[Federal Register: March 24, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 56)]

[Proposed Rules]               

[Page 15052-15063]

From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]


[[Page 15052]]




Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AI41


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Reclassifying the 

American Crocodile Distinct Population Segment in Florida From 

Endangered to Threatened and Initiation of a 5-Year Review

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule and initiation of a 5-year review.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to 

reclassify the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) distinct 

vertebrate population segment (DPS) in Florida from its present 

endangered status to threatened status under the authority of the 

Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We believe that the 

endangered designation no longer correctly reflects the current status 

of this taxon within this DPS due to a substantial improvement in the 

species' status. Since its listing in 1975, the American crocodile 

population in Florida has more than doubled, and its distribution has 

expanded. Land acquisition has also provided protection for many 

important nesting areas. We have determined that the American crocodile 

in its range in Florida meets the criteria of a DPS as stated in our 

policy of February 17, 1996. If this proposal is finalized, the 

American crocodile DPS in Florida will continue to be federally 

protected as a threatened species. The American crocodile throughout 

the remainder of its range as described in our December 18, 1979, final 

rule would remain endangered. Because a status review is also required 

for the 5-year review of listed species under section 4(c)(2)(A) of the 

Act, we are electing to prepare these reviews simultaneously. We are 

seeking data and comments from the public on this proposal.

DATES: Comments from all interested parties must be received by May 23, 

2005. Public hearing requests must be received by May 9, 2005.

ADDRESSES: Written comments and materials may be submitted to us by any 

one of the following methods:

    1. You may submit written comments and information to Cindy Schulz, 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960.

    2. You may hand-deliver written comments and information to our 

South Florida Ecological Services Office, at the above address, or fax 

your comments to (772) 562-4288.

    3. You may send comments by electronic mail (e-mail) to 

cindy_schulz@fws.gov. For directions on how to submit electronic filing of 

comments, see the ``Public Comments Solicited'' section.

    Comments and materials received, as well as supporting 

documentation used in the preparation of this proposed rule, will be 

available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business 

hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cindy Schulz, at the above address 

(telephone (772) 562-3909, extension 305, facsimile (772) 562-4288).


Public Comments Solicited

    We are requesting information for both the proposed rule and the 5-

year review, as we are conducting these reviews simultaneously.

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed 

reclassification will be as accurate and as effective as possible. 

Therefore, we solicit comments or suggestions from the public, other 

concerned governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, or 

any other interested parties concerning this proposal. We particularly 

seek comments concerning:

    (1) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 

any threat (or lack thereof) to this species;

    (2) The location of any additional populations of the American 

crocodile within the extent of its range covered by this proposed rule;

    (3) Additional information concerning the range, distribution, and 

population size of this species in Florida;

    (4) Current management plans or anticipated plan development that 

incorporates actions that will benefit or impact the American crocodile 

in Florida;

    (5) Current or planned activities within the geographic area 

addressed by this proposal and their potential impact on this species; 


    (6) Whether the current status of this population of the American 

crocodile is more appropriately described as ``recovered,'' threatened 

due to similarity of appearance,'' or in some other way different than 

the proposal made here.

    Please submit electronic comments in ASCII file format and avoid 

the use of special characters and encryption. Please also include 

``Attn: [RIN 1018-AI41]'' and your name and return address in your e-

mail message. If you do not receive a confirmation from the system that 

we have received your e-mail message, contact us directly by calling 

our South Florida Ecological Services Office (see ADDRESSES section).

    Our practice is to make all comments, including names and home 

addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 

business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 

their home address from the rulemaking record, which we will honor to 

the extent allowable by law. In some circumstances, we would withhold 

also from the rulemaking record a respondent's identity, as allowable 

by law. If you wish for us to withhold your name and/or address, you 

must state this prominently at the beginning of your comments. However, 

we will not consider anonymous comments. 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.


    The American crocodile is a large greenish-gray reptile. It is one 

of two native crocodilians (the other being the American alligator 

(Alligator mississippiensis)) that occur in the continental United 

States, and is limited in distribution in the United States to the 

southern tip of mainland Florida and the upper Florida Keys (Kushlan 

and Mazzotti 1989a). At hatching, crocodiles are yellowish-tan to gray 

in color with vivid dark bands on the body and tail. As they grow 

older, their overall coloration becomes more pale and uniform and the 

dark bands fade. All adult crocodiles have a hump above the eye, and 

tough, asymmetrical armor-like scutes (scale-like plates) on their 

backs. The American crocodile is distinguished from the American 

alligator by a relatively narrow, more pointed snout and by an 

indentation in the upper jaw that leaves the fourth tooth of the lower 

jaw exposed when the mouth is closed. In Florida, the American 

crocodile ranges in size from 26.0 centimeters (cm) (10.3 inches (in)) 

at hatching, to an upper length of 3.8 meters (m) (12.5 feet (ft)) 

(Moler 1991a). Larger specimens in Florida were reported in the 1800s 

(Moler 1991a), and individuals as large as 6 to 7 m (19.7 to 23.0 ft) 

have been reported outside the United States (Thorbjarnarson 1989).

    The American crocodile occurs in coastal regions of both the 

Atlantic and Pacific coasts, in southern Mexico,

[[Page 15053]]

Central America, and northern South America, as well as the Caribbean 

islands (Thorbjarnarson 1989). It reaches the northern extent of its 

range in the southern tip of Florida (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a, 

Thorbjarnarson 1989). The species occurs within the jurisdictional 

boundaries of many different governments in the western hemisphere, 

including Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, 

Ecuador, El Salvador, Florida (USA), Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, 

Jamaica, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.

    The first documented occurrence of a crocodile in the United States 

resulted from the collection of a crocodile in 1869 in the Miami River 

off Biscayne Bay, though crocodiles were earlier suspected to occur 

there (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a). Within the United States, the 

historic core geographic range of crocodiles includes Miami-Dade, 

Broward, and Monroe Counties in Florida, but reports indicate that they 

occupied areas as far north as Indian River County on the east coast 

(Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a). Crocodiles were probably never common on 

the west coast of Florida, but credible reports suggest that they 

occurred at least periodically as far north as Sanibel Island and 

Sarasota County (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a). The primary historic 

nesting area was on the mainland shore of Florida and Biscayne Bays, 

including many of the small islands near shore, in what is today 

Everglades National Park (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a). Nesting was also 

historically well-documented in the upper Keys from Key Largo south to 

Lower Matecumbe Key (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a). Reports of crocodile 

nests on Little Pine Key (Ogden 1978), and occurrences on Key West 

(Ogden 1978) suggest that crocodiles were once more common in the Keys 

than they are today.

    In 1976, the American crocodile population in Florida was estimated 

to be between 200 and 300 individuals (40 FR 58308), with only 10 to 20 

breeding females estimated in 1975 (40 FR 44149). Most of the remaining 

animals and known nesting activity during this time were concentrated 

in a small portion of their historic range in northeastern Florida Bay 

(Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a).

    Today, the population of American crocodiles in Florida has grown 

to an estimated 500 to 1,000 individuals, not including hatchlings (P. 

Moler, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 

personal communication 2004; F. Mazzotti, University of Florida (UF), 

personal communication 2004). This estimate, developed by two 

established American crocodile experts, is based on a demographic 

characteristic that has proven true for both Nile crocodiles and 

American alligators. The characteristic is based on a generality from 

crocodilian research, that breeding females make up 4 to 5 percent of 

the non-hatchling population size. This estimate exhibits a large 

range, because the researchers used a range of 40 to 50 crocodile nests 

existing in Florida to do their calculations (P. Moler, FWC, personal 

communication 2004; F. Mazzotti, UF, personal communication 2004). We 

believe this is a reasonable but conservative estimate, because as 

stated below nesting has increased to 61 documented nests in 2003 and 

not all mature females breed and nest each year.

    The nesting range has also expanded on both the east and west 

coasts of the State, and crocodiles are frequently being seen 

throughout most of their historical range. Nesting has extended back 

into Biscayne Bay on Florida's east coast, and now commonly occurs at 

the Turkey Point Nuclear Plant (Brandt et al. 1995, Gaby et al. 1985). 

