[Federal Register: February 1, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 20)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 5123-5128]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on 
a Petition To List a Karst Meshweaver, Cicurina cueva, as an Endangered 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status 


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding on a petition to list a karst meshweaver (spider), 
Cicurina cueva (no common name), under the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (Act) with critical habitat. We find that the petition 
presented substantial scientific and commercial data indicating that 
listing Cicurina cueva may be warranted. Therefore, we are initiating a 
status review to determine if listing the species is warranted. To 
ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting 
scientific and commercial information regarding this species.

DATES: The administrative finding announced in this document was made 
on January 26, 2005. To be considered in the 12-month finding for this 
petition, comments and information should be submitted to us by May 15, 

ADDRESSES: Data, information, comments, or questions concerning this 
petition and our finding should be submitted to the Field Supervisor, 
Austin Ecological Services Office, 10711 Burnet Rd., Suite 200, Austin, 
Texas, 78758. The petition, supporting data, and comments will be 
available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business 
hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert Pine, Supervisor, Austin 
Ecological Services Field Office (telephone 512-490-0057 and facsimile 


Public Information Solicited

    When we make a finding that substantial information exists to 
indicate that listing a species may be warranted, we are required to 
promptly commence a review of the status of the species. To ensure that 
the status review is complete and based on the best available 
scientific and commercial data, we are soliciting information on 
Cicurina cueva. We request any additional information, comments, and 
suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, the 
scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties 
concerning the status of Cicurina cueva. We are seeking information 
regarding the species' historic and current status and distribution, 
biology and ecology, ongoing conservation measures for the species and 
its habitat, and threats to the species and its habitat.
    If you wish to comment or provide information, you may submit your 
comments and materials concerning this finding to the Field Supervisor 
(see ADDRESSES section above). Our practice is to make comments and 
materials provided, including names and home addresses of respondents, 
available for public review during regular business hours. Respondents 
may request that we withhold a respondent's identity, to the extent 
allowable by law. If you wish us to withhold your name or address, you 
must state this request prominently at the beginning of your 
submission. However, we will not consider anonymous comments. To the 
extent consistent with applicable law, we will make all submissions 
from organizations or businesses, and from individuals identifying 
themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or 
businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety. Comments 
and materials received will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.


    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) (Act), requires that we make a finding 
on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial data indicating that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. We are to base this finding on all 
information available to us at the time we make the finding. To the 
maximum extent practicable, we are to make this finding within 90 days 
of our receipt of the petition, and publish our notice of this finding 
promptly in the Federal Register.
    Our standard for substantial information within the Code of Federal 
Regulations (CFR) with regard to a 90-day petition finding is ``that 
amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe 
that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted'' (50 CFR 
424.14(b)). If we find that substantial information was presented, we 
are required to promptly commence a review of the status of the 
species, if one has not already been initiated, under our internal 
candidate assessment process.
    In making this finding, we relied on information provided by the 
petitioners and evaluated that information in accordance with 50 CFR 
424.14(b). This finding summarizes information included in the petition 
and information available to us at the time of the petition review. Our 
process of coming to a 90-day finding under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the 
Act and Sec.  424.14(b) of our regulations is limited to a 
determination of whether the information in the petition meets the 
``substantial information'' threshold.
    We do not conduct additional research at this point, nor do we 
subject the petition to rigorous critical review. Rather, as the Act 
and regulations direct, in coming to a 90-day finding, we accept the 
petitioner's sources and characterizations of the information unless we 
have specific information to the contrary.
    Our finding considers whether the petition states a reasonable case 
for listing on its face. Thus, our finding expresses no view as to the 
ultimate issue of whether the species should be listed. We reach a 
conclusion on that issue only after a more thorough review of the 
species' status. In that review, which will take approximately 9 more 
months, we will perform a rigorous, critical analysis of the best 
available scientific and commercial data, not just the information in 
the petition. We will ensure that the data used to make our 
determination as to the status of the species is consistent with the 
Act and Information Quality Act.
    On July 8, 2003, we received a petition requesting that we list 
Cicurina cueva (no common name) as an endangered species with critical 
habitat. The petition, submitted by the Save Our Springs Alliance 
(SOSA), Save Barton Creek Association, and Austin Regional Group of the 
Sierra Club, was clearly identified as a petition for a rule, and 
contained the names, signatures, and addresses of people representing 
the requesting parties. Included in the petition was supporting 

