It’s been a long haul, but efforts are inching forward to have the Agave eggersiana, a plant that grows on St. Croix, placed on the federal endangered or threatened species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now seeking comments from the public and scientific community on its plans to list the plant.
The federal agency also wants to list 51 acres on St. Croix as critical habitat for the plant. The 51 acres are spread around six locations on the eastern third of the island. They are at Cane Garden, Manchenil, Great Pond, the north and south sides of the East End, and Protestant Cay.
“We want to know if there are other locations,” Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom McKenzie said.
The plant has been a candidate for listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since Sept. 22, 2010. A request to list the plant was first made by the Planning and Natural Resources Department in 1996.
In 1998, two years after the petition was filed, the federal Fish and Wildlife decided that science supported protection for the plants and promised to make a decision within nine months.
With no decision forthcoming by 2004, the Center for Biological Diversity sued. In 2006 the federal Fish and Wildlife Service decided that neither Agave eggersiana nor Solanum conocarpum, a plant found only on St. John, should be listed as endangered.
The Center for Biological Diversity again filed suit in 2008 challenging the federal finding. The Solanum conocarpum case was separated from the Agave eggersiana case several years ago.
Fish and Wildlife now has until 2018 to complete its listing work.
Fish and Wildlife is also proposing to list two plants and their habitats in Puerto Rico. They are Gonocalyx concolor and Varronia rupicola.
According to a press release, all three Caribbean plants face threats to their existence. Threats include hurricanes, habitat loss and degradation from development fires, competition from non-native plants, predation and disease caused by insects, poor enforcement of existing laws and regulations, and small and disconnected populations.
The press release indicated the proposed listings and designation of critical habitat for these three plants are part of Fish and Wildlife’s effort to implement a court-approved work plan that resolves a series of lawsuits concerning the agency’s Endangered Species 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 protections over the next five years.
When a species is proposed for listing as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Fish and Wildlife must consider whether there are areas of habitat it believes are essential to the species’ conservation. Those areas may be proposed for designation as critical habitat.
If the three plants are listed under the Endangered Species Act and critical habitats are designated, Fish and Wildlife indicated in the press release it will work cooperatively with partners to conserve their habitats. In addition, federal agencies would need to ensure activities they authorize, fund or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of these plants or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat.
Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. Critical habitat designation does not impose restrictions on nonfederal lands unless federal funds, permits or activities are involved. Designating critical habitat on federal or nonfederal lands informs landowners and the public of the specific areas that are important to the conservation of the species.
Identifying this habitat also helps focus the conservation efforts of other conservation partners, such as commonwealth and local governments, nongovernmental organizations and individuals. The designation of critical habitat on private land has no impact on private landowner activities that do not require federal funding or federal permits. The designation of critical habitat is only applicable to federal activities.
Many organizations are working with Fish and Wildlife to conserve these plants. In the Virgin Islands, they include St. George Botanical Garden, the St. Croix Environmental Association, the Planning and Natural Resources Department, the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service, as well as private landowners. For example, the National Park Service planted more than 100 juvenile Agave eggersiana plants on its lands in St. Croix.
Public comments on these proposed rules can be submitted through Dec. 23. Requests for a public hearing must be made in writing by Dec. 5 to Marelisa Rivera, Caribbean Ecological Services Office, P.O. Box 491, Road 301 Km 5.1, Boquerón, Puerto Rico, by calling 1-787-851-7297 or emailing at Marelisa_Rivera@fws.gov.
Comments should be submitted via the Federal eRule making Portal, http://www.regulations.gov, by U.S. mail or hand-delivery, to Public Comments Processing (Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2013–0103 for the proposed listing and Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2013-0040 for the proposed critical habitat designation), Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Dr., Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203.
All comments, including personal information, will made be available on http://www.regulations.gov.