During 2003, 61 crocodile nests were discovered in south Florida (S. 

Klett, Service, personal communication 2003; M. Cherkiss, personal 

communication 2003; J. Wasilewski, Natural Selections Inc., personal 

communication 2003), and nesting has been increasing for several years 

(Ogden 1978, Brandt et al. 1995, Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b, Moler 

1991b, Mazzotti et al. 2000, Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2001, and Mazzotti 

et al. 2002). Approximately 75 percent of reproductively mature females 

breed and nest each year (F. Mazzotti, personal communication 2001), 

suggesting that the actual number of nesting females may be higher than 

the 61 nests recorded. Surveys detect approximately 80 to 90 percent of 

nests (F. Mazzotti, personal communication 2001; J. Wasilewski, 

personal communication 2002), and surveyors are generally unable to 

distinguish those nests that contain more than one clutch of eggs from 

different females without researchers excavating the nests. We believe 

this situation lends to a possible underestimation of nests or females, 

because on occasion 2 females lay eggs in the same nest.

    The breeding range of the American crocodile today is still 

restricted relative to its reported historic range (Kushlan and 

Mazzotti 1989a), with most breeding occurring on the mainland shore of 

Florida Bay between Cape Sable and Key Largo (Mazzotti et al. 2002). 

Crocodiles no longer regularly occur in the Keys south of Key Largo (P. 

Moler, personal communication 2002, Jacobsen 1983), though individuals 

have occasionally been observed in the lower Keys in recent years. An 

American crocodile was also observed for the first time near Fort 

Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas in May 2002 (O. Bass, Everglades National 

Park, personal communication 2002). We believe that these occasional 

observations may indicate that crocodiles are expanding their range 

back into the Keys, but Key Largo is the only nesting area currently 

known in the Florida Keys.

    Crocodiles live primarily in the sheltered, fresh, or brackish 

waters of mangrove-lined bays, mangrove swamps, creeks, and inland 

swamps (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b). Prolonged exposure to salinities 

similar to that of seawater (35 parts per thousand (ppt) of sodium) may 

lead to reduced growth rates, particularly for young crocodiles (Dunson 

1982, Dunson and Mazzotti 1989, Mazzotti et al. 1986). Availability of 

fresh water is a primary factor affecting growth and survival in young 

crocodiles (Dunson and Mazzotti 1989).

    American crocodiles are shy and secretive, and remain solitary for 

most of the year (Mazzotti 1983); however, they are usually tolerant of 

other crocodiles in the same general area. Individuals may travel 

widely throughout their range, but they are generally concentrated 

around the major nesting areas (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b, Mazzotti 

1983). Prior to nesting season, males become more territorial, and 

dominant males may mate with several females (Thorbjarnarson 1989).

    Females do not become reproductively active until they reach a 

total length of approximately 2.3 m (7.4 ft) (Mazzotti 1983), and this 

generally corresponds to an age of 10 to 13 years (LeBuff 1957, Moler 

1991a). Females construct earthen nests (mounds or holes) on elevated, 

well-drained sites near the water, such as ditch-banks and beaches. 

Nests have been reported in sand, marl, and organic peat soils, and the 

nests constructed in these different soils may be susceptible to 

different environmental conditions and different threats (Lutz and 

Dunbar-Cooper 1984, Moler 1991b). Female crocodiles will only nest one 

time per year and may not nest every year after they reach sexual 

maturity. They lay an average of 38 eggs (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b), 

which will hatch after an incubation period of approximately 90 days 

(Mazzotti 1989). Flooding, over-drying, and raccoon predation all pose 

threats to nests and developing eggs (Mazzotti et al. 1988, Mazzotti 

1999), and suitable nest sites

[[Page 15054]]

that are protected from these threats may be limited. The reported 

percent of nests from which eggs successfully hatch in any one year 

range from 33 to 78 percent (Ogden 1978, Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b, 

Moler 1991b, Mazzotti et al. 2000, Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2001). 

Typically, a nest was considered successful if at least one hatched 

eggshell or hatchling crocodile was documented. However, Moler (19991b) 

classified a nest as successful if ``it appeared to have been opened by 

an adult crocodile. In all but one case, hatchling crocodiles were 

tagged near each successful nest.''

    Unlike alligators, female crocodiles do not defend nest sites 

(Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b). However, females remain near their nest 

sites and must excavate young from the nest after hatching (Kushlan and 

Mazzotti 1989b). Kushlan (1988) reported that females may be very 

sensitive to disturbance at the nest site; most females that were 

disturbed near their nests did not return to excavate their young after 

hatching. Female crocodiles show little parental care, and young are 

generally independent shortly after hatching. Hatchlings disperse from 

nest sites to nursery habitats that are generally more sheltered, have 

lower salinity (1 to 20 ppt), shallower water (generally), and more 

vegetation cover, shortly after hatching, where they remain until they 

grow larger. Growth during the first year can be rapid, and crocodiles 

may double or triple in size (Moler 1991a). Growth rates in hatchling 

crocodiles depend primarily on the availability of fresh water and food 

in the nursery habitat they occupy and may also be influenced by 

temperature (Mazzotti et al. 1986).

    Adult crocodiles have few natural enemies, but hatchlings and young 

crocodiles are regularly eaten by a variety of wading birds, crabs, 

mammals, and reptiles, including larger crocodiles. As crocodiles grow, 

their former predators become prey. The diet of American crocodiles at 

all ages is varied, and crocodiles forage opportunistically. Fish, 

crabs, snakes, turtles, and a variety of other small prey compose the 

majority of their diet. Crocodiles are usually active at night, which 

is the primary time when they pursue prey.

    Land acquisition efforts by many agencies have continued to provide 

protection for crocodile habitat in south Florida. Crocodile Lake NWR 

was acquired in 1980 to provide over 2,205 ha (5,000 acres) of 

crocodile nesting and nursery habitat. In 1980, Everglades National 

Park established a crocodile sanctuary in northeastern Florida Bay. A 

total of 46 public properties (including Crocodile Lake NWR and 

Everglades National Park), owned and managed by Federal, State, or 

county governments, as well as 3 privately-owned properties (including 

Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant) are managed at least partially or 

wholly for conservation purposes and contain potential crocodile 

habitat within the coastal mangrove communities in south Florida. For 

example, in the early 1980s, Everglades National Park plugged canals 

which allowed crocodiles to begin nesting on the canal berms. In 1976 

the C-107 canal was completed and provides habitat for crocodiles at 

the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant. Approximately 95 percent of 

nesting habitat for crocodiles in Florida is under public ownership (F. 

Mazzotti, personal communication 2001).

Previous Federal Action

    We proposed listing of the United States population of the American 

crocodile as endangered on April 21, 1975 (40 FR 17590). The proposed 

listing stated that only an estimated 10 to 20 breeding females 

remained in Florida, mostly concentrated in northern Florida Bay. The 

primary threats cited included development pressures, lack of adequate 

protection of crocodiles and their habitat, and the risk of extinction 

inherent to a small, isolated population. Comments on the proposed rule 

were received from 14 parties including representatives of the State of 

Florida, and all supported listing the American crocodile as endangered 

in Florida. We published a final rule on September 25, 1975, listing 

the United States population of the American crocodile as endangered 

(40 FR 44149).

    On December 16, 1975, we published a proposal to designate critical 

habitat for the American crocodile (40 FR 58308). The proposed critical 

habitat included portions of Biscayne Bay south of Turkey Point, 

northeast Florida Bay, including the Keys, and the mainland extending 

as far west as Flamingo. We published a final rule designating critical 

habitat on September 24, 1976 (41 FR 41914). The final rule expanded 

the critical habitat to include a portion of Everglades National Park 

and northern Florida Bay to the west of the previously proposed area. 

The additional area lies entirely within Everglades National Park.

