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October 6, 2000


Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (404) 679-7291

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced a proposal to designate critical habitat in North Carolina and Tennessee for the endangered spruce-fir moss spider. This small spider, with light to dark reddish brown coloration, is related to the more commonly known tarantulas of the southwestern United States.

"This is a classic case of a native species declining because of the introduction of an invasive species," said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service's Southeast Regional Director. "In this case, a non-native insect, the balsam wooly adelgid, was accidently introduced into the United States from Europe. The introduction of this insect has resulted in a massive die-off of Fraser fir trees throughout the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and in turn, the destruction of the spruce-fir moss spider's habitat."

He went on to explain that spruce-fir moss spiders live in moss mats that are only found near Fraser fir trees. When the balsam wooly adelgid infests mature Fraser firs, the trees die within 2 to 7 years, leaving the remaining trees more susceptible to being blown over. Loss of trees results in increased light and temperature and decreased moisture on the forest floor, causing the moss mats on which the spider depends to dry up and become unsuitable habitat.

The spruce-fir moss spider was originally described in 1925 based on
collections made from western North Carolina. Only a few specimens were taken, and little was known about the species until its rediscovery on Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, approximately 50 years later. The Service officially added the spruce-fir moss spider to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants in 1995. At that time, the Service determined that the designation of critical habitat was not prudent for the spruce-fir moss spider because, after review of all available information, the agency believed that such a designation would not benefit the spider and could, in fact, further threaten it by identifying its location to potential collectors.

Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential
for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations. However, this designation does not set up a preserve or refuge, nor does it affect activities on private land that have no Federal involvement. Its protection only applies to situations where Federal funding, authorization , or land is involved. Under the Endangered Species Act, Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on any action they take that may affect critical habitat, either directly or indirectly. This requirement has no regulatory impact on landowners taking actions on their land that do not involve Federal funding or authorization.

The Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project and the Foundation for Global Sustainability filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia against the Service, on June 30, 1999, challenging the Service's "not prudent" critical habitat determination for the spruce-fir moss spider and three other species. On February 29, 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in which the Service agreed to reexamine its prudency determination and submit to the Federal Register, by October 1, 2000, a withdrawal of the existing "not prudent" determination for the spider, together with a new proposed critical habitat determination.

The proposal that is published in the Federal Register is the product of the Service's reexamination of the prudency determination for the spruce-fir moss spider. The proposal reflects the Service's interpretation of recent judicial opinions on critical habitat designation, and the standards placed on the Service by those opinions.

The proposed area of designated critical habitat includes areas, at elevations of 5,400 feet and higher, on Grandfather Mountain in Avery, Caldwell, and Watauga Counties, North Carolina; Mount Collins, Clingmans Dome, and Mount Buckley in Swain County, North Carolina, and Sevier County, Tennessee; Mount LeConte in Sevier County, Tennessee, and Roan Mountain in Avery and Mitchell Counties, North Carolina, and Carter County, Tennessee. The areas proposed as critical habitat for the spider are all, with one exception, on Federal lands: within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. The area on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina that is proposed for critical habitat designation is privately owned, but is being managed by The Nature Conservancy through an agreement with the landowner.

The only regulatory consequence of this designation of critical habitat is that Federal agencies must consult with the Service before undertaking actions, issuing permits, or providing funding for activities that might destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Because the spruce-fir moss spider is already listed as endangered, that consultation is already taking place, and therefore there will be no additional regulatory burden on Federal agencies.

In addition, even before the spruce-fir moss spider was listed, the Service had been working with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, the landowner of the Grandfather Mountain site, and others to carry out research and other conservation/recovery activities for the spruce-fir moss spider, including identifying activities that threaten the spider and its habitat and carrying out measures to eliminate these threats.

The Service is soliciting data and comments from the public on all aspects of the proposal to designate critical habitat for the spruce-fir moss spider. Comments should be submitted to the State Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Asheville Field Office, 160 Zillicoa Street, Asheville, North Carolina 28801, by December 8, 2000. Requests for a public hearing must be submitted by November 24, 2000. Additional information may be obtained from the Asheville Field Office by contacting Mr. John Fridell at 828/258-3939, Ext. 225 or e-mail john_fridell@fws.gov.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife 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 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.

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Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286

2000 News Releases

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