Northern sea otter as candidate species for U.S. ESA listing (fwd)

From: pita admininstrator (pita@www1.wheelock.edu)
Date: Fri Nov 24 2000 - 09:03:48 EST


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Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2000 15:39:37 -0800
From: MARMAM Editors <marmamed@UVic.CA>
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
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To: MARMAM@UVVM.UVIC.CA
Subject: Northern sea otter as candidate species for U.S. ESA listing (fwd)

>From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access
[wais.access.gpo.gov] November 9, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 218,
Page 67343-67345)

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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service
50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Notice of
Designation of the Northern Sea Otter in the Aleutian Islands as a
Candidate Species

SUMMARY: In this document, we present information on the
recent addition of the northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni)
found in the Aleutian Islands to the list of candidates for listing
under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended.
Identification of candidate taxa can assist environmental planning
efforts by providing advance notice of potential listings, allowing
resource managers to alleviate threats and thereby possibly
remove the need to list taxa as endangered or threatened. Even if
we subsequently list this candidate species, the early notice
provided here could result in fewer restrictions on activities by
prompting candidate conservation measures to alleviate threats to
this species.

    We also announce the availability of the candidate and listing
priority assignment form for this candidate species. This document
describes the status and threats that we evaluated to determine
that the northern sea otter in the Aleutian Islands warrants
consideration for listing, and to assign a listing priority to this
species.

    We request additional status information that may be available
for the northern sea otter. We will consider this information in
evaluating, monitoring, and developing conservation strategies for
this species.

DATES: We will accept comments on this document at any time.

ADDRESSES: Submit written comments and data regarding the
northern sea otter to the Marine Mammals Management Office,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage,
Alaska 99503.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Douglas Burn, Wildlife
Biologist, Marine Mammals Management Office at the above
address, or telephone 907/786-3800 or facsimile 907/786-3816.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) (16
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that we list taxa of wildlife and
plants that are endangered or threatened, based on the best
available scientific and commercial information. As part of this
program, we also identify taxa that we regard as candidates for
listing. Candidate taxa are those taxa for which we have on file
sufficient information to support issuance of a proposed rule to list
under the Act. In addition to our annual review of all candidate taxa
(64 FR 57534; October 25, 1999), we have an on-going review
process, particularly to update taxa whose status may have
changed markedly.

    Section 3 of the Act generally defines an endangered species as
any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a
significant portion of its range, and a threatened species as any
species which is likely to become an endangered species within
the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its
range. A species may be determined to be an endangered or
threatened species due to one or more of the five factors described
in section 4(a)(1) of the Act:
(A)The present or threatened destruction, modification, or
curtailment of the species' habitat or range;
(B)Overutilization of the species for commercial, recreational,
scientific, or educational purposes;
    (C) Disease or predation affecting the species;
    (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to
protect the species; and
    (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting the species'
continued existence.

    We are required to make the listing determination ``solely on the
basis of the best scientific and commercial data available'' and
``taking into account those efforts, if any, being made by any State
or foreign nation, or any political subdivision of a State or foreign
nation, to protect such species, whether by predator control,
protection of habitat and food supply, or other conservation
practices, within any area under its jurisdiction, or on the high
seas.'' Sections 4(a)(1) and 4(b)(1)(A) and our regulations at 50
CFR 424.11(f) require us to consider any State or local laws,
regulations, ordinances, programs, or other specific conservation
measures that either positively or negatively affect a species'
status (i.e., efforts that create, exacerbate, reduce, or remove
threats identified through the section 4(a)(1) analysis).

    We maintain the list of candidate species for a variety of
reasons, including: to provide advance knowledge of potential
listings that could affect decisions of planners and developers; to
solicit input from interested parties to identify those candidate taxa
that may not require protection under the Act or additional taxa that
may require the Act's protections; to solicit information on the
status of species and measures necessary to conserve species,
and to solicit information needed to prioritize the order in which we
will propose taxa for listing. We encourage consideration of
candidate taxa in environmental planning, such as in environmental
impact analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act of
1969 (implemented at 40 CFR parts 1500-1508) and in local and
Statewide land use planning.

    According to our 1983 Listing Priority System (48 FR 43098;
September 21, 1983), all species that are candidates for listing are
assigned a listing priority number. This system ranks species
according to--(1) the magnitude of threats they face, (2) the
immediacy of these threats, and (3) the taxonomic distinctiveness
of the entity that may be listed. Listing priority numbers range from
1 (highest priority) to 12 (lowest priority). We will complete
proposals to list candidate species, based on their listing priority,
to the extent that our resources for listing activities and our
workload for other listing activities will allow.

    This notice provides specific explanations of why we classified
the northern sea otter as a candidate. This decision was approved
by the Service's Director Jamie Rappaport Clark, on August 22,
2000. It is important to note that candidate assessment is an
ongoing function and changes in status should be expected. If we
remove taxa from the candidate list, they may be restored to
candidate status if additional information supporting such a change
becomes available to us. We issue requests for such information in
a Candidate Notice of Review published in the Federal Register
every year.

Findings

    The worldwide population of sea otters in the early 1700s has
been estimated at 150,000 (Kenyon 1969) to 300,000 (Johnson
1982). Extensive commercial hunting of sea otters began following
the arrival in Alaska of Russian explorers in 1741 and continued
during the 18th and 19th centuries. By the time sea otters were
afforded protection from commercial harvests by international treaty
in 1911, the species was nearly extinct throughout its range, and
may have numbered only 1,000-2,000 individuals (Kenyon 1969).

