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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Draft Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat Designation to Protect Seven Mussels
Service Sets Public Hearings for July

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 21, 2007

 

Contacts: Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291
Gail Carmody, 850/769-0552 ext. 225


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a draft analysis estimating future potential costs related to the conservation of seven species of freshwater mussels protected under the Endangered Species Act ranging between $42.7 million and $67.9 million over the next 20 years in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

Interested citizens, government agencies, conservation organizations, and others will have 45 days to comment on the analysis.

At the same time, the Service is reopening the comment period on proposed critical habitat with modest changes from the proposal first released last year. The Service is required to complete the process to designate critical habitat for seven endangered or threatened freshwater mussels (the endangered fat threeridge, shinyrayed pocketbook, Gulf moccasinshell, Ochlockonee moccasinshell, and oval pigtoe, and the threatened Chipola slabshell and purple bankclimber) by October 31, 2007, under a settlement agreement that grew out of a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity. A second public review period will open for 45 days to allow all interested parties an opportunity to comment simultaneously on the proposed rule and the associated draft economic analysis.

A description of the proposed changes to the critical habitat designation and an announcement of the draft economic analysis have been published in the Federal Register today. The Draft Economic Analysis, proposed designation, and maps are on our website at http://www.fws.gov/panamacity/. Copies of the draft economic analysis, proposed designation, and maps are also available by contacting Jerry Ziewitz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1601 Balboa Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32405 FW4ESFRPanamaCity@FWS.gov. Telephone: 850/769-0552, extension 223; facsimile 850/763-2177.

Changes to critical habitat proposal

A correction will be made in the proposed rule to remove Clayton County, Georgia, which was erroneously included on the list of counties that contain proposed critical habitat. The Service proposes to modify the boundaries of two of the 11 proposed critical habitat units (Unit 2 – Chipola River, and Unit 8 – Apalachicola River) based upon new information received from the States of Alabama and Florida during the first public comment period.

The Service also proposes to add the fat threeridge to the list of species associated with proposed Unit 7, the lower Flint. Fat three ridges were considered extirpated from the Flint River Basin; however, live individuals were found in the main stem of the Flint River, in Mitchell and Baker counties, Georgia, in August 2006. This revision does not alter the proposed boundaries of Unit 7, only the listed species for which Unit 7 is considered critical habitat.

Public Hearings

The Service has scheduled public hearings on the proposed critical habitat and draft economic analysis. The hearings will take place in Columbus and Albany, Georgia, and Tallahassee, Florida during the week of July 9, 2007 at the following locations and times:

(1) July 9, 2007
Columbus State University
Elizabeth Bradley Turner Center, Auditorium,
4225 University Avenue, Columbus, GA 31807.
Public information sessions: 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Formal hearings: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

(2) July 10, 2007
Albany State University
Academic Auditorium, Room 150,
504 College Drive, Albany, GA 31705.
Public information sessions: 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Formal hearings: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

(3) July 11, 2007
Tallahassee Community College
Economic and Workforce Development, Room 105,
444 Appleyard Drive, Tallahassee, FL 32304.
Public information sessions: 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Formal hearings: 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The Service will consider comments and information received by Aug. 4, 2007. Please submit written comments on the proposal to the Panama City Field Office, ATTN: Jerry Ziewitz, at the above address. Comments may also be faxed to 850/763-2177, or sent by electronic mail (e-mail) to FW4ESFRPanamaCity@FWS.gov. Please also include “Attn: 7 mussels critical habitat” in your e-mail subject header and your name and return address in the body of your message.

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act identifying geographic areas containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species that may require special 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.

When determining areas to designate as critical habitat, the Service considers physical and biological habitat features that are essential 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 distributions of a species.

As listed species under the Endangered Species Act, the seven mussels are already protected wherever they occur, and federal agencies are required to consult 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.

When specifying an area as critical habitat, the Service considers economic and other relevant impacts of the designation. If the benefits of excluding an area outweigh the benefits of including it, the Secretary may exclude an area from critical habitat, unless this would result in the extinction of a threatened or endangered species.

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 547 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management 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 Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

 

 


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