[Federal Register: March 20, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 53)]
[Rules and Regulations]               
[Page 13027-13041]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AI41

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Reclassification 
of the American Crocodile Distinct Population Segment in Florida From 
Endangered to Threatened

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), are 
reclassifying the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) distinct 
vertebrate population segment (DPS) in Florida from endangered to 
threatened, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (Act). The endangered designation no longer correctly 
reflects the current status of this DPS due to a substantial 
improvement in the species' status. This action is based on a review of 
all available data, which indicate, for example, that since its listing 
in 1975, the American crocodile population in Florida has more than 
doubled and its distribution has expanded. Land acquisition has also 
provided protection for many important nesting areas. We have 
determined that the American crocodile in its range in Florida meets 
the criteria of a DPS as stated in our policy of February 17, 1996. 
With this rule, we are designating the American crocodile in Florida as 
a DPS, and this DPS will remain protected as a threatened species under 
the Act. The status of the American crocodile throughout the remainder 
of its range, as described in our December 18, 1979, final rule, will 
remain endangered.

DATES: This final rule is effective April 19, 2007.

ADDRESSES: Comments and materials received, as well as supporting 
documentation used in the preparation of this final rule, are available 
for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at 
the South Florida Ecological Services Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960.
    You may obtain copies of the final rule from the field office 
address above, by calling 772-562-3909, or from the Service's Division 
of Policy and Directives Management Web site at http://www.fws.gov/policy/frsystem/default.cfm

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cindy Schulz, at the South Florida 
Ecological Services Office (see ADDRESSES) (telephone 772-562-3909, 
extension 305; facsimile 772-562-4288).


    Note: Please refer to our March 24, 2005, proposed rule (70 FR 
15052) for detailed information concerning the biology of the 
American crocodile.


    The American crocodile is a large, greenish-gray reptile. It is one 
of two native crocodilians (the other being the American alligator 
(Alligator mississippiensis)) that occur in the continental United 
States, and is limited in distribution in the United States to south 
Florida. At hatching, crocodiles are yellowish-tan to gray in color 
with vivid dark bands on the body and tail. As they grow older, their 
overall coloration becomes more pale and uniform, and the dark bands 
fade. All adult crocodiles have a hump in front of the eye, and tough, 
asymmetrical, armor-like scutes (scale-like plates) on their backs.
    The American crocodile is distinguished from the American alligator 
by a relatively narrow, more pointed snout and by an indentation in the 
upper jaw that leaves the fourth tooth of the lower jaw exposed when 
the mouth is closed. Another distinguishing feature is that in 
alligators the two nostrils are clearly separated by a bony septum 
covered in skin while in crocodiles the nostrils lie touching, close 
together in a single depression (P. Ross, 2005). In Florida, the 
crocodile ranges in size from 26.0 centimeters (cm) (10.3 inches (in)) 
at hatching, to an upper length of 3.8 meters (m) (12.5 feet (ft)) 
(Moler 1991a, pp. 6-7). The largest specimens in Florida historically 
were reported to be up to 4.6 m (15.1 ft) in length (Service 1979, p. 
3), and individuals as large as 6 to 7 m (19.7 to 23.0 ft) have been 
reported outside the United States (Thorbjarnarson 1989, p. 228).
    The American crocodile occurs within the jurisdictional boundaries 
of many different countries in the western hemisphere, including 
Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El 
Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Mexico, 
Panama, Peru, United States (Florida), and Venezuela. The species 
occurs in coastal regions of the Atlantic and Pacific, including the 
Pacific coast of Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, 
as well as the Greater Antilles (with the exception of Puerto Rico)

[[Page 13028]]

(Thorbjarnarson 1989, p. 228; P. Ross, 2005). It reaches the northern 
extent of its range in south Florida (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a, p. 5; 
Thorbjarnarson 1989, p. 229).
    The first documented occurrence of a crocodile in the United States 
was in Florida from a collection in the Miami River off Biscayne Bay in 
1869, although crocodiles were earlier suspected to occur there 
(Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a, p. 1). Within the United States, the 
historic core geographic range of crocodiles included Miami-Dade, 
Broward, and Monroe Counties, but reports indicated that they occupied 
areas as far north as Indian River County on the east coast of Florida 
(Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a, pp. 1-2). Crocodiles were probably never 
common on the west coast of Florida, but credible reports suggest that 
they occurred at least periodically as far north as Sanibel Island and 
Sarasota County (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a, p. 2).
    The primary historic nesting area in Florida was on the mainland 
shore of Florida and Biscayne Bays, including many of the small islands 
near shore, in what is today Everglades National Park (ENP) (Kushlan 
and Mazzotti 1989a, p. 2). Nesting was also historically well 
documented in the upper Keys from Key Largo south to Lower Matecumbe 
Key (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a, p. 2). Crocodiles have probably nested 
regularly on northern Key Largo since the 1920s, when the borrow pits 
(excavated areas where material has been dug for use as fill at another 
location) and canals were created in early and unsuccessful attempts to 
develop north Key Largo during the ``boom'' years preceding the 1929 
depression (Ogden 1978, p. 185).
    Today, the crocodile population in Florida has grown to an 
estimated 1,400 to 2,000 individuals, not including hatchlings (P. 
Moler, 2005a; F. Mazzotti, 2005). This estimate, developed by two 
established American crocodile experts, is based on a demographic 
characteristic, derived from both Nile crocodiles and American 
alligators, where breeding females make up 4 to 5 percent of the non-
hatchling population and where approximately 75 percent of 
reproductively mature females breed and nest each year. This estimate 
exhibits a large confidence interval, because the researchers used a 
range of 70 to 80 crocodile nests in Florida in their calculations (P. 
Moler, 2005a; F. Mazzotti, 2005). We believe this is a reasonable but 
conservative estimate, because as described below, nesting has 
increased to between 91 and 94 documented nests in 2005.
    The nesting range has also expanded on both the east and west 
coasts of the State, and crocodiles are frequently seen throughout most 
of their historical range. Nesting has extended back into Biscayne Bay 
on Florida's east coast, and now commonly occurs at the Turkey Point 
Power Plant (TPPP) (Gaby et al. 1985, p. 197; Brandt et al. 1995, p. 
29). Although crocodiles have been nesting on Marco Island since 1997, 
none of the nests have produced a viable clutch (S. Bertone, 2005). 
Based on peer review comments and because the relatedness and origin of 
these animals are unknown, we did not include the nesting attempts of 
these animals in estimating population size above (see ``Peer Review 
Comments'' below for further detail). Nesting has been increasing for 
several years (Brandt et al. 1995, p. 31; Mazzotti et al. 2000, p. 5; 
2002, p. 14; Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2001, pp. 4-5), and during 2005, 91 
to 94 crocodile nests were documented in south Florida (S. Klett, 2005; 
M. Cherkiss, 2005a; J. Wasilewski, 2005a). Surveyors detect 
approximately 80 to 90 percent of nests (F. Mazzotti, 2005; J. 
Wasilewski, 2006) and are generally unable to distinguish those nests 
that contain more than one clutch of eggs from different females 
without excavating the nests. In some instances, surveyors are able to 
determine that more than one female has laid eggs at a communal nest by 
visiting the nest over a series of days and observing hatching of 
separate nests (J. Wasilewski, 2005b). In instances where communal 
nests are not distinguishable, we believe this lends to a possible 
underestimation of nests or females, because on occasion two females 
lay eggs in the same nest.
    The breeding range of the American crocodile is still restricted 
relative to its reported historic range (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a, p. 
5), with most breeding occurring on the mainland shore of Florida Bay 
between Cape Sable and Key Largo (Mazzotti et al. 2002, pp. 9-14). In 
the recent past, it was thought that crocodiles no longer regularly 
occur in the Keys south of Key Largo (Jacobsen 1983, p. 13; P. Moler, 
2002). However, confirmed sightings are occurring with increasing 
frequency in many of the lower Keys, and we believe that these 
observations may indicate that crocodiles are expanding their range 
back into the Keys. From 2003 to 2005, one individual has successfully 
nested on Lower Matecumbe (M. Cherkiss, 2005a). A crocodile was also 
observed as far south as Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas in May 2002 
(O. Bass, 2002); however, nesting has not been recorded at this 
location. In addition, a crocodile was documented as far north as 
Indian River County in October 2004.
    Females do not become reproductively active until they reach a 
total length of approximately 2.3 m (7.4 ft) (Mazzotti 1983, p. 30, 
33), which generally corresponds to an age of 10 to 13 years (LeBuff 
1957, p. 27; Moler 1991a, p. 7). Females construct earthen nests 
(mounds or holes) on elevated, well-drained sites near the water, such 
as ditch-banks and beaches. Nests have been reported in sand, marl, and 
organic peat soils, and the nests constructed in these different soils 
may be susceptible to different environmental conditions and different 
threats (Lutz and Dunbar-Cooper 1984, p. 153; Moler 1991b, p. 1, 3). 
Female crocodiles nest only one time per year and may not nest every 
year after they reach sexual maturity. Studies conducted in Florida 
found that they lay an average of 38 eggs (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b, 
p. 14), which hatch after an incubation period of approximately 90 days 
(Mazzotti 1989, p. 221). Flooding, over-drying, and raccoon predation 
all pose threats to nests and developing eggs (Mazzotti et al. 1988, 
pp. 68-69; Mazzotti 1999, pp. 557-558), and suitable nest sites that 
are protected from these threats may be limited. For the Florida 
population, the reported percentage of nests from which eggs 
successfully hatch in any 1 year ranges from 33 to 78 percent (Ogden 
1978, p. 190; Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b, p. 15; Moler 1991b, p. 4; 
Mazzotti et al. 2000, p. 4; Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2001, p. 4). 
Typically, a nest was considered successful if at least one hatched 
eggshell or hatchling crocodile was documented. However, Moler (1991b, 
p. 2) classified a nest as successful if ``it appeared to have been 
opened by an adult crocodile. In all but one case, hatchling crocodiles 
were tagged near each successful nest.''
    Unlike alligators, female crocodiles do not defend nest sites 
(Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b, p. 14). However, females remain near their 
nest sites and usually excavate young from the nest after hatching 
(Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b, p. 15). Kushlan (1988, p. 784) reported 
that females may be very sensitive to disturbance at the nest site; 
most females that were disturbed near their nests did not return to 
excavate their young after hatching. In Florida, female crocodiles show 
little parental care at hatching, and the young generally become 
independent shortly after hatching, although the duration or extent of 
maternal care can vary throughout the species' range (J. 
Thorbjarnarson, 2005). Shortly after hatching, the hatchlings disperse 
from nest sites to nursery habitats that are

