwoods stands could be destroyed in these 
two States (Outcalt 1997).
    Flatwoods salamander wetland breeding sites have also been degraded 
and destroyed. Alterations in hydrology, agricultural and urban 
development, silvicultural practices (described in more detail below), 
dumping in or filling of ponds, conversion of wetlands to fish ponds, 
domestic animal grazing, and soil disturbance reduced the number and 
diversity of these small wetlands (Vickers et al. 1985, Ashton 1992). 
Hydrological alterations represent the primary threat to flatwoods 
salamander breeding sites. Size and suitability of wetlands as breeding 
sites depend on subsoil moisture, the permeability of the hardpan, the 
pond's drainage area, and other factors. Alterations to any of these 
factors can affect the pond's ability to hold water and function as a 
breeding site.
    Forest management strategies commonly used on pine plantations 
contribute to degradation of flatwoods salamander forested and wetland 
habitat. These include soil-disturbing site preparation techniques, 
lowered fire frequencies and reductions in average area burned per fire 
event (see factor E), high seedling stocking rates, and herbicide use, 
which may reduce plant diversity in the understory. The result of these 
strategies is a forest that approaches even-age structure, has a dense 
understory, and low herbaceous cover. Forestry practices that directly 
affect wetland breeding sites include ditching ponds or low areas to 
drain water from a site, converting second-growth pine forests to 
bedded pine plantations, harvesting cypress from the ponds, disposing 
of slash in wetlands during timber operations, using ponds as part of 
ditched fire breaks, using fertilizers near wetlands which can result 
in eutrophication (water enriched in nutrients), and disturbing the 
soil at a wetland (Vickers et al. 1985; Ashton 1992; Means et al. 1996; 
Palis, 1997b).

[[Page 15700]]

