Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Tucson Shovel-Nosed Snake (Chionactis occipitalis klauberi) as Threatened or Endangered with Critical Habitat, 43905-43910 [E8-17221]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 146 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 / Proposed Rules comment period of the NPRM to ensure that all individuals have an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule. Also, the submission of comments electronically will now be through the OMB regulations Web site, regulations.gov, rather than ACF’s regulations Web site. DATES: Comments will be accepted through September 29, 2008. ADDRESSES: Interested persons are invited to submit comments regarding this proposed rule to: Commissioner, Administration on Developmental Disabilities, Administration for Children and Families, 370 L’Enfant Promenade, SW., Mail Stop: HHH 405D, Washington, DC 20447. Persons may also transmit comments electronically via the internet at: http:// www.regulations.gov. Electronic comments must include the full name, address, and organizational affiliation (if any) of the commenter. All comments and letters will be available for public inspection, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the address above, by calling (202) 690–5841 to set up an appointment and gain entry to the building. Electronically-submitted comments will be available for viewing immediately. To download an electronic version of the rule, access the OMB Web site http://www.regulations.gov. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Elsbeth Porter Wyatt, Administration on Developmental Disabilities, telephone (202) 690–5841 (Voice). The TDD telephone number for the Administration on Developmental Disabilities is (202) 690–6415. These are not toll-free numbers. This document will be made available in alternative formats upon request. Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status review. ACTION: SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 90-day finding on a petition to list the Tucson shovel-nosed snake (Chionactis occipitalis klauberi) as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing the Tucson shovel-nosed snake may be warranted. Therefore, with the publication of this notice, we are initiating a status review of the subspecies, and we will issue a 12month finding to determine if listing the subspecies is warranted. To ensure that the status review of the Tucson shovelnosed snake is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and commercial information regarding this subspecies. DATES: To allow us adequate time to conduct a status review, we request that information be submitted on or before September 29, 2008. ADDRESSES: You may submit information by one of the following methods: • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http:// www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments. • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R2– ES–2008–0060, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203. We will not accept e-mail or faxes. We will post all information received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us Dated: July 22, 2008. (see the Information Solicited section Ann C. Agnew, below for more details). Executive Secretary to the Department. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: [FR Doc. E8–17296 Filed 7–28–08; 8:45 am] Steve Spangle, Field Supervisor, BILLING CODE 4194–01–P Arizona Ecological Services Office, 2321 West Royal Palm Drive, Suite 103, Phoenix, AZ 85021; telephone 602–242– DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR 0210; facsimile 602–242–2513. If you use a telecommunications device for the Fish and Wildlife Service deaf (TDD), please call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 50 CFR Part 17 800–877–8339. [FWS–R2–ES–2008–0060]; [1111–FY06–MO– SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: pwalker on PROD1PC71 with PROPOSALS B2] Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Tucson ShovelNosed Snake (Chionactis occipitalis klauberi) as Threatened or Endangered with Critical Habitat AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:41 Jul 28, 2008 Jkt 214001 Information Solicited When we make a finding that a petition presents substantial information indicating that listing a species may be warranted, we are required to promptly commence a review of the status of the species. To ensure that the status review is complete and based on the best PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 43905 available scientific and commercial information, we are soliciting information on the status of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. We request information from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning the status of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. We are seeking information regarding the subspecies’ historical and current status and distribution, its biology and ecology, its taxonomy (especially genetics of the subspecies), ongoing conservation measures for the subspecies and its habitat, and threats to either the subspecies or its habitat. If we determine that listing the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is warranted, it is our intent to propose critical habitat to the maximum extent prudent and determinable at the time we would propose to list the subspecies. Therefore, with regard to areas within the geographical range currently occupied by the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, we also request data and information on what may constitute physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies, where these features are currently found, and whether any of these features may require special management considerations or protection. In addition, we request data and information regarding whether there are areas outside the geographical area occupied by the subspecies that are essential to the conservation of the subspecies. Please provide specific information as to what, if any, critical habitat should be proposed for designation, if the subspecies is proposed for listing, and why that proposed habitat meets the requirements of the Act. Please note that comments merely stating support or opposition to the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to whether any species is a threatened or endangered species must be made ‘‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.’’ Based on the status review, we will issue a 12month finding on the petition, as provided in section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act. You may submit your information concerning this finding by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. We will not consider submissions sent by e-mail or fax or to an address not listed in the ADDRESSES section. E:\FR\FM\29JYP1.SGM 29JYP1 43906 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 146 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 / Proposed Rules pwalker on PROD1PC71 with PROPOSALS If you submit information via http:// www.regulations.gov, your entire submission—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the Web site. If your submission is made via a hardcopy that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the top of your document that we withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will post all hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov. Information and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this finding, 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, Arizona Ecological Services Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Background Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires that we make a finding on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents substantial scientific or commercial information to indicate that the petitioned action may be warranted. Such findings are based on information contained in the petition, supporting information submitted with the petition, and information otherwise available in our files at the time we make the finding. To the maximum extent practicable, we are to make this finding within 90 days of receipt of the petition and publish our notice of this finding promptly in the Federal Register. Our standard for ‘‘substantial information,’’ as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations at 50 CFR 424.14(b), with regards to a 90-day petition finding is ‘‘that amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted.’’ If we find that substantial information was presented, we are required to promptly commence a status review of the species. We evaluated the information provided by the petitioner in accordance with 50 CFR 424.14(b). Our process for making this 90-day finding under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act and 50 CFR 424.14(b) of our regulations is limited to a determination of whether the information in the petition meets the ‘‘substantial scientific and commercial information’’ threshold (as mentioned above). We received a petition, dated December 15, 2004, from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) requesting that we list the Tucson shovel-nosed snake as threatened or endangered VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:41 Jul 28, 2008 Jkt 214001 throughout its range and designate critical habitat within its range in the United States. The petition, which was clearly identified as such, contained detailed information on the natural history, biology, current status and distribution of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. It also contained information on what the petitioner reported as potential threats to the subspecies from urban development, agricultural practices, collecting, inadequacy of existing regulations, drought, and climate change. In response to the petitioner’s requests, we sent a letter to the petitioner, dated September 7, 2005, explaining that, due to funding constraints in fiscal year 2005, we would not be able to address the petition in a timely manner. On February 28, 2006, the petitioner filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue (NOI) the Department of the Interior for failure to issue 90-day and 12-month findings, and a proposed listing rule, as appropriate, in response to the petition as required by 16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A) and (B). In response to the NOI, we agreed to submit a 90-day finding to the Federal Register as expeditiously as possible. The petition also requested that the Service consider an ‘‘intergrade zone’’ between the Tucson shovel-nosed snake and the Colorado Desert shovel-nosed snake as part of the Tucson shovelnosed snake’s range. An intergrade zone is an area of overlap between the ranges of two subspecies where individuals may possess intermediate characters or traits of both subspecies. It is generally recognized and accepted by practitioners of subspecies taxonomy that intergrade zones may exist between the ranges of two subspecies where the diagnostic characters of both subspecies may be found (Mayr 1942, 1963, 1969, 1970; Huxley 1943; Wake 1997, 2006; ´ Rodrıguez-Robles and De Jesus-Escobar 2000; Isaac et al. 2004; Krysko and Judd 2006). Current practice in the scientific literature is to objectively describe the ranges of different subspecies and any