[[Page 13029]]

generally more sheltered, have lower salinity (1 to 20 parts per 
thousand (ppt)), shallower water (generally), and more vegetation 
cover. Hatchlings remain in these nursery habitats until they grow 
larger. Growth during the first year can be rapid, and crocodiles may 
double or triple in size (Moler 1991a, p. 6). Growth rates in hatchling 
crocodiles depend primarily on the availability of fresh water and food 
in the nursery habitat they occupy and may also be influenced by 
temperature (Mazzotti et al. 1986, pp. 195-196).
    Land acquisition efforts by many agencies have provided protection 
for crocodiles and their habitat in south Florida. Approximately 95 
percent of current nesting habitat for crocodiles in Florida is 
protected (F. Mazzotti, 2006). Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge 
(CLNWR) was acquired in 1980 to provide over 2,205 ha (5,000 acres) of 
crocodile nesting and nursery habitat. In 1980, ENP established a 
crocodile sanctuary in northeastern Florida Bay. A total of 46 public 
properties (including CLNWR and ENP), owned and managed by Federal, 
State, or county governments, as well as three privately-owned 
properties (including TPPP), are managed at least partially or wholly 
for conservation purposes and contain potential crocodile habitat 
within the coastal mangrove communities in south Florida. For example, 
in the early 1980s, ENP plugged canals, which allowed crocodiles to 
begin nesting on the canal berms. In 1976, the C-107 canal was 
completed and provides habitat for crocodiles at TPPP.

Previous Federal Action

    We proposed listing of the United States population of the American 
crocodile as endangered on April 21, 1975 (40 FR 17590). The proposed 
rule stated that only an estimated 10 to 20 breeding females remained 
in Florida, mostly concentrated in northern Florida Bay. The primary 
threats cited included development pressures, lack of adequate 
protection of crocodiles and their habitat, and the risk of extinction 
inherent to a small, isolated population. Comments on the proposed rule 
were received from 14 parties including representatives of the State of 
Florida, and all supported listing the American crocodile as endangered 
in Florida. We published a final rule on September 25, 1975, listing 
the United States population of the American crocodile as endangered 
(40 FR 44149).
    On December 16, 1975, we published a proposal to designate critical 
habitat for the American crocodile (40 FR 58308). The proposed critical 
habitat included portions of Biscayne Bay south of TPPP; northeast 
Florida Bay, including the Keys; and the mainland extending as far west 
as Flamingo. We published a final rule designating critical habitat on 
September 24, 1976 (41 FR 41914). The final rule expanded the critical 
habitat to include a portion of ENP, including northern Florida Bay to 
the west of the previously proposed area.
    On April 6, 1977, we published a proposed rule to list as 

endangered all populations of the American crocodile with the exception 
of those in Florida, and all populations of the saltwater (estuarine) 
crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) due to their similarity in appearance to 
the American crocodile in Florida (42 FR 18287). We did not, however, 
publish a final rule for this action.
    On February 5, 1979, we provided notice in the Federal Register 
that a status review was being conducted for the American crocodile 
(outside of Florida) and the saltwater crocodile. The notice specified 
that we had information to suggest that the American crocodile and the 
saltwater crocodile may have experienced population declines and 
extensive habitat loss during the previous decade (44 FR 7060).
    On July 24, 1979, we published a proposed rule (44 FR 43442) that 
recommended listing the American and saltwater crocodiles as endangered 
throughout their ranges outside of Papua New Guinea, citing widespread 
loss of habitat and extensive poaching for their hides. The Florida 
population of the American crocodile was not included because it was 
previously listed as endangered.
    On December 18, 1979, we published a final rule (44 FR 75074) that 
listed both the American crocodile (with the exception of the 
previously listed population in Florida) and the saltwater crocodile 
throughout its range (with the exception of the Papua New Guinea 
population) as endangered. This action provided protection to these 
crocodilians worldwide.
    The first recovery plan for the American crocodile was approved 
February 12, 1979 (Service 1979). For a complete discussion, see 
``Recovery Accomplishments'' below. On March 24, 2005, we published a 
proposed rule to reclassify the American crocodile from endangered to 
threatened in Florida, and to designate crocodiles in Florida as a 
distinct population segment.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    In the March 24, 2005, proposed rule, we requested that all 
interested parties submit comments and information concerning the 
proposed reclassification of the American crocodile DPS in Florida (70 
FR 15052). We also initiated, and requested information for 
incorporation into, a status review of the American crocodile in 
Florida. We contacted appropriate Federal and State agencies, 
scientific experts and organizations, and other interested parties and 
invited them to comment on the proposal. We provided notification of 
the publication of the proposed rule through e-mail, facsimile, 
telephone calls, letters, and news releases sent to the appropriate 
Federal, State, and local agencies, county governments, elected 
officials, media outlets, local jurisdictions, scientific 
organizations, interest groups, and other interested parties. We also 
posted the proposed rule on the Service's South Florida Ecological 
Services Office Internet website following the rule's publication.
    We accepted public comments on the proposed rule for 60 days, 
ending May 23, 2005. By that date, we received 11 written comments 
(including 3 from peer reviewers). Of the comments received, five 
supported reclassification of the American crocodile DPS in Florida 
from endangered to threatened, and four opposed the reclassification. 
The proponents of the reclassification included the International Union 
for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)--Species 
Survival Commission's Crocodile Specialist Group. Two of the commenters 
did not state support or opposition to the proposed downlisting. No one 
expressed comments that the species was recovered or recommended that 
it should be delisted, and we received no public hearing requests.
    In accordance with our peer review policy published on July 1, 1994 
(59 FR 34270), we solicited independent opinions from three 
knowledgeable individuals who have expertise with the species and the 
geographic region where the species occurs, and are familiar with 
conservation biology principles. We received comments from all three of 
the peer reviewers, which are included in the summary below and 
incorporated into the final rule. The reviewers were affiliated with 
the State of Florida, a Florida university, and a nonprofit 
organization. Reviewers provided additional factual information, as 
well as minor corrections and input on our interpretation of existing 
information. In general, all peer reviewers supported or

[[Page 13030]]

concurred with the downlisting of the American crocodile DPS in Florida 
to threatened status.
    We reviewed all comments received from the peer reviewers and the 
public for substantive issues and new information regarding the 
proposed reclassification of the American crocodile DPS in Florida. 
Substantive comments received during the comment period have been 
addressed below and, where appropriate, incorporated directly into this 
final rule. The comments are grouped below according to peer review or 
public comments.

Peer Review/State Comments

    (1) Comment: One reviewer expressed concern over current efforts to 
restore the hydrology in the Florida Everglades and the potential to 
increase the crocodile's exposure to contaminants. Monitoring the 
population for nonlethal and endocrine disruptive effects of 
contaminants was recommended.
    Response: All properties being acquired for the Comprehensive 
Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) are subject to a rigorous 
environmental site assessment for contaminants, using a protocol 
developed by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) and 
the Service. Environmental Risk Assessments (ERAs) are also conducted 
if the Service deems it necessary. If any contaminant issues are 
identified, the Service works with the SFWMD to remediate the site. 
Before water is put on the site, the Service must be convinced that 
there are either no risks or insignificant risks to Service trust 
resources, including wildlife. If a contaminant problem is suspected, 
fish and wildlife are monitored at the project sites, where it would be 
easier to detect a problem than monitoring crocodiles located off-site. 
If a problem is found at these sites, then crocodiles may be added to 
the monitoring plan.
    Contaminants were evaluated from eggs in a sampling of nests in the 
early 1970s through the early 1980s. Eggs were tested for 
organochlorines and heavy metals, and no exceptional levels were 
reported (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, p. 18). The Service is not aware 
of any studies regarding endocrine-disrupting chemicals and their 
effects on crocodiles.
    One contaminant that will be addressed by monitoring post-
construction (rather than prospective ERAs) is mercury. CERP projects 
have the potential to increase the bioavailability of mercury. As fish-
eaters, crocodiles could potentially be exposed to some mercury, 
although they are downstream from where mercury impacts would be 
greatest. The SFWMD has a monitoring plan in place with performance 
criteria. If the criteria were exceeded, the SFWMD would have to 
correct the problem.
    (2) Comment: The reviewer was concerned that specific information 
was not provided on road mortality, which this reviewer characterized 
as one of the sole remaining human influences of any significance on 
the crocodile population. The reviewer suggested that if mortality 
reaches levels of 5 to 15 percent in subadult and adult size classes, 
then population growth and stability may be affected.
    Response: The Service, in cooperation with the Florida Fish and 
Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), documents all reported 
mortalities, including road mortalities. From 1999 to 2005, a total of 
33 vehicle-related mortalities and 5 non-vehicle-related mortalities 
were documented with no consistent increase in mortalities occurring 
over the years. The largest number of reported mortalities we recorded 
was 11, in 2002 (nine vehicle-related and two non-vehicle-related). We 
recorded seven vehicle-related mortalities and one non-vehicle-related 
mortality in 2005 (B. Muiznieks, 2005). The maximum number of recorded 
deaths for any given year has never exceeded 11 mortalities.
    For mortality to exceed the minimal threshold of 5 percent (P. 
Ross, 2005), the lowest point where recruitment and reproductive 
capacity could be compromised, more than 70 crocodile deaths would have 
to occur annually based on a population of 1,400 individuals, which we 
consider to be a conservative population estimate. The actual 
population could be as high as 2,000. Even with undocumented 
mortalities, we do not believe we are near this threshold of 70 even 
though we were conservative in all of our estimates. Despite all of the 
reported mortalities (not just vehicle collisions), total nesting 
effort has continued to increase in recent years.
    The majority of the road mortalities have occurred on U.S. 1 or 
Card Sound Road between Florida City and Key Largo. Currently, the 
Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is modifying/widening U.S. 
Route 1 between Florida City and Key Largo. They will be installing 16, 
6 foot by 10 foot, box culverts in various locations along the project 
corridor. The box culverts will be installed in areas where vehicle-
related mortality of crocodiles has occurred. To prevent crocodiles 
from entering the roadway, FDOT will install a continuous 6-foot-high 
fence along the western roadway shoulder from approximately Jewfish 
Creek to just south of the C-111 Canal. Along the eastern roadway 
shoulder, FDOT will install two, 100 foot long by 6-foot-high, wing 
fences in association with each box culvert. To further discourage 
crocodiles from entering the roadway, the roadside slopes in the 
vicinity of the box culverts and wildlife crossings will be as steep as 
practicable. The potential for vehicle-related crocodile mortality will 
also be reduced by the removal of the Lake Surprise Causeway and the 
construction of a new bridge over Lake Surprise. Moreover, signs will 
be posted on the new Lake Surprise and Jewfish Creek bridges alerting 
drivers to possibility of crocodiles crossing the roadway (J. Wrublik, 
    (3) Comment: One of the reviewers cautioned that the future health 
of the crocodile population in Florida Bay is dependent on the 
restoration of a more natural freshwater flow to the area. The seasonal 
timing of nesting is determined to a large degree by the availability 
of fresh water, which improves the survivorship of young crocodiles by 
reducing the salinity and increasing the availability of invertebrate 
prey. Hatching of the nests coincides with the beginning of the annual 
wet season, ensuring that hatchlings emerge from the nests during a 
period of high fresh water availability. A reduction of freshwater flow 
into the area could have negative impacts on the younger age classes of 
crocodiles in Florida Bay.
    Response: Proposed restoration activities in and around Taylor 
Slough and the C-111 canal could increase the amount of fresh water 
entering the estuarine system, and extend the duration of freshwater 
flow into Florida Bay (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and SFWMD 
1999, p. 4-28, K-135). Alternative D13R hydrologic plan simulation 
(Corps and SFWMD 1999, p. 1-20) predicts that the addition of fresh 
water could occur throughout many of the tributaries and small natural 
drainages along the shore of Florida Bay, instead of primarily from the 
mouth of the C-111 canal. Salinities in nesting areas, including Joe, 
Little Madeira, and Terrapin Bays, are projected to be lower for longer 
periods than they currently are within this area (based on alternative 
D13R hydrologic plan simulation) (Corps and SFWMD 1999, pp. D-24, D-A-
81 to D-A-83, K-135). This restoration project should increase the 
amount and suitability of crocodile habitat in northern Florida Bay, 
and increase juvenile growth rates and survival (Mazzotti and Brandt 
1995, p. 7).
    While the overall volume of freshwater flow to Biscayne Bay will 
likely decrease as a result of CERP,

