For Immediate Release
November 18, 1999

Contact: Tom MacKenzie 404/679-7291


Revision of Critical Habitat for Endangered Beach Mouse Subspecies May Be Warranted, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Finds

Alabama Beach Mouse. Photo by USGS Nicholas R.Holler

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today determined that a petition seeking revision of critical habitat for three endangered beach mouse subspecies contains enough information to warrant a full review of the current designation. The agency is asking the public to comment on the petition and submit any additional scientific information.

The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation filed the petition earlier this year asking the Service to redesignate critical habitat for the Perdido Key beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus trissyllepsis), Alabama beach mouse (P. p. ammobates), and Choctawhatchee beach mouse (P. p. allophrys).

Alabama Beach Mouse Habitat. Photo by USGS Nicholas R. Holler

Having found the petition contains substantial information indicating that a revision may be warranted, the Service will conduct a thorough review before deciding whether to propose to change the areas designated as critical habitat for the species.

"This is the first step in the process of deciding whether to propose a change in critical habitat for the mice," said Sam Hamilton, the Service's regional director for the Southeast Region. "The public has an opportunity to comment now and, if the Service decides to propose a change, will have another opportunity to comment on the proposal before any final decision is reached. The Service will conduct an economic analysis prior to any revision of critical habitat."

Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations. These areas do not necessarily have to be occupied by the species at the time of designation. Critical habitat does not set up a preserve or refuge, nor does it affect activities on private lands unless federal funding or a federal permit is involved.

Federal agencies must consult with the Service before taking actions, issuing permits, or providing funding for activities that might adversely modify critical habitat.

"An endangered species is protected no matter where it is," Hamilton said. "But if you're a private landowner who is engaged in private activities that require no federal permit or funding, a critical habitat designation does not affect you."

Critical habitat for the three species now covers 2,890 acres dispersed along 34 miles of Gulf of Mexico shoreline in Alabama and Florida. Most of this critical habitat is on federal or state-managed lands. To revise the critical habitat, the Service must find that it is beneficial to the conservation of the species and supported by the best available scientific and commercial information.

The petition argued that the current critical habitat designation for the three beach mouse subspecies is now inadequate and that part of the critical habitat is being destroyed by coastal development. It did not propose specific locations for areas to be included in the critical habitat for the three species but asserted that critical habitat should include secondary and scrub dunes behind primary dunes.

The Service published its finding in today's Federal Register. The agency requests that additional data, comments, and suggestions from the public, concerned government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or other interested parties concerning the status of this species be submitted by January 18, 2000, to: Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Panama City Field Office, 1612 June Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32405.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Release #: R99-089

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