Panama City, Fla. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public comment period on its 2018 proposal to list the Panama City crayfish as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service is also proposing to designate a critical habitat for the crayfish, and a special 4(d) rule, designed to conserve the crayfish while allowing greater flexibility for landowners. A draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat designation is also being released with today’s proposed rule.
“The Panama City crayfish has suffered from habitat loss and degradation, habitat fragmentation, and subpopulation isolation due to development,” said Leo Miranda-Castro, Service Regional Director. “Conserving the Panama City crayfish and its habitat directly benefits Bay County communities, businesses, and stakeholders, all of which rely on local wetlands for clean water, reduced impacts from storms and flooding, to recharging of groundwater and countless recreational opportunities.”
“Our organization has been very pleased to work with the Service to protect the Panama City crayfish,” said Candis Harbison, President of Bay County Conservancy, added. “The habitat needs of the crayfish are very compatible with our goal of preserving native habitat and providing green space for stormwater retention and passive recreation and spiritual renewal.”
Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act allows the Service to establish prohibitions or exceptions to prohibitions for threatened species. 4(d) rules intend to provide for the conservation of a threatened species by allowing regulatory flexibility under the ESA.
The proposed 4(d) rule for the Panama City crayfish would promote land management practices that conserve the species while allowing some activities that would not hinder its recovery. The proposed exceptions to these prohibitions include conservation efforts by the Service or state wildlife agencies, certain development practices, select land management activities, and some utility actions expected to have negligible impacts on the crayfish and its habitat.
The Panama City crayfish is a semi-terrestrial freshwater crustacean known only from Bay County, Florida. Suffering from habitat loss due to development, the Service is proposing eight units as critical habitat for the Panama City crayfish. In total, the units comprise about 7,177 acres of land, entirely within Bay County, Florida. All units contain populations of Panama City crayfish, and each unit is considered essential to the conservation of the species. Only 2,200 acres distributed across the species’ range is required for its recovery.
Critical habitat designations require federal agencies to ensure that actions they plan to undertake, fund, or authorize do not destroy or adversely modify that habitat. Only activities that involve a federal permit, license, or funding and that may affect the area of critical habitat will be affected.
The Service is particularly interested in new information and comments regarding the interpretation of scientific literature in the proposed rulemaking and whether we overlooked any scientific literature in our analysis.
Currently, 230 acres of Panama City crayfish are under permanent easement. The Service actively works with Bay County staff to secure funds to purchase 2,000 acres of additional land for permanent protection. We also hold a letter of commitment from the Florida Department of Transportation to provide over $3 million in an endowment via a programmatic consultation currently development. Accrued interest could annually fund management and land acquisition of smaller parcels necessary for the species persistence. This endowment will provide funding to protect and manage at least eight habitat units into perpetuity.
An agreement between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Service provides joint oversight of land management, acquisition, species monitoring, and translocations as needed to maintain and recover the species.
An online informational meeting and a public hearing are scheduled for Tuesday, May 4, 2021, from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM Central Time. The meeting will be held from 6:00-7:30 PM Central Time and will include a question-and-answer session. At 7:30 PM Central Time, the Service will open the formal public hearing to give individuals an opportunity to have their concerns noted for the record. Registration is required. Please visit the Service’s Panama City Field Office website for instructions on how to register.
Comments previously submitted need not be resubmitted as they are already incorporated into the public record and fully considered in the final rule.
The document will be placed on public inspection on April 14, 2021.
On the date of publication, the document will appear on federalregister.gov.
After the date of publication, the documents can be found by searching for the Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2017-0061.
The Service will accept comments received or postmarked on or before June 14, 2021. If you comment using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see below), you must submit your comments by 11:59 PM Eastern Time on the closing date.
ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the proposed rules or draft economic analysis by one of the following methods:
Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal. In the Keyword box, enter Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2017-0061, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!.”
By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2017-0061, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: JAO/1N, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.
Comments should be sent only by the methods described above. The Service will post all comments on regulations.gov. This generally means personal information provided will also be posted.
Download the Panama City crayfish public hearing presentation.