[[Page 5124]]

regarding the species' taxonomy and ecology, historic and current 
distribution, present status, and potential causes of decline. We 
acknowledged the receipt of the petition in a letter to Mr. Colin Clark 
and Dr. Mark Kirkpatrick, dated September 22, 2003. In this letter, we 
also advised the petitioners that because of staff and budget 
limitations, we had developed a Listing Priority Guidance document that 
was published in the Federal Register on October 22, 1999 (64 FR 
57114). In that guidance, processing of petitions is classified as a 
``Priority 4'' activity, behind emergency listing (Priority 1), 
processing final decisions on proposed listing (Priority 2), and 
resolving the status of candidate species (Priority 3). We also stated 
in that letter that we did not have funds available to process a 
petition finding for Cicurina cueva.
    On December 22, 2003, SOSA sent us a Notice of Intent to sue for 
violating the Act by failing to make a timely 90-day finding on the 
petition to list Cicurina cueva. On May 25, 2004, SOSA filed a 
complaint against the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service for failure to make a 90-day petition finding under 
section 4 of the Act for Cicurina cueva. In our response to Plaintiff's 
motion for summary judgment on October 15, 2004, we informed the court 
that, based on current funding and workload projections, we believed 
that we could complete a 90-day finding by January 20, 2005, and if we 
determined that the 90-day finding was that the petition provided 
substantial scientific and commercial data, we could make a 12-month 
warranted or not warranted finding by December 8, 2005. This notice 
constitutes our 90-day finding on whether the petition provided 
substantial information indicating that listing Cicurina cueva may be 

Species Information

    Cicurina cueva is a member of the family Dictynidae, and a member 
of the subgenus Cicurella that was first described by Gertsch (1992). 
Members of this subgenus are mostly small forms derived from eight-eyed 
spiders that are progressively losing or have lost their eyes (Gertsch 
1992). The majority of the eyeless Cicurina are known only from the 
Edwards Plateau region in central Texas and are obligate karst-dwelling 
species referred to as troglobites. Troglobites are animals restricted 
to the subterranean environment and which typically exhibit 
morphological adaptations to their cave environments, such as elongated 
appendages and loss or reduction of eyes and pigment (Veni 1995).
    Gertsch (1992) described Cicurina cueva using adult female 
specimens collected from Cave X, Travis County, Texas, in 1962 by Bell 
and Woolsey. Adults are 5.4 millimeters (mm) (0.2 inches (in.)) long 
and unpigmented. Positive identification of this species currently 
requires examination of adult female specimens, which are 
distinguishable from other adult female eyeless Cicurina spiders by 
their reproductive organs (Gertsch 1992).
    This eyeless, troglobitic spider is believed to only inhabit caves 
or other geological features in rocks known as karst. Troglobites are 
species that are restricted to the subterranean environment and which 
usually exhibit morphological adaptations to that environment, for 
example elongated appendages and loss or reduction of eyes and pigment. 
The term ``karst'' refers to a type of terrain that is formed by the 
slow dissolution of calcium carbonate from limestone bedrock by mildly 
acidic groundwater. This process creates numerous cave openings, 
cracks, fissures, fractures, and sinkholes, and the bedrock resembles a 
    The primary habitat requirements of troglobitic invertebrate 
species, such as Cicurina cueva include: (1) Subterranean spaces in 
karst rocks with stable temperatures, high humidity (near saturation), 
and suitable substrates (for example, spaces between and underneath 
rocks suitable for foraging and sheltering) (Barr 1968; Mitchell 
1971a); and (2) a healthy surface community of native plants and 
animals that provide nutrient input and, in the case of native plants, 
act to buffer the karst ecosystem from adverse effects (for example, 
invasions of nonnative species, contaminants, and fluctuations in 
temperature and humidity) (Biological Advisory Team 1990; Veni 1988; 
Elliott 1994a; Helf, in litt. 2002; and Porter et al. 1988).
    Troglobites require stable temperatures and constant, high humidity 
(Barr 1968; Mitchell 1971) because they are vulnerable to desiccation 
in drier habitats (Howarth 1983), or cannot detect and cope with more 
extreme temperatures (Mitchell 1971). Temperatures in caves typically 
remain at the average annual surface temperature, with little variation 
(Howarth 1983; Dunlap 1995). Relative humidity is typically near 100 
percent in caves that support troglobitic invertebrates (Elliott and 
Reddell 1989). During temperature extremes, troglobites may retreat 
into small interstitial spaces (human-inaccessible) connected to a 
cave, where the physical environment provides the required humidity and 
temperature levels (Howarth 1983), and may spend the majority of their 
time in such retreats, only leaving them to forage in the larger cave 
passages (Howarth 1987).
    Spiders in caves act as predators (Gertsch 1992). Cicurina sp. has 
been seen preying on immature Speodesmus sp. millipedes (Reddell 1994). 
Since sunlight is either absent or present in extremely low levels in 
caves, most karst ecosystems depend on nutrients derived from the 
surface either by organic material brought in by animals, washed in, or 
deposited through root masses or through feces, eggs, and carcasses of 
trogloxenes (species that regularly inhabit caves for refuge, but 
return to the surface to feed) and troglophiles (species that may 
complete their life cycle in the cave, but may also be found on the 
surface) (Barr 1968; Poulson and White 1969; Howarth 1983; Culver 
1986). Primary sources of nutrients in cave ecosystems include leaf 
litter, cave crickets, small mammals, and other vertebrates that 
defecate or die in the cave.
    The conservation of troglobitic species depends on a viable karst 
ecosystem that protects the cave entrance and footprint, the surface 
and subsurface drainage basins associated with the cave, interstitial 
spaces or conduits associated with the cave, and a viable surface 
animal and plant community for nutrient input. Surface vegetation acts 
as a buffer for the subsurface environment against drastic changes in 
the temperature and moisture regime and serves to filter pollutants 
before they enter the karst system (Biological Advisory Team 1990; Veni 
1988). In some cases, healthy native plant communities also help 
control certain exotic species (such as fire ants) (Porter et al. 1988) 
that may compete with or prey upon the listed species and other species 
(such as cave crickets) that are important nutrient contributors 
(Elliott 1994a; Helf, in litt. 2002). Population sizes of troglobitic 
invertebrates are typically low, with most species known from only a 
few specimens (Culver et al. 2000), making them difficult to detect in 
the cave and making it very difficult to determine trends in population 
size. Cicurina cueva is currently known from two caves in southern 
Travis County, Texas: Cave X and Flint Ridge Cave.
    Flint Ridge Cave is located on property owned by the City of Austin 
at the southern edge of Travis County, Texas, in the recharge zone of 
the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. It is the fifth 
longest and second deepest cave documented in

