Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species Status for Black Pinesnake, 60406-60419 [2014-23673]

Download as PDF 60406 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service 47 CFR Part 54 [WC Docket No. 13–184; Report No. 3010] 50 CFR Part 17 Petitions for Reconsideration of Action in Rulemaking Proceeding [Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2014–0046; 4500030113] Federal Communications Commission. ACTION: Petition for reconsideration. RIN 1018–BA03 AGENCY: In this document, Petitions for Reconsideration (Petitions) have been filed in the Commission’s Rulemaking proceeding by Julia Benincosa Legg, on behalf of West Virginia Department of Education; David L. Haga, on behalf of Verizon; Gary Rawson, on behalf of State E-rate Coordinators’ Alliance (SECA); Kevin Rupy, on behalf of United States Telecom Association; Michael R. Romano, on behalf of NTCA/Utah Rural Telecom Association; and Dennis Sampson, on behalf of Utah Education Network. DATES: Oppositions to the Petitions must be filed on or before October 22, 2014. Replies to an opposition must be filed on or before November 3, 2014. ADDRESSES: Federal Communications Commission, 445 12th Street SW., Washington, DC 20554. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: James Bachtell, Wireline Competition Bureau, (202) 418–2694, email: James.Bachtell@fcc.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This is a summary of Commission’s document, Report No. 3010, released September 24, 2014. The full text of Report No. 3010 is available for viewing and copying in Room CY–B402, 445 12th Street SW., Washington, DC or may be purchased from the Commission’s copy contractor, Best Copy and Printing, Inc. (BCPI) (1– 800–378–3160). The Commission will not send a copy of this document pursuant to the Congressional Review Act, 5 U.S.C. 801(a)(1)(A) because this document does not have an impact on any rules of particular applicability. Subject: Modernization of the Schools and Libraries ‘‘E-Rate’’ Program, published at 79 FR 49160, August 19, 2014, in WC Docket No. 13–184 and published pursuant to 47 CFR 1.429(e). See also § 1.4(b)(1) of the Commission’s rules. Number of Petitions Filed: 6. asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES SUMMARY: Federal Communications Commission. Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary. [FR Doc. 2014–23803 Filed 10–6–14; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6712–01–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species Status for Black Pinesnake Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Proposed rule. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to list the black pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi), a subspecies currently known from Alabama and Mississippi, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (Act). If we finalize this rule as proposed, it would extend the Act’s protections to this subspecies and add it to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before December 8, 2014. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below) must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT by November 21, 2014. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods: (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: https:// www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2014–0046, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on ‘‘Comment Now!’’ (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2014– 0046; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; MS: BPHC; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041–3803. We request that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on https:// www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see Public Comments, below, for more information). SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Stephen Ricks, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Jackson, MS 39214; telephone 601–321–1122; or facsimile 601–965–4340. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800–877–8339. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Executive Summary Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, if we find that listing a species is endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of its range is warranted, we are required to promptly publish a proposal in the Federal Register and make a determination on our proposal within one year. Listing a species as an endangered or threatened species can only be completed by issuing a rule. Critical habitat is prudent, but not determinable at this time. This rule proposes to list the black pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi) as a threatened species. In addition, we are proposing a rule under section 4(d) of the Act that outlines the prohibitions and conservation actions necessary and advisable for the conservation of the black pinesnake as a threatened species. The basis for our action. Under the Act, we may determine that a species is an endangered or threatened species based on any of five factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. We have found that the black pinesnake warrants listing as a threatened species due to the past and continuing loss, degradation, and fragmentation of habitat in association with silviculture, urbanization, and fire suppression. Population declines are also attributed to road mortality and intentional killing of snakes by individuals. These threats, coupled with an apparent low reproductive rate, threaten this subspecies’ long-term viability. We will seek peer review. We will seek comments from independent specialists to ensure that our designation is based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We will invite these peer reviewers to comment on our listing proposal. Because we will consider all comments and information E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules we receive during the comment period, our final determination may differ from this proposal. asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES Information Requested Public Comments We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies, Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments concerning: (1) Additional information concerning the historical and current status, range, distribution, and population size of the black pinesnake, including the locations of any additional populations of this subspecies. (2) The black pinesnake’s biology, range, and population trends, including: (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the subspecies, including habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering; (b) Genetics and taxonomy, including interpretations of existing studies or whether new information is available; (c) Historical and current range, including distribution patterns; (d) Historical and current population levels, and current and projected trends; and (e) Past and ongoing conservation measures for the subspecies, its habitat, or both. (3) Factors that may affect the continued existence of the subspecies, which may include habitat modification or destruction, overutilization, collection for the pet trade, disease, predation, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, or other natural or manmade factors. (4) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning any threats (or lack thereof) to this subspecies and existing regulations that may be addressing those threats. (5) Any information concerning the appropriateness and scope of the proposed section 4(d) rule provisions for take of the black pinesnake. We are particularly interested in input regarding timber and forest management and restoration practices that would be appropriately addressed through a section 4(d) rule, including those that adjust the timing or methods to minimize impacts to the species or its habitat. (6) Any additional information on current conservation activities or VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 partnerships benefitting the subspecies, or opportunities for additional partnerships or conservation activities that could be undertaken in order to address threats. (7) Any information on specific pesticides that could impact the black pinesnake or its prey base either directly or indirectly, which could cause further mortality or decline of the species. Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to verify any scientific or commercial information you include. Please note that submissions merely stating support for 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 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) directs that determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or threatened species must be made ‘‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.’’ You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. We request that you send comments only by the methods described in the ADDRESSES section. If you submit information via https:// 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 https://www.regulations.gov. Please include sufficient information with your comments to allow us to verify any scientific or commercial information you include. Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection on https://www.regulations.gov, or by appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Public Hearing Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for one or more public hearings on this proposal, if requested. Requests must be received within 45 days after the date of publication of this proposed rule in the Federal Register. Such requests must be sent to the address shown in the FOR PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 60407 section. We will schedule public hearings on this proposal, if any are requested, and announce the dates, times, and places of those hearings, as well as how to obtain reasonable accommodations, in the Federal Register and local newspapers at least 15 days before the hearing. FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT Peer Review In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we are seeking the expert opinions of seven appropriate and independent specialists regarding this proposed rule. The purpose of peer review is to ensure that our listing determination is based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analyses. The peer reviewers have expertise in the black pinesnake’s biology, habitat, or physical or biological factors, and they are currently reviewing the status information in the proposed rule, which will inform our determination. We invite comment from the peer reviewers during this public comment period. Previous Federal Actions We identified the black pinesnake as a Category 2 candidate species in the December 30, 1982, Review of Vertebrate Wildlife for Listing as Endangered or Threatened Species (47 FR 58454). Category 2 candidates were defined as taxa for which we had information that proposed listing was possibly appropriate, but for which conclusive data on biological vulnerability and threats were not available to support a proposed rule at the time. The subspecies remained so designated in subsequent annual Candidate Notices of Review (CNORs) (50 FR 37958, September 18, 1985; 54 FR 554, January 6, 1989; 56 FR 58804, November 21, 1991; and 59 FR 58982, November 15, 1994). In the February 28, 1996, CNOR (61 FR 7596), we discontinued the designation of Category 2 species as candidates; therefore, the black pinesnake was no longer a candidate species. On October 25, 1999, the black pinesnake was added to the candidate list (64 FR 57534). Candidates are those fish, wildlife, and plants for which we have on file sufficient information on biological vulnerability and threats to support preparation of a listing proposal, but for which development of a listing regulation is precluded by other higher priority listing activities. The black pinesnake was included in all of our subsequent annual CNORs (66 FR 54808, October 30, 2001; 67 FR 40657, June 13, 2002; 69 FR 24876, May 4, 2004; 70 FR 24870, May 11, 2005; 71 FR E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 60408 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules 53756, September 12, 2006; 72 FR 69034, December 6, 2007; 73 FR 75176, December 10, 2008; 74 FR 57804, November 9, 2009; 75 FR 69222, November 10, 2010; 76 FR 66370, October 26, 2011; 77 FR 69994, November 21, 2012; 78 FR 70104, November 22, 2013). The black pinesnake has a listing priority number of 3, which reflects a subspecies with threats that are both imminent and high in magnitude. On May 11, 2004, we were sent a petition to list the black pinesnake. No new information was provided in the petition, and we had already found the subspecies warranted listing, so no further action was taken on the petition. On May 10, 2011, the Service announced a work plan to restore biological priorities and certainty to the Service’s listing process. As part of an agreement with Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, the Service filed the work plan with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The work plan will enable the agency to, over a period of 6 years, systematically review and address the needs of more than 250 species listed within the 2010 CNOR, including the black pinesnake, to determine if these species should be added to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. This work plan will enable the Service to again prioritize its workload based on the needs of candidate species, while also providing State wildlife agencies, stakeholders, and other partners with clarity and certainty about when listing determinations will be made. On July 12, 2011, the Service reached an agreement with Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians and further strengthened the work plan, which will allow the agency to focus its resources on the species most in need of protection under the Act. These agreements were approved on September 9, 2011. The timing of this proposed listing is, in part, therefore, an outcome of the work plan. Background asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES Species Information Species Description and Taxonomy Pinesnakes (genus Pituophis) are large, non-venomous, oviparous (egglaying) constricting snakes with keeled scales and disproportionately small heads (Conant and Collins 1991, pp. 201–202). Their snouts are pointed. Black pinesnakes are distinguished from other pinesnakes by being dark brown to black both on the upper and lower surfaces of their bodies. There is considerable individual variation in VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 adult coloration (Vandeventer and Young 1989, p. 34), and some adults have russet-brown snouts. They may also have white scales on their throat and ventral surface (Conant and Collins 1991, p. 203). In addition, there may also be a vague pattern of blotches on the end of the body approaching the tail. Adult black pinesnakes range from 48 to 76 inches (122 to 193 centimeters) long (Conant and Collins 1991, p. 203; Mount 1975, p. 226). Young black pinesnakes often have a blotched pattern, typical of other pinesnakes, which darkens with age. The subspecies’ defensive posture when disturbed is particularly interesting; when threatened, it throws itself into a coil, vibrates its tail rapidly, strikes repeatedly, and utters a series of loud hisses (Ernest and Barbour 1989, p. 102). Pinesnakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are members of the Class Reptilia, Order Squamata, Suborder Serpentes, and Family Colubridae. There are three recognized subspecies of P. melanoleucus distributed across the eastern United States (Crother 2012, p. 66; Rodriguez-Robles and De JesusEscobar 2000, p. 35): the northern pinesnake (P. m. melanoleucus); black pinesnake (P. m. lodingi); and Florida pinesnake (P. m. mugitus). The black pinesnake was originally described by Blanchard (1924, pp. 531–532), and is geographically isolated from all other pinesnakes. However, there is evidence that the black pinesnake was in contact with other pinesnakes in the past. A form intermediate between P. m. lodingi and P. m. mugitus occurs in Baldwin and Escambia Counties, Alabama, and Escambia County, Florida, and may display morphological characteristics of both subspecies (Conant 1956, pp. 10– 11). These snakes are separated from populations of the black pinesnake by the extensive Tensas-Mobile River Delta and the Alabama River, and it is unlikely that there is currently gene flow between pinesnakes across the delta (Duran 1998a, p. 13; Hart 2002, p. 23). A study on the genetic structure of the three subspecies of P. melanoleucus (Getz et al. 2012, p. 2) showed evidence of mixed ancestry, and supported the current subspecies designations and the determination that all three are genetically distinct groups. Evidence suggests a possible historical intergradation between P. m. lodingi and P. ruthveni (Louisiana pinesnake), but their current ranges are no longer in contact and intergradation does not presently occur (Crain and Cliburn 1971, p. 496). PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Habitat Black pinesnakes are endemic to the upland longleaf pine forests that once covered the southeastern United States. Habitat for these snakes consists of sandy, well-drained soils with an opencanopied overstory of longleaf pine, a reduced shrub layer, and a dense herbaceous ground cover (Duran 1998a, p. 2). Duran (1998b, pp. 1–32) conducted a radio-telemetry study of the black pinesnake that provided data on habitat use. Snakes in this study were usually located on well-drained, sandyloam soils on hilltops, on ridges, and toward the tops of slopes in areas dominated by longleaf pine. They were rarely found in riparian areas, hardwood forests, or closed canopy conditions. From radio-telemetry studies, it has been shown that black pinesnakes spend a majority of their time below ground: (1) 65.5 percent of locations (Duran 1998a, p. 12); (2) 53–62 percent of locations (Yager et al. 2005, p. 27); and (3) 70.4 percent of locations (Baxley and Qualls 2009, p. 288). These locations were usually in the trunks or root channels of rotting pine stumps. During two additional radio-telemetry studies, individual pinesnakes were observed using riparian areas, hardwood forests, and pine plantations periodically, but the majority of their time was still spent in intact upland longleaf pine habitat. While they will use multiple habitat types periodically, they repeatedly returned to core areas in the longleaf pine uplands and used the same pine stump and associated rottedout root system from year to year, indicating considerable site fidelity (Yager, et al. 2006, pp. 34–36; Baxley 2007, p. 40). Several radio-tracked juvenile snakes were observed using mole or other small mammal burrows rather than the bigger stump holes used by adult snakes (Lyman et al. 2007, pp. 39–41). Pinesnakes may show some seasonal movement trends of emerging from overwintering sites in February, moving to an active area from March until September, and then moving back to their overwintering areas (Yager, et al. 2006, pp. 34–36). The various areas utilized throughout the year may not have significantly different habitat characteristics, but these movement patterns support the need for black pinesnakes to have access to larger, unfragmented tracts of habitat to accommodate fairly large home ranges while minimizing interactions with humans. The minimum amount of habitat necessary to support a viable black pinesnake population (reserve size) has E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES not previously been determined, and estimating that value can be quite challenging, primarily based on the elusive nature of the subspecies (Wilson et al. 2011, pp. 42–43); however, it is clear that the area would need to constitute an unconstrained activity area, sufficiently large enough to accommodate the long-distance movements that have been reported for the subspecies (Baxley and Qualls 2009, pp. 287–288). Fragmentation by roads, urbanization, or incompatible habitat conversion continues to be a major threat affecting the subspecies (see discussion under Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence). Life History Black pinesnakes are active during the day but only rarely at night. As evidenced by their pointed snout and enlarged rostral scale (the scale at the tip of their snout), they are accomplished burrowers capable of tunneling in loose soil, potentially for digging nests or excavating rodents for food (Ernst and Barbour 1989, pp. 100– 101). In addition to rodents, wild black pinesnakes have been reported to eat nestling rabbits and quail (Vandeventer and Young 1989, p. 34). During field studies of black pinesnakes in Mississippi, hispid cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus) and cotton mice (Peromyscus gossypinus) were the most frequently trapped small mammals within black pinesnake home ranges (Duran and Givens 2001, p. 4; Baxley 2007, p. 29). These results suggest that these two species of mammals represent essential components of the snake’s diet (Duran and Givens 2001, p. 4). Duran and Givens (2001, p. 4) estimated the average size of individual black pinesnake home ranges (Minimum Convex Polygons (MCPs)) on Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to be 117.4 acres (ac) (47.5 hectares (ha)) using data obtained during their radio-telemetry study. Observations made during this study also provided some evidence of territoriality in the black pinesnake. A more recent study conducted on Camp Shelby provided home range estimates from 135 to 385 ac (55 to 156 ha) (Lee 2014a, p. 1). Additional studies from the De Soto National Forest (NF) and other areas of Mississippi have documented somewhat higher MCP home range estimates, from 225 to 979 ac (91 to 396 ha) (Baxley and Qualls 2009, p. 287). The smaller home range sizes from Camp Shelby may be a reflection of the higher habitat quality at the site, as the snakes may not need to travel great distances to meet their ecological needs. A modeling study of movement patterns VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 in bullsnakes revealed that home range sizes increased as a function of the amount of avoided habitat, such as agricultural fields (Kapfer et al. 2010, p. 15). As snakes are forced to increase the search radius to locate preferred habitat, their home range invariably increases. The dynamic nature of individual movement patterns supports the need for black pinesnake habitat to be maintained in large, unfragmented parcels to sustain survival of a population. In the late 1980s, a gopher tortoise preserve of approximately 2,000 ac (809 ha) was created on Camp Shelby, a National Guard training facility operating under a special use permit on the De Soto NF in Forrest, George, and Perry Counties, Mississippi. This preserve, which has limited habitat fragmentation and has been specifically managed with prescribed burning and habitat restoration to support the recovery of the gopher tortoise, is believed to be central to a much larger managed area (over 100,000 acres) which provides habitat for one of the largest populations of black pinesnakes in the subspecies’ range (Lee 2014a, p. 1). Very little information on the black pinesnake’s breeding and egg-laying is available from the wild. Lyman et al. (2007, p. 39) described the time frame of mid-May through mid-June as the period when black pinesnakes breed on Camp Shelby, and mating activities may take place in or at the entrance to armadillo burrows. However, Lee (2007, p. 93) described copulatory behavior in a pair of black pinesnakes in late September. Based on dates when hatchling black pinesnakes have been captured, the potential nesting and egg deposition period of gravid females extends from the last week in June to the last week of August (Lyman et al. 2009, p. 42). In 2009, a natural nest with a clutch of six recently hatched black pinesnake eggs was found at Camp Shelby (Lee et al. 2011, p. 301) at the end of a juvenile gopher tortoise burrow. As there is only one documented natural black pinesnake nest, it is unknown whether the subspecies exhibits nest site fidelity; however, nest site fidelity has been described for other Pituophis species. Burger and Zappalorti (1992, pp. 333– 335) conducted an 11-year study of nest site fidelity of northern pinesnakes in New Jersey and documented the exact same nest site being used for 11 years in a row, evidence of old egg shells in 73 percent of new nests, and recapture of 42 percent of female snakes at prior nesting sites. The authors suggest that females returning to a familiar site PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 60409 should have greater knowledge of available resources, basking sites, refugia, and predator pressures; therefore they would have the potential for higher reproductive success compared with having to find a new nest site (Burger and Zappalorti 1992, pp. 334–335). If black pinesnakes show similar site fidelity, it follows that they too might have higher reproductive success if their nesting sites were to remain undisturbed. Specific information about underground refugia of the black pinesnake was documented during a study conducted by Rudolph et al. (2007, p. 560), which involved excavating five sites used by the subspecies for significant periods of time from early December through late March. The pinesnakes occurred singly at shallow depths (mean of 9.8 in (25 cm); maximum of 13.8 in (35 cm)) in chambers formed by the decay and burning of pine stumps and roots (Rudolph et al. 2007, p. 560). The refugia were not excavated by the snakes beyond minimal enlargement of the preexisting chambers. These sites are not considered true hibernacula because black pinesnakes move above ground on warm days throughout all months of the year (Rudolph et al. 2007, p. 561; Baxley 2007, pp. 39–40). Longevity of wild black pinesnakes is not well documented, but is at least 11 years, based on recapture data from Camp Shelby (Lee, pers. comm., 2014b). The longevity record for a captive male black pinesnake is 14 years, 2 months (Slavens and Slavens 1999, p. 1). Recapture and growth data from black pinesnakes on Camp Shelby indicate that they may not reach sexual maturity until their 4th or possibly 5th year (Yager et al. 2006, p. 34). Predators of black pinesnakes include red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), raccoons (Procyon lotor), skunks (Mephitis mephitis), red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), feral cats (Felis catus), and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) (Ernst and Ernst 2003, p. 284; Yager et al. 2006, p. 34; Lyman et al. 2007, p. 39) as well as humans. Historical/Current Distribution There are historical records for the black pinesnake from one parish in Louisiana (Washington Parish), 14 counties in Mississippi (Forrest, George, Greene, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Lauderdale, Marion, Pearl River, Perry, Stone, Walthall, and Wayne Counties), and 3 counties in Alabama west of the Mobile River Delta (Clarke, Mobile, and Washington Counties). Historically, populations likely occurred in all of these contiguous counties. Currently, E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES 60410 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules some populations cross county boundaries, but the species is no longer found in all of these counties. A recent record has been identified in Lawrence County, Mississippi (Lee 2014b, p. 1), where black pinesnakes have not previously been documented. However, this is a single capture and it is unknown if it is part of a larger population. Duran (1998a, p. 9) and Duran and Givens (2001, p. 24) concluded that black pinesnakes have been extirpated from Louisiana and from two counties (Lauderdale, and Walthall) in Mississippi. In these two studies, all historical and current records were collected, land managers from private, State, and Federal agencies with local knowledge of the subspecies were interviewed, and habitat of all historical records was visited and assessed. As black pinesnakes have not been reported west of the Pearl River in either Mississippi or Louisiana in over 30 years, and since there are no recent (post-1979) records from Pearl River County (Mississippi), we believe them to be extirpated from that county as well. To our knowledge there are no recent site-specific surveys from areas west of the Pearl River, and the last record from Louisiana was from 1965. In general, pinesnakes are particularly difficult to survey for given their tendency to remain below-ground most of the time. Most records are the result of incidental observations from road crossings, road killed snakes, and other activities that take observers into black pinesnake habitat such as forestry, unrelated biological surveys, or recreation. A review of records, interviews, and status reports indicated that black pinesnakes remain in all historical counties in Alabama (Clarke, Mobile, and Washington) and in 11 out of 14 historical counties in Mississippi (Forrest, George, Greene, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Marion, Perry, Stone, and Wayne). Black pinesnake populations in many of the occupied counties in Mississippi occur on the De Soto NF. Much of the habitat outside of the National Forest has become highly fragmented, and populations on these lands appear to be small and isolated on islands of suitable longleaf pine habitat (Duran 1998a, p. 17; Barbour 2009, pp. 6–13). Population Estimates and Status Duran and Givens (2001, pp. 1–35) reported the results of a habitat assessment of all black pinesnake records (156) known at the time of their study. Habitat suitability of the sites was based on how the habitat compared to VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 that selected by black pinesnakes in a previously completed telemetry study of a population occupying what was considered high-quality habitat (Duran 1998b, pp. 1–44). Black pinesnake records were joined using a contiguous suitable habitat model (combining areas of suitable habitat with relatively unrestricted gene flow) to create ‘‘population segments’’ (defined as ‘‘that portion of the population located in a contiguous area of suitable habitat throughout which gene flow is relatively unrestricted’’) from the two-dimensional point data. These population segments were then assessed using a combination of a habitat suitability rating and data on how recently and/or frequently black pinesnakes had been recorded at the site. By examining historical population segments, Duran and Givens (2001, p. 10) determined that 22 of the 36 (61 percent) population segments known at the time of their study were either extirpated (subspecies no longer present), or were in serious jeopardy of extirpation. The black pinesnake is difficult to locate even in areas where it is known to occur. From the 14 population segments not determined to be in serious jeopardy of extirpation from the 2001 assessment by Duran and Givens, we estimate that there are 11 populations of black pinesnakes today. Our estimate of the number of populations was derived using record data (post-1990) from species/ subspecies experts, Natural Heritage Programs, State wildlife agencies, site assessments by Duran and Givens (2001, pp. 1–35), overlain on current Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis of habitat. A population was determined to be distinct if it was separated from other localities by more than 1.3 miles (mi.) (2.1 kilometers (km)). This buffer radius distance was chosen based on movement and home range data provided by black pinesnake researchers (Duran 1998b, pp. 15–19; Yager et al. 2005, pp. 27–28; Baxley and Qualls 2009, pp. 287–288). Five of these 11 populations occur in Alabama and 6 in Mississippi. We are unsure of how many individuals are within each population, but they may vary in size from a few individuals to more than 100 in the largest population. Current GIS analysis of these 11 potential black pinesnake populations, in addition to the assessments by Duran and Givens (2001, pp. 1–35), indicates that 3 of the 11 populations, all located in Alabama, are likely not viable in the long term due to their small size, lack of recent records in the areas of these populations, presence on or proximity to highly fragmented habitat, and/or PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 lack of protection and habitat management for the site. The majority of the known