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Critical Habitat Proposal Revised for Beach Mice

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 15, 2005

Contacts:
Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291
Janet Mizzi, 850/769-0552 ext. 247




The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a revised critical habitat designation for the endangered Perdido Key beach mouse and the Choctawhatchee beach mouse. At the same time, the agency is also proposing critical habitat for the endangered St. Andrew beach mouse. The proposed designations for these beach mice encompass approximately 6,217 acres of coastal dunes in Florida and Alabama.
 
Areas proposed as critical habitat for the beach mice include 13 units along portions of coastal dunes in southern Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. These include five units for the Perdido Key beach mouse in Escambia County, Florida, and Baldwin County, Alabama, five units for the Choctawhatchee beach mouse in Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay Counties, Florida, and three units for the St. Andrew beach mouse in Bay and Gulf Counties, Florida.

“This proposed critical habitat designation will provide benefits to beach mice by informing the public of areas that are important to their recovery,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the Service. “The designation identifies areas where we can work together with landowners and other partners to help recover them.”

Critical habitat for the Perdido Key beach mouse and the Choctawhatchee beach mouse was designated at the time of listing in 1985, when the two species were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, the designated area primarily included frontal dune habitat. The St. Andrew beach mouse was listed in 1998. At this time, the Service determined that critical habitat was not prudent for this mouse. Since their listing, new research has revealed that the oak-dominated scrub dunes landward of the secondary dunes are invaluable to beach mouse populations.

“The scrub habitat provides food, burrow sites and other needs to beach mice, and it serves as a high-elevation refuge during storms and a place for mice to reside while vegetation recovers in the primary and secondary dunes,” said Gail Carmody, Project Leader for the Service’s Panama City Field Office.

Public comments on the proposal will be accepted until February 13, 2006.  Written comments on the beach mouse proposal should be submitted to the Panama City Field Office, addressed to Sandra Sneckenberger, 1601 Balboa Ave, Panama City, FL  32405. Written comments can also be delivered to the Panama City Field Office at the same address. Comments may also be faxed to 850/763-2177, or sent by electronic mail (e-mail) to floridabeachmouse@fws.gov.

As listed species under the ESA, the Perdido Key beach mouse, Choctawhatchee beach mouse, and St. Andrew beach mouse are already protected wherever they occur and Federal agencies are required to consult with the Service on any action they take that might affect the species. The designation of critical habitat will help the species by ensuring that Federal agencies and the public are aware of the habitat needs of this species and that proper consultation is conducted by Federal agencies when required by law.

Critical habitat is a term in the ESA.  It identifies geographic areas that contain features that contribute to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations or protection. A critical habitat designation does not establish a preserve or refuge nor does it affect individual citizens, organizations, States, local governments, Tribes, or other non-federal entities that do not require Federal permits or funding. Critical habitat does not include existing developed sites within the proposed units such as roads, driveways, or buildings.

Critical habitat does not affect individual land owners applying for federal permits through the Habitat Conservation Plan process.  

The proposed redesignation of critical habitat for the Perdido Key beach mouse will have no affect on the Interagency Agreement adopted by the county last week.  This agreement responds to requests from the development community, and sets in motion a new process - created by Escambia County, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the Service – to aid in mitigating impacts to the beach mouse and its habitat while reducing the time needed to complete permits by implementing a broad-based, interagency, conservation strategy.

In 30 years of implementing the ESA, 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 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 Service, and state wildlife management areas.

When determining areas to designate as critical habitat, the Service considers physical and fbiological habitat features that contribute to the conservation of the species. These features include space for individual and population growth and for normal behavior; cover or shelter; food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements; sites for breeding and rearing offspring; and habitats that are protected from disturbances or are representative of the historic geographical and ecological distribution of a species.

As part of designating critical habitat, the Service also takes into account any economic or other relevant impacts of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. 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 exclusion will result in the extinction of the species. The Service will publish an announcement in the Federal Register at a later date to notify the public of the availability of a draft economic analysis for review and comment. The economic analysis will not be completed until 2006. Public hearings will also be held to gather comments on this proposed action and the draft economic analysis should they be requested.

Copies of the proposal and maps are available by contacting Sandra Sneckenberger, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1601 Balboa Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32405 (telephone 850/769-0552, extension 239; facsimile 850/763-2177). The proposal and maps can also be found on our website at http://www.fws.gov/panamacity.

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