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Service proposes Critical Habitat designation for the vermilion darter

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing to designate 13 stream miles as critical habitat for the endangered vermilion darter in the Turkey Creek watershed of Jefferson County, Alabama. Public comments on this proposal will be accepted for 60 days until February 1, 2010.

The vermilion darter is a medium-sized fish, reaching about 2.8 inches in length from snout to tail, with a short head and small, pronounced mouth. It is distinguished by its vermilion, or reddish-orange, coloration on its lower sides and belly. This darter needs a stable stream channel and adequate water quality, quantity and flow.

In 2001, the vermilion darter was listed under the Endangered Species Act due to urbanization, such as construction of impoundments, gravel extractions, and road, pipe and bridge construction, and decreased water quality and flow in its habitat. Currently the vermilion darter only occurs in sparse, isolated populations in the upper main-stem reach of Turkey Creek and four tributaries in Pinson, Jefferson County, Alabama. Surviving populations are highly vulnerable to habitat destruction, deterioration, and fragmentation.

At the time the vermilion darter was listed, the Service determined that designating critical habitat was prudent but did not do so because of budgetary and resource constraints. On November 27, 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of Interior for the Service’s failure to designate critical habitat, alleging that the agency’s prudency determination was arbitrary and not in accordance with law. In a court-approved settlement agreement, the Service agreed to make a new prudency determination, and if found to be prudent, then submit a proposed designation of critical habitat to the Federal Register by November 30, 2009, and a final designation by November 30, 2010.

Critical habitat is a tool within the Endangered Species Act which identifies geographic areas containing features essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species that may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands. Federal agencies that undertake, fund, or permit activities that may affect the species or critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat. Because vermilion darters are federally protected, federal agencies are already required to consult with the Service on any of their actions that may affect the species and to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize the species’ continued existence, regardless of whether critical habitat has been designated.

A complete description of the proposed critical habitat designation for the vermilion darter published in the Federal Register today. Copies of the proposed rule and maps can be obtained by visiting or by contacting the Jackson, Mississippi Field Office at 601321-1121.

Submit Your Comments

With this proposal, the Service is seeking comments, suggestions, and any additional information on biology, threats, range, distribution, population size, or current or planned activities and the activities’ possible impacts on this species or its proposed critical habitat.

Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until February 1, 2010. Written comments on the proposed rule should be submitted by one of the following methods:

  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Document ID Number: FWS-R4-ES-2009-0079, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.

Written requests for a public hearing will be accepted until January 19, 2010.

A final decision on whether or not to designate critical habitat will consider all comments and information received by the comment-period deadline. All comments will be posted on"> which will include any personal information provided.


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