black pinesnake records, and much of the best remaining habitat, occur within the two ranger districts that make up the De Soto NF in Mississippi. These lands represent a small fraction of the former longleaf pine ecosystem that was present in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and historically occupied by the subspecies. At this time, we believe the 6 populations in Mississippi (5 on the De Soto NF and one in Marion County) and two sites in Alabama (in Clarke County) are the only ones considered likely to persist long term. Protection and management specifically addressing black pinesnake populations are covered under the Department of Defense integrated natural resources management plan (INRMP) for Camp Shelby in Forrest and Perry Counties, Mississippi; however, this plan covers less than 10 percent of one of the Mississippi populations. Summary of Factors Affecting the Species Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing regulations at 50 CFR part 424, set forth the procedures for adding species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of the Act, we may list a species based on (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Listing actions may be warranted based on any of the above threat factors, singly or in combination. Factor A: The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range Fire-maintained southern pine ecosystems, particularly the longleaf pine ecosystem, have declined dramatically across the South. Current estimates show that the longleaf pine forest type has declined 96 percent from the historical estimate of 88 million ac (35.6 million ha) to approximately 3.3 million ac (1.3 million ha) (Oswalt et al. 2012, p. 13). During the latter half of the 20th century, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi lost between 60 and 90 percent of their longleaf acreage (Outcalt and Sheffield 1996, pp. 1–10). Recently, longleaf acreage has been trending upward in parts of the Southeast through restoration efforts, but these E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules increases do not align with the range of the black pinesnake (Ware, pers. comm., 2014). Southern forest futures models predict declines of forest land area between 2 and 10 percent in the next 50 years, with loss of private forest land to urbanization accounting for most of this loss (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 78). Natural longleaf pine forests, which are characterized by a high, open canopy and shallow litter and duff layers, have evolved to be maintained by frequent, low intensity fires, which in turn restrict a woody midstory, and promote the flowering and seed production of fire-stimulated groundcover plants (Oswalt et al. 2012, pp. 2–3). Although black pinesnakes will occasionally utilize open-canopied forests with overstories of loblolly, slash, and other pines, they are closely associated with natural longleaf pine forests, which have an abundant herbaceous groundcover (Duran 1998a, p. 11; Baxley et al. 2011, p. 161; Smith 2011, pp. 86, 100) necessary to support the black pinesnake’s prey base (Miller and Miller 2005, p. 202). The current and historical range of the black pinesnake is highly correlated with the current and historical range of these natural longleaf pine forests, leading to the hypothesis that black pinesnake populations, once contiguous throughout these forests in Alabama, Mississippi, and southeast Louisiana, have declined proportionately with the ecosystem (Duran and Givens 2001, pp. 2–3). In the range of the black pinesnake, longleaf pine is now largely confined to isolated patches on private land and larger parcels on public lands. Black pinesnake habitat has been eliminated through land use conversions, primarily conversion to agriculture and pine plantations and development of urban areas. Most of the remaining patches of longleaf pine on private land within the range of the snake are fragmented, degraded, secondgrowth forests (see discussion under Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence). Conversion of longleaf pine forest to pine plantation often reduces the quality and suitability of a site for black pinesnakes. Duran (1998b, p. 31) found that black pinesnakes prefer the typical characteristics of the longleaf pine ecosystem, such as open canopies, reduced mid-stories, and dense herbaceous understories. He also found that these snakes are frequently underground in rotting pine stumps. Pine plantations typically have closed canopies and thick mid-stories with limited herbaceous understories. Site preparation for planting of pine VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 plantations frequently involves clearing of downed logs and stumps, thereby interfering with the natural development of stump holes and root channels through decay or from burning, and greatly reducing the availability of suitable refugia (Rudolph et al. 2007, p. 563). This could have negative consequences if the pinesnakes are no longer able to locate a previous year’s refugium, and are subject to overexposure from thermal extremes or elevated predation risk due to increased above-ground activity. When a site is converted to agriculture, all vegetation is cleared and underground refugia are destroyed during soil disking and compaction. Forest management strategies, such as fire suppression (see discussion under Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence), increased stocking densities, planting of off-site pine species (i.e., slash and loblolly pines), bedding, and removal of downed trees and stumps, all contribute to degradation of habitat attributes preferred by black pinesnakes. It is possible that the presence and distribution of decaying stump holes and their associated rotting root channels may be a feature that limits the abundance of black pinesnakes within their range (Baxley 2007, p. 44). Baxley et al. (2011, pp. 162–163) compared habitat at recent (post-1987) and historical (pre-1987) black pinesnake localities. She found that sites recently occupied by black pinesnakes were characterized by significantly less canopy cover; lower basal area; less midstory cover; greater percentages of grass, bare soil, and forbs in the groundcover; less shrubs and litter in the groundcover; and a more recent burn history than currently unoccupied, but historical, sites. At the landscape level, black pinesnakes selected upland pine forests that lacked cultivated crops, pasture and hay fields, developed areas, and roads (Baxley et al. 2011, p. 154). Thus, areas historically occupied by black pinesnakes are becoming unsuitable at both the landscape and microhabitat (small-scale habitat component) levels (Baxley et al. 2011, p. 164). Degradation and loss of longleaf pine habitat within the range of the black pinesnake is continuing. The coastal counties of southern Mississippi and Mobile County, Alabama, are being developed at a rapid rate due to increases in the human population. While forecast models show that federal forest land will remain relatively unchanged in the next few decades, projected losses in forest land are highest in the South, with declines in PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 60411 private forest land from urbanization accounting for most of the loss (Wear 2011, p. 31). Urbanization appears to have reduced historical black pinesnake populations in Mobile County by approximately 50 percent (Duran 1998a, p. 17), with some areas directly surrounding Mobile thought to be potentially extirpated by the Alabama Natural Heritage Program. Substantial population declines were noted throughout the 1970s and 1980s (Mount 1986, p. 35). Jennings and Fritts (1983, p. 8) reported that, in the 1980s, the black pinesnake was one of the most frequently encountered snakes on the Environmental Studies Center (Center) in Mobile County. Urban development has now engulfed lands adjacent to the Center, and black pinesnakes are thought to have been extirpated from the property (Duran 1998a, p. 10). Black pinesnakes were commonly seen in the 1970s on the campus of the University of South Alabama in western Mobile; however, there have not been any observations in at least the past 25 years (Nelson 2014, p. 1). Conservation Efforts to Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Range When considering whether or not to list a species under the Act, we must identify existing conservation efforts and their effect on the species. The Mississippi Army National Guard (MSARNG) has drafted a candidate conservation agreement (CCA) for the black pinesnake (MSARNG 2013, pp. 1– 36). The purpose of this voluntary agreement is to implement proactive conservation and management measures for the black pinesnake and its habitat throughout the De Soto NF, which includes the MSARNG’s Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center (Camp Shelby). Parties to the agreement include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service; U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Army National Guard; the Service; and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP). The goal of the final agreement will be to significantly reduce the threats upon the black pinesnake to improve its conservation status. We are currently working with the MSARNG, Forest Service, and MDWFP to complete the CCA. When conservation efforts defined in the CCA are implemented, they should help maintain black pinesnake habitat on Camp Shelby and the De Soto NF. The largest remaining populations of black pinesnakes (5 of 11) occur in the De Soto NF, which is considered the core of the subspecies’ known range. E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES 60412 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules The black pinesnake likely receives benefit from longleaf pine restoration efforts, including prescribed fire, implemented by the Forest Service in accordance with its Forest Plan, in habitats for the federally listed gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) and red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis). Additional actions specifically targeting the conservation needs of the black pinesnake should occur when the CCA is finalized and implemented. These targeted actions primarily address the exclusion of stumping (stump removal) during forestry activities, to maintain the underground refugia utilized by pinesnakes, and the establishment and maintenance of larger tracts of suitable habitat to accommodate the home ranges of multiple snakes constituting a breeding population. The CCA should also include a monitoring protocol to track the demography and abundance of black pinesnake populations. The MSARNG recently updated its Integrated Natural Reources Management Plan (INRMP) and outlined conservation measures to be implemented specifically for the black pinesnake on lands owned by the DoD and the State of Mississippi on Camp Shelby. Planned conservation measures include: Supporting research and surveys on the subspecies; habitat management specifically targeting the black pinesnake, such as retention of pine stumps and prescribed burning; and educational programs for users of the training center to minimize negative impacts of vehicular mortality on wildlife (MSARNG 2014, pp. 93–94). The INRMP addresses integrative management and conservation measures only on the lands owned and managed by DoD and the State of Mississippi (15,195 ac (6,149 ha)), which make up only 11 percent of the total acreage of Camp Shelby (132,195 ac (53,497 ha)), most of which is owned and managed by the Forest Service. Only 5,735 ac (2,321 ha) of the acreage covered by the INRMP provides habitat for the black pinesnake. The larger proportion of habitat on Camp Shelby is managed by the Forest Service in accordance with their Forest Plan. Longleaf pine habitat restoration projects have been conducted on selected private lands within the range historically occupied by the black pinesnake and may provide benefits to the subspecies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2012, pp. 12–13). Additionally, restoration projects have been conducted on wildlife management areas (WMAs) (Marion County WMA in Mississippi; and Scotch, Fred T. Stimpson, and Boykin WMAs in VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 Alabama) occupied by black pinesnakes, and on three gopher tortoise relocation areas in Mobile County, Alabama. These gopher tortoise relocation areas are managed for the open-canopied, upland longleaf pine habitat used by both gopher tortoises and black pinesnakes, and have had recent records of black pinesnakes on the property; however, the managed areas are all less than 700 ac (283 ha) and primarily surrounded by urban areas with incompatible habitat. Therefore, we do not believe they would be able to support more than a few (i.e., likely less than five) individual pinesnakes with partially-overlapping home ranges, and likely do not provide sufficient area to support viable populations. There is beneficial habitat management occurring on some of these WMAs and on the tortoise relocation areas. However, these efforts do not currently target the retention or restoration of black pinesnake habitat, which would also include reduction in stump removal and management targeted to maintain larger, unfragmented tracts of open longleaf habitat. We will continue to work with our State partners to encourage the incorporation of these practices, where appropriate. In summary, the loss and degradation of habitat was a significant historical threat and remains a current threat to the black pinesnake. The historic loss of longleaf pine upland habitat occupied by black pinesnakes occurred primarily due to timber harvest and subsequent conversion of pine forests to agriculture, residential development, and intensively managed pine plantations. This loss of habitat, which has slowed considerably in recent years, in part due to efforts to restore the longleaf pine ecosystem in the Southeast, is still presently compounded by current losses in habitat due to habitat fragmentation (see discussion under Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence), incompatible forestry practices, conversion to agriculture, and urbanization. While the use of prescribed fire for habitat management and more compatible site preparation has seen increased emphasis in recent years, expanded urbanization, fragmentation, and regulatory constraints will continue to restrict the use of fire and cause further habitat degradation (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 509). Conservation efforts are implemented or planned that should help maintain black pinesnake habitat on Camp Shelby and the De Soto NF; however, these areas represent a small fraction of the current range of the subspecies. Populations on the PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 periphery of the range have conservation value as well in terms of maintaining the subspecies’ genetic integrity (i.e., maintaining the existing genetic diversity still inherent in populations that have not interbred in hundreds or thousands of years) and providing future opportunities for population connectivity and augmentation. Many of the populations on the edge of the range are smaller, which increases their susceptibility to localized extinction from catastrophic and stochastic events, subsequently causing further restriction of the subspecies’ range. Although the black pinesnake was thought to be fairly common in parts of south Alabama as recently as 30 years ago, we believe most populations have disappeared or drastically declined due to continued habitat loss and fragmentation. For instance several sites where snakes have been captured historically are now developed and no longer contain habitat. Thus, habitat loss and continuing degradation of the black pinesnake’s habitat remains a significant threat to this subspecies’ continued existence. Factor B: Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or Educational Purposes Although there is some indication that collecting for the pet trade may have been a problem (Duran 1998a, p. 15), and that localized accounts of a thriving pet trade for pinesnakes have been reported previously around Mobile, Alabama (Vandeventer and Young 1989, p. 34), direct take of black pinesnakes for recreational, scientific, or educational purposes is not currently considered to be a significant threat. This overutilization would be almost exclusively to meet the demand from snake enthusiasts and hobbyists; however, the pet trade is currently saturated with captive-bred black pinesnakes. The need for the collection of wild specimens is thought to have declined dramatically from the levels previously observed in the 1960s and 1970s (Vandeventer 2014). Consequently, we have determined that overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes is not a threat to the black pinesnake at this time. Factor C: Disease or Predation Disease is not presently considered to be a threat to the black pinesnake. However, snake fungal disease (SFD) is an emerging disease in certain populations of wild snakes, even though specific pathological criteria for the disease have not yet been established. E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES This disease, which has been linked to mortality events, has not been documented in Pituophis or in any of the States within the range of the black pinesnake, but is suspected of threatening the viability of small, isolated populations of susceptible snake species and should be monitored during all future research activities (Sleeman 2013, pp. 1–3). Red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), an invasive species, have been implicated in trap mortalities of black pinesnakes during field studies (Baxley 2007, p. 17). They are also potential predators of black pinesnake eggs, especially in disturbed areas (Todd et al. 2008, p. 544). In 2010 and 2011, trapping for black pinesnakes was conducted in several areas that were expected to support the subspecies; no black pinesnakes were found, but high densities of fire ants were reported (Smith 2011, pp. 44–45). The severity and magnitude of effects, as well as the long-term effects, of fire ants on black pinesnake populations are currently unknown. Other predators of pinesnakes include red-tailed hawks, raccoons, skunks, red foxes, and feral cats (Ernst and Ernst 2003, p. 284; Yager et al. 2006, p. 34). Lyman et al. (2007, p. 39) reported an attack on a black pinesnake by a stray domestic dog, which resulted in the snake’s death. Several of these mammalian predators are anthropogenically enhanced (urban predators); that is, their numbers often increase with human development adjacent to natural areas (Fischer et al. 2012, pp. 810–811). However, the severity and magnitude of predation by these species are unknown. In summary, disease is not considered to be a threat to the black pinesnake at this time. However, predation by fire ants and urban predators may represent a threat to the black pinesnake. Factor D: The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms In Mississippi, the black pinesnake is classified as endangered by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (Mississippi Museum of Natural Science 2001, p. 1). In Alabama, it is protected as a nongame animal (Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 2014, p. 1). In Louisiana, the black pinesnake is considered extirpated (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 2014, p. 2); however, Louisiana Revised Statutes for Wildlife and Fisheries were recently amended to prohibit killing black pinesnakes or removing them from the wild (Louisiana Administrative Code, 2014, p. 186), VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 should they be found in the State again. Both Mississippi and Alabama have regulations that restrict collecting, killing, or selling of the subspecies, but do not have regulations addressing habitat loss, which has been the primary cause of decline of this subspecies. Where the subspecies co-occurs with species already listed under the Act, the black pinesnake likely receives ancillary benefits from the protective measures for the already listed species, including the gopher tortoise, dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa), and red-cockaded woodpecker. The largest known expanses of suitable habitat for the black pinesnake are in the De Soto NF in Mississippi. The black pinesnake’s habitat is afforded some protection under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA; 16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq.) where it occurs on lands managed by the Forest Service that are occupied by federally listed species such as the gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker. Forest Service rules and guidelines implementing NFMA require land management plans that include provisions supporting recovery of endangered and threatened species. As a result, land managers on the De Soto NF have conducted management actions, such as prescribed burning and longleaf pine restoration, which benefit gopher tortoises, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and black pinesnakes. However, they do not fully address the microhabitat needs of the black pinesnake, such as restrictions on stump removal, which is detrimental to black pinesnakes because of the subspecies’ utilization of pine stumps and root channels as refugia (Duran 1998a, p. 14). They continue to work with the Service and other partners to develop and implement a CCA. As discussed under Factor A above, the MSARNG recently updated its INRMP for Camp Shelby, and outlined conservation measures to be implemented specifically for the black pinesnake on 5,735 ac (2,321 ha) of potential pinesnake habitat owned or managed by DoD. These measures will benefit black pinesnake populations, and include a monitoring protocol to help evaluate the population and appropriate guidelines for maintaining suitable habitat and microhabitats. In summary, outside of the National Forest and the area covered by the INRMP, existing regulatory mechanisms provide little protection from the primary threat of habitat loss for some populations of the black pinesnake. Longleaf restoration activities on Forest Service lands in Mississippi conducted for other federally listed species do PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 60413 improve habitat for black pinesnake populations located in those areas, but could be improved by ensuring the protection of the belowground refugia critical to the snake. Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence Fire is the preferred management technique to maintain the longleaf pine ecosystem, and fire suppression has been considered a primary reason for the degradation of the remaining longleaf pine forest. It is a contributing factor in reducing the quality and quantity of available habitat for the black pinesnake. Some of the forecasts for southern forests are that land use changes involving fuels management will continue to constrain prescribed fire efforts, and that safety and health regulations and increased urban interface will add to those constraints, making prescribed burning even more challenging in the future (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 509). Reduced fire frequencies and reductions in average area burned per fire event (strategies often used in management of pine plantations) produce sites with thick mid-stories, and these areas are avoided by black pinesnakes (Duran 1998b, p. 32). During a 2005 study using radiotelemetry to track black pinesnakes, a prescribed burn bisected the home range of one of the study animals. The snake spent significantly more time in the recently burned area than in the area that had not been burned in several years (Smith 2005, 5 pp.). Habitat fragmentation within the longleaf pine ecosystem threatens the continued existence of all black pinesnake populations, particularly those on private lands. This is frequently the result of urban development, conversion of longleaf pine sites to pine plantations, and the associated increases in number of roads. Private forest ownership dynamics in the South are trending towards increased parcellation (e.g., the splitting up of large tracts of land), which could lead to greater fragmentation through estate disposal and urbanization (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 103). When patches of available habitat become separated beyond the dispersal range of a species, populations are more sensitive to genetic, demographic, and environmental variability, and extinction becomes possible. This is likely a primary cause for the extirpation of the black pinesnake in Louisiana and the subspecies’ contracted range in Alabama and Mississippi (Duran and Givens 2001, pp. 22–26). E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES 60414 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules Private landowners hold more than 86 percent of forests in the South and produce nearly all of the forest investment and timber harvesting in the region (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 103). Forecasts indicate a loss of 11 to 23 million ac (4.5 million to 9.3 million ha) of private forest land in the South by 2060. This loss, combined with expanding urbanization and ongoing splitting of ownership as estates are divided, will result in increased fragmentation of remaining forest holdings (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 119). This assessment of continued future fragmentation throughout the range of the black pinesnake, coupled with the assumption that large home range size increases extinction vulnerability, emphasizes the importance of conserving and managing large tracts of contiguous habitat to protect the black pinesnake (Baxley 2007, p. 65). This is in agreement with other studies of large, wide-ranging snake species sensitive to landscape fragmentation (Hoss et al. 2010; Breininger et al. 2012). When factors influencing the home range sizes of the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi) were analyzed, the results suggested that maintaining populations of this subspecies will require large conservation areas with minimum fragmentation (Breininger et al. 2011, pp. 484–490). Roads surrounding and traversing the remaining black pinesnake habitat pose a direct threat to the subspecies. Dodd et al. (2004, p. 619) determined that roads fragment habitat for wildlife. Population viability analyses have shown that road mortality estimates in some snake species have greatly increased extinction probabilities (Row et al. 2007, p. 117). In an assessment of data from radio-tracked eastern indigo snakes, it was found that adult snakes have relatively high survival in conservation core areas, but greatly reduced survival in edges of these areas along highways, and in suburbs (Breininger et al. 2012, p. 361). Clark et al. (2010, pp. 1059–1069) studied the impacts of roads on population structure and connectivity in timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). They found that roads interrupted dispersal and negatively affected genetic diversity and gene flow among populations of this large snake (Clark et al. 2010, p. 1059). In a Texas snake study, an observed deficit of snake captures in traps near roads suggests that a substantial proportion of the total number of snakes may have been eliminated due to road-related mortality and that populations of large snakes may be depressed by 50 percent or more VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 due to this mortality (Rudolph et al. 1999, p. 130). A modeling study by Steen et al. (2012, p. 1092) determined that fragmentation by roads may be an impediment to maintaining viable populations of pinesnakes. Black pinesnakes frequent the sandy hilltops and ridges where roads are most frequently sited. Even on public lands, roads are a threat. During Duran’s (1998b pp. 6, 34) study on Camp Shelby, Mississippi, 17 percent of the black pinesnakes with transmitters were killed while attempting to cross a road. In a larger study currently being conducted on Camp Shelby, 14 (38 percent) of the 37 pinesnakes found on the road between 2004 to 2012 were found dead, and these 14 individuals represent about 13 percent of all the pinesnakes found on Camp Shelby during that 8-year span (Lyman et al. 2012, p. 42). The majority of road crossings occurred between the last 2 weeks of May and the first 2 weeks of June (Lyman et al. 2011, p. 48), a time period when black pinesnakes are known to breed (Lyman et al. 2012, p. 42). In the study conducted by Baxley (2007, p. 83) on De Soto NF, 2 of the 8 snakes monitored with radiotransmitters were found dead on paved roads. This is an especially important issue on these public lands because the best remaining black pinesnake populations are concentrated there. It suggests that population declines may be due in part to adult mortality in excess of annual recruitment (Baxley and Qualls 2009, p. 290). Exotic plant species degrade habitat for wildlife. In the Southeast, longleaf pine forest associations are susceptible to invasion by the exotic cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica), which may rapidly encroach into areas undergoing habitat restoration, and is very difficult to eradicate once it has become established, requiring aggressive control with herbicides (Yager et al. 2010, pp. 229–230). Cogongrass displaces native grasses, greatly reducing foraging areas, and forms thick mats so dense that ground-dwelling wildlife has difficulty traversing them (DeBerry and Pashley 2008, p. 74). In many parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, there is a lack of understanding of the importance of snakes to a healthy ecosystem. Snakes are often killed intentionally when they are observed, and dead pinesnakes have been found that have been shot (Duran 1998b, p. 34). Lyman et al. (2008, p. 34) and Duran (1998b, p. 34) both documented finding dead black pinesnakes that were intentionally run over as evidenced by vehicle tracks that PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 went off the road in vicinity of dead snakes. In addition, in one of these instances (Lyman et al. 2008, p. 34), footprints were observed going from the vicinity of the truck to the snake’s head, which had been intentionally crushed. As development pressures mount on remaining black pinesnake habitat, human-snake interactions are expected to increase, which in turn is expected to increase mortality, especially of adults. Duran (1998b, p. 36) suggested that reproductive rates of wild black pinesnakes may be low, based on failure to detect either nests or mating behaviors during his studies. For longlived species, animals are expected to replace themselves over their lifespan in order for the population growth rate to remain stable or grow; therefore, if mortality of breeding adults is high, population declines can result. Thus, the loss of mature adults through road mortality, direct killing, or any other means increases in significance. As existing occupied habitat becomes reduced in quantity and quality, low reproductive rates threaten population viability. Random environmental events may also play a part in the decline of the black pinesnake. Two black pinesnakes were found dead on the De Soto NF during drought conditions of midsummer and may have succumbed due to drought-related stress (Baxley 2007, p.41). In summary, a variety of natural or manmade factors currently threaten the black pinesnake. Fire suppression has been considered a primary reason for degradation of the longleaf pine ecosystem; however, invasive species such as cogongrass also greatly reduce the habitat quality for the black pinesnake. Isolation of populations beyond the dispersal range of the subspecies is a serious threat due to the fragmentation of available habitat. The high percentage of radio-tracked black pinesnakes killed while trying to cross roads supports our conclusion that this is a serious threat, and human attitudes towards snakes represent another source of mortality. Stochastic threats such as drought have the potential to threaten black pinesnake populations, and the suspected low reproductive rate of the subspecies could exacerbate other threats and limit population viability. Overall, the threats under Factor E may act in combination with threats listed above under Factors A through D and increase their severity. Proposed Determination We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial information available regarding the past, present, E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules and future threats to the black pinesnake. The black pinesnake is considered extirpated from Louisiana and three counties in Mississippi. Threats to the remaining black pinesnake populations exist primarily from two of the five threat factors (Factors A and E); however, predation by fire ants and urban predators (Factor C), and limitations of existing laws and regulations (Factor D) also pose lowermagnitude threats to the subspecies. Threats also occur in combination, resulting in synergistically greater effects. Threats of habitat loss and degradation (Factor A) represent primary threats to the black pinesnake. While habitat restoration efforts are beginning to reverse the decline of the longleaf pine forest in the Southeastern U.S., most of the black pinesnake’s habitat has been either converted from forests to other uses or is highly fragmented. Today, the longleaf pine ecosystem occupies less than 4 percent of its historical range, and the black pinesnake has been tied directly to this ecosystem. For instance, much of the habitat outside of the National Forest in Mississippi (the stronghold of the range) has become highly fragmented, and populations on these lands appear to be small and isolated on islands of suitable longleaf pine habitat (Duran 1998a, p. 17; Barbour 2009, pp. 6–13). A habitat suitability study of all historical sites for the black pinesnake estimated that this subspecies likely no longer occurs in an estimated 60 percent of historical population segments. It is estimated that only 11 populations of black pinesnakes are extant today, of which about a third are located on isolated patches of longleaf pine habitat that continue to be degraded due to fire suppression and fragmentation (Factor E), incompatible forestry practices, and urbanization. Threats under Factor E include fire suppression; roads; invasive plant species, such as cogongrass; random environmental events, such as droughts; intentional killing by humans; and low reproductive rates. Fire suppression and invasive plants result in habitat degradation. Roads surround and traverse the ridges, which define black pinesnake habitat, and cause fragmentation of the remaining habitat. Further, vehicles travelling these roads cause the death of a high number of snakes. Roads also increase the rate of human-snake interactions, which likely result in the death of individual snakes. Episodic effects of drought and low reproductive rates of wild black pinesnakes further threaten this subspecies’ population viability. These threats in combination lead to an VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 increased chance of local extirpations by making populations more sensitive to genetic, demographic, and environmental variability. The threats that affect the black pinesnake are important on a threat-bythreat basis, but are even more significant in combination. Habitat loss has been extensive throughout the black pinesnake’s range, and the remaining habitat has been fragmented into primarily small patches with barriers to dispersal between them, creating reproductively isolated individuals or populations. The inadequacy of laws and regulations protecting against habitat loss contributes to increases in urbanization and further fragmentation. Urbanization results in an increased density of roads, intensifying the potential for direct mortality of adult snakes, and reductions in population sizes. Reductions in habitat quality have synergistic effects, compounded by low reproductive rates, to cause localized extirpations. Threats to the black pinesnake, working individually or in combination, are ongoing and significant and have resulted in curtailment of the range of the subspecies. The Act defines an endangered species as any species that is ‘‘in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range’’ and a threatened species as any species ‘‘that is likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the foreseeable future.’’ We find that the black pinesnake meets the definition of a threatened species based on the immediacy, severity, and scope of the threats described above. Most of the longleaf pine habitat within the historical range of the black pinesnake has disappeared, and the remaining habitat exists primarily in fragmented patches too small to support a viable population. Current black pinesnake habitat continues to be lost or degraded due to fire suppression, incompatible forestry practices, and urbanization, and it appears this trend will continue in the future. Only 11 populations are estimated to be extant, and several of these exist in small numbers, are located on fragmented habitat, or have no protection or management in place; thus, their potential for long-term survival is questionable. We find that endangered status is not appropriate for the black pinesnake because, while we found the threats to the subspecies to be significant and rangewide, we do not know them to be either sudden or calamitous. Although there is a general decline in the overall range of the subspecies and its available PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 60415 habitat, the rate of decline has slowed in recent years due to restoration efforts, and range contraction is not severe enough to indicate imminent extinction. A significant proportion of the remaining black pinesnake populations (45 percent) occur primarily on public lands that are at least partially managed to protect remaining longleaf pine habitat; management efforts on those lands specifically targeting listed longleaf pine specialists, such as the gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker, should benefit the black pinesnake as well, especially if measures are employed to protect below-ground refugia. Additionally, the 5,735 ac (2,321 ha) covered by the Camp Shelby INRMP are under a conservation plan specifically protecting black pinesnake microhabitats and increasing awareness of the human impacts to rare wildlife. The CCA currently under development with the Forest Service, MDWFP, and MSARNG should provide an elevated level of focused conservation and management for the black pinesnake on their lands. Because of these existing efforts and management plans, this subspecies does not meet the definition of an endangered species. Therefore, on the basis of the best available scientific and commercial information, we propose listing the black pinesnake as threatened in accordance with sections 3(20) and 4(a)(1) of the Act. Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may warrant listing if it is endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Because we have determined that black pinesnake is threatened throughout all of its range, no portion of its range can be ‘‘significant’’ for purposes of the definitions of ‘‘endangered species’’ and ‘‘threatened species.’’ See the Final Policy on Interpretation of the Phrase ‘‘Significant Portion of Its Range’’ in the Endangered Species Act’s Definitions of ‘‘Endangered Species’’ and ‘‘Threatened Species’’ (79 FR 37577). Available Conservation Measures Several conservation efforts already exist for the black pinesnake. The MSARNG recently updated its INRMP and outlined conservation measures to be implemented specifically for the black pinesnake on lands owned by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the State of Mississippi on Camp Shelby. Planned conservation measures include: Supporting research and surveys on the subspecies; habitat management specifically targeting the black pinesnake, such as retention of pine stumps and prescribed burning; and E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES 60416 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules educational programs for users of the training center to minimize negative impacts of vehicular mortality on wildlife (MSARNG 2014, pp. 93–94). The INRMP addresses integrative management and conservation measures on the lands owned and managed by DoD and the State of Mississippi (15,195 ac (6,149 ha)), which make up 11 percent of the total acreage of Camp Shelby (132,195 ac (53,497 ha)), most of which is owned and managed by the Forest Service. The Mississippi Army National Guard (MSARNG) has also drafted a candidate conservation agreement (CCA) for the black pinesnake (MSARNG 2013, pp. 1– 36). The purpose of this voluntary agreement is to implement proactive conservation and management measures for the black pinesnake and its habitat throughout the De Soto NF, which includes Camp Shelby. While the black pinesnake benefits from actions taken in these areas for other listed species, additional actions specifically targeting the conservation needs of the pinesnake should occur when the CCA is finalized and implemented. Longleaf pine habitat restoration projects have been conducted on selected private lands within the range historically occupied by the black pinesnake and may provide benefits to the subspecies (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2012, pp. 12–13). Additionally, restoration projects have been conducted on wildlife management areas (WMAs) (Marion County WMA in Mississippi; and Scotch, Fred T. Stimpson, and Boykin WMAs in Alabama) occupied by black pinesnakes, and on three gopher tortoise relocation areas in Mobile County, Alabama. These gopher tortoise relocation areas are managed for the open-canopied, upland longleaf pine habitat used by both gopher tortoises and black pinesnakes, and have had recent records of black pinesnakes on the property. Other conservation measures which would be provided to species listed as endangered or threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness, and conservation by Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies; private organizations; and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the States and requires that recovery actions be carried out for all listed species. The protection required by Federal agencies and the prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part, below. The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered and VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The ultimate goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these listed species, so that they no longer need the protective measures of the Act. Subsection 4(f) of the Act requires the Service to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered and threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the species’ decline by addressing the threats to its survival and recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a point where they are secure, selfsustaining, and functioning components of their ecosystems. Recovery planning includes the development of a recovery outline shortly after a species is listed and preparation of a draft and final recovery plan. The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to be used to develop a recovery plan. Revisions of the plan may be done to address continuing or new threats to the species, as new substantive information becomes available. The recovery plan identifies site-specific management actions that set a trigger for review of the five factors that control whether a species remains endangered or may be downlisted or delisted, and methods for monitoring recovery progress. Recovery plans also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of implementing recovery tasks. Recovery teams (composed of species experts, Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. If the species is listed, a recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the final recovery plan would be made available on our Web site (https:// www.fws.gov/endangered) and from our Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as an endangered or threatened species and with respect to its critical habitat, if any is designated. Regulations implementing this interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR part 402. Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to confer with the Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a species proposed for listing or result in destruction or adverse modification of PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 proposed critical habitat. If a species is listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency must enter into consultation with the Service. Federal agency actions within the subspecies’ habitat that may require conference or consultation or both as described in the preceding paragraph include management and any other landscape-altering activities on Federal lands administered by the Forest Service or on National Wildlife Refuges managed by the Service; issuance of section 404 Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) permits by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; construction and maintenance of gas pipeline and power line rights-of-way by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; construction and maintenance of roads or highways by the Federal Highway Administration; land management practices supported by programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Environmental Protection Agency pesticide registration; and projects funded through Federal loan programs which may include, but are not limited to, roads and bridges, utilities, recreation sites, and other forms of development. The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to all endangered and threatened wildlife. The prohibitions of section 9(a)(2) of the Act, codified at 50 CFR 17.21 for endangered wildlife, in part, make it illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to take (includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect; or to attempt any of these), import, export, ship in interstate commerce in the course of commercial activity, or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any listed species. Under the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42–43; 16 U.S.C. 3371–3378), it is also illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to agents of the Service and State conservation agencies. 50 CFR 17.31 generally applies the prohibitions for endangered wildlife to threatened wildlife, unless a rule issued under section 4(d) of the Act is adopted by the Service. We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules involving endangered and threatened wildlife species under certain circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.22 for endangered species, and at 17.32 for threatened species. With regard to threatened and endangered wildlife, a permit must be issued for the following purposes: For scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation or survival of the species, and for incidental take in connection with otherwise lawful activities. It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent practicable at the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act, if the species is listed. The intent of this policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of a proposed listing on proposed and ongoing activities within the range of species proposed for listing. The following activities could potentially result in a violation of section 9 of the Act; this list is not comprehensive: (1) Unauthorized collecting, handling, possessing, selling, delivering, carrying, or transporting of the black pinesnake, including import or export across State lines and international boundaries, except for properly documented antique specimens of these taxa at least 100 years old, as defined by section 10(h)(1) of the Act; (2) Introduction of nonnative species that compete with or prey upon the black pinesnake; (3) Unauthorized destruction or modification of occupied black pinesnake habitat (e.g., clearcutting, root raking, bedding) that results in ground disturbance or the destruction of stump holes and their associated root systems used as refugia by the subspecies or that impairs in other ways the subspecies’ essential behaviors such as breeding, feeding, or sheltering; (4) Unauthorized use of insecticides and rodenticides that could impact small mammal prey populations, though either unintended or direct impacts within habitat occupied by black pinesnakes; and (5) Actions, intentional or otherwise, that would result in the destruction of eggs or cause mortality or injury to hatchling, juvenile, or adult black pinesnakes. Questions regarding whether specific activities would constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act should be directed to the Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 Proposed Special Rule Under section 4(d) of the Act, the Secretary of the Interior has discretion to issue such regulations as she deems necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of threatened species. The Secretary also has the discretion to prohibit by regulation with respect to a threatened species any act prohibited by section 9(a)(1) of the Act. Exercising this discretion, which has been delegated to the Service by the Secretary, the Service has developed general prohibitions that are appropriate for most threatened species at 50 CFR 17.31 and exceptions to those prohibitions at 50 CFR 17.32. While the prohibitions at 17.31 and 17.32 apply for this species, some activities that would normally be prohibited under 17.31 and 17.32 are necessary for the conservation of this species, because the longleaf wiregrass ecosystem requires active management to ensure appropriate habitat conditions are present. Therefore, for the black pinesnake, the Service has determined that a section 4(d) rule may be appropriate to promote conservation of th this species. As discussed in the Summary of Factors Affecting the Species section of this rule, the primary threat to this subspecies is the continuing loss and degradation of habitat. Foremost in the degradation of this subspecies’ habitat is the absence of prescribed fire, which reduces the forest mid-story and promotes an abundant herbaceous groundcover. Fire is a natural component of the longleaf pine ecosystem where the black pinesnake occurs. Another factor affecting the integrity of this ecosystem is the establishment of exotic weeds, particularly cogongrass. Activities such as prescribed burning and noxious weed control, as well as timber management activities associated with restoring and improving the natural habitat to meet the needs of the black pinesnake, would positively affect pinesnake populations and provide an overall conservation benefit to the subspecies. Provisions of the Proposed Special Rule This proposed 4(d) rule would exempt from the general prohibitions in 50 C.F.R. 17.32 take incidental to the following activities when conducted within habitats currently or historically occupied by the black pinesnake: (1) Prescribed burning in the course of habitat management and restoration to benefit black pinesnakes or other native species of the longleaf pine ecosystem. (2) Noxious weed control, mid-story hardwood control, and hazardous fuels reduction in the course of habitat management and restoration to benefit PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 60417 black pinesnakes or other sensitive species of the longleaf pine ecosystem, provided that these activities are conducted in a manner consistent with Federal law, including Environmental Protection Agency label restrictions; applicable State laws; and herbicide application guidelines as prescribed by herbicide manufacturers. (3) Restoration along riparian areas and stream buffers. (4) Intermediate silvicultural treatments (such as planting of longleaf seedlings on existing agricultural or silvicultural sites where mature longleaf stands do not currently exist) performed under a management plan or prescription that is designed to work towards one or more of the following target conditions: (a) Mature, longleaf-dominated forest with ≤70 percent canopy coverage; (b) Hardwood mid-story reductions resulting in <10 percent mid-story coverage; (c) Abundant, diverse, native groundcover covering at least 40 percent of the ground. All of the activities listed above should be conducted in a manner to maintain connectivity of suitable black pinesnake habitats, allowing dispersal and migration between larger forest stands; to minimize ground and subsurface disturbance by conducting harvests during drier periods when the ground is not saturated, by using lowpressure tires, or both; and to leave stumps, dead standing snags, and woody debris. We believe these actions and activities, while they may have some minimal level of mortality, harm, or disturbance to the black pinesnake, are not expected to adversely affect the subspecies’ conservation and recovery efforts. They would have a net beneficial effect on the subspecies. Like the proposed listing rule, this proposed special rule will not be finalized until we have reviewed comments from the public and peer reviewers. Based on the rationale above, the provisions included in this proposed 4(d) rule are necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the black pinesnake. Nothing in this proposed 4(d) rule would change in any way the recovery planning provisions of section 4(f) of the Act and consultation requirements under section 7 of the Act or the ability of the Service to enter into partnerships for the management and protection of the black pinesnake. Critical Habitat Section 3(5)(A) of the Act defines critical habitat as ‘‘(i) the specific areas E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES 60418 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed . . . on which are found those physical or biological features (I) Essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special management considerations or protection; and (ii) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed . . . upon a determination by the Secretary that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species.’’ Section 3(3) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1532(3)) also defines the terms ‘‘conserve,’’ ‘‘conserving,’’ and ‘‘conservation’’ to mean ‘‘to use and the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to this chapter Act are no longer necessary.’’ Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.12), require that, to the maximum extent prudent and determinable, the Secretary shall designate critical habitat at the time the species is determined to be an endangered or threatened species. Our regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)) state that the designation of critical habitat is not prudent when one or both of the following situations exist: (1) The species is threatened by taking or other human activity, and identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of threat to the species, or (2) such designation of critical habitat would not be beneficial to the species. There is currently no imminent threat of take attributed to collection or vandalism under Factor B for this species, and identification and mapping of critical habitat is not expected to initiate any such threat. Therefore, in the absence of finding that the designation of critical habitat would increase threats to a species, if there are any benefits to a critical habitat designation, a finding that designation is prudent is warranted. Here, the potential benefits of designation include: (1) Triggering consultation under section 7 of the Act, in new areas for actions in which there may be a Federal nexus where it would not otherwise occur because, for example, it is unoccupied; (2) focusing conservation activities on the most essential features and areas; (3) providing educational VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:15 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 benefits to State or county governments or private entities; and (4) preventing people from causing inadvertent harm to the species. Because we have determined that the designation of critical habitat will not likely increase the degree of threat to the species and may provide some measure of benefit, we determine that designation of critical habitat is prudent for the black pinesnake. Our regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(2)) further state that critical habitat is not determinable when one or both of the following situations exists: (1) Information sufficient to perform required analysis of the impacts of the designation is lacking; or (2) the biological needs of the species are not sufficiently well known to permit identification of an area as critical habitat. Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.19 require the Service to ‘‘make available for public comment the draft economic analysis of the designation’’ at the time the proposed critical habitat rule publishes in the Federal Register. At this point, a careful assessment of the economic impacts that may occur due to a critical habitat designation is still ongoing, and we are still in the process of acquiring the information needed to perform this assessment. Accordingly, we find designation of critical habitat to be not determinable at this time. Required Determinations Clarity of the Rule We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain language. This means that each rule we publish must: (1) Be logically organized; (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly; (3) Use clear language rather than jargon; (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible. If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us comments by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. To better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 sections or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, as defined under the authority of NEPA, need not be prepared in connection with listing a species as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244). References Cited A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available on the Internet at https://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Authors The primary authors of this proposed rule are the staff members of the Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17 Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Transportation. Proposed Regulation Promulgation Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below: PART 17—[AMENDED] 1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361–1407; 1531– 1544; 4201–4245, unless otherwise noted. 2. Amend § 17.11(h) by adding an entry for ‘‘Pinesnake, black’’ to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in alphabetical order under REPTILES to read as set forth below: ■ § 17.11 Endangered and threatened wildlife. * * * (h) * * * E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 * * 60419 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 194 / Tuesday, October 7, 2014 / Proposed Rules Species Vertebrate population where endangered or threatened * REPTILES * * Pinesnake, black ..... * Scientific name * * Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi. * U.S.A. (AL, LA, MS) * 3. Amend § 17.42 by adding paragraph (h) to read as follows: § 17.42 Special rules—reptiles. asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with RULES * * * * * (h) Black pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi). (1) Prohibitions. Except as noted in paragraph (h)(2) of this section, all prohibitions and provisions of §§ 17.31 and 17.32 apply to the black pinesnake. (2) Exemptions from prohibitions. (i) Incidental take of the black pinesnake will not be considered a violation of section 9 of the Act if the take results from any of the following when conducted within habitats currently or historically occupied by the black pinesnake: (A) Prescribed burning in the course of habitat management and restoration to benefit black pinesnakes or other native species of the longleaf pine ecosystem. (B) Noxious weed control in the course of habitat management and restoration to benefit black pinesnakes or other sensitive species of the longleaf pine ecosystem, provided that the noxious weed control is conducted in a manner consistent with Federal law, including Environmental Protection Agency label restrictions; applicable State laws; and herbicide application guidelines as prescribed by herbicide manufacturers. (C) Restoration along riparian areas and stream buffers. (D) Intermediate silvicultural treatments (such as planting of longleaf seedlings on existing agricultural or silvicultural sites where mature longleaf stands do not currently exist) performed under a management plan or prescription that is designed to work towards the following target conditions: (1) Mature, longleaf-dominated forest with ≤70 percent canopy coverage; (2) Hardwood mid-story reductions resulting in <10 percent mid-story coverage; VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:47 Oct 06, 2014 Jkt 235001 * * * T * * * * Entire ...................... * ■ Status * Historic range Common name * (3) Abundant, diverse, native groundcover covering at least 40 percent of the ground. (ii) Forestry practices (i.e., selective thinnings or small group selection cuts) conducted for the activities listed in paragraph (h)(2)(i) of this section must be conducted in a manner to maintain connectivity of suitable black pinesnake habitats, allowing dispersal and migration between larger forest stands; to minimize ground and subsurface disturbance by conducting harvests during drier periods, by using lowpressure tires, or both; and to leave stumps, dead standing snags, and woody debris. * * * * * Dated: September 23, 2014. David Cottingham, Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [FR Doc. 2014–23673 Filed 10–6–14; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4310–55–P DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service 50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–R8–ES–2014–0041; 4500030113] RIN 1018–BA05 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species Status for West Coast Distinct Population Segment of Fisher Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Proposed rule. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to list the West Coast Distinct Population Segment of fisher (Pekania pennanti), a mustelid species from California, Oregon, and Washington, as a threatened species under the SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 When listed Critical habitat Special rules * * NA 17.42(h). * Endangered Species Act (Act). If we finalize this rule as proposed, it would extend the Act’s protections to this species. The effect of this regulation will be to add this species to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. DATES: Written Comments: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before January 5, 2015. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below) must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for additional public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT by November 21, 2014. Public Informational Meetings and Public Hearing: We will hold one public hearing and seven public informational meetings. The public hearing will be held on: (1) November 17, 2014, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in Redding, California. The seven public informational meetings will be held on: (2) November 13, 2014, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Yreka, California. (3) November 17, 2014, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in Medford, Oregon. (4) November 20, 2014, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in Arcata, California. (5) November 20, 2014, from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and another from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in Lacey, Washington. (6) December 3, 2014, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. in Visalia, California. (7) December 4, 2014, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in Turlock, California. ADDRESSES: Comment Submission: You may submit comments by one of the following methods: (1) Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter the Docket Number for this proposed rule, which is FWS–R8– ES–2014–0041. You may submit a comment by clicking on ‘‘Comment Now!’’ Please ensure that you have E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 194 (Tuesday, October 7, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 60406-60419]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-23673]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2014-0046; 4500030113]
RIN 1018-BA03


