Service protects coqui llanero under the Endangered Species Act
Information from the public, scientific community informs final decision
The coquí llanero is in danger of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. As a result, the Service will protect the species under the Endangered Species Act, and will continue to work with conservation partners to aid the species’ recovery and address current and future threats.
The coquí llanero is a species of frog that occupies a wetland in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. It is the smallest of the 17 coquí species in Puerto Rico, and, unlike most amphibians, it spends its entire life in a vegetated wetland. The plants in that space that are essential for the survival of the coquí llanero are ferns, bulltongue arrowhead, flatsedges, spike rushes, vines, and grasses.
The Service first identified the coquí llanero as a candidate for ESA protection in 2009, due to the threats posed by destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat in the form of past, current, and future urban and commercial development. The species continues to experience these threats due to habitat destruction and modification, predation, inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms, low reproductive capacity, and specialized ecological requirements.
Service biologists, with input from the public and the scientific community, also have identified 615 acres in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, that contain vegetated wetland habitat essential to the conservation of the species. Of the total acreage identified, 15.8 percent is located on state lands and 84.2 percent on federal lands.
Today’s decision 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 ESA requires the Service to identify the location of habitat essential for the conservation of the species, which the ESA 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 focuses the conservation efforts of other partners such as state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and individual landowners.
Although non-federal lands are included in these areas, activities on these lands will not necessarily be affected. 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 the species or its 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.
The final decision to add the coquí llanero to the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants, as well as the identification of areas containing habitat essential to the species, is based on the best scientific information available. The Service held a 60 day public comment period beginning on October 12, 2011, and another 30 day period beginning on June 19, 2012. These comment periods allowed the public to review and comment on its proposal and provide additional information. All relevant information received from the public, government agencies, the scientific community, industry, and other interested parties was considered and addressed in the agency’s final listing determination for the species and identification of habitat essential to its conservation.
The areas identified do not include an expansion of the proposed critical habitat designation that was recommended by some of the commenters. Additional information is needed to determine if the limestone hills near the critical habitat area contain physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the coquí llanero or if the coquí was found there historically.
The listing of the coqui llanero as endangered becomes effective on November 5, 2012, 30 days following the October 4, 2012, publication in the Federal Register.
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