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Critical Habitat Proposed for Puerto Rican Frog


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 5, 2006


Contacts:
Lilibeth Serrano, 787-851-7297, ext. 239, (cell) 787-505-4397
Dr. Jorge E. Saliva, 787-851-7297 ext. 224

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to designate approximately 217 acres of critical habitat for the Federally threatened guajón, a frog found only in Puerto Rico. Areas proposed for critical habitat include parts of Patillas, Maunabo, Yabucoa, Humacao and Las Piedras municipalities.

The guajón is limited in its geographic distribution to southeast Puerto Rico. The proposed critical habitat areas comprise a total of 217.2 acres of private land divided into 12 units. Other areas occupied by the guajón at the time of listing were not included because they are not currently occupied by the species and do not contain habitat essential for the recovery of the guajón. Critical habitat elements for this species include subtropical forests at elevations from 118 to 1,183 feet, drainages with vegetative cover, and drainages with rocks that form crevices and caves. Structures within each site such as roads, buildings and paved areas are excluded from the proposal.

“The area proposed as critical habitat is vital because this subtropical forest supports the guajón’s biological needs throughout all of its different life stages,” said Edwin Muñiz, field supervisor for the Caribbean Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This habitat is considered to be of high importance to the recovery of the species and we hope to work cooperatively with landowners to preserve this habitat.”

The Service is seeking public input on this proposal to designate critical habitat for the guajón by December 4, 2006. Comments can be submitted via e-mail to jorge_saliva@fws.gov, or via regular mail to Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Caribbean Field Office, Road 301 km. 5.1, Post Office Box 491, Boquerón, Puerto Rico 00622

Public hearings on this proposal will be held if requested by November 20, 2006. A complete description of the proposed critical habitat designation has been published in the Federal Register today. Copies of the proposal and maps are available below or visit our website http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news/

The Service is particularly interested in comments concerning the following:

  • Reasons any area should or should not be determined to be critical habitat including whether the benefits of designation will outweigh any threats to the species due to designation;
  • Specific information on the amount and distribution of guajón habitat and what areas should be included in the designations that were occupied at the time of listing that contain the features that are essential for the conservation of the species and why. Also, what areas that were not occupied at the time of listing are essential to the conservation of the species and why;
  • Whether areas within proposed critical habitat are currently being managed to address conservation needs of the guajón;
  • Current or planned activities in the subject areas and their possible impacts on proposed critical habitat;
  • Any foreseeable economic or other impacts resulting from the proposed designation of critical habitat, in particular, any impacts on small entities or families; and,
  • Economic and other values associated with designating critical habitat for the guajón, such as those derived from non-consumptive uses (e.g., hiking, camping, wildlife-watching, enhanced watershed protection, improved air quality, increased soil retention, “existence values” and reductions in administrative costs).

Actions permitted, licensed, or funded by Federal agencies will require consultation under the Act with the Service if they are likely to adversely modify critical habitat. As a listed species under the Act, the guajón is already protected wherever it occurs and Federal agencies are required to consult on any action they take which might affect the species. Under the Act, the Service has specific time frames in which to complete the consultation process with other Federal agencies. Time frames would remain the same for projects within the designated critical habitat.

Critical habitat is a term in the Act. It identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations or protection.

This critical habitat designation responds to a settlement agreement in which the Service committed to finalize critical habitat designation for the guajón by September 30, 2006, after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior and the Service on June 10, 2003.

The guajón was originally listed as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act on June 11, 1997. The guajón is one of 16 species of frogs from the genus Eleutherodactylus, commonly known as “coquíes” that inhabit Puerto Rico, and is the second largest “coquí.” This species was named after the habitat (“guajonales”) where it was originally found. The “guajonales” are caves formed by large boulders of granite rock. Guajón females are larger than males, have solid brown coloration on the dorsal area and are uniformly white on the ventral area with white-rimmed eyes, and large, truncated disks on its feet. Males have yellow coloration on the ventral area extending from the vocal sac to the abdomen and flanks. The voice of the guajón is low and melodious.

Threats to the species include deforestation and earth movement for agricultural, urban and rural development and highway construction. In addition, the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in adjacent areas, illegal garbage dumping and the effects of catastrophic natural events such as droughts and hurricanes threaten the guajón.

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 comprised of 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.


Federal Register for the Puerto Rico Frog -- Guajón


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



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