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Manatee Reclassified from Endangered to Threatened as Habitat Improves and Population Expands – Existing Federal Protections Remain in Place

Partnerships bringing giant sea cow back from brink of extinction

West Indian Manatee. Credit: USFWS

March 30, 2017

Chuck Underwood, USFWS, (904) 731-3332,
Phil Kloer, USFWS, (404) 679-7299,

On the heels of Manatee Appreciation Day, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced the downlisting of the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened. Notable increases in manatee populations and improvements in its habitat allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to change the species’ status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The downlisting comes after diverse conservation efforts and collaborations by Florida and other manatee states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Caribbean nations, public and private organizations and citizens, there have been notable increases in manatee populations and improvements in its habitat.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has worked hand in hand with state and local governments, businesses, industry, and countless stakeholders over many years to protect and restore a mammal that is cherished by people around the world,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Without this type of collaboration and the commitment of state and local partners, this downlisting would not have been possible.”

In its review, FWS considered the status of the West Indian manatee throughout its range, which includes the Florida manatee subspecies, found primarily in the southeastern United States, and the Antillean manatee, found in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Greater and Lesser Antilles. The downlisting means that the manatee is no longer considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future without continued ESA protections.

Read the full release...

Biologist Eases Students' Bat Fears

Northern Long-eared Bat
Photo by Shannon Holbrook, USFWS

March 2, 2017

On a fall day in Daphne, Alabama, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Shannon Holbrook is in her happy place: in front of a classroom of students, teaching them about an often misunderstood species. Holbrook has dedicated several days to visiting local schools and teaching children about the world of bats. “When kids think about bats, they often think of the pop-culture definition….. sinister-looking and fanged, which incites fear,” says Holbrook, who works in the Alabama Field Office (AFO). “They have no idea how important this species is to our ecosystem in Alabama.”

How important? For starters, bats keep the insect population in check. They can eat hundreds of bugs every hour, including mosquitos, moths and grasshoppers. Not only do some of these insects spread diseases, many of them can also destroy crops. “Bats are critically important to the U.S. economy because they consume between 600 to 1300 tons of inspects per year,” explains Holbrook. “Bats in other parts of the world are effective pollinators for plants that only bloom at night, such as the Agave. Some are also efficient at dispersing seeds.”

Sixteen different bat species are found in the state of Alabama, and three of them are on the endangered species list: gray bats, Indiana bats, and northern long-eared bats. Their population is declining due to significant environmental threats, including wind turbines, habitat destruction, water pollution, pesticides, and a disease called White Nose Syndrome.

Photo submitted by Shannon Holbrook
These students are all smiles after learning that bats
are totally cool!

With so many potential threats, AFO biologists knew they couldn’t do this research alone. That’s why they’re teaming up with conservationists throughout the state and beyond to protect these unique animals. Alabama Power, the Alabama Department of Transportation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority have joined the AFO to help learn more about bats in the state, committing funds as well as people to the field work. Holbrook says partnerships are the only way to achieve the best available science.

“Understanding this species’ habitat use in Alabama during the critical spring and summer months is essential for future protection and conservation of important resources needed for the survival of bats. These groups are providing funds and manpower to help with the study. Without them, the study would not be possible,” says Holbrook.

The primary field work centers on radio-tagging and monitoring Indiana bats from Stanley-Carden cave. This requires aerial crews as well as ground support to document migration routes and roost stops. Scientists will also use mist-nets to capture the bats and replace the radio tags as necessary.

“We look forward to supporting this important research,” said Jason Carlee, environmental affairs supervisor at Alabama Power. “The information gathered in these studies will help us better understand the movement of bats within our service territory. That, in turn, could help us reduce the potential impacts of our activities, such as right-of-way maintenance and forestry operations, on these species.”

Scientists will kick-off their research in the spring of 2017. In the meantime, Holbrook continues to travel to different classrooms, hoping to shed some necessary light on bats in Alabama. “The kids have been really receptive during my classroom visits. They are starting to understand that bats play a pivotal role in our ecosystem, and they really aren’t that scary,” laughs Holbrook. “Hopefully, future generations will continue the bat work that we’ve started here in the state.”

