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A hand holding a small lobster shaped crayfish.
Information icon Panama City crayfish. Photo by USFWS.

Proposed listing of Panama City crayfish as threatened under Endangered Species Act, with proposed 4(d) rule and critical habitat

Why is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing to list the Panama City crayfish as threatened under the Endangered Species Act?

A review of the best available science has determined that the Panama City crayfish meets the definition of threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The science indicates the Panama City crayfish is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. This is the definition of threatened under the ESA.

The Species Status Assessment (SSA) team was composed of Service biologists who consulted with other species experts. The SSA represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data available including an analysis of the impacts of harmful and beneficial factors affecting the species. The SSA underwent independent peer review by scientists with expertise in crayfish biology, habitat management, and factors negatively affecting the species. The SSA includes maps depicting the historic range, and current populations for reference. The SSA report and other materials relating to this proposal are available online at regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2017-0061.

‘Didn’t the Service previously announce and accept public comments on its proposal to list the Panama City crayfish as threatened under the Endangered Species Act?

Based on a review of the best available information presented in the species status assessment (SSA), we proposed to list the Panama City crayfish as a threatened species under the (ESA on January 3, 2018. At the time, critical habitat was not determinable because we had not completed the necessary analysis. With the critical habitat analysis and draft economics analysis complete, we are now reopening the proposed listing for public comment, along with a proposed 4(d) rule and critical habitat designation.

We received numerous comments following the January 2018 proposed rule publication that focused on the lack of available population estimates used to determine the Panama City ‘ ‘crayfish’s status and how better data may influence our listing determination. In particular, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) raised concerns that we inappropriately used presence data to rank population units by abundance, as the surveys were not considered standardized. We partnered with FWC and jointly funded a biologist to collect such data using a standardized approach. This research provides basic population estimates across the geographic range of the species. Better data allowed us to analyze the species status more thoroughly to inform a listing determination and conservation needs.

What is the 4(d) rule for the Panama City crayfish?

Section 4(d) of the ESA allows the Service to establish prohibitions or exceptions to prohibitions for threatened species. A 4(d) rule intends to provide for the conservation of a threatened species by allowing regulatory flexibility under the ESA.

The provisions of this proposed 4(d) rule would promote conservation of the Panama City crayfish by encouraging the management of the landscape in ways that meet the crayfish’s conservation needs and are consistent with land management considerations. The proposed 4(d) rule would help conserve the Panama City crayfish by prohibiting the following activities, except as otherwise authorized or permitted: importing or exporting; take; possession and other acts with unlawfully taken specimens; delivering, receiving, transporting, or shipping in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity; or selling or offering for sale in interstate or foreign commerce.

The proposed 4(d) rule would also provide for the conservation of the species by allowing exceptions to actions and activities that may have minimal disturbance to the Panama City crayfish and are not expected to impact the species conservation and recovery efforts negatively. 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 Panama City crayfish and its habitat.

What is critical habitat, and why does the Service think it’s necessary to designate critical habitat for Panama City crayfish?

The ESA defines critical habitat as the specific geographic areas that contain features essential to the conservation of an endangered or threatened species that may require special management and protection. Critical habitat may also include areas not currently occupied by the species but will be needed for its recovery.

The areas proposed as critical habitat for the Panama City crayfish have the physical or biological features needed to sustain this species’ life processes. These include:

  • Space for individual and population growth and normal behavior; cover or shelter.
  • Food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements.
  • Sites for breeding and rearing offspring.
  • Habitats protected from disturbances or which represent the historical, geographical, and ecological distributions of a species.

What’s the extent of the critical habitat the Service is proposing to designate for this species?

We are proposing eight (8) units as critical habitat for the Panama City crayfish. They comprise 7,177 acres (2,904 hectares (ha)) of land, entirely within Bay County, Florida.

A map of spotty critical habitat along US 231.
Proposed critical habitat for the Panama City crayfish. Map by USFWS.

All units are occupied or otherwise contain populations of Panama City crayfish as of this proposed listing. Each unit is considered essential to the conservation of the species. In these areas, any actions that may affect the species or its habitat would also affect designated critical habitat., It is unlikely that any additional conservation efforts would be recommended to address the adverse modification standard over and above those recommended as necessary to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of the Panama City crayfish. No other existing critical habitat overlaps with the proposed critical habitat for the Panama City crayfish.

| Group | Side | Unit | Unit name | Occupied | Private land (ac.) | State/local land (ac.) | Total proposed critical habitat (ac.) | Percent of total | | —————- | —- | —————- | ——— | ——– | —————— | ———————- | ————————————- | | Western | 1 | 19th | Yes | 20.6 | 3.7 | 24.3 | 1% | | Western | 2 | Talkington | Yes | 53.1 | - | 53.1 | 1% | | Western | 3 | Minnesota | Yes | 27.9 | 37.2 | 65 | 1% | | Western | 4 | Transmitter West | Yes | 243.7 | 4.7 | 248.4 | 3% | | Eastern | 5 | Deer Point | Yes | 413.8 | 0.9 | 414.6 | 6% | | Eastern | 6 | High Point | Yes | 37.9 | 0.5 | 38.4 | 1% | | Eastern | 7 | Star | Yes | 2,751.6 | 9.7 | 2,761.4 | 38% | | Eastern | 8 | Transmitter East | Yes | 3,489 | 82.5 | 3,571.5 | 49% | | Total | | | | 7037.6 | 139.2 | 7,176.8 | 100% | | Percent of total | | | | 98% | 2% | 100% | |

NOTE: Area estimates reflect all land within critical habitat unit boundaries; Area sizes may not sum due to rounding.