    Clear-cut harvesting of forested sites appears to be an additional 
threat. Studies have demonstrated negative short-term impacts on the 
density of local amphibian populations as a result of clear-cuts 
(deMaynadier and Hunter 1995), although amphibian species composition 
and richness may be unchanged (Enge and Marion 1986, Dominigue-O'Neill 
1995). The decrease in density of some species of amphibians may be the 
result of alterations in hydroperiods, decreased relative humidity, and 
disturbance of plant litter, stumps, and fallen logs used as refugia 
(Enge and Marion 1986). Amphibians, especially salamanders, are 
vulnerable to habitat drying and reduction of refugia because their 
moist permeable skin acts as a respiratory organ and must remain moist 
to function properly (Duellman and Trueb 1986). Raymond and Hardy 
(1991) monitored the mole salamander (A. talpodieum) at a breeding site 
adjacent to a recent clear-cut. They found that salamanders were 
displaced from the cut side of the pond and that there was lowered 
survivorship in individuals of the breeding population that immigrated 
to the breeding pond from the clear-cut.
    Means et al. 1996, implicated silvicultural practices affecting 
both upland and breeding habitats in the decline of a flatwoods 
salamander population monitored for over 20 years in the panhandle of 
western Florida. They attributed the decline at this site to habitat 
modifications resulting from clear-cutting, conversion of the site to a 
pine plantation, and fire suppression. Habitat modifications included 
soil disturbance, hydrologic changes, canopy closure, and loss of 
herbaceous ground cover.
    Due to the cyclic nature of breeding in many amphibians, an 
analysis of habitat quality is important in providing information to be 
used in interpreting absence of a species from a site. LaClaire (1997) 
collected data on habitat quality from recent surveys of historical 
sites where flatwoods salamanders were not relocated (85 of 97, or 88 
percent). Data combined aspects of both wetland and upland habitat 
attributes at each site. Habitat quality was characterized as none 
(site destroyed), low (flatwoods salamanders unlikely), moderate 
(salamanders possible but habitat degraded), or high (habitat appears 
suitable for flatwoods salamanders). Fifty-three of the unoccupied 
historical sites (53 of 85, or 62 percent) had been destroyed or were 
of low or moderate habitat quality. Contributing factors in the loss of 
habitat suitability included conversion of sites to agriculture, home 
sites, pastures, and highways. Conversion of sites to slash pine 
plantations was also an important factor in the loss of habitat 
suitability (L. LaClaire pers. obs. 1997).
    In Florida, Palis (1997b) characterized habitat quality surrounding 
historical flatwoods salamander breeding ponds, where the species has 
been found in recent surveys. Each site was assigned a score based on 
pine species dominance and disturbance (second-growth flatwoods versus 
plantation sites) and the relative abundance of wiregrass (Aristida 
sp.) ground cover. Wiregrass was chosen as a factor of habitat quality 
because its loss has been used as an indicator of site degradation from 
fire suppression and/or soil disturbance (Clewell 1989). In Palis' 
study, approximately 70 percent of the active breeding sites were 
surrounded by second-growth longleaf or slash pine flatwoods with 
nearly undisturbed wiregrass ground cover. In general, Palis found that 
the extant populations of the flatwoods salamander principally occurred 
on forest lands managed for long rotation, saw-timber production, 
rather than on short rotation pine plantations managed for pulp 
    Road construction plays a part in habitat degradation and 
destruction. At least one historical flatwoods breeding site has been 
filled in association with the construction of a road (Palis 1993). 
Roads increase the accessibility of breeding ponds to off-road vehicle 
enthusiasts that use pond basins for ``mud bogging,'' which disturbs 
the soil and vegetation and degrades the quality of a site for 
flatwoods salamander breeding. Roads may also alter the quality of 
isolated wetlands by draining, damming, or redirecting the water in a 
basin and contributing hydrocarbons and other chemical pollutants via 
runoff and sedimentation.
    A number of habitat degradation factors are implicated in the 
decline of one South Carolina flatwoods salamander population monitored 
for over 20 years (Moulis 1987, Bennett pers. comm. 1997). The site is 
bisected by a road that flatwoods salamanders have to cross to reach 
their breeding site. Much of the upland area, in which the salamanders 
dwell as adults, has undergone urban development (Bennett pers. comm. 
1997). In addition, fire suppression has resulted in the loss of the 
open, grassy pond edge associated with quality breeding sites. Habitat 
quality at this site has degraded to the point where successful 
reproduction and recruitment are infrequent and the population is at 
risk (LaClaire pers. obs. 1995).
    Extensive surveys have been conducted over the past 8 years in 
Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Mississippi to search 
for flatwoods salamanders at historical localities and at other 
potential sites. The low level of success of these surveys is believed 
to be a reflection of both the loss of upland and isolated wetland 
breeding habitat and the reduction in the quality of the remaining 

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Overcollecting for scientific purposes may have contributed to the 
decline of a South Carolina population, which was impacted also by 
habitat degradation. Between 1970 and 1976, a minimum of 84 adults and 
870 larvae were collected in this area (Savannah Science Museum 
collection records). Only two flatwoods salamanders have been captured 
at this locality since 1990, in spite of annual monitoring.
    Overcollecting does not presently appear to be a significant threat 
to the species; however, it may become a problem if the specific 
breeding locations become available to the general public. The rarity, 
uniqueness, and attractiveness of the species make the flatwoods 
salamander a candidate for the pet trade, should it become easy to 
    At some sites, Palis (1996) found that the harvest of crayfish for 
bait was associated with the killing of larval flatwoods salamanders. 
However, while this practice has caused the loss of some individuals, 
it is not currently thought to be a significant threat to the species 
as a whole.

C. Disease or Predation

    Disease is currently unknown in the flatwoods salamander.
    Exposure to increased predation from fish is a potential threat to 
the flatwoods salamander when isolated, seasonally ponded breeding 
sites are converted to more permanent wetlands inhabited by fish. Ponds 
may be modified specifically to serve as fish ponds or sites may be 
altered due to the construction of drainage ditches or firebreaks, 
which provide avenues for fish to enter the wetlands. Studies of other 
ambystomatid species have demonstrated a decline in larval survival in 
the presence of predatory fish (Semlitsch 1987, 1988). Ashton (in litt. 
1998) witnessed predation on ornate chorus frogs (Pseudacris ornata) by 
fire ants and stated that fire ants may pose a threat to the flatwoods 

