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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are proposing changes to the way the two agencies implement the Endangered Species Act, through three separate proposed rules.
(1) Listing Species and Designating Critical Habitat
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service ‘propose to revise portions of our regulations that implement section 4 of the Endangered Species Act.’ The proposed revisions concern ‘the procedures and criteria used for listing or removing species from the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants and designating critical habitat. We also propose to make multiple technical revisions to update existing sections or to refer appropriately to other sections.’
(2)Prohibitions of Activities for Protection of Threatened and Endangered Species
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service propose to revise regulations that extend most prohibitions of activities involving endangered species to threatened species.’ The proposed changes would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ‘to determine what, if any, protective regulations are appropriate for species that the Service in the future determines to be threatened.’ The proposed regulations would not alter prohibitions ‘for species already listed as a threatened species.’
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service ‘propose to amend portions of our regulations’ which dictate ‘interagency consultation processes.’ These regulations ‘implement section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.’
The National Park Service is proposing an amendment that 'would remove a regulatory prohibition by the National Park Service in 2015 that prohibited certain sport hunting practices that are otherwise permitted by the State of Alaska.' The prohibited practices include: 'Taking any black bear, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites; harvesting brown bears over bait; taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season (between May 1 and August 9); taking swimming caribou; taking caribou from motorboats under power; taking black bears over bait; and using dogs to hunt black bears.' This new amendment would be consistent with two Orders issued by the Secretary of the Interior since the 2015 prohibition, which outline 'how the Department of the Interior should manage recreational hunting and trapping in the lands and waters it administers.'
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to 'list the island marble butterfly (Euchloe ausonides insulanus) as an endangered species and designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.' The potential critical habitat designation consists of '812 acres (329 hectares) on the south end of San Juan Island, San Juan County, Washington.' The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also completed 'a draft economic analysis of the proposed designation of critical habitat for the island marble butterfly', which is now available for public review.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is requesting ‘information and recommendations on animal and plant species to be considered as candidates for US proposals to amend Appendices I and II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)’ at the upcoming 18th meeting. ‘Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction that are or may be affected by trade. Appendix II includes species that, although not necessarily now threatened with extinction, may become so unless trade in them is strictly controlled. Appendix II also includes species that must be subject to regulation in order that trade in other CITES-listed species may be brought under effective control.’ Suggested amendments submitted during this comment period ‘may concern the addition of species to Appendix I or II, the transfer of species from one Appendix to another, or the removal of species from Appendices.’
The US Forest Service is preparing a revised land management plan for the Custer Gallatin National Forest, Montana. The Custer Gallatin National Forest encompasses three million acres of US National Forest Service land and seven ranger districts, including those in Yellowstone, MT and Red Lodge, MT. ‘This notice briefly describes the proposed action based on the need to change the existing forest plans, the nature of the decision to be made, and information concerning public participation.’ The full text of the proposed action can be found on the US Forest Service website. The US Forest Service is currently ‘asking for comments on the proposed action and the Regional Forester's list of species of conservation concern.'
The U.S. Global Change Research Program is calling for public comment on a third-order draft of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (Vol. II). The second volume of the National Climate Assessment “summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future” (GlobalChange.gov). The Assessment reviews information specific to different regions of the United States, 'while also evaluating climate change impacts, risks, and adaptation on 17 national-level topics.
Chapter 2: Our Changing Climate; Chapter 6: Forests; Chapter 8: Coastal Effects; Chapter 24: Northwest Region
The National Park Service is considering fee increases at highly visited national parks during peak visitor seasons. New peak season entry fees for visitors would be established at 17 national parks, with the 'peak season for each park... defined as its busiest contiguous five month period of visitation.' The new entrance fees are: $70 per vehicle, $50 per motorcycle, and $30 per person. Fee increases 'will generate badly needed revenue for improvements to the aging infrastructure of national parks...All of the funds would be used to improve facilities, infrastructure, and visitor services, with an emphasis on deferred management projects.' A list of affected parks and their peak-season dates can be found here. This proposal also includes entrance and permit fee adjustments for commercial tour operators, which would consist of 'increase[d] fees for commercial operators and standardize[d] commercial use authorization requirements for road-based commercial tours, including application and management fees.'
