[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 214 (Monday, November 5, 2018)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 55341-55345]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-24162]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2013-0010; 4500030114]
RIN 1018-BD54

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of 
Critical Habitat for the Spring Pygmy Sunfish

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; revision and reopening of comment period.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
reopening of the comment period on our October 2, 2012, proposed rule 
to designate critical habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish (Elassoma 
alabamae), under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). 
In this document, we propose to add one critical habitat unit (123 
hectares (ha) (303 acres (ac)) in Madison County, Alabama, to the 
critical habitat designation. As a result, our proposed revised 
critical habitat designation for the species now includes three 
critical habitat units, totaling approximately 749 ha (1,852 ac), in 
Alabama. This reopened comment period will provide the public with an 
opportunity to submit written comments on both the revision described 
in this document and the October 2, 2012, proposed rule, as well as 
intervening relevant publications. Comments previously submitted need 
not be resubmitted, as they will be fully considered in preparation of 
the final rule.

DATES: The comment period for the proposed rule published October 2, 
2012, at 77 FR 60180 is reopened. We will consider comments received or 
postmarked on or before December 5, 2018. Comments submitted 
electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, 
below) must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date.

ADDRESSES: You may submit written comments by one of the following 
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R4-ES-2013-0010, 
which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the 
Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left 
side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the 
Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by 
clicking on ``Comment Now!''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit your comments by U.S. mail or hand-
delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2013-0010, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls 
Church, VA 22041-3803.
    We request that you send comments only by methods described above. 
We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally 
means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see 
Public Comments, below, for more details).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: William Pearson, Field Supervisor, 
Alabama Ecological Services Field Office, 1208 Main Street, Daphne, AL 
36526; telephone 251-441-5181. If you use a telecommunications device 
for the deaf (TDD), please call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-


Public Comments

    We will accept written comments and information during this 
reopened comment period on our proposed designation of critical habitat 
for the spring pygmy sunfish that was published in the Federal Register 

[[Page 55342]]

October 2, 2012 (77 FR 60180); the revision to the proposed boundaries 
of Unit 1 described in our April 29, 2013, Federal Register publication 
(78 FR 25033); the potential exclusions to the designation that we 
described in our February 5, 2014, Federal Register publication (79 FR 
6871); and the new proposed Unit 3 that is described in this document. 
We will consider information and recommendations we receive from all 
interested parties. We intend that any final action resulting from this 
proposal will be based on the best scientific data available and be as 
accurate and effective as possible.
    We request comments or information from any interested party on any 
aspect of the proposed designation. However, we particularly seek 
comments concerning:
    (1) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitats as 
``critical habitat'' under section 4 of the Act, including whether 
there are threats to the species from human activity, the degree of 
which can be expected to increase due to the designation, and whether 
that increase in threat outweighs the benefit of designation such that 
the designation of critical habitat is not prudent.
    (2) Land use designation and current or planned activities in the 
subject areas and their possible impacts on proposed critical habitat.
    If you submitted comments or information on the proposed rule 
during the initial comment period from October 2, 2012, to December 3, 
2012; during the second comment period from April 29, 2013, to May 29, 
2013; or during the third comment period from February 5, 2014, to 
March 7, 2014, please do not resubmit them. We have incorporated them 
into the public record as part of the previous three comment periods, 
and we will fully consider them in the preparation of our final 
    You may submit your comments and materials by one of the methods 
listed in ADDRESSES. If you submit a comment via http://www.regulations.gov, your entire comment--including any personal 
identifying information--will be posted on the website. We will post 
all hardcopy comments on http://regulations.gov as well. If you submit 
a hardcopy comment that includes personal identifying information, you 
may request at the top of your document that we withhold this 
information from public review. However, we cannot guarantee that we 
will be able to do so.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing the proposed rule, are available for 
public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R4-
ES-2013-0010, or by appointment, during normal business hours, at the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alabama Ecological Services Field 


Species Information

    For information on the spring pygmy sunfish's biology, status, 
distribution, and habitat, refer to the October 12, 2012, proposed 
listing and critical habitat rule (77 FR 60180), and the October 2, 
2013, final listing rule (78 FR 60766).