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species 
Status for Black Pinesnake

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to 
list the black pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi), a subspecies 
currently known from Alabama and Mississippi, as a threatened species 
under the Endangered Species Act (Act). If we finalize this rule as 
proposed, it would extend the Act's protections to this subspecies and 
add it to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before 
December 8, 2014. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal 
eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below) must be received by 11:59 
p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for 
public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT by November 21, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R4-ES-2014-0046, 
which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search 
panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, 
click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may 
submit a comment by clicking on ``Comment Now!''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public 
Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2014-0046; Division of Policy and 
Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; MS: BPHC; 5275 
Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described 
above. We will post all comments on https://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see Public Comments, below, for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Stephen Ricks, Field Supervisor, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Mississippi Ecological Services Field 
Office, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Jackson, MS 39214; telephone 601-
321-1122; or facsimile 601-965-4340. Persons who use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, if we find that 
listing a species is endangered or threatened throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range is warranted, we are required to 
promptly publish a proposal in the Federal Register and make a 
determination on our proposal within one year. Listing a species as an 
endangered or threatened species can only be completed by issuing a 
rule. Critical habitat is prudent, but not determinable at this time.
    This rule proposes to list the black pinesnake (Pituophis 
melanoleucus lodingi) as a threatened species. In addition, we are 
proposing a rule under section 4(d) of the Act that outlines the 
prohibitions and conservation actions necessary and advisable for the 
conservation of the black pinesnake as a threatened species.
    The basis for our action. Under the Act, we may determine that a 
species is an endangered or threatened species based on any of five 
factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) 
disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence. We have found that the black pinesnake warrants 
listing as a threatened species due to the past and continuing loss, 
degradation, and fragmentation of habitat in association with 
silviculture, urbanization, and fire suppression. Population declines 
are also attributed to road mortality and intentional killing of snakes 
by individuals. These threats, coupled with an apparent low 
reproductive rate, threaten this subspecies' long-term viability.
    We will seek peer review. We will seek comments from independent 
specialists to ensure that our designation is based on scientifically 
sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We will invite these peer 
reviewers to comment on our listing proposal. Because we will consider 
all comments and information

[[Page 60407]]

we receive during the comment period, our final determination may 
differ from this proposal.

