Endangered and threatened species: Findings on petitions, etc.— Junaluska salamander,

 
CONTENT

[Federal Register: October 28, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 208)]

[Proposed Rules]

[Page 57640-57642]

From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[DOCID:fr28oc98-35]

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding for a Petition To List the Junaluska Salamander as Endangered With Critical Habitat

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status review.

SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces a 90-day finding for a petition to list the Junaluska salamander (Eurycea junaluska) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The Service finds that the petition presents substantial information indicating that listing this species may be warranted. A status review is initiated.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on October 8, 1998. To be considered in the 12-month finding for this petition, information and comments should be submitted to the Service by December 28, 1998.

ADDRESSES: Data, information, comments, or questions concerning this petition should be sent to the State Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Asheville Field Office, 160 Zillicoa Street, Asheville, North Carolina 28801. The petition finding, supporting data, and comments are available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. J. Allen Ratzlaff (see ``ADDRESSES'' section), telephone 828/258-3939, Ext. 229; facsimile 828/258-5330.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that the Service make a finding as to whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents substantial scientific or commercial information to demonstrate that the petitioned action may be warranted. This finding is to be based on all information available to the Service at the time the finding is made. To the maximum extent practicable, the finding shall be made within 90 days following receipt of the petition and promptly published in the Federal Register. Following a positive finding, section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act requires the Service to promptly commence a status review of the species.

The processing of this petition conforms with the Service's final listing priority guidance for fiscal years 1998 and 1999, published in the Federal Register on May 8, 1998 (63 FR 25502). The guidance calls for giving highest priority to handling emergency situations (Tier 1); second highest priority to resolving the listing status of outstanding proposed listings, resolving the conservation status of candidate species, processing administrative findings on petitions, and processing a limited number of delistings and reclassifications (Tier 2); and third priority to processing proposed and final designations of critical habitat (Tier 3). The processing of this petition falls under Tier 2.

The Service has made a 90-day finding on a petition to list the Junaluska salamander (Eurycea junaluska). The petition, dated March 30, 1998, was submitted by Mr. Ray Vaughan on behalf of Appalachian Voices and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation and was received by the Service on March 31, 1998. It requests the Service to list the Junaluska salamander as endangered and designate critical habitat under 16 U.S.C. Sec. 1533(a)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act. The petition identifies timber harvesting, nonnative trout, exposure to acid-bearing rock, siltation, genetic drift, the inadequacy of current laws, and naturally occurring events as immediate threats to the species' continued existence.

The petitioners submitted claims that the Junaluska salamander is imperiled because, ``despite decades of searching, only six or seven populations have been found'' and ``even within those populations, adult individuals are extremely rare.'' Further elaborating on this point, the petitioners quote one source as stating, ``Trends of existing populations are not known; however, the rarity of existing populations suggests that most populations have suffered long-term declines.'' Some of the demographic problems associated with small population size are also cited as threats. The petitioners also identify ``stocked trout, timber harvesting, `exposure to acid-bearing Anakeesta rock formations during road construction,' and other disturbances that dump silt into their stream habitat'' as threats to the species. The petitioners also claim that existing laws are inadequate to protect the species, specifically the U.S. Forest Service's (USFS) National Forest Management Act.

The Service concurs with the petitioners that this is a rare species, currently known from only six populations. However, rarity in itself is not a listing criterion (see section 4 of the Act). The petitioners assert that the rarity of adults is indicative of low recruitment into the population, citing one researcher as collecting only 50 adults in 10 years of field work. This may be true, but others have collected as many as 18 adults in a single night (W. Gutzke, University of Memphis, personal communication, 1998). The rarity of collected adults is possibly more a function of sampling.

One of the main reasons the petitioners cite for the need to list the Junaluska salamander is ``clearcuts and sediment from timber sales and road building operations of the U.S. Forest Service'' (specifically, a salvage sale in the Snowbird Creek drainage in Graham County, North Carolina). The circumstances regarding the proposed USFS salvage operation on Snowbird Creek have changed since the petition was written, and the mitigation efforts implemented to minimize impacts to the species, specifically sedimentation, may now nullify this sale as an example of the potential threats to the species and its habitat.