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are proposing to remove Astragalus desereticus (Deseret milkvetch) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the 'best available scientific and commercial data' indicate' that this species' population is much greater than was known at the time of listing in 1999' and 'that threats to [Deseret milkvetch] identified at the time of listing in 1999 are not as significant as originally anticipated and are being adequately managed. Therefore, the species no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.' This proposal 'also serves as the [required] 12-month finding on a petition to remove this species from the List.' The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are 'seeking information, data, and comments from the public on the proposed rule to remove the Astragalus desereticus from the List.'
The Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, and Federal Railroad Administration are proposing revisions to the Federal Highway & Federal Transit Administrations' joint implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act and Section 4(f) requirements. The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of major federal actions and to develop alternatives before taking the action. The proposal (1) modifies the Federal Highway & Federal Transit Administrations Environmental Impact and Related Procedures due to changes to the environmental review process made by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act and (2) modifies the Parks, Recreation Areas, Wildlife and Waterfowl Refuges, and Historic Sites regulations according to new exceptions created by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. The proposal also includes the addition of the Federal Railroad Administration to the modified regulations listed above, making those regulations Federal Railroad Administration's NEPA implementing procedures and Section 4(f) implementing regulations, respectively. The agencies are requesting comments on all actions included in this proposal.
This notice announces the intent of the US Forest Service to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Elk Creek Watershed Project 'defining the scope, goals, and actions of the project.' The Environmental Impact Statement will assess proposed vegetation treatment in approximately 10,550 acres within the 45,992 acre project boundary. Vegetation treatments include commercial and noncommercial thinning, hardwood and meadow enhancement, and fuels reduction adjacent to private property, among others. 'The purpose of the Elk Creek Watershed Project is to address the need to manage forest stands to be more resilient to future disturbances, improve water quality to maintain and restore riparian and aquatic habitat, improve terrestrial habitat for northern spotted owl and Roosevelt elk, reduce fuel accumulations, and improve the vigor and prevalence of Karuk cultural resources.' Comments on this notice should help guide the development of the Environmental Impact Statement.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 'announce a 6-month extension of the final determination of whether to list the Louisiana pinesnake (Pituophis ruthveni) as a threatened species' under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service is also reopening the comment period on the proposed rule to list the species for an additional 30 days. The extension is in response to 'substantial disagreement regarding available information related to the interpretation of the available survey data used to determine the Louisiana pinesnake's status and trends.' The US Fish and Wildlife Service will submit a final listing determination to the Federal Register on or before April 6, 2018.
The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to rescind a 2015 rule entitled "Oil and Gas; Hydraulic Fracturing on Federal and Indian Lands." The 2015 final rule 'was intended to: Ensure that wells are properly constructed to protect water supplies, make certain that the fluids that flow back to the surface as a result of hydraulic fracturing operations are managed in an environmentally responsible way, and provide public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.' It was prepared 'in light of the public concern for and widespread use of hydraulic fracturing practices.' In March of 2017, the President published Executive Order 13783, which directed the Secretary of the Interior to review this specific rule 'for consistency with the order's objective "to promote clean and safe development of our Nation's vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth and prevent job creation."' As a result of this review, the Bureau of Land Management is now 'proposing to rescind, in its entirety, the 2015 final rule.'
The Bureau of Land Management is announcing 'its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the potential impacts of leasing a tract of Federal coal' in the Wyoming Powder River Basin. The tract for lease is approximately 3,508 acres and is adjacent to the Antelope Mine in Campbell and Converse counties, WY. The tract is a 'maintenance tract' of Federal coal, meaning that it is 'a parcel of land containing Federal coal reserves that can be leased to maintain production at an existing mine.' The Bureau of Land Management must prepare an environmental analysis prior to holding a competitive Federal coal lease sale. This notice is part of the scoping process to identify issues or concerns that should be considered in the environmental analysis. A list of issues that have been identified in prior similar leasing actions can be reviewed here.