[[Page 13031]]

substantial tracts of degraded coastal wetlands in central and southern 
Biscayne Bay will realize improvements in crocodile habitat quality 
because the fresh water that is currently discharged into the bay 
through conveyance canals will be redirected into the natural creek 
systems. The goal is to reestablish flow through a series of natural 
creek systems along this part of the coastline. If successful, the 
recreation of these natural creeks systems should significantly improve 
crocodile habitat along this part of Biscayne Bay. Even if the volume 
discharged into the wetlands is less than what is currently flowing 
through the canals, this should improve habitat for crocodiles in this 
area. One of the performance measures for the Biscayne Bay Coastal 
Wetlands Project focuses on improvement of juvenile crocodile habitat.
    (4) Comment: A proactive approach should be undertaken to develop a 
sound strategy for ``Living with Crocodiles'' in south Florida. The 
development of a strong public education program alerting people to the 
growing presence of crocodiles is recommended. Strategies for dealing 
with ``problem'' crocodiles are needed.
    Response: While an informal education campaign is currently being 
implemented, we will continue to work with our State partners to 
develop a more formal, proactive education campaign for living with 
crocodiles. The FWC, with participation from the Service and the 
National Park Service, completed a human-crocodile interaction response 
plan in 2005, and through its implementation will continue gathering 
information on how crocodiles respond to translocation (FWC 2005, pp. 
1-8). We agree that we need to conduct additional studies on habitat 
use and movement patterns with particular emphasis on translocation of 
individuals. We need to determine if translocating individuals meets 
the desired objectives. Some nuisance animals that have been 
translocated in the past have returned to their original capture 
    (5) Comment: One of the reviewers commented that no successful 
nesting has occurred on the southwest coast north of the Ten Thousand 
Islands. Although several nests have been produced annually in the 
Marco Island area and occasional nests have been encountered near the 
Imperial River and on Sanibel Island, these nests have failed for 
unknown reasons. Also, preliminary genetics analysis suggests that at 
least some of these animals may not be of Florida origin.
    Response: Because of the uncertainty of the origin of these 
individuals and because none of these nests have ever produced a viable 
clutch (S. Bertone, 2005), these crocodiles (i.e., their clutches) were 
not included in any population estimate calculations. At present, the 
origin of these animals is unknown. They may have originated from 1 to 
2 clutches of Key Largo crocodiles that were released in the Naples 
area in the early 1970s, or from another release of crocodiles from 
Mexico, Jamaica, Panama, and Ecuador (Behler 1978, pp. 35-41; F. 
Mazzotti, 2005).

Public Comments

    The following public comments address issues that were not raised 
by the peer reviewers. If an issue brought up by a peer reviewer was 
also raised by the public, it is discussed above in the peer review 
comment section rather than below.
    (6) Comment: One commenter noted that the five factors under 
section 4(a)(1) of the Act that are considered when a species is listed 
must also be considered in this action to reclassify the American 
crocodile DPS in Florida. The commenter also noted that four of these 
five factors still affect the crocodile and therefore it must remain 
    Response: We define an endangered species as one that is in danger 
of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range (50 
CFR 424.02(e)). We believe that this designation no longer correctly 
reflects the current status of this taxon in Florida due to a 
substantial improvement in the species' status. The population in 
Florida has increased from an estimated 10 to 20 breeding females in 
1975 (40 FR 17590) to an estimated 1400-2000 total individuals (not 
including hatchlings) (P. Moler, 2005a; F. Mazzotti, 2005) producing 91 
to 94 nests in 2005 (S. Klett, 2005; M. Cherkiss, 2005a; J. Wasilewski, 
2005a), the species distribution has expanded within its historic 
range, and occupied and potential crocodile habitat are now under 
public ownership. However, we believe that the status of the species 
still meets the definition of threatened because the species is likely 
to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. As discussed by the commenter, the 
crocodile is still affected by some threats, such as development within 
coastal areas. The five factors are discussed in depth in the section 
titled ``Summary of Factors Affecting the Species.''
    (7) Comment: One commenter stated that many of the actions in the 
recovery plan for the American crocodile have yet to be conducted.
    Response: Recovery plans are not regulatory documents and are 
instead intended to provide guidance to the Service, States, and other 
partners on methods of minimizing threats to listed species and on 
criteria that may be used to determine when recovery is achieved. There 
are many paths to accomplishing recovery of a species, and recovery may 
be achieved without all criteria being fully met. For example, one or 
more criteria may have been exceeded while other criteria may not have 
been accomplished. In that instance, the Service may judge that over 
all criteria, the threats have been minimized sufficiently, and the 
species is robust enough, to reclassify the species from endangered to 
threatened or perhaps to delist the species. In other cases, recovery 
opportunities may have been recognized that were not known at the time 
the recovery plan was finalized. These opportunities may be used 
instead of methods identified in the recovery plan. Likewise, 
information on the species may be learned that was not known at the 
time the recovery plan was finalized. The new information may change 
the extent that criteria need to be met for recognizing recovery of the 
species. Overall, recovery of species is a dynamic process requiring 
adaptive management, and our assessment of recovery progress may, or 
may not, fully adhere to the guidance provided in a recovery plan 
depending on circumstances that may have changed since completion of 
the plan.
    In this particular instance, we have met the reclassification 
criteria outlined in the South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan 
(MSRP). Recovery actions will continue for the crocodile under the 
MSRP, and some actions, such as ``control human-induced crocodile 
mortality and disturbance,'' remain to be completed.
    (8) Comment: One commenter stated that the potential effects of 
sea-level rise should be of concern because of the vulnerability of 
natural nest sites to increases in water levels.
    Response: The forecasted temperature increases and the associated 
sea-level rise over the next 100 years, based on climate models, have 
changed over time (Westbrook 1998, pp. 1-2). In the early 1980s, 
forecasters were predicting a 100-year sea-level rise of 7 to 7.9 m (23 
to 26 feet) (Westbrook 1998, p. 1). By 1990, the predicted rise was 
less than 0.9 m (3 feet) (Westbrook 1998, p. 1). The current 
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts are for a rise of 
about 0.46 m (1.5 feet), and other forecasts are even lower (Westbrook 
1998, p. 1). Recent reports of what many consider to be the best 
computer models

[[Page 13032]]

