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Public Invited to Comment on Revisions to Proposed Critical Habitat for Braun's Rock-Cress and Revised Draft Economic Analysis


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 29, 2004

Contact:
Doug Winford, 931-528-6481, Extension 215
Timothy Merritt, 931-528-6481, Extension 211
Tom MacKenzie, 404-679-7291


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a revised draft report on the potential economic impacts of revisions to a proposed designation of critical habitat for Braun's rock-cress in Kentucky and Tennessee. This perennial plant is a member of the mustard family and produces small, white to lavender flowers in the spring. The public is invited to submit comments on the proposed designation or on the revised draft economic analysis report by March 1, 2004.

When specifying any particular area as critical habitat, the Endangered Species Act requires the Service to consider economic and other relevant impacts of the designation. If the benefits of excluding an area outweigh the benefits of including it, the Service may exclude an area from critical habitat, unless such action would result in the extinction of any of the species in question.

Critical habitat is a term used in the Endangered Species Act to identify geographic areas essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and 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.

The Service proposed critical habitat for Braun's rock-cress on June 3, 2003. The proposal was completed in response to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project. The proposal included 20 upland areas, totaling approximately 1,008 acres in Kentucky and Tennessee.

There are no changes to the 17 units in Kentucky contained in the revised proposal; all proposed changes occur in Tennessee. The three originally-proposed critical habitat units in Tennessee are being expanded to include additional plants that were recently found. Two new populations of Braun's rock-cress have also been found in Tennessee. These newly discovered populations increase the present distribution of the plant throughout its range. All the new sites contain one or more of the primary constituent elements that are essential for the conservation of Braun's rock-cress. The revised proposal includes 22 upland areas, totaling approximately 1,600 acres in Kentucky and Tennessee. The Tennessee acreage has increased from 198 acres to 790 acres based on the new population information the Service has received from the Tennessee Division of Natural Heritage. The Service is not proposing critical habitat for any unoccupied habitat.

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.

Copies of the proposed rule and revised draft economic analysis for the critical habitat designation or the proposed designation of critical habitat for Braun's rock-cress can be obtained from the Tennessee Field Office website at http://cookeville.fws.gov/ or by contacting Timothy Merritt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 446 Neal Street, Cookeville, TN 38501; phone 931-528-6481, extension 211.

The comment period announced in the proposed rule has been reopened for 30 days to allow the public to comment on the revised draft economic analysis and the revisions to proposed critical habitat designations in Tennessee. Written comments and information should be mailed, faxed, or delivered in person to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Timothy Merritt, 446 Neal Street, Cookeville, TN 38501; fax 931-528-7075; or sent by electronic 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 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 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. Visit the Service's website at http://www.fws.gov website at http://southeast.fws.gov


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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