Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species Status for Black-Capped Petrel With a Section 4(d) Rule, 50560-50574 [2018-21793]

Download as PDF 50560 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules List of Subjects in 40 CFR Part 81 Environmental protection, Air pollution control, Particulate matter. Dated: September 25, 2018. James Payne, Acting Regional Administrator, Region 5. [FR Doc. 2018–21878 Filed 10–5–18; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6560–50–P DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service 50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2018–0043; 4500030113] RIN 1018–BD13 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species Status for Black-Capped Petrel With a Section 4(d) Rule Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Proposed rule. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to list the black-capped petrel (Pterodroma hasitata), a pelagic seabird species that nests on the island of Hispaniola and forages off the coast of the eastern United States, as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). If we finalize this rule as proposed, it would extend the Act’s protections to this species. We are also proposing a rule issued under section 4(d) of the Act to provide for the conservation of this species. We have determined that designation of critical habitat for the black-capped petrel is not prudent at this time, but are seeking public comment on that determination. DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before December 10, 2018. 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 23, 2018. 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–2018–0043, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rule box 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–2018– 0043; 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 Information Requested, below, for more information). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Edwin Mun˜iz, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office, P.O. Box 491, Road 301 Km 5.1, Boquero´n, PR; telephone 787–851–7297. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Information Requested 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. Because we will consider all comments and information we receive during the comment period, our final determination may differ from this proposal. We particularly seek comments concerning: (1) The black-capped petrel’s biology, range, and population trends, including: (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the species, including habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering that apply to both the foraging and nesting areas; (b) Genetics and taxonomy; (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 species, its habitat, or both. (2) Factors that may affect the continued existence of the species, which may include habitat modification or destruction, overutilization, disease, PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 predation, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, or other natural or manmade factors on both the nesting and foraging grounds and migratory routes, including: (a) Impacts to prey species; (b) Predicted changes in the Gulf Stream current due to climate change; (c) Impacts from offshore and coastal lighting; (d) Impacts from offshore oil and gas exploration, development, production, and operations; and (e) Impacts from offshore wind energy operations. (3) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning any threats (or lack thereof) to this species and existing regulations that may be addressing those threats. (4) Additional information concerning the historical and current status, range, distribution, and population size of this species, including confirmed locations of any additional populations of this species. (5) Information on nesting sites on the islands of Cuba or Dominica, or other Caribbean islands. (6) Information concerning activities that should be considered under a rule issued in accordance with section 4(d) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) as a prohibition or exemption within U.S. territory that would contribute to the conservation of the species. (7) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as ‘‘critical habitat’’ under section 4 of the Act, including whether there are threats to the species from human activity, the degree of which can be expected to increase due to the designation, and whether a designation could increase threats to the species such that the designation of critical habitat may not be prudent. We specifically request information on foraging habitat for the petrel, the only habitat located within U.S. jurisdiction, and its relationship to the biological needs of the species, to help us determine whether such habitat meets the definition of critical habitat under the Act. You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES. 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. All comments submitted electronically via https://www.regulations.gov will be presented on the website in their entirety as submitted. For comments E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules submitted via hard copy, we will post your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—on https://www.regulations.gov. You may request at the top of your document that we withhold personal information, such as your street address, phone number, or email address, from public review; however, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. 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 directs that determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or a threatened species must be made ‘‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.’’ 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, Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 Public Hearing Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for a public hearing 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 (see DATES). Such requests must be sent to the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. We will schedule a public hea Federal Register and local newspapers at least 15 days before the hearing. Previous Federal Actions The black-capped petrel was included as a category 2 candidate species in a Federal Register notice of review dated November 15, 1994 (59 FR 58982). Category 2 candidates were taxa for which information was available indicating that listing was possibly appropriate, but insufficient data were available regarding biological vulnerability and threats. In a February 28, 1996, notice of review (61 FR 7596), we discontinued the use of multiple candidate categories and removed category 2 species, including the blackcapped petrel, from the candidate list. We were petitioned by WildEarth Guardians on September 1, 2011, to list the species as endangered or threatened under the Act. On June 21, 2012, we published a 90-day finding, which determined there was substantial scientific or commercial information VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 indicating that listing the species is warranted (77 FR 37367). On February 18, 2015, Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a complaint against the Service for failure to complete a 12month finding for the black-capped petrel. On September 9, 2015, the Service entered into a settlement agreement with CBD to resolve the complaint; the court approved the agreement on September 15, 2015. The agreement specified that a 12-month finding for the black-capped petrel would be delivered to the Federal Register by September 30, 2018. This document serves as our 12-month finding on the September 2011 petition. Species Status Assessment A species status assessment (SSA) team prepared an SSA report for the black-capped petrel; the science provided in the SSA, version 1.1, is the basis for this proposed rule (Service 2018). The SSA team was composed of Service biologists, in consultation with other species experts. The SSA report represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data available concerning the status of the species, including the impacts of past, present, and future factors (both negative and beneficial) affecting the species. The SSA report underwent independent peer review by scientists with expertise in seabird biology, habitat management, and stressors (factors negatively affecting the species) to the species. The SSA report and other materials relating to this proposal can be found on the Service’s Southeast Region website at https://www.fws.gov/southeast/ and at https://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2018–0043. Background A thorough review of the taxonomy, life history, and ecology of the blackcapped petrel (Pterodroma hasitata) is presented in the SSA report (Service 2018); available at https://www.fws.gov/ southeast and at https:// www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2018–0043. The black-capped petrel is a pelagic seabird that is in the order Procellariiformes, family Procellariidae. This order is distinguished by sheathed nostrils in horny tubes from the base of the bill (Warham 1990, p. 2). It is a medium-sized seabird in the Pterodroma or gadfly genus with long slender wings and markings of a black cap and dark mantle separated by a white collar. The wings are black or dark in color on the top surface as well as the edges of the underwing. Certain morphological characteristics may vary across the species with ‘‘black-faced,’’ PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 50561 ‘‘white-face,’’ and ‘‘intermediate’’ variations of the species having different plumage coloration and patterns (Howell and Patteson 2008, p. 70). A study that compared the genetics of the dark birds to the light and intermediatecolored birds found a substantial differentiation indicating population breeding isolation (Manly et al. 2013, p. 231). The black-capped petrel is the only gadfly petrel species to breed in the West Indies. Petrels tend to maintain a strong relationship with their breeding grounds and return to the same nesting areas each year (Warham 1990, pp. 231– 234). This site fidelity of these nesting birds tends to isolate breeding populations and can influence genetic, behavioral, and morphological variation due to limited genetic exchange. The variation between the dark and light birds included phenological, morphological, and behavioral differences (Howell and Patteson 2008, entire). Black-capped petrels currently breed at four locations on the island of Hispaniola (Pic Macaya, Haiti; Pic la Visite, Haiti; Morne Vincent/Sierra de Bahoruco, Haiti/Dominican Republic; and Valle Nuevo, Dominican Republic). Historically, the species also nested on Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, and, possibly, Cuba (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S11–S19). Currently, at least 90 percent of the known nests are found within Parc National La Visite (Pic la Visite) in the Massif de la Selle mountain range in Haiti (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 5). Black-capped petrels spend most of their time at sea in the western Atlantic. The at-sea geographic distribution (marine range) of the black-capped petrel includes waters off the eastern coast of North America from latitude 40° N (approximately New Jersey) south to latitude 10° N (approximately northern South America) (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 4; Jodice et al. 2015, entire). Off the eastern coast of the United States, petrels forage primarily in the Gulf Stream, from northern North Carolina to northern Florida, in areas of upwelling; off the coast of North Carolina, the species is most commonly observed offshore seaward from the western edge of the Gulf Stream and in areas of deeper waters. Near-shore waters off the northern coast of Central and South America also serve as foraging areas for some black-capped petrels during the breeding season (Jodice et al. 2015, pp. 26–27). Recent surveys have also found black-capped petrels in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Haney 2018, pers. comm.). The range and extent of the species within the Gulf of Mexico is yet E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 50562 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules to be determined, but surveys are ongoing. Black-capped petrels feed mostly at night and pick their food from the water surface either solitarily or in close proximity to other foraging seabird species. The diet of black-capped petrels is not fully understood; however, stomach contents of black-capped petrels include squid, fish, crustaceans, and Sargassum or marine algae (Haney 1987, pp. 163–164; Simons et al. 2013, p. S30). The plant materials in the stomach suggest the species may forage around Sargassum mats, which tend to attract prey species leading to the ingestion of the algae materials while the petrels feed on their preferred prey. The limited amount of algae found within digestive tracts further suggests that petrels may only be incidentally foraging at the Sargassum (Moser and Lee 1992, p. 67). Black-capped petrel nesting areas are in high-elevation (greater than or equal to 1,500 meters (4,921 feet)), montane forests with steep slopes and rocky substrate with or without vegetation or humus cover that provides cavities for nesting burrows. They may also burrow at the base of native arborescent ferns (Jean and Brown 2018, in litt.). The nesting season begins around January, with high parental investment in the nest and chick rearing. The female lays only one egg each season, with an alternating male and female incubation period of 50 to 53 days, followed by shared parenting of the chick for a minimum of 80 days. Adults that are raising young may travel 500 to 1,500 kilometers (km) (310 to 932 miles (mi)) to obtain food for the young and have been found foraging in the Caribbean Sea (Jodice et al. 2015, pp. 26–27). Chicks fledge between May and July, and head out to sea to feed on their own (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S21–S22). When adult birds leave the nesting areas, they may migrate up to 2,200 km (1,367 mi) from the breeding grounds to primary offshore foraging areas off the mid-Atlantic and southern coasts of the United States (Jodice et al. 2015, p. 23). The travel of adults to and from nests during foraging bouts for the young generally occurs at night; this makes visual observations difficult. The nests are also in rugged montane areas that are not easily accessed, and burrows are difficult to detect. The species was historically used as a food source for the island inhabitants, as the young chicks are easily captured once a burrow is located. The petrels were also drawn in using manmade fires (Sen Sel) intended to disorient the birds, causing them to fly towards the light of the fire and ultimately crashing into the land nearby VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 where they were captured for food (Wingate 1964, p. 154). Due to the cryptic nature of the species as described above, the species was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in by Wingate in 1963, in the Massif de la Selle mountain range in Haiti. The estimated population at that time was around 2,000 pairs, based on potential occupied suitable habitat; however, there is some uncertainty of the accuracy of this estimate due to the methods used to extrapolate. Wingate suggested the population may have been even higher (Wingate 1964, p. 154). Summary of Biological Status and Threats The Act directs us to determine whether any species is an endangered species or a threatened species because of specific factors affecting its continued existence (stressors). 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. The SSA report documents the results of our comprehensive biological status review for the blackcapped petrel, including an assessment of the potential stressors to the species. It does not represent a decision by the Service on whether the species should be proposed for listing as an endangered or threatened species under the Act. It does, however, provide the scientific basis that informs our regulatory decision, which involves the further application of standards within the Act and its implementing regulations and policies. The following is a summary of the key results and conclusions from the SSA report. Risk Factors for Black-Capped Petrel We reviewed the potential risk factors (i.e., threats or stressors) that are affecting the black-capped petrel now and into the future. In this proposed rule, we will discuss in detail only those threats that we conclude are driving the status and future viability of the species. The primary threat to the species on the breeding grounds is habitat loss due to deforestation and forest fires (Factors A and E); additional threats that have affected the species include introduced mammals (Factor C), communication towers (Factor E), and artificial lighting (Factor E). The effects of climate change are also expected to affect the species through increased storm intensity and PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 frequency, resulting in flooding of burrows and erosion of suitable nesting habitat (Factor E). Historically, human predation for consumption (Factor B) and natural disasters (Factor E), such as earthquakes and volcano eruptions, affected the viability of the species. However, there is no evidence that the species is still regularly harvested for consumption. While this was a threat to the species historically, causing the extirpation of some breeding populations, we do not currently consider it a threat to the species. Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, are not regularly occurring events in the Caribbean. While geologic events such as these have occurred in the past, there is no information to indicate these would occur in the near future and were not considered in our analysis. At sea, the species may be affected by coastal and offshore wind farms (Factor E), offshore oil and gas development (Factor E), marine fisheries (Factor E), and mercury and plastic marine debris (Factor E). Lighting from fisheries and offshore energy operations can disorient the petrels. The predicted increase in strong Atlantic storms or hurricane frequency is also expected to lead to an increase in land strandings (Factor E). Synergistic interactions are possible between effects of climate change and effects of other potential threats such as habitat degradation, deforestation, agricultural development, and coastal or offshore energy development. We discuss each of these factors in more detail below. Deforestation Deforestation, and associated loss and degradation of nesting habitat, is considered the most significant threat to the black-capped petrel (Goetz et al. 2012, entire). Many of the Caribbean islands where petrels were historically reported have experienced extremely high rates of forest conversion and loss since European colonization. Urbanization, agricultural development, and tree harvest for building materials and charcoal production, are driving the changes in the forested areas where the petrels breed. Charcoal, along with firewood, is used for cooking and is one of the primary sources of energy in Haiti. The overwhelming dependence of the human population of Haiti on woodbased cooking fuels has resulted in substantial deforestation and forest conversion in both Haiti and adjacent regions of the Dominican Republic. On Hispaniola, where all known active petrel nesting sites occur, estimates of current deforestation range from over 90 percent (and increasing) E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 for the Haitian portion (Churches et al. 2014, entire), to slightly less than 90 percent for the Dominican Republic portion (Castro et al. 2005, entire; BirdLife International 2010, entire; Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). Deforestation in the Haitian nesting areas is particularly significant for the petrel, given that up to 90 percent of all active nest sites of the species may occur in forested areas (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 5; J. Goetz, pers. comm.). Although deforestation in petrel nesting areas of the Dominican Republic has been comparatively lower, recent increases in forest clearing for subsistence agriculture and charcoal production in the Sierra de Bahoruco and other areas adjacent to the Haitian border have resulted in concomitant increases in nesting habitat loss and degradation there (Checo 2009, entire; Grupo Jaragua 2011, entire; Goetz et al. 2012, p. 7; Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). Forested nesting areas that appear to be suitable for the black-capped petrel occur on the nearby islands of Dominica and Cuba. However, black-capped petrels do not currently breed on these islands. The island of Dominica retains over 60 percent of native forests; likewise, Cuba retains approximately 24 percent of native forest cover (BirdLife International 2010, entire). Forest Fires Because the black-capped petrel is primarily a pelagic species, forest fires only affect the species directly during the nesting season. However, effects may be significant and potentially longterm, as fires set to clear land for agriculture can result in substantial loss and conversion of forested nesting habitat. Moreover, fires during the incubation and brooding phase can cause injury or mortality for adults and nestlings within nest burrows. The incidence of anthropogenic fires increases with growth of human populations (Wingate 1964, p. 154; Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). Although natural fires resulting from lightning strikes also occur, these tend to occur mainly during the wetter summer months (Robbins et al. 2008, entire). Naturally-occurring fires may help maintain open, park-like pine savannahs at higher elevations, which may be more accessible to petrels (Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). In contrast, most anthropogenic fires occur during the winter dry season, when petrels are actively nesting (Simons et al. 2013, p. S31) and thereby constitute more of a direct threat. Dry season fires also tend to be more intense, delaying or inhibiting forest recovery due to destruction of seed banks and organic VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 humus layers (Rupp and Garrido 2013, entire). Fires also indirectly affect petrel nesting habitat by increasing erosion and mudslides following elimination of previously existing vegetation and ground cover. In the Massif de la Selle in Haiti, deliberately-set fires likely caused increased erosion of cliffs used for nesting by petrels; the fires were set to facilitate clearing of land and for fuel wood harvesting (Woods et al. 1992, pp. 196–205; Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). For years, such fires have also denuded large swaths of forest cover in the petrel nesting areas of Pic Macaya in the Massif de la Selle of Haiti (Sergile et al. 1992, pp. 5–12). In the petrel nesting areas of the Dominican Republic, fires are also at times deliberately set in retaliation for actions taken by government officials to evict or otherwise deter Haitian migrants engaged in illegal land-clearing activities (Rupp and Garrido 2013, entire). Nonnative Species Like most native Antillean species, the black-capped petrel evolved in the absence of mammalian ground predators. However, following European colonization, many Caribbean islands quickly became host to populations of introduced black rats (Rattus rattus), Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), feral pigs (Sus scrofa), and domestic cats (Felis domesticus). In the late 1800s, the deliberate introduction of the small Indian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) resulted in apparently uncontrollable mongoose populations on all islands (except Dominica) where the petrel is known or suspected to nest or have once nested (Barun et al. 2011, pp. 19–20; Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). Following initial introduction to Jamaica in 1872, the mongoose was promptly introduced to Cuba (1882), Hispaniola (1895), Martinique (1889), and Guadeloupe (1880–1885; Simons et al. 2013; p. S31). Although introduced also on Dominica during the 1880s, that introduction of the mongoose was apparently unsuccessful (Henderson 1992, p. 4). While all of these introduced mammals have negatively affected other native Caribbean species (e.g., Henderson 1992, entire; White et al. 2014, pp. 35–38), their current impact on the black-capped petrel is largely unknown (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 7; Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). Nevertheless, rats in particular are known nest predators and have been observed at entrances to petrel nest burrows (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 7); thus, the potential clearly exists for rat PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 50563 predation on petrel nests. Mongooses, rats, and dogs likely played a major role in the extirpation of the Jamaican petrel (Pterodroma caribbaea) (Lewis et al. 2010, p. 2; Goetz et al. 2012, pp. 13–14; Simons et al. 2013, pp. S16–S17). Dogs are commonly kept by security personnel and allowed to roam free at night at communication towers near petrel nest sites in the Dominican Republic (Rupp et al. 2011, entire), and may excavate petrel nest burrows or prey on fledgling or adult petrels at or near nest entrances (Woods 1987, pp. 196–205; Goetz et al. 2012, p. 7). In fact, there are historical accounts of local inhabitants on Guadeloupe using trained dogs to assist in harvesting petrels for food (Simons et al. 2013, p. S12). Feral cats have also been documented at elevations up to 2,100 meters in the Sierra de Bahoruco of the Dominican Republic at the base of petrel nesting cliffs (Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). Feral cats are significant predators of Hawaiian petrels and of great-winged petrels (P. macroptera) on Kerguelen Island (Simons et al. 2013, p. S31), as well as of Barau’s petrels (P. baraui) on Reunion Island (Faulquier et al. 2009, entire). Accordingly, any feral cats within black-capped petrel nesting areas should be considered potential threats. While these introduced species currently appear to be relatively scarce and at low densities near known blackcapped petrel nest locations, even low numbers of these avian nest predators could significantly impact the few active nests that currently exist, particularly those in more accessible sites (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S31–S32). For example, a pack of only three freeranging dogs reduced a breeding colony of white-tailed tropicbirds (Phaethon lepturus) on a Bahamian island by 80 percent in only 4 years (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32). It is not known whether current nest site selection by the blackcapped petrel reflects the quality of the habitat or is the product of increased predation pressure (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S31–S32). Communication Towers and Artificial Lighting Recent years have seen the proliferation of telecommunication towers throughout the Caribbean islands. These towers are typically located on high mountain ridges, hills, and other prominent topographic features, and the structures extend several meters above canopy level. Many of the tallest are also secured by numerous guy wires (Longcore et al. 2008, entire; Simons et al. 2013, p. S32). Because of the nocturnal habits of black- E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 50564 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules capped petrels, combined with the high speed at which they fly, they are highly vulnerable to aerial collisions with these unseen structures, especially on foggy nights typical of the petrel nesting season (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 8; Longcore et al. 2013, entire; Simons et al. 2013, p. S32). There have been numerous documented cases of black-capped petrels being killed or injured by aerial collisions with these structures in or near their breeding areas (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 8; Simons et al. 2013, p. S32). amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 Wind Farms The increasing use of wind farms on and near Caribbean islands may constitute a potential threat to flying petrels (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32). As with communication towers, land-based wind farms tend to be located on high ground, where winds are higher and more constant. Threats are not only associated with collisions with fan blades, but also disorientation from associated lights with which such structures are equipped. Offshore wind farms can cause localized upwelling of marine currents, thereby attracting potential food sources of petrels and further attracting them to such sites. Collisions with wind turbines are a potential concern, and displacement of seabirds from offshore wind farm areas has also been documented (Garthe et al. 2016, entire). However, most such proposed sites are located nearer to shore than the pelagic areas typically used by petrels for feeding, so this specific threat appears comparatively low (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32). Recent construction of inland wind farms near petrel nesting areas on Hispaniola (Jodice, in litt.) may constitute an additional and yet unquantified threat, given that there are currently no data on the flying height of black-capped petrels when approaching nesting areas. Offshore Oil and Gas Offshore oil and gas activity occurs off the coast of Cuba and northern South America near Venezuela and Colombia. Black-capped petrels use the area of the Caribbean Sea off Hispaniola to northern South America (Jodice et al. 2015, p. 28); accordingly, the birds that are foraging or resting in the waters near Cuba could be directly affected by petroleum or petroleum byproducts. Lighting from offshore platforms can also disorient the petrels. In the United States, proposed exploratory test drilling for oil and production along the edge of the continental shelf off the coast of North Carolina (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32) may be a future threat to black-capped petrels. The discovery of petroleum VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 reserves in this zone, and within the main foraging area of the petrel, would most likely result in establishment of drilling and production structures. Petroleum residues or discharged contaminants from production could potentially increase the probability of incidental ingestion of petroleum fragments by surface-feeding birds (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32), as well as fouling of plumage from floating residues or oil spills. Although a blackcapped petrel was once reportedly found with oil-fouled feathers, as well as one with petroleum fragments in the crop (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32), such incidents are relatively few and the genus Pterodroma is considered by some (e.g., Clapp et al. 1982, p. 1) to be less vulnerable than other species to such exposure, although there are few data regarding the validity of this assertion (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32). Oil platforms and related structures are also typically well-lit for worker safety, and lights disorient flying petrels, especially on foggy nights. Moreover, helicopters are frequently used to transport crew and equipment to offshore production facilities, and the effects of these low-altitude overflights on foraging petrels is unknown. Regardless, because most petrels that forage in this area are adults (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S23–S28), any increase in losses from threats on the foraging grounds would disproportionally affect the adult segment of the population. Although black-capped petrels have recently been recorded in the central and northeastern Gulf of Mexico where oil and gas activities are ongoing, the extent of use of this area is not yet understood. The species has recently been detected in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Service 2018, appendix A). Oil and gas operations are well-established in the northern Gulf of Mexico; however, based on the best available information, black-capped petrels have not been detected in close proximity to platforms (Farnsworth and Russell 2007, entire). Black-capped petrels were also not identified as a species affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which occurred in the northern Gulf of Mexico (NOAA 2016 pp. 4–461—4–515; Haney et al. 2014a, entire; Haney et al. 2014b, entire). Mercury and Plastic Pollution In a long-term study of plastic ingestion by seabirds off the coast of North Carolina, plastic was present in stomach contents of over 55 percent of 38 species sampled (Moser and Lee 1992, entire). However, only 1.8 percent of 57 black-capped petrels sampled during the study contained plastic. PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Black-capped petrels appear far less likely to incidentally ingest plastic fragments than many other seabirds (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). Black-capped petrels do not forage heavily in areas along current edges where such residue and flotsam tend to collect, but rather in areas of current upwelling where nutrient-rich waters promote increased abundance of primary producers and prey species; this aspect of black-capped petrel foraging behavior may make them less vulnerable to incidental ingestion of such material (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). However, black-capped petrels have been reported with relatively high concentrations of mercury (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33), with amounts up to seven to nine times higher than that of most other pelagic species sampled. Such high levels have been associated with reduced reproductive output and neurological damage in other avian species (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). In fact, Procellariforms are known to be particularly susceptible to heavy metal bioaccumulation compared to other seabirds (Kim et al. 1996, pp. 262–265; Kojadinovic 2007a, entire; Kojadinovic 2007b, entire). It is postulated that increases in offshore oil drilling may increase such levels of contamination, via direct release of mercury and other heavy metals into the marine food chain (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). Any blackcapped petrels potentially foraging in the northern Gulf of Mexico may already be exposed to such contaminants. Although current implications of these findings for the black-capped petrel remain unknown, because of the well-documented adverse effects of mercury contamination and accumulation for wildlife species, any increases in such levels would logically not bode well for the black-capped petrel, which is apparently already exposed to higher than normal levels of this contaminant. Marine Fisheries Marine fisheries contribute to injury and mortality of seabirds through entanglement in clear monofilament fishing lines or getting caught in hooks (Furnuss 2003, entire, Li et al. 2012, p. 563). Because of the surface-feeding habits of the black-capped petrel, the species is not considered particularly vulnerable to effects of either long-line or pelagic gill net commercial marine fisheries (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). There are no known reports of Pterodroma bycatch in any marine fisheries of the northern Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, or Caribbean. There is little information from foreign fishing fleets regarding the impacts from fisheries E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). Petrels tend to concentrate foraging activities in deep pelagic zones, rather than in areas of the continental shelf where most inshore fisheries occur. Thus, marine fisheries and associated activities are considered only a minor (albeit unquantified) threat to the black-capped petrel (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). Climate Change Under current projections of climate change, the black-capped petrel faces potential effects on both the foraging and breeding areas (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33), although by different mechanisms. First, the observed very strong association of the black-capped petrel with Gulf Stream waters and associated current upwelling off the coast of the southeastern United States make the species vulnerable to any climate-induced changes to existing marine hydrology in this zone. Changes in either the direction or temperature of these marine currents could significantly alter the foraging ecology of the species. Because there are currently no specific projections of climate-induced changes or reversal of either the Florida Current or Gulf Stream proper, the threat to the petrel from this aspect of climate change is believed to be low (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). However, projected climaterelated increases in the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes over the next century could substantially increase the numbers of black-capped petrels driven inland and stranded by these storms, thereby increasing mortality (Hass et al. 2012, entire). Threats from climate change to the terrestrial requirements of black-capped petrel ecology are considered greater (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). Among the primary projections for categorical climate-induced changes for the Caribbean basin are sea level rise and increased temperatures. Because of the petrels’ use of high-elevation areas for nesting, changes in sea level are not considered to threaten the species. However, predicted temperature increases (Campbell et al. 2011, entire; Karmalkar et al. 2013, entire) may manifest in numerous ways that could likely affect the petrel. First, associated changes in precipitation may result in increased episodes of heavy rainfall from storms and hurricanes, which, under current landscape conditions, would likely result in increased erosion and the flooding and loss of nesting burrows and nesting sites (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). On the other hand, decreases in precipitation combined with higher temperatures (Campbell et al. 2011, entire; Karmalkar et al. 2013, VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 entire) may increase frequency of drought and attendant susceptibility of breeding areas to forest fires. Increased intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms (Hass et al. 2012, entire) may also adversely affect the petrel by further accelerating erosion and degradation of nesting areas (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). Finally, increased temperatures may likely also increase incidents of new invasive or vectorborne diseases. Black-capped petrels may be immunologically vulnerable to such pathogens (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S33–S34); thus, these may pose an additional climate-induced risk for the species. Current Condition of the Black-Capped Petrel To assess black-capped petrel viability, we used the three conservation biology principles of resiliency, representation, and redundancy (together, ‘‘the three Rs,’’ (3Rs)) (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 306–310). Briefly, resiliency refers to the ability of populations to withstand environmental and demographic stochasticity (for example, wet or dry, warm or cold years or fluctuations in recruitment or adult survival); representation refers to the ability of the species to adapt over time to long-term changes in the environment that influence adaptive capacity through natural selection processes (for example, climate changes); and redundancy refers to the ability of the species to withstand catastrophic events (for example, droughts, hurricanes). In general, the more redundant and resilient a species is and the more representation it has, the more likely it is to sustain populations over time, even under changing environmental conditions. Using these principles, we identified the species’ ecological requirements for survival and reproduction at the individual, population, and species levels, and described the beneficial and risk factors influencing the species’ viability. The SSA process can be divided into three sequential stages. During the first stage, we used the 3Rs to evaluate individual life-history needs. During the next stage, we assessed the historical and current condition of species’ demographics and habitat characteristics, including explaining how the species arrived at its current condition. In the final stage, we made predictions about the species’ responses to positive and negative environmental and anthropogenic influences. We assessed a range of conditions to allow us to consider the species’ resiliency, representation, and redundancy. For redundancy, PO 00000 Frm 00039 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 50565 populations were defined as isolated nesting areas across the known breeding range of the species. The four known extant nesting areas are on the island of Hispaniola: Pic Macaya, Pic la Visite, Morne Vincent/Sierra de Bahoruco, and Valle Nuevo. Black-capped petrels have also been detected through acoustic detections and radar ‘‘petrel-like targets’’ on the island of Dominica, but breeding has not been confirmed there, and, therefore, we will not consider this area as a population until more information is available. Accordingly, we conclude that there are four populations of the black-capped petrel. These populations were evaluated for resiliency based the number of acoustic and radar detections and nest success. To provide context for the current condition of the species, we considered the historic range to assess the species’ resiliency, redundancy, and representation in the past. However, in addressing the species’ current condition, only extant populations were analyzed. We evaluated the condition of each population based on nest success, the number of radar petrel-like targets per night and acoustic detections per minute. Overall population condition rankings and habitat condition rankings were determined by combining these factors and elements. We described representation for the black-capped petrel based on the two distinct color forms of unknown genetic or geographic origins. Geographic representation for the species consists currently of a loose assemblage of the four breeding populations on a single Caribbean island, Hispaniola. The black-capped petrel spends most of its life at sea, except during breeding, which takes place in high-elevation areas on Caribbean islands. The actual population size of the black-capped petrel is unknown: Published estimates range from approximately 2,000 to 4,000 birds, among which are 500 to 1,000 breeding pairs (Simons et al. 2013, p. S22). Though uncertain, recent estimates suggest that the numbers of breeding pairs at sites in the Dominican Republic may be currently be in the 10s to 100s (Simons et al. 2013, p. S22), while those in neighboring Haiti may range from approximately 500 to 1,500 (Goetz et al. 2012, pp. 4–5). Nesting areas in Haiti may contain up to 95 percent of currently known nest sites for this species (Simons et al. 2013, p. 23; Goetz et al. 2012, pp. 4–5). Using recent advances in detection methodology, specifically digital acoustic monitoring, evidence of approximately 60 active nest sites was found in the nesting areas of southwestern Dominican Republic (McKown 2014, entire). E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 50566 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules Population resiliency is the ability to respond to stochastic disturbances that may affect individual populations; examples of such disturbances affecting the black-capped petrel include climatic factors such as droughts (and associated fires), hurricanes, and excessive rainfall. These disturbances can reduce habitat quality and nesting success on the breeding grounds, and thus may negatively affect population growth. The black-capped petrel has a large parental investment, as they typically produce only one egg per year. The low reproductive output subjects the species to declines in nesting success due to varying environmental conditions (Simons 1984, entire). Resiliency, measured at the population level, is best characterized by the number of individuals per breeding population and nest success. A resilient black-capped petrel population requires multiple areas of suitable nesting habitat and consistent and adequate pelagic food resources in traditional feeding areas. There is currently an estimated total of 500 to 1,000 breeding pairs across the species’ range given data and observations over the past 10 to 15 years (Simons et al. 2013, p. S22). Although the number of breeding pairs has declined precipitously from historic times to the present, the success of existing nests is relatively high (5-year mean of 75 percent; n = 175 nests). After correcting for search effort, the average number of black-capped petrels seen annually, from 1979 to 2016, along defined transects on foraging grounds in the western Atlantic region is relatively low. To determine and quantify current species-level overall resiliency, we compared current population resiliency to the historical optimal, based on known prior distribution and number of breeding populations. From the calculations, the current overall resiliency of the black-capped petrel is low, being approximately one-third (.333) of its historical resiliency. The results of our assessment reflect that the black-capped petrel has experienced a progressive reduction in two key demographic parameters over (at least) the past five centuries: (1) Population size and (2) number of breeding populations. These components are not mutually exclusive, as loss of breeding populations typically results in a decline in total population. Historical information also indicates that reductions were, and continue to be, primarily a result of human activities on the Caribbean islands, which historically hosted black-capped petrel breeding populations. Although VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 declines largely occurred following European colonization of the Caribbean region in the 16th century, at least one breeding population (Martinique) was eliminated during pre-Columbian times by overharvesting for food by the resident Carib Indians. Thus, the cumulative actions of human populations on Caribbean islands have progressively reduced the overall extent of known black-capped petrel breeding populations from that of at least seven populations on four different islands, to four current populations, all located on one island (i.e., southwestern Hispaniola). Geographic isolation increases the vulnerability of the species to catastrophic events, such as major hurricanes. Our estimates of little to no redundancy and representation are reflective of the species’ vulnerability to such events. Once breeding populations of the black-capped petrel became geographically limited to southwestern Hispaniola, a suite of additional factors began to work synergistically to further reduce the overall population of the species. Among these, habitat loss and degradation have been, and continue to be, the most pernicious. Anthropogenic habitat loss and associated factors threaten the remaining breeding populations on Hispaniola and have almost certainly contributed to the substantial decline in overall numbers of the black-capped petrel over the past 50 years. There has also been an apparent concomitant decrease in petrel numbers within most individual breeding populations. Our estimate of low resiliency for the black-capped petrel reflects extensive nesting habitat loss and degradation, and subsequent declines in petrel population size. Redundancy reflects the capacity of a species to persist in the face of catastrophic events, and is best achieved by having multiple, widely distributed populations across the geographical range of the species. Black-capped petrel redundancy is characterized by the number and geographic dispersion of breeding populations. Historically, the species’ breeding range included Hispaniola, Dominica, Guadaloupe, Martinique, and possibly Cuba. Currently, redundancy is characterized by only four known breeding populations occurring on one island. Moreover, given the relatively close proximity and analogous life-history characteristics of all known nesting colonies, the probability that all colonies would be similarly affected by a given extreme climatic event is quite high. Although total numbers of nests per population are highly uncertain, the majority (80 to 90 percent) of nests are PO 00000 Frm 00040 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 believed to be within the Pic Visite nesting area (J. Goetz, pers. comm.), an area currently subject to significant and increasing pressure from deforestation and other anthropogenic activities. Current representation in terms of nesting habitat is limited to a relatively narrow range of characteristics shared by all four known breeding areas. Historical records up to at least the early 19th century documented nesting by the petrel on at least three additional islands: Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Martinique (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S10–S13). Of these, there is credible evidence of the possible existence of an extant breeding population only on Dominica (Brown 2015, entire). Thus, there are credible past records of up to at least seven breeding populations of the species within the Caribbean, compared to perhaps only four currently, for an approximate 43-percent reduction in geographic representation since the early 19th century. Conservation Actions Over at least the past decade, the threats to continued viability of the black-capped petrel have become wellknown both locally (i.e., on Hispaniola) and internationally, and several nongovernment organizations (NGOs) are currently working in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic in an effort to reduce or otherwise mitigate the severity of these threats. These NGOs include international organizations (e.g., BirdsCaribbean, Environmental Protection in the Caribbean, Plant with Purpose, American Bird Conservancy, International Black-capped petrel Conservation Group) as well as local organizations (e.g., Grupo Jaragua, Socie´te´ Audubon Haiti). Because most of the threats to the black-capped petrel are directly the result of anthropogenic activities, these NGOs have been providing technical assistance and education on sustainable agricultural practices, watershed management, and reforestation of previously deforested and degraded areas in the regions where petrels nest. These actions are in addition to ‘‘traditional’’ conservation efforts such as environmental education and heightened