intergrade zones between them with narrative descriptions, maps, or both ´ (e.g., Wake, 1997, 2006; RodrıguezRobles and De Jesus-Escobar 2000; ´ Mahrdt et al. 2001; Leache and Reeder, 2002; Krysko and Judd 2006). Following this practice, intergrade zones are identified, but not assigned to either of the subspecies. As such, we find that including all shovel-nosed snakes within the intergrade zone in the subspecies taxon of the Tucson shovelnosed snake would not be consistent with current scientific practice in describing the ranges of the subspecies PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 and the intergrade zone between them. Therefore, we do not consider shovelnosed snakes within the intergrade zone to be members of the Tucson shovelnosed snake subspecies, and thus they are not included in our threats analysis below. Previous Federal Action No previous Federal action has been taken on the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. The Tucson shovel-nosed snake has no Federal regulatory status under the Act. Species Information The Tucson shovel-nosed snake was first described as a subspecies, Sonora occipitalis klauberi, by Stickel in 1941. The genus was changed to Chionactis from the genus Sonora two years later (Stickel 1943). Since being described, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has been widely accepted as a subspecies (Klauber 1951, p. 187; Stebbins 2003, p. 394; Crother 2008, p. 48), and is one of four currently recognized subspecies of western shovel-nosed snakes, Chionactis occipitalis (Crother 2008). In a recent study of genetic variation of mitochondrial DNA, Wood et al. (2006) found significant geographical structuring suggesting two distinct subspecies of western shovel-nosed snake rather than four, combining western populations of C. o. occipitalis, the Mojave shovel-nosed snake, with C. o. talpina, the Nevada shovel-nosed snake; and eastern populations of C. o. occipitalis with C. o. annulata, the Colorado Desert shovel-nosed snake, and C. o. klauberi. However, Wood et al.’s inference was based on a single genetic marker of mitochondrial DNA and did not include examination of nuclear markers, which would more fully elucidate our understanding of the taxonomic standing of this subspecies. Therefore, we continue to accept the currently accepted designation of the subspecies C. o. klauberi. The Tucson shovel-nosed snake is a small snake (250–425 millimeters (mm) (9.84–16.73 inches (in)) total length) in the family Colubridae with a shovelshaped snout, an inset lower jaw, and coloring that mimics coral snakes (Mahrdt et al. 2001, p. 731.1). The most notable features of the Tucson shovelnosed snake distinguishing it from the other subspecies are (a) the red crossbands suffused with dark pigment, making them appear brown or partly black, and (b) both black and red crossbands not encircling the body (CBD 2004, p. 2). Like other shovel-nosed snakes, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake uses venom to capture arthropod prey (Rosen 2003). E:\FR\FM\29JYP1.SGM 29JYP1 pwalker on PROD1PC71 with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 146 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 / Proposed Rules The diet of shovel-nosed snakes consists of scorpions, beetle larvae, spiders, crickets and centipedes (Rosen et al. 1996, p. 22–23). Like the other subspecies, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake probably feeds on scorpions. Glass (1972, p. 447) suggests that Tucson shovel-nosed snakes may have developed a resistance to scorpion venom. Rosen et al. (1996, p. 22) suggest that shovel-nosed snakes eat relatively frequently. The authors (pp. 22–23) further support this observation by noting that individual shovel-nosed snakes in captivity each consumed five to eight crickets per week, and showed significant weight loss after a two- to three-week lapse in feeding. Like the other three subspecies of the western shovel-nosed snake, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake uses ‘‘sand swimming’’ as its primary locomotion. The snake moves using a sideways swaying motion while it is either on or under the sand or loose soil (Stebbins 2003, p. 393). Shovel-nosed snakes are primarily nocturnal in activity, although specimens have been documented as active during daylight hours. Shovelnosed snakes are predominantly active at air temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (21 and 32 degrees Celsius), and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Klauber 1951, p. 187). Rosen et al. (1996, p. 21) have also observed that shovel-nosed snakes have been documented to be active in the morning and just before sunset. Rosen et al. (1996, p. 21) further note that activity seems to be highest when summer and spring temperatures are moderate, and when the relative humidity is high. Klauber (1951, p. 185) indicates that scattered sand hummocks, crowned with mesquite or other desert shrubs, are favorite refuges for shovel-nosed snakes. Rosen (2003, p. 8) suggests that the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is found in more productive creosote-mesquite floodplain environments, differing from the habitats preferred by other subspecies of the western shovel-nosed snake. Rosen (2003, p. 8) describes the associated soils of the Tucson shovelnosed snake as soft, sandy loams, with sparse gravel. The subspecies is historically known from Pima County in the Avra and Santa Cruz valleys and from southeastern Maricopa County and southern Pinal County, including the Gila River Indian Community. The area between the Tucson and Phoenix metropolitan areas is believed to encompass the majority of the current range of this subspecies, particularly west of Tucson northward along Avra Valley to Pinal County, and westward into Maricopa County. The last verifiable record of the Tucson VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:41 Jul 28, 2008 Jkt 214001 shovel-nosed snake in Pima County was in 1979, near the intersection of Avra Valley Road and Sanders Road in the Avra Valley (Rosen 2003, p. 10). Although habitat still exists in Pima County, the current distribution and abundance in Pima County is unknown. According to the petition, most of the currently occupied range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is believed to lie in southern Pinal County and Maricopa County. An intergrade zone occurs between the range of the Colorado Desert shovel-nosed snake and the range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake in Pima County (Klauber 1951, p. 159). Recent records of shovel-nosed snakes in Pima County have been from within the intergrade zone. Threats Analysis Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing regulations (50 CFR 424) set forth the procedures for adding species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. A species, subspecies, or distinct population segment of vertebrate taxa may be determined to be endangered or threatened due to one or more of the five factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act: (A) Present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. In making this 90-day finding, we evaluated whether information on threats to the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, as presented in the petition, and clarified by information readily available in our files at the time of the petition review, is substantial, thereby indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. Our evaluation of this information is presented below. A. Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of the Species’ Habitat or Range The petition states that the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is known only from south central Arizona in Pima, Pinal, and Maricopa counties, where it is dependent on Sonoran Desert scrub, particularly areas with loose, sandy, wind-blown soils (CBD 2004, p. 6; Mattison 1989, p. 25). According to the petitioner, much of the habitat within the former range of the Tucson shovelnosed snake has been converted to agricultural fields and urban development, as well as new roads to access these areas, all of which are PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 43907 unsuitable as habitat for this subspecies. The petition further claims that once an area has been plowed, or the soil has been compacted by urbanization or other factors, it is unknown whether the habitat can ever be recovered and, if so, how long it will take (CBD 2004, p. 10). The petitioner cites a personal communication with herpetologist Dr. Philip Rosen in which he pointed out that full recovery of native vegetation to pre-disturbance conditions has not been documented, and partial recovery of reptile and invertebrate groups has also not been observed. We interpret partial recovery to mean either the re-invasion of the disturbed lands by reptile and invertebrate groups or an increase in their populations following a decline associated with the disturbance. The petitioner notes that post-disturbance recovery (we presume of both vegetation and wildlife) is possible with enough time, but may not be practical because it may not provide habitat for the Tucson shovel-nosed snake before it is extirpated from areas adjacent to those rehabilitated habitats. The petitioner provided no data to support such claims regarding habitat recovery. To determine the historical and current distribution of Tucson shovelnosed snake habitat, the petitioner developed a model of the snake’s potential habitat with the cooperation of Dr. Rosen. The model was developed and refined based on Dr. Rosen’s professional knowledge of habitat conditions, the conditions at observed locations, and descriptions of habitat requirements from the literature. Rosen (2003, p. 8) notes that significant amounts of Tucson shovelnosed snake habitat in the eastern portion of the Avra Valley in Pima County was converted from desert to either agricultural or urban development between 1954 and 1966, with many canals, wells, and field-edge roads appearing in the interim. Rosen (2003, p. 7) also notes that traffic in the Avra Valley increased after the 1960s, especially in the late 1970s, following urban and agricultural development. Rosen (2003, p. 8) further indicates that agricultural development was already widespread in the western portion of the Avra Valley by 1959. Surveys for the Tucson shovel-nosed snake began in the mid-to-late 1950s by Dr. Charles H. Lowe and his graduate students at the University of Arizona, with a peak in the 1960s (Rosen 2003, p. 7). The petition refers to records indicating the Tucson shovel-nosed snake was reasonably abundant in the Avra Valley during the 1970s (Rosen 2003, p.10). The last verifiable record of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake in the E:\FR\FM\29JYP1.SGM 29JYP1 pwalker on PROD1PC71 with PROPOSALS 43908 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 146 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 / Proposed Rules Avra Valley was in 1979, near the intersection of Avra Valley Road and Sanders Road (Rosen 2003, p. 10). Surveys for the subspecies were conducted in the Avra Valley and part of Pinal County in 2003, 2004 and 2007 (Rosen 2003, p. 6; Rosen 2004, p. 2; Rosen 2007, p. 1). Surveys for shovelnosed snakes were also conducted on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Pima