2017: A Year of SMART Conservation

Photo credit: FWS.
RMS Senior Vice-President Jimmy Bullock meets with
AFO staff to discuss research of at-risk species on RMS property.

March 2, 2017

Resource Management Service (RMS), Senior Vice-President Jimmy Bullock, presented details of an innovative partnership between RMS and the Alabama Field Office (AFO) at the recent National Directorate meeting held at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Representing the National Alliance of Forest Owners, Jimmy provided an overview of a new and encouraging partnership that challenges old paradigms and promises to change the way we look at on-the-ground conservation in Alabama and beyond. Jimmy applauded the AFO’s groundbreaking effort to develop projects and tools to further shared conservation goals. This partnership creates vast conservation opportunities for both aquatic and terrestrial species.

Using new technology in an unprecedented opportunity for landscape-level ecosystem restoration, the AFO initially supported RMS through the Resource Conservation Partnership Program, on its Coastal Headwaters Forest (CHF) project. The CHF project seeks to test a new conservation model where private, working forests will be managed for longleaf pine and permanently protected from development.

Through our support of the CHF project, over 200,000 acres of RMS property will be opened to AFO biologists and partnering scientists, for the first time, which could bridge knowledge gaps and extend species’ distributions for wide ranging species like the gopher tortoise, various bats, and aquatic species.

To assist in this effort, AFO biologists have developed a mapping tool that strategically identifies locations and prioritizes survey efforts. The Species Monitoring and Recovery Tool (SMART) is based upon species richness maps and is designed to assist AFO biologists in inventory, monitoring, and recovery activities on RMS property. The species richness map was developed using key spatial layers of federally-listed, State priority, and at-risk species in Alabama.

By using the SMART tool and AFO’s extensive Strategic Habitat Unit (SHU) partnership model, we aim to assist RMS to conserve the longleaf pine ecosystem and its associated habitat matrix on their properties. By doing so, more than 40 federally listed and at-risk species will benefit. It is our hope that this innovative partnership will serve as an example for other forest managers, as well as build mutual trust and understanding between our agency, and an influential natural resource management company.

Service Proposes Endangered Status and Critical Habitat for Alabama’s Black Warrior Waterdog

Also Provides Economic Analysis

Black Warrior waterdog.
Photo by Joseph Jenkins,
Alabama Natural Heritage Program.

October 5, 2016

Contacts: Denise Rowell, 251-441-6630, or

Tom MacKenzie, 404-679-7291,

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to protect the Black Warrior waterdog as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of low population numbers, habitat fragmentation, and poor water quality in the Black Warrior River Basin. An endangered species is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

At the same time, the Service also is proposing to designate 669 river miles within 11 tributaries of the Black Warrior River Basin as critical habitat. The Service is including a draft economic analysis for this proposed action. The public is invited to submit comments on all of these actions through a 60-day comment period ending December 5, 2016.

The Black Warrior waterdog is not the only species struggling to survive in the Black Warrior River Basin. Fifteen other aquatic species are currently federally protected in the basin’s rivers and streams, including snails, fish, mussels, turtles, and amphibians. The flattened musk turtle, federally-listed as threatened, has habitat needs similar to the waterdog, and the two species’ ranges overlap.

Read the full release...

Black Warrior waterdog Species Profile

Proposed Listing Questions and Answers

Southeastern Orchid Placed on Federal Threatened and Endangered Species List

September 13, 2016

Gary Peeples, 828/258-3939, ext. 231,
Geoff Call, 931/528-6481,

Cookeville, Tenn. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is adding the white fringeless orchid to the federal list of threatened and endangered species, as a threatened species to protect and conserve the rare plant.

While the orchid is found in six Southern states – Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi - populations are small, isolated, and face a wide array of threats across their range. Because of the threat of collection, the Service is not designating critical habitat for this plant.

The listing follows the September 2015 proposal to protect the orchid. The Service has considered the orchid a candidate for the threatened and endangered species list since 1999, and in 2004 was petitioned by an outside group to add it to the list of protected species.

“Because of its small populations across six states and myriad threats, conserving the white fringeless orchid comes with challenges,” said Cindy Dohner, the Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We hope our partners will rally to recover the plant before its situation becomes more critical.”

