For Immediate Release
June 24, 1999

Contact: Vicki McCoy
404/679-7287

Statement from Mitch King, Geographic Assistant Regional Director
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta

"My name is Mitch King. I am the Assistant Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Atlanta Georgia. I am responsible for all Service activities in Alabama, including this proposed listing of the Alabama Sturgeon as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. After considering your comments tonight and the written comments received during the comment period, I will make a recommendation to the Regional Director to either list or not list the Alabama Sturgeon.

"While I’m anxious to hear your comments, I would like to start this hearing with a brief summary of the biology of the Alabama Sturgeon. Paul Hartfield from our Jackson MS Field Office, the principle biologist working on this proposed listing, will give you this summary.

"Before I hand the microphone over to Paul, I would like to take a few minutes to address an issue that continues to be fairly contentious. That issue is the alleged impact of this proposed listing on the navigation interests of the navigable waters of Alabama and Mississippi.

"As most of you know, this issue surfaced during the 1994 proposal to list the Alabama Sturgeon. As a result of that concern the Service worked with the Corps of Engineers to carefully review channel maintenance needs of the waterway’s navigation interests and the habitat needs of the Alabama Sturgeon. The result of this effort was the development of a document which has become known as the "White Paper."   Both the Corps and the Service have adopted this White Paper and it is currently being used to assess navigation channel maintenance activities in the Mobile District. Copies of the White Paper are available to on the information table.

"The Corps and the Service agree, in the White Paper, that a listing of the sturgeon would not adversely impact the maintenance of navigation channels in the basin. The Service has determined that full implementation of the White Paper will assure that the habitat values important to the survival of the Alabama Sturgeon will be maintained.

"The utility of the White Paper in protecting sturgeon and navigation interest is more than speculation. It is proven. Over the past 2 years, the White Paper has been applied to two consultations for the Gulf Sturgeon. The Gulf Sturgeon is a Federally Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act that occupies the same river reaches and has similar habitat requirements as the Alabama Sturgeon. In these consultations, the Service found that maintenance of the navigation channel in compliance with the conditions of the White Paper would have "no effect" on the Gulf Sturgeon. The Corps projects continued without delay and navigation channel maintenance continued uninterrupted.

"Last year, the Jackson Office of the Service and the Mobile District reaffirmed support for the conditions included in the White Paper. The Service incorporated the White Paper through reference into the Federal Register notice for this listing action. The White Paper is part of the Administrative Record. Yesterday, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director Sam Hamilton and the Corps South Atlantic Division General Capka again reaffirmed our joint support of the conditions of the White Paper and the importance of making this document a part of the decision process.

"The Service has taken great pains to assure that this proposed listing will not adversely affect navigation nor the important barge related economy. It is more than our opinion that the navigation industry can continue without interruption after the listing of the Alabama Sturgeon. It is a fact that after nine years the Federally Threatened Gulf Sturgeon, which occupies the same river reach and has similar habitat requirements has not adversely impacted navigation. It is a fact that implementation of the White Paper conditions on two occasions in the past two years have had the exact results that the Corps and the Service predicted, the threatened Gulf Sturgeon was not adversely impacted and navigation maintenance continued without interruption. It’s a fact that the Corps and the Service continue to affirm the conditions of the White Paper.

"Therefore, the Service remains comfortable that should the final decision be to proceed with the listing, that navigation interests and the related economy will not be adversely impacted.

"All of the correspondence I have referred to are available on the information table.

"I'll ask Paul Hartfield to give you a summary of the biology of the Alabama Sturgeon."

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Release #:R99-057

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