[[Page 5125]]

Travis County (Russell 1996). The cave has a surveyed length of 316.4-
meters (m) (1,038-feet (ft)) (Jenkins and Russell 1999) and depth of 
47-m (154-ft) (Russell 1996). Cave X is located on the site of the 
Regents School in southwest Austin, Texas.
    While currently known from two caves, the species may occur in 
other caves in southern Travis County. According to James Reddell, 
Texas Memorial Museum (in litt. Service files, August 12, 2003) 
immature, blind Cicurina sp. have been collected from Blowing Sink, 
Driskill Cave, Cave Y, and Irelands' Cave, and these species may be C. 
cueva. However, he states that these specimens could also be one of two 
other blind Cicurina species found in the area and that a taxonomic 
review of these populations in south Austin is necessary to determine 
the status and range of blind Cicurina sp. in southern Travis County.
    Dr. Marshall Hedin at San Diego State University is currently under 
contract with the Service to develop genetic assessment techniques for 
definitive species-level identification of immature specimens of blind 
Cicurina spiders in Travis County, Texas. Cooperative efforts are also 
underway by various parties to collect Cicurina specimens from various 
locations in an attempt to find additional locations of Cicurina cueva.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Under section 4(a) of the Act, we may list a species on the basis 
of any of the five factors, as follows: Factor (A) the present or 
threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or 
range; Factor (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes; Factor (C) disease or predation; 
Factor (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and Factor 
(E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. 
The petition contends that factors A, C, D, and E are applicable to 
Cicurina cueva (see below). A brief discussion of how each of the 
listing factors applies to Cicurina cueva follows.

