[Federal Register: June 28, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 124)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 36743-36745]
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 Finding 
on a Petition To Delist the Morelet's Crocodile From the List of 
Threatened and Endangered Species

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of petition finding.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces a 90-
day finding for a petition to delist the Morelet's crocodile 
(Crocodylus moreletii) throughout its range from the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973, as amended. The Service finds that the petitioner has 
presented substantial scientific and commercial information indicating 
that the action may be warranted. A status review of the species is 
initiated. We seek comments on the petition or information on status of 
the species, particularly in Guatemala and Belize.

DATES: This finding was made on June 21, 2006. Comments and information 
may be submitted until September 26, 2006.

ADDRESSES: Submit comments, information, and questions to the Chief, 
Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 
N. Fairfax Drive, Room 750, Arlington, VA 22203, USA; or by fax (703-
358-2276) or by e-mail (ScientificAuthority@fws.gov). Comments and 
supporting information will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert R. Gabel, Chief, Division of 
Scientific Authority at the above address; or by telephone, 703-358-
1708; fax, 703-358-2276; or e-mail, ScientificAuthority@fws.gov.



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires the Service to make a 
finding on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species 
has presented substantial scientific or commercial information 
indicating that the requested action may be warranted. This finding is 
to be based on all information available to us at the time the finding 
is made. To the maximum extent practicable, the finding shall be made 
within 90 days following receipt of the petition (this finding is 
referred to as the ``90-day finding'') and published promptly in the 
Federal Register. If the finding is that substantial information was 
presented indicating that the requested action may be warranted, 
Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires the Service to commence a status 
review of the species if one has not already been initiated under the 
Service's internal candidate-assessment process.
    The Service has made a 90-day finding on a petition to remove from 
the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (50 CFR 17.11) the 
Morelet's crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii), currently listed as 
endangered under the Act. The petition was submitted by Mexico's 
Comisi[oacute]n Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad 
(CONABIO; National Commission for the Understanding and Use of 
Biodiversity), and was received by the Service on May 26, 2005.
    The documents provided by the petitioner to substantiate the 
petition included: the raw data and results of a recent population 
survey and a population viability analysis for the Morelet's crocodile 
in Mexico with extrapolations for Belize and Guatemala; a detailed 
analysis of the species against the five factors to be considered by 
the Service in determining whether to add, reclassify, or remove a 
species from the list of endangered and threatened species, as per 
Section 4(a)(1) of the Act; a reevaluation of the risk category 
assignable to the Morelet's crocodile under the current criteria of The 
World Conservation Union (IUCN); a reevaluation of the current status 
of the Morelet's crocodile under Mexican law; information on the 
Mexican legal framework as related to the conservation and sustainable 
use of the Morelet's crocodile; and information on conservation actions 
in Mexico that support the improved status of the Morelet's crocodile. 
Most of the information provided by the petitioner emphasizes Mexican 
field studies and species management, with little direct information on 
the species in the other range countries, but 85 percent of the 
species' range is in Mexico. Thus, the petition represents substantial 
information for a significant portion of the species' range.
    The Morelet's crocodile was listed as endangered throughout its 
entire range under the predecessor of the Act on June 2, 1970 (35 FR 
8495). The species is found naturally along the Atlantic coast of 
Mexico and northern Central America (i.e., Belize and Guatemala), where 
it inhabits freshwater habitats such as marshes, swamps, ponds, 
lagoons, and slow-moving rivers (Ross 1998).
    Throughout the Morelet's crocodile's range, modification of 
wetlands for agriculture, ranching, development, aquaculture, and 
plague control previously contributed to significant declines in the 
species during the 1950s and 1960s (Ross 1998). To reduce the overall 
impact of habitat loss on biodiversity, all three range countries of 
the Morelet's crocodile have established protected areas, many of which 
are inhabited by the Morelet's crocodile. In Mexico, approximately 20 
protected areas, comprising an area of 51,867 square kilometers, are 
inhabited by the Morelet's crocodile (CONABIO 2005). Furthermore, using 
field data and computer models, CONABIO has recently estimated that, in 
Mexico alone, a little over 200,000 square kilometers of suitable 
habitat remain

[[Page 36744]]

