Okaloosa darter on the road to recovery
Efforts by U.S. military are driving force behind recovery of rare Florida fish, once on brink of extinction
Eglin Air Force Base, FL – U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz gathered today with dignitaries from Department of the Defense and United States Air Force to announce the proposed delisting of the Okaloosa darter from the Endangers Species Act (ESA).
After years of conservation efforts by the U.S. Air Force, the Okaloosa darter has made a remarkable recovery. Found solely in two counties in Florida, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has determined that this small fish no longer faces the threat of extinction and does not warrant listing under the ESA.
“The recovery of the Okaloosa darter is another ESA success story,” said Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz. “This rare fish would not have recovered from the brink of extinction without the planning, efforts and long-term commitment of the U.S. Air Force as well as the leadership and dedicated staff from Eglin Air Force Base.”
“The level of effort that has gone into reaching this milestone is truly incredible. We committed to understanding the problem and implementing viable solutions, and everyone should be proud of the results,” said Brigadier General Scott Cain, 96th Test Wing commander at Eglin Air Force Base. “But of all the reasons we should be proud of our accomplishments with the Okaloosa darter, perhaps the most significant is that we built meaningful partnerships to help reach this milestone. Our friends and partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Loyola University, the local community, and everyone else who teamed together were instrumental to recovering this species.”
Of the six stream systems in Walton and Okaloosa counties that the Okaloosa darter inhabits, over 90 percent of those stream systems are located entirely on land managed by the U.S. Air Force at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB). Like many military bases that work to safeguard federally protected species on their lands, Eglin has an Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan, which includes specific goals and objectives for improving Okaloosa darter habitat.
As a result of these conservation efforts, more than 480 acres of Eglin AFB stream erosion has been reduced, fish barriers have been removed and stream habitat has been restored. In 2011, the Service was able to downlist the Okaloosa darter from endangered to threatened.
In 2018, the Service initiated a 5-year review for the species. A team of biologists, brought together by the Service to compile and examine all known data and research regarding the darter, produced a species status assessment (SSA) report. The SSA is a peer-reviewed summary of the fish’s historical and current status and projections of population stability and future trends. That report provides the foundational science for today’s proposal to delist the species.
To help ensure the fish remains healthy and secure from the risk of extinction after it is delisted, the Service is also announcing the availability of a draft post-delisting monitoring (PDM) plan. We seek information, data, and comments from the public regarding the proposal to delist the Okaloosa darter and also on the draft PDM plan.
We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before January 18, 2022. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT by January 3, 2022.
The proposed rule, draft PDM plan, and supporting documents, including the SSA and references cited and the 5-year review, are available at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-FWS–R4–ES–2021‒0036.
The proposed rule will be placed on public inspection on November 16, 2021 at: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection. The rule will publish in the Federal Register on November 17, /2021 at: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/html/FR/todays_toc.html. After the date of publication, links to the proposed rule can be found at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=FR by searching for Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2021-0036.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lourdes Mena, Florida Chief of Classification and Recovery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Ecological Services Field Office, 7915 Baymeadows Way, Jacksonville, FL 32256-7517; telephone 904-731-3134. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.
- Mark Davis, firstname.lastname@example.org 404-556-7074