Service proposes to protect the spring pygmy sunfish and designate Critical Habitat under the Endangered Species Act
Agency seeks information from the public, scientific community before making final decision
Current evidence suggests that the spring pygmy sunfish may become threatened with extinction in the foreseeable future, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. As a result, the Service has proposed to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act, and is seeking new information from the public and the scientific community that will assist the agency in making a final determination.
The spring pygmy sunfish is a spring-associated fish which has a restricted range and is currently only found in a single spring system (Beaverdam Spring/Creek) in the Tennessee River drainage in Limestone County, Alabama. Historically, this sunfish was known to occur at two other sites in northern Alabama. The species’ decline has been attributed to water pollution, a reduction of water quantity, and impoundments. Threats to the fish and its habitat include proposed urban and industrial development, increased groundwater and surface water usage, and excessive stormwater runoff containing pesticides, herbicides, and suspended sediment.
Service biologists have also identified two areas, encompassing approximately eight stream miles and 1,617 acres of spring-pool and spring-influenced wetlands, that may contain habitat essential to the conservation of the species. One area is within the Beaverdam Spring/Creek system which is currently occupied by the species. The second area (Pryor Spring/Branch watershed), which was historically occupied by the sunfish, serves as a potential site for reintroductions. Of the total acreage identified, 47 percent of the stream reaches, and 37 percent of the acreage, are privately owned while the remainder is under federal ownership.
The ESA requires the Service to identify the location of habitat essential for the conservation of the species, which the Act terms “critical habitat.” This identification helps federal agencies identify actions that may affect listed species or their habitat, and to work with the Service to avoid or minimize those impacts. Identifying this habitat also helps raise awareness of the habitat needs of imperiled species and focus the conservation efforts of other partners such as state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and individual landowners.
Although non-federal lands have initially been included in these areas, activities on these lands are not affected now, and will not necessarily be affected if the species is protected under the ESA in the future. Only if an activity is authorized, funded or carried out by a federal agency will the agency need to work with the Service to help landowners avoid, reduce or mitigate potential impacts to listed species or their identified habitat.
In addition, public and private landowners still must comply with other provisions of the ESA to protect threatened and endangered species on their lands. The Service relies on a number of voluntary, non-regulatory conservation programs to provide willing landowners with assurances to protect them for the work they do on their lands.
On June 7, 2012, the Service entered into a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) with a private landowner (Belle Mina Farm, Ltd.) and the Huntsville and North Alabama Land Trust (Land Trust) for the protection of a portion of Beaverdam Spring/Creek. Despite the beneficial effects of the conservation measures in the CCAA, threats still remain for this species to the level that listing is warranted. We value the conservation relationships we have established throughout the range of the species and will continue to work proactively with other landowners and stakeholders to enact additional conservation measures that will reduce threats to the species.If the spring pygmy sunfish is listed, the landowners involved with the CCAA will not have to meet any additional requirements, other than those already specified in the CCAA.
Today’s proposal is part of the Service’s efforts to implement a court-approved work plan that resolves a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s ESA Listing Program. The intent of the agreement is to significantly reduce litigation-driven workloads and allow the agency to focus its resources on the species most in need of the ESA’s protections over the next five years.
The final decision to add the spring pygmy sunfish to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants, as well as the final identification of areas containing habitat essential to the species, will be based on the best scientific information available. In addition, the Service will utilize an economic analysis to inform and refine its identification of this habitat. Only areas that contain habitat essential to the conservation of the species, and where the benefits of this habitat outweigh potential economic impacts, will be included in the final identification.
The Service will open a 60-day public comment period today to allow the public to review and comment on the proposal and provide additional information. All relevant information received from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties will be considered and addressed in the agency’s final listing determination for the species and identification of habitat essential to its conservation.
Comments and information may be submitted by one of two ways: (1) online at http://www.regulations.gov or (2) mail or hand delivery to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2012–0068; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
Comments must be received or on or before December 3, 2012. Requests for a public hearing must be made in writing by November 16, 2012 to the Arlington, VA, address shown above.
The Service will post all comments received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that any personal information provided will also be posted.
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