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A green plant with bunches bright white flowers
Information icon Cumberland sandwort. Photo by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Proposed delisting of Cumberland sandwort from ESA due to recovery

What action is the Service taking?

The Service is proposing to delist the Cumberland sandwort, a delicate perennial white flowering plant in Tennessee and Kentucky, from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) due to recovery. Based on a thorough review of the best available science, the Service found that the species is healthy and stable, and it no longer meets the definition of threatened or endangered under the ESA. We are also announcing the availability of a draft post-delisting monitoring plan (PDM), to help ensure that the sandwort remains healthy and secure from the risk of extinction after it is delisted.

How does the ESA define endangered and threatened?

The ESA defines an endangered species as one in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, whereas a threatened species is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

What did the Service conclude?

The 1996 Recovery Plan for Cumberland sandwort stated that delisting would be considered when at least 40 geographically distinct, self-sustaining occurrences are adequately protected and have maintained statistically stable or increasing numbers for five years. In addition, at least 12 of these occurrences must be in counties other than Pickett County, Tennessee. Detailed in our rule, we show 42 distinct, self-sustaining and adequately protected occurrences that are known to exist for an average of 21 years. Of those 42 occurrences, 14 occur outside of Pickett County. Therefore, the delisting recovery criteria have been exceeded. The Service also conducted an ESA threats analysis and found that threats to the species have been eliminated or reduced (especially related to habitat loss or modification), adequate regulatory mechanisms are in place, and that populations are stable.

What did the Service consider in reaching its decision to delist Cumberland sandwort?

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:

  1. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
  2. Over utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  3. Disease or predation;
  4. The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
  5. Other natural or man-made factors affecting its continued existence.

In making this decision, the Service conducted a thorough review of these factors using the best scientific and commercial information available.

What is the range of Cumberland sandwort?

The Cumberland sandwort is restricted to sandstone rock shelters of the Cumberland Plateau in Fentress, Morgan, Pickett, and Scott counties in Tennessee. It is also found in McCreary County, Kentucky.

What is the population status of Cumberland sandwort?

The Cumberland sandwort is now found in 71 sites in Tennessee and Kentucky. Sixty-six of these sites are located on federal and state conservation lands with regulations or management plans to prevent habitat destruction or removal of plants. This compares to just 28 sites when the recovery plan was completed in 1996.

Current occurrences are located in separate river drainages, ensuring this species has more redundancy or multiple populations on the ground to protect it from threats (59 occur in the South Fork Cumberland River drainage, 12 occur in the Obey River drainage, and one introduced occurrence has been established in Daniel Boone National Forest). As shared in Q7 below, all but five occur on conservation lands with existing management and of the other five, two are on land with conservation easements.

What recovery actions helped lead to this recovery success?

As with most recoveries under the ESA, partners played an important role in this success. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) started a structured monitoring program almost 20 years ago. To address recreation related impacts on public lands, TDEC also coordinated with the National Park Service and state agencies to install fencing, educational signage, stairways and trail borders. At Pogue Creek Canyon State Natural Area in Tennessee, the state avoided sandwort sites when establishing new trails. In Kentucky, the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission helped the Service implement a reintroduction into Daniel Boone National Forest.

Will the public have an opportunity to participate in this decision?

Yes. The Service is requesting information, data, and comments from the public regarding the proposal to delist Cumberland sandwort, and on the associated draft post-delisting monitoring plan. The Service is seeking information regarding biological data; threats; additional information concerning the range, distribution, life history, ecology, and habitat of the Cumberland sandwort, and current or planned activities within the geographic range of the species. We also want comments on the draft PDM plan and the methods and approach detailed in it. All public comments will be reviewed and considered.

How will the peer review and public comments be considered in making the Service’s final decision, and how are these comments submitted?

All substantive information provided by peer reviewers and the public during the comment period will be either incorporated directly into our final determination or addressed in the Peer Review and State Comments or Public Comments sections of the final rule.

Written comments concerning the proposed delisting of the Cumberland sandwort or its draft post-delisting monitoring plan should be submitted by accessing the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Follow the instructions for submitting comments on Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2019-0080 Comments can also be mailed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS. BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA, 22041-3803.

If Cumberland sandwort is delisted, will it continue to be monitored by the Service or some other agency/group?

Yes. As part of the Federal Register notification of the proposed delisting, the Service is announcing the availability of a draft PDM plan. The draft PDM summarizes the species’ status at the time of delisting, defines thresholds or triggers for potential monitoring outcomes and conclusions and lays out frequency and duration of monitoring. It also 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.

If the Cumberland sandwort is delisted, post-delisting monitoring will be completed through the cooperative efforts of multiple agencies: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (principally), Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves, National Park Service and the Service. For a copy of the PDM plan, go to search for Docket number FWS-R4-ES-2019-0080.

What are the next steps with this proposed delisting?

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

Where can I find more information on Cumberland sandwort?

Learn more about the Cumberland sandwort.

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