The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is re-opening the public comment period on the draft environmental assessment for the proposed designation of critical habitat for the Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot mussels. The assessment discusses the estimated costs and economic impacts of the proposed designation.
Last year, the Service proposed to list the Neosho mucket as endangered, and the rabbitsfoot as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service also proposed to designate critical habitat for these two mussels in 43 critical habitat units encompassing 2,138 river miles of stream channels in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species. The designation of critical habitat will help ensure that federal agencies and the public are aware of the mussels' habitat needs and proper consultation is conducted by federal agencies when required by law. A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved. It does not allow government or public access to private land. Federal agencies that undertake, fund, or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.
The Service conducted a draft economic analysis of these mussels’ proposed critical habitat designation, as required under the ESA. It sought public comment on both these reports between May 9, 2013, and June 10, 2013. The Service is now re-opening the time available for public comment for an additional 60 days, until Oct. 28.
The analysis considered the potential impact of the designation on various sectors of the economy. Based on the best available information, including extensive discussions with stakeholders, the Service estimates that the designation may cost $4.4 million to $5.9 million over 20 years, or annually $290,000 to 390,000 over the next 20 years. The majority of these costs are administrative and may be borne by federal and state agencies, however, some costs may be incurred by local governments and businesses. These costs stem from the requirement for federal agencies to consult with the Service regarding the impacts of their actions, or those that they fund or authorize, on critical habitat. Transportation and utility activities are likely to be subject to the greatest impacts at $1,400,000 over the next 20 years; followed by timber, agriculture, and grazing at $960,000; development at $760,000; other (animal and biological control, prescribed burns, land clearing, bank stabilization, habitat or shoreline restoration) at $530,000; oil and gas development at $320,000; water flow management at $190,000; water quality management at $120,000, and mining at $71,000. The Service anticipates the proposed designation will have minimal effects on 227 entities or small businesses annually.
The Service completed the draft environmental assessment of the proposed critical habitat designation, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The draft environmental assessment found the preferred alternative of designating critical habitat for the Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot at the 43 proposed locations would not have significant impacts to people or their activities. More details on the methods used to assess impacts to the human environment are available in the draft environmental assessment.
Seventy-two miles, or four percent of these mussels’ proposed critical habitat, is currently already designated critical habitat for two other species (yellowcheek darter and oyster mussel - now called the Duck River dartersnapper).
The draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment is available at www.regulations.gov, Docket # FWS–R4–ES–2013–0007. The public also may mail comments and materials concerning the proposed critical habitat designation, draft economic analysis, and draft environmental assessment to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2013–0007; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 North Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203. Comments also can be filed electronically at http://www.regulations.gov.
All comments must be received by Oct. 28, 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 Ecological Services, 110 South Amity Road, Suite 300, Conway, AR, 72032; by telephone 501 513-4475.
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