County from 1987 through 1994 (Rosen et al. 1996, pp. 6–7). Additionally, surveys have been conducted intermittently by various researchers throughout the range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake since the mid-1990s. During these recent surveys, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has been found in Pinal County (Rosen 2003, p. 9; Rosen 2007, p. 2). To determine the extent to which the Tucson shovel-nosed snake’s historical habitat has been lost to urban or agricultural development, the petitioner combined the model of snake habitat (CBD 2004, p. 13) with coverage of urban and agricultural areas developed by the Southwestern Regional Gap Analysis Project, which used imagery current to 2001. Their model of ‘‘remaining good habitat’’ (CBD 2004, p. 15) covers roughly half of the historical range of the subspecies. Because of a lack of available soils data, their model of historical habitat does not include the entire range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake on lands in the east-central portion of Pinal and Maricopa counties. The areas of habitat that were not modeled comprise approximately 25 percent of the historical range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. In the areas modeled, the petitioner indicated that 1,271,319 acres (ac) (514,503 hectares (ha)) of potential habitat occur within the range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. Of this area, 914,015 ac (369,902 ha) (72 percent) have been converted to either agriculture or urban development (CBD 2004, p. 14). No estimates of habitat loss were presented for areas not evaluated by the models. The petitioner concluded that human population growth and habitat loss predicted for Pima County also are likely to occur within the species’ range in Pinal and Maricopa counties, but did not provide supporting citations or other information (CBD 2004, p. 14). We concur, and have information readily available in our files that substantiates human population growth and habitat loss are occurring, and will continue to occur, in Pinal and Maricopa counties. For instance, population growth in Pinal County is the sixth fastest among all counties in the United States, and the current population of 313,000 is predicted to grow to 600,000 by 2015 VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:41 Jul 28, 2008 Jkt 214001 (Pisano 2007). The town of Maricopa, which is within the current range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake in Pinal County, had a population of 4,855 in 2004, but is now one of the country’s fastest growing cities, and is planning for a population of 350,000 by 2025 (Holcombe 2005). Additionally, a 275square-mile area of State Trust and private lands centered on Florence Junction, also in Pinal County, is being planned for development (Grammage 2006); approximately two thirds of this area falls within the current range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. From July 2004 to July 2005, the population of Maricopa County increased by 137,000, which was the largest numerical increase of any of the 3,141 counties in the nation during that period (The Business Journal of Phoenix 2006). The metropolitan areas of Tucson and Phoenix, between which the snake’s current range exists, are forecasted to meet and merge within a decade, with the population increasing from 5 million today to upward of 10 million by 2040 (Reagor 2006). The petition also lists mining, offhighway vehicles, construction of roads, and livestock grazing as potential threats to the Tucson shovel-nosed snake and its habitat. According to the petitioners (CBD 2004, p. 16), the Pima County Multi-Species Conservation Plan (2004) indicates that off-highway vehicles can crush snakes buried in the sand or compact soils used by the snake, although the Pima County Multi-Species Conservation Plan (2004) does not provide specific evidence of this threat. The petition further claims that construction of roads fragments snake habitat, roads are a source of snake mortality, and that livestock grazing compacts soils and may reduce the snake’s prey base by reducing and altering vegetation cover. No data or references were provided to support the claims that mining and livestock grazing are potential threats. Additionally, the petitioners provide no data to support the claim that road construction fragments snake habitat and roads are a source of snake mortality; however, we have information from our files which supports this claim. Papers by Rosen and Lowe (1994, pp. 146–148) and Andrews and Gibbons (2005, pp. 776– 781) provide substantial information indicating that road construction and increased traffic on roads isolates habitat for snakes and increases snake mortality. We conclude that the petition provides substantial information to support the claim that agricultural and urban development present direct and indirect threats to the Sonoran Desert PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 scrub habitat upon which the Tucson shovel-nosed snake currently depends. Dr. Phil Rosen has studied shovel-nosed snakes in Arizona for 17 years and has coauthored one peer-reviewed journal article regarding the reproductive ecology of C. occipitalis and coauthored a literature review of both species. Dr. Rosen has studied herpetology in the American Southwest for almost 30 years and has been instrumental in various aspects of conservation of reptiles and amphibians in the southwestern United States. Dr. Rosen has been active in helping Pima County develop the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, particularly with regard to the reptiles and amphibians being considered for protection in the plan. Additionally, Dr. Rosen has worked with the Town of Marana to help develop their Habitat Conservation Plan, which also considers the conservation of local reptiles. Both the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan and the Town of Marana Habitat Conservation Plan are considering conservation of the Tucson shovelnosed snake, and Dr. Rosen has helped them develop habitat models of what constitutes Tucson shovel-nosed snake habitat, including former habitat and remaining habitat. Although the petition relies heavily on non-peer-reviewed literature to support its claims regarding loss and degradation of Tucson shovelnosed snake habitat, we find that the data presented, as well as clarifying information in our files, relating to threats from agricultural and urban development are credible and substantial, indicating that listing the Tucson shovel-nosed snake may be warranted. B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or Educational Purposes The petition claims that scientific and commercial collection is not widespread, but that the Tucson shovelnosed snake could be somewhat affected by collection in limited areas. The petition further claims that enforcement of laws prohibiting commercial collection of reptiles is limited. While we accept the claim that the Tucson shovel-nosed snake occurs within a limited distribution in Arizona, the petition does not provide data to substantiate the claim that the subspecies may be threatened by collection. Therefore, we find that the petition does not provide substantial information to support the claim that overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes may pose a significant threat to the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. E:\FR\FM\29JYP1.SGM 29JYP1 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 146 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 / Proposed Rules C. Disease or Predation The petitioner presented no data that diseases affect Tucson shovel-nosed snakes. The petitioner provided data that predation by native wildlife occurs on Colorado Desert shovel-nosed snakes (Funk 1965, p. 16; Mahrdt and Banta 1996, p. 81). It is likely that predation also occurs on Tucson shovel-nosed snakes since most of the native wildlife occurs within the range of both subspecies; however, the petitioner provided no data to support predation as a significant impact to populations of Tucson shovel-nosed snakes. Therefore, we find that the petition does not provide substantial information that listing the subspecies due to disease or predation may be warranted. pwalker on PROD1PC71 with PROPOSALS D. Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms The petition claims the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is not currently afforded any State or Federal protection and is not listed on any State or Federal list of species of concern. The petitioner indicated that, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Management Program Strategic Plan for the Years 2001–2006, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is not included on Arizona’s Wildlife of Special Concern list (Arizona Game and Fish Department 2001). The petitioner further stated that, even if the Tucson shovel-nosed snake was considered Wildlife of Special Concern, it would receive little protection because the list only serves to notify the public of the species’ status and does not require any conservation or management actions (Arizona Game and Fish Department 2001). Since we received the petition, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has developed Arizona’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy: 2005–2015 (CWCS), in which the Tucson shovelnosed snake has been identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need for which immediate conservation action is necessary (Tier 1b under the Vulnerable category) (Arizona Game and Fish Department 2006, Appendix A p. 3, Appendix K p. 139). However, the CWCS was not designed to replace or duplicate the Department’s existing wildlife management strategic plan (Arizona Game and Fish Department 2001), nor does it provide further regulatory protection for the snake. It serves only to prioritize funds and guide implementation of conservation activities for Arizona’s vulnerable wildlife (Arizona Game and Fish Department 2006, p. 9). The petitioner claims that approximately 21 percent of the Tucson VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:41 Jul 28, 2008 Jkt 214001 shovel-nosed snake’s historical range (including the intergrade zone) occurs on lands administered by the State of Arizona. The percentage of State of Arizona lands within the current range (and excluding the intergrade zone) was not presented and is unknown to the Service. The State of Arizona currently has no regulations or programs to protect the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. The petitioner pointed out that the Federal Enabling Act for Arizona and the State Constitution limit conservation on State lands by requiring that use of the lands maximize the economic value of State lands to benefit schools. The petition further describes the Arizona Preserve Initiative (HB 2555) passed in 1996, which establishes a process by which State lands can be leased or purchased for conservation purposes; however, the petitioner claims that the legality of this law is in question because of the Arizona State Constitutional requirement to maximize economic value. The petitioner also claims that even without its legality issues, the Arizona Preserve Initiative provides little protection for the Tucson shovel-nosed snake