Information Requested

Public Comments

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request 
comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies, 
Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any 
other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. We particularly 
seek comments concerning:
    (1) Additional information concerning the historical and current 
status, range, distribution, and population size of the black 
pinesnake, including the locations of any additional populations of 
this subspecies.
    (2) The black pinesnake's biology, range, and population trends, 
including:
    (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the subspecies, 
including habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering;
    (b) Genetics and taxonomy, including interpretations of existing 
studies or whether new information is available;
    (c) Historical and current range, including distribution patterns;
    (d) Historical and current population levels, and current and 
projected trends; and
    (e) Past and ongoing conservation measures for the subspecies, its 
habitat, or both.
    (3) Factors that may affect the continued existence of the 
subspecies, which may include habitat modification or destruction, 
overutilization, collection for the pet trade, disease, predation, the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, or other natural or 
manmade factors.
    (4) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 
any threats (or lack thereof) to this subspecies and existing 
regulations that may be addressing those threats.
    (5) Any information concerning the appropriateness and scope of the 
proposed section 4(d) rule provisions for take of the black pinesnake. 
We are particularly interested in input regarding timber and forest 
management and restoration practices that would be appropriately 
addressed through a section 4(d) rule, including those that adjust the 
timing or methods to minimize impacts to the species or its habitat.
    (6) Any additional information on current conservation activities 
or partnerships benefitting the subspecies, or opportunities for 
additional partnerships or conservation activities that could be 
undertaken in order to address threats.
    (7) Any information on specific pesticides that could impact the 
black pinesnake or its prey base either directly or indirectly, which 
could cause further mortality or decline of the species.
    Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as 
scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to 
verify any scientific or commercial information you include.
    Please note that submissions merely stating support for 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 (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.) directs that determinations as to whether any species is 
an endangered or threatened species must be made ``solely on the basis 
of the best scientific and commercial data available.''
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. We request 
that you send comments only by the methods described in the ADDRESSES 
section.
    If you submit information via https://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 https://www.regulations.gov. 
Please include sufficient information with your comments to allow us to 
verify any scientific or commercial information you include.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be 
available for public inspection on https://www.regulations.gov, or by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Public Hearing

    Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for one or more public hearings 
on this proposal, if requested. Requests must be received within 45 
days after the date of publication of this proposed rule in the Federal 
Register. Such requests must be sent to the address shown in the FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section. We will schedule public hearings 
on this proposal, if any are requested, and announce the dates, times, 
and places of those hearings, as well as how to obtain reasonable 
accommodations, in the Federal Register and local newspapers at least 
15 days before the hearing.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the 
Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we are seeking the 
expert opinions of seven appropriate and independent specialists 
regarding this proposed rule. The purpose of peer review is to ensure 
that our listing determination is based on scientifically sound data, 
assumptions, and analyses. The peer reviewers have expertise in the 
black pinesnake's biology, habitat, or physical or biological factors, 
and they are currently reviewing the status information in the proposed 
rule, which will inform our determination. We invite comment from the 
peer reviewers during this public comment period.

Previous Federal Actions

    We identified the black pinesnake as a Category 2 candidate species 
in the December 30, 1982, Review of Vertebrate Wildlife for Listing as 
Endangered or Threatened Species (47 FR 58454). Category 2 candidates 
were defined as taxa for which we had information that proposed listing 
was possibly appropriate, but for which conclusive data on biological 
vulnerability and threats were not available to support a proposed rule 
at the time. The subspecies remained so designated in subsequent annual 
Candidate Notices of Review (CNORs) (50 FR 37958, September 18, 1985; 
54 FR 554, January 6, 1989; 56 FR 58804, November 21, 1991; and 59 FR 
58982, November 15, 1994). In the February 28, 1996, CNOR (61 FR 7596), 
we discontinued the designation of Category 2 species as candidates; 
therefore, the black pinesnake was no longer a candidate species.
    On October 25, 1999, the black pinesnake was added to the candidate 
list (64 FR 57534). Candidates are those fish, wildlife, and plants for 
which we have on file sufficient information on biological 
vulnerability and threats to support preparation of a listing proposal, 
but for which development of a listing regulation is precluded by other 
higher priority listing activities. The black pinesnake was included in 
all of our subsequent annual CNORs (66 FR 54808, October 30, 2001; 67 
FR 40657, June 13, 2002; 69 FR 24876, May 4, 2004; 70 FR 24870, May 11, 
2005; 71 FR

[[Page 60408]]

53756, September 12, 2006; 72 FR 69034, December 6, 2007; 73 FR 75176, 
December 10, 2008; 74 FR 57804, November 9, 2009; 75 FR 69222, November 
10, 2010; 76 FR 66370, October 26, 2011; 77 FR 69994, November 21, 
2012; 78 FR 70104, November 22, 2013). The black pinesnake has a 
listing priority number of 3, which reflects a subspecies with threats 
that are both imminent and high in magnitude.
    On May 11, 2004, we were sent a petition to list the black 
pinesnake. No new information was provided in the petition, and we had 
already found the subspecies warranted listing, so no further action 
was taken on the petition.
    On May 10, 2011, the Service announced a work plan to restore 
biological priorities and certainty to the Service's listing process. 
As part of an agreement with Center for Biological Diversity and 
WildEarth Guardians, the Service filed the work plan with the U.S. 
District Court for the District of Columbia. The work plan will enable 
the agency to, over a period of 6 years, systematically review and 
address the needs of more than 250 species listed within the 2010 CNOR, 
including the black pinesnake, to determine if these species should be 
added to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and 
Plants. This work plan will enable the Service to again prioritize its 
workload based on the needs of candidate species, while also providing 
State wildlife agencies, stakeholders, and other partners with clarity 
and certainty about when listing determinations will be made. On July 
12, 2011, the Service reached an agreement with Center for Biological 
Diversity and WildEarth Guardians and further strengthened the work 
plan, which will allow the agency to focus its resources on the species 
most in need of protection under the Act. These agreements were 
approved on September 9, 2011. The timing of this proposed listing is, 
in part, therefore, an outcome of the work plan.

Background

Species Information

Species Description and Taxonomy
    Pinesnakes (genus Pituophis) are large, non-venomous, oviparous 
(egg-laying) constricting snakes with keeled scales and 
disproportionately small heads (Conant and Collins 1991, pp. 201-202). 
Their snouts are pointed. Black pinesnakes are distinguished from other 
pinesnakes by being dark brown to black both on the upper and lower 
surfaces of their bodies. There is considerable individual variation in 
adult coloration (Vandeventer and Young 1989, p. 34), and some adults 
have russet-brown snouts. They may also have white scales on their 
throat and ventral surface (Conant and Collins 1991, p. 203). In 
addition, there may also be a vague pattern of blotches on the end of 
the body approaching the tail. Adult black pinesnakes range from 48 to 
76 inches (122 to 193 centimeters) long (Conant and Collins 1991, p. 
203; Mount 1975, p. 226). Young black pinesnakes often have a blotched 
pattern, typical of other pinesnakes, which darkens with age. The 
subspecies' defensive posture when disturbed is particularly 
interesting; when threatened, it throws itself into a coil, vibrates 
its tail rapidly, strikes repeatedly, and utters a series of loud 
hisses (Ernest and Barbour 1989, p. 102).
    Pinesnakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are members of the Class 
Reptilia, Order Squamata, Suborder Serpentes, and Family Colubridae. 
There are three recognized subspecies of P. melanoleucus distributed 
across the eastern United States (Crother 2012, p. 66; Rodriguez-Robles 
and De Jesus-Escobar 2000, p. 35): the northern pinesnake (P. m. 
melanoleucus); black pinesnake (P. m. lodingi); and Florida pinesnake 
(P. m. mugitus). The black pinesnake was originally described by 
Blanchard (1924, pp. 531-532), and is geographically isolated from all 
other pinesnakes. However, there is evidence that the black pinesnake 
was in contact with other pinesnakes in the past. A form intermediate 
between P. m. lodingi and P. m. mugitus occurs in Baldwin and Escambia 
Counties, Alabama, and Escambia County, Florida, and may display 
morphological characteristics of both subspecies (Conant 1956, pp. 10-
11). These snakes are separated from populations of the black pinesnake 
by the extensive Tensas-Mobile River Delta and the Alabama River, and 
it is unlikely that there is currently gene flow between pinesnakes 
across the delta (Duran 1998a, p. 13; Hart 2002, p. 23). A study on the 
genetic structure of the three subspecies of P. melanoleucus (Getz et 
al. 2012, p. 2) showed evidence of mixed ancestry, and supported the 
current subspecies designations and the determination that all three 
are genetically distinct groups. Evidence suggests a possible 
historical intergradation between P. m. lodingi and P. ruthveni 
(Louisiana pinesnake), but their current ranges are no longer in 
contact and intergradation does not presently occur (Crain and Cliburn 
1971, p. 496).
Habitat
    Black pinesnakes are endemic to the upland longleaf pine forests 
that once covered the southeastern United States. Habitat for these 
snakes consists of sandy, well-drained soils with an open-canopied 
overstory of longleaf pine, a reduced shrub layer, and a dense 
herbaceous ground cover (Duran 1998a, p. 2). Duran (1998b, pp. 1-32) 
conducted a radio-telemetry study of the black pinesnake that provided 
data on habitat use. Snakes in this study were usually located on well-
drained, sandy-loam soils on hilltops, on ridges, and toward the tops 
of slopes in areas dominated by longleaf pine. They were rarely found 
in riparian areas, hardwood forests, or closed canopy conditions. From 
radio-telemetry studies, it has been shown that black pinesnakes spend 
a majority of their time below ground: (1) 65.5 percent of locations 
(Duran 1998a, p. 12); (2) 53-62 percent of locations (Yager et al. 
2005, p. 27); and (3) 70.4 percent of locations (Baxley and Qualls 
2009, p. 288). These locations were usually in the trunks or root 
channels of rotting pine stumps.
    During two additional radio-telemetry studies, individual 
pinesnakes were observed using riparian areas, hardwood forests, and 
pine plantations periodically, but the majority of their time was still 
spent in intact upland longleaf pine habitat. While they will use 
multiple habitat types periodically, they repeatedly returned to core 
areas in the longleaf pine uplands and used the same pine stump and 
associated rotted-out root system from year to year, indicating 
considerable site fidelity (Yager, et al. 2006, pp. 34-36; Baxley 2007, 
p. 40). Several radio-tracked juvenile snakes were observed using mole 
or other small mammal burrows rather than the bigger stump holes used 
by adult snakes (Lyman et al. 2007, pp. 39-41).
    Pinesnakes may show some seasonal movement trends of emerging from 
overwintering sites in February, moving to an active area from March 
until September, and then moving back to their overwintering areas 
(Yager, et al. 2006, pp. 34-36). The various areas utilized throughout 
the year may not have significantly different habitat characteristics, 
but these movement patterns support the need for black pinesnakes to 
have access to larger, unfragmented tracts of habitat to accommodate 
fairly large home ranges while minimizing interactions with humans.
    The minimum amount of habitat necessary to support a viable black 
pinesnake population (reserve size) has

[[Page 60409]]

not previously been determined, and estimating that value can be quite 
challenging, primarily based on the elusive nature of the subspecies 
(Wilson et al. 2011, pp. 42-43); however, it is clear that the area 
would need to constitute an unconstrained activity area, sufficiently 
large enough to accommodate the long-distance movements that have been 
reported for the subspecies (Baxley and Qualls 2009, pp. 287-288). 
Fragmentation by roads, urbanization, or incompatible habitat 
conversion continues to be a major threat affecting the subspecies (see 
discussion under Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting 
Its Continued Existence).
Life History
    Black pinesnakes are active during the day but only rarely at 
night. As evidenced by their pointed snout and enlarged rostral scale 
(the scale at the tip of their snout), they are accomplished burrowers 
capable of tunneling in loose soil, potentially for digging nests or 
excavating rodents for food (Ernst and Barbour 1989, pp. 100-101). In 
addition to rodents, wild black pinesnakes have been reported to eat 
nestling rabbits and quail (Vandeventer and Young 1989, p. 34). During 
field studies of black pinesnakes in Mississippi, hispid cotton rats 
(Sigmodon hispidus) and cotton mice (Peromyscus gossypinus) were the 
most frequently trapped small mammals within black pinesnake home 
ranges (Duran and Givens 2001, p. 4; Baxley 2007, p. 29). These results 
suggest that these two species of mammals represent essential 
components of the snake's diet (Duran and Givens 2001, p. 4).
    Duran and Givens (2001, p. 4) estimated the average size of 
individual black pinesnake home ranges (Minimum Convex Polygons (MCPs)) 
on Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to be 117.4 acres (ac) (47.5 hectares 
(ha)) using data obtained during their radio-telemetry study. 
Observations made during this study also provided some evidence of 
territoriality in the black pinesnake. A more recent study conducted on 
Camp Shelby provided home range estimates from 135 to 385 ac (55 to 156 
ha) (Lee 2014a, p. 1). Additional studies from the De Soto National 
Forest (NF) and other areas of Mississippi have documented somewhat 
higher MCP home range estimates, from 225 to 979 ac (91 to 396 ha) 
(Baxley and Qualls 2009, p. 287). The smaller home range sizes from 
Camp Shelby may be a reflection of the higher habitat quality at the 
site, as the snakes may not need to travel great distances to meet 
their ecological needs. A modeling study of movement patterns in 
bullsnakes revealed that home range sizes increased as a function of 
the amount of avoided habitat, such as agricultural fields (Kapfer et 
al. 2010, p. 15). As snakes are forced to increase the search radius to 
locate preferred habitat, their home range invariably increases. The 
dynamic nature of individual movement patterns supports the need for 
black pinesnake habitat to be maintained in large, unfragmented parcels 
to sustain survival of a population. In the late 1980s, a gopher 
tortoise preserve of approximately 2,000 ac (809 ha) was created on 
Camp Shelby, a National Guard training facility operating under a 
special use permit on the De Soto NF in Forrest, George, and Perry 
Counties, Mississippi. This preserve, which has limited habitat 
fragmentation and has been specifically managed with prescribed burning 
and habitat restoration to support the recovery of the gopher tortoise, 
is believed to be central to a much larger managed area (over 100,000 
acres) which provides habitat for one of the largest populations of 
black pinesnakes in the subspecies' range (Lee 2014a, p. 1).
    Very little information on the black pinesnake's breeding and egg-
laying is available from the wild. Lyman et al. (2007, p. 39) described 
the time frame of mid-May through mid-June as the period when black 
pinesnakes breed on Camp Shelby, and mating activities may take place 
in or at the entrance to armadillo burrows. However, Lee (2007, p. 93) 
described copulatory behavior in a pair of black pinesnakes in late 
September. Based on dates when hatchling black pinesnakes have been 
captured, the potential nesting and egg deposition period of gravid 
females extends from the last week in June to the last week of August 
(Lyman et al. 2009, p. 42). In 2009, a natural nest with a clutch of 
six recently hatched black pinesnake eggs was found at Camp Shelby (Lee 
et al. 2011, p. 301) at the end of a juvenile gopher tortoise burrow. 
As there is only one documented natural black pinesnake nest, it is 
unknown whether the subspecies exhibits nest site fidelity; however, 
nest site fidelity has been described for other Pituophis species. 
Burger and Zappalorti (1992, pp. 333-335) conducted an 11-year study of 
nest site fidelity of northern pinesnakes in New Jersey and documented 
the exact same nest site being used for 11 years in a row, evidence of 
old egg shells in 73 percent of new nests, and recapture of 42 percent 
of female snakes at prior nesting sites. The authors suggest that 
females returning to a familiar site should have greater knowledge of 
available resources, basking sites, refugia, and predator pressures; 
therefore they would have the potential for higher reproductive success 
compared with having to find a new nest site (Burger and Zappalorti 
1992, pp. 334-335). If black pinesnakes show similar site fidelity, it 
follows that they too might have higher reproductive success if their 
nesting sites were to remain undisturbed.
    Specific information about underground refugia of the black 
pinesnake was documented during a study conducted by Rudolph et al. 
(2007, p. 560), which involved excavating five sites used by the 
subspecies for significant periods of time from early December through 
late March. The pinesnakes occurred singly at shallow depths (mean of 
9.8 in (25 cm); maximum of 13.8 in (35 cm)) in chambers formed by the 
decay and burning of pine stumps and roots (Rudolph et al. 2007, p. 
560). The refugia were not excavated by the snakes beyond minimal 
enlargement of the preexisting chambers. These sites are not considered 
true hibernacula because black pinesnakes move above ground on warm 
days throughout all months of the year (Rudolph et al. 2007, p. 561; 
Baxley 2007, pp. 39-40).
    Longevity of wild black pinesnakes is not well documented, but is 
at least 11 years, based on recapture data from Camp Shelby (Lee, pers. 
comm., 2014b). The longevity record for a captive male black pinesnake 
is 14 years, 2 months (Slavens and Slavens 1999, p. 1). Recapture and 
growth data from black pinesnakes on Camp Shelby indicate that they may 
not reach sexual maturity until their 4th or possibly 5th year (Yager 
et al. 2006, p. 34).
    Predators of black pinesnakes include red-tailed hawks (Buteo 
jamaicensis), raccoons (Procyon lotor), skunks (Mephitis mephitis), red 
foxes (Vulpes vulpes), feral cats (Felis catus), and domestic dogs 
(Canis familiaris) (Ernst and Ernst 2003, p. 284; Yager et al. 2006, p. 
34; Lyman et al. 2007, p. 39) as well as humans.
Historical/Current Distribution
    There are historical records for the black pinesnake from one 
parish in Louisiana (Washington Parish), 14 counties in Mississippi 
(Forrest, George, Greene, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Lauderdale, 
Marion, Pearl River, Perry, Stone, Walthall, and Wayne Counties), and 3 
counties in Alabama west of the Mobile River Delta (Clarke, Mobile, and 
Washington Counties). Historically, populations likely occurred in all 
of these contiguous counties. Currently,