The ultimate goal is to recover the orchid, so that it no longer needs the protective measures of the ESA. The Service will now develop a recovery plan for the species and work cooperatively with partners to conserve its habitat. The Service’s Southeast Region through an aggressive At-Risk species conservation effort is strengthening existing partnerships, building new ones, and completing a range of conservation actions including better surveys and monitoring to determine that 72 species across the region do not need the ESA’s protection. As a result, to date, another dozen species’ status has improved from endangered to threatened and in some cases like the Louisiana black bear have been removed from the list and recovered.

While the threatened status means the orchid is not facing imminent extinction, low numbers have been observed at more than half the orchid’s known locations, and threats are present throughout the plant’s range – leading the Service to conclude that it is likely to face extinction in the foreseeable future.

There are 57 known occurrences of the orchid, spanning six southeastern states, with 33 located entirely, or in part, on lands owned or managed by local, state, or federal governments. The orchid’s distribution is concentrated in the Cumberland Plateau of Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and extends into South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi, with isolated populations scattered across the Blue Ridge Mountains, Piedmont, and Coastal Plain. Most occurrences are in forested wetlands, though, some are in utility or transportation rights-of-way, where the plant sometimes thrives in the well-lit, open conditions. Finally, less than 20 percent of occurrences have ever been observed to have more than 100 flowering plants during a single growing season. Left unprotected, the plant’s range and abundance will likely continue to diminish.

Compounding the orchid’s plight is the fact that it appears to rely on a limited number of butterflies and a single species of fungus to complete its life cycle, making it susceptible to anything that threatens these creatures as well. Like most terrestrial orchids, white fringeless orchid has small, wind-dispersed seeds that lack nutrient reserves, so the young plants depend on a fungus to enhance sprouting and promote early growth. Though the orchid can self-pollinate, it has only three known external pollinators, all butterflies – the silver spotted skipper, spicebush swallowtail, and eastern tiger swallowtail.

Habitat destruction and modification from development, forestry practices, alteration of water flow, such as beaver dam removal, right-of-way maintenance, and invasive species also have resulted in the plant’s disappearance from 10 sites and affected dozens of others. Collection is an historical and ongoing problem. Hundreds of specimens were collected in the 1940s. A 1992 status survey for the species included reports of two nurseries collecting white fringeless orchid plants for resale. More recently, evidence of collecting was observed at a Georgia site in 2004; and in 2014, biologists from the Service and the State of Tennessee documented the loss of 52 plants to collecting from a roadside occurrence in Tennessee.

The orchid’s listing is part of the Service’s effort to implement a court-approved work plan addressing this listing workload and resolving a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing program.

The Service’s final rule listing the orchid as threatened appears in the September 13, 2016 Federal Register. Protection for this plant under the ESA becomes effective on October 13, 2016,, 30 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. For threatened plants, it is illegal under the ESA to take, damage, or destroy any such plants, from areas under federal jurisdiction or in knowing violation of any law or regulation of any State, or to possess, import, export or conduct interstate or international commerce without authorization from the Service. The ESA also requires all federal agencies to ensure actions they authorize, fund, or undertake do not jeopardize the existence of listed species.

The Service initially proposed to protect the orchid and sought public comment on September 15, 2015, and again sought public input on April 14, 2016. All comments received are posted at and are addressed in the final listing rule. For more information about this plant and the final rule visit or the Federal Register at, docket number FWS-R4-ES-0129.

Public Invited to Alabama Bat Festival to Kick-off Study of Bats

View live bats, demonstrations and meet regional biologists on July 24

Photo by Billy Pope

July 20, 2016

Contact: Tammy Freeman Brown, 334-832-4470, or
Denise Rowell, 251-441-6630,

The public is invited to the 2016 Alabama Bat Festival to celebrate the amazing world of bats. Bring the family to a free, fun-filled event at Jacksonville State University’s Environmental Policy and Information Center and Field Schools to view live bats, demonstrations, presentations and an opportunity to take a Smokey Bear selfie and take home prizes. The festival will also kick-off a week-long Regional Bat Blitz - a coordinated, intensive survey designed to sample the bat community in a specific area. Numerous scientists, students and professional biologists will work in teams to collect data in the Talladega National Forest – Shoal Creek District and learn as much as possible about the bat fauna of Alabama.

