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Fish and Wildlife Service Designates Critical Habitat for Endangered Spruce-fir Moss Spider


July 6, 2001

John Fridell , 828/258-3939, Ext. 225
Tom MacKenzie , (office 404 679-7291)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced its final decision to designate critical habitat in parts of North Carolina and Tennessee for the spruce-fir moss spider, an endangered species that has been devastated by an invasion of non-native species into its range.

Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations. A designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved. It has no regulatory impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not involve federal funding or permits.

The areas designated as critical habitat for the spider are all, with one exception, on federal lands. Most areas are within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests. An area on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina that is designated as critical habitat is privately owned, but is being managed by The Nature Conservancy through an agreement with the landowner.

"This is a classic case of a native species declining because of the introduction of an invasive species,@ said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service's Southeast Regional Director. "In this case, a non-native insect, the balsam wooly adelgid, was accidentally introduced into the United States from Europe. The introduction of this insect has resulted in a massive die-off of Fraser fir trees throughout the Southern Appalachian Mountains, and in turn, the destruction of the spruce-fir moss spider's habitat."

The spruce-fir moss spider (Microhexura montivaga) was originally described in 1925 based on collections made from western North Carolina. Only a few specimens were taken, and little was known about the species until its rediscovery on Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, approximately 50 years later.

This small spider, with light to dark reddish brown coloration, is related to the more commonly known tarantulas of the southwestern United States. It lives in moss mats that are only found near Fraser fir trees. When the balsam wooly adelgid infests mature Fraser firs, the trees die within 2 to 7 years, leaving the remaining trees more susceptible to being blown over. Loss of trees results in increased light and temperature and decreased moisture on the forest floor, causing the moss mats on which the spider depends to dry up and become unsuitable habitat.

The Service officially added the spruce-fir moss spider to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants in 1995. At that time, the Service determined that the designation of critical habitat was not prudent for the spruce-fir moss spider because, after review of all available information, the agency believed that such a designation would not benefit the spider and could, in fact, further threaten it by identifying its location to potential collectors.

The Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project and the Foundation for Global Sustainability filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Service, on June 30, 1999, challenging the Service's "not prudent" critical habitat determination for the spruce-fir moss spider and three other species. On February 29, 2000, the U.S. Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in which the Service agreed to submit to the Federal Register by July 1, 2001, a final critical habitat determination.

This final critical habitat determination, published in today's Federal Register, follows a thorough review of all available information on the spruce-fir moss spider and all comments received from the public and others in response to the proposal to designate critical habitat for the spider and the accompanying draft economic analysis.

The lands designated as critical habitat include areas, at elevations of 5,400 feet and higher, on Grandfather Mountain in Avery, Caldwell, and Watauga Counties, North Carolina; Mount Collins, Clingmans Dome, and Mount Buckley in Swain County, North Carolina, and Sevier County, Tennessee; Mount LeConte in Sevier County, Tennessee, and Roan Mountain in Avery and Mitchell Counties, North Carolina, and Carter County, Tennessee.

The only regulatory consequence of this designation of critical habitat is that Federal agencies must consult with the Service before undertaking actions, issuing permits, or providing funding for activities that might destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Because the spruce-fir moss spider is already listed as endangered, that consultation is already taking place, and therefore there will be no additional regulatory burden on Federal agencies.

In addition, even before the spruce-fir moss spider was listed, the Service had been working with the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, the landowner of the Grandfather Mountain site, and others to carry out research and other conservation and recovery activities for the spruce-fir moss spider, including identifying activities that threaten the spider and its habitat and carrying out measures to eliminate these threats.

Copies of the final critical habitat designation, maps, and the final economic analysis are available at Additional information may be obtained from the Asheville Field Office by contacting Mr. John Fridell at 828/258-3939, Ext. 225 or e-mail

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Archived information on the Spruce-Fir Moss spider including Addendum To Economic Analysis Of Critical Habitat Designation For The Spruce-Fir Moss Spider

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2001 News Releases

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