    On April 6, 1977, we published a proposed rule to list as 

endangered all populations of the American crocodile with the exception 

of those in Florida and all populations of the saltwater (estuarine) 

crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) due to their similarity in appearance to 

the American crocodile in Florida (42 FR 18287). Under the similarity 

of appearance clause of Section 4 of the Act, a species may be treated 

as endangered or threatened for the purposes of commerce or taking if 

it so closely resembles an endangered species that law enforcement 

personnel will be unable to distinguish between the listed and unlisted 

species. We did not finalize this proposed rule.

    On February 5, 1979, we provided notice in the Federal Register 

that a status review was being conducted for the American crocodile 

(outside of Florida) and the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus). 

The notice specified that we had information to suggest that the 

American crocodile and the saltwater crocodile may have experienced 

population declines and extensive habitat loss during the previous 

decade (44 FR 7060).

    On July 24, 1979, we published a proposed rule (44 FR 43442) that 

recommended listing the American and saltwater crocodiles as endangered 

throughout their ranges outside of Papua New Guinea, citing widespread 

loss of habitat and extensive poaching for their hides. The Florida 

population of the American crocodile was not included because it was 

previously listed as endangered. Saltwater crocodiles were not listed 

within the jurisdictional boundaries of Papua New Guinea due to strict 

government control of crocodile farming and assurances that wild 

populations there were not being threatened.

    We listed the American crocodile, with the exception of the 

previously-listed population in Florida, and the saltwater crocodile 

throughout its range, with the exception of the Papua New Guinea 

population, as endangered on December 18, 1979 (44 FR 75074). This 

action provided protection to these crocodilians worldwide.

    Since the Florida population of the American crocodile was listed 

as endangered, we have conducted numerous consultations under section 7 

of the Act for actions that may affect crocodiles. Most potential 

conflicts have been resolved early in the informal consultation 

process, resulting in our concurrence with a determination of ``not 

likely to adversely affect.''

    One Federal prosecution occurred in the late 1970s for a dredge-

and-fill permit violation that affected crocodile habitat on Key Largo 

within the boundaries of the then-proposed Crocodile Lake National 

Wildlife Refuge (U.S. v. Joseph R. Harrison, Jr. Civil Action No. 84-

1465, Judge E.B. Davis, Final Consent Judgment on September

[[Page 15055]]

22, 1984). This case was settled prior to trial.

Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment Analysis

    The Act defines ``species'' to include ``* * * any distinct 

population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which 

interbreeds when mature.'' On February 7, 1996, we published in the 

Federal Register our Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct 

Vertebrate Population Segments (DPS Policy) (61 FR 4722). For a 

population to be listed under the Act as a distinct vertebrate 

population segment, three elements are considered--(1) The discreteness 

of the population segment in relation to the remainder of the species 

to which it belongs; (2) the significance of the population segment to 

the species to which it belongs; and (3) the population segment's 

conservation status in relation to the Act's standards for listing 

(i.e., is the population segment endangered or threatened?). The best 

available scientific information supports recognition of the Florida 

population of the American crocodile as a distinct vertebrate 

population segment. We discuss the discreteness and significance of the 

DPS within this section; the remainder of the document discusses the 

species' status within the Florida DPS.

    Discreteness: The DPS policy states that vertebrate populations may 

be considered discrete if they are markedly separated from other 

populations of the same taxon as a consequence of physical, 

physiological, ecological, or behavioral factors; and/or they are 

delimited by international governmental boundaries within which 

significant differences exist in control of exploitation, management of 

habitat, conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms.

    The Florida population segment represents the northernmost extent 

of the American crocodile's range (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a, 

Thorbjarnarson 1989). It is spatially separated by approximately 90 

miles of open ocean from the nearest adjacent American crocodile 

population in Cuba (Kushlan 1988). The Gulf Stream, or the Florida 

Current (the southernmost leg of the Gulf Stream), flows through this 

90-mile gap. This strong current makes it unlikely that crocodiles 

would regularly, or even occasionally, move between Florida and Cuba. 

Behaviorally, American crocodiles are not predisposed to travel across 

open ocean. They prefer calm waters with minimal wave action, and most 

frequently occur in sheltered, mangrove-lined estuaries (Mazzotti 

1983). No evidence is available to suggest that crocodiles have crossed 

the Florida Straits. There are no other American crocodile populations 

in close proximity to Florida (Richards 2003) that would allow direct 

interaction of animals. The Florida DPS is effectively isolated from 

other American crocodile populations and functions as a single 

demographic unit. Consequently, we conclude that the Florida population 

of American crocodiles is separated from other American crocodile 

populations as a consequence of physical or behavioral factors.

    The genetic makeup of the Florida population of the American 

crocodile also is recognizably distinct from populations in other 

geographic areas within its range (M. Forstner, Southwest Texas State 

University, unpublished data), despite reported evidence of the 

introduction of genetic material from foreign crocodile populations (M. 

Forstner, personal communication 2002). Analysis of mitochondrial DNA 

suggests that the Florida DPS may be genetically more closely related 

to American crocodile populations in Central and South America than to 

those in Cuba and the Bahamas (M. Forstner, unpublished data). However, 

the Florida DPS remains genetically distinct and geographically distant 

from American crocodiles in central and south America.

    In addition to the effective spatial isolation of the Florida 

population, the regulatory mechanisms providing protection for the 

crocodile and the level of enforcement of protections are substantially 

different outside of Florida, across international government 

boundaries. The first listing of the American crocodile under the Act 

only included the Florida population, and protection under the Act was 

extended to populations outside of the United States several years 

later (see ``Previous Federal Actions'' section). Florida supports the 

only population of the American crocodile that is subject to the full 

jurisdiction of the Act. Though the American crocodile is protected 

from international commerce by the Convention on International Trade in 

Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), other countries 

have distinctly different regulatory mechanisms in place that do not 

provide the same level of protection from exploitation, disturbance, or 

loss of habitat within their jurisdictional boundaries for the American 

crocodile. Cuban laws provide protection to both crocodiles and 

crocodile habitat (Soberon 2000), and enforcement of those laws is 

reported to be good (P. Ross, International Union for the Conservation 

of Nature, Crocodile Specialists Group, personal communication 2002). 

However, the threats to crocodiles in Cuba are different than in the 

United States, with most human-caused mortality resulting from 

subsistence hunting due to a depressed economy. In the Dominican 

Republic, Jamaica, and Haiti, a wide variety of threats, conservation 

regulations, and levels of enforcement make the level of protection 

within these countries difficult to quantify or evaluate. Threats to 

American crocodile populations vary substantially throughout their 

range in Central and South America, with threats including malicious 

killing, illegal subsistence hunting in areas with a depressed economy, 

incidental mortality during legal caiman hunting, killing by fishermen, 

and incidental mortality in fishing nets (Ross 1998, Soberon 2000, 

Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000, P. Ross personal communication, 2002). 

Therefore, significant differences do exist in control of exploitation, 

management of habitat, conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms in 

areas of the American crocodile's range outside of Florida.

    Significance: The DPS policy states that populations that are found 

to be discrete will then be examined for their biological or ecological 

significance. This consideration may include evidence that the loss of 

the population would create a significant gap in the range of the 

taxon. The Florida population of the American crocodile represents the 

northernmost portion of its range in the world (Kushlan and Mazzotti 

1989a, Thorbjarnarson 1989) and the only U.S. population. Loss of this 

population would result in a significant reduction of the extent of the 

species' range. Maintaining a species throughout its historic and 

current range is important to ensure its genetic diversity and 

population viability. While it is difficult to determine to what degree 

the Florida population of the American crocodile contributes 

substantially to the security of the species as a whole, the apparent 

isolation and evidence of genetic uniqueness (M. Forstner, Southwest 

Texas State University, unpublished data) suggest that the Florida 

population substantially contributes to the overall diversity within 

the species and is biologically or ecologically significant.

Recovery Accomplishments

    The first recovery plan for the American crocodile was approved on 

February 12, 1979 (Service 1979). The recovery plan was revised on 


[[Page 15056]]

2, 1984 (Service 1984). The recovery plan for the American crocodile 

was revised again and included as part of the South Florida Multi-

Species Recovery Plan (MSRP) (Service 1999). The recovery plan for the 

crocodile in the MSRP, which was approved in May 1999, represents the 

current recovery plan for this species.

