Critical Habitat Proposed for Caribbean Shrub
C. melanocarpa is a branching shrub that has small spines, small leaves, and funnel shaped white flowers and grows in subtropical dry and subtropical moist forests. The plant may reach approximately 10 feet in height and produces a round, black fruit. Threats to its survival include habitat destruction or modification for residential and tourism development, fire and catastrophic natural events such as hurricanes and the limited number of reproducing plants.
“The melanocarpa is an extremely rare plant, but our hope is that by making a concerted effort, we can reverse the damage that has been done to this native plant and its habitat.” said Edwin Muñiz, field supervisor for the Caribbean Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Halfpenny Bay, St Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands is a privately-owned farm located within a dry forest life zone and contains about 100 individuals within patches of forested areas with low canopy on limestone soil. The area of Punta Melones in Cabo Rojo, the only site where the species was found in Puerto Rico at the time of listing, is not included in the proposal because the plant has not been found at the site in recent years and the habitat has been degraded, leaving no conservation potential. Two other areas in Puerto Rico where the plant is found, the Guánica and Susúa Commonwealth Forests, are also not included in the proposal because they are managed to protect wildlife and plants in perpetuity by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. While these two properties are important for the protection of C. melanocarpa, they do not meet the requirement for listing as critical habitat because of environmental protections already in place.
Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act. It identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require additional management considerations or protection. 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. Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat. Structures such as roads, buildings and paved areas and the land on which they are located are not included in critical 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 Grant and Partners for Fish and Wildlife programs 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.
Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until October 23, 2006. Written comments and information on the proposal should be submitted to the Caribbean U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office, Edwin E. Muñiz, Field Supervisor, P.O. Box 491, Boquerón, Puerto Rico 00622 or by electronic mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Public hearing requests must be received by October 6, 2006. The Service will publish an announcement in the Federal Register to notify the public when the draft economic analysis is available for review and comment. Once the draft economic analysis is available for comment, the Service will hold a public hearing on this proposed action and the draft economic analysis, if requested. A copy of the proposed rule and other information about the C. melanocarpa is available on at http://www.fws.gov/southeast or by contacting Marelisa Rivera at (787) 851-7297 or (787) 851-7440 (fax).
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 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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