awareness of, and appreciation for, the black-capped petrel at the local level. For example, in the community of Boukan Chat, Haiti (adjacent the Morne Vincent petrel nesting area), NGOs have developed black-capped petrel educational programs for local schoolchildren, provided financial and technical assistance with construction of freshwater cisterns, and provided tree seeds and technical assistance for local E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 reforestation projects. Some residents of Boukan Chat have also been hired to work toward improving community awareness of the black-capped petrel and its plight, and how sustainable land management can be mutually beneficial to both the community and the petrel. Other such NGO efforts include production of a documentary video highlighting the black-capped petrel and detailing local efforts to save the species. Additional efforts include active monitoring for forest fires near petrel nesting areas, continued monitoring of petrel nest success in the Morne Vincent/Sierra del Bahoruco nesting area, continued radar and bioacoustical monitoring for petrel detections, and working with owners of a local communication tower to reduce nocturnal lighting intensity as a means to reduce black-capped petrel collisions with these structures (Brown 2016, entire; IBPCG 2016, entire; IBPCG 2017, entire). However, these NGO efforts, albeit locally successful, are still relatively limited in both geographic scope and funding, and there are yet other areas of Hispaniola that harbor black-capped petrel nesting colonies (e.g., Pic Macaya, Pic La Visite) that could likely benefit from similar efforts. The black-capped petrel was added to an existing international agreement in 2014, under the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in the Wider Caribbean Region (SPAW). The SPAW Protocol is pursuant to the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region. The SPAW Protocol was adopted in 1990, and entered into force in 2000. The United States ratified the SPAW Protocol in 2003. There are currently 16 State Parties to the SPAW Protocol from throughout the wider Caribbean region. At least 90 to 95 percent of all black-capped petrel nests are within Haiti or along its border with the Dominican Republic. Although the Dominican Republic is a party to the SPAW Protocol, Haiti is not, and the lack of conservation efforts in Haiti leaves the species vulnerable to ongoing and future impacts to the petrel’s nesting habitat. Future Condition of the Black-Capped Petrel To assess the future condition of the species, we define viability as the ability of the species to sustain wild populations, both across its range and among representative units beyond a biologically meaningful timeframe. The estimated generation time of the blackcapped petrel is 5 years (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 5; Simons et al. 2013, p. S22); VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 50 years encompasses approximately 10 generations, which we believe is an appropriate time horizon to realize predicted effects of factors acting on species viability. However, we also examined factors affecting species viability at shorter time intervals (10 and 25 years), corresponding to approximately two and five blackcapped petrel generations, so that we could understand dynamics affecting the species from current condition to the end of the 50-year predictive time horizon (Service 2018, p. 45). We used the best available information to assess the predicted future viability of the black-capped petrel. In doing so, we considered all recognized threats to the species and how and why they may impinge upon species viability. In the process, we observed that the numerous distinct threats shared common underlying drivers, and of these, the two that encompassed virtually all threats were (1) Regional climate change, and (2) human population growth, particularly on Hispaniola, where all currently known nesting by the petrel occurs. Importantly, for both of these identified drivers, there exists a body of empirical data on which to base reasonable predictions of future conditions for the black-capped petrel. Rather than attempting to predict future levels of all of the diverse threats, many of which lack adequate quantitative data, we chose instead to examine future projections for these two overarching drivers. To employ this approach, we used a combination of black-capped petrel population trajectories over the past 50 years, past trends and current levels of threats, and recognized causal relationships between and among drivers and threats, to incorporate them into a model to arrive at what we believe to be the most likely future status of the black-capped petrel. When determining the effects of climate on the black-capped petrel, we used the most recent analyses of projected future climate patterns in the Caribbean region that predict a median increase in annual surface air temperature of 2.8 degrees Celsius (°C) (37 degrees Fahrenheit (°F)) within the current petrel nesting areas on Hispaniola by year 2080 (Campbell et al. 2010, entire; Karmalkar 2013, entire). Additionally, precipitation is projected to substantially decrease during both the early (May to July) and late (August to October) wet seasons for these same areas with a generally drier precipitation pattern year-round. Percentage decreases in early wet season precipitation are projected to be greater (median ¥41 percent) than decreases in PO 00000 Frm 00041 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 50567 late wet season precipitation (median ¥22 percent). In general, decreases in wet season precipitation are particularly significant, as those months are when the greatest amount of annual rainfall occurs (Karmalkar et al. 2013, pp. 301– 303). Decreases in dry season precipitation are projected to be comparatively less than decreases during the wet seasons by current models (Karmalkar et al. 2013, pp. 301– 303), resulting in an overall future reduction in the degree of bimodality of current wet and dry seasons in the western Caribbean (e.g., Hispaniola). Thus, the local climate of the currently known black-capped petrel nesting areas on Hispaniola is projected to become hotter and drier over the next 50 to 60 years with less differentiation between wet season and dry season rainfall amounts. Although the full ecological effects of a projected hotter and drier climate in the current black-capped petrel nesting areas on Hispaniola are complex and yet unknown, such a change will likely increase the frequency and intensity of forest fires. Currently, anthropogenic forest fires cause substantial habitat degradation and loss both within and adjacent to the petrel nesting areas (Sergile et al. 1992, entire; Goetz et al. 2012, p. 7; Rupp and Garrido 2013, entire; Simons et al. 2013, p. S31), and any increases in this disturbance are likely to have significant adverse effects on species viability. Decreased rainfall and humidity during the traditional wet seasons may also exacerbate effects of naturally occurring fires from lightning strikes. Fires would likely become more intense and extensive, mimicking the effects of the more damaging dry season anthropogenic fires. Such effects include elimination of naturally occurring seed banks, increased erosion and mudslides, and loss of accumulated organic humus layers that may be used as nest sites by black-capped petrels. Moreover, because the early wet season (May to July) is projected to experience the greatest reduction in precipitation, increased occurrence of forest fires at such time may increase risks to nesting black-capped petrels as well as fledglings, which leave nests during this season. Changes in temperatures and rainfall patterns are not the only projected effects of regional climate change for Hispaniola. Recent projections indicate the frequency of intense hurricanes (i.e., Categories 4 and 5) are predicted to not only increase for the region, but also the amount of precipitation associated with these atmospheric events is projected to increase by at least 11 percent, with up to 20- to 30-percent increases in E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 50568 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules precipitation near the center of these storms (Elsner et al. 2008, entire; Knutson et al. 2013, entire). Fewer Atlantic hurricanes are projected; however, the intensity of the storms is expected to increase (Bender et al. 2010, p. 458). In upper elevation Caribbean forests, intense hurricanes cause widespread and severe damage to vegetation at all strata, including large accumulations of organic debris that may block or otherwise impede access by petrels to previously existing nest burrows. The physical and ecological effects of these storms may persist for decades (Lugo 2008, entire) and include redirection of ecological succession, changes in the ecological space available to organisms, and wholesale changes in forest microhabitats. In particular, hurricane-induced erosion and landslides could have potentially severe effects on black-capped petrels by degrading or eliminating currently productive nesting areas, particularly if said areas undergo prior degradation and ground cover loss due to forest fires or anthropogenic land-clearing. A massive landslide is believed to have eliminated the only known nesting area for the black-capped petrel on the island of Guadeloupe, resulting in the species’ extirpation from that island (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S11–S12). Projected climate change and associated effects on hurricane intensities may also have repercussions for black-capped petrels in their marine foraging areas. Over 100 years of data were used in a model that depicted the relationship between black-capped petrel inland strandings (i.e., birds found far inland from normal marine habitat) and resultant mortalities in the continental United States in relation to Atlantic hurricane intensities and trajectories; it was found that on at least eight occasions over the past century, major (Categories 3 to 5) hurricanes had likely resulted in mortalities of tens to hundreds of black-capped petrels (Hass et al. 2012, entire). Also, projected increases in major hurricane activity in the region are expected due to climate change (Bender et al. 2010, entire; Knutson et al. 2010, entire), and hurricane-related mortalities of blackcapped petrels could nearly double over the next 100 years (i.e., 50 percent increase over a 50-year period), particularly from the powerful ‘‘Cape Verde’’ hurricanes for which landfall rates along the southeastern U.S. coast are projected to increase 10 percent per decade over the next century (Hass et al. 2012, pp. 256–257). Because blackcapped petrels tend to congregate at high densities on marine foraging VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 grounds off the eastern United States during the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, they are especially vulnerable to such atmospheric events (Hass et al. 2012, pp. 258–260). Based on climatic projections, such losses could constitute up to 5 to 10 percent of the current known breeding population of the species over the next 50 years (Hass et al. 2012, entire). However, any reductions in the current black-capped petrel breeding population from other unrelated factors (e.g., predation, tower collisions, and forest fires) could thereby amplify and exacerbate the effective proportion of hurricane-related losses. The factor that is expected to have the greatest effect on black-capped petrel is human population growth in Haiti. The projected increases in human population discussed below will increase the energy needs of Haiti, further influencing habitat loss due to charcoal production or agricultural conversion. To assess the influence of human population growth on petrel nesting habitat on Hispaniola, we considered three different plausible scenarios. The three scenarios correspond to baseline, baseline plus 20 percent, and baseline minus 20 percent, of United Nations (UN) population growth projections for Haiti and the Dominican Republic. By ‘‘bracketing’’ our projections, we were attempting to account for inherent uncertainties that can arise from longterm projections. By accounting for potential variation, we increased our confidence that the ‘‘true’’ population growth, and its subsequent effects on black-capped petrel nesting habitat, was captured within the range of our scenarios. This also provided a means of graphically depicting and examining relative differences in population growth over time, which may allow for the identification of ‘‘critical time points’’ beyond which certain threats may more rapidly increase in severity. In order to provide a better understanding of the projected trajectory of the future scenarios, we predicted factors affecting black-capped petrel status at two intermediate time frames, 10 and 25 years, as well as 50 years, which is the end of our predictive time horizon. The complete analyses for all three scenarios are provided in the SSA report (Service 2018, pp. 43–56). Scenario 1: Human Population of Hispaniola Increases per Current UN Projections The current population of Haiti is around 11 million people (United Nations 2018). If the population of Hispaniola increases as currently PO 00000 Frm 00042 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 projected, by 2070, there will be 28 million inhabitants on the island, of which 15 million will reside in Haiti. At such time, the human population density of Haiti will exceed 545 persons per square kilometer (/km2), with most people living in densely populated urban areas where charcoal is currently the primary fuel used for cooking. Unless there is a significant shift away from the use of wood-based fuels to (perhaps) propane gas (as is the case in the Dominican Republic), our analysis indicates the rate of land-clearing and forest degradation both within and near black-capped petrel nesting areas will likely increase by 62 percent over the next 50 years. Moreover, the demand for food and building materials to support the human population will also increase substantially over current levels, resulting in additional deforestation for agricultural purposes. Deforestation concurrent with population growth is expected to occur in both in Haiti and adjacent areas of the Dominican Republic. Anthropogenic fires associated with land-clearing activities are also expected to increase, further threatening black-capped petrel nesting habitat. Given the level of this threat to nesting areas and the magnitude of forest conversion (i.e., for charcoal production, agriculture), the resiliency of the black-capped petrel is predicted to be very low. The black-capped petrel populations most likely to be adversely affected under this scenario are those within Haiti and along the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. In particular, the Pic Macaya and Pic La Visite breeding populations in Haiti, which have apparently suffered the greatest recent declines in both habitat quality and quantity (Goetz et al. 2012, pp. 9–10; Simons et al. 2013, pp. S13–S15), and a subsequent loss in the number of nesting petrels, are likely to face extirpation. If these breeding populations are adversely affected, this could potentially result in a loss of 85 to 95 percent of the currently known breeding population of the black-capped petrel (see Goetz et al. 2012, p. 5). The Haitian portion of the Morne Vincent/ Sierra del Bahoruco breeding colony, having already been largely deforested, may experience slightly less adverse effects from continued deforestation. However, there is a significant potential for increased land clearing for agricultural activity in this nesting area, as it is not within any officially protected area. In contrast, although the Dominican Republic portion of this nesting area will most likely also be subject to at least some increased E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules clearing for agricultural activities as well as charcoal production, much of this nesting habitat is at least somewhat officially protected in the Dominican Republic, which may help to reduce or slow future degradation. The remaining, and only recently discovered, nesting area is in Valle Nuevo National Park in the central mountains of the Dominican Republic. This nesting area faces many similar threats but is more remote and slightly more distant from the growing market for charcoal in Haiti. This distance from anthropogenic influence, along with its protected status, may result in this nesting area being less adversely affected than the others. However, only one black-capped petrel nest has been identified in Valle Nuevo National Park, so this area’s overall importance to species resiliency and persistence is uncertain at best. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 Scenario 2: Human Population of Hispaniola Increases at Annual Rates 20 Percent Less Than UN Projections In Scenario 2, the human population on Hispaniola is projected to increase at an annual rate that is 20 percent less than currently predicted, resulting in approximately 27.5 million inhabitants by 2070, of which 14.6 million of those inhabitants will reside in Haiti. Note that this projected total population is only about 2 percent less than was projected in Scenario 1. Likewise, the projected population density of Haiti under this scenario is 532 persons/km2, only about 2 percent less than projected in Scenario 1. Accordingly, the future for black-capped petrel under Scenario 2 is expected to look very similar to that described in Scenario 1, resulting in a predicted very low future resiliency. Scenario 3: Human Population of Hispaniola Increases at Annual Rates 20 Percent Greater Than UN Projections In Scenario 3, the human population on Hispaniola is projected to increase at an annual rate that is 20 percent greater than predicted in Scenario 1. Under Scenario 3, there will be approximately 34 million inhabitants on the island by 2070, of which just over 20 million will reside in Haiti. Under this scenario, human population densities would reach 740 persons/km2 in Haiti, and 285 persons/km2 in the Dominican Republic. At such time, the projected demand for charcoal and firewood in Haiti (assuming all other required resources would support such a population) would result in a 220percent increase in the amount of deforested and degraded areas on Hispaniola just for energy production. In addition to deforestation for charcoal, additional forest lost is projected to VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 occur as a result of intensified agricultural activities. Under these projections, the magnitude of forest conversion would likely result in widespread catastrophic loss of nesting habitat and, in turn, likely extinction of the species in the wild. Because of the inherent uncertainty of projections for the more severe outcome of Scenario 3, we opted to subdivide this scenario into two equally likely outcomes: Scenario 3a (one remaining very low resiliency population; i.e., Valle Nuevo National Park), and Scenario 3b (no remaining populations; i.e., species extinction). All three of the future scenarios indicate a decline in the species’ viability through the loss of resiliency, redundancy, and representation. As the human population on Hispaniola increases, the attendant anthropogenic factors that currently influence species viability are virtually certain to increase concomitantly. Future increases in the human population of Haiti will almost certainly result in increased deforestation rates throughout blackcapped petrel nesting areas, both for production of charcoal and for necessary agricultural products and building materials. Based on the best available information, our more conservative projections suggest a future increase of approximately 0.56 to 0.65 percent per year in the areal extent of forest conversion on Hispaniola. Of the four known breeding populations on Hispaniola, two (Pic Macaya and Pic La Visite) are likely to face extirpation by 2070 under all three projected future scenarios: Pic Macaya because of the lack of control of human access or ongoing conservation efforts, and Pic La Visite because of ongoing and increasing rates of degradation and its close proximity to the capital city, Port-auPrince, where anthropogenic demand for resources (food, fuel, building material) is very high. In the case of Pic La Visite, the discovery of any additional petrel nesting sites in the adjacent and contiguous areas of Pic La Selle could potentially attenuate such losses, but no such additional nest sites have been found to date. The loss of these two breeding populations would represent a potential loss of up to 85 to 95 percent of the entire currently known breeding population of the black-capped petrel. The primary effects of anthropogenic actions on black-capped petrel viability have apparently occurred over the past four or five centuries, a relatively short time in an evolutionary context. The petrel has been subject to the stochastic occurrences of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Caribbean for much longer, and has presumably evolved PO 00000 Frm 00043 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 50569 adaptive strategies in response to such storm events. However, such adaptations evolved in the context of multiple breeding populations across multiple islands and larger populations, and under previous regional climatic regimes. Furthermore, the conditions in which the black-capped petrel evolved have drastically changed, and this is only predicted to worsen. In the case of regional climate regimes, the best available information suggests a hotter and drier future climate within the specific area where black-capped petrels currently nest, along with a steady increase in the number of intense (Category 3 to Category 5) hurricanes across the region over the next century. Although major hurricanes were likely not a threat to the black-capped petrel under their historic (i.e., preColumbian) population conditions, the combination of fewer and smaller breeding populations, ongoing nesting habitat loss and degradation, and more frequent and intense tropical storms will likely result in adverse effects to the petrel from these stochastic atmospheric phenomena. Based on past trends and evidence, these adverse effects will likely also include increased mortalities of adults on the western Atlantic foraging grounds due to increased frequency of hurricaneinduced inland strandings. There remains an additional factor that we were unable to evaluate that could conceivably influence blackcapped petrel viability. For many species, particularly those that form breeding colonies or other such aggregations, as population numbers decline they may reach a ‘‘critical level’’ below which normal social and ecological interactions become impaired or inhibited. This is commonly referred to as the Allee effect (see, e.g., Courchamp et al. 1999, entire; Stephens et al. 1999, entire). Examples of such effects include increased per capita demographic effects of mortalities, disruption of normal pair-bond formation, skewed sex ratios, lower reproductive success, and reduced foraging efficiency. These combined effects can result in an extinction vortex from which a species cannot demographically recover (Dennis 2002; entire). As the population declines, the potential for future manifestations of demographic Allee effects in this species should not be discounted or ignored. Finally, the best available science at the time of the analysis indicates that the future viability of the black-capped petrel is linked to the complex and challenging socioeconomic and environmental landscape within Haiti, E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 50570 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 where as many as 90 to 95 percent of all known black-capped petrel nest sites occur. The current and future challenges faced by Haiti in terms of political and economic stability, environmental protection, food security, and public health are daunting. Also, while there are, and will continue to be, numerous successful initiatives by both local and international conservation and humanitarian organizations to provide needed financial and technical support for environmental conservation in Haiti, these efforts are nonetheless subject to the vicissitudes of donor funding in an ever unpredictable global financial setting. Natural resource conservation and management in Haiti would be seriously hampered in the event of a major global financial crisis, widespread social unrest in Haiti, or a military confrontation between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, all of which have occurred at some point in the past. Meanwhile, Haiti, and to a lesser but still significant degree, the Dominican Republic remain highly vulnerable to stochastic and catastrophic natural events such as major earthquakes and hurricanes, which can result in significant setbacks for ongoing conservation efforts (Castro et al. 2005, entire; Smucker et al. 2007, entire). In the end, the future of the black-capped petrel will depend in large measure on the long-term effectiveness of ongoing and future conservation efforts in Haiti. Determination 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. We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial information available regarding the past, present, and future threats to the black-capped petrel. Habitat loss and degradation due to deforestation for agricultural development and charcoal production are currently the major threats to the species on its nesting grounds on the island of Hispaniola (Factor A). Historically, the black-capped petrel also nested on the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, and possibly Cuba. The species was extirpated from Martinique in preColumbian times by island residents that over-harvested the petrel for consumption (Factor B). Nonnative mammalian species are a threat to native wildlife on islands and contributed to the loss and probable extirpation of the species on the island of Dominica in the late 19th century (Factor C). The species’ nesting range is VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 limited to the steep, high-elevation areas that can be affected by erosion due to increased hurricane intensity and frequency, reducing available cavities or access to nesting sites (Factor E). Due to the loss of nesting areas across the historical range of the species, the blackcapped petrel is currently only confirmed to be reproducing on the island of Hispaniola. The species’ range reduction has led to the loss of redundancy of populations, with only four known nesting colonies, all confined to one island, remaining. This also contributes to the loss of representation, as the species has high fidelity to the same nesting sites each year; there is limited genetic exchange between populations. With the loss of populations on other islands, this reduces the potential for additional genetic lineages to increase genotypic diversity within the species. 