[[Page 60410]]

some populations cross county boundaries, but the species is no longer 
found in all of these counties. A recent record has been identified in 
Lawrence County, Mississippi (Lee 2014b, p. 1), where black pinesnakes 
have not previously been documented. However, this is a single capture 
and it is unknown if it is part of a larger population.
    Duran (1998a, p. 9) and Duran and Givens (2001, p. 24) concluded 
that black pinesnakes have been extirpated from Louisiana and from two 
counties (Lauderdale, and Walthall) in Mississippi. In these two 
studies, all historical and current records were collected, land 
managers from private, State, and Federal agencies with local knowledge 
of the subspecies were interviewed, and habitat of all historical 
records was visited and assessed. As black pinesnakes have not been 
reported west of the Pearl River in either Mississippi or Louisiana in 
over 30 years, and since there are no recent (post-1979) records from 
Pearl River County (Mississippi), we believe them to be extirpated from 
that county as well. To our knowledge there are no recent site-specific 
surveys from areas west of the Pearl River, and the last record from 
Louisiana was from 1965.
    In general, pinesnakes are particularly difficult to survey for 
given their tendency to remain below-ground most of the time. Most 
records are the result of incidental observations from road crossings, 
road killed snakes, and other activities that take observers into black 
pinesnake habitat such as forestry, unrelated biological surveys, or 
recreation.
    A review of records, interviews, and status reports indicated that 
black pinesnakes remain in all historical counties in Alabama (Clarke, 
Mobile, and Washington) and in 11 out of 14 historical counties in 
Mississippi (Forrest, George, Greene, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, 
Marion, Perry, Stone, and Wayne). Black pinesnake populations in many 
of the occupied counties in Mississippi occur on the De Soto NF. Much 
of the habitat outside of the National Forest has become highly 
fragmented, and populations on these lands appear to be small and 
isolated on islands of suitable longleaf pine habitat (Duran 1998a, p. 
17; Barbour 2009, pp. 6-13).
Population Estimates and Status
    Duran and Givens (2001, pp. 1-35) reported the results of a habitat 
assessment of all black pinesnake records (156) known at the time of 
their study. Habitat suitability of the sites was based on how the 
habitat compared to that selected by black pinesnakes in a previously 
completed telemetry study of a population occupying what was considered 
high-quality habitat (Duran 1998b, pp. 1-44). Black pinesnake records 
were joined using a contiguous suitable habitat model (combining areas 
of suitable habitat with relatively unrestricted gene flow) to create 
``population segments'' (defined as ``that portion of the population 
located in a contiguous area of suitable habitat throughout which gene 
flow is relatively unrestricted'') from the two-dimensional point data. 
These population segments were then assessed using a combination of a 
habitat suitability rating and data on how recently and/or frequently 
black pinesnakes had been recorded at the site. By examining historical 
population segments, Duran and Givens (2001, p. 10) determined that 22 
of the 36 (61 percent) population segments known at the time of their 
study were either extirpated (subspecies no longer present), or were in 
serious jeopardy of extirpation.
    The black pinesnake is difficult to locate even in areas where it 
is known to occur. From the 14 population segments not determined to be 
in serious jeopardy of extirpation from the 2001 assessment by Duran 
and Givens, we estimate that there are 11 populations of black 
pinesnakes today. Our estimate of the number of populations was derived 
using record data (post-1990) from species/subspecies experts, Natural 
Heritage Programs, State wildlife agencies, site assessments by Duran 
and Givens (2001, pp. 1-35), overlain on current Geographic Information 
Systems (GIS) analysis of habitat. A population was determined to be 
distinct if it was separated from other localities by more than 1.3 
miles (mi.) (2.1 kilometers (km)). This buffer radius distance was 
chosen based on movement and home range data provided by black 
pinesnake researchers (Duran 1998b, pp. 15-19; Yager et al. 2005, pp. 
27-28; Baxley and Qualls 2009, pp. 287-288). Five of these 11 
populations occur in Alabama and 6 in Mississippi. We are unsure of how 
many individuals are within each population, but they may vary in size 
from a few individuals to more than 100 in the largest population.
    Current GIS analysis of these 11 potential black pinesnake 
populations, in addition to the assessments by Duran and Givens (2001, 
pp. 1-35), indicates that 3 of the 11 populations, all located in 
Alabama, are likely not viable in the long term due to their small 
size, lack of recent records in the areas of these populations, 
presence on or proximity to highly fragmented habitat, and/or lack of 
protection and habitat management for the site. The majority of the 
known black pinesnake records, and much of the best remaining habitat, 
occur within the two ranger districts that make up the De Soto NF in 
Mississippi. These lands represent a small fraction of the former 
longleaf pine ecosystem that was present in Louisiana, Mississippi, and 
Alabama, and historically occupied by the subspecies. At this time, we 
believe the 6 populations in Mississippi (5 on the De Soto NF and one 
in Marion County) and two sites in Alabama (in Clarke County) are the 
only ones considered likely to persist long term. Protection and 
management specifically addressing black pinesnake populations are 
covered under the Department of Defense integrated natural resources 
management plan (INRMP) for Camp Shelby in Forrest and Perry Counties, 
Mississippi; however, this plan covers less than 10 percent of one of 
the Mississippi populations.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR part 424, set forth the procedures for adding 
species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and 
Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of the Act, we may list a species based 
on (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) 
disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence. Listing actions may be warranted based on any of 
the above threat factors, singly or in combination.

Factor A: The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range

    Fire-maintained southern pine ecosystems, particularly the longleaf 
pine ecosystem, have declined dramatically across the South. Current 
estimates show that the longleaf pine forest type has declined 96 
percent from the historical estimate of 88 million ac (35.6 million ha) 
to approximately 3.3 million ac (1.3 million ha) (Oswalt et al. 2012, 
p. 13). During the latter half of the 20th century, Louisiana, Alabama, 
and Mississippi lost between 60 and 90 percent of their longleaf 
acreage (Outcalt and Sheffield 1996, pp. 1-10). Recently, longleaf 
acreage has been trending upward in parts of the Southeast through 
restoration efforts, but these

[[Page 60411]]

increases do not align with the range of the black pinesnake (Ware, 
pers. comm., 2014). Southern forest futures models predict declines of 
forest land area between 2 and 10 percent in the next 50 years, with 
loss of private forest land to urbanization accounting for most of this 
loss (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 78). Natural longleaf pine forests, which 
are characterized by a high, open canopy and shallow litter and duff 
layers, have evolved to be maintained by frequent, low intensity fires, 
which in turn restrict a woody midstory, and promote the flowering and 
seed production of fire-stimulated groundcover plants (Oswalt et al. 
2012, pp. 2-3). Although black pinesnakes will occasionally utilize 
open-canopied forests with overstories of loblolly, slash, and other 
pines, they are closely associated with natural longleaf pine forests, 
which have an abundant herbaceous groundcover (Duran 1998a, p. 11; 
Baxley et al. 2011, p. 161; Smith 2011, pp. 86, 100) necessary to 
support the black pinesnake's prey base (Miller and Miller 2005, p. 
202).
    The current and historical range of the black pinesnake is highly 
correlated with the current and historical range of these natural 
longleaf pine forests, leading to the hypothesis that black pinesnake 
populations, once contiguous throughout these forests in Alabama, 
Mississippi, and southeast Louisiana, have declined proportionately 
with the ecosystem (Duran and Givens 2001, pp. 2-3). In the range of 
the black pinesnake, longleaf pine is now largely confined to isolated 
patches on private land and larger parcels on public lands. Black 
pinesnake habitat has been eliminated through land use conversions, 
primarily conversion to agriculture and pine plantations and 
development of urban areas. Most of the remaining patches of longleaf 
pine on private land within the range of the snake are fragmented, 
degraded, second-growth forests (see discussion under Factor E: Other 
Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence).
    Conversion of longleaf pine forest to pine plantation often reduces 
the quality and suitability of a site for black pinesnakes. Duran 
(1998b, p. 31) found that black pinesnakes prefer the typical 
characteristics of the longleaf pine ecosystem, such as open canopies, 
reduced mid-stories, and dense herbaceous understories. He also found 
that these snakes are frequently underground in rotting pine stumps. 
Pine plantations typically have closed canopies and thick mid-stories 
with limited herbaceous understories. Site preparation for planting of 
pine plantations frequently involves clearing of downed logs and 
stumps, thereby interfering with the natural development of stump holes 
and root channels through decay or from burning, and greatly reducing 
the availability of suitable refugia (Rudolph et al. 2007, p. 563). 
This could have negative consequences if the pinesnakes are no longer 
able to locate a previous year's refugium, and are subject to 
overexposure from thermal extremes or elevated predation risk due to 
increased above-ground activity.
    When a site is converted to agriculture, all vegetation is cleared 
and underground refugia are destroyed during soil disking and 
compaction. Forest management strategies, such as fire suppression (see 
discussion under Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting 
Its Continued Existence), increased stocking densities, planting of 
off-site pine species (i.e., slash and loblolly pines), bedding, and 
removal of downed trees and stumps, all contribute to degradation of 
habitat attributes preferred by black pinesnakes. It is possible that 
the presence and distribution of decaying stump holes and their 
associated rotting root channels may be a feature that limits the 
abundance of black pinesnakes within their range (Baxley 2007, p. 44).
    Baxley et al. (2011, pp. 162-163) compared habitat at recent (post-
1987) and historical (pre-1987) black pinesnake localities. She found 
that sites recently occupied by black pinesnakes were characterized by 
significantly less canopy cover; lower basal area; less midstory cover; 
greater percentages of grass, bare soil, and forbs in the groundcover; 
less shrubs and litter in the groundcover; and a more recent burn 
history than currently unoccupied, but historical, sites. At the 
landscape level, black pinesnakes selected upland pine forests that 
lacked cultivated crops, pasture and hay fields, developed areas, and 
roads (Baxley et al. 2011, p. 154). Thus, areas historically occupied 
by black pinesnakes are becoming unsuitable at both the landscape and 
microhabitat (small-scale habitat component) levels (Baxley et al. 
2011, p. 164).
    Degradation and loss of longleaf pine habitat within the range of 
the black pinesnake is continuing. The coastal counties of southern 
Mississippi and Mobile County, Alabama, are being developed at a rapid 
rate due to increases in the human population. While forecast models 
show that federal forest land will remain relatively unchanged in the 
next few decades, projected losses in forest land are highest in the 
South, with declines in private forest land from urbanization 
accounting for most of the loss (Wear 2011, p. 31). Urbanization 
appears to have reduced historical black pinesnake populations in 
Mobile County by approximately 50 percent (Duran 1998a, p. 17), with 
some areas directly surrounding Mobile thought to be potentially 
extirpated by the Alabama Natural Heritage Program. Substantial 
population declines were noted throughout the 1970s and 1980s (Mount 
1986, p. 35). Jennings and Fritts (1983, p. 8) reported that, in the 
1980s, the black pinesnake was one of the most frequently encountered 
snakes on the Environmental Studies Center (Center) in Mobile County. 
Urban development has now engulfed lands adjacent to the Center, and 
black pinesnakes are thought to have been extirpated from the property 
(Duran 1998a, p. 10). Black pinesnakes were commonly seen in the 1970s 
on the campus of the University of South Alabama in western Mobile; 
however, there have not been any observations in at least the past 25 
years (Nelson 2014, p. 1).
Conservation Efforts to Reduce Habitat Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Range
    When considering whether or not to list a species under the Act, we 
must identify existing conservation efforts and their effect on the 
species. The Mississippi Army National Guard (MSARNG) has drafted a 
candidate conservation agreement (CCA) for the black pinesnake (MSARNG 
2013, pp. 1-36). The purpose of this voluntary agreement is to 
implement proactive conservation and management measures for the black 
pinesnake and its habitat throughout the De Soto NF, which includes the 
MSARNG's Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center (Camp Shelby). 
Parties to the agreement include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 
Forest Service; U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Army National Guard; 
the Service; and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and 
Parks (MDWFP). The goal of the final agreement will be to significantly 
reduce the threats upon the black pinesnake to improve its conservation 
status. We are currently working with the MSARNG, Forest Service, and 
MDWFP to complete the CCA. When conservation efforts defined in the CCA 
are implemented, they should help maintain black pinesnake habitat on 
Camp Shelby and the De Soto NF.
    The largest remaining populations of black pinesnakes (5 of 11) 
occur in the De Soto NF, which is considered the core of the 
subspecies' known range.

[[Page 60412]]

The black pinesnake likely receives benefit from longleaf pine 
restoration efforts, including prescribed fire, implemented by the 
Forest Service in accordance with its Forest Plan, in habitats for the 
federally listed gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) and red-cockaded 
woodpecker (Picoides borealis). Additional actions specifically 
targeting the conservation needs of the black pinesnake should occur 
when the CCA is finalized and implemented. These targeted actions 
primarily address the exclusion of stumping (stump removal) during 
forestry activities, to maintain the underground refugia utilized by 
pinesnakes, and the establishment and maintenance of larger tracts of 
suitable habitat to accommodate the home ranges of multiple snakes 
constituting a breeding population. The CCA should also include a 
monitoring protocol to track the demography and abundance of black 
pinesnake populations.
    The MSARNG recently updated its Integrated Natural Reources 
Management Plan (INRMP) and outlined conservation measures to be 
implemented specifically for the black pinesnake on lands owned by the 
DoD and the State of Mississippi on Camp Shelby. Planned conservation 
measures include: Supporting research and surveys on the subspecies; 
habitat management specifically targeting the black pinesnake, such as 
retention of pine stumps and prescribed burning; and educational 
programs for users of the training center to minimize negative impacts 
of vehicular mortality on wildlife (MSARNG 2014, pp. 93-94). The INRMP 
addresses integrative management and conservation measures only on the 
lands owned and managed by DoD and the State of Mississippi (15,195 ac 
(6,149 ha)), which make up only 11 percent of the total acreage of Camp 
Shelby (132,195 ac (53,497 ha)), most of which is owned and managed by 
the Forest Service. Only 5,735 ac (2,321 ha) of the acreage covered by 
the INRMP provides habitat for the black pinesnake. The larger 
proportion of habitat on Camp Shelby is managed by the Forest Service 
in accordance with their Forest Plan.
    Longleaf pine habitat restoration projects have been conducted on 
selected private lands within the range historically occupied by the 
black pinesnake and may provide benefits to the subspecies (U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service 2012, pp. 12-13). Additionally, restoration 
projects have been conducted on wildlife management areas (WMAs) 
(Marion County WMA in Mississippi; and Scotch, Fred T. Stimpson, and 
Boykin WMAs in Alabama) occupied by black pinesnakes, and on three 
gopher tortoise relocation areas in Mobile County, Alabama. These 
gopher tortoise relocation areas are managed for the open-canopied, 
upland longleaf pine habitat used by both gopher tortoises and black 
pinesnakes, and have had recent records of black pinesnakes on the 
property; however, the managed areas are all less than 700 ac (283 ha) 
and primarily surrounded by urban areas with incompatible habitat. 
Therefore, we do not believe they would be able to support more than a 
few (i.e., likely less than five) individual pinesnakes with partially-
overlapping home ranges, and likely do not provide sufficient area to 
support viable populations. There is beneficial habitat management 
occurring on some of these WMAs and on the tortoise relocation areas. 
However, these efforts do not currently target the retention or 
restoration of black pinesnake habitat, which would also include 
reduction in stump removal and management targeted to maintain larger, 
unfragmented tracts of open longleaf habitat. We will continue to work 
with our State partners to encourage the incorporation of these 
practices, where appropriate.
    In summary, the loss and degradation of habitat was a significant 
historical threat and remains a current threat to the black pinesnake. 
The historic loss of longleaf pine upland habitat occupied by black 
pinesnakes occurred primarily due to timber harvest and subsequent 
conversion of pine forests to agriculture, residential development, and 
intensively managed pine plantations. This loss of habitat, which has 
slowed considerably in recent years, in part due to efforts to restore 
the longleaf pine ecosystem in the Southeast, is still presently 
compounded by current losses in habitat due to habitat fragmentation 
(see discussion under Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors 
Affecting Its Continued Existence), incompatible forestry practices, 
conversion to agriculture, and urbanization. While the use of 
prescribed fire for habitat management and more compatible site 
preparation has seen increased emphasis in recent years, expanded 
urbanization, fragmentation, and regulatory constraints will continue 
to restrict the use of fire and cause further habitat degradation (Wear 
and Greis 2013, p. 509). Conservation efforts are implemented or 
planned that should help maintain black pinesnake habitat on Camp 
Shelby and the De Soto NF; however, these areas represent a small 
fraction of the current range of the subspecies. Populations on the 
periphery of the range have conservation value as well in terms of 
maintaining the subspecies' genetic integrity (i.e., maintaining the 
existing genetic diversity still inherent in populations that have not 
interbred in hundreds or thousands of years) and providing future 
opportunities for population connectivity and augmentation. Many of the 
populations on the edge of the range are smaller, which increases their 
susceptibility to localized extinction from catastrophic and stochastic 
events, subsequently causing further restriction of the subspecies' 
range. Although the black pinesnake was thought to be fairly common in 
parts of south Alabama as recently as 30 years ago, we believe most 
populations have disappeared or drastically declined due to continued 
habitat loss and fragmentation. For instance several sites where snakes 
have been captured historically are now developed and no longer contain 
habitat. Thus, habitat loss and continuing degradation of the black 
pinesnake's habitat remains a significant threat to this subspecies' 
continued existence.