indicate a rise of about 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit with a sea level rise 
of approximately 20 cm (8 inches) (Westbrook 1998, p. 2). Depending 
upon the extent of sea-level rise, some nests on exposed shorelines and 
creek banks could potentially disappear. Fortunately, crocodiles will 
readily use artificial substrates for nests, providing a management 
option to compensate for negative impacts to existing nesting areas if 
the need arises (Mazzotti 1999, p. 558). The Service is aware of this 
issue and will continue to monitor it, but at present we do not believe 
it represents a significant threat to the crocodile population.
    (9) Comment: Three commenters expressed concern over poaching or 
illegal harvest.
    Response: With this final rule, the American crocodile DPS in 
Florida will remain protected as threatened under the Act. Our 
regulations at 50 CFR 17.31, pursuant to section 4(d) of the Act, 
prohibit the take (harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, 
trap, capture or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct) 
of threatened species (without a special exemption).
    Only two potential incidences of illegal poaching/taking have been 
documented in recent years. One occurred in 2002 at the Sexton Cove 
Estates in Key Largo. A more recent incident of an illegally killed 
crocodile occurred at Manatee Bay Marina in Miami-Dade County in 2005. 
This incident is still under law enforcement investigation.
    (10) Comment: One commenter was concerned about depredation of 
nests by fire ants and raccoons.
    Response: The Service recognizes both of these issues and realizes 
that they have the potential to affect nesting success, but depredation 
of nests by fire ants and raccoons has not been documented on a regular 
basis and could vary from year to year. For example, in 2005, 13 nests 
were depredated in ENP by raccoons (M. Cherkiss, 2005c). We will 
continue to monitor nesting sites and attempt to appropriately manage 
for this concern.
    (11) Comment: One commenter asked if a long term assessment of 
pesticide and heavy metal contamination levels in crocodile eggs was 
being conducted.
    Response: Recovery actions will continue to be funded according to 
resource availability and the priority given to the recovery action. 
Long-term assessment of pesticide and heavy metal contamination is a 
recommended recovery action in the MSRP; however, no long-term 
assessment is currently being conducted. Contaminants were evaluated 
from eggs from a sampling of nests in the early 1970s through the early 
1980s. Eggs were tested for organochlorines and heavy metals; however, 
no exceptional levels were reported (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, p. 
    (12) Comment: One commenter mentioned threats from introduced 
nonnative wildlife, particularly the Nile monitor (Varanus niloticus), 
a species known to be a predator on nests and young of the larger and 
more aggressively protective Nile crocodile (Crocodilus niloticus).
    Response: No adverse impacts on the American crocodile by the Nile 
monitor have been documented. Although Varanus spp. have been observed 
in Miami-Dade County, there is no evidence of reproducing populations 
(Enge et al. 2004, p. 572). If Nile monitors are documented in the 
vicinity of crocodile nesting areas, appropriate measures will need to 
be taken to eradicate them from the area.
    (13) Comment: With the rapidly growing human population in south 
Florida, anthropogenic threats to the crocodile will increase. Specific 
threats include vehicle collisions, boat propellers, and lead poisoning 
from fishing sinkers.
    Response: The Service documents all reported crocodile mortalities. 
From 1999 to 2005, a total of 33 vehicle-related mortalities and 5 non-
vehicle-related mortalities were documented, with no consistent 
increase in mortalities occurring over the years. See response to 
comment 2. Boat propellers and lead poisoning have accounted for only a 
small proportion of the documented mortalities. Given the annually 
increasing population size, we do not believe that the recruitment and 
reproductive capacity of the population is being compromised by these 
    (14) Comment: One commenter was concerned that if the crocodile is 
reclassified to threatened there will not be as much pressure for 
continued and increased flows of fresh water to Florida and Biscayne 
    Response: See response to comment 3 above.
    (15) Comment: One commenter was concerned about the loss of nesting 
habitat due to invasive species, particularly tide-dispersed species 
such as beach naupaka (Scaevola taccada) and Asiatic Colubrina 
(Colubrina asiatica).
    Response: Although invasive plant species occur in crocodile 
nesting areas, invasive plant species have not been documented to 
negatively affect selection of nesting locations. Overall, land 
managers are concerned about the invasion of nonnative plants, but more 
for the conversion of native to nonnative habitats than for the direct 
loss of crocodile nesting habitat.
    Protection and enhancement of nesting habitat within each of the 
three primary crocodile nesting areas has been ongoing for many years. 
Land managers at the three primary nesting areas control exotic 
vegetation. Containment and elimination of invasive, exotic vegetation 
species is part of the ENP's Strategic Plan. CLNWR has an exotic plant 
control program and has received additional funding in recent years 
from the Florida Keys Invasive Exotics Task Force. For instance, the 
swamp fern (Blechnum serrulatum), a native of Florida but not of the 
Keys, is removed from the crocodile nesting berms at CLNWR. Chemical 
and mechanical removal of the swamp fern is conducted on an as-needed 
basis. As another example, TPPP has designated nesting ``sanctuaries'' 
where habitat management includes exotic vegetation control (primarily 
Australian pine and Brazilian pepper) and encouragement of the growth 
of low-maintenance native vegetation.
    (16) Comment: Two commenters stated that the Service's previous 
recovery documents identified recovery goals of 60 breeding females and 
therefore reclassifying the crocodile because 61 nests were documented 
in 2003 is premature. One of these commenters also indicated that 
recovery criteria should be based on the present and future 
availability of suitable habitat.
    Response: Crocodile nest numbers have been steadily increasing 
since 2001, and in the 2005 nesting year, nest numbers totaled 91 to 94 
nests (S. Klett, 2005; M. Cherkiss, 2005a; J. Wasilewski, 2005a). The 
crocodile has been at or above the recovery criterion of 60 breeding 
females for 3 consecutive years. Further, the population in Florida has 
more than doubled, and the species distribution has expanded within its 
historic range. In addition, approximately 95 percent of nesting 
habitat for crocodiles in Florida is under public ownership or 
otherwise protected (F. Mazzotti, 2006). The recommendation that 
recovery criteria should be based on suitable habitat will be 
considered in the next revision of the recovery plan for this species.
    (17) Comment: Another commenter recommended that we stop all 
surveys because they are harassment and constitute danger and injury 
for crocodiles.
    Response: For the surveys to be conducted, a section 10(a)(1)(A) 

[[Page 13033]]

is required under the Act. Before such a permit can be issued, all 
activities must be justified in relation to enhancement of survival and 
recovery, effects to the species, and qualifications of permittees. By 
definition, authorized activities should benefit species' recovery with 
minimal adverse effects by qualified permittees. None of the permitted 
activities, like surveys, are expected to result in death or injury to 
any individuals, and any injury or mortality will be incidental to 
other actions. By contrast, the information gained from permitted 
research is necessary for the conservation and management of the 
crocodile, which is needed to aid in the survival and recovery of the 
species in the wild.
    (18) Comment: One commenter recommended that reclassification 
should not occur until after the CERP fresh water restoration projects 
are completed, and 10 percent of the documented hatchlings in 2003 
survive to become subadults.
    Response: We believe we have already met the reclassification 
criteria for the crocodile because the population in Florida has more 
than doubled, the species distribution has expanded within its historic 
range, and occupied and potential crocodile habitat is protected, as 
outlined in the ``Summary of Factors Affecting the Species'' section.
    Attempts were made to mark crocodiles hatched in 2003, but all 
hatchlings may not have been marked because dispersal may have occurred 
prior to the researchers arriving at the nest. A crocodile is 
considered a subadult from 2 to 6 years of age and can start breeding 
at 7 years of age. CERP projects, such as the C-111 canal (which is 
anticipated to have construction completed in 2012), will be completed 
after the hatchlings marked in 2003 become subadults. Therefore, we 
will have information on survivorship obtained through monitoring of 
any hatchling crocodiles marked in 2003 before CERP projects like the 
C-111 canal are completed.
    (19) Comment: One commenter noted that a population having 50 
breeding females would be ranked as ``critically endangered'' under the 
IUCN criteria.
    Response: The comments the Service received on the proposed rule 
from the Co-Regional Chairman of the North American Region IUCN SSC 
Crocodile Special Group Steering Committee stated that ``it is the 
opinion of the CSG [Crocodile Specialist Group] members familiar with 
the species in Florida, that criteria for reclassification, as outlined 
in the reclassification proposal have been met.'' The Service has 
reviewed the IUCN definition of critically endangered and because the 
crocodile population in Florida has more than doubled, the species 
distribution has expanded within its historic range, and occupied and 
potential habitat are now under public ownership, the Service does not 
believe that the crocodile population in Florida meets this definition.
    (20) Comment: One commenter questioned the scientific veracity of 
data used in the proposed rule.
    Response: The population and nesting data utilized by the Service 
were obtained from FWC crocodile experts, crocodile experts at State 
universities, and a Florida Power and Light (FPL) crocodile biologist. 
These individuals have been monitoring crocodiles and conducting 
research on the species for much of their careers. The population and 
nesting data we are relying on to make our decision in this instance 
were not published in a peer-reviewed journal; however, that is typical 
for most wildlife monitoring data. Our overall analyses and conclusions 
based on that data, combined with other information from peer-reviewed 
journal articles, were reviewed by three peer reviewers (see ``Peer 
Review'' comments above), all of whom concurred with proceeding with 
reclassification. The three peer reviewers agreed that the American 
crocodile DPS in Florida has significantly increased since listing and 
that the majority of the species' habitat is protected or under special 
management consideration. We have used the best available scientific 
data in determining to reclassify the American crocodile DPS in Florida 
from endangered to threatened.

Distinct Vertebrate Population Segment Analysis

    The Act defines ``species'' to include `` * * * any distinct 
population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which 
interbreeds when mature.'' On February 7, 1996, we published in the 
Federal Register our Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct 
Vertebrate Population Segments (DPS Policy) (61 FR 4722). For a 
population to be listed under the Act as a distinct vertebrate 
population segment, three elements are considered: (1) The discreteness 
of the population segment in relation to the remainder of the species 
to which it belongs; (2) the significance of the population segment to 
the species to which it belongs; (3) the population segment's 
conservation status in relation to the Act's standards for listing 
(i.e., is the population segment endangered or threatened?). The best 
available scientific information supports recognition of the Florida 
population of the American crocodile as a distinct vertebrate 
population segment. We discuss the discreteness and significance of the 
DPS within this section; the remainder of the document discusses the 
status of the Florida DPS.
    Discreteness: The DPS policy states that vertebrate populations may 
be considered discrete if they are markedly separated from other 
populations of the same taxon as a consequence of physical, 
physiological, ecological, or behavioral factors, and/or they are 
delimited by international governmental boundaries within which 
significant differences exist in control of exploitation, management of 
habitat, conservation status, or regulatory mechanisms.
    The Florida population segment represents the northernmost extent 
of the American crocodile(s range (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989a, p. 5; 
Thorbjarnarson 1989, p. 229). It is spatially separated by 
approximately 90 miles of open ocean from the nearest adjacent American 
crocodile population in Cuba (Kushlan 1988, pp. 777-778). The Gulf 
Stream, or the Florida Current (the southernmost leg of the Gulf 
Stream), flows through this 90-mile (145-km) gap. This strong current 
makes it unlikely that crocodiles would regularly, or even 
occasionally, move between Florida and Cuba. Behaviorally, American 
crocodiles are not predisposed to travel across open ocean. They prefer 
calm waters with minimal wave action, and most frequently occur in 
sheltered, mangrove-lined estuaries (Mazzotti 1983, p. 45). No evidence 
is available to suggest that crocodiles have crossed the Florida 
Straits. There are no other American crocodile populations in close 
proximity to Florida (Richards 2003, p. 1) that would allow direct 
interaction of animals. The Florida population is effectively isolated 
from other crocodile populations and functions as a single demographic 
unit. Consequently, we conclude that the Florida population of the 
American crocodile is discrete from other crocodile populations as a 
consequence of physical and behavioral factors.
    The genetic makeup of the Florida population of the American 
crocodile is recognizably distinct from populations in other geographic 
areas within its range (M. Forstner, 1998). Analysis of mitochondrial 
DNA suggests that the Florida population may be genetically more 
closely related to American crocodile populations in Central and South 
America than to those in Jamaica and Hispaniola (P. Moler, 2005b).

[[Page 13034]]

    Significance: The DPS policy states that populations that are found 
to be discrete will then be examined for their biological or ecological 
significance. This consideration may include evidence that the loss of 
the population would create a significant gap in the range of the 
taxon. The Florida population of the American crocodile represents the 
northernmost portion of the species' range in the world (Kushlan and 
Mazzotti 1989a, p. 5; Thorbjarnarson 1989, p. 229) and the only 
population in the United States. Loss of this population would result 
in a significant reduction to the extent of the species( range and 
ecological variability. Maintaining this species throughout its 
historic and current range is important to ensure its genetic diversity 
and population viability. While it is difficult to determine to what 
degree the Florida population of the crocodile contributes 
substantially to the security of the species as a whole, the apparent 
isolation and evidence of genetic uniqueness (M. Forstner, 1998) 
suggest that the Florida population substantially contributes to the 
overall diversity within the species and is biologically or 
ecologically significant.

Recovery Accomplishments

    The first recovery plan for the American crocodile was approved on 
February 12, 1979 (Service 1979, pp. 1-24). The recovery plan was 
revised on February 2, 1984 (Service 1984, pp. 1-37). The recovery plan 
for the American crocodile was revised again and included as part of 
the MSRP, which was approved in May 1999 (Service 1999, pp. 4-505 to 4-
528); this version represents the current recovery plan for this 
    The MSRP identifies 10 primary recovery actions for the crocodile. 
Species-focused recovery actions include: (1) Conduct surveys to 
determine the current distribution and abundance of crocodiles; (2) 
protect and enhance existing colonies of crocodiles; (3) conduct 
research on the biology and life history of crocodiles; (4) monitor the 
south Florida crocodile population; and (5) inform the public about the 
recovery needs of crocodiles. Habitat-focused recovery actions include: 
(1) Protect nesting, basking, and nursery habitat of crocodiles in 
south Florida; (2) manage and restore suitable habitat of crocodiles; 
(3) conduct research on the habitat relationships of the crocodile; (4) 
continue to monitor crocodile habitat; and (5) increase public 
awareness of the habitat needs of crocodiles. All of these primary 
recovery actions have been initiated.
    Nest surveys and subsequent hatchling surveys around nest sites are 
conducted in all areas where crocodiles are known to nest (Mazzotti et 
al. 2000, p. 3; Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, p. 24). Nest monitoring has 
been conducted nearly continuously at each of the three primary nesting 
areas (CLNWR, ENP, and TPPP) since 1978. In addition, detailed surveys 
and population monitoring have been conducted annually since 1996 
throughout the crocodile's range in Florida. These surveys documented 
distribution, habitat use, population size, and age class distribution. 
During both surveys and nest monitoring, crocodiles of all age classes 
are captured and marked (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, p. 24). These 
marked individuals provide information on survival, longevity, growth, 
and movements (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, p. 24). All captured 
individuals are marked by clipping tail scutes in a prescribed manner 
so that each crocodile is given an individual identification number 
(Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, pp. 24-25). In addition, hatchlings at 
TPPP are marked with microchips placed under the skin.
    Ecological studies have been initiated or continued in recent 
years. Laboratory (e.g., Dunson 1982, p. 375; Richards 2003, p. 29) and 
field (e.g., Mazzotti et al. 1986, p. 192) studies have continued on 
the effects of salinity on the growth rate and survival of crocodiles 
in the wild. Analyses of contaminants in crocodile eggs have been 
conducted in south Florida, and these analyses contribute to a record 
of contaminants data as far back as the 1970s (Hall et al. 1979, p. 90; 
Stoneburner and Kushlan 1984, p. 192).
    Protection and enhancement of habitat within each of the three 
primary American crocodile nesting areas have been ongoing for many 
years. TPPP has implemented management actions to minimize disturbance 
to crocodiles and their nesting habitat. This includes the designation 
of nesting ``sanctuaries'' where access and maintenance activities are 
minimized. Habitat management in these areas includes exotic vegetation 
control and encouraging the growth of low-maintenance native 
vegetation. On CLNWR, management has focused on maintaining suitable 
nesting substrate. The organic soils that compose the nesting substrate 
have subsided over time, leading to the potential for increased risk of 
flooding or unfavorable microclimate. Nesting substrate has been 
augmented and encroaching vegetation in nesting areas has been removed. 
In ENP, management has included screening or barricades around active 
nest sites to prevent raccoon depredation or human disturbance of nest 
sites (M. Cherkiss, 2005b).
    Signs have been in place for several years along highways in the 
areas where most road kills have occurred to alert motorists to the 
presence of crocodiles. Fences were also erected along highways to 
prevent crocodiles from crossing, although several of these fences were 
later removed because they were ineffective when not properly 
maintained and may have contributed to additional road kills by 
trapping animals on the road. The remaining sections of fence are 
intended to funnel crocodiles to culverts where they can cross 
underneath roads without risk. Other efforts to reduce human-caused 
mortality include law enforcement actions and signs that inform the 
public about crocodiles in areas where crocodiles and people are likely 
to encounter each other, such as at fish cleaning stations along 
Biscayne Bay.
    The FWC established a standard operating protocol in 1988 to manage 
crocodile-human interactions. This protocol established a standard 
procedure that included both public education to encourage tolerance of 
crocodiles and translocation of crocodiles in situations that may 
threaten the safety of either crocodiles or humans. While the protocol 
has led to the successful resolution of many complaints, many of the 
large crocodiles that have been translocated under the protocol have 
shown strong site fidelity and returned to the areas from which they 
were removed (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, p. 18, table 5). 
Translocation appears to be effective with small crocodiles (generally 
less than 6 ft total length), but may not completely resolve human-
crocodile interactions involving larger, older animals. Developing an 
effective, proactive protocol to address human-crocodile interactions 
is necessary to ensure the safety of crocodiles of all age groups near 
populated areas and to help maintain a positive public perception of 
crocodiles and their conservation. The FWC, with participation from the 
Service and National Park Service, completed a human-crocodile 
interaction response plan in 2005, and through its implementation will 
continue gathering information on how crocodiles respond to 

Recovery Plan Provisions

    The MSRP specifies a recovery objective of reclassifying the 
species to threatened, and describes recovery criteria as:

    Previous recovery efforts identified the need for a minimum of 
60 breeding females within the population before reclassification

[[Page 13035]]

could be considered. Since these criteria were developed, new 
information, based on consistent surveys, has indicated that the 
total number of nesting females has increased substantially over the 
last 20 years, from about 20 animals to about 50, and that nesting 
has remained stable at the major nesting areas. Based on the fact 
that the population appears stable, and that all of the threats as 
described in the original listing have been eliminated or reduced, 
reclassification of the crocodile will be possible, provided 
existing levels of protection continue to be afforded to crocodiles 
and their habitat, and that management efforts continue to maintain 
or enhance the amount and quality of available habitats necessary 
for all life stages.

    Based on these criteria outlined in the MSRP, the crocodile can be 
reclassified as threatened in Florida at this time because the species 
and its habitat are protected and management efforts continue to 
maintain or enhance the amount and quality of available habitat. In 
addition, the nesting range has expanded on both the east and west 
coasts of the State; crocodiles are frequently documented throughout 
most of their historical range; nesting has returned to Biscayne Bay on 
Florida's east coast and now commonly occurs at TPPP; and nesting has 
been increasing for several years. Since 2001, when there were 50 known 
nests in Florida, the number of documented nests in Florida has 
continued to increase to between 91 and 94 in 2005, which satisfies the 
MSRP recommended minimum of having 60 breeding females before 
reclassification can be considered. The level of protection currently 
afforded to the species and its habitat, as well as the status of 
habitat management, are outlined in the ``Summary of Factors Affecting 
the Species'' section of this rule.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4(a)(1) of the Act and regulations promulgated to implement 
the listing provisions of the Act (50 CFR part 424) set forth five 
criteria to be used in determining whether to add, reclassify, or 
remove species on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and 
Plants. These five factors and their application to the American 
crocodile are as follows:

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Its Habitat or Range

    The original rule proposing listing (40 FR 17590, April 12, 1975) 
identified intensive human development and subsequent loss of habitat 
as a primary threat to crocodiles. Since listing, much of the nesting 
habitat has remained intact and been afforded some form of protection. 
In addition, nesting activity that was concentrated in a small portion 
of the historic range in northeastern Florida Bay at the time of 
listing now occurs on the eastern, southern, and southwestern portions 
of the Florida peninsula. The primary nesting areas in northern Florida 
Bay that were active at the time of listing are protected and under the 
management of ENP, which has consistently supported the largest number 
of nests and the largest population of American crocodiles in Florida. 
The habitat in ENP is protected and maintained for crocodiles, and 
ongoing hydrologic restoration efforts may improve the quality of the 
habitat in ENP. Managers at ENP emphasize maintaining high quality 
natural habitat that includes crocodile nesting areas. Restoration of 
disturbed sites, hydrologic restoration, and removal of exotic 
vegetation like Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) and Brazilian 
pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) have improved nesting sites, nursery 
habitat, and other areas frequented by crocodiles.
    Since the original listing, we have acquired and protected an 
important nesting area for crocodiles: CLNWR on Key Largo. The 
acquisition of CLNWR in 1980 provided protection for over 2,205 ha 
(5,000 acres) of crocodile nesting and nursery habitat. Habitat on 
CLNWR is protected and managed to support the local crocodile 
population. Almost all of the nesting on Key Largo occurs within CLNWR 
on artificial substrates composed of spoil taken from adjacent ditches 
that were dredged prior to acquisition of the property. These sites and 
the surrounding high quality nursery habitat consistently support five 
to eight nests each year. Nest success on CLNWR is strongly influenced 
by environmental factors, and typically only about half of the nests 
are successful (P. Moler, 2005b).
    The nesting substrate on CLNWR has begun to settle and, in an 
effort to maintain nesting habitat, the substrate has been augmented at 
two sites to return it to its original elevation. Nesting has been 
documented at both of the elevated sites. In order for these areas to 
remain as nesting and nursery sites, they need to be cleared of 
invasive exotics. Encroachment of native and exotic plants along the 
levees needs to be controlled for these areas to remain suitable for 
nesting crocodiles and their young. In general, CLNWR is closed to 
public access; access is granted by special use permit only.
    Both CLNWR and ENP have implemented programs that provide for 
maintenance of natural conditions that will benefit the crocodile; ENP 
is in the process of preparing a General Management Plan that will 
formalize ongoing management actions and further protect crocodile 
habitat (S. Snow, 2006), and CLNWR has finalized their plan (Service 
2006, pp. 1-127). A management plan as defined here and throughout this 
rule is not regulatory. These plans are developed by the property 
owners, and outline strategies and alternatives needed to conserve 
habitat and in some cases species on the property. Implementation of 
the plan is not mandatory. The plan should be updated on a regular 
basis so that managers and staff have the latest information and 
guidance for crocodile management.
    In addition to the two primary, publicly-owned, crocodile nesting 
sites, additional nesting habitat has been created within the historic 
range on a site that may not have historically supported nesting. TPPP, 
owned and operated by FPL, contains an extensive network of cooling 
canals (built in 1974) that provides good crocodile habitat in Biscayne 
Bay. The site is approximately 1,214 ha (3,000 acres), and the majority 
is considered crocodile habitat. The number of nests at this site has 
risen from 1 to 2 per year between 1978 and 1981 (Gaby et al. 1985, p. 
193), to 10 to 15 nests per year in the 1990s (Brandt et al. 1995, p. 
31; Cherkiss 1999, p. 15; J. Wasilewski, 1999, 2005a), and supported 25 
nests in 2005 (J. Wasilewski, 2005a). This property now supports the 
second largest breeding aggregation of crocodiles in Florida. TPPP has 
developed and implemented a management plan that specifically addresses 
crocodiles. TPPP is also closed to access other than personnel who work 
at the facility. FPL personnel maintain the canals and crocodile 
habitat through activities like exotic vegetation control and planting 
of low-maintenance native vegetation. FPL personnel also have supported 
an extensive crocodile monitoring program since 1976. Operation of the 
TPPP is licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission through 2032, and 
FPL plans to continue crocodile management and monitoring while the 
plant is in operation (B. Bertleson, 2002).
    FPL has also developed the Everglades Mitigation Bank along the 
western shore of Biscayne Bay immediately adjacent to the TPPP, which 
may help bolster the crocodile population in Biscayne Bay in coming 
years. This site is a wetlands mitigation bank, approximately 5,665 ha 
(14,000 acres) in size, of which about 5,050 ha (10,000 acres) is 
crocodile habitat. As of November 2005, crocodile nesting has

[[Page 13036]]

not been recorded on this site, but it is anticipated that nesting will 
occur in the near future (J. Wasilewski, 2005b). It is difficult to 
estimate in advance how many potential nesting sites will occur here, 
but we believe that it will be roughly equivalent to the TPPP site. 
This area will be protected in perpetuity and may help offset any loss 
of the artificial habitat at TPPP if that site is modified after the 
current operating license expires in 2032.
    Even though nesting habitat at TPPP is created rather than natural, 
and all of the nesting at CLNWR and some areas of ENP is on artificial 
or created substrate, crocodiles have successfully moved into and used 
these habitats. We believe that it is important to continue to provide 
protection for the artificial habitats that crocodiles 
opportunistically use within their current range.
    Outside of these areas that now comprise primary nesting habitat 
for crocodiles, land acquisition has provided protection to many other 
areas of potential habitat for crocodiles in Florida. A total of 44 
public properties, owned and managed by Federal, State, or county 
governments, as well as two privately-owned properties managed at least 
partially or wholly for conservation purposes, contain potential 
habitat for crocodiles. Thirty-five of these conservation lands operate 
under management plans (e.g., Florida Department of Environmental 
Protection 2001, pp. 1-103). All of the plans prescribe management 
actions that will provide conditions beneficial for crocodiles and 
maintain or improve crocodile habitat and potential nesting sites. A 
common action called for in many of the plans is exotic vegetation 
control, and some plans (e.g., Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research 
Reserve, Collier-Seminole State Park) have goals to restore the natural 
freshwater flow patterns through hydrological restoration (e.g., 
Florida Department of Environmental Protection 2000, p. 4). These 44 
public properties contain about 28,330 ha (70,000 acres) of potential 
crocodile habitat, whereas together ENP and CLNWR contain about 131,120 
ha (324,000 acres). A total of approximately 166,000 ha (410,000 acres) 
of mangrove-dominated vegetation communities are present in south 
Florida on public and private lands (i.e., TPPP) that are managed at 
least partially for conservation purposes. Approximately 10,117 ha 
(25,000 acres) of mangrove habitat occurs in south Florida outside of 
conservation lands. Only a small fraction (< 5 percent) of known nests 
currently occur on unprotected sites (F. Mazzotti, 2006).
    With the majority of crocodile nesting habitat under protection for 
conservation purposes, the total Florida crocodile population estimated 
between 1,400 and 2,000 individuals (not including hatchlings), the 
expansion of the nesting range on both the east and west coast of 
Florida, and with crocodiles seen throughout most of their historical 
range, we believe that the species now meets the definition of 
threatened. However, the rapid rate of development in coastal areas in 
south Florida will limit population future expansion through habitat 
loss, fragmentation, and interactions with humans (as discussed under 
Factor E) and therefore still poses a threat to full recovery of 
crocodiles in Florida because current populations are not sufficient to 
withstand habitat pressure. The current population size and 
distribution are not yet sufficient to consider the American crocodile 
in Florida free of threats, so additional habitat conservation will be 
necessary before the crocodile is ready for delisting. In addition, 
since most of the nesting occurs on artificial substrate that must be 
maintained through active management, recovery of the species will 
depend on continued maintenance of existing nesting areas and/or 
expansion of nesting into areas with natural substrates.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Prior to listing in 1975, crocodiles were frequently collected for 
museums and zoos, and at least occasionally shot for sport. Though it 
is difficult to estimate the magnitude of collection and sport hunting, 
several lines of evidence suggest that they may have significantly 
impacted the Florida population prior to listing. Moore (1953, p. 54) 
reported on a collector who advertised that he would pay for any live 
crocodiles anywhere in south Florida; these were added to his 
collection at a zoological garden. This collector claimed to have the 
largest collection of American crocodiles in the United States. 
Incidental and intentional killing by fishermen in Florida Bay was 
common (Moore 1953, pp. 55-56). At the time of listing in 1975, the 
final rule stated that poaching for skins and eggs still sometimes 
occurred and crocodiles were occasionally shot for sport from passing 
boats. Ogden (1978, p. 193) reported that 4 of the 10 human-caused 
crocodile deaths he was aware of between 1971 and 1975 resulted from 
    Since listing in 1975, few malicious killings have been recorded 
(Kushlan 1988, p. 784; Moler 1991a, pp. 3-4; P. Moler, 2006a). Kushlan 
(1988, p. 784) reported that only 3 of 13 human-caused mortalities 
between 1975 and 1984 resulted from shooting (approximately 23 
percent). Moler (1991a, pp. 3-4) reported 27 human-caused mortalities 
from 1980 to 1991, of which only one shooting was reported 
(approximately 4 percent of human-caused mortalities). Since 1991, no 
crocodile mortalities resulting from shooting have been recorded. This 
declining trend in the number of recorded shootings suggests reduced 
risk to crocodiles from this threat. The few cases involving illegal 
take of crocodiles in south Florida have been publicized and may have 
deterred poaching and killing of crocodiles. Stories in newspapers and 
other popular press, as well as radio and television reports and 
documentaries, have aided in informing residents and visitors about the 
status and legal protection of American crocodiles.
    CLNWR and TPPP both have restricted access and are in general 
closed to the public. ENP also restricts access to crocodile nesting 
areas during the breeding season. Adults and hatchlings produced in 
these areas are protected as a result of this restricted access.
    We only receive a few requests for recovery permits during any 
given year for commercial or scientific purposes related to the 
crocodile in Florida. We have no reason to believe that trade or any 
other type of current or future utilization poses a risk to the 
American crocodile population in Florida, and therefore, the best 
available information on this factor contributes to reclassification to 
threatened status.

C. Disease or Predation

    Depredation of crocodile nests by raccoons was cited as a threat in 
the original listing. Nest predation in ENP has been variable with an 
increasing trend that has not been tested for statistical significance 
(F. Mazzotti, 2004). For example, the majority of nests near Little 
Madeira Bay, within ENP, have been depredated by raccoons from year to 
year (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2001, p. 4). While a few years ago most of 
the predation in ENP was on nests in artificial substrates, now most is 
on nests at beach sites, which are historically the most productive in 
ENP (F. Mazzotti, 2004). This is of concern as these are the only nests 
on natural habitat left in the United States. On average, 20.1 percent 
of nest failures resulted from raccoon depredation in all areas where 
nesting surveys were

[[Page 13037]]

conducted, including areas outside of ENP (Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b, 
pp. 14-15; Mazzotti 1989, p. 222; Mazzotti et al. 2000, p. 4, 8; 
Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2001, p. 4, 7). Of the 56 to 59 nests at ENP in 
2005, 13 (22 to 23 percent) were depredated by raccoons (M. Cherkiss, 
2005c). Predation of nests by raccoons at TPPP and CLNWR has not been 
observed (F. Mazzotti, 2004).
    Predation of nests by fire ants has occurred at ENP (one nest) and 
TPPP (several nests) (F. Mazzotti, 2004). No fire ant problems have 
been recorded at CLNWR.
    While depredation of nests has not prevented an increase in the 
crocodile population to date, the increasing incidence of predation on 
natural beach nesting sites indicates that a threat remains.
    There is no evidence of disease in the American crocodile 
population in Florida. Therefore, disease does not present a known 
threat to the crocodile in Florida.