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 within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.’’ Foreseeable future was determined to be between 30 and 50 years; based on available data regarding human population growth on Hispaniola and associated sociological factors (energy sources/demand, resource availability, increased need/conversion of land to agriculture to support increasing human populations) and climate change projections, we can reasonably project future conditions out that far. Climate change data are less reliable in the Caribbean, augmenting the level of uncertainty and reliability of the projections. The most important driving factor for breeding habitat changes into the future is human population growth and resource use (e.g., charcoal). The greatest threats to the species currently affect the species on their breeding grounds. Due to deforestation from agricultural development and charcoal production, the breeding range has been reduced from its historical range; the remaining habitat and populations are threatened by a variety of factors acting in combination to reduce the overall viability of the species. Viability in terms of resiliency, redundancy, and representation was analyzed and described in the SSA report. In summary, the species’ resiliency is expected to decline, as well as its redundancy and representation. The current condition of each of the breeding populations was evaluated using the number of radar targets per night, acoustic detections per hour, and PO 00000 Frm 00044 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 nest success at each of the confirmed nesting areas. To determine and quantify current species-level overall resiliency we compared current population resiliency to the historical optimal, based on known prior distribution and number of breeding populations (Service 2018, p. 39–41). In respect to redundancy, the number of populations has declined due to the extirpation of the species on Guadaloupe, Martinique, and Dominica. The contraction of the breeding range and loss of populations on the additional islands results in low redundancy and leaves the species more vulnerable to catastrophic events. The risk of extinction in the foreseeable future is high because the remaining populations are small, suitable habitat is limited for additional nesting areas, and the impacts from stressors acting on the species on the nesting grounds are expected to increase. Therefore, on the basis of the best available scientific and commercial information, we find that the blackcapped petrel is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout its entire range because of the threats facing the species. However, the current status of the species as evaluated in the SSA report indicates the species is presently not at risk of extinction throughout its range (i.e., endangered throughout its range), because the species has retained resiliency, with four extant breeding populations on Hispaniola and with a current population estimated to be between 2,000 to 4,000 individuals, an estimated 500 to 1,000 breeding pairs, and an overall nesting success rate of around 75 percent (Service 2018, pp. 17–19). 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 the black-capped petrel is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout its range, we find it unnecessary to proceed to an evaluation of potentially significant portions of the range. Where the best available information allows the Services to determine a status for the species rangewide, that determination should be given conclusive weight because a rangewide determination of status more accurately reflects the species’ degree of imperilment and better promotes the purposes of the statute. Under this reading, we should first consider whether listing is appropriate based on a rangewide analysis and proceed to conduct a ‘‘significant portion of its range’’ E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 analysis if, and only if, a species does not qualify for listing as either endangered or threatened according to the ‘‘all’’ language. We note that the court in Desert Survivors v. Department of the Interior, No. 16–cv–01165–JCS, 2018 WL 4053447 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2018), did not address this issue, and our conclusion is therefore consistent with the opinion in that case. Therefore, we propose to list the black-capped petrel as a threatened species across its entire range in accordance with sections 3(20) and 4(a)(1) of the Act. Available Conservation Measures Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or threatened species 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 other countries, and calls for recovery actions to be carried out for 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 calls for 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 also identifies recovery criteria for review of when a species VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 may be ready for reclassification (e.g., from endangered to threatened, also called ‘‘downlisting’’) or removal from listed status (‘‘delisting’’), 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, NGOs, and stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. When completed, the recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the final recovery plan will be available on our website (https://www.fws.gov/endangered), or from our Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal agencies, States, Tribes, NGOs, businesses, and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat restoration (e.g., restoration of native vegetation), research, captive propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and education. The recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished solely on Federal lands because their range may occur primarily or solely on non-Federal lands. To achieve recovery of these species requires cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, and Tribal lands, and areas outside of U.S. jurisdiction. If this species is listed, funding for recovery actions will be available from a variety of sources, including Federal budgets, State programs, and cost share grants for non-Federal landowners, the academic community, and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, pursuant to section 6 of the Act, the State of North Carolina would be eligible for Federal funds to implement management actions that promote the protection or recovery of the black-capped petrel because North Carolina State waters are the only place in the United States where the species is found aside from vagrant or extralimital occurrences. Information on our grant programs that are available to aid species recovery can be found at: https://www.fws.gov/grants. Although the black-capped petrel is only proposed for listing under the Act at this time, please let us know if you are interested in participating in recovery efforts for this species. Additionally, we invite you to submit any new information on this species whenever it becomes available and any information you may have for recovery planning purposes (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). PO 00000 Frm 00045 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 50571 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 species’ habitat that may require conference or consultation or both as described in the preceding paragraph include management of and any other landscape-altering activities on Federal waters used by the Department of Defense or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and offshore energy activities of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). Provisions of Section 4(d) of the Act The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to threatened wildlife. Under section 4(d) of the Act, the Secretary of the Interior has the discretion to issue such regulations as he 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 any threatened species of fish or wildlife, any act prohibited under section 9(a)(1) of the Act. The prohibitions of section 9(a)(1) of the Act, codified at 50 CFR 17.31, make it illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to take (which includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect; or to attempt any of these) threatened wildlife within the United States or on the high seas. In addition, it is unlawful to import; export; deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity; or sell or E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 50572 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any listed species. It is also illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been taken illegally. The Service has exercised discretion under section 4(d) of the Act to develop a rule that is tailored to the specific threats and conservation needs of this species. The black-capped petrel is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). The MBTA makes it unlawful ‘‘at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, [or] any part, nest, or egg of any such bird . . .’’ included in the terms of four specific conventions between the United States and certain foreign countries (16 U.S.C. 703). See 50 CFR 10.13 for the list of migratory birds protected by the MBTA. This proposed rule under section 4(d) of the Act adopts existing requirements under the MBTA as the appropriate regulatory provisions for the blackcapped petrel. Accordingly, under the proposed 4(d) rule, incidental take is not prohibited, and purposeful take is not prohibited if the activity is authorized or exempted under the MBTA. Thus, if a permit is issued for activities resulting in purposeful take under the MBTA, it would not be necessary to have an additional permit under the Act. The terms ‘‘conserve’’, ‘‘conserving’’, and ‘‘conservation’’ as defined by the Act, 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 Act are no longer necessary. Due to threats acting on the black-capped petrel on the nesting grounds and the projected impacts to the species and its habitat in the foreseeable future, the viability of the species is expected to decline. The loss of habitat due to deforestation along with increased precipitation and drought events leave the species vulnerable to becoming endangered in the foreseeable future. The species that was once abundant continues to decline due to the conditions at the nesting locations on Hispaniola. The primary stressors to the species are occurring on the breeding grounds in Haiti and the VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 Dominican Republic; therefore, prohibiting incidental take in the United States is not going to contribute meaningfully to the conservation of the species. Prohibiting unregulated, purposeful take is beneficial in order to protect the black-capped petrel from activities that may occur within U.S. territory and from import/export of the species or any of its parts, nests, or eggs. For the reasons discussed above, we find that this rule under section 4(d) of the Act is necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the black-capped petrel. We do, however, seek public comment on whether there are additional activities that should be considered under the 4(d) provision for the black-capped petrel (see Information Requested, above). This proposal will not be made final until we have reviewed comments from the public and peer reviewers. Critical Habitat Designation Background Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as: (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found those physical or biological features (a) Essential to the conservation of the species, and (b) Which may require special management considerations or protection; and (2) Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species. Prudency Determination 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 designate critical habitat at the time the species is determined to be endangered or threatened. 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. In determining whether a designation would not be beneficial, the factors the Service may consider include but are not limited to, whether PO 00000 Frm 00046 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of a species’ habitat or range is not a threat to the species, or whether any areas meet the definition of ‘‘critical habitat.’’ As explained below, we conclude that designation of critical habitat would not be beneficial to the black-capped petrel. Breeding and Nesting Habitat As stated previously in this proposed rule, black-capped petrels have only been confirmed to currently breed and nest on the island of Hispaniola within the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There are past anecdotal accounts and recent indirect indications of the possible nesting activity on the islands of Cuba and Dominica (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 13; Simons et al. 2013, p. S15; Brown 2015, entire). There are no historical or current records of the species nesting within the United States. Under Determination, above, we found that deforestation due to agricultural development and charcoal production (Factor A) due to increased population growth on Hispaniola is the primary current and future threat to the blackcapped petrel. This present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the petrel’s breeding and nesting habitat occurs outside of U.S. jurisdiction, and we can only designate critical habitat on lands under U.S. jurisdiction; therefore, we cannot designate the petrel’s breeding and nesting habitat on Hispaniola as critical habitat for the species. Marine, Foraging Habitat The black-capped petrel is widely distributed throughout much of its range during the non-breeding season and is considered to have flexible foraging habitat requirements. The species tends to forage near areas of upwelling and other areas where prey species are abundant, and the species is typically found in warmer waters associated with the Gulf Stream (Haney 1987, p. 157; Simons et al. 2013, entire; Jodice et al. 2015, entire). The best scientific information available on foraging habitat suggests that where the blackcapped petrel is found, it is widely distributed in pelagic waters offshore of the eastern United States down to northern South America. The species’ foraging range extends approximately from latitude 40° North and south to 10° North near northern South America (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 4; Jodice et al. 2015, entire). Marine habitat contains elements that the black-capped petrel needs (foraging, resting, and commuting between nesting and foraging habitat); however, the best available information E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 50573 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules indicates that the species’ specific needs and preferences for these habitat elements are relatively flexible, plentiful, and widely distributed, and there are no habitat-based threats to the species in the foraging range. Summary The critical habitat regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)(ii) provide two examples of when designating critical habitat may not be beneficial to the species and, therefore, may be not prudent. These examples are where the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of a species’ habitat or range is not a threat to the species, or where there are no areas that meet the definition of ‘‘critical habitat’’ for the species. In the preamble to the final rule in which these two examples were expressly added to the regulations (81 FR 7414, February 11, 2016), the Service explains: ‘‘[I]n some circumstances, a species may be listed because of factors other than threats to its habitat or range, such as disease, and the species may be a habitat generalist. In such a case, on the basis of the existing and revised regulations, it is permissible to determine that critical habitat is not beneficial and, therefore, not prudent. It is also permissible to determine that a designation would not be beneficial if no areas meet the definition of ‘critical habitat’ ’’ (81 FR 7425). Although the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of nesting habitat is a threat to the petrel’s current breeding and nesting habitat, such habitat is not located within U.S. jurisdiction thus cannot be designated as critical habitat. The foraging habitat for the blackcapped petrel falls within the second example; although there are extensive areas of foraging habitat within U.S. jurisdiction, the species faces no habitat-based threats there, and Common name * * Petrel, black-capped ....... amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 * * VerDate Sep<11>2014 * Where listed * 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 * Fmt 4702 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—ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS 1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361–1407; 1531– 1544; and 4201–4245, unless otherwise noted. 2. Amend § 17.11, paragraph (h), in the Table the ‘‘List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife’’, under the heading BIRDS, by adding a new entry for ‘‘Petrel, black-capped’’ in alphabetical order to read as set forth below: ■ * * (h) * * * * * Wherever found .............. Frm 00047 A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available on the internet at https://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). * T * * * * * [Federal Register citation when published as a final rule]; 50 CFR 17.41(g).4d * Sfmt 4702 * Listing citations and applicable rules (g) Black-capped petrel (Pterodroma hasitata). (1) Except as noted in paragraphs (g)(2) and (g)(3) of this section, all prohibitions and provisions of §§ 17.31 PO 00000 References Cited * Status * National Environmental Policy Act, 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). § 17.11 Endangered and threatened wildlife. We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, as defined under the authority of the * Special rules—birds. * National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) * * Pterodroma hasitata ....... 3. Amend § 17.41 by adding a paragraph (g) to read as set forth below: * 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 ADDRESSES. 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. * ■ * Required Determinations Scientific name * BIRDS § 17.41 designation would not be beneficial to the species. Therefore, we preliminarily conclude that the designation of critical habitat for the black-capped petrel is not prudent, in accordance with 50 CFR 424(a)(1), because destruction of habitat is not a threat to the species in the U.S. portions of the range. However, we seek public comment on the characteristics of black-capped petrel foraging habitat and its relationship to the needs of the species. * * and 17.32 of this part apply to the blackcapped petrel. (2) Incidental take of black-capped petrel is not prohibited. (3) None of the prohibitions in § 17.31 of this part apply to any activity E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1 50574 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 195 / Tuesday, October 9, 2018 / Proposed Rules conducted in a manner that is consistent with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), 16 U.S.C. 703–712, provided that the person carrying out the activity has complied with the terms and conditions that apply to that activity under the provisions of the MBTA and its implementing regulations. * * * * * Dated: September 20, 2018. James W. Kurth, Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Exercising the Authority of the Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [FR Doc. 2018–21793 Filed 10–5–18; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4333–15–P DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service 50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–R8–ES–2018–0076; 4500030113] RIN 1018–BD19 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species Status for Coastal Distinct Population Segment of the Pacific Marten Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Proposed rule. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to list the coastal distinct population segment (DPS) of Pacific marten (Martes caurina), a mammal species from coastal California and Oregon, 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 species. The effect of this regulation will be to add this species to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before December 10, 2018. 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 23, 2018. 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–R8–ES–2018–0076, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with PROPOSALS1 SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:49 Oct 05, 2018 Jkt 247001 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–R8–ES–2018– 0076; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, 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: Dan Everson, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arcata Ecological Services Field Office, 1655 Heindon Road, Arcata, California 95521, or by telephone 707–822–7201. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 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 the public, 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) The coastal marten’s biology, range, and population trends, including: (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the species, including habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering; (b) Genetics and taxonomy; (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 species, its habitat or both. (2) Factors that may affect the continued existence of the species, which may include habitat modification or destruction, overutilization, disease, predation, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, or other natural or manmade factors. (3) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning any PO 00000 Frm 00048 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 threats (or lack thereof) to this species and existing regulations that may be addressing those threats. (4) Additional information concerning the historical and current status, range, distribution, and population size of this species, including the locations of any additional populations of this species. (5) Information on activities that are necessary and advisable for the conservation of the coastal marten to include in a 4(d) rule for the species. Section 4(d) of the Act provides that when a species is listed as a threatened species, the Secretary shall issue such regulations as he deems necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of such species. The Service has proposed such measures here and will evaluate ideas provided by the public in considering the prohibitions that are appropriate to include in the 4(d) rule. 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 do not provide substantial information necessary to support a determination. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to whether any species is a threatened or endangered species must be made ‘‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.’’ You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES. If you submit information via https:// www.regulations.gov, your entire submission—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the website. 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. 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, Arcata Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). E:\FR\FM\09OCP1.SGM 09OCP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 195 (Tuesday, October 9, 2018)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 50560-50574]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-21793]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2018-0043; 4500030113]
RIN 1018-BD13


