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A white breasted bird with blueish grey feathers.
Information icon Elfin-woods warbler. Photo by Mike Morel, USFWS.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service designates critical habitat for Elfin-woods warbler

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has finalized critical habitat for the elfin-woods warbler in Puerto Rico under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The designation will benefit the elfin-woods warbler and 15 other federally protected species that share its habitat, such as the Puerto Rican parrot and the Puerto Rican boa.

The Service is also releasing the final economic analysis associated with the critical habitat designation.

The elfin-woods warbler exists only in Puerto Rico and is listed as threatened under the ESA. Primary threats include fragmentation and degradation of habitat, hurricanes, human-induced fires and climate change.

“We look forward to continuing our work with landowners, the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, federal land managers, and other stakeholders to conserve the mountainsides that the elfin-woods warbler needs to survive and recover,” said Edwin Muñiz, the Service’s Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office supervisor. “Actions taken to conserve this warbler and its habitat, such as montane forests and shade grown coffee plantations, will benefit other native wildlife and imperiled species.”

The final designation covers a total of 27,488 acres in the municipalities of Maricao, San Germán, Sabana Grande, Yauco, Río Grande, Canóvanas, Las Piedras, Naguabo, Ceiba, Cayey, San Lorenzo, Guayama and Patillas. This is an increase of 363 acres (2.8 percent) over that originally proposed in 2016.

The critical habitat is divided into three units; two are currently occupied by the warblers, and one is unoccupied habitat. The unoccupied unit is in the Carite Commonwealth Forest and is designated because it contains habitat suitable for the reintroduction of the elfin-woods warbler, which is essential for the conservation of the species.

Land ownership within the critical habitat area consists of roughly 42 percent federal lands, 43 percent commonwealth lands, and 15 percent private lands adjacent to the Maricao Commonwealth Forest.

The elfin-woods warbler is about five inches in length. The adult’s upper body is predominantly black and white, with conspicuous white patches on ear coverts and neck, an incomplete eye ring, and black crown. Immature elfin-woods warblers are similar to adults, but their black is replaced by grayish-green on the back, and yellowish-green on the head and underparts.

Currently, the bird only exists in El Yunque National Forest in eastern Puerto Rico and in Maricao Commonwealth Forest and adjacent private lands in western Puerto Rico. The elfin-woods warbler once had a wider distribution across Puerto Rico, including the Carite Commonwealth Forest in east-central Puerto Rico, where it has not been documented in more than 15 years.

Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. Activities on lands designated for critical habitat will not be affected, unless such activities are authorized, funded or carried out by a federal agency. In these cases, the government agency involved will need to consult with the Service and develop conservation measures to avoid, reduce or mitigate any impacts to the elfin-woods warbler and/or its designated critical habitat.

The Service offers voluntary and non-regulatory conservation programs to help this species survive as landowners live and work on their lands. Landowners who are interested in helping the Service conserve the elfin-woods warbler, or who are seeking more information about the potential implications of the listing, may contact the Service’s Caribbean Ecological Field Office at Post Office Box 491, Boquerón, Puerto Rico, 00622, or contact Deputy Field Supervisor Marelisa Rivera at (787) 851-7297, or marelisa_rivera@fws.gov.

The document will be placed on public inspection on Monday, June 29, 2020 at 8:45 AM ET.

This site is available to the public, and all documents on it are also available to the public when they visit the reading room of the Office of the Federal Register in Washington, DC.

The final critical habitat rule for the Elfin-woods warbler (Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2020–0030) is scheduled to publish in the Federal Register on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

After the date of publication, links to documents can be found at gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=FR.

Contact

Phil Kloer, Public affairs specialist
Philip_kloer@fws.gov, (404) 679-7299

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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