Previous Federal Actions

    On October 2, 2012, we published a proposed rule (77 FR 60180) to 
list the spring pygmy sunfish as a threatened species and to designate 
critical habitat for the species. In that proposed rule, we proposed to 
designate two critical habitat units, totaling approximately 12.9 
kilometers (km) (8 stream miles (mi)) and 654.4 hectares (ha) (1,617 
acres (ac)) of spring system habitat and adjacent upland buffer in 
Limestone County, Alabama. Previous Federal actions occurring before 
October 2, 2012, are summarized in that proposed rule.
    On April 29, 2013, we published a document (78 FR 25033) reopening 
the comment period on the proposed listing and critical habitat for 30 
days. That document requested public comments on amendments to the 
required determinations section of the October 2, 2012, proposal, the 
draft economic analysis, and a proposed reduction in the size of the 
critical habitat designation based on information we received during 
the original public comment period. Specifically, we proposed to reduce 
the size of Unit 1 by 27.3 ha (67.6 ac), resulting in a proposed 
critical habitat designation totaling approximately 12.9 km (8 stream 
mi) and 627.02 ha (1,549.4 ac).
    On October 2, 2013, we published a final rule (78 FR 60766) listing 
the spring pygmy sunfish as a threatened species.
    On February 5, 2014, we again reopened the comment period, for an 
additional 30 days, on the proposed designation of critical habitat to 
announce exclusions we are considering to proposed critical habitat 
Unit 1 (79 FR 6871). In that document, we asked for public comments on 
excluding lands enrolled in candidate conservation agreements with 
assurances (CCAAs) in accordance with section 4(b)(2) of the Act. 
Specifically, we are considering excluding all areas covered by the 
Belle Mina Farms Ltd., McDonald Farm, and Horton Farm CCAAs based on 
our partnerships with the landowners and the conservation benefits that 
these agreements afford the spring pygmy sunfish. We will make the 
final determination on these exclusions in our final rule.

Critical Habitat

    It is our intent to discuss only those topics directly relevant to 
the designation of critical habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish in 
this document.
    Section 3 of the Act defines critical habitat as the specific areas 
within the geographical area occupied by a species, at the time it is 
listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found those physical or 
biological features (PBFs) essential to the conservation of the species 
and that may require special management considerations or protection, 
and specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species 
at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas are 
essential for the conservation of the species. If the proposed rule is 
made final, section 7 of the Act will prohibit destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat by any activity funded, authorized, or 
carried out by any Federal agency. Federal agencies proposing actions 
affecting critical habitat must consult with us on the effects of their 
proposed actions, under section 7(a)(2) of the Act.

Evaluation of a Documented New Population of Spring Pygmy Sunfish

    In November 2015, surveys conducted by the Geologic Survey of 
Alabama (GSA) and Service employees on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge 
(NWR) in Madison County, Alabama, verified a new population of spring 
pygmy sunfish in Blackwell Swamp following the documentation of the 
species at the swamp in September 2015, by researchers from 
Jacksonville State University. The discovery of the new population is 
significant because it occurs outside the Beaverdam Spring complex, the 
only known occupied site on October 2, 2013, when we listed the spring 
pygmy sunfish as a threatened species under the Act, and increases the 
number of known metapopulations from one to two. Based on new 
information gathered during the November 2015 survey, we are revising 
the proposed designation of critical habitat to include a new unit 
(Unit 3) in Madison County, Alabama. This new unit contains all of the 
PBFs for the spring pygmy sunfish. Because of the limited range of the 
spring pygmy sunfish, we have determined that the new population in

[[Page 55343]]

Blackwell Swamp and its associated habitat is essential to the 
conservation of the species and may require special management 
considerations or protection. A map of proposed Unit 3 appears under 
Proposed Regulation Promulgation, below.

Proposed Critical Habitat Designation

    Based on the above information, we are proposing to revise the 
proposed critical habitat designation to include Blackwell Swamp as 
Unit 3. We provide occupancy and ownership tables below that include 
information on all three proposed critical habitat units.

Table 1--Occupancy of the Proposed Critical Habitat Units for the Spring
                              Pygmy Sunfish
       Unit                   Location                  Occupied?
1.................  Beaverdam Spring/Creek.....  Yes.
2.................  Pryor Spring/Branch........  No.
3.................  Blackwell Swamp/Run........  Yes.

                                 Table 2--Ownership of the Proposed Critical Habitat Units for the Spring Pygmy Sunfish
         Unit                  Location           Private ownership km (mi); ha (ac)      Federal ownership km (mi); ha (ac)     length km    Total area
                                                                                                                                    (mi)       ha (ac)
1....................  Beaverdam Spring/Creek.  5.9 (3.7); 210 (518)..................  3.5 (2.21); 344 (849).................    9.5 (5.9)  553 (1,367)
2....................  Pryor Spring/Branch....  0.2 (0.15); 8.1 (20)..................  3.1 (1.95); 65 (162)..................    3.4 (2.1)     73 (182)
3....................  Blackwell Swamp/Run....  0; 0..................................  2.3 (1.4); 123 (303)..................    2.3 (1.4)    123 (303)
    Total............  .......................  6.1 (3.85); 218 (538).................  8.8 (5.56); 532 (1,314)...............   15.2 (9.4)  749 (1,852)
* Totals may not sum due to rounding.

    We present a brief description of Unit 3, and reasons why it meets 
the definition of critical habitat, below.

