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florida gators... never threatened!

If you ain't a Gator, you should be! Alligators (and endangered crocs) are important indicator species atop their food chains, with sensitivity to pollution and pesticides akin to humans. See ESA blawg. Gator blood could be our pharmaceutical future, too. See ESA musing.

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KEVIN S. PETTITT helped found this blawg. A D.C.-based IT consultant specializing in Lotus Notes & Domino, he also maintains Lotus Guru blog.

« NOAA considers recovery plan for beluga whale and critical habitat revisions for leatherback sea turtle | Main| FWS announces economic analysis of mollusk critical habitat in deep south, and revised recovery plan for Yuma clapper rail »

FWS declines to list American pika, but proposes experimental population of Sonoran Proghorn

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75 Fed. Reg. 6438 / Vol. 75, No. 26 / Tuesday, February 9, 2010 / Proposed Rules
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR / Fish and Wildlife Service
50 CFR Part 17 / FWS-R6-ES-2009-0021 / MO 92210-0-0010
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-month Finding on a Petition to List the American Pika as Threatened or Endangered
AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Notice of 12-month petition finding.

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 12-month finding on a petition to list the American pika (Ochotona princeps) as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. After review of all available scientific and commercial information, we find that listing the American pika, at the species level or any of the five recognized subspecies (O. p. princeps, O. p. saxatilis, O. p. fenisex, O. p. schisticeps, and O. p. uinta), is not warranted at this time. However, we ask the public to submit to us any new information that becomes available concerning the threats to the American pika, the five subspecies, or its habitat at any time.
DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on February 9, 2010.

AmericanPikaNPS.jpg
As FWS explained in its Federal Register notice, the biology of the American pika makes the species a useful indicator of changing climatic conditions and useful to test extinction theory. The species lives in a very narrow ecological habitat (primarily talus) that is frequently fragmented or patchily distributed. They are generally poor dispersers, and thus the narrow niche may expose some populations to negative effects associated with increasing temperatures.  Photo by Sally King from NPS Bandelier National Monument.

EXCERPT: ...pikas also may exhibit considerable behavioral and physiological flexibility that may allow them to persist in environmental conditions that humans perceive to be outside of the species’ ecological niche…

We believe recent American pika range contractions that have occurred or are occurring in one locality or region should not be assumed to have occurred or be occurring in other areas. For example, American pika have been documented moving upslope in the Great Basin and Yosemite National Park; however, populations in the Sierra Nevada occur 650 m (2,132 ft) below historically known low-elevation pika sites (Millar and Westfall 2009, p. 16), and therefore have not moved upslope in this region. Given the available information we conclude that the species range has not contracted upslope on a range-wide basis in the recent past and changes in the elevation range of the species appear to be sitespecific. Persistence of lower elevation sites is likely related to local climate, habitat structure, geomorphology, and intra-talus microclimate (Millar and Westfall 2009, pp. 16-23). Based on information we have obtained from a variety of sources, it is apparent that American pika have responded to long-term climate change (10,000 to 40,000 years) as seen by the current patchy distribution of the species at generally higher elevations, particularly in the southern portion of it range. The species also appears to be responding to shorter term climatic change in the last century in some locations. Some lower elevation populations in the southern portions of the species range have been extirpated and some have shown evidence of upslope movement in response to increased temperatures. Responses of American pika to changing climatic conditions are variable as a result of
localized environmental conditions.

KEITHINKING:  Climate change presents an enormous threat to many species, and will inevitably lead to more stressed species, and thus making Endangered Species Act implementation even more troublesome.  This listing decision, however, demonstrates that the mere invocation of concerns about climate change will not automatically lead to an agency decision to list a species.  The American pika was thought to be especially susceptible to temperature variation.  Environmentalists, including the petitioners here, insisted that climate change presented an especially significant threat.  FWS declined to resort to such a simplistic cause-and-effect assumption.  Instead, FWS explained that a species fate is influenced by more than just temperature, and in the case of the pika, FWS concluded that physical habitat features and species physiology were also important factors that leaned against a listing decision:

“Increased summer temperatures as a result of climate change may have the potential to adversely affect some lower and mid-elevation pika populations of Ochotona princeps princeps, O. p. fenisex, O. p. schisticeps and O. p. saxatilis in the foreseeable future; however, this does not equate to a significant portion of the suitable habitat for any of the five subspecies or the species collectively. American pika can tolerate a wider range of temperatures and precipitation than previously thought (Millar and Westfall 2009, p. 17). The American pika has demonstrated flexibility in its behavior, such as using cooler habitat below the surface to escape hotter summer daytime temperatures, and physiology that can allow it to adapt to increasing temperature (Smith 2009, p. 4). Cooler temperatures below the talus surface can provide favorable thermal conditions for pika survival in relatively warm surface environments. Based on all these lines of evidence, we have determined that climate change is not a threat at the species or the subspecieslevel now or in the foreseeable future.”

**

FOR MORE information about the Sonoran Pronghorn...
75 Fed. Reg. 5733 / Vol. 75, No. 23 / Thursday, February 4, 2010 / Proposed Rules
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR / Fish and Wildlife Service
50 CFR Part 17 / FWS–R2–ES–2009–0077; 92220–1113–0000; ABC Code: C3 / RIN 1018–AW63
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Establishment of a Nonessential Experimental Population of Sonoran Pronghorn in Southwestern Arizona
AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Proposed rule; public hearing, and availability of draft environmental assessment.

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to reestablish the Sonoran pronghorn, a federally listed endangered mammal, into its historical habitat in King Valley, Kofa National Wildlife Refuge (Kofa NWR), in Yuma County, and to the Barry M. Goldwater Range—East (BMGR–E), in Maricopa County, in southwestern Arizona. We propose to reestablish the Sonoran pronghorn under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), and to classify that reestablished population as a nonessential experimental population (NEP). This proposed rule provides a plan for establishing the NEP and provides for allowable legal incidental taking of Sonoran pronghorn within the defined NEP area. We have prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) on this proposed action.
DATES: We request that you send us comments on this proposal by the close of business on April 5, 2010, or at the public hearing. We will hold a public information session from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., followed by a public hearing from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., on February 23, 2010.

SonoranProghornAZ.jpg
The Sonoran subspecies of pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis) is small in terms of cranial measurements compared to other subspecies of pronghorn.  Historically, the Sonoran pronghorn ranged in the United States from approximately the Santa Cruz River, Arizona, in the east, to the Gila Bend and Kofa Mountains, Arizona, to the north, and to Imperial Valley, California, to the west.  The species also existed in northwestern Sonora, Mexico, and in Baja California, Mexico.  Currently, three populations of the Sonoran pronghorn are extant: (1) A U.S. population in southwestern Arizona, south of Interstate 8, west of Highway 85, and east of the Copper and Cabeza Prieta mountains (76 wild pronghorn), (2) a population in the El Pinacate Region of northwestern Sonora (50 pronghorn), and (3) a population south and east of Mexico Highway 8 and west and north of Caborca, Sonora (354 pronghorn). The three populations are geographically isolated due to barriers such as roads and fences.  Photo of one of the first-ever captive-bred Sonoran pronghorns released into the wild, from Arizona Master Naturalist Blog.

EXCERPT:  In 2002, a severe drought was the primary cause in a major die off of Sonoran pronghorn. The U.S. population declined in 2002 by 83 percent to 21 animals. The Mexican populations declined at the same time, but not to the same degree…   After the catastrophic die off of Sonoran pronghorn in 2002, the Service and its partners embarked on a number of aggressive recovery actions to ensure the species’ continued existence and to begin to rebuild populations. The cornerstone of these actions was a semicaptive breeding facility, constructed in Childs Valley, Cabeza Prieta NWR, in 2003, and stocked with wild Sonoran pronghorn in 2004. As of March 2009, 63 Sonoran pronghorn reside in the pen. Limited releases from the pen to the U.S. herd occurred in 2007 and 2008; however, the objective is to produce 10 to 25 fawns each year for release to the current U.S. population, to newly established population(s) in the United States, and to augment Mexican populations.