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4. Habitat and Species Recovery Projects

Introduction

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Caribbean, temperate, and endemic influences converge in South Florida, resulting in a great diversity of communities, species, and genetic variations. This ecosystem supports the only subtropical ecological communities in the continental United States. About 60% of the native plant species south of Lake Okeechobee originated in the tropics.

The historic ecosystem was a rich mosaic of wetland, upland, and nearshore communities linked into a vast integrated system. Although this system has been significantly altered over time, remnants of the distinct ecological communities survive. Some of the communities that have been reduced and altered the most are now home to large numbers of threatened and endangered species.

Sixty-eight listed species are under the protection and management authority of the FWS, and several additional species are under the protection and management authority of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. Many additional species are listed by the State of Florida (Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Natural Areas Inventory, and Committee on Rare and Endangered Plants and Animals) as rare, of special concern, threatened, or endangered. All these species are considered to warrant high conservation priorities.

Threatened and endangered species within the Greater Everglades can be classified into two broad groups. The first group is composed of wetland-dependent species, for which restoration of natural hydropatterns and the quality of the water within the system may be the best option for achieving recovery. The second group includes terrestrial species, which may or may not directly benefit from restoration of pre-drainage hydrologic conditions.

Overview of Activities and Authorities

DOI has three broad responsibilities for threatened and endangered species and other species of concern under the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, and Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act:

Restore the ecological communities of South Florida in ways that will optimize benefits to the greatest number of imperiled species.

Assess the responses of ecological communities and species as a basis for adaptive management.

Meet the recovery needs of particular species on federal, and where possible on nonfederal, lands and waters.

The Endangered Species Act establishes policies and procedures for identifying, listing, and protecting species threatened or endangered with extinction and for the conservation of ecosystems upon which these species depend. The act requires the development and implementation of recovery plans for the conservation and survival of threatened and endangered species. Such plans include management actions necessary to achieve the goal of recovery and survival, as well as objective, measurable criteria that determine when a species is recovered. The FWS establishes recovery plans for all threatened and endangered species (for South Florida it has established a multi-species recovery plan) and it coordinates with other federal, tribal, state, and local agencies and private citizens to implement these plans where suitable habitat for species recovery currently exists or might be restored. In addition, section 7(a) (1) of the act directs federal agencies to utilize their authorities to carry out conservation programs for listed species. Section 7(a) (2) of the act prohibits any federal agency from conducting an activity that would jeopardize the continued existence of threatened or endangered species or adversely modify designated critical habitat. Under Section 7, the federal agencies consult with the FWS on the effects of their proposed actions on threatened and endangered species and designated critical habitat.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, as amended, provides protection for a wide variety of migratory bird species. This act protects species from pursuit, killing, trade or possession of bird parts, and from destruction of nests or eggs. The FWS is the lead agency for ensuring compliance with this act. Executive Order 13186 identifies the responsibilities of all federal agencies to promote conservation of migratory birds, in cooperation with the FWS.

The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1934, as amended, provides the basic authority for the FWS's involvement in evaluating impacts to fish and wildlife from proposed water resource development projects. It requires that fish and wildlife resources receive equal consideration to other project features. It also requires that federal agencies that construct, license, or permit water resource development projects must first consult with the FWS (and the National Marine to be given to FWS recommendations. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in some instances) and with the state fish and wildlife agency regarding the impacts on fish and wildlife resources, and take measures to mitigate these impacts. Full consideration is

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1980 includes provisions for the FWS to aid states in the protection of nongame species, including birds.

The South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan (MSRP) completed in 1999 recognizes that the Greater Everglades must be restored and managed as a whole, not species by species. This recovery plan is specifically designed to recover the 42 federally listed species under FWS authority that occur only in South Florida and also represents contributions to existing recovery plans for those 26 federally listed species that occur in South Florida but also occur elsewhere and have current, approved recovery plans. The MSRP broadens the scope of recovery planning and implementation to the landscape level, where the fundamental question to be answered is, What are the highest priority management actions needed to achieve multi-species recovery?

This approach is precedent setting for the FWS, and is wholly consistent with the magnitude and complexity of the ecosystem restoration initiative for South Florida. The successful recovery of the Greater Everglades will depend upon the success of perpetuating the mosaic of ecological communities unique to the region, and on protecting a large number of highly vulnerable species—many of which are currently dependent upon extensively altered sites for their remaining habitat—while restoring a more natural ecological pattern to the landscape.

The Multi-Species/Ecosystem Recovery Implementation Team (MERIT), appointed by the FWS to oversee implementation of the MSRP, has drafted an implementation schedule to prioritize the restoration and recovery tasks identified in the MSRP. The purpose of the implementation schedule is to prioritize tasks, estimate their costs, and provide suggestions as to which entities may best be able to carry out the tasks. The implementation schedule for the MSRP will focus on combining tasks that apply to multiple species. The draft implementation schedule has undergone a public review and comment period and is being finalized by the FWS.

The tasks included in the MSRP implementation schedule address (1) direct management of DOI conservation lands, (2) coordination with other federal, tribal, state, and local agencies to facilitate their roles in species recovery, and (3) incentives for private landowners and other partners to participate in recovery activities.

Overview of Science Support for DOI Managers

By focusing on the restoration of ecological communities, as well as individual species, the FWS and its partners hope to achieve the greatest benefit for the ecosystem as a whole. This approach requires achieving conditions within the region's ecological communities that support all of the species (aquatic and terrestrial) that inhabit them. This approach also requires an understanding and appreciation of how management to enhance or restore one community and its associated species may affect other communities within the ecosystem.

Habitat management focused on multi-species recovery requires three kinds of scientific information for CERP ecosystem restoration efforts:

Comprehensive models of habitats for all federally protected species. Managing habitats and species at a landscape scale will require comprehensive models of the spatial distributions of all the species listed in the MSRP. To create these models, existing GIS data (from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the USGS Gap Projects, the Florida Natural Areas Inventory's public lands coverage, and the SFWMD land cover maps) will be collected and integrated to show the current spatial distributions of all federally protected species and to assess the availability of potential habitats under current and alternative management scenarios. This kind of modeling will allow managers to identify and assess potential conflicts among species that might result from restoration activities.

Risk assessments and threat analyses for listed species. Risk assessments and threat analyses for listed species will be integrated into the habitat models. These assessments and analyses will allow managers to assess the feasibility of recovery for individual species and to prioritize habitat requirements based in part of the best habitats for the most vulnerable species.

Identification of unprotected habitats. This work will involve the use of the habitat-prioritization information to identify areas essential to recovery and to target them for conservation and private land partnerships.

The projects highlighted in this science plan are among the highest priorities for implementation of the MSRP because they address the most urgent needs for species recovery.

The review of scientific knowledge and remaining needs for information for each project will provide the basis for prioritizing the activities needed to implement the multi-species approach to threatened and endangered species recovery in South Florida.


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