[Federal Register: November 15, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 219)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 69303-69305]
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 the Uinta Mountainsnail as Endangered

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding on a petition to list the Uinta mountainsnail (Oreohelix 
eurekensis uinta) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (Act). We find that the petition does not present 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that 
listing O. e. uinta may be warranted. This finding is based on our 
determination that there is insufficient evidence to indicate that O. 
e. uinta is a valid subspecies, and, therefore, cannot be considered a 
listable entity pursuant to section 3(15) of the Act. Therefore, we 
will not initiate a status review in response to this petition. 
However, the public may submit to us new information concerning the 
status of or threats to O. e. uinta at any time.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on November 7, 

ADDRESSES: The complete file for this finding is available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the Utah 
Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2369 West 
Orton Circle, Suite 50, West Valley City, Utah 84119. Submit new 
information, materials, comments, or questions concerning the status of 
or threats to this taxon to us at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Henry Maddux, Field Supervisor, Utah 
Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES) (telephone 801-975-3330; 
facsimile 801-975-3331).



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that we make a finding on 
whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information to indicate that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. We are to base this finding on 
information provided in the petition and other information that is 
readily available to us (e.g., in our files). 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). We also reviewed additional, readily available information 
pertinent to O. e. uinta to clarify certain points raised in the 
petition. We did not conduct additional research or subject the 
petition to rigorous critical review. Our process of coming to a 90-day 
finding under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act and section 424.14(b) of 
our regulations is limited to a determination of whether the 
information in the petition meets the ``substantial information'' 
    On August 29, 2001, we received a formal petition from the Utah 
Environmental Congress (UEC) to list O. e. uinta as an endangered 
species pursuant to section 4 of the Act. Although O. e. uinta was once 
thought extinct, a small number had been found in the Ashley National 
Forest, Uinta County, Utah, in 1998. The August 21, 2001, petition was 
based largely on this discovery. The petition cited threats from 
grazing, prescribed fire, logging, and sedimentation from U.S. Forest 
Service (USFS) road-building operations. The petition also requested 
that critical habitat be designated simultaneously with the listing of 
O. e. uinta as endangered.
    In letters dated September 17 and October 3, 2001, we denied 
emergency listing because of measures taken by the Ashley National 
Forest to protect the population. On July 13, 2004, we received a 60-
day notice of intent to sue from UEC and other groups. On January 25, 
2005, we received a complaint regarding our failure to make the 90-day 
and 12-month findings. In light of these legal actions, we discussed 
various options with the plaintiffs and tentatively agreed to submit a 
completed 90-day finding to the Federal Register by November 7, 2005.

Species Information

    Oreohelix eurekensis uinta is in the genus Oreohelix, commonly 
called the ``Mountain Snail.'' This genus of land snails is endemic to 
western North America, with distributions ranging from southwestern 
Canada, including southern Saskatchewan and British Columbia, to 
western Chihuahua in northern Mexico (Pilsbry 1939). In terms of the 
biogeographical distribution of land snails, North America is generally 
split into Eastern and Western American ``Divisions'' (Pilsbry 1939), 
while each division is further divided into land snail provinces (Frest 
2002). The biogeographical distribution of Oreohelix includes the Rocky 
Mountain, Washingtonian, and Southwestern Provinces of the Western 
Division of North America (Frest 2002).
    Factors determining habitat preferences of land snails include 
cover, effective moisture availability, and geologic history (Frest 
2002). Most land snail species are calciphiles, meaning they are 
usually restricted to limestone, dolomite, or other substrates 
containing high levels of the element calcium (Frest 2002). Moist soil 
conditions are favored and soil pH may be a factor in determining 
suitable habitat (Frest 2002). Desiccation is the primary factor in 
mortality (Frest 2002). Moist forests, slope bases, north slopes, 
springs and seeps, edges of floodplains, and rock talus (a sloping mass 
of loose rock debris at the base of a cliff) are areas of land snail 
concentration (Frest 2002). Areas with vegetation or other forms of 
cover (e.g., rock overhangs and caves) that provide shade also are 
usually preferred by land snails; abundant downed woody debris is also 
important (Frest 2002).
    Western land snails are typically herbivores, but some may consume 
animal matter. Land snails contribute substantially to nutrient 
recycling, breaking down plant detritus and animal waste (Frest 2002). 
They are preyed upon extensively by small mammals, reptiles, 
amphibians, birds, and insects (Frest 2002).
    Land snails are ``exceptional indicators'' of ecosystem health 
(Frest 2002). They are present in many environments, have specialized 
habitat needs, and are essentially sessile

