U.S. Fish and Wildlife eyes extending ESA
Aug 12, 2013 | 492 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list three plants as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and is seeking all available information to inform the agency’s decision on listing. At the same time, the service also proposes to designate critical habitat for these species. Those plants are Short’s bladderpod, whorled sunflower and fleshy-fruit gladecress.

Short’s bladderpod occurs in Indiana (Posey County); Kentucky (Clark, Franklin, and Woodford counties), and Tennessee (Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Jackson, Montgomery, Smith and Trousdale counties). It is an upright mustard plant with several stems, some branched at the base. The stems are leafy for their entire length, up to the base of the yellow flowers. The bladderpod typically grows on steep, rocky, wooded slopes and talus areas. It is usually found in habitats next to rivers or streams and on south-to-west-facing slopes.

The whorled sunflower is found in Floyd County, Ala.; Cherokee County, Ga.; and Madison and McNairy counties, Tennessee. The whorled sunflower is a perennial, which gets its name from the whorls of leaves that are present throughout the middle portion of its tall stems. At its best sites, the sunflower is found in moist, prairie-like remnants, which exist as opening in woodlands and along adjacent creeks. However, most sites where the plant is found are now small strips of prairie-like vegetation along roadsides, railroad rights of way and borders of agricultural fields and woodlands.

The fleshy-fruit gladecress occurs in Lawrence and Morgan Counties, Ala. A mustard plant, the fleshy-fruit gladecress is a winter annual found in cedar glades. The glades are shallow-soiled, open areas with exposed sheets of limestone or gravel that are dominated by herbaceous vegetation and surrounded by cedar woodlands. Currently, populations of fleshy-fruit gladecress are located in glade-like areas exhibiting various degrees of disturbance, including pastures, roadside rights of way and cultivated or plowed fields. The plant’s leaves form a rosette, and its flowers have either yellow with orange or white with yellow petals.

Many of the populations of these species are small in number, making them less resilient to threats to their habitats and causing potential for inbreeding and loss of genetic variation. All three plants face risks caused by maintenance or construction of transportation rights of way, industrial forestry and agricultural practices, water level fluctuation in reservoirs, flooding and overstory shading, or competition due to habitat encroachment by native and invasive non-native plants.

The USFWS will make a final decision on whether to extend ESA protection to these three plants after evaluating all available information. In particular, the agency is looking for information on distribution, status, population size or trends, life history and threats to these plants. If the three plants are listed under the ESA, the service will work cooperatively with partners to conserve their habitats. In addition, federal agencies must ensure that activities they authorize, fund or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of these plants or destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat.

Critical habitat is a term defined in the ESA. It refers to specific geographic areas that are essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat will help ensure that federal agencies and the public are aware of the needs of these plants and proper consultation is conducted by federal agencies when required by law.

Although non-federal lands are included in the areas proposed as critical habitat for these three plants, activities on these lands will not be affected unless they are authorized, funded or carried out by a federal agency. In such cases, the lead federal agency will need to consult with the service to ensure their actions do not jeopardize the plants or adversely modify their critical habitat.

An economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat designations for these three plants will be conducted.

The proposed listing of these three plants with critical habitat is part of the service’s effort 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.

A complete description of the proposed rule [has been published] in the Federal Register. The public may mail comments and materials concerning this proposed rule to Public Comments Processing, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington VA 22203. Comments also can be filed electronically at http://www.regulations.gov. The docket number for the proposed critical habitat rule is FWS–R4–ES–2013–0086. The docket number for the proposed listing rule is FWS-R4-ES-2013-0087.

All comments must be received by Oct. 1, 2013, and must include a first and last name, city, state, country and zip code. Any comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by appointment during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Cookeville.

Requests for a public hearing must be made in writing by Sept. 16, 2013, to the Arlington, Va., address above.

Comments should be submitted by one of the following methods:

Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments on FWS–R4–ES–2013–0086 (proposed critical habitat) and FWS-R4-ES-2013-0087 (proposed listing).

U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2012–0076, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington VA 22203.

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(Editor’s Note: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service submitted this guest “Viewpoint” to help bring public awareness to the Endangered Species Act, as well as to provide information about a potential future listing. Agency contacts responsible for submitting this material include Denise Rowell, Denise_Rowell@fws.gov, 251-441-6630; and Tom MacKenzie, Tom_MacKenzie@fws.gov, 404-679-7291.)