Public comment to be reopened on proposed Critical Habitat for two federally protected mussel species
LITTLE ROCK, AR – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe today announced the Service will reopen the public comment in the near future on the proposed critical habitat and draft economic analysis for two federally protected mussel species found in 13 states, including Arkansas.
Ashe made the announcement today in Little Rock at a roundtable discussion on the Service’s proposed critical habitat for the federally threatened rabbitsfoot mussel and the federally endangered Neosho mucket. More than 40 people attended the meeting, including representatives from the Agricultural Council of Arkansas, Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas Forestry Association, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture, Association of Arkansas Counties, and the oil and gas industry, as well as several county judges and state representatives. Also at the meeting were the Service’s Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner and Arkansas Ecological Services Field Office Supervisor Jim Boggs.
The meeting was arranged by U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor’s office after the Senator invited Ashe to visit Arkansas to hear directly from citizens about their concerns over the proposed critical habitat. Staff from Sen. Pryor’s office as well as the offices of U.S. Sen. John Boozman and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford also attended Thursday’s meeting.
The timetable for the new public comment period has not been set. Once it is, two public meetings on the proposal will be scheduled. This will be the fourth round of public comment on the proposal since it was announced in September 2012. The first three public comment periods lasted a total of 150 days, during which the Service received 49 comments.
Ashe said the Service’s decision to hold another public comment period was in response to a request from Sen. Pryor, as well as concerns raised by the Arkansas delegation and several organizations.
“I want to thank Senator Pryor for the invitation to meet with Arkansas citizens to hear their perspectives on this proposal,” Ashe said. “We believe providing this additional time will lead to greater understanding of what the designation of critical habitat does and does not mean to those who enjoy and depend upon healthy aquatic natural resources. Together we can accomplish economic development and improve water quality for people while we conserve these imperiled species.”
The Service is required under the Endangered Species Act to consider whether there are areas of habitat believed to be essential to a listed species’ conservation, and to designate any such areas as “critical habitat.” The proposed critical habitat for the rabbitsfoot mussel and Neosho mucket consists of about 783 river and stream miles in Arkansas, as well as segments of rivers and streams in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.
The designation of critical habitat helps ensure that federal agency actions do not negatively impact habitat that a listed species needs to recover. The designation does not affect land ownership, and only affects those activities that are performed, funded or authorized by a federal agency.
To read the proposed rule, draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment, and to view a map of the proposed critical habitat in Arkansas, go to http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news/2014/033.html
- Map of critical habitat (PDF)
- Proposed Rule: Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designating Critical Habitat for the Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot
- Draft Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat Designation
- Draft Environmental Assessment
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