D. The Inadequacy Of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The Act currently provides protection for the American crocodile as 
an endangered species, and these protections will not be significantly 
reduced by this reclassification to threatened status.
    The State of Florida provides legal protection for the crocodile 
within its boundaries. In 1967, the State listed the crocodile as 
``protected.'' This status was revised in 1972, when the crocodile was 
listed as ``endangered'' under Chapter 68A-27 of the Florida Wildlife 
Code. Chapter 68A-27.003 of the Florida Code, entitled ``Designation of 
endangered species; prohibitions; permits'' specifies that ``no person 
shall pursue, molest, harm, harass, capture, possess, or sell'' any of 
the endangered species that are listed. Violation of these prohibited 
acts can be considered a third degree felony, and is punishable by up 
to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine (Florida Statute 372.0725). At 
this time, the FWC is not reviewing the crocodile's status, but a 
change in Federal status is likely to initiate a State review (P. 
Moler, 2006b). The FWC currently operates under a cooperative agreement 
with us, under section 6 of the Act that formalizes a cooperative 
approach to the development and implementation of programs and projects 
for the conservation of threatened and endangered species.
    On June 28, 1979, the American crocodile was added to Appendix II 
of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild 
Flora and Fauna (CITES). This designation reflected that the species, 
while not currently threatened with extinction, may become so without 
trade controls. On June 6, 1981, the crocodile was moved to Appendix I, 
indicating that it was considered to be in danger of extinction. 
Generally, no commercial trade is allowed for Appendix I species. 
Effective February 17, 2005, the Cuban population was downlisted to 
Appendix II. CITES is a treaty established to monitor international 
trade to prevent further decline in wild populations of plant and 
animal species. CITES permits may not be issued if import or export of 
the species may be detrimental to the species' survival, or if 
specimens are not legally acquired. CITES does not regulate take or 
domestic trade, so it would not apply to take within Florida or the 
United States. Reclassification of the crocodile in Florida from 
endangered to threatened will not affect the species' CITES status.
    Several other Federal regulations may provide protection for 
crocodiles or their habitat. Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 
U.S.C. 1344 et seq.) requires the issuance of a permit from the Corps 
for the discharge of any dredged or fill material into waters of the 
United States. The Corps may deny the issuance of a permit if the 
project might adversely affect wildlife and other natural resources. 
Also, sections 401 and 403 of the Rivers and Harbors Act (33 U.S.C. 304 
et seq.) prohibit the construction of bridges, roads, dams, docks, 
weirs, or other features that would inhibit the flow of water within 
any navigable waterway. The Rivers and Harbors Act ensures the 
protection of estuarine waters from impoundment or development and 
indirectly protects natural flow patterns that maintain crocodile 
habitat. In addition, the Federal agencies responsible for ensuring 
compliance with the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act are 
required to consult with the Service if the issuance of a permit may 
affect listed species or their designated critical habitat, under 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act (see ``Available Conservation Measures'' 
section below).
    The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1958 (16 U.S.C. 661 et 
seq., as amended) requires equal consideration and coordination of 
wildlife conservation with other water resources development. This 
statute allows us and State fish and game agencies to review proposed 
actions and address ways to conserve wildlife and prevent loss of or 
damage to wildlife resources. The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act 
allows us to help ensure that crocodiles and their habitat are not 
degraded by water development projects and allows us to incorporate 
improvements to habitat whenever practicable.
    Additionally, ENP has established regulations for general wildlife 
protection in units of the National Park System that prohibit the 
taking of wildlife; the feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or 
intentional disturbing of wildlife nesting, breeding, or other 
activities; and possessing unlawfully taken wildlife or portions 
thereof (36 CFR 2.2). CLNWR and TPPP do not have these issues as they 
are both generally closed to the public. The Service believes that the 
regulatory mechanisms in place have helped bring the species to the 
point where reclassification to threatened is appropriate and their 
continued implementation will aid in the species' recovery.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    As explained in the original listing (40 FR 44149), crocodile nest 
sites were vulnerable to disturbance from increasing human activity 
because of the remoteness and difficulty of patrolling nesting areas. 
Human disturbance can cause crocodiles to abandon habitat or nest sites 
(Kushlan and Mazzotti 1989b, p. 14). Acquisition of nesting, juvenile, 
and nursery sites and other crocodile habitat by Federal, State, and 
local governments and implementation of management plans on these 
properties have resulted in crocodile conservation.
    Of the three primary properties that support nesting (ENP, CLNWR, 
and TPPP), only CLNWR and TPPP have a management plan in place that 
specifically addresses the crocodile. This plan calls for activities 
such as road maintenance, vehicle access, and construction to be 
conducted in crocodile habitat only at certain times or locations based 
on the crocodile's activity to reduce human disturbance. In addition, 
TPPP is closed to access other than personnel who work at the facility. 
ENP has established rules that provide protection from disturbance to 
benefit the crocodile, even without a species-specific management plan. 
At ENP, protection from disturbance is based on guidelines for general 
public use, such as instructions to stay on marked trails. CLNWR is 
generally closed to public access. Activities on or near the nesting 
sites are conducted during the non-breeding season to minimize 
crocodile disturbance. CLNWR has finalized a management plan that 
formalizes ongoing actions and future projects and more specifically 
addresses crocodiles (Service 2006, p. 38), and ENP is preparing their 
General Management Plan (S. Snow, 2006). In addition, ENP

[[Page 13038]]

is preparing a draft plan that will benefit the crocodile mostly by 
general prescribed changes in public use in portions of ENP.
    In addition to these primary nesting sites, disturbance as a threat 
is also being addressed on approximately 44 public properties, managed 
as conservation lands by Federal, State, or county governments, that 
provide potential habitat for crocodiles in south Florida. In addition, 
two other privately-owned sites provide potential crocodile habitat 
that are maintained as conservation lands or that conduct natural lands 
management. Thirty-five of these properties operate under current 
management plans. Only two specifically mention management actions 
intended to benefit the crocodile. However, actions mentioned in the 
other plans that will reduce disturbance to crocodiles include 
restrictions on public use, implementation of boat speed limits 
(including areas of no-wake zones), and prohibition of wildlife 
harassment. Managing potential human-crocodile conflicts remains an 
important factor in providing adequate protection for and reducing 
disturbance to crocodiles.
    As the crocodile population and the human population in south 
Florida have grown, the number of human-crocodile interactions has 
increased (T. Regan, 2006). The FWC's response plan to manage these 
interactions both encourages tolerance of crocodiles and translocates 
crocodiles in situations that may threaten the safety of either 
crocodiles or humans. While this has led to the successful resolution 
of many complaints, it is likely that additional crocodiles will need 
to be translocated as development in south Florida continues. These 
human interactions may limit dispersal of individuals within the 
species' historic range. In addition, large, mature individuals that 
cannot be effectively translocated may have to be removed from the 
wild. The FWC, with participation from the Service and National Park 
Service, will continue to address this threat.
    The original proposed listing cites the risk of a hurricane or 
another natural disaster as a serious threat to the crocodile (40 FR 
17590, April 21, 1975). Hurricanes and freezing temperatures may kill 
some adults (Moler 1991a, p. 4), but their susceptibility to mortality 
from extreme weather is poorly documented. These events still have the 
potential to threaten the historically restricted nesting distribution 
of the American crocodile. However, increased nesting activity in 
western Florida Bay, Cape Sable, and TPPP has broadened the nesting 
range. Nesting now occurs on the eastern, southern, and southwestern 
portions of the Florida peninsula. While a single storm could still 
easily affect all portions of the population, it is now less likely 
that the impact to all population segments would be severe.
    The original listing rule cited the restriction of the flow of 
fresh water to the Everglades because of increasing human development 
as a potential threat to the American crocodile. Ongoing efforts to 
restore the Everglades ecosystem and restore a more natural 
hydropattern to south Florida will affect the amount of fresh water 
entering the estuarine systems. Because growth rates of hatchling 
crocodiles are closely tied to the salinity in the estuaries (Mazzotti 
and Cherkiss 2003, p. 13), restoration efforts will affect both quality 
and availability of suitable nursery habitat. Decreased salinity should 
increase growth rates and survival among hatchling crocodiles. Proposed 
restoration activities in and around Taylor Slough and the C-111 canal, 
as discussed in the Central and South Florida Project Comprehensive 
Review Study (Corps and SFWMD 1999, p. 4-28, K-135), could increase the 
amount of fresh water entering the estuarine system and extend the 
duration of freshwater flow into Florida Bay. Alternative D13R 
hydrologic plan simulation (Corps and SFWMD 1999, p. 1-20) predicts 
that the addition of fresh water could occur throughout many of the 
tributaries and small natural drainages along the shore of Florida Bay, 
instead of primarily from the mouth of the C-111 canal. Salinities in 
nesting areas, including Joe, Little Madeira, and Terrapin Bays, are 
projected to be lower for longer periods than they currently are within 
this area (based on alternative D13R hydrologic plan simulation) (Corps 
and SFWMD 1999, pp. D-24, D-A-81 to D-A-83, K-135). This restoration 
project should increase the amount and suitability of crocodile habitat 
in northern Florida Bay, and increase juvenile growth rates and 
survival (Mazzotti and Brandt 1995, p. 7).
    Hydrological restoration may also affect crocodile habitat in 
Biscayne Bay. Reductions in freshwater discharge will occur in the 
Miami River, Snake Creek, north and central Biscayne Bay, and Barnes 
Sound (extreme southern end of the Biscayne Bay system) (P. Pitts, 
Service, 2005). These projected changes will likely reduce habitat 
quality in the more urbanized northern half of Biscayne Bay. Freshwater 
flows to south Biscayne Bay are predicted to increase with CERP, thus 
increasing habitat quality in this area. More importantly, a primary 
objective of CERP's Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands and C-111 Spreader 
Canal projects is to rehydrate degraded coastal wetlands in south 
Biscayne Bay and Barnes Sound by redirecting fresh water from 
conveyance canals to wetlands. This will have the effect of lowering 
salinities in the wetlands, thus increasing habitat quality for 
crocodiles, particularly juveniles. Currently, the potential area 
affected by these projects in the Biscayne Bay system is on the order 
of 24,000 ha (60,000 acres). Considering the bay as a whole, Everglades 
restoration should increase the amount and suitability of crocodile 
habitat and benefit the species.
    Mortality of crocodiles on south Florida roads has consistently 
been the primary source of adult mortality, and this trend has not 
changed (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, p. 22, table 6). Road kills have 
occurred throughout the crocodile's range in Florida, but most have 
occurred on Key Largo and around Florida Bay, especially around Card 
and Barnes Sounds (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, p. 22, table 6). Signs 
cautioning drivers of the risk of colliding with crocodiles have been 
posted along the major highways throughout crocodile habitat. As 
discussed above, measures identified to help reduce road kill mortality 
include installing fencing in appropriate places to prevent crocodiles 
from entering roadways and installation of box culverts under roadways 
so that crocodiles can safely cross roads. Many of the recorded 
crocodile road kills are adults, which may result from the increased 
likelihood of large individuals being reported. We cannot accurately 
estimate the proportion of road-killed crocodiles that are reported. 
Therefore, it is difficult to accurately assess the magnitude of this 
threat or its effect on the population.
    The success of crocodile nesting is largely dependent on the 
maintenance of suitable egg cavity moisture throughout incubation, and 
flooding may also affect nest success. On Key Largo and other islands, 
failure of nests is typically attributed to desiccation due to low 
rainfall (Moler 1991b, p. 5). Data compiled by Mazzotti and Cherkiss 
(2003, p. 13, figure 5) document an average of 48 percent nest success 
from 1978 through 1999 (excluding 1991 and 1992 due to lack of data) at 
CLNWR on north Key Largo. Nest failures on the mainland may be 
associated with flooding or desiccation (Mazzotti et al. 1988, pp. 68-
69; Mazzotti 1989, pp. 224-225). In certain areas, flooding and over-
drying affect nest success. Data compiled by Mazzotti and Cherkiss 
(2003, p. 13, table 5, 7) document an