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species 
Status for Black-Capped Petrel With a Section 4(d) Rule

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-capped petrel (Pterodroma hasitata), a pelagic seabird 
species that nests on the island of Hispaniola and forages off the 
coast of the eastern United States, as a threatened species under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). If we finalize this 
rule as proposed, it would extend the Act's protections to this 
species. We are also proposing a rule issued under section 4(d) of the 
Act to provide for the conservation of this species. We have determined 
that designation of critical habitat for the black-capped petrel is not 
prudent at this time, but are seeking public comment on that 
determination.

DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before 
December 10, 2018. 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 23, 2018.

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-2018-0043, 
which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the 
Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left 
side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the 
Proposed Rule box 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-2018-0043; 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 Information Requested, below, for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Edwin Mu[ntilde]iz, Field Supervisor, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Caribbean Ecological Services Field 
Office, P.O. Box 491, Road 301 Km 5.1, Boquer[oacute]n, PR; telephone 
787-851-7297. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf 
(TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Information Requested

    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. Because we will 
consider all comments and information we receive during the comment 
period, our final determination may differ from this proposal. We 
particularly seek comments concerning:
    (1) The black-capped petrel's biology, range, and population 
trends, including:
    (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the species, including 
habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering that apply 
to both the foraging and nesting areas;
    (b) Genetics and taxonomy;
    (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 species, its 
habitat, or both.
    (2) Factors that may affect the continued existence of the species, 
which may include habitat modification or destruction, overutilization, 
disease, predation, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, 
or other natural or manmade factors on both the nesting and foraging 
grounds and migratory routes, including:
    (a) Impacts to prey species;
    (b) Predicted changes in the Gulf Stream current due to climate 
change;
    (c) Impacts from offshore and coastal lighting;
    (d) Impacts from offshore oil and gas exploration, development, 
production, and operations; and
    (e) Impacts from offshore wind energy operations.
    (3) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 
any threats (or lack thereof) to this species and existing regulations 
that may be addressing those threats.
    (4) Additional information concerning the historical and current 
status, range, distribution, and population size of this species, 
including confirmed locations of any additional populations of this 
species.
    (5) Information on nesting sites on the islands of Cuba or 
Dominica, or other Caribbean islands.
    (6) Information concerning activities that should be considered 
under a rule issued in accordance with section 4(d) of the Act (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) as a prohibition or exemption within U.S. 
territory that would contribute to the conservation of the species.
    (7) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as 
``critical habitat'' under section 4 of the Act, including whether 
there are threats to the species from human activity, the degree of 
which can be expected to increase due to the designation, and whether a 
designation could increase threats to the species such that the 
designation of critical habitat may not be prudent. We specifically 
request information on foraging habitat for the petrel, the only 
habitat located within U.S. jurisdiction, and its relationship to the 
biological needs of the species, to help us determine whether such 
habitat meets the definition of critical habitat under the Act.
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you 
send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES.
    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. All 
comments submitted electronically via https://www.regulations.gov will 
be presented on the website in their entirety as submitted. For 
comments

[[Page 50561]]

submitted via hard copy, we will post your entire comment--including 
your personal identifying information--on https://www.regulations.gov. 
You may request at the top of your document that we withhold personal 
information, such as your street address, phone number, or email 
address, from public review; however, we cannot guarantee that we will 
be able to do so.
    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 directs that 
determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or a 
threatened species must be made ``solely on the basis of the best 
scientific and commercial data available.''
    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, Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Public Hearing

    Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for a public hearing 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 
(see DATES). Such requests must be sent to the address shown in FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. We will schedule a public hea Federal 
Register and local newspapers at least 15 days before the hearing.

Previous Federal Actions

    The black-capped petrel was included as a category 2 candidate 
species in a Federal Register notice of review dated November 15, 1994 
(59 FR 58982). Category 2 candidates were taxa for which information 
was available indicating that listing was possibly appropriate, but 
insufficient data were available regarding biological vulnerability and 
threats. In a February 28, 1996, notice of review (61 FR 7596), we 
discontinued the use of multiple candidate categories and removed 
category 2 species, including the black-capped petrel, from the 
candidate list.
    We were petitioned by WildEarth Guardians on September 1, 2011, to 
list the species as endangered or threatened under the Act. On June 21, 
2012, we published a 90-day finding, which determined there was 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that 
listing the species is warranted (77 FR 37367). On February 18, 2015, 
Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed a complaint against the 
Service for failure to complete a 12-month finding for the black-capped 
petrel. On September 9, 2015, the Service entered into a settlement 
agreement with CBD to resolve the complaint; the court approved the 
agreement on September 15, 2015. The agreement specified that a 12-
month finding for the black-capped petrel would be delivered to the 
Federal Register by September 30, 2018. This document serves as our 12-
month finding on the September 2011 petition.

Species Status Assessment

    A species status assessment (SSA) team prepared an SSA report for 
the black-capped petrel; the science provided in the SSA, version 1.1, 
is the basis for this proposed rule (Service 2018). The SSA team was 
composed of Service biologists, in consultation with other species 
experts. The SSA report represents a compilation of the best scientific 
and commercial data available concerning the status of the species, 
including the impacts of past, present, and future factors (both 
negative and beneficial) affecting the species. The SSA report 
underwent independent peer review by scientists with expertise in 
seabird biology, habitat management, and stressors (factors negatively 
affecting the species) to the species. The SSA report and other 
materials relating to this proposal can be found on the Service's 
Southeast Region website at https://www.fws.gov/southeast/ and at 
https://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2018-0043.

Background

    A thorough review of the taxonomy, life history, and ecology of the 
black-capped petrel (Pterodroma hasitata) is presented in the SSA 
report (Service 2018); available at https://www.fws.gov/southeast and 
at https://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2018-0043.
    The black-capped petrel is a pelagic seabird that is in the order 
Procellariiformes, family Procellariidae. This order is distinguished 
by sheathed nostrils in horny tubes from the base of the bill (Warham 
1990, p. 2). It is a medium-sized seabird in the Pterodroma or gadfly 
genus with long slender wings and markings of a black cap and dark 
mantle separated by a white collar. The wings are black or dark in 
color on the top surface as well as the edges of the underwing. Certain 
morphological characteristics may vary across the species with ``black-
faced,'' ``white-face,'' and ``intermediate'' variations of the species 
having different plumage coloration and patterns (Howell and Patteson 
2008, p. 70). A study that compared the genetics of the dark birds to 
the light and intermediate-colored birds found a substantial 
differentiation indicating population breeding isolation (Manly et al. 
2013, p. 231). The black-capped petrel is the only gadfly petrel 
species to breed in the West Indies. Petrels tend to maintain a strong 
relationship with their breeding grounds and return to the same nesting 
areas each year (Warham 1990, pp. 231-234). This site fidelity of these 
nesting birds tends to isolate breeding populations and can influence 
genetic, behavioral, and morphological variation due to limited genetic 
exchange. The variation between the dark and light birds included 
phenological, morphological, and behavioral differences (Howell and 
Patteson 2008, entire).
    Black-capped petrels currently breed at four locations on the 
island of Hispaniola (Pic Macaya, Haiti; Pic la Visite, Haiti; Morne 
Vincent/Sierra de Bahoruco, Haiti/Dominican Republic; and Valle Nuevo, 
Dominican Republic). Historically, the species also nested on 
Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, and, possibly, Cuba (Simons et al. 
2013, pp. S11-S19). Currently, at least 90 percent of the known nests 
are found within Parc National La Visite (Pic la Visite) in the Massif 
de la Selle mountain range in Haiti (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 5).
    Black-capped petrels spend most of their time at sea in the western 
Atlantic. The at-sea geographic distribution (marine range) of the 
black-capped petrel includes waters off the eastern coast of North 
America from latitude 40[deg] N (approximately New Jersey) south to 
latitude 10[deg] N (approximately northern South America) (Goetz et al. 
2012, p. 4; Jodice et al. 2015, entire). Off the eastern coast of the 
United States, petrels forage primarily in the Gulf Stream, from 
northern North Carolina to northern Florida, in areas of upwelling; off 
the coast of North Carolina, the species is most commonly observed 
offshore seaward from the western edge of the Gulf Stream and in areas 
of deeper waters. Near-shore waters off the northern coast of Central 
and South America also serve as foraging areas for some black-capped 
petrels during the breeding season (Jodice et al. 2015, pp. 26-27). 
Recent surveys have also found black-capped petrels in the northern 
Gulf of Mexico (Haney 2018, pers. comm.). The range and extent of the 
species within the Gulf of Mexico is yet