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

    Cicurina cueva is currently known to exist in two caves, Cave X and 
Flint Ridge Cave, located in southern Travis County. The petition cites 
Reddell (1994) as indicating that all troglobitic species with a 
limited distribution in the area from the greater Austin area to San 
Antonio are highly likely to be endangered. The petition also refers to 
``many precedents for giving endangered species listing to species with 
similar biology (and facing similar threats to extinction) in the 
Austin area.'' As discussed in the final rules listing seven karst 
invertebrate species as endangered in Travis and Williamson Counties, 
Texas, and nine in Bexar County, Texas, the continuing expansion of the 
human population in karst terrain constitutes the primary threat to 
karst species in Central Texas through: (1) Destruction or 
deterioration of habitat by construction; (2) filling of caves and 
karst features and loss of permeable cover; (3) contamination from 
septic effluent, sewer leaks, runoff, pesticides, and other sources; 
(4) exotic species, especially nonnative fire ants (Solenopsis 
invicta); and (5) vandalism (USFWS 1994; 2000).
    Flint Ridge Cave is located on the approximately 100-ha (300-ac) 
Tabor Tract, purchased by the City of Austin under the Proposition 2 
watershed protection program. The cave is hydrologically significant, 
draining a relatively large area of runoff into the Edwards Aquifer 
(Veni 2000).
    The petition states that the proposed construction and operation of 
State Highway (SH) 45 South threatens the survival of Cicurina cueva. 
The petition describes possible roadway impacts from increased 
sedimentation, blasting, petrochemical contamination, and herbicide and 
pesticide use for right-of way maintenance. The petition also refers to 
another case where habitat for the endangered cave spider Neoleptoneta 
myopica may be threatened by the cave's proximity to a new highway 
(Elliot and Reddell 1989). In a letter to the Service dated August 6, 
2003, the Texas Department of Transportation (Texas DOT) stated they 
have ``never considered blasting for this project, it is not necessary 
and will not be allowed.''
    The petition states that Flint Ridge Cave is being negatively 
affected by SH 45 South prior to highway construction. It states that 
during pre-construction activities for SH 45 South, a contractor for 
the Texas DOT excavated a soil sampling pit within 30.5-m (100-ft) of 
the entrance to Flint Ridge Cave on City of Austin property against the 
expressed wishes of the City (cited in the petition as William Conrad, 
pers. comm., 2003).
    In 1998, Travis County acquired an easement on the Tabor Tract as 
right-of-way for the construction and operation of SH 45 South, which 
will connect two major roadways, Interstate 35 and MOPAC. While the 
exact alignment of the roadway within the acquired right-of-way has not 
yet been determined, the entrance to Flint Ridge Cave is about 30-m 
(100-ft) down-gradient of the right-of-way, which also overlies a 
portion of the cave's footprint (Mike Walker, Texas DOT, pers. comm. 
August 6, 2003). A significant portion of the cave's extensive surface 
drainage area is bisected by the right-of-way for the proposed SH 45 
South project. Veni (2000) delineated an approximately 16-ha (40-ac) 
surface drainage area associated with the cave. However, recent field 
surveys by the City of Austin indicate that the surface drainage area 
associated with Flint Ridge Cave could be approximately 22-ha (54-ac) 
(Nico Hauwert, City of Austin, pers. comm., August 13, 2003). The 
right-of-way also overlies an approximately 6.9-ha (17-ac) subsurface 
drainage basin associated with the cave as estimated by Veni (2000).
    The petition indicates that there are no ``best management 
practices'' that could be proposed for use that would be 100 percent 
efficient at removing all contaminants and state that ``contamination 
of cave sediments is inevitable, and leaks or spills will be an ever 
present risk.'' Information in our files indicates that any runoff not 
diverted away from the cave or which leaks or spills past diversion 
structures has the possibility of introducing potentially significant 
levels of contaminations that may harm the quality of groundwater in 
the Edwards Aquifer and the Flint Ridge Cave ecosystem (Veni 2000). The 
petition further states that ``best management practices'' alter the 
hydrological regime of their drainage basins, so the delicate balance 
of humidity and moisture in the cave would be threatened.'' The 
petition indicates that because cave-adapted species require high 
humidity, alteration of the hydrologic regime may result in decreased 
humidity in the cave which may impact these species, including Cicurina 
    The petition also describes possible threats to Cicurina cueva in 
Cave X. The petition states that the Regent's School has submitted a 
development plan to the City of Austin for construction of buildings, 
expansion of a parking lot, and expansion of a water quality pond. It 
further states that the habitat in Cave X may presently be degraded and 
may face further degradation due to the minimal buffer between the cave 
entrance and existing development, a road that goes over the cave, and 
plans for further development. There is a fence about 18-m (20-yards) 
from the gated cave entrance between the Regents' School property and a 
residential subdivision (cited in petition as Russell, pers. comm., 

