Critical Habitat Proposal Revised for Beach Mice
December 15, 2005
Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291
Janet Mizzi, 850/769-0552
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a revised critical habitat
designation for the endangered Perdido Key beach mouse and the Choctawhatchee
beach mouse. At the same time, the agency is also proposing critical
habitat for the endangered St. Andrew beach mouse. The proposed designations
for these beach mice encompass approximately 6,217 acres of coastal
dunes in Florida and Alabama.
Areas proposed as critical habitat for the
beach mice include 13 units along portions of coastal dunes in southern Alabama
and the panhandle of Florida. These include five units for the Perdido Key beach
mouse in Escambia County, Florida, and Baldwin County, Alabama, five units for
the Choctawhatchee beach mouse in Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay Counties, Florida,
and three units for the St. Andrew beach mouse in Bay and Gulf Counties, Florida.
“This proposed critical habitat designation
will provide benefits to beach mice by informing the public of areas that are
important to their recovery,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional
Director for the Service. “The designation identifies areas where we can
work together with landowners and other partners to help recover them.”
Critical habitat for the Perdido Key beach mouse and the Choctawhatchee
beach mouse was designated at the time of listing in 1985, when the two species
were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). However, the
designated area primarily included frontal dune habitat. The St. Andrew beach
mouse was listed in 1998. At this time, the Service determined that critical
habitat was not prudent for this mouse. Since their listing, new research has
revealed that the oak-dominated scrub dunes landward of the secondary dunes are
invaluable to beach mouse populations.
“The scrub habitat provides food, burrow
sites and other needs to beach mice, and it serves as a high-elevation refuge
during storms and a place for mice to reside while vegetation recovers in the
primary and secondary dunes,” said Gail Carmody, Project Leader for the
Service’s Panama City Field Office.
Public comments on the proposal will be accepted
until February 13, 2006. Written comments on the beach mouse proposal should
be submitted to the Panama City Field Office, addressed to Sandra Sneckenberger,
1601 Balboa Ave, Panama City, FL 32405. Written comments can also be delivered
to the Panama City Field Office at the same address. Comments may also be faxed
to 850/763-2177, or sent by electronic mail (e-mail) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As listed species under the ESA, the Perdido Key
beach mouse, Choctawhatchee beach mouse, and St. Andrew beach mouse are already
protected wherever they occur and Federal agencies are required to consult with
the Service on any action they take that might affect the species. The designation
of critical habitat will help the species by ensuring that Federal agencies and
the public are aware of the habitat needs of this species and that proper consultation
is conducted by Federal agencies when required by law.
Critical habitat is a term in the ESA. It
identifies geographic areas that contain features that contribute to the conservation
of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations
or protection. A critical habitat designation does not establish a preserve or
refuge nor does it affect individual citizens, organizations, States, local governments,
Tribes, or other non-federal entities that do not require Federal permits or
funding. Critical habitat does not include existing developed sites within the
proposed units such as roads, driveways, or buildings.
Critical habitat does not affect individual land owners applying for federal
permits through the Habitat Conservation Plan process.
The proposed redesignation of critical habitat
for the Perdido Key beach mouse will have no affect on the Interagency Agreement
adopted by the county last week. This agreement responds to requests from
the development community, and sets in motion a new process - created by Escambia
County, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the Service – to aid
in mitigating impacts to the beach mouse and its habitat while reducing the time
needed to complete permits by implementing a broad-based, interagency, conservation
In 30 years of implementing the ESA, the Service has found that the designation
of critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species,
while preventing the Service from using scarce conservation resources for activities
with greater conservation benefits.
In almost all cases, recovery of listed species
will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures
such as critical habitat. Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures
under the Act including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate
Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership
programs such as the Service’s Private Stewardship Grants and Partners
for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for endangered species
is provided on many national wildlife refuges, managed by the Service, and state
wildlife management areas.
When determining areas to designate as critical
habitat, the Service considers physical and fbiological habitat features that
contribute to the conservation of the species. These features include space for
individual and population growth and for normal behavior; cover or shelter; food,
water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements;
sites for breeding and rearing offspring; and habitats that are protected from
disturbances or are representative of the historic geographical and ecological
distribution of a species.
As part of designating critical habitat, the Service
also takes into account any economic or other relevant impacts of specifying
any particular area as critical habitat. The Service may exclude any area from
critical habitat if it is determined that the benefits of excluding it outweigh
the benefits of including it, unless exclusion will result in the extinction
of the species. The Service will publish an announcement in the Federal
Register at a later date to notify the public of the
availability of a draft economic analysis for review and comment. The economic
analysis will not be completed until 2006. Public hearings will also be held
to gather comments on this proposed action and the draft economic analysis should
they be requested.
Copies of the proposal and maps are available
by contacting Sandra Sneckenberger, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1601 Balboa
Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32405 (telephone 850/769-0552, extension 239; facsimile
850/763-2177). The proposal and maps can also be found on our website at http://www.fws.gov/panamacity.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal
federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife,
plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.
The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which
encompasses more than 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands,
and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries,
64 fishery resource offices, and 81 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. Visit the Service’s website