available for the species (CONABIO 2005). Whether or not all suitable 
habitat contains Morelet's crocodiles is unknown. However, the species 
was found to be widespread and abundant based on sampling at 62 
localities where the computer model identified suitable habitat and, 
therefore, is likely to occur in unsampled localities with suitable 
    Although habitat destruction and deterioration continue to occur 
throughout the range of the Morelet's crocodile, available information 
suggests that the impact of these activities on wild populations of 
this species may vary according to the type of activity and its 
location (Alvarez 1998; CONABIO 2005). For example, although 
agriculture and ranching reduce forest cover, local farmers and 
ranchers usually set aside bodies of water for use by cattle and other 
domesticated animals, indirectly protecting some Morelet's crocodile 
habitat. In some parts of Mexico, establishment of Morelet's crocodiles 
in these water sources is not only tolerated, but in some instances 
encouraged, by ranchers themselves who actively transfer crocodiles to 
these sites because of their belief that bodies of water inhabited by 
crocodiles do not dry up. Oil companies in Mexico have further modified 
wetlands by constructing canals to access oil-drilling rigs. Although 
the creation of these canals results in fragmentation and reduction of 
coastal wetlands used by crocodiles, they indirectly increase the 
amount of habitat available to Morelet's crocodiles, which are able to 
occupy these artificially created aquatic environments.
    In addition to habitat destruction, the IUCN Crocodile Specialist 
Group identified over-exploitation as the second major factor 
responsible for the decline of the Morelet's crocodile (Ross 1998). 
Uncontrolled hunting for hides greatly reduced wild populations of 
Morelet's crocodile during the 1940s and 1950s, which prompted the 
inclusion of this crocodile species in Appendix I of the Convention on 
International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora 
(CITES) on July 1, 1975. Listing in CITES Appendix I prohibits 
international trade (including importation into the United States) in 
the species for primarily commercial purposes. Limited trade for non-
commercial purposes may be allowed if it is not detrimental to the 
survival of the species. In addition to the international ban on 
commercial trade by CITES, all three range countries have enacted laws, 
still in place, protecting the Morelet's crocodile within their 
territories (Ross 1998; CONABIO 2005).
    Whereas a policy of strict protection once appeared to be the best 
and only way to conserve endangered species, many countries now see 
that an appropriate means of protecting some species is through 
farming, ranching, or controlled harvest, and then trade. Such an 
approach can provide incentives for conservation of species if properly 
implemented. Although no ranching or farming is known to exist in 
either Belize or Guatemala (Ross 1998), the Government of Mexico has 
developed a comprehensive conservation and management program (Proyecto 
de Conservaci[oacute]n, Manejo y Aprovechamiento Sustentable de los 
Cocodrilos [Project for the Conservation, Management and Sustainable 
Use of Crocodiles]) for its three crocodilian species (Morelet's 
crocodile, American crocodile [Crocodilus acutus], and common caiman 
[Caiman crocodylus fuscus]), which includes sustainable use of the 
species through captive breeding (Alvarez 1998). Under Mexican law, 
live specimens of Morelet's crocodile may be removed from the wild only 
to establish parental stock for captive-breeding operations registered 
with the Government of Mexico. Of all Morelet's crocodile hatchlings 
produced in captivity, ten percent of them must be set aside for 
reintroductions into the wild or as breeding stock for other crocodile 
farms in the country. Only operations capable of breeding Morelet's 
crocodiles in captivity to the F2 generation are given authorization to 
kill their crocodiles for commercial purposes. Thus, registered 
breeding farms reduce harvest pressure on the wild population and 
augment the wild population through reintroduction of captive-reared 
young. Adherence to CITES crocodile-marking requirements minimizes the 
potential for substitution of illegal skins or other parts, and reduces 
the trade-control problems caused by the similarity in appearance of 
skins and products from different species of crocodilians. Existing 
regulatory mechanisms such as CITES and Mexican domestic legislation 
controlling the harvest and export of Morelet's crocodile skins, parts, 
and products are playing a role in the recovery of this species.
    Between 1982 and 2005, the global risk status of the Morelet's 
crocodile has changed considerably. In 1982, it was categorized as 
``endangered'' by the IUCN. By 1996, the species had been reassigned to 
the ``low risk, conservation dependent'' category (Ross 1998), a 
categorization still in place. However, a preliminary reevaluation of 
the risk status of the Morelet's crocodile conducted by Mexico using 
the revised IUCN criteria indicates that the species may qualify for 
categorization as of ``least concern'' (CONABIO 2005).
    To better assess the risk status of the species in the wild, during 
2002-2004, CONABIO financed a field survey in 10 Mexican states to 
determine the relative abundance of the Morelet's crocodile in the wild 
and gather new information on habitat quality. Based on that study, 
other available scientific literature, and a workshop of experts, 
CONABIO has estimated the current global wild Morelet's crocodile 
population to be around 102,400 animals, with 79,700 in Mexico and, by 
extrapolation, 13,900 in Guatemala and 8,800 in Belize (CONABIO 2005). 
Furthermore, a population viability analysis indicates that the 
probability of the species going extinct over the next 500 years, using 
a global population of 30,000 (less than \1/3\ of the actual population 
estimate), is 13.8 percent (CONABIO 2005).
    Therefore, we find that the petition presents substantial 
information indicating that the requested action may be warranted. 
Specifically, the petitioner has presented substantial scientific and 
commercial information indicating that the Morelet's crocodile is 
abundant and widely distributed, particularly in Mexico (the largest 
part of its range), and that the national and international regulatory 
mechanisms currently in place may have eliminated the danger of 
extinction within the foreseeable future.
    Pursuant to section 4(b)(3)(A), we hereby commence a review of the 
status of the Morelet's crocodile. We encourage the submission of 
appropriate data, opinions, and publications regarding the subject 
petition or the status of the species. In particular, we seek 
information on the status of the species in Guatemala and Belize.
    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 some circumstances, we may also 
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 prominently at the 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

[[Page 36745]]

organizations or businesses, available for public inspection in their 
    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act requires that we make a finding 
within 12 months of receipt of the petition as to whether removal of 
the Morelet's crocodile from the List of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife is warranted, not warranted, or warranted but precluded by 
pending proposals.

References Cited

Alvarez, J. 1998. Conservation and management of Crocodylus 
moreletii in Mexico. Trip Report--July 1998. Unpublished document.
CONABIO (Comisi[oacute]n Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la 
Biodiversidad). 2005. Proposal for the reclassification of Morelet's 
crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) 
of the United States of America.
Ross, J.P. 1998. Crocodiles: Status Survey and Conservation Action 
Plan. Second Edition. IUCN/SSC Crocodile Specialist Group. IUCN, 
Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, United Kingdom.


    The primary author of this proposed rule is Dr. Javier Alvarez, 
Division of Scientific Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 
North Fairfax Drive, Room 750, Arlington, Virginia 22203.

    Dated: June 21, 2006.
Kenneth Stansell,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
 [FR Doc. E6-10149 Filed 6-27-06; 8:45 am]