[[Page 5126]]

    However, information in our files indicates that in November 1999, 
as part of an agreement with the City of Austin to protect recharge to 
the Edwards Aquifer, the Regents School established two legally-
recorded setbacks associated with the cave, an approximately 0.61-ha 
(1.5-ac) area around the cave entrance and an approximately 1-ha (3-ac) 
area containing the majority of the cave's footprint. As noted in 
factor D below, the agreement between the City of Austin and the 
Regents School was implemented primarily for the protection of the 
federally-listed Barton Springs salamander (Eurycea sosorum), which is 
dependent on the Edwards Aquifer, and may not adequately protect the 
integrity of the cave environment for long-term conservation of 
Cicurina cueva and other rare troglobitic species. The setback areas do 
not include the extent of the surface drainage area associated with 
Cave X. The extent of the groundwater (subsurface) drainage basin 
associated with the cave has not been determined, and, therefore, it is 
uncertain whether or not it is contained within the set-back areas. 
Both set-back areas are adjacent to existing development and are 
separated by a one-lane paved road that overlies a portion of the cave 
footprint. According to the legally-recorded restrictive covenant for 
the property, this road is only accessible to emergency vehicles and 
water quality pond maintenance crews. Cave crickets have been found 
foraging within 50-m (164-ft) of and up to 95-m (311-ft) from caves and 
other karst features in Central Texas (Elliott 1994; Steve Taylor, 
Illinois Natural History Survey, pers. comm., 2002). The foraging area 
around the cave entrance has been largely reduced to the 0.61-ha (1.5-
ac) set-back area, which is adjacent to a subdivision on one side and a 
one-lane road on the other. The lot lines of this subdivision lie less 
than 10-m (40-ft) from the cave entrance. A portion of this 10-m (33-
ft) area also serves as a utility easement developed with utility 
poles, and water and wastewater lines. The 1-ha (3-ac) setback area 
allows for a larger foraging area for cave crickets accessing the cave 
through other karst features. The school's future plans include 
construction of four (the petition said three) new buildings, all 
located adjacent to one of the cave's two setback areas (September 5, 
2003, meeting notes in Service's files).
    Information in our files indicates that surface drainage to Cave X 
is generally toward the southeast, with some drainage coming from the 
Travis County Subdivision (Nico Hauwert, City of Austin, pers. comm., 
August 13, 2003). The natural drainage pattern may have been altered 
due to the construction of the road, which was constructed at a higher 
elevation than the cave entrance and the construction of the 
subdivision (Nico Hauwert and Mark Sanders, City of Austin, pers. 
comm., August 13, 2003).

Factor B: Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    The petition did not provide any information pertaining to Factor 
B. Information in our files indicates this species is of little 
interest in the insect trade or to amateur collectors. They are 
collected occasionally by scientists conducting studies of cave fauna. 
The City of Austin, who owns and manages Flint Ridge Cave, limits the 
access into the cave to research personnel. The Regents School, which 
owns and manages Cave X, occasionally allows fire department personnel 
to access the cave to conduct cave rescue training. Access for 
recreational caving and educational purposes is prohibited in both 
Flint Ridge Cave and Cave X.