WHAT:    Alabama Bat Festival – A free,  family event  to learn the important role bats play in the ecosystem.
WHO:     U.S. Forest Service, Jacksonville State University Environmental Policy and Information Center and Field Schools, Southeastern Bat Diversity Network, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources -Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. 
WHEN:    Sunday, July 24 from 2:30 p.m. – 5: 00 p.m. Reporters should arrive by 2 p.m. for interviews before the event.
WHERE:  Jacksonville State University, Theron Montgomery Building Auditorium Jacksonville, Alabama.

NOTE TO EDITORS AND ASSIGNMENT DIRECTORS: Reporters are invited to the Bat Festival on July 24 and should arrive by 2 p.m. for interviews.  July 26 - Bat Blitz Survey – Examples of bat video, bat facts and photographs of volunteers netting bats species can be downloaded  Reporters interested in covering the bat survey on Tuesday, July 26  in the Talladega National Forest, Shoal Creek District should contact the Forest Service at 334-241-8144 or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 251-441-6630 no later than noon on July 21, if attending.



March 23, 2016

CONSERVIAN/Coastal Bird Conservation (CBC) is seeking local Shorebird Steward Volunteers for monitoring of beach-nesting birds on the Alabama coast. Volunteers will begin in May and continue through July. Hours are flexible. The focus of the work is monitoring and protecting beach-nesting bird breeding pairs, nests, and young, including Snowy and Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and other colonial nesting species. Stewards will work cooperatively with CBC field staff as part of a team on monitoring of beach-nesting birds, posting and signing of nesting areas, and interacting with partner site managers, and the beach-going public. The goal of the project is to build a long-term local network of dedicated volunteer shorebird stewards in Alabama to assist Conservian’s field staff to increase shorebird numbers and habitat quality. All shorebird monitoring is conducted on foot.

Qualifications: Volunteer Stewards must be responsible, in good physical condition, like working in teams, and be able to walk several miles in summer temperatures in coastal Alabama. Shorebird experience is not required, only enthusiasm. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about breeding shorebirds, and help to stabilize and restore their populations. Applicants must be at least 18 years old. If you would like work with us please send an email of interest and availability to Margo Zdravkovic, Conservian/CBC Director at

Conservian will provide training and supervision. Binoculars and scopes will be provided as needed. Conservian is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving coastal birds and their habitats throughout the Western Hemisphere. Every volunteer hour contributed provides required inkind match for our grant awarded under the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Power of Flight program. All regular volunteers will receive a CBC logo patch.

Go to on Facebook for more information on Conservian’s work on the Gulf Coast.

Four Southeastern Species Do Not Require Federal Protection, Two Others Under Further Review

Southern dusky salamander
Photo by Mike Graziano

March 15, 2016

Contact: Jennifer Strickland, 404-679-7299,

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a batch of 90-day findings affecting a variety of species across the nation. Biologists have determined the following species found in the southeastern United States do not require further review for federal protection at this time:

● Cheoah bald salamander in North Carolina
● Monito skink in Puerto Rico
● Southern dusky salamander in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and possibly South Carolina
● South Mountain gray-cheeked salamander in North Carolina.

With the addition of four not substantial findings, 60 southeastern species have not required federal protection as a result of either conservation actions, additional information (e.g., updated survey data), reevaluation of threats to their survival, and a lack of substantial information indicating further need for evaluation since 2010. Conservation partnerships have benefited another 11 species that have been proposed for listing as threatened rather than endangered, or are no longer in need of protection and have been proposed for delisting or delisted already.

Substantial information was presented for petitioned actions on two species. The petition to delist the endangered American burying beetle, a large, shiny black beetle with hardened protective wing covers marked by two scalloped shaped orange patterns, is currently under further review. Once found throughout the eastern U.S., the beetle is currently known to exist in only South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. In 1989 it was listed as endangered primarily due to habitat loss and degradation across its range. Service biologists now seek additional scientific and/or commercial information on the American burying beetle. To submit information, contact Brady McGee at or 505-248-6657.

