U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Critical Habitat for the Louisiana Black Bear
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today published a proposed rule to designate approximately 1,330,000 acres of land in 15 Louisiana Parishes (Avoyelles, East Carroll, Catahoula, Concordia, Franklin, Iberia, Iberville, Madison, Pointe Coupee, Richland, St. Martin, St. Mary, Tensas, West Carroll, and West Feliciana) as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the threatened Louisiana black bear.
With the announcement of this proposed rule, the Service praised the work of its many partners in black bear conservation. With the help of its partners, such as the Black Bear Conservation Committee, state agencies in Mississippi and Louisiana, other federal agencies, the Louisiana Forestry Association, and private citizens, the Service estimates that about 600,000 acres of land have been restored or protected in the bear’s range since it was listed in January 1992. This includes lands that have been purchased by state and federal agencies and public and private lands protected from development as well as privately owned lands where bear habitat has been restored. Bear numbers also appear to be increasing. In 1997, the statewide Louisiana black bear population was estimated to range from 200 to 400 bears. Studies to obtain reliable current population estimates are underway but it is generally believed that the current population numbers range from 400 to 700 bears.
“We have made great strides in Louisiana black bear conservation since listing because of the strong support of federal, state, private organizations, and private landowners,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We are optimistic that those highly valued partnerships will enable us all to continue making great strides in the conservation of the Louisiana black bear.”
Areas proposed as critical habitat for the Louisiana black bear include bottomland and upland hardwood forests and adjacent vegetated areas having a diversity of plant species and age-classes of sufficient area, quality and configuration to meet the home range needs of reproductive female Louisiana black bears throughout the year or that provide areas for Louisiana black bear dispersal between populations. Those areas are contained within three critical habitat units located in the Tensas River and Upper and Lower Atchafalaya River Basins of the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley in Louisiana.
Critical habitat is a term defined in the ESA that identifies geographic areas containing features that are essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, and which may require special management considerations or protection. Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge or preserve, and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved.
Normal forest management activities as currently conducted will not be affected by a Louisiana black bear critical habitat designation. The habitat needs of the Louisiana black bear are compatible with normal forest management activities and were exempted from the “take” provisions under the ESA when the species was listed in 1992 and included a provision protecting den and candidate den trees. There is no evidence to support changing that rule.
This proposed rule was prepared pursuant to a court order resulting from a lawsuit filed against the Service by Harold Schoeffler and Louisiana Crawfish Producers-West.
The Service is evaluating and requesting public comment on whether privately-owned lands enrolled under USDA Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) permanent easements provide sufficient protection and management to satisfy the criteria necessary for exclusion from critical habitat. Currently, about approximately 53,487 acres of marginal agricultural land are known to be under a WRP permanent easement.
Written comments on this proposed rule will be accepted for the next 60 days and must be received or postmarked on or before July 7, 2008. A copy of this proposed rule is available at http://www.regulations.gov or http://www.fws.gov/policy/frsystem/default.cfm.
Written comments on the proposal should be submitted by one of the following methods:
E-mails or faxes will not be accepted. All comments will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that any personal information provided will be posted. Written requests for a public hearing will be accepted for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register until June 20, 2008. To request a public hearing, please use the Federal eRulemaking portal or write to the address listed above
The Service is preparing a draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat that will be released for public review and comment at a later date.
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. For
more information, visit: http://www.fws.gov/southeast.
Frequently Asked Questions -- Proposed Designation of Critical Habitat for the Louisiana Black Bear
Louisiana Black Bear – Designation of Critical Habitat Talking Points, Proposed Rule
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