    Following the international treaty in 1911, only 13 isolated
remnant populations scattered throughout the historic range
remained. However, once commercial harvests ceased, these
populations began to grow and recolonize their former range. Today
three subspecies of sea otter have been identified (Wilson et al.
1991). The northern sea otter contains two subspecies: Enhydra
lutris kenyoni which occurs from the Aleutian Islands to Oregon,
and Enhydra lutris lutris which occurs in the Kuril Islands,
Kamchatka Peninsula, and Commander Islands in Russia. The
third subspecies, Enhydra lutris nereis, occurs in California and is
known as the southern sea otter.

    The period of recolonization was marked by high reproductive
rates and range expansion. Survey data indicate that otters were
present in all island groups in the Aleutians by the 1980s
(Brueggeman et al. 1988, Estes 1990). Calkins and Schneider
(1985) calculated the sea otter population in the Aleutians as
55,100 to 73,700 individuals, which represented over half the
Alaska population. The entire Aleutian archipelago was not
systematically surveyed again until 1992. During these surveys
Evans et al. (1997) estimated the Aleutian Islands sea otter
population as 19,157 3,281. The most striking results of this
survey were that sea otter density and abundance in the Rat,
Delarof, and western Andreanof Islands had unexpectedly declined
by more than 50 percent. Boat-based surveys of sea otters at
several islands in the Near, Rat, and Andreanof Islands further
documented an ongoing decline of sea otters during the 1990s
(Estes et al. 1998). As few as 6,000 sea otters may remain in the
Aleutians today (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Unpublished Data).

    Potential threats include both natural fluctuations and human
activities, which may have caused changes in the Bering Sea
ecosystem. Subsistence hunting occurs at very low levels and
does not appear to be a factor in the decline. While disease,
starvation, and contaminants have not been implicated at this time,
additional evaluation of these factors is warranted. The hypothesis
that predation by killer whales is causing the sea otter decline
(Estes et al. 1998) should also be studied further.

    Due to the precipitous and rapid nature of the ongoing population
decline, we have assigned the northern sea otter in the Aleutian
Islands listing a priority of three under our Listing Priority System.
Additionally we note that the imminence of the threats underscores
the urgent need for more information regarding the cause of the
decline in this population.

Request for Information

    We request you submit any further information on the northern
sea otter as soon as possible or whenever it becomes available.
We are seeking the following types of information:
    (1) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data
concerning any threat (or lack thereof) to the northern sea otter;
    (2) Reasons why any habitat of this species should or should
not be determined to be critical habitat pursuant to section 4 of the
Act;
    (3) Additional information concerning the range, distribution, and
population size of this species; and
    (4) Current or planned activities in the subject area and their
possible impacts on this species.
    Information regarding the range, status, habitat needs, and
listing priority assignment for the northern sea otter is available for
review by contacting the Service as specified in the ADDRESSES
section.

    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular
business hours. Individual respondents may request that we
withhold their home address from the rulemaking record, which we
will honor to the extent allowable by law. In certain circumstances,
we would withhold from the rulemaking record a respondent's
identity, as allowable by law. If you wish for us to withhold your
name and/or address, you must state this request prominently at
the beginning of your comment. However, we will not consider
anonymous comments. We will make all submissions from
organizations or businesses, and from individuals identifying
themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or
businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein, as well as others,
is available upon request from the Marine Mammals Management
Office (see ADDRESSES section).

References Cited

Brueggeman, J.J., G.A. Green, R.A. Grotefendt, and D.G.
Chapman. 1988. Aerial surveys of sea otters in the northwestern
Gulf of Alaska and southeastern Bering Sea. Minerals
Management Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration Final Report. Anchorage, Alaska.

Calkins, D.G., and K.B. Schneider. 1985. The sea otter (Enhydra
lutris). Pages 37-45. In: Marine Mammals Species Accounts. J.J.
Burns K.J. Frost,and L.F. Lowry (Eds.). Alaska Department of Fish
and Game, Technical Bulletin 7.

Estes, J.A. 1990. Growth and equilibrium in sea otter populations.
Journal of Animal Ecology 59:385-401.

Estes, J.A., M.T. Tinker, T.M. Williams, and D.F. Doak. 1998.
Killer Whale Predation Linking Oceanic and Nearshore
Ecosystems. Science 282: 473-476.

Evans, T.J., D.M. Burn, and A.R. DeGange. 1997. Distribution and
Relative Abundance of Sea Otters in the Aleutian Archipelago. U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management Technical
Report MMM 97-5. 29 pp.

Johnson, A.M. 1982. Status of Alaska sea otter populations and
developing conflicts with fisheries. Trans. 47th North American
Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference:293-299.

Kenyon, K. W. 1969. The Sea Otter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.
United States Department of the Interior. North American Fauna,
Number 68. 352 pp.

Wilson, D.E., M.A. Bogan, R.L. Brownell, Jr., A.M. Burdin, and
M.K. Maminov. 1991. Geographic variation in sea otters, Enhydra
lutris. Journal of Mammalogy 72:22-36.

Author

    This notice was compiled from materials supplied by staff
biologists located in the Service's regional and field offices. The
materials were compiled by, Division of Endangered Species (see
ADDRESSES section).

Authority

    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of
1973, as amended, 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.

    Dated: November 3, 2000.
David B. Allen,
Regional Director, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 7.

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