[[Page 15701]]

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    Regulatory mechanisms currently in effect do not provide adequate 
protection for the flatwoods salamander and its habitat. There are no 
existing regulatory mechanisms for the protection of the upland 
habitats where flatwoods salamanders spend most of their lives. Section 
404 of the Clean Water Act is the primary Federal law that has the 
potential to provide some protection for the wetland breeding sites of 
the flatwoods salamander. Under section 404, nationwide permit 26 
allows these wetlands to be filled with no review process if wetlands 
are less than 0.13 ha (1/3 ac), and with only minimal review if they 
are between 0.13 ha and 1.2 ha (3 ac) in size.
    Some populations on Federal lands have benefitted where prescribed 
burning has been used as a regular management tool. However, multiple 
use priorities on public lands, such as timber production, and military 
and recreational use, make protection of the flatwoods salamander 
secondary. The National Environmental Policy Act requires an intensive 
environmental review of projects that may adversely affect a federally 
listed species, but project proponents are not required to avoid 
impacts to non-listed species.
    At the State and local levels, regulatory mechanisms are also 
limited. The flatwoods salamander is listed as a rare protected species 
in the State of Georgia (Seyle 1994). This designation protects the 
species by prohibiting actions that cause direct mortality or the 
destruction of its habitat on lands owned by the State of Georgia and 
by preventing its sale, purchase, or possession (Jensen pers. comm. 
1997). At present, there is only one known flatwoods salamander 
population on lands owned by the State of Georgia. In South Carolina, 
the flatwoods salamander is listed as endangered (Bennett 1995). 
Prohibitions extend only to the direct take of the flatwoods salamander 
(Bennett pers. comm. 1997). These regulations offer no protection 
against the most significant threat to the flatwoods salamander, which 
is loss of its habitat. The flatwoods salamander is considered rare in 
Florida by the Florida Committee on Rare and Endangered Plants and 
Animals (Ashton 1992); however, there are no protective regulations for 
this species or its habitat in the State (Moler 1990).