Unit 3: Blackwell Swamp/Run, Madison County, Alabama

    Unit 3 includes a total of 123 ha (303 ac) of Federal land and 2.3 
stream km (1.4 mi), all of which is federally owned within the Wheeler 
NWR in Madison County, Alabama. This unit is located about 4.3 km (2.7 
mi) due west of the town of Triana. This unit is 0.96 km (0.6 mi) north 
of Blackwell Run's confluence with the Tennessee River; approximately 1 
km (0.5 mi) south of Swancott Road SW; about 1 km (0.5 mi) west of 
Landess Circle; and just to the east of B. Road/County Line Road SW. 
Unit 3 is currently occupied by spring pygmy sunfish and contains all 
the PBFs essential to the species' survival and eventual recovery. Unit 
3 provides habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish via the spring systems 
of Blackwell Swamp, which include spring runs and a large spring-fed 
pool that was enlarged after Blackwell Spring Run was impounded (PBF 
    There is adequate water quality (PBF 2), water quantity and flow 
(PBF 3), and a diversity of emergent vegetation (PBF 4) to support the 
normal life stages and behavior of the spring pygmy sunfish and its 
prey sources (PBF 4).
    Wheeler NWR actively manages water levels in proposed Unit 3 to 
enhance use by waterfowl. The water in the unit is replenished by 
surface flow from runoff, a small stream in the northeast corner, and 
numerous spring seeps of the Blackwell Spring system. The Tennessee 
River does not influence the spring pool unless allowed to enter the 
pool through the water control structure, which may occur in the course 
of waterfowl management. During flood conditions, water inundates and 
enters secondary channels and sloughs located to the south and 
southeastern portion of the unit and flows in a southerly direction 
with the spring run, sometimes overtopping the roads on the west and 
east side of the unit.
    Threats to the spring pygmy sunfish and its habitat in Unit 3 that 
may require special management or protection of the PBFs include 
structures, such as boat ramps; an unpaved, gravel-maintained, refuge 
road (11.7 km; 7.3 mi) circling the unit; and sewer, gas, and water 
easements, including a City of Huntsville sewer line right-of-way to 
the east. Additional threats outside and adjacent to the unit include 
increased agriculture, urbanization, and industrialization activities 
(such as channel modification for flood control, construction of 
impoundments, and water extraction) that significantly alter spring 
flow regime and water quality and quantity; inadequate stormwater 
management; water diversion; significant changes in streambed material 
composition and quality as a result of construction projects and 
maintenance activities that damage or destroy aquatic vegetation and 
vegetation in the riparian zone; off-road vehicle use; bridge and road 
construction and maintenance, and culvert and pipe placement; and other 
watershed and floodplain disturbances that release sediments or 
nutrients into the water. Many threats that result in decreased water 
quality and quantity are likely to be amplified during drought events.

Consideration of Economic Impacts

    The spring pygmy sunfish occurs in Unit 3, which is entirely within 
Wheeler NWR. In areas where the spring pygmy sunfish is present, 
Federal agencies already are required to consult with the Service under 
section 7 of the Act on activities they authorize, fund, or carry out 
that may affect the species. If we finalize the proposed critical 
habitat designation, measures to avoid the destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat would be incorporated into the 
existing consultation process for refuge activities. Therefore, the 
draft economic analysis prepared for Unit 1 and Unit 2 (78 FR 25033) is 
not significantly affected by the addition of Unit 3 in proposed 
critical habitat.


    The primary authors of this document are the staff members of the 
Alabama Ecological Services Field Office.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

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

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to further amend part 17, subchapter B of 
chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as proposed to 
be amended at 77 FR 60180 (October 2, 2012) as set forth below:


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

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 1531-1544; and 4201-4245, unless 
otherwise noted.

2. Amend Sec.  17.95(e) by revising paragraph (5) in, and adding a 
paragraph (8) to, the entry proposed at 77 FR 60180 for ``Spring Pygmy 

[[Page 55344]]

(Elassoma alabamae)'' as set forth below:

Sec.  17.95   Critical habitat--fish and wildlife.

* * * * *
    (e) Fishes.
* * * * *
    Spring Pygmy Sunfish (Elassoma alabamae)
* * * * *
    (5) Index map of critical habitat for the spring pygmy sunfish 

* * * * *
    (8) Unit 3: Blackwell Swamp/Run, Madison County, Alabama.
    (i) General Description: Unit 3 includes a total of 123 ha (303 ac) 
of land and 2.3 stream km (1.4 stream mi), all which is federally owned 
within the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Unit 3 is located 
approximately 4.3 km (2.7 mi) due west of the town of Triana. This unit 
is 0.96 km (0.6 mi) north of Blackwell Run's confluence with the 
Tennessee River; approximately 1 km (0.5 mi) south of Swancott Road SW; 
about 1 km (0.5 mi) west of Landess Circle; and just to the east of B. 
Road/County Line Road SW.
    (ii) Map of Unit 3 follows:

[[Page 55345]]


* * * * *

    Dated: August 14, 2018.
 James W. Kurth,
Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Exercising the 
Authority of the Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2018-24162 Filed 11-2-18; 8:45 am]