[Federal Register: November 9, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 218)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 67343-67345]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Notice of 
Designation of the Northern Sea Otter in the Aleutian Islands as a 
Candidate Species

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of designation of a candidate species.


SUMMARY: In this document, we present information on the recent 
addition of the northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) found in 
the Aleutian Islands to the list of candidates for listing under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. Identification of candidate 
taxa can assist environmental planning efforts by providing advance 
notice of potential listings, allowing resource managers to alleviate 
threats and thereby possibly remove the need to list taxa as endangered 
or threatened. Even if we subsequently list this candidate species, the 
early notice provided here could result in fewer restrictions on 
activities by prompting candidate conservation measures to alleviate 
threats to this species.
    We also announce the availability of the candidate and listing 
priority assignment form for this candidate species. This document 
describes the status and threats that we evaluated to determine that 
the northern sea otter in the Aleutian Islands warrants consideration 
for listing, and to assign a listing priority to this species.
    We request additional status information that may be available for 
the northern sea otter. We will consider this information in 
evaluating, monitoring, and developing conservation strategies for this 

DATES: We will accept comments on this document at any time.

ADDRESSES: Submit written comments and data regarding the northern sea 
otter to the Marine Mammals Management Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage, Alaska 99503.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Douglas Burn, Wildlife Biologist, 
Marine Mammals Management Office at the above address, or telephone 
907/786-3800 or facsimile 907/786-3816.



    The Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.), requires that we list taxa of wildlife and plants that 
are endangered or threatened, based on the best available scientific 
and commercial information. As part of this program, we also identify 
taxa that we regard as candidates for listing. Candidate taxa are those 
taxa for which we have on file sufficient information to support 
issuance of a proposed rule to list under the Act. In addition to our 
annual review of all candidate taxa (64 FR 57534; October 25, 1999), we 
have an on-going review process, particularly to update taxa whose 
status may have changed markedly.
    Section 3 of the Act generally defines an endangered species as any 
species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range, and a threatened species as any 
species which is likely to become an endangered species within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. A species may be determined to be an endangered or threatened 
species due to one or more of the five factors described in section 
4(a)(1) of the Act:
    (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of the species' habitat or range;
    (B) Overutilization of the species for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes;
    (C) Disease or predation affecting the species;
    (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to protect the 
species; and
    (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting the species' 
continued existence.

[[Page 67344]]

    We are required to make the listing determination ``solely on the 
basis of the best scientific and commercial data available'' and 
``taking into account those efforts, if any, being made by any State or 
foreign nation, or any political subdivision of a State or foreign 
nation, to protect such species, whether by predator control, 
protection of habitat and food supply, or other conservation practices, 
within any area under its jurisdiction, or on the high seas.'' Sections 
4(a)(1) and 4(b)(1)(A) and our regulations at 50 CFR 424.11(f) require 
us to consider any State or local laws, regulations, ordinances, 
programs, or other specific conservation measures that either 
positively or negatively affect a species' status (i.e., efforts that 
create, exacerbate, reduce, or remove threats identified through the 
section 4(a)(1) analysis).
    We maintain the list of candidate species for a variety of reasons, 
including: to provide advance knowledge of potential listings that 
could affect decisions of planners and developers; to solicit input 
from interested parties to identify those candidate taxa that may not 
require protection under the Act or additional taxa that may require 
the Act's protections; to solicit information on the status of species 
and measures necessary to conserve species, and to solicit information 
needed to prioritize the order in which we will propose taxa for 
listing. We encourage consideration of candidate taxa in environmental 
planning, such as in environmental impact analysis under the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (implemented at 40 CFR parts 1500-
1508) and in local and Statewide land use planning.
    According to our 1983 Listing Priority System (48 FR 43098; 
September 21, 1983), all species that are candidates for listing are 
assigned a listing priority number. This system ranks species according 
to--(1) the magnitude of threats they face, (2) the immediacy of these 
threats, and (3) the taxonomic distinctiveness of the entity that may 
be listed. Listing priority numbers range from 1 (highest priority) to 
12 (lowest priority). We will complete proposals to list candidate 
species, based on their listing priority, to the extent that our 
resources for listing activities and our workload for other listing 
activities will allow.
    This notice provides specific explanations of why we classified the 
northern sea otter as a candidate. This decision was approved by the 
Service's Director Jamie Rappaport Clark, on August 22, 2000. It is 
important to note that candidate assessment is an ongoing function and 
changes in status should be expected. If we remove taxa from the 
candidate list, they may be restored to candidate status if additional 
information supporting such a change becomes available to us. We issue 
requests for such information in a Candidate Notice of Review published 
in the Federal Register every year.