because it only allows for the lease and purchase of State land. The Arizona Preserve Initiative does not require any purchase or lease to conserve habitat for the snake. Although State lands currently provide open space, there are no known plans to require protection of Tucson shovel-nosed snake habitat on State lands, and no other protections are afforded the snake on State lands. The petition claims that enforcement of laws prohibiting commercial collection of reptiles is limited. State law limits the collection of nonprotected snakes to no more than four individuals of a species per year with a valid hunting license. If more than four are to be collected (e.g., for research purposes), a scientific collecting permit must be obtained. It is illegal to commercially sell, barter, or trade any native Arizona wildlife. While we are aware that the Arizona Game and Fish Department enforces these laws to the extent that it can, it is likely that some level of illegal collection of shovelnosed snakes occurs. We do not, however, have information indicating the level of this illegal activity, nor how it impacts the population as a whole. The petition states that 16 percent of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake’s habitat occurs on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, most of which falls within the intergrade zone of the snake. The intergrade zone is an area not included in this analysis (see Background). Of the remaining area (not within the intergrade zone), the petition states that PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 43909 the recent creation of the Ironwood Forest National Monument, which is administered by the BLM, provides the Tucson shovel-nosed snake possible protections. Additionally, we are aware of BLM lands between Tucson and Florence, Arizona, that may support habitat for the Tucson shovel-nosed snake for which the petitioner provided no information on status or threats. The BLM currently has no regulations to protect the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, does not survey for the snake on its habitat, and does not consider impacts on the subspecies during project-specific analyses. BLM lands are secure from agricultural and urban development; however, as previously mentioned, the petitioner claims that off-highway vehicle use, livestock grazing, roads, and mine leasing are all potential threats to Tucson shovel-nosed snakes and their habitat. The petitioner admitted that the extent of these threats and their impacts on the Tucson shovelnosed snake have not been studied, but they expect that they are likely impacting the snake to some unknown level. Impacts from these activities may exist; however, the petition provides no data to support these claims. The petitioner points to the perceived inadequacies in the Pima County Multispecies Conservation Plan (referred to in the petition as the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan) and the Town of Marana Habitat Conservation Plan as regulatory mechanisms. Because neither of these plans is finalized, we will not explore the adequacies of these plans as possible regulatory mechanisms for the snake. The petition provides no information about existing regulatory mechanisms on lands managed by the Gila River Indian Community, which is within the current range of the Tucson shovelnosed snake. The petition does state that 17 percent of the snake’s habitat is under the control of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Most of the Tohono O’odham lands are in Pima County west of Tucson, with a small portion falling within Pinal and Maricopa counties. All of these lands are within the intergrade zone, which we have excluded from consideration. We have reviewed the information provided in the petition as well as all sources cited in the petition. Many of the regulatory mechanisms discussed pertain to lands that are in the intergrade zone of the snake, which we have excluded from this analysis. For the remaining areas within the snake’s range, we conclude that the petition and information in our files present substantial information that existing regulatory mechanisms may be E:\FR\FM\29JYP1.SGM 29JYP1 43910 Federal Register / Vol. 73, No. 146 / Tuesday, July 29, 2008 / Proposed Rules inadequate to prevent the progressive decline of populations of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake and its habitat. pwalker on PROD1PC71 with PROPOSALS E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting the Species’ Continued Existence The petition claims that severe weather, particularly prolonged drought, has the potential to negatively impact Tucson shovel-nosed snake populations. The petitioner described prolonged drought as a potential reason that no Tucson shovel-nosed snakes were located in the Avra Valley within the historical range in Pima County during extensive searches by local researchers (Rosen 2003, p. 16). No data to support this claim were provided by the petitioner or by Rosen (2003), and although we have information in our files indicating that conditions in the United States (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007, p. 9), and in the southwestern United States in particular (Seager et al. 2007, p. 1181) are likely to be drier and warmer in the near future, we have no information indicating such changes will negatively impact the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. The petitioner also claims that, in addition to prolonged drought, climate change or habitat modification that results in permanently wetter environmental conditions could also lead to further declines of this aridadapted subspecies, particularly under prevailing conditions in which only fragments of the original distribution remain occupied. However, the petition provides no data to support the claim that climate change will result in wetter environmental conditions within the current range of the species, nor does it provide data to support the claims that the Tucson shovel-nosed snake responds negatively to wetter environmental conditions and that fragmented habitat would exacerbate negative impacts due to wetter conditions. Therefore, we do not find that the petition provides substantial information to support the claim that prolonged drought or climate change pose significant threats to the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. Finding We have reviewed the petition and the literature cited in the petition, and evaluated the information to determine whether the sources cited support the claims made in the petition. We also reviewed reliable information that was readily available in our files to clarify and verify information in the petition. Based on our evaluation of the information provided in the petition, and in accordance with recent VerDate Aug<31>2005 16:41 Jul 28, 2008 Jkt 214001 applicable court decisions pertaining to 90-day findings, we find that the petition presents substantial scientific information indicating that listing the Tuscon shovel-nosed snake may be warranted. Our process for making this 90-day finding under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act is limited to a determination of whether the information in the petition presents ‘‘substantial scientific and commercial information,’’ which is interpreted in our regulations as ‘‘that amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted’’ (50 CFR 424.14(b)). The petitioners presented substantial information indicating that the Tucson shovel-nosed snake may be threatened by Factors A and D throughout the entire range of the subspecies. The petitioners did not present substantial information that Factors B, C and E are currently, or in the future, considered a threat to this species. Based on this review and evaluation, we find that the petition has presented substantial scientific or commercial information that listing the Tucson shovel-nosed snake throughout all or a portion of its range may be warranted due to current and future threats under Factors A and D. As such, we are initiating a status review to determine whether listing the Tucson shovel-nosed snake under the Act is warranted. We will issue a 12month finding as to whether any of the petitioned actions are warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and commercial information regarding the Tuscon shovel-nosed snake. It is important to note that the ‘‘substantial information’’ standard for a 90-day finding is in contrast to the Act’s ‘‘best scientific and commercial data’’ standard that applies to a 12-month finding as to whether a petitioned action is warranted. A 90-day finding is not a status assessment of the species and does not constitute a status review under the Act. Our final determination as to whether a petitioned action is warranted is not made until we have completed a thorough status review of the species, which is conducted following a positive 90-day finding. Because the Act’s standards for 90-day and 12-month findings are different, as described above, a positive 90-day finding does not mean that the 12month finding also will be positive. References Cited A complete list of all references cited is available, upon request, from the Arizona Ecological Services Office (see PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CONTACT section). Author The primary author of this notice is the Arizona Ecological Services Office (see FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CONTACT section). Authority The authority for this action is section 4 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Dated: July 14, 2008. Kenneth Stansell, Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [FR Doc. E8–17221 Filed 7–28–08; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4310–55–P DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service 50 CFR Part 17 [FWS–R8–ES–2007–0008; 92210–1117– 0000–FY08 B4] RIN 1018-AV07 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revised Critical Habitat for the San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys merriami parvus) Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Proposed rule; reopening of comment period. AGENCY: SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announce the reopening of the public comment period on the June 19, 2007, proposed rule (72 FR 33808) to revise critical habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat (Dipodomys merriami parvus) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). This action will provide all interested parties with an additional opportunity to submit written comments on the proposed revised designation, draft economic analysis (DEA), and addendum to the DEA. Comments previously submitted need not be resubmitted as they are already incorporated into the public record and will be fully considered in any final decision. We are reopening the comment period and will accept information received or postmarked on or before August 13, 2008. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods: DATES: E:\FR\FM\29JYP1.SGM 29JYP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 73, Number 146 (Tuesday, July 29, 2008)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 43905-43910]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E8-17221]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[FWS-R2-ES-2008-0060]; [1111-FY06-MO-B2]