[[Page 69304]]

(permanently attached or established; not free to move about). Land 
snails respond quickly and are vulnerable to disturbances or 
anthropogenic habitat change (Frest 2002).
    Oreohelix species and subspecies vary in size, height of shell 
spire, degree of carination (i.e., presence and size of a keel or ridge 
around the outside whorl of the shell), width of umbilicus (i.e., the 
ventral opening formed in the center of the whorls), and color (Pilsbry 
1939). The level of endemism (i.e., the degree to which an organism is 
restricted to a certain area) among Oreohelix species and subspecies is 
notable and is believed to be specifically associated with unique 
geology, soils, and vegetation (Frest 2002). Areas of high endemism 
include the Hells Canyon area of Oregon, Idaho, and Washington, the 
lower Salmon River drainage of Idaho, the Wasatch Range in Utah, and 
northwestern portions of Montana (Frest 2002). Isolated geographic 
localities, such as ``island'' mountain ranges, appear to support 
endemic species of Oreohelix (Frest 2002).


    The genus Oreohelix contains 32 species and 54 subspecies, 
including Orehelix eurekensis--the species most closely associated with 
O. e. uinta (Pilsbry 1933). O. eurekensis has been documented in six 
localities representing four widely separated populations scattered 
across northern Utah (Oliver and Bosworth 1999).
    O. e. uinta has been positively identified in at least two 
localities: (1) The Ashley National Forest (NF), Uinta County, Utah 
(Oliver and Boswerth 2000)--the site identified in the petition; and 
(2) a more recently discovered site identified as Big Spring site, on 
the Sheep Creek geological loop on the west side of Flaming Gorge 
Reservoir, approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) away from the first 
site (Bill Stroh, USFS biologist, pers. comm.). No long-term studies 
have been completed to indicate specific population trends and it is 
unknown if the populations are increasing or decreasing (Oliver and 
Bosworth 1999). There is speculation that other populations of O. e. 
uinta also may exist in the east Tavaputs Plateau region of Utah 
(George Oliver, Utah Dept. of Wildlife Resources, pers. comm.).
    The Ashley NF site is an open, 45-degree, south-southwest-facing 
slope of broken limestone and loam. The sparse plant cover of the small 
area inhabited by Oreohelix eurekensis uinta is predominantly 
chokecherry (Prunus virgniana), rose (Rosa cf. woodsii), serviceberry 
(Amelanchier cf. alnifolia), pine (Pinus sp.), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga 
menzeisii), thistle (Cirsium sp), and wax currant (Ribes cereum), 
although nine other species of forbs and two other species of shrubs 
also are present. Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and sagebrush 
(Artemisia sp.) are prominent plants of the surrounding parts of the 
same slope (Oliver and Bosworth 2000). Eighty-four dead shells and 
three live specimens have been collected at the site and compared to 
paratype (specimens of the type series other than the holotype) 
specimen collections to verify their taxon (Oliver and Bosworth 2000).
    Although we have global positioning system (GPS) coordinates for 
the Big Spring site on the Sheep Creek geological loop, we have little 
descriptive information on the localities. Eleven small, dead snails 
were found approximately 3.8 centimeters (1.5 inches) under the surface 
in one locality, and, in another locality, others were found in dry 
soil approximately 0.65 centimeter (0.25 inch) under the surface, under 
a gooseberry. Shells were collected by the USFS on September 25, 2003, 
and later identified by George Oliver (Utah Department of Wildlife 
Resources (UDWR)).