    The MSRP identifies 10 primary recovery actions for the American 

crocodile. Species-focused recovery actions include: (1) Conduct 

surveys to determine the current distribution and abundance of American 

crocodiles; (2) protect and enhance existing colonies of American 

crocodiles; (3) conduct research on the biology and life history of 

crocodiles; (4) monitor the south Florida crocodile population; and (5) 

inform the public about the recovery needs of crocodiles. Habitat-

focused recovery actions include: (1) Protect nesting, basking, and 

nursery habitat of American crocodiles in south Florida; (2) manage and 

restore suitable habitat of American crocodiles; (3) conduct research 

on the habitat relationships of the American crocodile; (4) continue to 

monitor crocodile habitat; and (5) increase public awareness of the 

habitat needs of crocodiles. All of these primary recovery actions have 

been initiated since the 1999 MSRP.

    American crocodile nest surveys and subsequent hatchling crocodile 

surveys around nest sites are conducted in all areas where crocodiles 

nest (Mazzotti et al. 2000, Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003). Nest 

monitoring has been conducted nearly continuously at each of the 

primary nesting areas since 1978. Without these data, we would have 

little evidence to support reclassification. In addition, detailed 

surveys and population monitoring have been conducted annually since 

1996 throughout the American crocodile's range in Florida. These 

surveys documented distribution, habitat use, population size, and age 

class distribution of crocodiles. During both crocodile surveys and 

nest monitoring, crocodiles of all age classes are captured and marked 

(Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003). These marked individuals continue to 

provide information on survival, longevity, growth, and movements 

(Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003). All captured individuals are marked by 

clipping tail scutes in a prescribed manner so that each crocodile is 

given an individual identification number (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003). 

In addition, hatchlings at Turkey Point are marked with microchips 

placed under the skin.

    Several ecological studies have been initiated or continued in 

recent years. Study has continued on the effects of salinity on growth 

rate and survival of American crocodiles in the wild. Previous 

laboratory studies provided a general relationship, but field data have 

improved our understanding of this relationship. In addition, analysis 

of contaminants in crocodile eggs has been conducted recently at 

Rookery Bay, and these analyses contribute to a record of contaminants 

data as far back as the 1970s.

    Protection and enhancement of nesting habitat within each of the 

three primary American crocodile nesting areas has also been ongoing 

for many years. Turkey Point Nuclear Plant has implemented management 

actions to minimize disturbance to crocodiles and their nesting 

habitat. This includes the designation of nesting ``sanctuaries'' where 

access and maintenance activities are minimized. Habitat management in 

these areas includes exotic vegetation control and encouraging the 

growth of low-maintenance native vegetation. On Crocodile Lake National 

Wildlife Refuge, management has focused on maintaining suitable nesting 

substrate. The organic soils that compose the nesting substrate have 

subsided over time, leading to the potential for increased risk of 

flooding or unfavorable microclimate. Nesting substrate has been 

augmented near nesting areas. Encroaching vegetation in nesting areas 

has also been removed. In Everglades National Park, management has 

included minimizing disturbance to crocodiles resulting from public 

use, and relocation of crocodile nests that were placed in recently-

excavated spoil material subject to disturbance and inhospitable 

environmental conditions.

    Signs have been in place for several years along highways to alert 

motorists to the presence of crocodiles in the areas where most 

crocodile road kills have occurred. Fences were also erected along 

highways to prevent crocodiles from crossing, although several of these 

fences were later removed because they were ineffective. The remaining 

sections of fence are intended to funnel crocodiles to culverts where 

they can cross underneath roads without risk. Other efforts to reduce 

human-caused mortality include law enforcement actions and signs that 

inform the public about crocodiles in areas where crocodiles and people 

are likely to encounter each other, such as at fish cleaning stations 

along Biscayne Bay.

    The FWC established a standard operating protocol in 1988 to manage 

crocodile-human interactions. This protocol established a standard 

procedure that included both public education to encourage tolerance of 

crocodiles and translocation of crocodiles in situations that may 

threaten the safety of either crocodiles or humans. While the protocol 

has led to the successful resolution of many complaints, many of the 

large crocodiles that have been translocated under the protocol have 

shown strong site fidelity and have returned to the areas from which 

they were removed (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003). Translocation appears 

to be effective with small crocodiles (generally <  6 ft total length), 

but may not completely resolve human-crocodile conflicts involving 

larger, older animals. Developing an effective, proactive protocol to 

address human-crocodile conflicts is necessary to ensure the safety of 

crocodiles of all age groups near populated areas and to help maintain 

a positive public perception of crocodiles and crocodile conservation. 

We are working closely with FWC to continue development of an effective 

human-crocodile conflict management plan and to improve our 

understanding of how crocodiles respond to translocation.

Recovery Plan Provisions

    The MSRP (Service 1999) specifies a recovery objective of 

reclassifying the species to threatened, and lists recovery criteria 


    ``Previous recovery efforts identified the need for a minimum of 

60 breeding females within the population before reclassification 

could be considered. Since these criteria were developed, new 

information, based on consistent surveys, has indicated that the 

total number of nesting females has increased substantially over the 

last 20 years, from about 20 animals to about 50, and that nesting 

has remained stable at the major nesting areas. Based on the fact 

that the population appears stable, and that all of the threats as 

described in the original listing have been eliminated or reduced, 

reclassification of the crocodile will be possible, provided 

existing levels of protection continue to be afforded to crocodiles 

and their habitat, and that management efforts continue to maintain 

or enhance the amount and quality of available habitats necessary 

for all life stages.''

    Based on the criteria outlined in the MSRP, we can consider the 

American crocodile for reclassification to threatened status in Florida 

at this time, because crocodiles and their habitat are still protected 

and management efforts continue to maintain or enhance the amount and 

quality of available habitat. In addition, for several reasons, we 

believe that we have surpassed what prior recovery plans outlined as 

necessary to reclassify the American crocodile: The nesting range has 

expanded on both the east and west coasts of the State; crocodiles are

[[Page 15057]]

frequently being seen throughout most of their historical range; 

nesting has extended back into Biscayne Bay on Florida's east coast and 

now commonly occurs at the Turkey Point Nuclear Plant; nesting has been 

increasing for several years; and during 2003, 61 crocodile nests were 

discovered in south Florida. The level of protection currently afforded 

to the species and its habitat, as well as the status of habitat 

management, are outlined in the ``Summary of Factors Affecting the 

Species'' section of this proposed rule.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4(a)(1) of the Act and regulations promulgated to implement 

the listing provisions of the Act (50 CFR part 424) set forth five 

criteria to be used in determining whether to add, reclassify, or 

remove a species from the list of threatened and endangered species. 

These factors and their application to the American crocodile are as 


A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 

of Its Habitat or Range

    The original listing proposal (40 FR 17590) identified intensive 

human development and subsequent loss of American crocodile habitat as 

a primary threat to crocodiles. Since listing, much of the nesting 

habitat in Florida for crocodiles remains and has been afforded some 

form of protection. In addition, nesting activity that was concentrated 

in a small portion of the historic range in northeastern Florida Bay at 

the time of listing now occurs on the eastern, southern, and 

southwestern portions of the Florida peninsula. The primary nesting 

areas in northern Florida Bay that were active at the time of listing 

in 1975 remain protected and under the management of Everglades 

National Park, which has consistently supported the largest number of 

nests and the largest population of American crocodiles in Florida. The 

habitat in Everglades National Park is protected and maintained for 

crocodiles, and ongoing hydrologic restoration efforts may improve the 

quality of the habitat in the Park. Park managers emphasize maintaining 

a high-quality natural habitat that includes natural crocodile nesting 

areas. Restoration of disturbed sites, hydrologic restoration, and the 

removal of exotic vegetation like Australian pine and Brazilian pepper 

have improved crocodile nesting sites, nursery habitat, and other areas 

frequented by crocodiles.