    The worldwide population of sea otters in the early 1700s has been 
estimated at 150,000 (Kenyon 1969) to 300,000 (Johnson 1982). Extensive 
commercial hunting of sea otters began following the arrival in Alaska 
of Russian explorers in 1741 and continued during the 18th and 19th 
centuries. By the time sea otters were afforded protection from 
commercial harvests by international treaty in 1911, the species was 
nearly extinct throughout its range, and may have numbered only 1,000-
2,000 individuals (Kenyon 1969).
    Following the international treaty in 1911, only 13 isolated 
remnant populations scattered throughout the historic range remained. 
However, once commercial harvests ceased, these populations began to 
grow and recolonize their former range. Today three subspecies of sea 
otter have been identified (Wilson et al. 1991). The northern sea otter 
contains two subspecies: Enhydra lutris kenyoni which occurs from the 
Aleutian Islands to Oregon, and Enhydra lutris lutris which occurs in 
the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka Peninsula, and Commander Islands in 
Russia. The third subspecies, Enhydra lutris nereis, occurs in 
California and is known as the southern sea otter.
    The period of recolonization was marked by high reproductive rates 
and range expansion. Survey data indicate that otters were present in 
all island groups in the Aleutians by the 1980s (Brueggeman et al. 
1988, Estes 1990). Calkins and Schneider (1985) calculated the sea 
otter population in the Aleutians as 55,100 to 73,700 individuals, 
which represented over half the Alaska population. The entire Aleutian 
archipelago was not systematically surveyed again until 1992. During 
these surveys Evans et al. (1997) estimated the Aleutian Islands sea 
otter population as 19,157  3,281. The most striking 
results of this survey were that sea otter density and abundance in the 
Rat, Delarof, and western Andreanof Islands had unexpectedly declined 
by more than 50 percent. Boat-based surveys of sea otters at several 
islands in the Near, Rat, and Andreanof Islands further documented an 
ongoing decline of sea otters during the 1990s (Estes et al. 1998). As 
few as 6,000 sea otters may remain in the Aleutians today (U.S. Fish & 
Wildlife Service, Unpublished Data).
    Potential threats include both natural fluctuations and human 
activities, which may have caused changes in the Bering Sea ecosystem. 
Subsistence hunting occurs at very low levels and does not appear to be 
a factor in the decline. While disease, starvation, and contaminants 
have not been implicated at this time, additional evaluation of these 
factors is warranted. The hypothesis that predation by killer whales is 
causing the sea otter decline (Estes et al. 1998) should also be 
studied further.
    Due to the precipitous and rapid nature of the ongoing population 
decline, we have assigned the northern sea otter in the Aleutian 
Islands listing a priority of three under our Listing Priority System. 
Additionally we note that the imminence of the threats underscores the 
urgent need for more information regarding the cause of the decline in 
this population.

Request for Information

    We request you submit any further information on the northern sea 
otter as soon as possible or whenever it becomes available. We are 
seeking the following types of information:
    (1) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 
any threat (or lack thereof) to the northern sea otter;
    (2) Reasons why any habitat of this species should or should not be 
determined to be critical habitat pursuant to section 4 of the Act;
    (3) Additional information concerning the range, distribution, and 
population size of this species; and
    (4) Current or planned activities in the subject area and their 
possible impacts on this species.
    Information regarding the range, status, habitat needs, and listing 
priority assignment for the northern sea otter is available for review 
by contacting the Service as specified in the ADDRESSES section.
    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 
their home address from the rulemaking record, which we will honor to 
the extent allowable by law. In certain circumstances, we would 
withhold from the rulemaking record a respondent's identity, as 
allowable by law. If you wish for us to withhold your name and/or 
address, you must state this request prominently at the

[[Page 67345]]

beginning of your comment. However, we will not consider anonymous 
comments. We will make all submissions from organizations or 
businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as 
representatives or officials of organizations or businesses, available 
for public inspection in their entirety.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein, as well as others, 
is available upon request from the Marine Mammals Management Office 
(see ADDRESSES section).

References Cited

Brueggeman, J.J., G.A. Green, R.A. Grotefendt, and D.G. Chapman. 
1988. Aerial surveys of sea otters in the northwestern Gulf of 
Alaska and southeastern Bering Sea. Minerals Management Service and 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Final Report. 
Anchorage, Alaska.
Calkins, D.G., and K.B. Schneider. 1985. The sea otter (Enhydra 
lutris). Pages 37-45. In: Marine Mammals Species Accounts. J.J. 
Burns K.J. Frost,and L.F. Lowry (Eds.). Alaska Department of Fish 
and Game, Technical Bulletin 7.
Estes, J.A. 1990. Growth and equilibrium in sea otter populations. 
Journal of Animal Ecology 59:385-401.
Estes, J.A., M.T. Tinker, T.M. Williams, and D.F. Doak. 1998. Killer 
Whale Predation Linking Oceanic and Nearshore Ecosystems. Science 
282: 473-476.
Evans, T.J., D.M. Burn, and A.R. DeGange. 1997. Distribution and 
Relative Abundance of Sea Otters in the Aleutian Archipelago. U.S. 
Fish & Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management Technical Report 
MMM 97-5. 29 pp.
Johnson, A.M. 1982. Status of Alaska sea otter populations and 
developing conflicts with fisheries. Trans. 47th North American 
Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference:293-299.
Kenyon, K. W. 1969. The Sea Otter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. 
United States Department of the Interior. North American Fauna, 
Number 68. 352 pp.
Wilson, D.E., M.A. Bogan, R.L. Brownell, Jr., A.M. Burdin, and M.K. 
Maminov. 1991. Geographic variation in sea otters, Enhydra lutris. 
Journal of Mammalogy 72:22-36.


    This notice was compiled from materials supplied by staff 
biologists located in the Service's regional and field offices. The 
materials were compiled by, Division of Endangered Species (see 
ADDRESSES section).


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended, 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.

    Dated: November 3, 2000.
David B. Allen,
Regional Director, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 7.
[FR Doc. 00-28796 Filed 11-8-00; 8:45 am]