What impact will a critical habitat designation have on development in the area?

A designation requires federal agencies to ensure that actions they plan to undertake, fund, or authorize do not destroy or adversely modify that habitat. Only activities that require a federal permit, license, or funding and that may affect the area of critical habitat will be affected. If this is the case, the Service will work with the federal agency and, where appropriate, private or other landowners on amending their project to allow it to proceed without adversely modifying the critical habitat. Thus, most federal projects are likely to go forward but could be modified to minimize critical habitat harm.

What is the Panama City crayfish?

The Panama City crayfish is a small, semi-terrestrial crayfish that grows to about two inches in length, minus claws, and is found only in Bay County, Florida. The life history of the Panama City crayfish is not well known. However, many crayfish species have a maximum lifespan of 1.5 to 3.5 years.

How would ESA protections benefit this species?

The listing also lends greater recognition to a species’ precarious status, encourages conservation efforts by other agencies (foreign, federal, state, and local), independent organizations, and concerned individuals. Additional benefits include:

  • Protection from being jeopardized by federal activities; restrictions on take and trade;
  • A requirement that the Service develop and implement recovery plans for this species;
  • Authorization to seek land purchases or exchanges for important habitat; and
  • Authorization to issue recovery funds when available to state and non-governmental organizations with cooperative endangered species agreements.

What are the conservation goals for the Panama City crayfish?

The Service relies on the known persistence over time of small populations. We estimate that 2,200 acres of habitat, permanently protected and actively managed within at least eight population units, should be sufficient for the species to remain viable for the foreseeable future. Currently, 230 acres are under permanent easement. We are actively working 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 under 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.

A Partners Agreement between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Service solidifies commitments by both agencies to jointly provide oversight of land management, acquisition, species monitoring, and translocations as needed to maintain and improve the species’ status.

What kind of information is the Service requesting?

Our goal is to base the final listing action on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from other concerned government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested party concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments concerning:

  1. The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as “critical habitat” under section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), including whether there are threats to the species from human activity, the degree of which can be expected to increase due to the designation, and whether that increase in threat outweighs the benefit of designation such that the designation of critical habitat may not be prudent.
  2. Specific information on:

    • The amount and distribution of Panama City crayfish habitat,
    • What areas, that were occupied at the time of listing and that contain the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species, should be included in the designation and why,
    • Special management considerations or protection that may be needed in critical habitat areas we are proposing, including managing for the potential effects of climate change,
    • What areas not occupied at the time of listing are essential for the conservation of the species and why, and
    • Information about conservation efforts that may affect proposed critical habitat areas.
  3. Land use designations and current or planned activities in the subject areas and their possible impacts on proposed critical habitat.

  4. Information on the projected and reasonably likely impacts of climate change on the Panama City crayfish and proposed critical habitat.

  5. Any probable economic, national security, or other relevant impacts of designating any area that may be included in the final designation, and the benefits of including or excluding areas that may be impacted.

  6. Information on the extent to which the description of probable economic impacts in the draft economic analysis is a reasonable estimate of the likely economic impacts and the description of the environmental impacts in the draft environmental assessment is complete and accurate, especially in light of impacts from Hurricane Michael in October 2018.

  7. Whether any specific areas we are proposing for critical habitat designation should be considered for exclusion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, and whether the benefits of potentially excluding any specific area outweigh the benefits of including that area under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.

  8. The likelihood of adverse social reactions to the designation of critical habitat, as discussed in the associated documents of the draft economic analysis, and how the consequences of such reactions, if likely to occur, would relate to the conservation and regulatory benefits of the proposed critical habitat designation.

  9. Whether we could improve or modify our approach to designating critical habitat in any way to provide for greater public participation and understanding or to better accommodate public concerns and comments.

  10. Information on regulations that are necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the Panama City crayfish and that the Service can consider in developing a 4(d) rule for the species. In particular, information concerning the extent to which we should include any section 9 prohibitions in the 4(d) rule or whether any other forms of take should be excepted from the prohibitions in the 4(d) rule.

Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to verify any scientific or commercial information you include.

Please note that submissions merely stating support for, or opposition to, the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or a threatened species must be made “”““solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available”.

What types of criteria will the Service consider in making the final decision on listing this species?

species is added to the list when it is determined to be threatened or endangered because of any of the following five factors:

  • The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range;
  • Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes;
  • Disease or predation;
  • The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
  • Other natural or manmade factors affecting its survival.

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