    Since the original listing, we have acquired and protected an 

important nesting area for crocodiles, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife 

Refuge on Key Largo. The acquisition of the Crocodile Lake National 

Wildlife Refuge in 1980 provided protection for over 2,205 ha (5,000 

acres) of crocodile nesting and nursery habitat on Key Largo. The 

habitat on Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge is protected and 

managed to support the local crocodile population. All of the nesting 

on Key Largo occurs within Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge on 

artificial substrates composed of spoil taken from adjacent ditches 

that were dredged prior to acquisition of the property. These sites and 

the surrounding high-quality nursery habitat consistently support five 

to eight successful crocodile nests each year. The artificial substrate 

at nesting sites on the Refuge has begun to settle, and in an effort to 

continue maintenance of crocodile nesting habitat, the Refuge staff 

recently has augmented the substrate at certain sites to bring it back 

to its original elevation. Nesting has been documented at both of the 

elevated mounds. In order for these areas to remain as nesting and 

nursery sites, they need to be cleared of invasive exotics. 

Encroachment of native and exotic plants along the levies needs to be 

controlled in order for them to remain suitable for nesting crocodiles 

and their young. In general, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge is 

closed to public access. Access is granted by special use permit only. 

Both of these sites (Crocodile Lake NWR and Everglades National Park) 

have already implemented programs that provide for maintenance of 

natural conditions that will benefit the crocodile and are in the 

process of preparing management plans that will formalize ongoing 

management actions and further protect crocodile habitat (S. Klett, 

Service, personal communication 2002, Skip Snow, Everglades National 

Park, personal communication 2002). A management plan as defined here 

and throughout this proposal is not regulatory. These plans are 

developed by the property owners, and they outline strategies and 

alternatives believed to be necessary to conserve important habitat and 

in some cases species on the property. Implementation of the plan is 

not mandatory, but it should be updated on a regular basis so managers 

and staff on site have available the latest information and guidance 

for crocodile management.

    In addition to these two primary core sites of publicly owned 

active nesting habitat for crocodiles, additional nesting habitat has 

been created within the historic range of the crocodile, but on a site 

that may not have historically supported nesting. The Turkey Point 

Nuclear Power Plant site, owned and operated by Florida Power and Light 

(FPL), contains an extensive network of cooling canals (built in 1974) 

that appear to provide good crocodile habitat in Biscayne Bay. The site 

is approximately 1,214 ha (3,000 acres), and the majority is considered 

crocodile habitat. The number of nests at this site has risen from 1 to 

2 per year between 1978 and 1980 (Gaby et al. 1985) to 10 to 15 nests 

per year in the late 1990s (Brandt et al. 1995, Cherkiss 1999, J. 

Wasilewski personal communication 2002). This property now supports the 

second largest breeding aggregation of American crocodiles in Florida. 

The Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant site, privately owned by FPL, has 

developed and implemented a management plan for their property that 

specifically addresses crocodiles for many years. Turkey Point is also 

closed to access other than personnel who work at the facility. FPL 

personnel maintain the canals and crocodile habitat at Turkey Point, by 

activities like exotic vegetation control and planting of low-

maintenance native vegetation. They also have supported an extensive 

crocodile monitoring program since 1976. Operation of the Turkey Point 

Nuclear Power Plant is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 

through 2032, and FPL plans to continue crocodile management and 

monitoring while the plant is in operation (J. Wasilewski, FPL, 

personal communication 2003).

    FPL has also developed the Everglades Mitigation Bank along the 

western shore of Biscayne Bay and immediately adjacent to the Turkey 

Point Nuclear Power Plant, which may help bolster the crocodile 

population in Biscayne Bay in coming years. This site is a wetlands 

mitigation bank, approximately 5,665 ha (14,000 acres) in size, of 

which about 5,050 ha (10,000 acres) is crocodile habitat. To date, 

crocodile nesting has not been recorded on this site (J. Wasilewski, 

personal communication 2002); however, habitat restoration and 

management actions intended to improve nesting habitat may provide 

three additional nesting areas, each capable of supporting multiple 

nests (J. Wasilewski, personal communication 2002). It is difficult to 

estimate in advance how many potential nesting sites will occur in 

these three nesting areas, but we believe that it will be roughly 

equivalent to the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant site. This area will 

be protected in perpetuity and may help offset any loss of the 

artificial habitat at Turkey Point Nuclear Power

[[Page 15058]]

Plant if that site is modified after the current operating license 

expires in 2032. Even though the nesting habitat at Turkey Point has 

been created and all of the nesting at Crocodile Lake National Wildlife 

Refuge and some areas of Everglades National Park is on artificial or 

created substrate, crocodiles have successfully moved into and used 

this habitat. We believe that it is important to continue to provide 

protection for the artificial habitats that crocodiles 

opportunistically use within their current range.

    Outside of these areas that now comprise the core of nesting 

habitat for American crocodiles in Florida, land acquisitions have also 

provided protection to many other areas of potential habitat for 

crocodiles. A total of 44 different public properties, owned and 

managed by Federal, State, or county governments, as well as 2 

different privately owned properties managed at least partially or 

wholly for conservation purposes, contain potential habitat for 

crocodiles in Florida. A total of 35 of the publicly-owned or private 

conservation lands operate under current management plans (e.g., 

Florida Department of Natural Resources 1991). All of the plans 

prescribe management actions that will provide conditions beneficial 

for crocodiles and maintain or improve crocodile habitat and potential 

nesting sites. A common action called for in many of the plans is 

exotic vegetation control. Sites including Rookery Bay National 

Estuarine Research Reserve, Collier-Seminole State Park, and others 

list goals to restore the natural freshwater flow patterns through 

hydrological restoration (e.g., Florida Department of Environmental 

Protection 2000). The 44 other public properties contain about 28,330 

ha (70,000 acres) of potential crocodile habitat, whereas together 

Everglades National Park and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge 

contain alone about 131,120 ha (324,000 acres). A total of 

approximately 166,000 ha (410,000 acres) of mangrove-dominated 

vegetation communities are currently present in south Florida on public 

and private lands that are managed at least partially for conservation 

purposes. Approximately 10,117 ha (25,000 acres) of mangrove habitat 

occurs in south Florida outside of public or privately-owned 

conservation lands. Only a small fraction (<  5 percent) of known nests 

currently occur on unprotected sites (F. Mazzotti, personal 

communication 2001), and these sites are probably less secure than 

sites on properties under public ownership.

    Construction and development within coastal areas continues to 

grow, and still poses a threat to remaining crocodile habitat that is 

not protected. However, each year only a few nests may occur on 

privately-owned, unprotected sites (F. Mazzotti, personal communication 

2001). With virtually all known crocodile habitat under protection for 

conservation purposes, the total Florida crocodile population now 

believed to be estimated between 500 and 1,000 individuals (not 

including hatchlings), the expansion of the crocodile's nesting range 

to both the east and west coast of Florida, and with crocodiles 

frequently being seen throughout most of their historical range, we 

believe that the amount and quality of crocodile habitat in south 

Florida will continue to be maintained or enhanced sufficiently in 

order to provide protection for all life stages of the existing 

crocodile population. We also believe that available habitat can 

support population growth and expansion.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 

Educational Purposes

    Prior to listing in 1975, crocodiles were frequently collected for 

museums and zoos, and at least occasionally shot for sport. Though it 

is difficult to estimate the magnitude of collection and sport hunting, 

several lines of evidence suggest that they may have significantly 

impacted the Florida population prior to listing. Moore (1953) reported 

on a collector who advertised that he would pay for any live crocodiles 

anywhere in south Florida; these were added to his collection at a 

zoological garden. This collector claimed to have the largest 

collection of American crocodiles in the United States. Shooting for 

sport was also common, as was both incidental and intentional killing 

by fishermen in Florida Bay (Moore 1953). At the time of listing in 

1975, our final rule stated that poaching for skins and eggs still 

sometimes occurred and crocodiles were occasionally shot for sport from 

passing boats. Ogden (1978) reported that half of the human-caused 

crocodile deaths recorded between 1971 and 1975 resulted from shooting.