Factor C: Disease or Predation

    The petition identifies imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) as 
a threat to Cicurina cueva. The petition says this fire ant, which was 
introduced to the southeastern United States from Brazil, started 
colonizing karst areas of Central Texas in the late 1980s (Elliot 
1993). Invasion of imported fire ants causes devastating and long-
lasting impacts on arthropod species and threatens their biodiversity 
(Porter and Savignano 1990). Increases in imported fire ants have lead 
to 40% reduction in arthropod species in some instances. Imported fire 
ants will consume a wide variety of plants and animals (Vinson and 
Sorensen 1986).
    Information in our files indicates that, in addition to preying on 
cave invertebrate species, including cave crickets, fire ants may 
compete with cave crickets for food (Elliott 1994; Helf in litt. 2002). 
Helf (in litt. 2002) states that competition for food between fire ants 
and cave crickets (Ceuthophilus secretus) may be a more important 
interaction between these species than predation. The presence of fire 
ants in and around karst areas could have a drastic detrimental effect 
on the karst ecosystem through loss of or reduction in both surface and 
subsurface species that are critical links in the food chain. The 
invasion of fire ants is known to be aided by ``any disturbance that 
clears a site of heavy vegetation and disrupts the native ant 
community'' (Porter et al. 1988).
    The petition indicates that proposed SH 45 South would result in 
invasion of fire ants into habitat of Cicurina cueva in Flint Ridge 
Cave because construction of SH 45 South will disturb soil and 
vegetation near the entrance to the cave, creating conditions that 
favor fire ant invasion. The petition also states that after 
construction, State Highway 45 South and its shoulders and right-of-way 
will contribute to fire ant habitat because the land is disturbed and 
there is a steady supply of food from litter thrown from cars and 
insects killed by cars.
    The petition also says existence of a residential subdivision and a 
school near Cave X increases the probability of fire ant invasion 
because fire ants are attracted by disturbance of natural vegetation, 
food debris, trash, and electrical lines, and that cave setbacks at 
Cave X on the Regents School site are insufficient to stop fire ant 

Factor D: The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The petition states ``existing rules and regulations enacted by the 
City of Austin, Travis County, and the State of Texas are inadequate to 
protect Cicurina cueva. State guidelines allow for plugging or filling 
of caves and karst features, which can significantly alter and disturb 
drainage and recharge patterns that affect temperature, humidity, and 
food webs of cave ecosystems.'' The Texas Commission on Environmental 
Quality (formerly Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission) does 
not require surveys for invertebrate species in karst assessments. The 
petition states that ``Hundreds of potential karst features have been 
identified in the right-of-way for State Highway 45 South, including 
Flint Ridge Cave's drainage basin. Many of these karst features will be 
paved over, possibly blocking recharge to Flint Ridge Cave.''
    An Incidental Take Permit issued pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of 
the Act was issued to the City of Austin and Travis County on May 2, 
1996. Both Cave X and Flint Ridge Cave are listed on the permit and the 
associated Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP) as caves 
containing species of concern, including Circurina cueva (a covered 
species under this permit). Under the permit, the City of Austin and 
Travis County are required to acquire and manage Cave X and Flint Ridge 
Cave, or implement formal management agreements adequate to preserve 
the environmental integrity of these caves, to get authorization for 
incidental take of this species in other caves if this species is 
federally-listed in the future.

[[Page 5127]]

However, in their 2000, 2001, and 2002 annual permit reports, the City 
of Austin/Travis County recognize that many buffer areas associated 
with caves currently ``protected'' under the BCCP are not large enough 
to adequately protect the caves and do not have adequate buffer areas 
surrounding the caves to meet species needs, as indicated by 
information assembled by the Service in 2001 (Travis County and City of 
Austin 2000; 2001; 2002). Take of this species is not prohibited since 
the species is not listed.
    The petition cites the 2000 BCCP Annual Report as saying the status 
of Cave X is described as ``unknown, new agreement not working smoothly 
yet.'' The petition also says that per the Texas Cave Management 
Association, the agreement is inadequate to protect the cave (cited in 
petition as Julie Jenkins, pers. comm., 2003). The 2001 BCCP Annual 
Report states that because species of concern, such as Cicurina cueva, 
are not federally listed as endangered, many of the caves supporting 
species of concern are severely threatened.
    In addition to the information in the petition, information in our 
files indicates the City of Austin entered into an agreement with the 
Regents School in November 1999, establishing two legally recorded 
setbacks associated with Cave X: an approximately 0.61-ha (1.5-ac) area 
around the cave entrance and an approximately 1-ha (3-ac) area 
containing the majority of the cave's footprint. Under the agreement, 
the Regents School was allowed to construct an approximately one-lane 
paved road accessible only to emergency vehicles and water quality pond 
maintenance crews over a portion of the cave's footprint. The setback 
areas do not include the extent of the surface drainage area associated 
with Cave X. The extent of the groundwater (subsurface) drainage basin 
associated with the cave has not been determined, and, therefore, it is 
uncertain whether or not it is contained within the set-back areas.
    Under the agreement, the Regents School is responsible for monthly 
inspections of the setback areas, which includes looking for evidence 
of tampering or vandalism, removing any accumulated trash or debris, or 
presence of potentially toxic materials. They are also responsible for 
vegetation management and biannual fire ant control. The Regents School 
gated the cave and fenced a small area around the cave entrance to 
protect it from unauthorized trespassing and vandalism, but no 
additional management activities have been conducted to date (Charles 
Evans, Headmaster, Regents School, pers. comm., August 15, 2003). The 
agreement between the City of Austin and the Regents School was 
implemented primarily for the protection of the federally-listed Barton 
Springs salamander (Eurycea sosorum), which is dependent on the Edwards 
Aquifer, and may not adequately protect the integrity of the cave 
environment for long-term conservation of Cicurina cueva and other rare 
troglobitic species.

Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued 

    The petition contends that the following three features of this 
species make it vulnerable to extinction: (1) The narrowly limited 
distribution and small population size of Cicurina cueva make it more 
vulnerable to alteration of habitat, loss of prey species, and failure 
of reproduction; (2) the dissected and extremely faulted geology of the 
Balcones Fault Zone makes travel between caves infeasible, therefore 
dispersal opportunities and habitat selection are not available to this 
species, resulting in small isolated populations; and, (3) the species 
is reliant on stable environmental conditions. The petition points out 
that troglobites have developed in unique cave ecosystems and require 
high humidity and stable temperatures (Service 1994), and the petition 
further states that ``Troglobites evolved over millions of years in 
secluded, stable habitats.''
    Information in our files also indicates that many caves in the 
Austin metropolitan area have been subject to vandalism and trash 
dumping. Cave X is protected by an animal-friendly cave gate. The cave 
entrance area is also enclosed within a 1.8-m (6-ft) chain-linked 
security fence. The City of Austin has gated the entrance to Flint 
Ridge Cave (Dr. Kevin Thuesen, pers. comm. to Service, 2004). The City 
of Austin's Tabor Tract, where Flint Ridge Cave is located, is 
protected by five-strand barbed-wire fencing and ``No Trespassing'' 


    We have reviewed the petition, the literature cited in the 
petition, and information in our files. On the basis of our review, we 
find that the petition presents substantial scientific and commercial 
information indicating that listing Cicurina cueva may be warranted.
    The petition also requested that we emergency list Cicurina cueva. 
We have reviewed the available information to determine if the existing 
and foreseeable threats pose immediate and urgent risks to the species' 
continued existence. According to our Endangered Species Listing 
Handbook (March 1994), ``Expected losses during the normal listing 
process that would risk the continued existence of the entire listed 
species are grounds for an emergency rule. The purpose of the emergency 
rule provision of the Act is to prevent species from becoming extinct 
by affording them immediate protection while the normal rulemaking 
procedures are being followed.'' At this time, we are working with the 
property owners of the two known locations to determine what 
conservation measures are needed to protect the species at their sites. 
Texas DOT and the Regents School have indicated an interest in avoiding 
or minimizing impacts to the species. Texas DOT is working on a re-
design of the project to a six-lane rather than a four-lane highway and 
expects to submit a Biological Evaluation to the Service in October or 
November 2005 (Mike Walker, pers. comm. to the Service, 2004). In 
comments hand-delivered to the Service on August 6, 2003, Texas DOT 
said ``it is not possible to award any construction contracts until all 
coordination with resource agencies, including the [Service], has been 
completed.'' The Regents School of Austin owns Cave X, and they are 
working on a management plan and a conservation agreement to provide 
conservation measures that would protect Cicurina cueva on their 
    Based on the willingness of these two parties to work with us to 
identify conservation measures that will provide for the long-term 
survival of the species at the two known sites and the project schedule 
provided to us by Texas DOT, we believe the available information 
indicates that an emergency listing action is not necessary at this 
time. This decision is based on our understanding of the immediacy of 
potential threats to Cicurina cueva at its two known locations. 
However, if at any time we determine that emergency listing of Cicurina 
cueva is warranted, we will seek to initiate the appropriate protective 
    The petitioners also requested that critical habitat be designated 
for this species. We always consider the need for critical habitat 
designation when listing species. If we determine in our 12-month 
finding that listing Cicurina cueva is warranted, we will address the 
designation of critical habitat in the subsequent proposed rule.

[[Page 5128]]

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon 
request from the Field Supervisor (see ADDRESSES section above).


    The primary authors of this document are staff at the Austin 
Ecological Services Office (see ADDRESSES section above).


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: January 26, 2005.
Marshall P. Jones, Jr.,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 05-1765 Filed 1-31-05; 8:45 am]