[[Page 50562]]

to be determined, but surveys are ongoing.
    Black-capped petrels feed mostly at night and pick their food from 
the water surface either solitarily or in close proximity to other 
foraging seabird species. The diet of black-capped petrels is not fully 
understood; however, stomach contents of black-capped petrels include 
squid, fish, crustaceans, and Sargassum or marine algae (Haney 1987, 
pp. 163-164; Simons et al. 2013, p. S30). The plant materials in the 
stomach suggest the species may forage around Sargassum mats, which 
tend to attract prey species leading to the ingestion of the algae 
materials while the petrels feed on their preferred prey. The limited 
amount of algae found within digestive tracts further suggests that 
petrels may only be incidentally foraging at the Sargassum (Moser and 
Lee 1992, p. 67).
    Black-capped petrel nesting areas are in high-elevation (greater 
than or equal to 1,500 meters (4,921 feet)), montane forests with steep 
slopes and rocky substrate with or without vegetation or humus cover 
that provides cavities for nesting burrows. They may also burrow at the 
base of native arborescent ferns (Jean and Brown 2018, in litt.). The 
nesting season begins around January, with high parental investment in 
the nest and chick rearing. The female lays only one egg each season, 
with an alternating male and female incubation period of 50 to 53 days, 
followed by shared parenting of the chick for a minimum of 80 days. 
Adults that are raising young may travel 500 to 1,500 kilometers (km) 
(310 to 932 miles (mi)) to obtain food for the young and have been 
found foraging in the Caribbean Sea (Jodice et al. 2015, pp. 26-27). 
Chicks fledge between May and July, and head out to sea to feed on 
their own (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S21-S22). When adult birds leave the 
nesting areas, they may migrate up to 2,200 km (1,367 mi) from the 
breeding grounds to primary offshore foraging areas off the mid-
Atlantic and southern coasts of the United States (Jodice et al. 2015, 
p. 23).
    The travel of adults to and from nests during foraging bouts for 
the young generally occurs at night; this makes visual observations 
difficult. The nests are also in rugged montane areas that are not 
easily accessed, and burrows are difficult to detect. The species was 
historically used as a food source for the island inhabitants, as the 
young chicks are easily captured once a burrow is located. The petrels 
were also drawn in using manmade fires (Sen Sel) intended to disorient 
the birds, causing them to fly towards the light of the fire and 
ultimately crashing into the land nearby where they were captured for 
food (Wingate 1964, p. 154).
    Due to the cryptic nature of the species as described above, the 
species was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in by 
Wingate in 1963, in the Massif de la Selle mountain range in Haiti. The 
estimated population at that time was around 2,000 pairs, based on 
potential occupied suitable habitat; however, there is some uncertainty 
of the accuracy of this estimate due to the methods used to 
extrapolate. Wingate suggested the population may have been even higher 
(Wingate 1964, p. 154).

Summary of Biological Status and Threats

    The Act directs us to determine whether any species is an 
endangered species or a threatened species because of specific factors 
affecting its continued existence (stressors). 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. The SSA report documents the results 
of our comprehensive biological status review for the black-capped 
petrel, including an assessment of the potential stressors to the 
species. It does not represent a decision by the Service on whether the 
species should be proposed for listing as an endangered or threatened 
species under the Act. It does, however, provide the scientific basis 
that informs our regulatory decision, which involves the further 
application of standards within the Act and its implementing 
regulations and policies. The following is a summary of the key results 
and conclusions from the SSA report.

Risk Factors for Black-Capped Petrel

    We reviewed the potential risk factors (i.e., threats or stressors) 
that are affecting the black-capped petrel now and into the future. In 
this proposed rule, we will discuss in detail only those threats that 
we conclude are driving the status and future viability of the species. 
The primary threat to the species on the breeding grounds is habitat 
loss due to deforestation and forest fires (Factors A and E); 
additional threats that have affected the species include introduced 
mammals (Factor C), communication towers (Factor E), and artificial 
lighting (Factor E). The effects of climate change are also expected to 
affect the species through increased storm intensity and frequency, 
resulting in flooding of burrows and erosion of suitable nesting 
habitat (Factor E). Historically, human predation for consumption 
(Factor B) and natural disasters (Factor E), such as earthquakes and 
volcano eruptions, affected the viability of the species. However, 
there is no evidence that the species is still regularly harvested for 
consumption. While this was a threat to the species historically, 
causing the extirpation of some breeding populations, we do not 
currently consider it a threat to the species. Natural disasters, such 
as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, are not regularly occurring 
events in the Caribbean. While geologic events such as these have 
occurred in the past, there is no information to indicate these would 
occur in the near future and were not considered in our analysis.
    At sea, the species may be affected by coastal and offshore wind 
farms (Factor E), offshore oil and gas development (Factor E), marine 
fisheries (Factor E), and mercury and plastic marine debris (Factor E). 
Lighting from fisheries and offshore energy operations can disorient 
the petrels. The predicted increase in strong Atlantic storms or 
hurricane frequency is also expected to lead to an increase in land 
strandings (Factor E).
    Synergistic interactions are possible between effects of climate 
change and effects of other potential threats such as habitat 
degradation, deforestation, agricultural development, and coastal or 
offshore energy development.
    We discuss each of these factors in more detail below.

Deforestation

    Deforestation, and associated loss and degradation of nesting 
habitat, is considered the most significant threat to the black-capped 
petrel (Goetz et al. 2012, entire). Many of the Caribbean islands where 
petrels were historically reported have experienced extremely high 
rates of forest conversion and loss since European colonization. 
Urbanization, agricultural development, and tree harvest for building 
materials and charcoal production, are driving the changes in the 
forested areas where the petrels breed. Charcoal, along with firewood, 
is used for cooking and is one of the primary sources of energy in 
Haiti. The overwhelming dependence of the human population of Haiti on 
wood-based cooking fuels has resulted in substantial deforestation and 
forest conversion in both Haiti and adjacent regions of the Dominican 
Republic.
    On Hispaniola, where all known active petrel nesting sites occur, 
estimates of current deforestation range from over 90 percent (and 
increasing)

[[Page 50563]]

for the Haitian portion (Churches et al. 2014, entire), to slightly 
less than 90 percent for the Dominican Republic portion (Castro et al. 
2005, entire; BirdLife International 2010, entire; Simons et al. 2013, 
p. S31). Deforestation in the Haitian nesting areas is particularly 
significant for the petrel, given that up to 90 percent of all active 
nest sites of the species may occur in forested areas (Goetz et al. 
2012, p. 5; J. Goetz, pers. comm.). Although deforestation in petrel 
nesting areas of the Dominican Republic has been comparatively lower, 
recent increases in forest clearing for subsistence agriculture and 
charcoal production in the Sierra de Bahoruco and other areas adjacent 
to the Haitian border have resulted in concomitant increases in nesting 
habitat loss and degradation there (Checo 2009, entire; Grupo Jaragua 
2011, entire; Goetz et al. 2012, p. 7; Simons et al. 2013, p. S31).
    Forested nesting areas that appear to be suitable for the black-
capped petrel occur on the nearby islands of Dominica and Cuba. 
However, black-capped petrels do not currently breed on these islands. 
The island of Dominica retains over 60 percent of native forests; 
likewise, Cuba retains approximately 24 percent of native forest cover 
(BirdLife International 2010, entire).

Forest Fires

    Because the black-capped petrel is primarily a pelagic species, 
forest fires only affect the species directly during the nesting 
season. However, effects may be significant and potentially long-term, 
as fires set to clear land for agriculture can result in substantial 
loss and conversion of forested nesting habitat. Moreover, fires during 
the incubation and brooding phase can cause injury or mortality for 
adults and nestlings within nest burrows.
    The incidence of anthropogenic fires increases with growth of human 
populations (Wingate 1964, p. 154; Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). 
Although natural fires resulting from lightning strikes also occur, 
these tend to occur mainly during the wetter summer months (Robbins et 
al. 2008, entire). Naturally-occurring fires may help maintain open, 
park-like pine savannahs at higher elevations, which may be more 
accessible to petrels (Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). In contrast, most 
anthropogenic fires occur during the winter dry season, when petrels 
are actively nesting (Simons et al. 2013, p. S31) and thereby 
constitute more of a direct threat. Dry season fires also tend to be 
more intense, delaying or inhibiting forest recovery due to destruction 
of seed banks and organic humus layers (Rupp and Garrido 2013, entire).
    Fires also indirectly affect petrel nesting habitat by increasing 
erosion and mudslides following elimination of previously existing 
vegetation and ground cover. In the Massif de la Selle in Haiti, 
deliberately-set fires likely caused increased erosion of cliffs used 
for nesting by petrels; the fires were set to facilitate clearing of 
land and for fuel wood harvesting (Woods et al. 1992, pp. 196-205; 
Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). For years, such fires have also denuded 
large swaths of forest cover in the petrel nesting areas of Pic Macaya 
in the Massif de la Selle of Haiti (Sergile et al. 1992, pp. 5-12). In 
the petrel nesting areas of the Dominican Republic, fires are also at 
times deliberately set in retaliation for actions taken by government 
officials to evict or otherwise deter Haitian migrants engaged in 
illegal land-clearing activities (Rupp and Garrido 2013, entire).

Nonnative Species

    Like most native Antillean species, the black-capped petrel evolved 
in the absence of mammalian ground predators. However, following 
European colonization, many Caribbean islands quickly became host to 
populations of introduced black rats (Rattus rattus), Norway rats 
(Rattus norvegicus), domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), feral pigs (Sus 
scrofa), and domestic cats (Felis domesticus). In the late 1800s, the 
deliberate introduction of the small Indian mongoose (Herpestes 
javanicus) resulted in apparently uncontrollable mongoose populations 
on all islands (except Dominica) where the petrel is known or suspected 
to nest or have once nested (Barun et al. 2011, pp. 19-20; Simons et 
al. 2013, p. S31). Following initial introduction to Jamaica in 1872, 
the mongoose was promptly introduced to Cuba (1882), Hispaniola (1895), 
Martinique (1889), and Guadeloupe (1880-1885; Simons et al. 2013; p. 
S31). Although introduced also on Dominica during the 1880s, that 
introduction of the mongoose was apparently unsuccessful (Henderson 
1992, p. 4).
    While all of these introduced mammals have negatively affected 
other native Caribbean species (e.g., Henderson 1992, entire; White et 
al. 2014, pp. 35-38), their current impact on the black-capped petrel 
is largely unknown (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 7; Simons et al. 2013, p. 
S31). Nevertheless, rats in particular are known nest predators and 
have been observed at entrances to petrel nest burrows (Goetz et al. 
2012, p. 7); thus, the potential clearly exists for rat predation on 
petrel nests. Mongooses, rats, and dogs likely played a major role in 
the extirpation of the Jamaican petrel (Pterodroma caribbaea) (Lewis et 
al. 2010, p. 2; Goetz et al. 2012, pp. 13-14; Simons et al. 2013, pp. 
S16-S17).
    Dogs are commonly kept by security personnel and allowed to roam 
free at night at communication towers near petrel nest sites in the 
Dominican Republic (Rupp et al. 2011, entire), and may excavate petrel 
nest burrows or prey on fledgling or adult petrels at or near nest 
entrances (Woods 1987, pp. 196-205; Goetz et al. 2012, p. 7). In fact, 
there are historical accounts of local inhabitants on Guadeloupe using 
trained dogs to assist in harvesting petrels for food (Simons et al. 
2013, p. S12).
    Feral cats have also been documented at elevations up to 2,100 
meters in the Sierra de Bahoruco of the Dominican Republic at the base 
of petrel nesting cliffs (Simons et al. 2013, p. S31). Feral cats are 
significant predators of Hawaiian petrels and of great-winged petrels 
(P. macroptera) on Kerguelen Island (Simons et al. 2013, p. S31), as 
well as of Barau's petrels (P. baraui) on Reunion Island (Faulquier et 
al. 2009, entire). Accordingly, any feral cats within black-capped 
petrel nesting areas should be considered potential threats.
    While these introduced species currently appear to be relatively 
scarce and at low densities near known black-capped petrel nest 
locations, even low numbers of these avian nest predators could 
significantly impact the few active nests that currently exist, 
particularly those in more accessible sites (Simons et al. 2013, pp. 
S31-S32). For example, a pack of only three free-ranging dogs reduced a 
breeding colony of white-tailed tropicbirds (Phaethon lepturus) on a 
Bahamian island by 80 percent in only 4 years (Simons et al. 2013, p. 
S32). It is not known whether current nest site selection by the black-
capped petrel reflects the quality of the habitat or is the product of 
increased predation pressure (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S31-S32).

Communication Towers and Artificial Lighting

    Recent years have seen the proliferation of telecommunication 
towers throughout the Caribbean islands. These towers are typically 
located on high mountain ridges, hills, and other prominent topographic 
features, and the structures extend several meters above canopy level. 
Many of the tallest are also secured by numerous guy wires (Longcore et 
al. 2008, entire; Simons et al. 2013, p. S32). Because of the nocturnal 
habits of black-

[[Page 50564]]

capped petrels, combined with the high speed at which they fly, they 
are highly vulnerable to aerial collisions with these unseen 
structures, especially on foggy nights typical of the petrel nesting 
season (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 8; Longcore et al. 2013, entire; Simons 
et al. 2013, p. S32). There have been numerous documented cases of 
black-capped petrels being killed or injured by aerial collisions with 
these structures in or near their breeding areas (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 
8; Simons et al. 2013, p. S32).

Wind Farms

    The increasing use of wind farms on and near Caribbean islands may 
constitute a potential threat to flying petrels (Simons et al. 2013, p. 
S32). As with communication towers, land-based wind farms tend to be 
located on high ground, where winds are higher and more constant. 
Threats are not only associated with collisions with fan blades, but 
also disorientation from associated lights with which such structures 
are equipped. Offshore wind farms can cause localized upwelling of 
marine currents, thereby attracting potential food sources of petrels 
and further attracting them to such sites. Collisions with wind 
turbines are a potential concern, and displacement of seabirds from 
offshore wind farm areas has also been documented (Garthe et al. 2016, 
entire). However, most such proposed sites are located nearer to shore 
than the pelagic areas typically used by petrels for feeding, so this 
specific threat appears comparatively low (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32). 
Recent construction of inland wind farms near petrel nesting areas on 
Hispaniola (Jodice, in litt.) may constitute an additional and yet 
unquantified threat, given that there are currently no data on the 
flying height of black-capped petrels when approaching nesting areas.

Offshore Oil and Gas

    Offshore oil and gas activity occurs off the coast of Cuba and 
northern South America near Venezuela and Colombia. Black-capped 
petrels use the area of the Caribbean Sea off Hispaniola to northern 
South America (Jodice et al. 2015, p. 28); accordingly, the birds that 
are foraging or resting in the waters near Cuba could be directly 
affected by petroleum or petroleum byproducts. Lighting from offshore 
platforms can also disorient the petrels.
    In the United States, proposed exploratory test drilling for oil 
and production along the edge of the continental shelf off the coast of 
North Carolina (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32) may be a future threat to 
black-capped petrels. The discovery of petroleum reserves in this zone, 
and within the main foraging area of the petrel, would most likely 
result in establishment of drilling and production structures. 
Petroleum residues or discharged contaminants from production could 
potentially increase the probability of incidental ingestion of 
petroleum fragments by surface-feeding birds (Simons et al. 2013, p. 
S32), as well as fouling of plumage from floating residues or oil 
spills. Although a black-capped petrel was once reportedly found with 
oil-fouled feathers, as well as one with petroleum fragments in the 
crop (Simons et al. 2013, p. S32), such incidents are relatively few 
and the genus Pterodroma is considered by some (e.g., Clapp et al. 
1982, p. 1) to be less vulnerable than other species to such exposure, 
although there are few data regarding the validity of this assertion 
(Simons et al. 2013, p. S32).
    Oil platforms and related structures are also typically well-lit 
for worker safety, and lights disorient flying petrels, especially on 
foggy nights. Moreover, helicopters are frequently used to transport 
crew and equipment to offshore production facilities, and the effects 
of these low-altitude overflights on foraging petrels is unknown. 
Regardless, because most petrels that forage in this area are adults 
(Simons et al. 2013, pp. S23-S28), any increase in losses from threats 
on the foraging grounds would disproportionally affect the adult 
segment of the population.
    Although black-capped petrels have recently been recorded in the 
central and northeastern Gulf of Mexico where oil and gas activities 
are ongoing, the extent of use of this area is not yet understood. The 
species has recently been detected in the northern Gulf of Mexico 
(Service 2018, appendix A). Oil and gas operations are well-established 
in the northern Gulf of Mexico; however, based on the best available 
information, black-capped petrels have not been detected in close 
proximity to platforms (Farnsworth and Russell 2007, entire). Black-
capped petrels were also not identified as a species affected by the 
Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which occurred in the northern 
Gulf of Mexico (NOAA 2016 pp. 4-461--4-515; Haney et al. 2014a, entire; 
Haney et al. 2014b, entire).