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    Fire is needed to maintain the natural pine flatwoods community. 
Ecologists consider fire suppression the primary reason for the 
degradation of remaining longleaf pine forest acreage. Wolfe et al. 
(1988) reported that pine flatwoods naturally burn every 3 to 4 years, 
probably most commonly in the summer months. Sampling of longleaf pine 
flatwoods sites in Florida indicated that less than 30 percent of sites 
on private lands received prescribed burning to mimic the effects of 
natural fire (Outcalt 1997). The disruption of the natural fire cycle 
has resulted in an increase in slash pine on sites formerly dominated 
by longleaf pine, an increase in hardwood understory, and a decrease in 
herbaceous ground cover (Wolfe et al. 1988; Means pers. comm. 1995). 
Ponds surrounded by pine plantations and protected from the natural 
fire regime become unsuitable flatwoods salamander breeding sites, due 
to canopy closure and the resultant reduction in emergent herbaceous 
vegetation needed for egg deposition and larval development sites 
(Palis 1993). Of the 13 historical flatwoods salamander localities 
altered to the point where the habitat was no longer suitable, fire 
suppression was a contributing factor in at least 5 (38 percent). 
Current forest management is moving away from burning as a management 
tool due to liability considerations and concerns that fire will damage 
the quality of the timber.
    Habitat fragmentation of the longleaf pine ecosystem, resulting 
from habitat conversion, threatens the survival of the remaining 
flatwoods salamander populations. Fifty-one populations occur across 
four States. Fifty-five percent (28 of 51) of these populations are 
widely separated from each other by unsuitable habitat. Research 
conducted in Florida documented that 25 percent of remaining longleaf 
pine flatwoods sites were isolated fragments imbedded in agricultural 
and urban-dominated landscapes (Outcalt 1997). Studies have shown that 
the loss of small fragmented populations is common, and recolonization 
is critical for their regional survival (Fahrig and Merriam 1994, 
Burkey 1995). As patches of available habitat become separated beyond 
the dispersal range of a species, populations are more sensitive to 
genetic, demographic, and environmental variability and may be unable 
to recover (Gilpin 1987, Sjogren 1991). Amphibian populations may be 
unable to recolonize areas after local extinctions due to their 
physiological constraints, relatively low mobility, and site fidelity 
(Blaustein et al. 1994).
    Roads contribute to habitat fragmentation by isolating blocks of 
remaining contiguous habitat. They may disrupt migration routes and 
dispersal of individuals to and from breeding sites. In addition, 
vehicles may also kill flatwoods salamanders when they are attempting 
to cross roads (Means 1996a).
    Pesticides and herbicides may pose a threat to amphibians such as 
the flatwoods salamander, because their permeable eggs and skin readily 
absorb substances from the surrounding aquatic or terrestrial 
environment (Duellman and Trueb 1986). In frogs, use of agricultural 
pesticides has resulted in lower survival rates, deformities, and 
lethal effects on tadpoles (Sanders 1970, FROGLOG 1993). Other negative 
effects of commonly used pesticides and herbicides on amphibians 
include delayed metamorphosis, paralysis, reduced growth rates, and 
mortality (Bishop 1992). Herbicides may also alter the density and 
species composition of vegetation surrounding a breeding site and 
reduce the number of potential sites for egg deposition, larval 
development, or shelter for migrating salamanders.
    Long-lasting droughts or frequent floods may affect local flatwoods 
salamander populations. Although these are natural processes, other 
threats, such as habitat fragmentation and habitat degradation, may 
stress a population to the point that it cannot recover or recolonize 
other sites.
    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
faced by this species in determining to make this rule final. Based on 
this evaluation, the preferred action is to list the flatwoods 
salamander as threatened. Activities associated with conversion of 
forests to agriculture and urban development, silvicultural practices, 
and the disruption of natural fire cycles have contributed to 
significantly reducing the range and habitat of this species. Remaining 
populations are vulnerable as suitable habitat continues to be lost or 
degraded by these activities. While not in immediate danger of 
extinction, the flatwoods salamander is likely to become an endangered 
species in the foreseeable future if the present trend continues.

Critical Habitat

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as: (i) The 
specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species, at 
the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found 
those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation 
of the species and (II) that may require special management 
consideration or protection; and (ii) specific areas

[[Page 15702]]