Factor B: Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Although there is some indication that collecting for the pet trade 
may have been a problem (Duran 1998a, p. 15), and that localized 
accounts of a thriving pet trade for pinesnakes have been reported 
previously around Mobile, Alabama (Vandeventer and Young 1989, p. 34), 
direct take of black pinesnakes for recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes is not currently considered to be a significant 
threat. This overutilization would be almost exclusively to meet the 
demand from snake enthusiasts and hobbyists; however, the pet trade is 
currently saturated with captive-bred black pinesnakes. The need for 
the collection of wild specimens is thought to have declined 
dramatically from the levels previously observed in the 1960s and 1970s 
(Vandeventer 2014). Consequently, we have determined that 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes is not a threat to the black pinesnake at this 
time.

Factor C: Disease or Predation

    Disease is not presently considered to be a threat to the black 
pinesnake. However, snake fungal disease (SFD) is an emerging disease 
in certain populations of wild snakes, even though specific 
pathological criteria for the disease have not yet been established.

[[Page 60413]]

This disease, which has been linked to mortality events, has not been 
documented in Pituophis or in any of the States within the range of the 
black pinesnake, but is suspected of threatening the viability of 
small, isolated populations of susceptible snake species and should be 
monitored during all future research activities (Sleeman 2013, pp. 1-
3).
    Red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), an invasive species, 
have been implicated in trap mortalities of black pinesnakes during 
field studies (Baxley 2007, p. 17). They are also potential predators 
of black pinesnake eggs, especially in disturbed areas (Todd et al. 
2008, p. 544). In 2010 and 2011, trapping for black pinesnakes was 
conducted in several areas that were expected to support the 
subspecies; no black pinesnakes were found, but high densities of fire 
ants were reported (Smith 2011, pp. 44-45). The severity and magnitude 
of effects, as well as the long-term effects, of fire ants on black 
pinesnake populations are currently unknown.
    Other predators of pinesnakes include red-tailed hawks, raccoons, 
skunks, red foxes, and feral cats (Ernst and Ernst 2003, p. 284; Yager 
et al. 2006, p. 34). Lyman et al. (2007, p. 39) reported an attack on a 
black pinesnake by a stray domestic dog, which resulted in the snake's 
death. Several of these mammalian predators are anthropogenically 
enhanced (urban predators); that is, their numbers often increase with 
human development adjacent to natural areas (Fischer et al. 2012, pp. 
810-811). However, the severity and magnitude of predation by these 
species are unknown.
    In summary, disease is not considered to be a threat to the black 
pinesnake at this time. However, predation by fire ants and urban 
predators may represent a threat to the black pinesnake.

Factor D: The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    In Mississippi, the black pinesnake is classified as endangered by 
the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks 
(Mississippi Museum of Natural Science 2001, p. 1). In Alabama, it is 
protected as a non-game animal (Alabama Department of Conservation and 
Natural Resources 2014, p. 1). In Louisiana, the black pinesnake is 
considered extirpated (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries 
2014, p. 2); however, Louisiana Revised Statutes for Wildlife and 
Fisheries were recently amended to prohibit killing black pinesnakes or 
removing them from the wild (Louisiana Administrative Code, 2014, p. 
186), should they be found in the State again. Both Mississippi and 
Alabama have regulations that restrict collecting, killing, or selling 
of the subspecies, but do not have regulations addressing habitat loss, 
which has been the primary cause of decline of this subspecies.
    Where the subspecies co-occurs with species already listed under 
the Act, the black pinesnake likely receives ancillary benefits from 
the protective measures for the already listed species, including the 
gopher tortoise, dusky gopher frog (Rana sevosa), and red-cockaded 
woodpecker.
    The largest known expanses of suitable habitat for the black 
pinesnake are in the De Soto NF in Mississippi. The black pinesnake's 
habitat is afforded some protection under the National Forest 
Management Act (NFMA; 16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq.) where it occurs on lands 
managed by the Forest Service that are occupied by federally listed 
species such as the gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker. Forest 
Service rules and guidelines implementing NFMA require land management 
plans that include provisions supporting recovery of endangered and 
threatened species. As a result, land managers on the De Soto NF have 
conducted management actions, such as prescribed burning and longleaf 
pine restoration, which benefit gopher tortoises, red-cockaded 
woodpeckers, and black pinesnakes. However, they do not fully address 
the microhabitat needs of the black pinesnake, such as restrictions on 
stump removal, which is detrimental to black pinesnakes because of the 
subspecies' utilization of pine stumps and root channels as refugia 
(Duran 1998a, p. 14). They continue to work with the Service and other 
partners to develop and implement a CCA.
    As discussed under Factor A above, the MSARNG recently updated its 
INRMP for Camp Shelby, and outlined conservation measures to be 
implemented specifically for the black pinesnake on 5,735 ac (2,321 ha) 
of potential pinesnake habitat owned or managed by DoD. These measures 
will benefit black pinesnake populations, and include a monitoring 
protocol to help evaluate the population and appropriate guidelines for 
maintaining suitable habitat and microhabitats.
    In summary, outside of the National Forest and the area covered by 
the INRMP, existing regulatory mechanisms provide little protection 
from the primary threat of habitat loss for some populations of the 
black pinesnake. Longleaf restoration activities on Forest Service 
lands in Mississippi conducted for other federally listed species do 
improve habitat for black pinesnake populations located in those areas, 
but could be improved by ensuring the protection of the belowground 
refugia critical to the snake.

Factor E: Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued 
Existence

    Fire is the preferred management technique to maintain the longleaf 
pine ecosystem, and fire suppression has been considered a primary 
reason for the degradation of the remaining longleaf pine forest. It is 
a contributing factor in reducing the quality and quantity of available 
habitat for the black pinesnake. Some of the forecasts for southern 
forests are that land use changes involving fuels management will 
continue to constrain prescribed fire efforts, and that safety and 
health regulations and increased urban interface will add to those 
constraints, making prescribed burning even more challenging in the 
future (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 509). Reduced fire frequencies and 
reductions in average area burned per fire event (strategies often used 
in management of pine plantations) produce sites with thick mid-
stories, and these areas are avoided by black pinesnakes (Duran 1998b, 
p. 32). During a 2005 study using radio-telemetry to track black 
pinesnakes, a prescribed burn bisected the home range of one of the 
study animals. The snake spent significantly more time in the recently 
burned area than in the area that had not been burned in several years 
(Smith 2005, 5 pp.).
    Habitat fragmentation within the longleaf pine ecosystem threatens 
the continued existence of all black pinesnake populations, 
particularly those on private lands. This is frequently the result of 
urban development, conversion of longleaf pine sites to pine 
plantations, and the associated increases in number of roads. Private 
forest ownership dynamics in the South are trending towards increased 
parcellation (e.g., the splitting up of large tracts of land), which 
could lead to greater fragmentation through estate disposal and 
urbanization (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 103). When patches of available 
habitat become separated beyond the dispersal range of a species, 
populations are more sensitive to genetic, demographic, and 
environmental variability, and extinction becomes possible. This is 
likely a primary cause for the extirpation of the black pinesnake in 
Louisiana and the subspecies' contracted range in Alabama and 
Mississippi (Duran and Givens 2001, pp. 22-26).

[[Page 60414]]

    Private landowners hold more than 86 percent of forests in the 
South and produce nearly all of the forest investment and timber 
harvesting in the region (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 103). Forecasts 
indicate a loss of 11 to 23 million ac (4.5 million to 9.3 million ha) 
of private forest land in the South by 2060. This loss, combined with 
expanding urbanization and ongoing splitting of ownership as estates 
are divided, will result in increased fragmentation of remaining forest 
holdings (Wear and Greis 2013, p. 119). This assessment of continued 
future fragmentation throughout the range of the black pinesnake, 
coupled with the assumption that large home range size increases 
extinction vulnerability, emphasizes the importance of conserving and 
managing large tracts of contiguous habitat to protect the black 
pinesnake (Baxley 2007, p. 65). This is in agreement with other studies 
of large, wide-ranging snake species sensitive to landscape 
fragmentation (Hoss et al. 2010; Breininger et al. 2012). When factors 
influencing the home range sizes of the eastern indigo snake 
(Drymarchon corais couperi) were analyzed, the results suggested that 
maintaining populations of this subspecies will require large 
conservation areas with minimum fragmentation (Breininger et al. 2011, 
pp. 484-490).
    Roads surrounding and traversing the remaining black pinesnake 
habitat pose a direct threat to the subspecies. Dodd et al. (2004, p. 
619) determined that roads fragment habitat for wildlife. Population 
viability analyses have shown that road mortality estimates in some 
snake species have greatly increased extinction probabilities (Row et 
al. 2007, p. 117). In an assessment of data from radio-tracked eastern 
indigo snakes, it was found that adult snakes have relatively high 
survival in conservation core areas, but greatly reduced survival in 
edges of these areas along highways, and in suburbs (Breininger et al. 
2012, p. 361). Clark et al. (2010, pp. 1059-1069) studied the impacts 
of roads on population structure and connectivity in timber 
rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). They found that roads interrupted 
dispersal and negatively affected genetic diversity and gene flow among 
populations of this large snake (Clark et al. 2010, p. 1059). In a 
Texas snake study, an observed deficit of snake captures in traps near 
roads suggests that a substantial proportion of the total number of 
snakes may have been eliminated due to road-related mortality and that 
populations of large snakes may be depressed by 50 percent or more due 
to this mortality (Rudolph et al. 1999, p. 130).
    A modeling study by Steen et al. (2012, p. 1092) determined that 
fragmentation by roads may be an impediment to maintaining viable 
populations of pinesnakes. Black pinesnakes frequent the sandy hilltops 
and ridges where roads are most frequently sited. Even on public lands, 
roads are a threat. During Duran's (1998b pp. 6, 34) study on Camp 
Shelby, Mississippi, 17 percent of the black pinesnakes with 
transmitters were killed while attempting to cross a road. In a larger 
study currently being conducted on Camp Shelby, 14 (38 percent) of the 
37 pinesnakes found on the road between 2004 to 2012 were found dead, 
and these 14 individuals represent about 13 percent of all the 
pinesnakes found on Camp Shelby during that 8-year span (Lyman et al. 
2012, p. 42). The majority of road crossings occurred between the last 
2 weeks of May and the first 2 weeks of June (Lyman et al. 2011, p. 
48), a time period when black pinesnakes are known to breed (Lyman et 
al. 2012, p. 42). In the study conducted by Baxley (2007, p. 83) on De 
Soto NF, 2 of the 8 snakes monitored with radio-transmitters were found 
dead on paved roads. This is an especially important issue on these 
public lands because the best remaining black pinesnake populations are 
concentrated there. It suggests that population declines may be due in 
part to adult mortality in excess of annual recruitment (Baxley and 
Qualls 2009, p. 290).
    Exotic plant species degrade habitat for wildlife. In the 
Southeast, longleaf pine forest associations are susceptible to 
invasion by the exotic cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica), which may 
rapidly encroach into areas undergoing habitat restoration, and is very 
difficult to eradicate once it has become established, requiring 
aggressive control with herbicides (Yager et al. 2010, pp. 229-230). 
Cogongrass displaces native grasses, greatly reducing foraging areas, 
and forms thick mats so dense that ground-dwelling wildlife has 
difficulty traversing them (DeBerry and Pashley 2008, p. 74).
    In many parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, there is a 
lack of understanding of the importance of snakes to a healthy 
ecosystem. Snakes are often killed intentionally when they are 
observed, and dead pinesnakes have been found that have been shot 
(Duran 1998b, p. 34). Lyman et al. (2008, p. 34) and Duran (1998b, p. 
34) both documented finding dead black pinesnakes that were 
intentionally run over as evidenced by vehicle tracks that went off the 
road in vicinity of dead snakes. In addition, in one of these instances 
(Lyman et al. 2008, p. 34), footprints were observed going from the 
vicinity of the truck to the snake's head, which had been intentionally 
crushed. As development pressures mount on remaining black pinesnake 
habitat, human-snake interactions are expected to increase, which in 
turn is expected to increase mortality, especially of adults.
    Duran (1998b, p. 36) suggested that reproductive rates of wild 
black pinesnakes may be low, based on failure to detect either nests or 
mating behaviors during his studies. For long-lived species, animals 
are expected to replace themselves over their lifespan in order for the 
population growth rate to remain stable or grow; therefore, if 
mortality of breeding adults is high, population declines can result. 
Thus, the loss of mature adults through road mortality, direct killing, 
or any other means increases in significance. As existing occupied 
habitat becomes reduced in quantity and quality, low reproductive rates 
threaten population viability.
    Random environmental events may also play a part in the decline of 
the black pinesnake. Two black pinesnakes were found dead on the De 
Soto NF during drought conditions of mid-summer and may have succumbed 
due to drought-related stress (Baxley 2007, p.41).
    In summary, a variety of natural or manmade factors currently 
threaten the black pinesnake. Fire suppression has been considered a 
primary reason for degradation of the longleaf pine ecosystem; however, 
invasive species such as cogongrass also greatly reduce the habitat 
quality for the black pinesnake. Isolation of populations beyond the 
dispersal range of the subspecies is a serious threat due to the 
fragmentation of available habitat. The high percentage of radio-
tracked black pinesnakes killed while trying to cross roads supports 
our conclusion that this is a serious threat, and human attitudes 
towards snakes represent another source of mortality. Stochastic 
threats such as drought have the potential to threaten black pinesnake 
populations, and the suspected low reproductive rate of the subspecies 
could exacerbate other threats and limit population viability. Overall, 
the threats under Factor E may act in combination with threats listed 
above under Factors A through D and increase their severity.

Proposed Determination

    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present,

[[Page 60415]]

and future threats to the black pinesnake. The black pinesnake is 
considered extirpated from Louisiana and three counties in Mississippi. 
Threats to the remaining black pinesnake populations exist primarily 
from two of the five threat factors (Factors A and E); however, 
predation by fire ants and urban predators (Factor C), and limitations 
of existing laws and regulations (Factor D) also pose lower-magnitude 
threats to the subspecies.
    Threats also occur in combination, resulting in synergistically 
greater effects. Threats of habitat loss and degradation (Factor A) 
represent primary threats to the black pinesnake. While habitat 
restoration efforts are beginning to reverse the decline of the 
longleaf pine forest in the Southeastern U.S., most of the black 
pinesnake's habitat has been either converted from forests to other 
uses or is highly fragmented. Today, the longleaf pine ecosystem 
occupies less than 4 percent of its historical range, and the black 
pinesnake has been tied directly to this ecosystem. For instance, much 
of the habitat outside of the National Forest in Mississippi (the 
stronghold of the range) has become highly fragmented, and populations 
on these lands appear to be small and isolated on islands of suitable 
longleaf pine habitat (Duran 1998a, p. 17; Barbour 2009, pp. 6-13).
    A habitat suitability study of all historical sites for the black 
pinesnake estimated that this subspecies likely no longer occurs in an 
estimated 60 percent of historical population segments. It is estimated 
that only 11 populations of black pinesnakes are extant today, of which 
about a third are located on isolated patches of longleaf pine habitat 
that continue to be degraded due to fire suppression and fragmentation 
(Factor E), incompatible forestry practices, and urbanization.
    Threats under Factor E include fire suppression; roads; invasive 
plant species, such as cogongrass; random environmental events, such as 
droughts; intentional killing by humans; and low reproductive rates. 
Fire suppression and invasive plants result in habitat degradation. 
Roads surround and traverse the ridges, which define black pinesnake 
habitat, and cause fragmentation of the remaining habitat. Further, 
vehicles travelling these roads cause the death of a high number of 
snakes. Roads also increase the rate of human-snake interactions, which 
likely result in the death of individual snakes. Episodic effects of 
drought and low reproductive rates of wild black pinesnakes further 
threaten this subspecies' population viability. These threats in 
combination lead to an increased chance of local extirpations by making 
populations more sensitive to genetic, demographic, and environmental 
variability.
    The threats that affect the black pinesnake are important on a 
threat-by-threat basis, but are even more significant in combination. 
Habitat loss has been extensive throughout the black pinesnake's range, 
and the remaining habitat has been fragmented into primarily small 
patches with barriers to dispersal between them, creating 
reproductively isolated individuals or populations. The inadequacy of 
laws and regulations protecting against habitat loss contributes to 
increases in urbanization and further fragmentation. Urbanization 
results in an increased density of roads, intensifying the potential 
for direct mortality of adult snakes, and reductions in population 
sizes. Reductions in habitat quality have synergistic effects, 
compounded by low reproductive rates, to cause localized extirpations. 
Threats to the black pinesnake, working individually or in combination, 
are ongoing and significant and have resulted in curtailment of the 
range of the subspecies.
    The Act defines an endangered species as any species that is ``in 
danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range'' and a threatened species as any species ``that is likely to 
become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range 
within the foreseeable future.'' We find that the black pinesnake meets 
the definition of a threatened species based on the immediacy, 
severity, and scope of the threats described above. Most of the 
longleaf pine habitat within the historical range of the black 
pinesnake has disappeared, and the remaining habitat exists primarily 
in fragmented patches too small to support a viable population. Current 
black pinesnake habitat continues to be lost or degraded due to fire 
suppression, incompatible forestry practices, and urbanization, and it 
appears this trend will continue in the future. Only 11 populations are 
estimated to be extant, and several of these exist in small numbers, 
are located on fragmented habitat, or have no protection or management 
in place; thus, their potential for long-term survival is questionable.
    We find that endangered status is not appropriate for the black 
pinesnake because, while we found the threats to the subspecies to be 
significant and rangewide, we do not know them to be either sudden or 
calamitous. Although there is a general decline in the overall range of 
the subspecies and its available habitat, the rate of decline has 
slowed in recent years due to restoration efforts, and range 
contraction is not severe enough to indicate imminent extinction. A 
significant proportion of the remaining black pinesnake populations (45 
percent) occur primarily on public lands that are at least partially 
managed to protect remaining longleaf pine habitat; management efforts 
on those lands specifically targeting listed longleaf pine specialists, 
such as the gopher tortoise and red-cockaded woodpecker, should benefit 
the black pinesnake as well, especially if measures are employed to 
protect below-ground refugia. Additionally, the 5,735 ac (2,321 ha) 
covered by the Camp Shelby INRMP are under a conservation plan 
specifically protecting black pinesnake microhabitats and increasing 
awareness of the human impacts to rare wildlife. The CCA currently 
under development with the Forest Service, MDWFP, and MSARNG should 
provide an elevated level of focused conservation and management for 
the black pinesnake on their lands. Because of these existing efforts 
and management plans, this subspecies does not meet the definition of 
an endangered species. Therefore, on the basis of the best available 
scientific and commercial information, we propose listing the black 
pinesnake as threatened in accordance with sections 3(20) and 4(a)(1) 
of the Act.
    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is endangered or threatened throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. Because we have determined that black 
pinesnake is threatened throughout all of its range, no portion of its 
range can be ``significant'' for purposes of the definitions of 
``endangered species'' and ``threatened species.'' See the Final Policy 
on Interpretation of the Phrase ``Significant Portion of Its Range'' in 
the Endangered Species Act's Definitions of ``Endangered Species'' and 
``Threatened Species'' (79 FR 37577).