    Oreohelix eurekensis uinta is in the class Gastropoda, family 
Oreohelicidae, and genus Oreohelix. Oreohelix eurekensis was originally 
described as Oreohelix hemphilli eurekensis by Henderson and Daniels 
(1916), but was subsequently elevated to full specific status as 
Oreohelix eurekensis (Henderson 1924). O. e. eurekensis was recognized 
as a subspecies by Henderson and Daniels (1916), and O. e. uinta was 
proposed as a subspecies by Brooks (1939). Brooks proposed subspecific 
status for O. e. uinta based primarily on its relatively wider 
umbilicus, an exceedingly variable feature in Oreohelix taxa (Roscoe 
and Grosscup 1964). Roscoe and Grosscup (1964) suggested that younger 
specimens of O. eurekensis could not be distinguished from O. e. uinta 
and that O. e. uinta may simply be a subadult of O. eurkensis. The 
senior author had ``grave doubts as to the validity'' of O. e. uinta 
even as a subspecies (Roscoe and Grosscup 1964).
    Experienced staff of the UDWR reviewed multiple references in an 
effort to understand the taxonomic history of Oreohelix eurekensis 
uinta. Of the 15 references they identified from 1936 through 2000, 
only 6 discussed taxonomy and 4 of those only minimally (James F. 
Karpowitz, UDWR, in litt., August 18, 2005). With the types of 
information that would be necessary to reconcile the issue of taxonomy 
(e.g., morphology of soft anatomy, molecular genetics, and breeding 
experiments) lacking, authors either deferred to Brooks (1939), who 
justified the subspecies status based on slight morphological 
distinction and geographic disjunction, or explicitly questioned the 
validity of the taxon (Karpowitz in litt. 2005). Brooks (1939) stated 
``this race is so similar to [typical Oreohelix eureka] found * * * 
about 125 miles * * * from [the new locality] * * * that it would 
hardly be thought distinguishable if it were not from a different 
mountain system.''
    Karpowitz (in litt. 2005) also quoted Bickel (unpublished report, 
1977) as stating that the taxonomic status of both Orehelix eurekensis 
and O. e. uinta was ``undetermined, probably a synonym or subspecies of 
Oreohelix yavapai.'' It is clear that, based on the sum total of 
information reviewed, there has never been a systematic analysis of O. 
e. uinta or its relatives and there is no persuasive or strongly 
defensible scientific basis for any of the possible taxonomic 
arrangements (i.e., subspecies or species) that have been proposed 
(Karpowitz in litt. 2005). Thus, we conclude that there is insufficient 
scientific evidence to indicate that O. e. uinta is a valid subspecies. 
Therefore, we further conclude that the Uinta mountainsnail cannot at 
this time be considered a listable entity pursuant to section 3(15) of 
the Act.

Additional Considerations

    The petition presented information pursuant to the five factors 
listed in section 4 of the Act in an effort to identify threats that 
may be leading to the decline of the Uinta mountainsnail. These factors 
are pertinent only in cases where the organism being proposed for 
listing is a listable entity as defined by section 3(15) of the Act. 
Nonetheless, we reviewed the information included in the petition, and 
other information readily available to us, in an effort to identify 
possible voluntary management actions that may assist with Uinta 
mountainsnail conservation. We reiterate that this discussion of 
threats is not a basis for our finding.
    The petition suggests that prescribed fire may have extirpated the 
species, although Oliver and Bosworth (2000) clearly stated that 
previous attempts to locate O. e. uinta by Clarke and Hovingh (1994) 
were in the wrong location and that their reference to possible 
extirpation from the burn was unfounded. Although prescribed fire

[[Page 69305]]

may be detrimental to mountainsnails, USFS has confirmed that there are 
currently no prescribed burns scheduled for the type location on the 
Ashley NF (Bill Stroh, USFS biologist, pers. comm.). The USFS also has 
confirmed that there are no timber harvests scheduled or anticipated in 
the site location, nor are there any planned road construction projects 
(Bill Stroh, USFS biologist, pers. comm.). The site has been fenced and 
is being monitored by USFS personnel.
    At this time, the petitioned population of mountainsnails seems 
most at risk from scientific collection, an issue not addressed in the 
petition but the subject of ongoing coordination between USFS, UDWR, 
and the Service. The rarity of the species also is in question in that 
at least two populations of O. e.s uinta have been positively 
identified, with two other suspected populations from the east Tavaputs 
Plateau (George Oliver, UDWR, pers. comm.).


    We have reviewed the petition, literature cited in the petition, 
and other pertinent information readily available to us. Based on this 
review, we find the petition does not present substantial information 
indicating that listing the Uinta mountainsnail may be warranted. This 
finding is based on the lack of conclusive scientific evidence to 
indicate that O. e. uinta is a valid subspecies. Therefore, we have 
concluded that the Uinta mountainsnail cannot be considered a listable 
entity pursuant to section 3(15) of the Act. We will not be commencing 
a status review in response to this petition. However, we will continue 
to monitor the taxon's population status and trends, potential threats, 
and ongoing management actions that might be important with regard to 
the conservation of the Uinta mountainsnail across its range. We 
encourage interested parties to continue to gather data that will 
assist with these conservation efforts. New information should be 
submitted to the Field Supervisor, Utah Field Office (see ADDRESSES).

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available, upon 
request, from the Utah Field Office (see ADDRESSES).


    The primary author of this notice is Marianne Crawford, Utah Field 
Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (see ADDRESSES).


    The authority for this action is section 4 of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: November 7, 2005.
Marshall Jones,
Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 05-22629 Filed 11-14-05; 8:45 am]