outside the geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is 
listed, upon a determination that such areas are essential for the 
conservation of the species. ``Conservation'' means the use of all 
methods and procedures needed to bring the species to the point at 
which listing under the Act is no longer necessary.
    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12) require that, to the maximum extent prudent 
and determinable, the Secretary designate critical habitat at the time 
the species is determined to be endangered or threatened. Our 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)) state that designation of critical 
habitat is not prudent when one or both of the following situations 
exist: (i) The species is threatened by taking or other activity and 
the identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the 
degree of threat to the species or (ii) Such designation of critical 
habitat would not be beneficial to the species. We find that 
designation of critical habitat is not prudent for the flatwoods 
    Critical habitat designation, by definition, directly affects only 
Federal agency actions. Activities that might affect the flatwoods 
salamander on Federal lands include forestry management, military 
activities, and Federal actions that would impact the hydrology of the 
wetlands used by the flatwoods salamander for reproduction. Such 
activities would be subject to review under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, 
whether or not critical habitat was designated.
    Section 7(a)(2) requires Federal agencies to ensure that activities 
they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of a listed species or to destroy or adversely 
modify its critical habitat. Common to definitions of the ``jeopardy'' 
and ``adverse modification'' standards is an appreciable detrimental 
effect on both survival and recovery of the species. We believe that 
any significant adverse modification or destruction of flatwoods 
salamander habitat, to the extent that survival and recovery are 
appreciably diminished, would likely jeopardize this species' continued 
existence. Therefore, habitat protection from Federal actions can be 
accomplished for the flatwoods salamander through application of the 
section 7 jeopardy standard. We are currently working with the 
appropriate Federal land managing agencies to identify, protect, and 
manage flatwoods salamander habitat.
    Federal permit issuance on private lands would also be subject to 
review; however, the primary activities affecting habitat for the 
flatwoods salamander on private lands are silvicultural, and are not 
subject to the Federal review process under section 7. However, 
activities that may result in a taking of the flatwoods salamander that 
are not already authorized by a Federal agency under section 7, do 
require authorization under section 10 of the Act. Section 10(a)(1)(B) 
authorizes us to issue permits for take of listed species incidental to 
otherwise lawful activities such as agriculture, foresty, and urban 
development. A habitat conservation plan that is submitted by the 
applicant as part of the permit application would identify measures to 
be taken to conserve the species. We must also ensure, under section 7 
of the Act, that the issuance of an incidental permit will not 
jeopardize the continued existence of the listed species. Thus, habitat 
protection on private lands may be accomplished through section 10 of 
the Act.
    On private lands, industrial timber landowners are cooperating with 
us to conduct surveys for the flatwoods salamander and to develop 
management strategies to protect its habitat. We will continue to 
coordinate with State and Federal agencies, as well as private property 
owners and other affected parties through the recovery process to 
manage habitat for the flatwoods salamander.
    We believe that any potential benefits to critical habitat 
designation are outweighed by additional threats to the species that 
would result from such designation. Collecting for scientific and 
recreational purposes is a potential threat to the survival of the 
flatwoods salamander (see factor B in the ``Summary of Factors 
Affecting the Species'' section). Flatwoods salamanders are a rare and 
attractive species, and these characteristics make them potentially 
valuable in the pet trade. The collection of amphibians and reptiles 
for the pet trade has increased in recent years. For example, all box 
turtles have been placed on Appendix II of the Convention on 
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora due 
to the increased commercialization of these species. Collection of 
amphibians and reptiles for personal use and the pet trade is common in 
the vicinity of the most viable flatwoods salamander populations (K. 
Enge, Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, pers. comm. 1997). 
Permits are required for commercial collecting; however, collection 
regulations are difficult to monitor and enforce. Flatwoods salamanders 
concentrate for breeding and reproduction around breeding ponds, where 
they are most vulnerable to collecting. Publication of specific 
localities of breeding ponds would be required in the critical habitat 
designation process in order to obtain the notification benefit 
provided by such designation. The publication of breeding pond sites 
would increase the flatwoods salamander's level of vulnerability to 
illegal collecting.
    Based on the above analysis, we conclude that critical habitat 
designation would provide little additional benefit for the flatwoods 
salamander, beyond that which would result from listing under the Act. 
We also conclude that an increased level of vulnerability to collecting 
would offset any potential benefit from such a designation.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
activities. Recognition through listing results in public awareness and 
conservation actions by Federal, State, and local agencies, private 
organizations, and individuals. The Act provides for possible land 
acquisition and cooperation with the States and requires that recovery 
actions be carried out for all listed species. The protection required 
of Federal agencies and the prohibitions against taking and harm are 
discussed, in part, below.
    Section 7(a) of the Act, as amended, requires Federal agencies to 
evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is listed as 
endangered or threatened and with respect to its critical habitat, if 
any is designated. Regulations implementing this interagency 
cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR part 402. 
Section 7(a)(4) requires Federal agencies to confer informally with us 
on any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a 
proposed species or result in destruction or adverse modification of 
proposed critical habitat. If a species is subsequently listed, section 
7(a)(2) requires Federal agencies to ensure that activities they 
authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of the species or destroy or adversely modify its 
critical habitat. If a Federal action may affect a listed species or 
its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency must enter into 
formal consultation with us.
    The flatwoods salamander occurs on Federal lands administered by 

[[Page 15703]]