    Since listing in 1975, collection of wild American crocodiles has 

ceased, and few shootings have been reported (Kushlan 1988, Moler 

1991a, P. Moler personal communication 2001). Kushlan (1988) reported 

that only 3 of 13 human-caused mortalities between 1975 and 1984 

resulted from shooting (approximately 23 percent). Moler (1991a) 

reported 27 recorded human-caused mortalities from 1980 to 1991. During 

this period, only one shooting was reported (approximately 4 percent of 

human-caused mortalities). Since 1991, no crocodile mortalities 

resulting from shooting have been recorded. This declining trend in the 

number of recorded shootings suggests reduced risk to crocodiles from 

this threat. The few legal cases involving take of crocodiles in south 

Florida have been publicized and may have deterred poaching and killing 

of crocodiles. Stories in newspapers and other popular press, as well 

as radio and television reports and documentaries, have aided in 

informing residents and visitors about the status and legal protection 

of American crocodiles.

    We receive no to few requests for recovery permits during a given 

year for commercial or scientific purposes related to the crocodile in 

Florida. We have no reason to believe that trade or any other type of 

current or future utilization pose a risk to the American crocodile 

population in Florida.

C. Disease or Predation

    Depredation of American crocodile nests by raccoons was cited in 

the original listing of crocodiles as a threat to the population. 

However, predation on nests by raccoons at Turkey Point Nuclear Power 

Plant or Crocodile Lake NWR has not been observed (F. Mazzotti, 

personal communication 2004). Predation on nests has been caused by 

fire ants in Everglades National Park (one nest) and Turkey Point 

Nuclear Power Plant (several nests) (F. Mazzotti, personal 

communication 2004). Monitoring of nest sites throughout the range of 

the crocodile in Florida has shown that depredation is not a major 

cause of nest loss. On average, 20.1 percent (range 2.8 to 45.0 

percent) of nest failures resulted from depredation (Kushlan and 

Mazzotti 1989b, Mazzotti 1989, Moler 1991b, Mazzotti et al. 2000, 

Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2001).

    Predation on nests in Everglades National Park has been variable 

with an increasing trend that has not been tested for statistical 

significance (F. Mazzotti, personal communication 2004). For example, 

the majority of nests near Little Madeira Bay, within Everglades 

National Park, have been depredated by raccoons in recent years 

(Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2001). While a few years ago, most of the 

predation in Everglades National Park was on nests in artificial 

substrates, now most of the predation is on nests at beach nest sites 

which are historically the most productive in Everglades National Park 

(F. Mazzotti, personal communication 2004). This is of concern as these 

are the only nests on

[[Page 15059]]

natural habitat left in the U.S. Nest depredation may become an 

increasing problem as the density of crocodile nests increases, 

allowing for raccoons and other nest predators to become specialized in 

locating nests (Mazzotti 1999). However, localized efforts to control 

raccoons may boost productivity rates in areas where raccoon 

depredation has become problematic.

    There is no evidence of disease in the American crocodile 

population in Florida. Therefore, disease does not present a known 

threat to the crocodile in Florida.

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The Act currently provides protection for the American crocodile as 

an endangered species, and these protections would not be significantly 

reduced if it were reclassified to threatened. A more complete 

discussion of applicable Federal regulations is included below (see 

``Available Conservation Measures'' section). In addition to the 

Federal regulations described below, the National Park Service has 

established regulations for general wildlife protection in units of the 

National Park System that prohibit the taking of wildlife; the feeding, 

touching, teasing, frightening or intentional disturbing of wildlife 

nesting, breeding, or other activities; and possessing unlawfully taken 

wildlife or portions thereof (36 CFR 2.2).

    The State of Florida provides legal protection for the American 

crocodile within the State. In 1967, the State of Florida listed the 

crocodile as ``protected.'' This status was revised in 1972, when the 

American crocodile was listed as ``endangered'' under Chapter 68A-27 of 

the Florida Wildlife Code. Chapter 68A-27.003 of the Florida Code, 

entitled ADesignation of endangered species; prohibitions; permits' 

specifies that Ano person shall pursue, molest, harm, harass, capture, 

possess, or sell'' any of the endangered species that are listed. 

Violation of these prohibited acts can be considered a third degree 

felony, and is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine 

(Florida Statute 372.0725). At this time, the FWC has no immediate 

plans to change the American crocodile's status, regardless of whether 

or not the Service reclassifies the species to threatened (P. Moler, 

FWC, personal communication 2004). The FWC also currently operates 

under a cooperative agreement with us under section 6 of the Act that 

formalizes a cooperative approach to the development and implementation 

of programs and projects for the conservation of threatened and 

endangered species.

    On June 28, 1979, the American crocodile was added to Appendix II 

of CITES. This designation reflected that the species, while not 

currently threatened with extinction, may become so without trade 

controls. On June 6, 1981, the American crocodile was moved to Appendix 

I, indicating that it was considered to be threatened with extinction. 

Generally, no commercial trade is allowed for Appendix I species. CITES 

is a treaty established to monitor international trade to prevent 

further decline in wild populations of plant or animal species. CITES 

permits may not be issued if import or export of the species may be 

detrimental to the species' survival, or if specimens are not legally 

acquired. CITES does not regulate take or domestic trade, so it would 

not apply to take within Florida or the United States. Reclassification 

of the American crocodile in Florida from endangered to threatened will 

not affect the species' CITES status.

    Several other Federal regulations may provide protection for 

American crocodiles or their habitat. Section 404 of the Clean Water 

Act (33 U.S.C. 1344 et seq.) requires the issuance of a permit from the 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the discharge of any dredged 

or fill material into waters of the United States. The Corps may deny 

the issuance of a permit if the project might adversely affect wildlife 

and other natural resources. Also, sections 401 and 403 of the Rivers 

and Harbors Act (33 U.S.C. 304 et seq.) prohibit the construction of 

bridges, roads, dams, docks, weirs, or other features that would 

inhibit the flow of water within any navigable waterway. The Rivers and 

Harbors Act ensures the protection of estuarine waters from impoundment 

or development and indirectly protects natural flow patterns that 

maintain crocodile habitat. In addition, the Federal agencies 

responsible for ensuring compliance with the Clean Water Act and the 

Rivers and Harbors Act are required to consult with us if the issuance 

of a permit may affect endangered species or their designated critical 

habitat, under section 7(a)(1) of the Endangered Species Act (see 

``Available Conservation Measures'' section below). This requirement 

remains the same whether a species is listed as endangered or 


    The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1958 (as amended), 

codified at 16 U.S.C. 661 et seq. requires equal consideration and 

coordination of wildlife conservation with other water resources 

development. This statute allows us and State fish and game agencies to 

review proposed actions and address ways to conserve wildlife and 

prevent loss of or damage to wildlife resources. The Fish and Wildlife 

Coordination Act allows us to help ensure that American crocodiles and 

their habitat are not degraded by water development projects and allows 

us to incorporate improvements to habitat whenever practicable.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    As explained in the original listing (40 FR 44149), crocodile nest 

sites were vulnerable to disturbance from increasing human activity 

because of the remoteness and difficulty of patrolling nesting areas. 

Human disturbance of crocodiles can cause them to abandon suitable 

habitat or disrupt reproduction activities (i.e., females abandoning 

their nest sites). As the American crocodile population and the human 

population in south Florida both grow, the number of human-crocodile 

interactions has increased (Tim Regan, FWC, personal communication 

2002). However, ongoing acquisition of important nesting and nursery 

sites and other additional crocodile habitat by Federal, State, or 

local governments and implementation of management plans on these 

publicly-owned properties have improved protection to crocodile nests.

