Ocmulgee skullcap, a rare plant found only in the Ocmulgee River and Savannah River watersheds in Georgia and South Carolina, is in decline. Remaining populations are small, contain relatively few individuals, and are scattered across the range, lacking connectivity to one another. To protect Ocmulgee skullcap and its habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing protections for the plant under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Following a rigorous review of the best available scientific and commercial data, the Service has determined that the plant meets the definition of a threatened species and is proposing critical habitat and a section 4(d) rule to provide for its continued conservation.
“Native species like the Ocmulgee skullcap deserve our attention and protection,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, the Service’s Regional Director. “Our conservation partners have done some incredible work protecting the species on their lands but now is the time for us to give it the protection it deserves under the ESA. Listing the species under the ESA will generate greater awareness about threats impacting this plant and will help inspire conservation opportunities with diverse partners on its behalf,” he added.
A Species Status Assessment (SSA) for the Ocmulgee skullcap was initiated in 2019. The Ocmulgee skullcap SSA report documents the results of the Service’s comprehensive biological review of the best scientific and commercial data regarding the status of the species. In that report, primary threats to the plant’s current and future condition were identified as habitat loss and fragmentation due to development and urbanization, competition from nonnative http://www.regulations.gov., herbivory from white-tailed deer, and the effects of a changing climate. Of the remaining 19 populations of Ocmulgee skullcap, most are small and have very few individuals. Fourteen of the 19 populations have fewer than 20 individuals. The full SSA report can be found at Docket FWS–R4–ES–2021–0059 on
The proposed critical habitat units consist of 6,577 acres within 10 counties in Georgia (Bibb, Bleckley, Burke, Columbia, Houston, Monroe,, Richmond, Screven, and Twiggs counties) and two counties in South Carolina (Aiken and Edgefield counties). Critical habitat units are currently occupied by Ocmulgee skullcap and contain a buffer required to support the species’ pollinators and to protect against nonnative vegetation encroachment. Proposed critical habitat is approximately 14 percent state-owned lands, nine percent state-leased and managed lands, and approximately 85 percent private ownership (including state-leased lands). Federal land occupied by Ocmulgee skullcap on Robins Air Force Base has been exempted from the critical habitat designation as there is currently an Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan (INRMP) in place that provides for the plant’s conservation. A draft economic analysis (DEA) of the proposed designation of critical habitat will also be made available along with other supporting documents.
For threatened species, the Service uses the flexibility provided under section 4(d) of the ESA to tailor take prohibitions for the conservation of the species. This targeted approach helps reduce regulatory burdens by exempting certain activities that do not significantly harm the species, or that are beneficial, while focusing conservation efforts on the threats that are detrimental to its recovery. The provisions of this proposed rule are one of many tools that the Service will use to promote the conservation of Ocmulgee skullcap, should it become listed as a threatened species.
The Service intends that any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and will be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we are requesting comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies, Native American Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule.
To submit comments on the proposed rule, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2021–0059, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Comments on the proposed rule must be received by August 22, 2022. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT by August 8, 2022.
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Maholland, Acting Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Ecological Services Field Office, 355 East Hancock Avenue, Room 320, Athens, Georgia 30601; telephone 706-613-6059. Individuals in the United States who are deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability may dial 711 (TTY, TDD, or TeleBraille) to access telecommunications relay services. Individuals outside the United States should use the relay services offered within their country to make international calls to the point-of-contact in the United States.
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