Development has claimed most of the coastline where the small, sleek Florida Keys mole skink makes its home. Now sea level rise, coastal erosion, and severe storms jeopardize the state’s southernmost lizard.
That is why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes listing the Florida Keys mole skink (Plestiodon egregius egregius) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The proposal includes establishing critical habitat and a 4(d) rule that will tailor protections for the species and help support its conservation needs. The Service seeks public comments on this proposal until Nov. 28, 2022.
The slim-bodied, tan Florida Keys mole skink reaches five inches long at most and sports a brightly tinted pinkish-red tail. Its tiny legs and five-toed feet propel it through the sandy shores of the Keys, burrowing under leaves, rocks and washed-up beach vegetation. They dine on roaches, spiders and crickets. Scientists believe mother skinks stay with their nests, licking and turning their eggs until they hatch. These secretive lizards are only found on 23 islands of the Florida Keys in Monroe County, Fla.
The Service proposes designating 7,067 acres of habitat for the Florida Keys mole skink, which includes 545 acres outside the areas it now inhabits to accommodate for habitat loss within the next 20 years from sea level rise. Most of the acres proposed, 84 percent, are already designated critical habitat for the American crocodile, Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly, Cape Sable thoroughwort, Florida leafwing butterfly, Florida semaphore cactus, loggerhead sea turtle, and piping plover. View the proposed critical habitat documents here.
Critical habitat designations encourage incorporating a species’ conservation into land management. Private land ownership within the proposed designation for the Florida Keys mole skink comprises 901 acres, or 13 percent of the proposed designation.
Designating critical habitat under the ESA does not affect private landowners unless they implement an action involving federal funds, permits, or activities. It doesn’t affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other , nor does it allow the government or public to access private lands. Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that could affect critical habitat must consult with the Service to make sure their actions do not adversely modify or destroy it.
For threatened species, the Service may use 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 allowing specific activities that do not significantly harm the species, or are beneficial, while focusing conservation efforts on the threats to recovery. The Service may identify exclusions under section 4(b)(2) of the ESA based on new information and public comments.
Submit comments at the Federal eRulemaking Portal and enter the docket number for this proposal in the search box: FWS-R4-ES-2022-0104. The Service will accept comments received or postmarked on or before Nov. 28, 2022. By hard copy, submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2022-0104; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
The agency must receive requests for public hearings in writing by Nov. 14, 2022 at: Lourdes Mena, Classification and Recovery Division Manager, 904-731-3134, Florida Ecological Services Office, 7915 Baymeadows Way, Suite 200, Jacksonville, FL 32256-7517. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339.