    Of the three core properties that support crocodile nesting 

(Everglades National Park, Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and 

Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant), only Turkey Point has a management 

plan in place that specifically addresses the American crocodile. This 

plan calls for activities like road maintenance, vehicle access, and 

construction to be conducted in important crocodile habitat only at 

certain times or locations based on the crocodile's activity in order 

to reduce human disturbance at Turkey Point. In addition, Turkey Point 

is closed to access other than personnel who work at the facility. Both 

Everglades National Park and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 

even without species-specific management plans, have established rules 

that provide protection from disturbance to benefit the crocodile. At 

Everglades National Park, protection from disturbance is based on 

guidelines for general public use, such as instructions to stay on 

marked trails. Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge is generally 

closed to public access. However, personnel conduct necessary 

activities on the property in consideration of crocodiles to reduce 

disturbance. Activities conducted on or near the nesting sites are 


[[Page 15060]]

during the non-breeding season in order to minimize crocodile 

disturbance. Both Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge and 

Everglades National Park are preparing management plans that will 

formalize ongoing actions and more specifically address American 

crocodiles (S. Klett, personal communication 2002, Skip Snow, 

Everglades National Park, personal communication 2002). In addition, 

Everglades National Park has been preparing a draft wilderness plan 

that will benefit the crocodile mostly by general prescribed changes in 

public use in portions of the Park.

    In addition to these core nesting sites, approximately 44 public 

properties, managed as conservation lands by Federal, State, or county 

governments, provide potential habitat for crocodiles in south Florida. 

In addition, two other privately-owned sites that are maintained as 

conservation lands or that conduct natural lands management provide 

potential crocodile habitat. A total of 35 of these 46 properties 

operate under current management plans. Only two specifically mention 

management actions intended to benefit the American crocodile. However, 

other actions mentioned in management plans that will reduce 

disturbance to crocodiles include restrictions on public use, 

implementation of boat speed limits (including areas of no-wake zones), 

and prohibition of wildlife harassment. Managing potential 

human'crocodile conflicts remains an important factor in providing 

adequate protection for and reducing disturbance to crocodiles.

    The original proposed listing cites the risk of a hurricane or 

another natural disaster as a serious threat to the American crocodile 

population (40 FR 17590). Hurricanes and freezing temperatures may also 

kill some adult crocodiles (Moler 1991a), but their susceptibility to 

mortality from extreme weather is poorly documented. These events still 

have the potential to threaten the historically restricted nesting 

distribution of the American crocodile in south Florida. However, 

increased nesting activity in western Florida Bay, Cape Sable, and 

Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant have broadened the nesting range. 

Nesting now occurs on the eastern, southern, and southwestern portions 

of the Florida peninsula. While a single storm could still easily 

affect all portions of the population, it is less likely now that the 

impact to all population segments would be severe.

    The original listing rule cited the restriction of the flow of 

freshwater to the Everglades because of increasing human development as 

a potential threat to the American crocodile population in Florida. 

Ongoing efforts to restore the Everglades ecosystem and restore a more 

natural hydropattern to south Florida will affect the amount of 

freshwater entering the estuarine systems. Because growth rates of 

hatchling crocodiles are closely tied to the salinity in the estuaries, 

restoration efforts will affect both quality and availability of 

suitable nursery habitat. Decreased salinity should increase growth 

rates and survival among hatchling crocodiles. Proposed restoration 

activities in and around Taylor Slough and the C-111 canal are 

projected to increase the amount of fresh water entering the estuarine 

system, and extend the duration of freshwater flow into Florida Bay (T. 

Dean, H. McSarry, P. Pitts, Service, personal communication 2004). The 

addition of fresh water will also occur throughout many of the 

tributaries and small natural drainages along the shore of Florida Bay, 

instead of primarily from the mouth of the C-111 canal (T. Dean, H. 

McSarry, P. Pitts, Service, personal communication 2004). Salinities in 

nesting areas, including Joe, Little Madeira, and Terrapin Bays, are 

projected to be lower for longer periods than they currently are within 

this area (based on alternative D13R hydrologic plan simulation--U.S. 

Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District 

1999). This restoration project should increase the amount and 

suitability of crocodile habitat in northern Florida Bay, and increase 

juvenile growth rates and survival (Mazzotti and Brandt 1995).

    Hydrological restoration may also affect crocodile habitat in 

Biscayne Bay. Reductions in freshwater discharge will occur in the 

Miami River, Snake Creek, and central and south Biscayne Bay (H. 

McSharry, Service, personal communication 2004). These projected 

changes would appear to reduce habitat quality in a portion of Biscayne 

Bay. Consequently, the effect of the proposed hydrological 

modifications on the crocodile population in Biscayne Bay is likely 

negative. However, over the entire range of crocodile habitat that will 

be affected by Everglades restoration, we expect a benefit to the 


    Mortality of crocodiles on south Florida roads has consistently 

been the primary source of adult mortality, and this trend has not 

changed (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003). Road kills have occurred 

throughout the crocodile's range in Florida, but most have occurred on 

Key Largo and around Florida Bay, especially around Card and Barnes 

Sounds (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003). Many of the recorded crocodile 

road kills are of adults, which may result from the increased 

likelihood of large individuals being reported. We cannot accurately 

estimate the proportion of road-killed crocodiles that are reported. 

Therefore, it is difficult to accurately estimate the magnitude of this 

source of mortality or its effect on the population. However, all 

segments of the crocodile population in Florida have continued to grow 

despite this continuing mortality factor. Signs cautioning drivers of 

the risk of colliding with crocodiles have been posted along the major 

highways throughout crocodile habitat in south Florida. As discussed 

above, measures that have been identified to help reduce road kill 

mortality include installing fencing in appropriate places to prevent 

crocodiles from entering roadways and installation of box culverts 

under roadways so that crocodiles can safely cross roads.

    As the MSRP details, the success of American crocodile nesting is 

largely dependent on the maintenance of suitable egg cavity moisture 

throughout incubation, and flooding may also affect nest success. On 

Key Largo and other islands, failure of crocodile nests is typically 

attributed to desiccation due to low rainfall (Moler 1991b). Data 

compiled by Mazzotti and Cherkiss (2003) document an average of 47.5 

percent nest success from 1978 through 1999 (excluding 1991 and 1992 

due to lack of data) at Crocodile Lake NWR on north Key Largo. Nest 

failures on the mainland may be associated with flooding or desiccation 

(Mazzotti et al. 1988, Mazzotti 1989). In certain areas, flooding and 

over-drying affect nest success. Data compiled by Mazzotti and Cherkiss 

(2003) document an average of 64.4 percent nest success from 1970 

through 1999 at Everglades National Park (excluding 1975, 1976, 1983, 

1984, and 1996 due to lack of data) and 98 percent nest success from 

1978 through 1999 at Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant (excluding 1980 

and 1982 due to lack of data). However, overall, the crocodile 

population in Florida has more than doubled its size since it was 

listed to an estimated 500 to 1,000 individuals and appears to be 

compensating for these potential threats.

    The final rule listing crocodiles did not reference contaminants as 

a potential threat. However, several studies have shown that 

contaminants occur in American crocodiles in south Florida (Hall et al. 

1979, Stoneburger and Kushlan 1984, Mazzotti unpublished data). Though 

we have no evidence that contaminants have affected the crocodile 

population, we recognize that contaminants have been

[[Page 15061]]

documented in crocodile eggs. Contaminants such as pesticides and heavy 

metals may pose a threat to crocodiles in south Florida at some levels, 

but we have not yet detected them at the population level. A variety of 

organochlorine pesticide residues (DDT, DDE, and Dieldrin, among 

others), and PCBs have been documented in crocodile eggs collected from 

south Florida (Hall et al. 1979). Acute exposure to pesticides and 

heavy metals may result in death, while prolonged exposure to lower 

concentrations of organochlorines include liver damage, reproductive 

failure, behavioral abnormalities, or deformities. Despite the fact 

that contaminants have been documented in crocodile eggs in south 

Florida, the crocodile population and nesting are increasing. Little 

information is known at this time about what constitutes dangerous 

levels of these contaminants in crocodiles or other crocodilians.