The Service recognizes the potential threat from the exposure of acid-bearing rock in watersheds that harbor the Junaluska salamander. Construction of the Cherohala Skyway from Robbinsville, North Carolina, to Tellico Plains, Tennessee, resulted in exposure of acid-bearing rock (Anakeesta) in the Santeetlah Creek drainage as well as portions of the Tellico River system in Tennessee. Acid-producing materials (usually rock containing pyritic sulfur in excess of 0.5 percent, with little or no alkaline materials) produce acidic leachate upon weathering. The acidic leachate may result in downstream pH values of ‹ls-thn-eq›4.5. Excavation for road construction facilitates weathering by exposing additional rock surface area. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has published guidelines for handling situations with acid-producing materials (FHWA 1989). However, it is not clear what effect some of the mitigation measures for handling acidic rock may ultimately have on aquatic life.

The Service agrees that the other threats listed by the petitioners (genetic drift, nonnative trout, and naturally occurring events [at least for individual populations]), along with several other factors (including nonpoint source pollution from other than USFS activities and competition with other salamander species) could potentially threaten this species.

The Service has reviewed the petition, its accompanying literature, and other literature and information in the Service's files. On the basis of the best scientific and commercial information available, the Service finds that the petition presents substantial information indicating that listing the Junaluska salamander may be warranted. The Service believes the petitioners have presented adequate information about the status, distribution, and abundance of the

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Junaluska salamander and that they have addressed most of the potential threats to the species in North Carolina. However, the Service is in need of additional information to adequately assess the status of the species in Tennessee, to locate additional populations, and to identify those factors that may affect its persistence. Prior to receiving the subject petition, the Service had some knowledge of the status of the Junaluska salamander, principally in North Carolina. Consequently, the Service had initiated a status survey for the Tennessee portion of the species' range. In addition, the USFS is working with the Service and several other agencies and organizations to begin a multi-agency conservation agreement to minimize or eliminate the threats to the species in North Carolina.

The petitioners also requested that critical habitat be designated for the Junaluska salamander. If after completion of the status review the Service determines that the petition to list the Junaluska salamander as endangered is warranted, the issue of designating critical habitat would be addressed in the subsequent proposed rule.

References Cited

Bruce, R. C. 1982. Egg laying, larval periods, and metamorphosis of Eurycea bislineata and E. junaluska at Santeetlah Creek, North Carolina. Copeia 1982(4):755-762. Bruce, R. C., and T. J. Ryan. 1995. Distribution and population status of the salamander, Eurycea junaluska. U.S. Forest Service Challenge Cost Share Report. No. 11-287. 84 pp. Federal Highway Administration. 1989. Guidelines for handling excavated acid-producing materials. FHWA/DF/89001, March 1989. Mittleman, M. B. 1949. American Caudata VI: the races of Eurycea bislineata. Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 62:89-96. Ryan, T. J. 1998. Larval life history and abundance of a rare salamander, Eurycea junaluska. J. of Herpetology 32(1):10-17. Sever, D. M. 1979. Male secondary sexual characters of the Eurycea bislineata (Amphibia, Urodela, Plethodontidae) complex in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. J. Herpetology 13:245-253.

. 1983. Observations on the distribution and reproduction of the salamander Eurycea junaluska in Tennessee. J. Tenn. Acad. Sci. 58:48-50. Sever, D. M., H. A. Dundee, and C. D. Sullivan. 1976. A new Eurycea (Amphibia: Plethodontidae) from southwestern North Carolina. Herpetologica 32:26-29.

Author: The primary author of this document is Mr. J. Allen Ratzlaff (see ADDRESSES section).

Authority

The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

Dated: October 8, 1998. Jamie Rappaport Clark, Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.

[FR Doc. 98-28882Filed10-27-98; 8:45 am]

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