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A pinkish green flower petal growing off of a mossy covered surface
Information icon *Lepanthes eltoroensis*. Photo © O Monsegur.

Proposal to remove Lepanthes eltoroensis from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Plants

What is Lepanthes eltoroensis?

Lepanthes eltoroensis is an orchid that measures no more than 4 centimeters long with a single leaf and three to seven slender stems. Found only in El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico, it grows on moss-covered tree trunks. The orchid is found only within the cloud forest, where important habitat components seem to be elevation, adequate moisture, open gaps in the canopy, and the presence of moss. It does not have a common name.

A pinkish green flower petal growing off of a mossy covered surface
Lepanthes eltoroensis. Photo © J. Valentin.

What is the range of Lepanthes eltoroensis?

This species is restricted in distribution to one general area within El Yunque National Forest at elevations above 2,461 feet.

What is the population status of Lepanthes eltoroensis?

The orchid’s estimated population has increased from around 140 individuals when it was listed as an endangered species in 1991 to a current estimate of about 3,000 individuals.

Why is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing to remove Lepanthes eltoroensis from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Plants?

Given a thorough review of the best available scientific and commercial information, which includes analyses of species threats and population status, the Service has determined the species no longer meets the definition of endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

How is an endangered species defined under the ESA?

The ESA defines an endangered species as “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” The ESA defines a threatened species as “likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

What prompted the Service to take this action?

The latest scientific information indicates there are significantly more individuals than at the time of listing. In addition, threats to the species have been eliminated or reduced to the point that the species no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the ESA.

What recovery actions were implemented to lessen the threats to the species?

The Service, in collaboration with the U.S Forest Service and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, successfully implemented the following recovery actions:

  1. Prevented further habitat loss and population decline.
  2. Continued to gather information on the distribution and abundance of the species.
  3. Conducted research to learn about its life history.

What are the remaining threats to Lepanthes eltoroensis?

The primary threats to the species are direct and indirect effects associated with climate change stressors. Climate change projections for Puerto Rico suggest an increase in average temperature, a decrease in average precipitation, a shift on Puerto Rico life zones from humid to drier climates, and less frequent but more intense tropical cyclones. These climate change projections could reduce the viability of the species. However, since the species seems to show population stability even after being exposed to tropical cyclones, it appears that the species has the ability to recover from normal disturbances. No significant impacts from climate change stressors are anticipated.

What did the Service consider in reaching its decision to delist Lepanthes eltoroensis?

Section 4(a)(1) of the ESA requires the Service to determine whether a species is endangered or threatened based on one or more of the five following factors:

A. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.
B. Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.
C. Disease or predation.
D. The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
E. Other natural or human-made factors affecting its continued existence.

In making this decision, the Service conducted a thorough status review based on these factors.

If Lepanthes eltoroensis is delisted, will it continue to be monitored by the Service or some other group?

Yes. The ESA requires the Service, in cooperation with the states, to monitor the species for at least five years after delisting. A draft Post-Delisting Monitoring Plan (PDM) summarizes the species’ status at the time of delisting, defines thresholds or triggers for potential monitoring outcomes and conclusions, lays out the frequency and duration of monitoring, articulates monitoring methods including sampling considerations, outlines compilation and reporting procedures and responsibilities, and proposes a post-delisting monitoring implementation schedule including timing and responsible parties. The PDM will be implemented through the cooperative efforts of the Service, the U.S Forest Service, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, and other partners.

What information is the Service looking for from the public?

The Service is requesting information, data, and comments from the public regarding the proposal to delist the species, and on the draft PDM. The Service is specifically seeking information regarding:

  1. Biological data regarding the species.
  2. Relevant data concerning any threats (or lack thereof) to the species. Particularly any data on the possible effects of climate change to this plant as it relates to its unique habitat types and the availability of prime habitat, as well as the extent of regulatory protections and management that would continue to be provided to this species, if this rule were finalized.
  3. Additional information concerning the range, distribution, population size, and trends of this species, including the locations of any new additional populations of this species.
  4. Current or planned activities within the geographic range of the species’ populations that may adversely affect, or benefit the species.

Submissions should include sufficient information that will allow us to verify any scientific or commercial information you provide.

In order to allow sufficient time for biologists to review and consider submitted information and conduct the review, submissions must be received on or before May 11, 2020.

What is the next step?

The Service will consider all public and peer review comments on the proposed delisting rule and PDM plan and then make a final determination regarding the species’ delisting. Our determination will be published in the Federal Register.

How do I submit information?

You may submit information by one of the following methods:

  • Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal. In the Search box, enter the Docket Number for this proposed rule, which is FWS–R4–ES–2019-0073. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment now!”. Please ensure that you have found the correct rulemaking before submitting your comment.
  • By hard copy: By U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019-0073; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, MS BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

We request that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide.

Contact

Phil Kloer, Public Affairs Specialist
philip_kloer@fws.gov, (404) 679-7299

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