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on 
a Petition To List the Tucson Shovel-Nosed Snake (Chionactis 
occipitalis klauberi) as Threatened or Endangered with Critical Habitat

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status 
review.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding on a petition to list the Tucson shovel-nosed snake 
(Chionactis occipitalis klauberi) as threatened or endangered under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We find that the 
petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information 
indicating that listing the Tucson shovel-nosed snake may be warranted. 
Therefore, with the publication of this notice, we are initiating a 
status review of the subspecies, and we will issue a 12-month finding 
to determine if listing the subspecies is warranted. To ensure that the 
status review of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is comprehensive, we are 
soliciting scientific and commercial information regarding this 
subspecies.

DATES: To allow us adequate time to conduct a status review, we request 
that information be submitted on or before September 29, 2008.

ADDRESSES: You may submit information by one of the following methods:
     Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. 
Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
     U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, 
Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2008-0060, Division of Policy and Directives 
Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, 
Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203.

We will not accept e-mail or faxes. We will post all information 
received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we 
will post any personal information you provide us (see the Information 
Solicited section below for more details).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Steve Spangle, Field Supervisor, 
Arizona Ecological Services Office, 2321 West Royal Palm Drive, Suite 
103, Phoenix, AZ 85021; telephone 602-242-0210; facsimile 602-242-2513. 
If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), please call 
the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Information Solicited

    When we make a finding that a petition presents substantial 
information indicating that listing a species may be warranted, we are 
required to promptly commence a review of the status of the species. To 
ensure that the status review is complete and based on the best 
available scientific and commercial information, we are soliciting 
information on the status of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. We request 
information from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, 
Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested 
parties concerning the status of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. We are 
seeking information regarding the subspecies' historical and current 
status and distribution, its biology and ecology, its taxonomy 
(especially genetics of the subspecies), ongoing conservation measures 
for the subspecies and its habitat, and threats to either the 
subspecies or its habitat.
    If we determine that listing the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is 
warranted, it is our intent to propose critical habitat to the maximum 
extent prudent and determinable at the time we would propose to list 
the subspecies. Therefore, with regard to areas within the geographical 
range currently occupied by the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, we also 
request data and information on what may constitute physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies, 
where these features are currently found, and whether any of these 
features may require special management considerations or protection. 
In addition, we request data and information regarding whether there 
are areas outside the geographical area occupied by the subspecies that 
are essential to the conservation of the subspecies. Please provide 
specific information as to what, if any, critical habitat should be 
proposed for designation, if the subspecies is proposed for listing, 
and why that proposed habitat meets the requirements of the Act.
    Please note that comments merely stating support or opposition to 
the action under consideration without providing supporting 
information, although noted, will not be considered in making a 
determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that 
determinations as to whether any species is a threatened or endangered 
species must be made ``solely on the basis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available.'' Based on the status review, we will issue 
a 12-month finding on the petition, as provided in section 4(b)(3)(B) 
of the Act.
    You may submit your information concerning this finding by one of 
the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. We will not consider 
submissions sent by e-mail or fax or to an address not listed in the 
ADDRESSES section.

[[Page 43906]]

    If you submit information via http://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the Web site. If your submission is made via a hardcopy 
that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the 
top of your document that we withhold this information from public 
review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We 
will post all hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov.
    Information and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this finding, 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, 
Arizona Ecological Services Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT).

Background

    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires that we make a finding on 
whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information to indicate that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. Such findings are based on 
information contained in the petition, supporting information submitted 
with the petition, and information otherwise available in our files at 
the time we make the finding. To the maximum extent practicable, we are 
to make this finding within 90 days of receipt of the petition and 
publish our notice of this finding promptly in the Federal Register.
    Our standard for ``substantial information,'' as defined in the 
Code of Federal Regulations at 50 CFR 424.14(b), with regards to a 90-
day petition finding is ``that amount of information that would lead a 
reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition 
may be warranted.'' If we find that substantial information was 
presented, we are required to promptly commence a status review of the 
species.
    We evaluated the information provided by the petitioner in 
accordance with 50 CFR 424.14(b). Our process for making this 90-day 
finding under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act and 50 CFR 424.14(b) of our 
regulations is limited to a determination of whether the information in 
the petition meets the ``substantial scientific and commercial 
information'' threshold (as mentioned above).
    We received a petition, dated December 15, 2004, from the Center 
for Biological Diversity (CBD) requesting that we list the Tucson 
shovel-nosed snake as threatened or endangered throughout its range and 
designate critical habitat within its range in the United States. The 
petition, which was clearly identified as such, contained detailed 
information on the natural history, biology, current status and 
distribution of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. It also contained 
information on what the petitioner reported as potential threats to the 
subspecies from urban development, agricultural practices, collecting, 
inadequacy of existing regulations, drought, and climate change. In 
response to the petitioner's requests, we sent a letter to the 
petitioner, dated September 7, 2005, explaining that, due to funding 
constraints in fiscal year 2005, we would not be able to address the 
petition in a timely manner. On February 28, 2006, the petitioner filed 
a 60-day notice of intent to sue (NOI) the Department of the Interior 
for failure to issue 90-day and 12-month findings, and a proposed 
listing rule, as appropriate, in response to the petition as required 
by 16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A) and (B). In response to the NOI, we agreed 
to submit a 90-day finding to the Federal Register as expeditiously as 
possible.
    The petition also requested that the Service consider an 
``intergrade zone'' between the Tucson shovel-nosed snake and the 
Colorado Desert shovel-nosed snake as part of the Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake's range. An intergrade zone is an area of overlap between the 
ranges of two subspecies where individuals may possess intermediate 
characters or traits of both subspecies. It is generally recognized and 
accepted by practitioners of subspecies taxonomy that intergrade zones 
may exist between the ranges of two subspecies where the diagnostic 
characters of both subspecies may be found (Mayr 1942, 1963, 1969, 
1970; Huxley 1943; Wake 1997, 2006; Rodr[iacute]guez-Robles and De 
Jesus-Escobar 2000; Isaac et al. 2004; Krysko and Judd 2006). Current 
practice in the scientific literature is to objectively describe the 
ranges of different subspecies and any intergrade zones between them 
with narrative descriptions, maps, or both (e.g., Wake, 1997, 2006; 
Rodr[iacute]guez-Robles and De Jesus-Escobar 2000; Mahrdt et al. 2001; 
Leach[eacute] and Reeder, 2002; Krysko and Judd 2006). Following this 
practice, intergrade zones are identified, but not assigned to either 
of the subspecies. As such, we find that including all shovel-nosed 
snakes within the intergrade zone in the subspecies taxon of the Tucson 
shovel-nosed snake would not be consistent with current scientific 
practice in describing the ranges of the subspecies and the intergrade 
zone between them. Therefore, we do not consider shovel-nosed snakes 
within the intergrade zone to be members of the Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake subspecies, and thus they are not included in our threats 
analysis below.

Previous Federal Action

    No previous Federal action has been taken on the Tucson shovel-
nosed snake. The Tucson shovel-nosed snake has no Federal regulatory 
status under the Act.