[[Page 13039]]

average of 64.4 percent nest success from 1970 through 1999 at ENP 
(excluding 1975, 1976, 1983, 1984, and 1996 due to lack of data) and 98 
percent nest success from 1978 through 1999 at TPPP (excluding 1980 and 
1982 due to lack of data). However, overall, the crocodile population 
in Florida has more than doubled its size since it was listed to an 
estimated 1,400 to 2,000 individuals and appears to be compensating for 
these threats.
    The final listing rule did not reference contaminants as a 
potential threat. Several studies have shown that contaminants occur in 
crocodiles and their eggs in south Florida (Hall et al. 1979, p. 88; 
Stoneburner and Kushlan 1984, pp. 192-193), including organochlorine 
pesticides (DDT, DDE, and dieldrin, among others), and PCBs, however, 
no exceptional levels have been reported (Mazzotti and Cherkiss 2003, 
p. 18). Acute exposure to high levels of these contaminants may result 
in death, while prolonged exposure to lower concentrations may cause 
liver damage, reproductive failure, behavioral abnormalities, or 
deformities. Little information is known at this time about what 
constitutes dangerous levels of these contaminants in crocodiles or 
other crocodilians. Therefore, at this time we have no data to support 
a determination that contaminants pose a threat to further crocodile 
    Protection and management of the three primary nesting areas and 
other potential habitat along with the anticipated outcome of 
Everglades restoration efforts and a reduction in threat from 
hurricanes and other natural disasters contributed to our determination 
to reclassify the American crocodile in Florida. However, human-
crocodile interactions, vehicle strikes, and environmental contaminants 
remain as threats to the crocodile.


    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial data 
available regarding the past, present, and future threats faced by the 
crocodile in Florida in preparing this final rule. Based on this 
evaluation, we have determined that the crocodile in its range in 
Florida meets the criteria of a DPS as stated in our policy of February 
17, 1996 (61 FR 4722). In regard to its status, we designate the 
American crocodile in Florida as a DPS, and reclassify it from an 
endangered species to a threatened species. The recovery plan for the 
crocodile states that, ``Based on the fact that the population appears 
stable, and that all of the threats as described in the original 
listing have been eliminated or reduced, reclassification of the 
crocodile will be possible, provided existing levels of protection 
continue to be afforded to crocodiles and their habitat, and that 
management efforts continue to maintain or enhance the amount and 
quality of available habitats necessary for all life stages.'' We 
believe, based on our analysis of the 5 listing factors under the Act, 
that the Florida DPS of the American crocodile is no longer in danger 
of extinction, however, the crocodile continues to require protection 
under the Act as a threatened species because population size and 
distribution is insufficient to consider crocodiles free from threats. 
The following are still needed to avoid the threat of extinction:
    (1) Crocodile habitat in Florida continues to need maintainance and 
enhancement to provide protection for all life stages of the existing 
crocodile population and to ensure that available habitat can support 
population growth and expansion; and
    (2) Further acquisition of nesting and nursery sites and additional 
crocodile habitat by Federal, State, and local governments and 
implementation of management on these publicly-owned properties are 
necessary to ensure protection to crocodiles and their nests and enable 
expansion of populations size and distribution.

Available Conservation Measures

    Two of the three primary nesting areas for crocodiles in Florida 
occur on Federal conservation lands and are consequently afforded 
protection from development and large-scale habitat disturbance. 
Crocodiles also occur on a variety of State-owned properties, and 
existing State and Federal regulations provide protection on these 
sites. The fact that crocodile habitat is primarily wetlands also 
assures the opportunity for consultation on most projects that occur in 
crocodile habitat under the authorities described below.
    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
practices. Recognition through listing increases public awareness of 
threats to the crocodile, and promotes conservation actions by Federal, 
State, and local agencies; private organizations; and individuals. The 
Act provides for possible land acquisition and cooperation with the 
State, and requires that recovery actions be carried out. The 
protection required of Federal agencies and the prohibitions against 
taking and harm are discussed, in part, below.
    Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their 
actions with respect to the crocodile and its designated critical 
habitat (41 FR 41914, September 24, 1976). Regulations implementing 
this interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 
CFR part 402. If a Federal action may affect the crocodile or its 
designated critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency must 
consult with the Service to ensure that any action authorized, funded, 
or carried out by such agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of the crocodile or result in the destruction or adverse 
modification of its critical habitat. Federal agency actions that may 
require consultation include the Corps' involvement in projects such as 
residential development that requires dredge/fill permits, the 
construction of roads and bridges, and dredging projects. Power plant 
development and operation under license from the Federal Energy 
Regulatory Commission/Nuclear Regulatory Commission may also require 
consultation with respect to licensing and re-licensing. Road 
construction activities funded or authorized by the Federal Highway 
Administration may require consultation.
    The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to all threatened 
wildlife. The prohibitions, codified at 50 CFR 17.21 and 50 CFR 17.31, 
in part, make it illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of 
the United States to take (includes harass, harm, and pursue, hunt, 
shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect; or to attempt any of 
these), import or export, ship in interstate commerce in the course of 
commercial activity, or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign 
commerce any listed species. It is also illegal to possess, sell, 
deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been 
taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to Service agents and agents 
of State conservation agencies.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving threatened wildlife under certain circumstances. Regulations 
governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.32. Such permits are 
available for scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation or 
survival of the species, and/or for incidental take in the course of 
otherwise lawful activities. For threatened species, permits also are 
available for zoological exhibition, educational purposes, or special 
purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act.

[[Page 13040]]

    Questions regarding whether specific activities will constitute a 
violation of section 9 should be directed to Cindy Schulz of the South 
Florida Ecological Services Office (see ADDRESSES section). Requests 
for copies of the regulations regarding listed species and inquiries 
about prohibitions and permits may be addressed to the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Ecological Services Division, 1875 Century Boulevard, 
Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 30345 (telephone 404/679-4176, facsimile 
    This final rule formally recognizes that the American crocodile DPS 
in Florida is no longer in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. This reclassification does not 
significantly change the protection afforded this species under the 
Act. Anyone taking, attempting to take, or otherwise possessing an 
American crocodile, or parts thereof, in violation of section 9 is 
subject to a penalty under section 11 of the Act. Pursuant to section 7 
of the Act, all Federal agencies must ensure that any actions they 
authorize, fund or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of the American crocodile or destroy or adversely modify its 
critical habitat.
    Recovery actions directed at the crocodile will continue to be 
implemented as outlined in the MSRP, including: (1) Determining the 
current distribution and abundance; (2) protecting and enhancing 
existing crocodile colonies; (3) conducting research on biology and 
life history; (4) monitoring the population; and (5) informing the 
public about recovery needs of crocodiles. The MSRP also outlines 
restoration activities that should be undertaken to adequately restore 
the mangrove community occupied by the crocodile. These actions 
include: (1) Protecting nesting, basking, and nursery habitat; (2) 
managing and restoring suitable habitat; (3) conducting research on the 
habitat relationships of the crocodile; (4) continuing to monitor 
habitat; and (5) increasing public awareness of habitat needs of the 
    This final rule does not constitute an irreversible commitment on 
our part. Reclassification of the American crocodile in Florida to 
endangered status would be investigated if changes occur in management, 
population status, habitat, or other actions that detrimentally affect 
the population or increase threats to its survival.

Required Determinations

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995

    Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regulations at 5 CFR part 
1320, which implement provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 
U.S.C. 3501 et seq.), require that Federal agencies obtain approval 
from OMB before collecting information from the public. This rule does 
not contain any new collections of information that require approval by 
OMB under the Paperwork Reduction Act. This rule will not impose 
recordkeeping or reporting requirements on State or local governments, 
individuals, businesses, or organizations. An agency may not conduct or 
sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to, a collection of 
information unless it displays a currently valid OMB control number.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that we do not need to prepare an Environmental 
Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement, as defined in the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, in connection with 
regulations adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the Endangered Species 
Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination 
in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

Energy Supply, Distribution or Use (E.O. 13211)

    On May 18, 2001, the President issued Executive Order 13211 on 
regulations that significantly affect energy supply, distribution, and 
use. Executive Order 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of 
Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. This rule is not 
expected to significantly affect energy supplies, distribution, and 
use. Therefore, this action is not a significant energy action and no 
Statement of Energy Effects is required.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited is available upon request from 
the South Florida Ecological Services Office (see ADDRESSES section).


    The primary author of this document is the South Florida Ecological 
Services Office (see ADDRESSES section).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

For the reasons given in the preamble, we amend part 17, subchapter B 
of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth 


1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

Sec.  17.11  [Amended]

2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by revising the entry in the List of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife for ``Crocodile, American'' under REPTILES to 
read as follows:

Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                        SPECIES                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical      Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened

                                                                      * * * * * * *

                                                                      * * * * * * *
 Crocodile, American.............   Crocodylus acutus..   U.S.A. (FL),        Entire, except in     E                       87           NA           NA
                                                          Mexico, Caribbean,   U.S.A. (FL).
                                                          Central and South
Do...............................  do..................  do.................   U.S.A. (FL).......   T                    10,--     17.95(c)           NA

                                                                      * * * * * * *

[[Page 13041]]

    Dated: February 22, 2007.
Kenneth Stansell,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. E7-5037 Filed 3-19-07; 8:45 am]