Department of Defense, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest 
Service. These land management agencies would be required to evaluate 
the potential adverse impacts to the flatwoods salamander from their 
activities. Federal activities that could affect the flatwoods 
salamander through destruction or modification of suitable habitat 
include, but are not limited to, forest management, military 
operations, and road construction. Other Federal agencies that may be 
involved in authorizing, funding, or permitting activities that may 
affect the flatwoods salamander include the Army Corps of Engineers, 
due to their review of dredge and fill of isolated wetlands under 
section 404 of the Clean Water Act, nationwide permit 26; the Federal 
Energy Regulatory Commission, due to their oversight of gas pipeline 
and power line rights-of-way; and the Federal Highway Administration, 
when Federal funds are involved in road construction. We have resolved 
nearly all section 7 consultations to protect the species and meet the 
project objectives.
    The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to all threatened 
wildlife. The prohibitions, codified at 50 CFR 17.31 for threatened 
wildlife, in part, make it illegal for any person subject to the 
jurisdiction of the United States to take (includes harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect; or to 
attempt any of these), import, export, ship in interstate commerce in 
the course of commercial activity, or sell or offer for sale in 
interstate or foreign commerce any listed species. It is also illegal 
to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife 
that has been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to agents of 
the Service and State conservation agencies.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving threatened wildlife species under certain circumstances. 
Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.32 for 
threatened species. You may obtain permits for scientific purposes, to 
enhance the propagation or survival of the species, and/or for 
incidental take in connection with otherwise lawful activities. For 
threatened species, you may also obtain permits for zoological 
exhibition, educational purposes, or special purposes consistent with 
the purposes of the Act.
    It is our policy, published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 
(59 FR 34272), to identify, to the maximum extent practicable at the 
time a species is listed, those activities that are or are not likely 
to constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this 
policy is to increase public awareness of the effects of the listing on 
proposed and ongoing activities within a species' range. We believe 
that, based upon the best available information, the following actions 
are not likely to result in a violation of section 9, provided these 
activities are carried out in accordance with existing regulations and 
permit requirements:
    (1) Possession of legally acquired flatwoods salamanders;
    (2) Lawful hunting activities;
    (3) Lawful burning of habitat where the flatwoods salamander is 
known to occur, including winter burning;
    (4) Federally approved projects that involve activities such as 
discharge of fill material, draining, ditching, tiling, bedding, 
diversion or alteration of surface or ground water flow into or out of 
a wetland (i.e., due to roads, impoundments, discharge pipes, etc.), 
when you conduct the activity in accordance with any reasonable and 
prudent measures given by the Service in accordance with section 7 of 
the Act;
    (5) Conversion of pine flatwoods habitat where the flatwoods 
salamander does not occur;
    (6) Timber harvesting in pine flatwoods habitat within a 450-m 
(1,476-ft) radius buffer zone surrounding a known flatwoods salamander 
breeding pond, in accordance with the following guidelines:
    (a) Use selective harvest, only during dry periods and at a minimum 
of 10-year intervals, within an inner primary zone extending 164 m (538 
ft) out from the edge of the breeding pond. Maintain a basal area of 
4.2 to 4.7 square meters (sq m) per ha (45 to 50 square feet (sq ft) 
per ac) in the primary zone.
    (b) Use a mix of clear-cutting and selective harvest, only during 
dry periods and at a minimum of 10-year intervals, in an outer 
secondary zone extending from 164 m (538 ft) to 450 m (1,476 ft) out 
from the edge of the breeding pond. Clear-cut up to 25 percent of this 
secondary zone at any given time, as long as you maintain 75 percent of 
the secondary zone in pine flatwoods habitat at a basal area of 4.2 to 
4.7 sq m per ha (45 to 50 sq ft per ac). Do not separate the primary 
and secondary zone from each other by cleared or inappropriate habitat 
(e.g., non-pine flatwoods habitat such as agriculture, urban 
development or other forest types).
    (c) Minimize skid trails and their effects through the use of 
prescription planning and techniques such as pallets and bridges. 
Locate skid trails parallel to, rather than perpendicular to, the 
wetland edge to reduce alterations in wetland hydrology. Locate all log 
landings outside the primary and secondary zones.
    (d) Keep soil disturbance to a minimum. Do not conduct intensive 
mechanical site preparation (i.e., root-raking, discing, stumping, 
bedding) or any other actions that cause significant soil disturbance.
    (e) Prescribed fire should be the preferred method for site 
preparation and control of woody vegetation. Limit herbicide use to 
manual application, following BMPs, when fire cannot be employed.
    (7) Timber harvesting (including clear-cutting) in pine flatwoods 
habitat where the flatwoods salamander does not occur or outside the 
450-m (1,476-ft) buffer zone described above; and
    (8) Bait harvesting for crayfish in ephemeral ponds.
    We believe the following activities would be likely to result in a 
violation of section 9; however, possible violations are not limited to 
these actions alone:
    (1) Unauthorized collecting, handling, or harassing of individual 
flatwoods salamanders;
    (2) Possessing, selling, transporting, or shipping illegally taken 
flatwoods salamanders;
    (3) Unauthorized destruction or alteration of wetlands used as 
breeding sites by flatwoods salamanders. These actions would include 
discharge of fill material, draining, ditching, tiling, bedding, clear-
cutting within the wetland, diversion or alteration of surface or 
ground water flow into or out of a wetland (i.e., due to roads, 
impoundments, discharge pipes, etc.), and operation of any vehicles 
within the wetland;
    (4) Discharge or dumping of toxic chemicals, silt, or other 
pollutants (i.e., sewage, oil, and gasoline) into isolated wetlands or 
upland habitats supporting the species; and
    (5) Unlawful destruction or alteration of suitable pine flatwoods 
habitat within a 450-m (1,476-ft) radius surrounding a known flatwoods 
salamander breeding pond. These actions would include, but are not 
limited to, conversion of habitat to agricultural or urban use, or 
ditching and draining a site.
    (6) Use of pesticides or herbicides in violation of label 
    We will review other activities not identified above on a case-by-
case basis to determine whether they may be likely to result in a 
violation of section 9 of the Act. We do not consider these lists to be