Species Information

    The Tucson shovel-nosed snake was first described as a subspecies, 
Sonora occipitalis klauberi, by Stickel in 1941. The genus was changed 
to Chionactis from the genus Sonora two years later (Stickel 1943). 
Since being described, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has been widely 
accepted as a subspecies (Klauber 1951, p. 187; Stebbins 2003, p. 394; 
Crother 2008, p. 48), and is one of four currently recognized 
subspecies of western shovel-nosed snakes, Chionactis occipitalis 
(Crother 2008). In a recent study of genetic variation of mitochondrial 
DNA, Wood et al. (2006) found significant geographical structuring 
suggesting two distinct subspecies of western shovel-nosed snake rather 
than four, combining western populations of C. o. occipitalis, the 
Mojave shovel-nosed snake, with C. o. talpina, the Nevada shovel-nosed 
snake; and eastern populations of C. o. occipitalis with C. o. 
annulata, the Colorado Desert shovel-nosed snake, and C. o. klauberi. 
However, Wood et al.'s inference was based on a single genetic marker 
of mitochondrial DNA and did not include examination of nuclear 
markers, which would more fully elucidate our understanding of the 
taxonomic standing of this subspecies. Therefore, we continue to accept 
the currently accepted designation of the subspecies C. o. klauberi.
    The Tucson shovel-nosed snake is a small snake (250-425 millimeters 
(mm) (9.84-16.73 inches (in)) total length) in the family Colubridae 
with a shovel-shaped snout, an inset lower jaw, and coloring that 
mimics coral snakes (Mahrdt et al. 2001, p. 731.1). The most notable 
features of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake distinguishing it from the 
other subspecies are (a) the red crossbands suffused with dark pigment, 
making them appear brown or partly black, and (b) both black and red 
crossbands not encircling the body (CBD 2004, p. 2).
    Like other shovel-nosed snakes, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake uses 
venom to capture arthropod prey (Rosen 2003).

[[Page 43907]]

The diet of shovel-nosed snakes consists of scorpions, beetle larvae, 
spiders, crickets and centipedes (Rosen et al. 1996, p. 22-23). Like 
the other subspecies, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake probably feeds on 
scorpions. Glass (1972, p. 447) suggests that Tucson shovel-nosed 
snakes may have developed a resistance to scorpion venom. Rosen et al. 
(1996, p. 22) suggest that shovel-nosed snakes eat relatively 
frequently. The authors (pp. 22-23) further support this observation by 
noting that individual shovel-nosed snakes in captivity each consumed 
five to eight crickets per week, and showed significant weight loss 
after a two- to three-week lapse in feeding.
    Like the other three subspecies of the western shovel-nosed snake, 
the Tucson shovel-nosed snake uses ``sand swimming'' as its primary 
locomotion. The snake moves using a sideways swaying motion while it is 
either on or under the sand or loose soil (Stebbins 2003, p. 393). 
Shovel-nosed snakes are primarily nocturnal in activity, although 
specimens have been documented as active during daylight hours. Shovel-
nosed snakes are predominantly active at air temperatures between 70 
and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (21 and 32 degrees Celsius), and from 7 p.m. 
to 9 p.m. (Klauber 1951, p. 187). Rosen et al. (1996, p. 21) have also 
observed that shovel-nosed snakes have been documented to be active in 
the morning and just before sunset. Rosen et al. (1996, p. 21) further 
note that activity seems to be highest when summer and spring 
temperatures are moderate, and when the relative humidity is high.
    Klauber (1951, p. 185) indicates that scattered sand hummocks, 
crowned with mesquite or other desert shrubs, are favorite refuges for 
shovel-nosed snakes. Rosen (2003, p. 8) suggests that the Tucson 
shovel-nosed snake is found in more productive creosote-mesquite 
floodplain environments, differing from the habitats preferred by other 
subspecies of the western shovel-nosed snake. Rosen (2003, p. 8) 
describes the associated soils of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake as 
soft, sandy loams, with sparse gravel.
    The subspecies is historically known from Pima County in the Avra 
and Santa Cruz valleys and from southeastern Maricopa County and 
southern Pinal County, including the Gila River Indian Community. The 
area between the Tucson and Phoenix metropolitan areas is believed to 
encompass the majority of the current range of this subspecies, 
particularly west of Tucson northward along Avra Valley to Pinal 
County, and westward into Maricopa County. The last verifiable record 
of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake in Pima County was in 1979, near the 
intersection of Avra Valley Road and Sanders Road in the Avra Valley 
(Rosen 2003, p. 10). Although habitat still exists in Pima County, the 
current distribution and abundance in Pima County is unknown. According 
to the petition, most of the currently occupied range of the Tucson 
shovel-nosed snake is believed to lie in southern Pinal County and 
Maricopa County. An intergrade zone occurs between the range of the 
Colorado Desert shovel-nosed snake and the range of the Tucson shovel-
nosed snake in Pima County (Klauber 1951, p. 159). Recent records of 
shovel-nosed snakes in Pima County have been from within the intergrade 
zone.

Threats Analysis

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424) set forth the procedures for adding species to 
the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. A 
species, subspecies, or distinct population segment of vertebrate taxa 
may be determined to be endangered or threatened due to one or more of 
the five factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act: (A) Present 
or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or 
range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence.
    In making this 90-day finding, we evaluated whether information on 
threats to the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, as presented in the petition, 
and clarified by information readily available in our files at the time 
of the petition review, is substantial, thereby indicating that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. Our evaluation of this information 
is presented below.

A. Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of 
the Species' Habitat or Range

    The petition states that the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is known 
only from south central Arizona in Pima, Pinal, and Maricopa counties, 
where it is dependent on Sonoran Desert scrub, particularly areas with 
loose, sandy, wind-blown soils (CBD 2004, p. 6; Mattison 1989, p. 25). 
According to the petitioner, much of the habitat within the former 
range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has been converted to 
agricultural fields and urban development, as well as new roads to 
access these areas, all of which are unsuitable as habitat for this 
subspecies. The petition further claims that once an area has been 
plowed, or the soil has been compacted by urbanization or other 
factors, it is unknown whether the habitat can ever be recovered and, 
if so, how long it will take (CBD 2004, p. 10).
    The petitioner cites a personal communication with herpetologist 
Dr. Philip Rosen in which he pointed out that full recovery of native 
vegetation to pre-disturbance conditions has not been documented, and 
partial recovery of reptile and invertebrate groups has also not been 
observed. We interpret partial recovery to mean either the re-invasion 
of the disturbed lands by reptile and invertebrate groups or an 
increase in their populations following a decline associated with the 
disturbance. The petitioner notes that post-disturbance recovery (we 
presume of both vegetation and wildlife) is possible with enough time, 
but may not be practical because it may not provide habitat for the 
Tucson shovel-nosed snake before it is extirpated from areas adjacent 
to those rehabilitated habitats. The petitioner provided no data to 
support such claims regarding habitat recovery.
    To determine the historical and current distribution of Tucson 
shovel-nosed snake habitat, the petitioner developed a model of the 
snake's potential habitat with the cooperation of Dr. Rosen. The model 
was developed and refined based on Dr. Rosen's professional knowledge 
of habitat conditions, the conditions at observed locations, and 
descriptions of habitat requirements from the literature.
    Rosen (2003, p. 8) notes that significant amounts of Tucson shovel-
nosed snake habitat in the eastern portion of the Avra Valley in Pima 
County was converted from desert to either agricultural or urban 
development between 1954 and 1966, with many canals, wells, and field-
edge roads appearing in the interim. Rosen (2003, p. 7) also notes that 
traffic in the Avra Valley increased after the 1960s, especially in the 
late 1970s, following urban and agricultural development. Rosen (2003, 
p. 8) further indicates that agricultural development was already 
widespread in the western portion of the Avra Valley by 1959.
    Surveys for the Tucson shovel-nosed snake began in the mid-to-late 
1950s by Dr. Charles H. Lowe and his graduate students at the 
University of Arizona, with a peak in the 1960s (Rosen 2003, p. 7). The 
petition refers to records indicating the Tucson shovel-nosed snake was 
reasonably abundant in the Avra Valley during the 1970s (Rosen 2003, 
p.10). The last verifiable record of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake in 
the

[[Page 43908]]