Available Conservation Measures

    Several conservation efforts already exist for the black pinesnake. 
The MSARNG recently updated its INRMP and outlined conservation 
measures to be implemented specifically for the black pinesnake on 
lands owned by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the State of 
Mississippi on Camp Shelby. Planned conservation measures include: 
Supporting research and surveys on the subspecies; habitat management 
specifically targeting the black pinesnake, such as retention of pine 
stumps and prescribed burning; and

[[Page 60416]]

educational programs for users of the training center to minimize 
negative impacts of vehicular mortality on wildlife (MSARNG 2014, pp. 
93-94). The INRMP addresses integrative management and conservation 
measures on the lands owned and managed by DoD and the State of 
Mississippi (15,195 ac (6,149 ha)), which make up 11 percent of the 
total acreage of Camp Shelby (132,195 ac (53,497 ha)), most of which is 
owned and managed by the Forest Service.
    The Mississippi Army National Guard (MSARNG) has also drafted a 
candidate conservation agreement (CCA) for the black pinesnake (MSARNG 
2013, pp. 1-36). The purpose of this voluntary agreement is to 
implement proactive conservation and management measures for the black 
pinesnake and its habitat throughout the De Soto NF, which includes 
Camp Shelby. While the black pinesnake benefits from actions taken in 
these areas for other listed species, additional actions specifically 
targeting the conservation needs of the pinesnake should occur when the 
CCA is finalized and implemented.
    Longleaf pine habitat restoration projects have been conducted on 
selected private lands within the range historically occupied by the 
black pinesnake and may provide benefits to the subspecies (U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service 2012, pp. 12-13). Additionally, restoration 
projects have been conducted on wildlife management areas (WMAs) 
(Marion County WMA in Mississippi; and Scotch, Fred T. Stimpson, and 
Boykin WMAs in Alabama) occupied by black pinesnakes, and on three 
gopher tortoise relocation areas in Mobile County, Alabama. These 
gopher tortoise relocation areas are managed for the open-canopied, 
upland longleaf pine habitat used by both gopher tortoises and black 
pinesnakes, and have had recent records of black pinesnakes on the 
property.
    Other conservation measures which would be provided to species 
listed as endangered or threatened under the Act include recognition, 
recovery actions, requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions 
against certain practices. Recognition through listing results in 
public awareness, and conservation by Federal, State, Tribal, and local 
agencies; private organizations; and individuals. The Act encourages 
cooperation with the States and requires that recovery actions be 
carried out for all listed species. The protection required by Federal 
agencies and the prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, 
in part, below.
    The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered 
and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The 
ultimate goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these 
listed species, so that they no longer need the protective measures of 
the Act. Subsection 4(f) of the Act requires the Service to develop and 
implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered and 
threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the 
identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the 
species' decline by addressing the threats to its survival and 
recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a 
point where they are secure, self-sustaining, and functioning 
components of their ecosystems.
    Recovery planning includes the development of a recovery outline 
shortly after a species is listed and preparation of a draft and final 
recovery plan. The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation 
of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to be used to 
develop a recovery plan. Revisions of the plan may be done to address 
continuing or new threats to the species, as new substantive 
information becomes available. The recovery plan identifies site-
specific management actions that set a trigger for review of the five 
factors that control whether a species remains endangered or may be 
downlisted or delisted, and methods for monitoring recovery progress. 
Recovery plans also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate 
their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of 
implementing recovery tasks. Recovery teams (composed of species 
experts, Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and 
stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. If the 
species is listed, a recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the 
final recovery plan would be made available on our Web site (https://www.fws.gov/endangered) and from our Mississippi Ecological Services 
Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their 
actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as an 
endangered or threatened species and with respect to its critical 
habitat, if any is designated. Regulations implementing this 
interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR 
part 402. Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with the Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of a species proposed for listing or result in 
destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a 
species is listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires 
Federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or 
carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the 
species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a 
Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the 
responsible Federal agency must enter into consultation with the 
Service.
    Federal agency actions within the subspecies' habitat that may 
require conference or consultation or both as described in the 
preceding paragraph include management and any other landscape-altering 
activities on Federal lands administered by the Forest Service or on 
National Wildlife Refuges managed by the Service; issuance of section 
404 Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) permits by the U.S. Army 
Corps of Engineers; construction and maintenance of gas pipeline and 
power line rights-of-way by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; 
construction and maintenance of roads or highways by the Federal 
Highway Administration; land management practices supported by programs 
administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Environmental 
Protection Agency pesticide registration; and projects funded through 
Federal loan programs which may include, but are not limited to, roads 
and bridges, utilities, recreation sites, and other forms of 
development.
    The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to all endangered and 
threatened wildlife. The prohibitions of section 9(a)(2) of the Act, 
codified at 50 CFR 17.21 for endangered wildlife, in part, make it 
illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States 
to take (includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture, or collect; or to attempt any of these), import, export, ship 
in interstate commerce in the course of commercial activity, or sell or 
offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any listed species. 
Under the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42-43; 16 U.S.C. 3371-3378), it is also 
illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such 
wildlife that has been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to 
agents of the Service and State conservation agencies. 50 CFR 17.31 
generally applies the prohibitions for endangered wildlife to 
threatened wildlife, unless a rule issued under section 4(d) of the Act 
is adopted by the Service.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities

[[Page 60417]]

involving endangered and threatened wildlife species under certain 
circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 
17.22 for endangered species, and at 17.32 for threatened species. With 
regard to threatened and endangered wildlife, a permit must be issued 
for the following purposes: For scientific purposes, to enhance the 
propagation or survival of the species, and for incidental take in 
connection with otherwise lawful activities.
    It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 1, 
1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent practicable at 
the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not 
constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act, if the species is 
listed. The intent of this policy is to increase public awareness of 
the effect of a proposed listing on proposed and ongoing activities 
within the range of species proposed for listing. The following 
activities could potentially result in a violation of section 9 of the 
Act; this list is not comprehensive:
    (1) Unauthorized collecting, handling, possessing, selling, 
delivering, carrying, or transporting of the black pinesnake, including 
import or export across State lines and international boundaries, 
except for properly documented antique specimens of these taxa at least 
100 years old, as defined by section 10(h)(1) of the Act;
    (2) Introduction of nonnative species that compete with or prey 
upon the black pinesnake;
    (3) Unauthorized destruction or modification of occupied black 
pinesnake habitat (e.g., clearcutting, root raking, bedding) that 
results in ground disturbance or the destruction of stump holes and 
their associated root systems used as refugia by the subspecies or that 
impairs in other ways the subspecies' essential behaviors such as 
breeding, feeding, or sheltering;
    (4) Unauthorized use of insecticides and rodenticides that could 
impact small mammal prey populations, though either unintended or 
direct impacts within habitat occupied by black pinesnakes; and
    (5) Actions, intentional or otherwise, that would result in the 
destruction of eggs or cause mortality or injury to hatchling, 
juvenile, or adult black pinesnakes.
    Questions regarding whether specific activities would constitute a 
violation of section 9 of the Act should be directed to the Mississippi 
Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Proposed Special Rule

    Under section 4(d) of the Act, the Secretary of the Interior has 
discretion to issue such regulations as she deems necessary and 
advisable to provide for the conservation of threatened species. The 
Secretary also has the discretion to prohibit by regulation with 
respect to a threatened species any act prohibited by section 9(a)(1) 
of the Act. Exercising this discretion, which has been delegated to the 
Service by the Secretary, the Service has developed general 
prohibitions that are appropriate for most threatened species at 50 CFR 
17.31 and exceptions to those prohibitions at 50 CFR 17.32. While the 
prohibitions at 17.31 and 17.32 apply for this species, some activities 
that would normally be prohibited under 17.31 and 17.32 are necessary 
for the conservation of this species, because the longleaf wiregrass 
ecosystem requires active management to ensure appropriate habitat 
conditions are present. Therefore, for the black pinesnake, the Service 
has determined that a section 4(d) rule may be appropriate to promote 
conservation of th this species. As discussed in the Summary of Factors 
Affecting the Species section of this rule, the primary threat to this 
subspecies is the continuing loss and degradation of habitat. Foremost 
in the degradation of this subspecies' habitat is the absence of 
prescribed fire, which reduces the forest mid-story and promotes an 
abundant herbaceous groundcover. Fire is a natural component of the 
longleaf pine ecosystem where the black pinesnake occurs. Another 
factor affecting the integrity of this ecosystem is the establishment 
of exotic weeds, particularly cogongrass. Activities such as prescribed 
burning and noxious weed control, as well as timber management 
activities associated with restoring and improving the natural habitat 
to meet the needs of the black pinesnake, would positively affect 
pinesnake populations and provide an overall conservation benefit to 
the subspecies.
Provisions of the Proposed Special Rule
    This proposed 4(d) rule would exempt from the general prohibitions 
in 50 C.F.R. 17.32 take incidental to the following activities when 
conducted within habitats currently or historically occupied by the 
black pinesnake:
    (1) Prescribed burning in the course of habitat management and 
restoration to benefit black pinesnakes or other native species of the 
longleaf pine ecosystem.
    (2) Noxious weed control, mid-story hardwood control, and hazardous 
fuels reduction in the course of habitat management and restoration to 
benefit black pinesnakes or other sensitive species of the longleaf 
pine ecosystem, provided that these activities are conducted in a 
manner consistent with Federal law, including Environmental Protection 
Agency label restrictions; applicable State laws; and herbicide 
application guidelines as prescribed by herbicide manufacturers.
    (3) Restoration along riparian areas and stream buffers.
    (4) Intermediate silvicultural treatments (such as planting of 
longleaf seedlings on existing agricultural or silvicultural sites 
where mature longleaf stands do not currently exist) performed under a 
management plan or prescription that is designed to work towards one or 
more of the following target conditions:
    (a) Mature, longleaf-dominated forest with <=70 percent canopy 
coverage;
    (b) Hardwood mid-story reductions resulting in <10 percent mid-
story coverage;
    (c) Abundant, diverse, native groundcover covering at least 40 
percent of the ground.
    All of the activities listed above should be conducted in a manner 
to maintain connectivity of suitable black pinesnake habitats, allowing 
dispersal and migration between larger forest stands; to minimize 
ground and subsurface disturbance by conducting harvests during drier 
periods when the ground is not saturated, by using low-pressure tires, 
or both; and to leave stumps, dead standing snags, and woody debris.
    We believe these actions and activities, while they may have some 
minimal level of mortality, harm, or disturbance to the black 
pinesnake, are not expected to adversely affect the subspecies' 
conservation and recovery efforts. They would have a net beneficial 
effect on the subspecies.
    Like the proposed listing rule, this proposed special rule will not 
be finalized until we have reviewed comments from the public and peer 
reviewers.
    Based on the rationale above, the provisions included in this 
proposed 4(d) rule are necessary and advisable to provide for the 
conservation of the black pinesnake. Nothing in this proposed 4(d) rule 
would change in any way the recovery planning provisions of section 
4(f) of the Act and consultation requirements under section 7 of the 
Act or the ability of the Service to enter into partnerships for the 
management and protection of the black pinesnake.
Critical Habitat
    Section 3(5)(A) of the Act defines critical habitat as ``(i) the 
specific areas

[[Page 60418]]

within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is 
listed . . . on which are found those physical or biological features 
(I) Essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may 
require special management considerations or protection; and (ii) 
specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at 
the time it is listed . . . upon a determination by the Secretary that 
such areas are essential for the conservation of the species.'' Section 
3(3) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1532(3)) also defines the terms 
``conserve,'' ``conserving,'' and ``conservation'' to mean ``to use and 
the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any 
endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the 
measures provided pursuant to this chapter Act are no longer 
necessary.''
    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12), require that, to the maximum extent 
prudent and determinable, the Secretary shall designate critical 
habitat at the time the species is determined to be an endangered or 
threatened species. Our regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)) state that 
the designation of critical habitat is not prudent when one or both of 
the following situations exist:
    (1) The species is threatened by taking or other human activity, 
and identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the 
degree of threat to the species, or
    (2) such designation of critical habitat would not be beneficial to 
the species.
    There is currently no imminent threat of take attributed to 
collection or vandalism under Factor B for this species, and 
identification and mapping of critical habitat is not expected to 
initiate any such threat. Therefore, in the absence of finding that the 
designation of critical habitat would increase threats to a species, if 
there are any benefits to a critical habitat designation, a finding 
that designation is prudent is warranted. Here, the potential benefits 
of designation include: (1) Triggering consultation under section 7 of 
the Act, in new areas for actions in which there may be a Federal nexus 
where it would not otherwise occur because, for example, it is 
unoccupied; (2) focusing conservation activities on the most essential 
features and areas; (3) providing educational benefits to State or 
county governments or private entities; and (4) preventing people from 
causing inadvertent harm to the species.
    Because we have determined that the designation of critical habitat 
will not likely increase the degree of threat to the species and may 
provide some measure of benefit, we determine that designation of 
critical habitat is prudent for the black pinesnake.
    Our regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(2)) further state that critical 
habitat is not determinable when one or both of the following 
situations exists: (1) Information sufficient to perform required 
analysis of the impacts of the designation is lacking; or (2) the 
biological needs of the species are not sufficiently well known to 
permit identification of an area as critical habitat.
    Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.19 require the Service to ``make 
available for public comment the draft economic analysis of the 
designation'' at the time the proposed critical habitat rule publishes 
in the Federal Register. At this point, a careful assessment of the 
economic impacts that may occur due to a critical habitat designation 
is still ongoing, and we are still in the process of acquiring the 
information needed to perform this assessment. Accordingly, we find 
designation of critical habitat to be not determinable at this time.

Required Determinations

Clarity of the Rule

    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the 
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain 
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (1) Be logically organized;
    (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (3) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us 
comments by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. To 
better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as 
possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections 
or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences 
are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be 
useful, etc.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)

    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental 
impact statements, as defined under the authority of NEPA, need not be 
prepared in connection with listing a species as an endangered or 
threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. We published a 
notice outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal 
Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available 
on the Internet at https://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the 
Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authors

    The primary authors of this proposed rule are the staff members of 
the Mississippi Ecological Services Field Office.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:

PART 17--[AMENDED]

0
1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 1531-1544; 4201-4245, unless 
otherwise noted.

0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by adding an entry for ``Pinesnake, black'' to 
the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in alphabetical order 
under REPTILES to read as set forth below:


Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

[[Page 60419]]



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
REPTILES
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Pinesnake, black.................  Pituophis             U.S.A. (AL, LA, MS)  Entire.............  T                                     NA    17.42(h).
                                    melanoleucus
                                    lodingi.
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
3. Amend Sec.  17.42 by adding paragraph (h) to read as follows:


Sec.  17.42  Special rules--reptiles.

* * * * *
    (h) Black pinesnake (Pituophis melanoleucus lodingi).
    (1) Prohibitions. Except as noted in paragraph (h)(2) of this 
section, all prohibitions and provisions of Sec. Sec.  17.31 and 17.32 
apply to the black pinesnake.
    (2) Exemptions from prohibitions. (i) Incidental take of the black 
pinesnake will not be considered a violation of section 9 of the Act if 
the take results from any of the following when conducted within 
habitats currently or historically occupied by the black pinesnake:
    (A) Prescribed burning in the course of habitat management and 
restoration to benefit black pinesnakes or other native species of the 
longleaf pine ecosystem.
    (B) Noxious weed control in the course of habitat management and 
restoration to benefit black pinesnakes or other sensitive species of 
the longleaf pine ecosystem, provided that the noxious weed control is 
conducted in a manner consistent with Federal law, including 
Environmental Protection Agency label restrictions; applicable State 
laws; and herbicide application guidelines as prescribed by herbicide 
manufacturers.
    (C) Restoration along riparian areas and stream buffers.
    (D) Intermediate silvicultural treatments (such as planting of 
longleaf seedlings on existing agricultural or silvicultural sites 
where mature longleaf stands do not currently exist) performed under a 
management plan or prescription that is designed to work towards the 
following target conditions:
    (1) Mature, longleaf-dominated forest with <=70 percent canopy 
coverage;
    (2) Hardwood mid-story reductions resulting in <10 percent mid-
story coverage;
    (3) Abundant, diverse, native groundcover covering at least 40 
percent of the ground.
    (ii) Forestry practices (i.e., selective thinnings or small group 
selection cuts) conducted for the activities listed in paragraph 
(h)(2)(i) of this section must be conducted in a manner to maintain 
connectivity of suitable black pinesnake habitats, allowing dispersal 
and migration between larger forest stands; to minimize ground and 
subsurface disturbance by conducting harvests during drier periods, by 
using low-pressure tires, or both; and to leave stumps, dead standing 
snags, and woody debris.
* * * * *

    Dated: September 23, 2014.
David Cottingham,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-23673 Filed 10-6-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P