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Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes American Crocodile in Florida to be Downlisted from Endangered to Threatened

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 24, 2005

Contacts:
Cindy Schulz, 772/562-3909, Ext 305
Britta Muiznieks,
305/453-3777
Jim Rothschild,
404/679-7291

 

One of America’s rarest reptiles, the American crocodile, has so improved that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to reclassify it from “endangered” to the less-dire status of “threatened” in its Florida range. Annual monitoring of the crocodile’s distinct population segment (DPS) in Florida and its nesting activity there show the criteria for reclassification from endangered to threatened have been achieved.

The Service also proposes to initiate a five-year review of the species. The purpose of a five-year review is to ensure that listed species have the appropriate level of protection under the Endangered Species Act. A five-year review considers all information that has become available since the original listing of the American crocodile and will evaluate population data, factors affecting the species, and ongoing conservation measures.

“Extensive monitoring of the American crocodile population in Florida has been conducted for many years. Today, the population of American crocodiles in Florida has grown from less than 300 individuals to an estimated 500 to 1,000 individuals, not including hatchlings. The nesting range has also expanded on both the east and west coasts of the state since the American crocodile was listed,” said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “We propose to reclassify the crocodile to threatened only within its current range in Florida, including coastal areas of Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Collier Counties.”

Since 1975, when the crocodile was protected under the Endangered Species Act, its numbers have climbed from 10 to 20 nesting females concentrated in a small area in northeastern Florida Bay. Crocodiles now are seen frequently throughout most of their historical range in Florida, including Key Largo, Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay and even occasional nests on the southwest coast and Marco Island. During 2003, 61 crocodile nests were discovered in south Florida, and nesting has increased for several years. It is suspected that the actual number of nesting females may be higher than the 61 nests recorded. Approximately 95 percent of the remaining crocodile habitat in south Florida has been acquired by federal, state and county agencies and is now protected from development.

"These protected areas should allow the crocodile population to expand and may provide additional nesting opportunities," Hamilton said. "Criteria in the crocodile’s recovery plan are primarily based on the number of nests and nesting females."

If this proposal is finalized, the American crocodile DPS in Florida will continue to be federally protected as a threatened species. Federal agencies would still need to ensure that activities they authorize, fund or carry out are not likely to jeopardize its continued existence. The American crocodile throughout the remainder of its range outside of the United States would remain endangered. The state of Florida provides legal protection for the American crocodile within the State. The American crocodile is listed as endangered under the Florida Wildlife Code.

The American crocodile is a large greenish-gray reptile. It is one of two native crocodilians (the other, the American alligator) that occur in the continental United States. The American crocodile is distinguished from the American alligator by a relatively narrow, more pointed snout and by an indentation in the upper jaw that leaves the fourth tooth of the lower jaw exposed when the mouth is closed. In Florida, the American crocodile ranges in size from 10.3 inches at hatching to an upper length of 12.5 feet.

The American crocodile is found in coastal regions of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, southern Mexico, Central America and northern South America, as well as the Caribbean islands. In the United States, the crocodile is limited in distribution to the southern tip of mainland Florida and the upper Florida Keys.

The Service invites public comments on its proposal to reclassify the American crocodile distinct vertebrate population segment in Florida from endangered to threatened status and to aid in the five-year review process for the species. Comments may be directed to the Field Supervisor, South Florida Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, Florida. 32960, and will be accepted through May 23, 2005. Requests for a public hearing must be submitted to the same address by May 9, 2005. For more information, contact the address above or call 772/562-3909.

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 that encompasses 545 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 national 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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