Avra Valley was in 1979, near the intersection of Avra Valley Road and 
Sanders Road (Rosen 2003, p. 10). Surveys for the subspecies were 
conducted in the Avra Valley and part of Pinal County in 2003, 2004 and 
2007 (Rosen 2003, p. 6; Rosen 2004, p. 2; Rosen 2007, p. 1). Surveys 
for shovel-nosed snakes were also conducted on Organ Pipe Cactus 
National Monument in Pima County from 1987 through 1994 (Rosen et al. 
1996, pp. 6-7). Additionally, surveys have been conducted 
intermittently by various researchers throughout the range of the 
Tucson shovel-nosed snake since the mid-1990s. During these recent 
surveys, the Tucson shovel-nosed snake has been found in Pinal County 
(Rosen 2003, p. 9; Rosen 2007, p. 2).
    To determine the extent to which the Tucson shovel-nosed snake's 
historical habitat has been lost to urban or agricultural development, 
the petitioner combined the model of snake habitat (CBD 2004, p. 13) 
with coverage of urban and agricultural areas developed by the 
Southwestern Regional Gap Analysis Project, which used imagery current 
to 2001. Their model of ``remaining good habitat'' (CBD 2004, p. 15) 
covers roughly half of the historical range of the subspecies. Because 
of a lack of available soils data, their model of historical habitat 
does not include the entire range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake on 
lands in the east-central portion of Pinal and Maricopa counties. The 
areas of habitat that were not modeled comprise approximately 25 
percent of the historical range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. In 
the areas modeled, the petitioner indicated that 1,271,319 acres (ac) 
(514,503 hectares (ha)) of potential habitat occur within the range of 
the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. Of this area, 914,015 ac (369,902 ha) 
(72 percent) have been converted to either agriculture or urban 
development (CBD 2004, p. 14). No estimates of habitat loss were 
presented for areas not evaluated by the models.
    The petitioner concluded that human population growth and habitat 
loss predicted for Pima County also are likely to occur within the 
species' range in Pinal and Maricopa counties, but did not provide 
supporting citations or other information (CBD 2004, p. 14). We concur, 
and have information readily available in our files that substantiates 
human population growth and habitat loss are occurring, and will 
continue to occur, in Pinal and Maricopa counties. For instance, 
population growth in Pinal County is the sixth fastest among all 
counties in the United States, and the current population of 313,000 is 
predicted to grow to 600,000 by 2015 (Pisano 2007). The town of 
Maricopa, which is within the current range of the Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake in Pinal County, had a population of 4,855 in 2004, but is now 
one of the country's fastest growing cities, and is planning for a 
population of 350,000 by 2025 (Holcombe 2005). Additionally, a 275-
square-mile area of State Trust and private lands centered on Florence 
Junction, also in Pinal County, is being planned for development 
(Grammage 2006); approximately two thirds of this area falls within the 
current range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. From July 2004 to July 
2005, the population of Maricopa County increased by 137,000, which was 
the largest numerical increase of any of the 3,141 counties in the 
nation during that period (The Business Journal of Phoenix 2006). The 
metropolitan areas of Tucson and Phoenix, between which the snake's 
current range exists, are forecasted to meet and merge within a decade, 
with the population increasing from 5 million today to upward of 10 
million by 2040 (Reagor 2006).
    The petition also lists mining, off-highway vehicles, construction 
of roads, and livestock grazing as potential threats to the Tucson 
shovel-nosed snake and its habitat. According to the petitioners (CBD 
2004, p. 16), the Pima County Multi-Species Conservation Plan (2004) 
indicates that off-highway vehicles can crush snakes buried in the sand 
or compact soils used by the snake, although the Pima County Multi-
Species Conservation Plan (2004) does not provide specific evidence of 
this threat. The petition further claims that construction of roads 
fragments snake habitat, roads are a source of snake mortality, and 
that livestock grazing compacts soils and may reduce the snake's prey 
base by reducing and altering vegetation cover. No data or references 
were provided to support the claims that mining and livestock grazing 
are potential threats. Additionally, the petitioners provide no data to 
support the claim that road construction fragments snake habitat and 
roads are a source of snake mortality; however, we have information 
from our files which supports this claim. Papers by Rosen and Lowe 
(1994, pp. 146-148) and Andrews and Gibbons (2005, pp. 776-781) provide 
substantial information indicating that road construction and increased 
traffic on roads isolates habitat for snakes and increases snake 
mortality.
    We conclude that the petition provides substantial information to 
support the claim that agricultural and urban development present 
direct and indirect threats to the Sonoran Desert scrub habitat upon 
which the Tucson shovel-nosed snake currently depends. Dr. Phil Rosen 
has studied shovel-nosed snakes in Arizona for 17 years and has 
coauthored one peer-reviewed journal article regarding the reproductive 
ecology of C. occipitalis and coauthored a literature review of both 
species. Dr. Rosen has studied herpetology in the American Southwest 
for almost 30 years and has been instrumental in various aspects of 
conservation of reptiles and amphibians in the southwestern United 
States. Dr. Rosen has been active in helping Pima County develop the 
Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, particularly with regard to the 
reptiles and amphibians being considered for protection in the plan. 
Additionally, Dr. Rosen has worked with the Town of Marana to help 
develop their Habitat Conservation Plan, which also considers the 
conservation of local reptiles. Both the Sonoran Desert Conservation 
Plan and the Town of Marana Habitat Conservation Plan are considering 
conservation of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake, and Dr. Rosen has helped 
them develop habitat models of what constitutes Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake habitat, including former habitat and remaining habitat. Although 
the petition relies heavily on non-peer-reviewed literature to support 
its claims regarding loss and degradation of Tucson shovel-nosed snake 
habitat, we find that the data presented, as well as clarifying 
information in our files, relating to threats from agricultural and 
urban development are credible and substantial, indicating that listing 
the Tucson shovel-nosed snake may be warranted.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    The petition claims that scientific and commercial collection is 
not widespread, but that the Tucson shovel-nosed snake could be 
somewhat affected by collection in limited areas. The petition further 
claims that enforcement of laws prohibiting commercial collection of 
reptiles is limited. While we accept the claim that the Tucson shovel-
nosed snake occurs within a limited distribution in Arizona, the 
petition does not provide data to substantiate the claim that the 
subspecies may be threatened by collection. Therefore, we find that the 
petition does not provide substantial information to support the claim 
that overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes may pose a significant threat to the Tucson 
shovel-nosed snake.

[[Page 43909]]

C. Disease or Predation

    The petitioner presented no data that diseases affect Tucson 
shovel-nosed snakes. The petitioner provided data that predation by 
native wildlife occurs on Colorado Desert shovel-nosed snakes (Funk 
1965, p. 16; Mahrdt and Banta 1996, p. 81). It is likely that predation 
also occurs on Tucson shovel-nosed snakes since most of the native 
wildlife occurs within the range of both subspecies; however, the 
petitioner provided no data to support predation as a significant 
impact to populations of Tucson shovel-nosed snakes. Therefore, we find 
that the petition does not provide substantial information that listing 
the subspecies due to disease or predation may be warranted.

D. Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The petition claims the Tucson shovel-nosed snake is not currently 
afforded any State or Federal protection and is not listed on any State 
or Federal list of species of concern. The petitioner indicated that, 
according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Wildlife Management 
Program Strategic Plan for the Years 2001-2006, the Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake is not included on Arizona's Wildlife of Special Concern list 
(Arizona Game and Fish Department 2001). The petitioner further stated 
that, even if the Tucson shovel-nosed snake was considered Wildlife of 
Special Concern, it would receive little protection because the list 
only serves to notify the public of the species' status and does not 
require any conservation or management actions (Arizona Game and Fish 
Department 2001). Since we received the petition, the Arizona Game and 
Fish Department has developed Arizona's Comprehensive Wildlife 
Conservation Strategy: 2005-2015 (CWCS), in which the Tucson shovel-
nosed snake has been identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation 
Need for which immediate conservation action is necessary (Tier 1b 
under the Vulnerable category) (Arizona Game and Fish Department 2006, 
Appendix A p. 3, Appendix K p. 139). However, the CWCS was not designed 
to replace or duplicate the Department's existing wildlife management 
strategic plan (Arizona Game and Fish Department 2001), nor does it 
provide further regulatory protection for the snake. It serves only to 
prioritize funds and guide implementation of conservation activities 
for Arizona's vulnerable wildlife (Arizona Game and Fish Department 
2006, p. 9).
    The petitioner claims that approximately 21 percent of the Tucson 
shovel-nosed snake's historical range (including the intergrade zone) 
occurs on lands administered by the State of Arizona. The percentage of 
State of Arizona lands within the current range (and excluding the 
intergrade zone) was not presented and is unknown to the Service. The 
State of Arizona currently has no regulations or programs to protect 
the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. The petitioner pointed out that the 
Federal Enabling Act for Arizona and the State Constitution limit 
conservation on State lands by requiring that use of the lands maximize 
the economic value of State lands to benefit schools. The petition 
further describes the Arizona Preserve Initiative (HB 2555) passed in 
1996, which establishes a process by which State lands can be leased or 
purchased for conservation purposes; however, the petitioner claims 
that the legality of this law is in question because of the Arizona 
State Constitutional requirement to maximize economic value. The 
petitioner also claims that even without its legality issues, the 
Arizona Preserve Initiative provides little protection for the Tucson 
shovel-nosed snake because it only allows for the lease and purchase of 
State land. The Arizona Preserve Initiative does not require any 
purchase or lease to conserve habitat for the snake. Although State 
lands currently provide open space, there are no known plans to require 
protection of Tucson shovel-nosed snake habitat on State lands, and no 
other protections are afforded the snake on State lands.
    The petition claims that enforcement of laws prohibiting commercial 
collection of reptiles is limited. State law limits the collection of 
non-protected snakes to no more than four individuals of a species per 
year with a valid hunting license. If more than four are to be 
collected (e.g., for research purposes), a scientific collecting permit 
must be obtained. It is illegal to commercially sell, barter, or trade 
any native Arizona wildlife. While we are aware that the Arizona Game 
and Fish Department enforces these laws to the extent that it can, it 
is likely that some level of illegal collection of shovel-nosed snakes 
occurs. We do not, however, have information indicating the level of 
this illegal activity, nor how it impacts the population as a whole.
    The petition states that 16 percent of the Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake's habitat occurs on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, most 
of which falls within the intergrade zone of the snake. The intergrade 
zone is an area not included in this analysis (see Background). Of the 
remaining area (not within the intergrade zone), the petition states 
that the recent creation of the Ironwood Forest National Monument, 
which is administered by the BLM, provides the Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake possible protections. Additionally, we are aware of BLM lands 
between Tucson and Florence, Arizona, that may support habitat for the 
Tucson shovel-nosed snake for which the petitioner provided no 
information on status or threats.
    The BLM currently has no regulations to protect the Tucson shovel-
nosed snake, does not survey for the snake on its habitat, and does not 
consider impacts on the subspecies during project-specific analyses. 
BLM lands are secure from agricultural and urban development; however, 
as previously mentioned, the petitioner claims that off-highway vehicle 
use, livestock grazing, roads, and mine leasing are all potential 
threats to Tucson shovel-nosed snakes and their habitat. The petitioner 
admitted that the extent of these threats and their impacts on the 
Tucson shovel-nosed snake have not been studied, but they expect that 
they are likely impacting the snake to some unknown level. Impacts from 
these activities may exist; however, the petition provides no data to 
support these claims.
    The petitioner points to the perceived inadequacies in the Pima 
County Multi-species Conservation Plan (referred to in the petition as 
the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan) and the Town of Marana Habitat 
Conservation Plan as regulatory mechanisms. Because neither of these 
plans is finalized, we will not explore the adequacies of these plans 
as possible regulatory mechanisms for the snake.
    The petition provides no information about existing regulatory 
mechanisms on lands managed by the Gila River Indian Community, which 
is within the current range of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. The 
petition does state that 17 percent of the snake's habitat is under the 
control of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Most of the Tohono O'odham lands 
are in Pima County west of Tucson, with a small portion falling within 
Pinal and Maricopa counties. All of these lands are within the 
intergrade zone, which we have excluded from consideration.
    We have reviewed the information provided in the petition as well 
as all sources cited in the petition. Many of the regulatory mechanisms 
discussed pertain to lands that are in the intergrade zone of the 
snake, which we have excluded from this analysis. For the remaining 
areas within the snake's range, we conclude that the petition and 
information in our files present substantial information that existing 
regulatory mechanisms may be

[[Page 43910]]

inadequate to prevent the progressive decline of populations of the 
Tucson shovel-nosed snake and its habitat.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting the Species' Continued 
Existence

    The petition claims that severe weather, particularly prolonged 
drought, has the potential to negatively impact Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake populations. The petitioner described prolonged drought as a 
potential reason that no Tucson shovel-nosed snakes were located in the 
Avra Valley within the historical range in Pima County during extensive 
searches by local researchers (Rosen 2003, p. 16). No data to support 
this claim were provided by the petitioner or by Rosen (2003), and 
although we have information in our files indicating that conditions in 
the United States (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007, p. 
9), and in the southwestern United States in particular (Seager et al. 
2007, p. 1181) are likely to be drier and warmer in the near future, we 
have no information indicating such changes will negatively impact the 
Tucson shovel-nosed snake. The petitioner also claims that, in addition 
to prolonged drought, climate change or habitat modification that 
results in permanently wetter environmental conditions could also lead 
to further declines of this arid-adapted subspecies, particularly under 
prevailing conditions in which only fragments of the original 
distribution remain occupied. However, the petition provides no data to 
support the claim that climate change will result in wetter 
environmental conditions within the current range of the species, nor 
does it provide data to support the claims that the Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake responds negatively to wetter environmental conditions and that 
fragmented habitat would exacerbate negative impacts due to wetter 
conditions. Therefore, we do not find that the petition provides 
substantial information to support the claim that prolonged drought or 
climate change pose significant threats to the Tucson shovel-nosed 
snake.

Finding

    We have reviewed the petition and the literature cited in the 
petition, and evaluated the information to determine whether the 
sources cited support the claims made in the petition. We also reviewed 
reliable information that was readily available in our files to clarify 
and verify information in the petition. Based on our evaluation of the 
information provided in the petition, and in accordance with recent 
applicable court decisions pertaining to 90-day findings, we find that 
the petition presents substantial scientific information indicating 
that listing the Tuscon shovel-nosed snake may be warranted. Our 
process for making this 90-day finding under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the 
Act is limited to a determination of whether the information in the 
petition presents ``substantial scientific and commercial 
information,'' which is interpreted in our regulations as ``that amount 
of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the 
measure proposed in the petition may be warranted'' (50 CFR 424.14(b)).
    The petitioners presented substantial information indicating that 
the Tucson shovel-nosed snake may be threatened by Factors A and D 
throughout the entire range of the subspecies. The petitioners did not 
present substantial information that Factors B, C and E are currently, 
or in the future, considered a threat to this species. Based on this 
review and evaluation, we find that the petition has presented 
substantial scientific or commercial information that listing the 
Tucson shovel-nosed snake throughout all or a portion of its range may 
be warranted due to current and future threats under Factors A and D. 
As such, we are initiating a status review to determine whether listing 
the Tucson shovel-nosed snake under the Act is warranted. We will issue 
a 12-month finding as to whether any of the petitioned actions are 
warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are 
soliciting scientific and commercial information regarding the Tuscon 
shovel-nosed snake.
    It is important to note that the ``substantial information'' 
standard for a 90-day finding is in contrast to the Act's ``best 
scientific and commercial data'' standard that applies to a 12-month 
finding as to whether a petitioned action is warranted. A 90-day 
finding is not a status assessment of the species and does not 
constitute a status review under the Act. Our final determination as to 
whether a petitioned action is warranted is not made until we have 
completed a thorough status review of the species, which is conducted 
following a positive 90-day finding. Because the Act's standards for 
90-day and 12-month findings are different, as described above, a 
positive 90-day finding does not mean that the 12-month finding also 
will be positive.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited is available, upon request, 
from the Arizona Ecological Services Office (see FOR ADDITIONAL 
INFORMATION CONTACT section).

Author

    The primary author of this notice is the Arizona Ecological 
Services Office (see FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION CONTACT section).

Authority

    The authority for this action is section 4 of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: July 14, 2008.
 Kenneth Stansell,
 Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
 [FR Doc. E8-17221 Filed 7-28-08; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P