[[Page 15704]]

exhaustive and provide them as information to the public.
    You should direct questions regarding whether specific activities 
may constitute a future violation of section 9 to the Field Supervisor 
of the Service's Jackson Field Office (see ADDRESSES section). You may 
request copies of the regulations regarding listed wildlife from and 
address questions about prohibitions and permits to the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 
30345, or telephone 404/679-7313; facsimile 404/679-7081.
    Section 10(a)(1)(B) authorizes us to issue permits for the taking 
of listed species incidental to otherwise lawful activities such as 
agriculture, forestry, and urban development. A habitat conservation 
plan (HCP) identifying conservation measures that the permittee agrees 
to implement to conserve the species, is a requirement to obtaining 
this permit. A key element of our review of a HCP is a determination of 
the plan's effect upon the long-term conservation of the species. We 
would approve a HCP and issue a section 10(a)(1)(B) permit if the plan 
provides for minimization and mitigation of the impacts of the taking 
and for not appreciably reducing the likelihood of the survival and 
recovery of that species in the wild.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that we do not need to prepare an Environmental 
Assessment, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969, in connection with regulations 
adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the Act. A notice outlining our 
reasons for this determination was published in the Federal Register on 
October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This rule does not contain any new collections of information other 
than those already approved under the Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 
U.S.C. 3501 et seq., and assigned Office of Management and Budget 
clearance number 1018-0094. An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a 
person is not required to respond to a collection of information, 
unless it displays a currently valid control number. For additional 
information concerning permit and associated requirements for 
threatened species, see 50 CFR 17.32.

References Cited

    You may request a complete list of all references cited herein, as 
well as others, from the Jackson Field Office (see ADDRESSES section).


    The primary author of this final rule is Linda V. LaClaire, Jackson 
Field Office (see ADDRESSES section) (601/965-4900, ext. 26).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 
of the Code of Federal Regulations, as follows:


    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500, unless otherwise noted.

    2. Amend section 17.11(h) by adding the following, in alphabetical 
order under AMPHIBIANS, to the List of Endangered and Threatened 

Sec. 17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *
Salamander, flatwoods............  Ambystoma cingulatum  U.S.A. (AL,          Entire.............  T                       658           NA           NA

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

    Dated: March 18, 1999.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 99-7942 Filed 3-31-99; 8:45 am]