The US Fish and Wildlife intends to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed incidental take permit from Sierra Pacific Industries. The permit would allow incidental take of the federally threatened Northern spotted owl and the California spotted owl. The California spotted owl was recently petition for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The activities covered by the permit would include timber harvest and timber management that Sierra Pacific Industries conducts on its lands in the State of California.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service recently completed a 'review of the application materials for corrosion-inhibited copper shot,' concluding that 'this type of shot left in terrestrial or aquatic environments is unlikely to affect fish, wildlife, or their habitats.' The Fish and Wildlife Service is now proposing to 'approve the shot for hunting waterfowl and coots,' which would 'increase the nontoxic shot options for hunters.'
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is initiating a 5-year status review of the Aleutian shield fern (Polystichum aleuticum). This 5-year status review under the Endangered Species Act is being conducted to ensure that the classification of the Aleutian shield fern as endangered on the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants is accurate. The review is an assessment of the best scientific and commercial data available at the time. The Fish and Wildlife Service is therefore requesting any information that has become available since the last review; a list of the specific information considered in the status review can be found here.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has completed the first revision of their Mexican Wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) Draft Recovery Plan, originally written in 1982. The Mexican wolf is currently listed as an endangered subspecies under the Endangered Species Act, and is currently found in Arizona and New Mexico (US), and in Chihuahua (MX). As of 2016, the single wild US population of Mexican wolves reached a total size of at least 113 wolves; a captive population is also managed through a binational captive-breeding program with the primary purpose of producing Mexican wolves for reintroduction. The Mexican wolf is at risk of extinction in the wild primarily because of gunshot-related mortality, inbreeding, loss of heterozygosity, loss of adaptive potential, and small population size. The draft recovery plan includes specific recovery criteria to be met to enable us to remove this species from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is requesting review and comment on their revised plan, as well as any new information on the Mexican wolf's status throughout its range to assist in finalizing the recovery plan.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is initiating 5-year status reviews of 23 species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. 5-year status reviews are conducted to ensure that the classification of species as threatened or endangered on the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants is accurate. The review is an assessment of the best scientific and commercial data available at the time of the review. The Fish and Wildlife Service is therefore requesting any information that has become available since the last review of each of the following species:
Fish / Shellfish: Cumberland darter (Etheostoma susanae), Rush darter (Etheostoma phytopilum), Vermilion darter (Etheostoma chermocki), Pygmy madtom (Noturus stanauli), Cumberland bean mussel (Villosa trabalis), Ring pink mussel (Obovaria retusa), Anthony's riversnail (Athearnia anthonyi)
Wildlife: Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), Puerto Rican broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus brunnescens), Puerto Rican nightjar (Caprimulgus noctitherus)
Plants: Arabis perstellata (Braun's rock-cress), Chamaesyce deltoidea spp. deltoidea (Deltoid spurge), Clematis morefieldii (Morefield's leatherflower), Conradina verticillata (Cumberland rosemary), Galactia smallii (Small's milkpea), Lyonia truncata var. proctorii, Polygala smallii (Tiny polygala), Pityopsis ruthii (Ruth's golden aster), Sarracenia rubra ssp.alabamensis (Alabama canebrake pitcher plant), Schwalbea americana (American chaffseed), Vernonia proctorii, Adiantum vivesii
This notice extends the scoping comment period for a Notice of Intent published by the Superior National Forest in January. The Notice proposed a withdrawal of approximately 234,328 acres of National Forest System (NFS) lands, for a 20-year term, within the Rainy River Watershed on the Superior National Forest from disposition under United States mineral and geothermal leasing laws, subject to valid existing rights. The purpose of the withdrawal request is protection of the natural resources and waters located on NFS lands from the potential adverse environmental impacts arising from exploration and development of fully Federally-owned minerals conducted pursuant to the mineral leasing laws within the Rainy River Watershed that flow into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Mining Protection Area in northeastern Minnesota. The USFS acknowledges this proposed request subjects these NFS lands to temporary segregation for up to 2 years from entry under the United States mineral and geothermal leasing laws. The USFS recognizes that any segregation or withdrawal of these lands will be subject to valid existing rights and therefore inapplicable to private lands owned in fee, private mineral estates, and private fractional minerals interests.