    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 

information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 

faced by the American crocodile in Florida in determining this proposed 

rule. Based on this evaluation, we have determined that the American 

crocodile in its range in Florida meets the criteria of a DPS as stated 

in our policy of February 17, 1996 (61 FR 4722), and in regard to its 

status, the preferred action is to reclassify the American crocodile in 

the Florida DPS from an endangered species to a threatened species. The 

recovery plan for the crocodile states that, ``Based on the fact that 

the population appears stable, and that all of the threats as described 

in the original listing have been eliminated or reduced, 

reclassification of the crocodile will be possible, provided existing 

levels of protection continue to be afforded to crocodiles and their 

habitat, and that management efforts continue to maintain or enhance 

the amount and quality of available habitats necessary for all life 

stages.'' We believe based on our evaluation that the criteria for 

downlisting the American crocodile in the Florida DPS have been met 


    (1) The amount and quality of crocodile habitat in Florida will 

continue to be maintained or enhanced sufficiently in order to provide 

protection for all life stages of the existing crocodile population and 

available habitat can support population growth and expansion; and

    (2) Acquisition of important nesting and nursery sites and other 

additional crocodile habitat by Federal, State, or local governments 

and implementation of management on these publicly-owned properties 

have improved protection to crocodiles and crocodile nests.

Available Conservation Measures

    Two of the three primary nesting areas for American crocodiles in 

Florida occur on Federal conservation lands and are consequently 

afforded protection from development and large-scale habitat 

disturbance. Crocodiles also occur on a variety of State-owned 

properties, and existing State and Federal regulations provide 

protection on these sites. The fact that American crocodile habitat is 

primarily wetlands also assures the opportunity for conference or 

consultation on most projects that occur in crocodile habitat under the 

authorities described below.

    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 

practices. Recognition through listing increases public awareness of 

threats to the American crocodile, and promotes conservation actions by 

Federal, State, and local agencies, private organizations, and 

individuals. The Act provides for possible land acquisition and 

cooperation with the State, and requires that recovery actions be 

carried out. 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 the American crocodile and its 

designated critical habitat (41 FR 41914). Regulations implementing 

this interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 

CFR part 402. If a Federal action may affect the American crocodile or 

its designated critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency must 

enter into formal consultation with us. Federal agency actions that may 

require consultation with us include Corps of Engineers involvement in 

projects such as residential development that requires dredge/fill 

permits, the construction of roads and bridges, and dredging projects. 

Power plant development and operation under license from the Federal 

Energy Regulatory Commission/Nuclear Regulatory Commission may also 

require consultation with respect to licensing and re-licensing.

    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 17.21 and 50 CFR 17.31, 

in part, make it illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of 

the United States to take (includes harass, harm, and pursue, hunt, 

shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect; or to attempt any of 

these), import or 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 our agents and agents of 

State conservation agencies.

    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 

involving threatened wildlife under certain circumstances. Regulations 

governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.32. Such permits are 

available for scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation or 

survival of the species, and/or for incidental take in the course of 

otherwise lawful activities. For threatened species, permits also are 

available for zoological exhibition, educational purposes, or special 

purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act.

    Questions regarding whether specific activities will constitute a 

violation of section 9 should be directed to Cindy Schulz of the South 

Florida Ecological Services Office (see ADDRESSES section). Requests 

for copies of the regulations regarding listed species and inquiries 

about prohibitions and permits may be addressed to the U.S. Fish and 

Wildlife Service, Ecological Services Division, 1875 Century Boulevard, 

Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 30345 (telephone 404/679-4176, facsimile 


    This proposed rule recommends a change in status of the American 

crocodile at 50 CFR 17.11, from endangered to threatened. If made 

final, this rule would formally recognize that this species is no 

longer in imminent danger of extinction throughout all or a significant 

portion of its range in Florida. However, this reclassification would 

not significantly change the protection afforded this species under the 

Act. Anyone taking, attempting to take, or otherwise possessing an 

American crocodile, or parts thereof, in violation of section 9 would 

still be subject to a penalty under section 11 of the Act. Section 7 of 

the Act would still continue to protect the American crocodile from 

Federal actions that might jeopardize its continued existence or 

destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat.

    If the crocodile is listed as threatened, recovery actions directed 

at the crocodile would continue to be implemented as outlined in the 


[[Page 15062]]

The MSRP identifies actions that will result in the recovery of the 

American crocodile, including--(1) Determining the current distribution 

and abundance; (2) protecting and enhancing existing crocodile 

colonies; (3) conducting research on the American crocodile's biology 

and life history; (4) monitoring the south Florida crocodile 

population; and (5) informing the public about the recovery needs of 

crocodiles. The MSRP also outlines restoration activities that should 

be undertaken to adequately restore the mangrove community that the 

crocodile occupies. These actions include--(1) Protecting crocodile 

nesting, basking, and nursery habitat; (2) managing and restoring 

suitable crocodile habitat; (3) conducting research on the habitat 

relationships of the crocodile; (4) continuing to monitor crocodile 

habitat; and (5) increasing public awareness of the habitat needs of 

the crocodile.

    Finalization of this proposed rule would not constitute an 

irreversible commitment on our part. Reclassification of the American 

crocodile in Florida to endangered status would be possible if changes 

occur in management, population status, and habitat or other actions 

detrimentally affect the population or increase threats to its 


Peer Review

    In accordance with our policy published on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 

34270), we will seek the expert opinions of at least three appropriate 

and independent specialists regarding this proposed rule. The purpose 

of this review is to ensure that listing decisions are based on 

scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We will send 

these peer reviewers copies of this proposed rule immediately following 

publication in the Federal Register. We will invite these peer 

reviewers to comment, during the comment period, on the specific 

assumptions and conclusions regarding the proposed reclassification of 

the American crocodile in Florida.

    The final decision on this proposed rule will take into 

consideration the comments and any additional information we receive, 

and such communications may lead to a final regulation that differs 

from this proposal.

    The Act provides for one or more public hearings on this proposal, 

if requested. We must receive requests within 45 days of the date of 

publication of the proposal in the Federal Register. Such requests must 

be made in writing and be sent to the South Florida Ecological Services 

Office, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960.

Executive Order 12866

    Executive Order 12866 requires agencies to write regulations that 

are easy to understand. We invite your comments on how to make this 

rule easier to understand including answers to the following: (1) Is 

the discussion in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of the preamble 

helpful in understanding the proposal?; (2) does the proposal contain 

technical language or jargon that interferes with its clarity?; (3) 

does the format of the proposal (grouping and order of sections, use of 

headings, etc.) aid or reduce its clarity; and (4) what else could we 

do to make the rule easier to understand?

    Send a copy of any comments that concern how we could make this 

proposed rule easier to understand to the Office of Regulatory Affairs, 

Department of the Interior, Room 7229, 1849 C St., NW., Washington, DC 


Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.)

    This rule does not contain any new collections of information for 

which Office of Management and Budget Approval is required under the 

Paperwork Reduction Act. 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 17.72.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that an Environmental Assessment, as defined 

under the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 

need not be prepared in connection with regulations adopted pursuant to 

section 4(a) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. We 

published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination in the 

Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this document, as well 

as others, is available upon request from the South Florida Ecological 

Services Office (see ADDRESSES section).


    The primary author of this document is Tylan Dean, Fish and 

Wildlife Biologist (see ADDRESSES section).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 

recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    We propose to 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 Sec.  17.11(h) by revising the entry in the List of 

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife for ``Crocodile, American'' under 

REPTILES to read as follows:

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


                                                                      * * * * * * *


                                                                      * * * * * * *

Crocodile, American............  Crocodylus acutus.  U.S.A. (FL),        Entire, except in   E             10, 87, --       NA                        NA

                                                      Mexico,             U.S.A. (FL).


                                                      Central and South


[[Page 15063]]

 Do............................  ......do..........  ......do..........  U.S.A. (FL).......  T             10, 87, --       17.95(c)                  NA

                                                                      * * * * * * *


    Dated: January 28, 2005.

Marshall P. Jones,

Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.

[FR Doc. 05-5640 Filed 3-23-05; 8:45 am]