Mercury and Plastic Pollution

    In a long-term study of plastic ingestion by seabirds off the coast 
of North Carolina, plastic was present in stomach contents of over 55 
percent of 38 species sampled (Moser and Lee 1992, entire). However, 
only 1.8 percent of 57 black-capped petrels sampled during the study 
contained plastic. Black-capped petrels appear far less likely to 
incidentally ingest plastic fragments than many other seabirds (Simons 
et al. 2013, p. S33).
    Black-capped petrels do not forage heavily in areas along current 
edges where such residue and flotsam tend to collect, but rather in 
areas of current upwelling where nutrient-rich waters promote increased 
abundance of primary producers and prey species; this aspect of black-
capped petrel foraging behavior may make them less vulnerable to 
incidental ingestion of such material (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). 
However, black-capped petrels have been reported with relatively high 
concentrations of mercury (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33), with amounts up 
to seven to nine times higher than that of most other pelagic species 
sampled. Such high levels have been associated with reduced 
reproductive output and neurological damage in other avian species 
(Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). In fact, Procellariforms are known to be 
particularly susceptible to heavy metal bioaccumulation compared to 
other seabirds (Kim et al. 1996, pp. 262-265; Kojadinovic 2007a, 
entire; Kojadinovic 2007b, entire). It is postulated that increases in 
offshore oil drilling may increase such levels of contamination, via 
direct release of mercury and other heavy metals into the marine food 
chain (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). Any black-capped petrels 
potentially foraging in the northern Gulf of Mexico may already be 
exposed to such contaminants. Although current implications of these 
findings for the black-capped petrel remain unknown, because of the 
well-documented adverse effects of mercury contamination and 
accumulation for wildlife species, any increases in such levels would 
logically not bode well for the black-capped petrel, which is 
apparently already exposed to higher than normal levels of this 
contaminant.

Marine Fisheries

    Marine fisheries contribute to injury and mortality of seabirds 
through entanglement in clear monofilament fishing lines or getting 
caught in hooks (Furnuss 2003, entire, Li et al. 2012, p. 563). Because 
of the surface-feeding habits of the black-capped petrel, the species 
is not considered particularly vulnerable to effects of either long-
line or pelagic gill net commercial marine fisheries (Simons et al. 
2013, p. S33). There are no known reports of Pterodroma bycatch in any 
marine fisheries of the northern Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, or 
Caribbean. There is little information from foreign fishing fleets 
regarding the impacts from fisheries

[[Page 50565]]

(Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). Petrels tend to concentrate foraging 
activities in deep pelagic zones, rather than in areas of the 
continental shelf where most inshore fisheries occur. Thus, marine 
fisheries and associated activities are considered only a minor (albeit 
unquantified) threat to the black-capped petrel (Simons et al. 2013, p. 
S33).

Climate Change

    Under current projections of climate change, the black-capped 
petrel faces potential effects on both the foraging and breeding areas 
(Simons et al. 2013, p. S33), although by different mechanisms. First, 
the observed very strong association of the black-capped petrel with 
Gulf Stream waters and associated current upwelling off the coast of 
the southeastern United States make the species vulnerable to any 
climate-induced changes to existing marine hydrology in this zone. 
Changes in either the direction or temperature of these marine currents 
could significantly alter the foraging ecology of the species. Because 
there are currently no specific projections of climate-induced changes 
or reversal of either the Florida Current or Gulf Stream proper, the 
threat to the petrel from this aspect of climate change is believed to 
be low (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). However, projected climate-related 
increases in the frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes over 
the next century could substantially increase the numbers of black-
capped petrels driven inland and stranded by these storms, thereby 
increasing mortality (Hass et al. 2012, entire).
    Threats from climate change to the terrestrial requirements of 
black-capped petrel ecology are considered greater (Simons et al. 2013, 
p. S33). Among the primary projections for categorical climate-induced 
changes for the Caribbean basin are sea level rise and increased 
temperatures. Because of the petrels' use of high-elevation areas for 
nesting, changes in sea level are not considered to threaten the 
species. However, predicted temperature increases (Campbell et al. 
2011, entire; Karmalkar et al. 2013, entire) may manifest in numerous 
ways that could likely affect the petrel. First, associated changes in 
precipitation may result in increased episodes of heavy rainfall from 
storms and hurricanes, which, under current landscape conditions, would 
likely result in increased erosion and the flooding and loss of nesting 
burrows and nesting sites (Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). On the other 
hand, decreases in precipitation combined with higher temperatures 
(Campbell et al. 2011, entire; Karmalkar et al. 2013, entire) may 
increase frequency of drought and attendant susceptibility of breeding 
areas to forest fires. Increased intensity of hurricanes and tropical 
storms (Hass et al. 2012, entire) may also adversely affect the petrel 
by further accelerating erosion and degradation of nesting areas 
(Simons et al. 2013, p. S33). Finally, increased temperatures may 
likely also increase incidents of new invasive or vector-borne 
diseases. Black-capped petrels may be immunologically vulnerable to 
such pathogens (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S33-S34); thus, these may pose 
an additional climate-induced risk for the species.

Current Condition of the Black-Capped Petrel

    To assess black-capped petrel viability, we used the three 
conservation biology principles of resiliency, representation, and 
redundancy (together, ``the three Rs,'' (3Rs)) (Shaffer and Stein 2000, 
pp. 306-310). Briefly, resiliency refers to the ability of populations 
to withstand environmental and demographic stochasticity (for example, 
wet or dry, warm or cold years or fluctuations in recruitment or adult 
survival); representation refers to the ability of the species to adapt 
over time to long-term changes in the environment that influence 
adaptive capacity through natural selection processes (for example, 
climate changes); and redundancy refers to the ability of the species 
to withstand catastrophic events (for example, droughts, hurricanes). 
In general, the more redundant and resilient a species is and the more 
representation it has, the more likely it is to sustain populations 
over time, even under changing environmental conditions. Using these 
principles, we identified the species' ecological requirements for 
survival and reproduction at the individual, population, and species 
levels, and described the beneficial and risk factors influencing the 
species' viability.
    The SSA process can be divided into three sequential stages. During 
the first stage, we used the 3Rs to evaluate individual life-history 
needs. During the next stage, we assessed the historical and current 
condition of species' demographics and habitat characteristics, 
including explaining how the species arrived at its current condition. 
In the final stage, we made predictions about the species' responses to 
positive and negative environmental and anthropogenic influences.
    We assessed a range of conditions to allow us to consider the 
species' resiliency, representation, and redundancy. For redundancy, 
populations were defined as isolated nesting areas across the known 
breeding range of the species. The four known extant nesting areas are 
on the island of Hispaniola: Pic Macaya, Pic la Visite, Morne Vincent/
Sierra de Bahoruco, and Valle Nuevo. Black-capped petrels have also 
been detected through acoustic detections and radar ``petrel-like 
targets'' on the island of Dominica, but breeding has not been 
confirmed there, and, therefore, we will not consider this area as a 
population until more information is available. Accordingly, we 
conclude that there are four populations of the black-capped petrel.
    These populations were evaluated for resiliency based the number of 
acoustic and radar detections and nest success. To provide context for 
the current condition of the species, we considered the historic range 
to assess the species' resiliency, redundancy, and representation in 
the past. However, in addressing the species' current condition, only 
extant populations were analyzed. We evaluated the condition of each 
population based on nest success, the number of radar petrel-like 
targets per night and acoustic detections per minute. Overall 
population condition rankings and habitat condition rankings were 
determined by combining these factors and elements.
    We described representation for the black-capped petrel based on 
the two distinct color forms of unknown genetic or geographic origins. 
Geographic representation for the species consists currently of a loose 
assemblage of the four breeding populations on a single Caribbean 
island, Hispaniola.
    The black-capped petrel spends most of its life at sea, except 
during breeding, which takes place in high-elevation areas on Caribbean 
islands. The actual population size of the black-capped petrel is 
unknown: Published estimates range from approximately 2,000 to 4,000 
birds, among which are 500 to 1,000 breeding pairs (Simons et al. 2013, 
p. S22). Though uncertain, recent estimates suggest that the numbers of 
breeding pairs at sites in the Dominican Republic may be currently be 
in the 10s to 100s (Simons et al. 2013, p. S22), while those in 
neighboring Haiti may range from approximately 500 to 1,500 (Goetz et 
al. 2012, pp. 4-5). Nesting areas in Haiti may contain up to 95 percent 
of currently known nest sites for this species (Simons et al. 2013, p. 
23; Goetz et al. 2012, pp. 4-5). Using recent advances in detection 
methodology, specifically digital acoustic monitoring, evidence of 
approximately 60 active nest sites was found in the nesting areas of 
southwestern Dominican Republic (McKown 2014, entire).

[[Page 50566]]

    Population resiliency is the ability to respond to stochastic 
disturbances that may affect individual populations; examples of such 
disturbances affecting the black-capped petrel include climatic factors 
such as droughts (and associated fires), hurricanes, and excessive 
rainfall. These disturbances can reduce habitat quality and nesting 
success on the breeding grounds, and thus may negatively affect 
population growth. The black-capped petrel has a large parental 
investment, as they typically produce only one egg per year. The low 
reproductive output subjects the species to declines in nesting success 
due to varying environmental conditions (Simons 1984, entire). 
Resiliency, measured at the population level, is best characterized by 
the number of individuals per breeding population and nest success. A 
resilient black-capped petrel population requires multiple areas of 
suitable nesting habitat and consistent and adequate pelagic food 
resources in traditional feeding areas. There is currently an estimated 
total of 500 to 1,000 breeding pairs across the species' range given 
data and observations over the past 10 to 15 years (Simons et al. 2013, 
p. S22). Although the number of breeding pairs has declined 
precipitously from historic times to the present, the success of 
existing nests is relatively high (5-year mean of 75 percent; n = 175 
nests). After correcting for search effort, the average number of 
black-capped petrels seen annually, from 1979 to 2016, along defined 
transects on foraging grounds in the western Atlantic region is 
relatively low.
    To determine and quantify current species-level overall resiliency, 
we compared current population resiliency to the historical optimal, 
based on known prior distribution and number of breeding populations. 
From the calculations, the current overall resiliency of the black-
capped petrel is low, being approximately one-third (.333) of its 
historical resiliency. The results of our assessment reflect that the 
black-capped petrel has experienced a progressive reduction in two key 
demographic parameters over (at least) the past five centuries: (1) 
Population size and (2) number of breeding populations. These 
components are not mutually exclusive, as loss of breeding populations 
typically results in a decline in total population. Historical 
information also indicates that reductions were, and continue to be, 
primarily a result of human activities on the Caribbean islands, which 
historically hosted black-capped petrel breeding populations. Although 
declines largely occurred following European colonization of the 
Caribbean region in the 16th century, at least one breeding population 
(Martinique) was eliminated during pre-Columbian times by 
overharvesting for food by the resident Carib Indians. Thus, the 
cumulative actions of human populations on Caribbean islands have 
progressively reduced the overall extent of known black-capped petrel 
breeding populations from that of at least seven populations on four 
different islands, to four current populations, all located on one 
island (i.e., southwestern Hispaniola). Geographic isolation increases 
the vulnerability of the species to catastrophic events, such as major 
hurricanes. Our estimates of little to no redundancy and representation 
are reflective of the species' vulnerability to such events.
    Once breeding populations of the black-capped petrel became 
geographically limited to southwestern Hispaniola, a suite of 
additional factors began to work synergistically to further reduce the 
overall population of the species. Among these, habitat loss and 
degradation have been, and continue to be, the most pernicious. 
Anthropogenic habitat loss and associated factors threaten the 
remaining breeding populations on Hispaniola and have almost certainly 
contributed to the substantial decline in overall numbers of the black-
capped petrel over the past 50 years. There has also been an apparent 
concomitant decrease in petrel numbers within most individual breeding 
populations. Our estimate of low resiliency for the black-capped petrel 
reflects extensive nesting habitat loss and degradation, and subsequent 
declines in petrel population size.
    Redundancy reflects the capacity of a species to persist in the 
face of catastrophic events, and is best achieved by having multiple, 
widely distributed populations across the geographical range of the 
species. Black-capped petrel redundancy is characterized by the number 
and geographic dispersion of breeding populations. Historically, the 
species' breeding range included Hispaniola, Dominica, Guadaloupe, 
Martinique, and possibly Cuba. Currently, redundancy is characterized 
by only four known breeding populations occurring on one island. 
Moreover, given the relatively close proximity and analogous life-
history characteristics of all known nesting colonies, the probability 
that all colonies would be similarly affected by a given extreme 
climatic event is quite high. Although total numbers of nests per 
population are highly uncertain, the majority (80 to 90 percent) of 
nests are believed to be within the Pic Visite nesting area (J. Goetz, 
pers. comm.), an area currently subject to significant and increasing 
pressure from deforestation and other anthropogenic activities.
    Current representation in terms of nesting habitat is limited to a 
relatively narrow range of characteristics shared by all four known 
breeding areas. Historical records up to at least the early 19th 
century documented nesting by the petrel on at least three additional 
islands: Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Martinique (Simons et al. 2013, pp. 
S10-S13). Of these, there is credible evidence of the possible 
existence of an extant breeding population only on Dominica (Brown 
2015, entire). Thus, there are credible past records of up to at least 
seven breeding populations of the species within the Caribbean, 
compared to perhaps only four currently, for an approximate 43-percent 
reduction in geographic representation since the early 19th century.

