U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Designates Critical Habitat for the Louisiana Black Bear

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Designates Critical Habitat for the Louisiana Black Bear The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today published a final rule to designate approximately 1,195,821 acres of land in 15 Louisiana Parishes as critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the threatened Louisiana black bear.

Areas designated as critical habitat for the Louisiana black bear include bottomland and upland hardwood forests and adjacent vegetated areas having a diversity of plant species and age-classes of sufficient area, quality and configuration to meet the home range needs of reproductive female Louisiana black bears throughout the year or that provide areas for Louisiana black bear dispersal between populations. Those areas are contained within three critical habitat units located in the Tensas River and Upper and Lower Atchafalaya River Basins of the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley in Louisiana. Parishes included within the critical habitat designation are Avoyelles, East Carroll, Catahoula, Concordia, Franklin, Iberia, Iberville, Madison, Pointe Coupee, Richland, St. Martin, St. Mary, Tensas, West Carroll, and West Feliciana.

With the help of its partners, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other Federal agencies, state agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi, the Black Bear Conservation Committee, the Louisiana Forestry Association, and private citizens, the Service estimates that about 600,000 acres of land have been restored or protected in the bear?s range since it was listed in January 1992. This includes lands that have been purchased by state and federal agencies; public and private lands protected from development; and privately-owned lands where bear habitat has been restored. Bear numbers also appear to be increasing. In 1997, the statewide Louisiana black bear population was estimated to range from 200 to 400 bears. Studies to obtain reliable current population estimates are underway but it is generally believed that the current population numbers range from 400 to 700 bears.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Designates Critical Habitat for the Louisiana Black Bear Critical habitat is a term defined in the ESA identifying geographic areas containing features essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, and which may require special management considerations or protection. Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge or preserve, and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved.

Normal forest management activities as currently conducted will not be affected by the Louisiana black bear critical habitat designation. The habitat needs of the Louisiana black bear are compatible with normal forest management activities. Normal forest management activities were exempted from the ?take? provisions under the ESA when the species was listed in 1992, and included a provision protecting den and candidate den trees. That rule has not been changed.

This final rule was prepared pursuant to a court order resulting from a lawsuit filed against the Service by Harold Schoeffler and Louisiana Crawfish Producers-West.

The Service requested written comments from the public on the proposed designation of critical habitat during two comment periods. The first comment period, associated with the publication of the proposed rule opened on May 6, 2008, and closed on July 7, 2008. The Service also requested comments on the associated draft economic analysis during a second comment period which opened November 12, 2008, and closed on December 12, 2008. During both comment periods the Service invited federal, state, and local agencies, scientific organizations; and other interested parties to comment on the proposed rule and the draft economic analysis. All of the comments received are addressed in the final rule.

The Service also evaluated comments on whether privately-owned lands enrolled under the USDA Wetland Reserve Program?s (WRP) permanent easements provide sufficient protection and management to satisfy the criteria necessary for exclusion from critical habitat. In the final rule, the Service concluded that 50,298 acres of WRP permanent easements should be excluded from the designation of critical habitat.

A copy of this final rule is available at http://www.fws.gov/policy/library/E9-4536.html or http://www.fws.gov/Lafayette/la_black_bear_PCH.html and scroll to the bottom of the page.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Visit the Service?s websites at http://www.fws.gov/ or http://www.fws.gov/southeast