Fish and Wildlife Service Invites Public Comment on Spring Pygmy Sunfish Status, Critical Habitat Designation, and Draft Economic Analysis
April 26, 2013
- Connie Light Dickard, 601-321-1121, Connie_Dickard@fws.gov
- Tom MacKenzie, 401-679-7291, Tom_Mackenzie@fws.gov
A spring pygmy sunfish. Credit: Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Current evidence still suggests that the spring pygmy sunfish may become threatened with extinction in the foreseeable future. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has re-opened the comment period on the October 2, 2012, proposal to protect this sunfish under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and designate critical habitat, until May 29, 2013. In addition, the public can also review and comment on the draft economic analysis estimating the potential fiscal impacts of the critical habitat designation.
The spring pygmy sunfish is a spring-associated fish which is currently only found in a single spring system (Beaverdam Spring/Creek) in the Tennessee River drainage in Limestone County, Alabama. Historically, this sunfish was known to occur at two other sites in northern Alabama. The species’ decline has been attributed to water pollution, a reduction of water quantity, and impoundments. Threats to the fish and its habitat include proposed urban and industrial development, increased groundwater and surface water usage, and excessive stormwater runoff containing pesticides, herbicides, and suspended sediment.
Service biologists have identified two areas, encompassing approximately eight stream miles and 1,549 acres of spring-pool and spring-influenced wetlands, that may contain habitat essential to the conservation of the species. One of the areas is within the Beaverdam Spring/Creek system which is currently occupied by the species. The second area (Pryor Spring/Branch watershed), which was historically occupied by the sunfish, serves as a potential site for reintroductions. Of the total acreage identified, 45 percent of the stream reaches, and 39 percent of the acreage, are privately owned while the remainder is under federal ownership.
The 1,549 total acres identified reflect a 67.6-acre reduction from the former figure of 1,617 acres that was in the previous spring pygmy sunfish proposal published in October 2012. The reduction was due to a boundary error and the subsequent determination that the 67.6 acres were not essential to the conservation of the species.
The ESA requires the Service to identify the location of habitat essential for the conservation of the species, which it terms “critical habitat.” This identification helps federal agencies identify actions that may affect listed species or their habitat, and to work with the Service to avoid or minimize those impacts. Identifying this habitat also helps raise awareness of the habitat needs of imperiled species and focus the conservation efforts of other partners such as state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and individual landowners.
Although non-federal lands have initially been included in these areas, activities on these lands are not affected now, and will not necessarily be affected if the species is protected under the ESA in the future. Only if an activity is authorized, funded or carried out by a federal agency will the agency need to work with the Service to help landowners avoid, reduce or mitigate potential impacts to listed species or their identified habitat. This includes management actions on federal lands.
In addition, public and private landowners still must comply with other provisions of the ESA to protect threatened and endangered species on their lands. The Service relies on a number of voluntary, non-regulatory conservation programs to provide willing landowners with assurances to protect them for the work they do on their lands.
On June 7, 2012, the Service entered into a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) with a private landowner (Belle Mina Farm, Ltd.) and the Huntsville and North Alabama Land Trust (Land Trust) for the protection of a portion of Beaverdam Spring/Creek. Despite the beneficial effects of the conservation measures in the CCAA, threats still remain for this sunfish to the level that listing is warranted. The Service values the conservation relationships that have been established throughout the range of the species and will continue to work proactively with other landowners and stakeholders to enact additional conservation measures that will reduce threats to the species. If the spring pygmy sunfish is listed, the landowners involved with the CCAA will not have to meet any additional requirements, other than those already specified in the CCAA.
The spring pygmy sunfish proposal is part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan that resolves a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA Listing Program. The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce litigation-driven workloads and allow the agency to focus its resources on the species most in need of the ESA’s protections over the next five years.
The final decision to add the spring pygmy sunfish to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants, as well as the final identification of areas containing habitat essential to the species, will be based on the best scientific information available. In addition, the Service will utilize the economic analysis to inform and refine its identification of this habitat. Only areas that contain habitat essential to the conservation of the species, and where the benefits of this habitat outweigh potential economic impacts, will be included in the final identification.
The economic analysis for the spring pygmy sunfish estimates the incremental impacts from the critical habitat designation to be $150,000 over 20 years, or $13,000 annually.
All relevant information received during the open comment period from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties will be considered and addressed in the Service’s final listing determination for the species and identification of habitat essential to its conservation.
Comments and information may be submitted by one of two ways: (1) online at http://www.regulations.gov or (2) mail or hand delivery to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2012–0068 Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.Comments must be received or on or before May 29, 2013. Comments previously submitted on the October 2, 2012, proposal will be considered and do not need to be resubmitted. The Service will post all comments received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that any personal information provided will also be posted.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfwssoutheast, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwssoutheast, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast.