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Critical Habitat Proposed for Braun’s Rock-cress


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 3, 2003

Contact:
Timothy Merritt, 931/528-6481
Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291


In response to a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to designate 20 upland areas, totaling approximately 1,008 acres in Kentucky and Tennessee, as critical habitat for the endangered Braun’s rock-cress plant. It was listed under the Endangered Species Act on Jan. 3, 1995.

Within this proposed critical habitat area, the recovery goal is to have 20 geographically distinct, self- sustaining populations of Braun’s rock-cress. The areas proposed as critical habitat for this plant species include 17 critical habitat units in Franklin County, Kentucky, and three in Owen County, Kentucky. In Tennessee, the Service is proposing three critical habitat units in Rutherford County. The Service is not proposing critical habitat for any unoccupied habitat.

Recently, two new populations of Braun’s rock-cress have been found. Both are in Tennessee – one in Rutherford County and one in Wilson County. Because of time and budget constraints, the Service was unable to adequately and formally analyze them for inclusion as proposed critical habitat in the draft critical habitat rule. The Service will conduct the analysis on these two new sites prior to making a final determination on the proposed rule. If the Service determines that these areas are essential, they may be included in the final designation.

Braun’s rock-cress is a perennial herb of the mustard family. Flowers appear from late March to early May, with four white to lavender petals and four pale green sepals. This plant is typically found on steep wooded slopes with limestone outcrops that tend to be moist but not wet. It needs full shade or filtered light, and prefers limestone soils.

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act identifying geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species that may require special management considerations. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands. This critical habitat proposal was completed in response to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project.

In 30 years of implementing the Endangered Species Act, the Service has found that the designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while preventing the Service from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits.

In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat. Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the Endangered Species Act including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Service’s Private Stewardship Grants and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for endangered species is provided on many national wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and state wildlife management areas.

As a listed species under the Endangered Species Act, Braun’s rock-cress is already protected wherever it occurs and federal agencies are required to consult on any action taken that might affect this species. Most public use of Braun’s rock-cress habitat will not be affected by this designation. Most activities likely would not involve a federal action that may affect critical habitat and, therefore, would not likely trigger a consultation requirement.

As part of designating critical habitat, the Service also takes into account the economic impact the designation is likely to have, as well as any other relevant impacts. The Service may exclude any area from critical habitat if it is determined that the benefits of excluding it outweigh the benefits of including it – unless a determination is made that failure to designate the area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species. The draft economic analysis of this proposed rule is complete and available to the public at the address below. The results of the analysis suggest that the potential economic impacts of the proposed designation range from $65,000 to $272,000 over the next 10 years.

A complete description of the proposed critical habitat designation was published in the Federal Register today. Copies of the proposal, the maps and the economic analysis are available by contacting Timothy Merritt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 446 Neal Street, Cookeville, Tennessee 38501; phone (931) 528-6481, ext. 211, or at http://southeast.fws.gov/news/ or http://cookeville.fws.gov.

Public hearings on this proposal will be held if requested. The Service will consider comments and information received by Aug. 4, 2003. Written comments and information on this proposal should be mailed, faxed, or delivered in person to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Timothy Merritt, 446 Neal Street, Cookeville, Tennessee 38501; Fax: (931) 528-7075, or via e-mail to timothy_merritt@fws.gov.

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 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 541 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 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.


For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at http://southeast.fws.gov/ or http://www.fws.gov/.



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