The petition to protect the yellow-banded bumble bee under the Endangered Species Act is also under further review. The bee was historically found throughout the northeastern United States, south to the higher elevations of the Appalachians, westward into the upper Midwest and Rocky Mountains, and most of southeastern Canada and into British Columbia. To present additional scientific or commercial information on this species, contact Krishna Gifford at or 413-253-8619.

The notice for all findings will publish in the Federal Register Reading Room on March 15, 2016 and is available at by clicking on the 2016 Notices link under Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.

For more information on the factors that influenced our decisions, visit For more information on the 90-day finding process, visit

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Seeks Public Comment on Draft Revised Recovery Plan for Northern Great Plains Piping Plover Population

Piping Plover
Photo by Andrew Haffenden

Ryan Moehring, (303) 236-2345;

March 15, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. –The piping plover, a small, sparrow-sized migratory shorebird known for its melodic mating call, may benefit from increased conservation activities, thanks to a new recovery plan released today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).

This “Draft Revised Recovery Plan” is specific to the Northern Great Plains (NGP) piping plover population, which is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“The goal of this plan is to recover the Northern Great Plains population of piping plover and return this species to state management,” said Noreen Walsh, Regional Director for the Service in the Mountain-Prairie Region. “Using the new information we have learned about this species, and by working collaboratively with our partners, we believe we can make that goal a reality.”

Recovery plans consolidate the best available scientific information on listed species and make recommendations on actions needed to achieve recovery. They guide conservation and habitat management activities to help listed species rebound to the point they no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The Northern Great Plains population breeds along shorelines and islands of rivers and reservoirs in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska in the U.S., as well as on alkaline (salty) lakes along the Missouri Plateau, which extends into Canada. There are also small numbers breeding in Colorado and Minnesota and occasionally in Iowa and Kansas.

In the winter, the NGP population intermingles with two other piping plover populations that breed in the Great Lakes and along the Atlantic Coast. Piping plovers winter along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from North Carolina to Texas and into Mexico, the Bahamas, and West Indies.

Habitat loss and degradation, primarily due to damming and water withdrawals, are the primary threats to the NGP population on its breeding range.

Loss of suitable habitat due to development, human disturbance, predation, and sea-level rise are the primary threats to the NGP population on its wintering grounds.

To view the Full News release follow this link: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Seeks Public Comment on Draft Revised Recovery Plan for Northern Great Plains Piping Plover Population

Piping Plover Recover Plan FAQ

Protections Finalized for Threatened Northern Long-Eared Bats

Regulations focus on significant threats to the species so conservation efforts can be focused where they have the greatest effect

Northern Long-eared bat.
Photo by Pete Pattavina/USFWS.

Georgia Parham, 812-334-4261 x 1203

January 13, 2016

In an effort to conserve the northern long-eared bat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced a final rule today that uses flexibilities under section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to tailor protections to areas affected by white-nose syndrome during the bat’s most sensitive life stages. The rule is designed to protect the bat while minimizing regulatory requirements for landowners, land managers, government agencies and others within the species’ range.

“The overwhelming threat to the northern long-eared bat is white-nose syndrome,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “Until there is a solution to the white-nose syndrome crisis, the outlook for this bat will not improve. This rule tailors regulatory protections in a way that makes sense and focuses protections where they will make a difference for the bat.”

The Service listed the northern long-eared bat as threatened under the ESA in April 2015 and established an interim 4(d) rule following drastic population declines caused by white-nose syndrome in the eastern and midwestern United States. This deadly disease continues to spread westward and wreak havoc on cave-dwelling bats. In November 2015, presence of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome was confirmed in the 30th state – Nebraska.

The final 4(d) rule for the northern long-eared bat removes prohibitions that would otherwise be in place on “incidental take” of the bat in areas of the country not affected by white-nose syndrome (see map). Incidental take includes harm, harassment or mortality that occurs incidental to an otherwise lawful activity, such as clearing trees for a construction project.

Read full Press Release: NLEB 4(d) - NEWS RELEASE FINAL 1-13-16

FAQ's: FAQs NLEB Final 4d_final 01.12.2016



Last updated: March 31, 2017