Conservation Actions

    Over at least the past decade, the threats to continued viability 
of the black-capped petrel have become well-known both locally (i.e., 
on Hispaniola) and internationally, and several nongovernment 
organizations (NGOs) are currently working in both Haiti and the 
Dominican Republic in an effort to reduce or otherwise mitigate the 
severity of these threats. These NGOs include international 
organizations (e.g., BirdsCaribbean, Environmental Protection in the 
Caribbean, Plant with Purpose, American Bird Conservancy, International 
Black-capped petrel Conservation Group) as well as local organizations 
(e.g., Grupo Jaragua, Soci[eacute]t[eacute] Audubon Haiti).
    Because most of the threats to the black-capped petrel are directly 
the result of anthropogenic activities, these NGOs have been providing 
technical assistance and education on sustainable agricultural 
practices, watershed management, and reforestation of previously 
deforested and degraded areas in the regions where petrels nest. These 
actions are in addition to ``traditional'' conservation efforts such as 
environmental education and heightened awareness of, and appreciation 
for, the black-capped petrel at the local level.
    For example, in the community of Boukan Chat, Haiti (adjacent the 
Morne Vincent petrel nesting area), NGOs have developed black-capped 
petrel educational programs for local schoolchildren, provided 
financial and technical assistance with construction of freshwater 
cisterns, and provided tree seeds and technical assistance for local

[[Page 50567]]

reforestation projects. Some residents of Boukan Chat have also been 
hired to work toward improving community awareness of the black-capped 
petrel and its plight, and how sustainable land management can be 
mutually beneficial to both the community and the petrel.
    Other such NGO efforts include production of a documentary video 
highlighting the black-capped petrel and detailing local efforts to 
save the species. Additional efforts include active monitoring for 
forest fires near petrel nesting areas, continued monitoring of petrel 
nest success in the Morne Vincent/Sierra del Bahoruco nesting area, 
continued radar and bioacoustical monitoring for petrel detections, and 
working with owners of a local communication tower to reduce nocturnal 
lighting intensity as a means to reduce black-capped petrel collisions 
with these structures (Brown 2016, entire; IBPCG 2016, entire; IBPCG 
2017, entire). However, these NGO efforts, albeit locally successful, 
are still relatively limited in both geographic scope and funding, and 
there are yet other areas of Hispaniola that harbor black-capped petrel 
nesting colonies (e.g., Pic Macaya, Pic La Visite) that could likely 
benefit from similar efforts.
    The black-capped petrel was added to an existing international 
agreement in 2014, under the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected 
Areas and Wildlife in the Wider Caribbean Region (SPAW). The SPAW 
Protocol is pursuant to the Convention for the Protection and 
Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region. 
The SPAW Protocol was adopted in 1990, and entered into force in 2000. 
The United States ratified the SPAW Protocol in 2003. There are 
currently 16 State Parties to the SPAW Protocol from throughout the 
wider Caribbean region. At least 90 to 95 percent of all black-capped 
petrel nests are within Haiti or along its border with the Dominican 
Republic. Although the Dominican Republic is a party to the SPAW 
Protocol, Haiti is not, and the lack of conservation efforts in Haiti 
leaves the species vulnerable to ongoing and future impacts to the 
petrel's nesting habitat.

Future Condition of the Black-Capped Petrel

    To assess the future condition of the species, we define viability 
as the ability of the species to sustain wild populations, both across 
its range and among representative units beyond a biologically 
meaningful timeframe. The estimated generation time of the black-capped 
petrel is 5 years (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 5; Simons et al. 2013, p. 
S22); 50 years encompasses approximately 10 generations, which we 
believe is an appropriate time horizon to realize predicted effects of 
factors acting on species viability. However, we also examined factors 
affecting species viability at shorter time intervals (10 and 25 
years), corresponding to approximately two and five black-capped petrel 
generations, so that we could understand dynamics affecting the species 
from current condition to the end of the 50-year predictive time 
horizon (Service 2018, p. 45).
    We used the best available information to assess the predicted 
future viability of the black-capped petrel. In doing so, we considered 
all recognized threats to the species and how and why they may impinge 
upon species viability. In the process, we observed that the numerous 
distinct threats shared common underlying drivers, and of these, the 
two that encompassed virtually all threats were (1) Regional climate 
change, and (2) human population growth, particularly on Hispaniola, 
where all currently known nesting by the petrel occurs. Importantly, 
for both of these identified drivers, there exists a body of empirical 
data on which to base reasonable predictions of future conditions for 
the black-capped petrel. Rather than attempting to predict future 
levels of all of the diverse threats, many of which lack adequate 
quantitative data, we chose instead to examine future projections for 
these two overarching drivers. To employ this approach, we used a 
combination of black-capped petrel population trajectories over the 
past 50 years, past trends and current levels of threats, and 
recognized causal relationships between and among drivers and threats, 
to incorporate them into a model to arrive at what we believe to be the 
most likely future status of the black-capped petrel.
    When determining the effects of climate on the black-capped petrel, 
we used the most recent analyses of projected future climate patterns 
in the Caribbean region that predict a median increase in annual 
surface air temperature of 2.8 degrees Celsius ([deg]C) (37 degrees 
Fahrenheit ([deg]F)) within the current petrel nesting areas on 
Hispaniola by year 2080 (Campbell et al. 2010, entire; Karmalkar 2013, 
entire). Additionally, precipitation is projected to substantially 
decrease during both the early (May to July) and late (August to 
October) wet seasons for these same areas with a generally drier 
precipitation pattern year-round. Percentage decreases in early wet 
season precipitation are projected to be greater (median -41 percent) 
than decreases in late wet season precipitation (median -22 percent). 
In general, decreases in wet season precipitation are particularly 
significant, as those months are when the greatest amount of annual 
rainfall occurs (Karmalkar et al. 2013, pp. 301-303). Decreases in dry 
season precipitation are projected to be comparatively less than 
decreases during the wet seasons by current models (Karmalkar et al. 
2013, pp. 301-303), resulting in an overall future reduction in the 
degree of bimodality of current wet and dry seasons in the western 
Caribbean (e.g., Hispaniola). Thus, the local climate of the currently 
known black-capped petrel nesting areas on Hispaniola is projected to 
become hotter and drier over the next 50 to 60 years with less 
differentiation between wet season and dry season rainfall amounts.
    Although the full ecological effects of a projected hotter and 
drier climate in the current black-capped petrel nesting areas on 
Hispaniola are complex and yet unknown, such a change will likely 
increase the frequency and intensity of forest fires. Currently, 
anthropogenic forest fires cause substantial habitat degradation and 
loss both within and adjacent to the petrel nesting areas (Sergile et 
al. 1992, entire; Goetz et al. 2012, p. 7; Rupp and Garrido 2013, 
entire; Simons et al. 2013, p. S31), and any increases in this 
disturbance are likely to have significant adverse effects on species 
viability. Decreased rainfall and humidity during the traditional wet 
seasons may also exacerbate effects of naturally occurring fires from 
lightning strikes. Fires would likely become more intense and 
extensive, mimicking the effects of the more damaging dry season 
anthropogenic fires. Such effects include elimination of naturally 
occurring seed banks, increased erosion and mudslides, and loss of 
accumulated organic humus layers that may be used as nest sites by 
black-capped petrels. Moreover, because the early wet season (May to 
July) is projected to experience the greatest reduction in 
precipitation, increased occurrence of forest fires at such time may 
increase risks to nesting black-capped petrels as well as fledglings, 
which leave nests during this season.
    Changes in temperatures and rainfall patterns are not the only 
projected effects of regional climate change for Hispaniola. Recent 
projections indicate the frequency of intense hurricanes (i.e., 
Categories 4 and 5) are predicted to not only increase for the region, 
but also the amount of precipitation associated with these atmospheric 
events is projected to increase by at least 11 percent, with up to 20- 
to 30-percent increases in

[[Page 50568]]

precipitation near the center of these storms (Elsner et al. 2008, 
entire; Knutson et al. 2013, entire). Fewer Atlantic hurricanes are 
projected; however, the intensity of the storms is expected to increase 
(Bender et al. 2010, p. 458). In upper elevation Caribbean forests, 
intense hurricanes cause widespread and severe damage to vegetation at 
all strata, including large accumulations of organic debris that may 
block or otherwise impede access by petrels to previously existing nest 
burrows. The physical and ecological effects of these storms may 
persist for decades (Lugo 2008, entire) and include redirection of 
ecological succession, changes in the ecological space available to 
organisms, and wholesale changes in forest microhabitats. In 
particular, hurricane-induced erosion and landslides could have 
potentially severe effects on black-capped petrels by degrading or 
eliminating currently productive nesting areas, particularly if said 
areas undergo prior degradation and ground cover loss due to forest 
fires or anthropogenic land-clearing. A massive landslide is believed 
to have eliminated the only known nesting area for the black-capped 
petrel on the island of Guadeloupe, resulting in the species' 
extirpation from that island (Simons et al. 2013, pp. S11-S12).
    Projected climate change and associated effects on hurricane 
intensities may also have repercussions for black-capped petrels in 
their marine foraging areas. Over 100 years of data were used in a 
model that depicted the relationship between black-capped petrel inland 
strandings (i.e., birds found far inland from normal marine habitat) 
and resultant mortalities in the continental United States in relation 
to Atlantic hurricane intensities and trajectories; it was found that 
on at least eight occasions over the past century, major (Categories 3 
to 5) hurricanes had likely resulted in mortalities of tens to hundreds 
of black-capped petrels (Hass et al. 2012, entire). Also, projected 
increases in major hurricane activity in the region are expected due to 
climate change (Bender et al. 2010, entire; Knutson et al. 2010, 
entire), and hurricane-related mortalities of black-capped petrels 
could nearly double over the next 100 years (i.e., 50 percent increase 
over a 50-year period), particularly from the powerful ``Cape Verde'' 
hurricanes for which landfall rates along the southeastern U.S. coast 
are projected to increase 10 percent per decade over the next century 
(Hass et al. 2012, pp. 256-257). Because black-capped petrels tend to 
congregate at high densities on marine foraging grounds off the eastern 
United States during the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, they 
are especially vulnerable to such atmospheric events (Hass et al. 2012, 
pp. 258-260). Based on climatic projections, such losses could 
constitute up to 5 to 10 percent of the current known breeding 
population of the species over the next 50 years (Hass et al. 2012, 
entire). However, any reductions in the current black-capped petrel 
breeding population from other unrelated factors (e.g., predation, 
tower collisions, and forest fires) could thereby amplify and 
exacerbate the effective proportion of hurricane-related losses.
    The factor that is expected to have the greatest effect on black-
capped petrel is human population growth in Haiti. The projected 
increases in human population discussed below will increase the energy 
needs of Haiti, further influencing habitat loss due to charcoal 
production or agricultural conversion.
    To assess the influence of human population growth on petrel 
nesting habitat on Hispaniola, we considered three different plausible 
scenarios. The three scenarios correspond to baseline, baseline plus 20 
percent, and baseline minus 20 percent, of United Nations (UN) 
population growth projections for Haiti and the Dominican Republic. By 
``bracketing'' our projections, we were attempting to account for 
inherent uncertainties that can arise from long-term projections. By 
accounting for potential variation, we increased our confidence that 
the ``true'' population growth, and its subsequent effects on black-
capped petrel nesting habitat, was captured within the range of our 
scenarios. This also provided a means of graphically depicting and 
examining relative differences in population growth over time, which 
may allow for the identification of ``critical time points'' beyond 
which certain threats may more rapidly increase in severity. In order 
to provide a better understanding of the projected trajectory of the 
future scenarios, we predicted factors affecting black-capped petrel 
status at two intermediate time frames, 10 and 25 years, as well as 50 
years, which is the end of our predictive time horizon. The complete 
analyses for all three scenarios are provided in the SSA report 
(Service 2018, pp. 43-56).

Scenario 1: Human Population of Hispaniola Increases per Current UN 
Projections

    The current population of Haiti is around 11 million people (United 
Nations 2018). If the population of Hispaniola increases as currently 
projected, by 2070, there will be 28 million inhabitants on the island, 
of which 15 million will reside in Haiti. At such time, the human 
population density of Haiti will exceed 545 persons per square 
kilometer (/km\2\), with most people living in densely populated urban 
areas where charcoal is currently the primary fuel used for cooking. 
Unless there is a significant shift away from the use of wood-based 
fuels to (perhaps) propane gas (as is the case in the Dominican 
Republic), our analysis indicates the rate of land-clearing and forest 
degradation both within and near black-capped petrel nesting areas will 
likely increase by 62 percent over the next 50 years. Moreover, the 
demand for food and building materials to support the human population 
will also increase substantially over current levels, resulting in 
additional deforestation for agricultural purposes. Deforestation 
concurrent with population growth is expected to occur in both in Haiti 
and adjacent areas of the Dominican Republic. Anthropogenic fires 
associated with land-clearing activities are also expected to increase, 
further threatening black-capped petrel nesting habitat. Given the 
level of this threat to nesting areas and the magnitude of forest 
conversion (i.e., for charcoal production, agriculture), the resiliency 
of the black-capped petrel is predicted to be very low.
    The black-capped petrel populations most likely to be adversely 
affected under this scenario are those within Haiti and along the 
Haiti-Dominican Republic border. In particular, the Pic Macaya and Pic 
La Visite breeding populations in Haiti, which have apparently suffered 
the greatest recent declines in both habitat quality and quantity 
(Goetz et al. 2012, pp. 9-10; Simons et al. 2013, pp. S13-S15), and a 
subsequent loss in the number of nesting petrels, are likely to face 
extirpation. If these breeding populations are adversely affected, this 
could potentially result in a loss of 85 to 95 percent of the currently 
known breeding population of the black-capped petrel (see Goetz et al. 
2012, p. 5). The Haitian portion of the Morne Vincent/Sierra del 
Bahoruco breeding colony, having already been largely deforested, may 
experience slightly less adverse effects from continued deforestation. 
However, there is a significant potential for increased land clearing 
for agricultural activity in this nesting area, as it is not within any 
officially protected area. In contrast, although the Dominican Republic 
portion of this nesting area will most likely also be subject to at 
least some increased

[[Page 50569]]

clearing for agricultural activities as well as charcoal production, 
much of this nesting habitat is at least somewhat officially protected 
in the Dominican Republic, which may help to reduce or slow future 
degradation. The remaining, and only recently discovered, nesting area 
is in Valle Nuevo National Park in the central mountains of the 
Dominican Republic. This nesting area faces many similar threats but is 
more remote and slightly more distant from the growing market for 
charcoal in Haiti. This distance from anthropogenic influence, along 
with its protected status, may result in this nesting area being less 
adversely affected than the others. However, only one black-capped 
petrel nest has been identified in Valle Nuevo National Park, so this 
area's overall importance to species resiliency and persistence is 
uncertain at best.

Scenario 2: Human Population of Hispaniola Increases at Annual Rates 20 
Percent Less Than UN Projections

    In Scenario 2, the human population on Hispaniola is projected to 
increase at an annual rate that is 20 percent less than currently 
predicted, resulting in approximately 27.5 million inhabitants by 2070, 
of which 14.6 million of those inhabitants will reside in Haiti. Note 
that this projected total population is only about 2 percent less than 
was projected in Scenario 1. Likewise, the projected population density 
of Haiti under this scenario is 532 persons/km\2\, only about 2 percent 
less than projected in Scenario 1. Accordingly, the future for black-
capped petrel under Scenario 2 is expected to look very similar to that 
described in Scenario 1, resulting in a predicted very low future 
resiliency.

Scenario 3: Human Population of Hispaniola Increases at Annual Rates 20 
Percent Greater Than UN Projections

    In Scenario 3, the human population on Hispaniola is projected to 
increase at an annual rate that is 20 percent greater than predicted in 
Scenario 1. Under Scenario 3, there will be approximately 34 million 
inhabitants on the island by 2070, of which just over 20 million will 
reside in Haiti. Under this scenario, human population densities would 
reach 740 persons/km\2\ in Haiti, and 285 persons/km\2\ in the 
Dominican Republic. At such time, the projected demand for charcoal and 
firewood in Haiti (assuming all other required resources would support 
such a population) would result in a 220-percent increase in the amount 
of deforested and degraded areas on Hispaniola just for energy 
production. In addition to deforestation for charcoal, additional 
forest lost is projected to occur as a result of intensified 
agricultural activities. Under these projections, the magnitude of 
forest conversion would likely result in widespread catastrophic loss 
of nesting habitat and, in turn, likely extinction of the species in 
the wild. Because of the inherent uncertainty of projections for the 
more severe outcome of Scenario 3, we opted to subdivide this scenario 
into two equally likely outcomes: Scenario 3a (one remaining very low 
resiliency population; i.e., Valle Nuevo National Park), and Scenario 
3b (no remaining populations; i.e., species extinction).
    All three of the future scenarios indicate a decline in the 
species' viability through the loss of resiliency, redundancy, and 
representation. As the human population on Hispaniola increases, the 
attendant anthropogenic factors that currently influence species 
viability are virtually certain to increase concomitantly. Future 
increases in the human population of Haiti will almost certainly result 
in increased deforestation rates throughout black-capped petrel nesting 
areas, both for production of charcoal and for necessary agricultural 
products and building materials. Based on the best available 
information, our more conservative projections suggest a future 
increase of approximately 0.56 to 0.65 percent per year in the areal 
extent of forest conversion on Hispaniola. Of the four known breeding 
populations on Hispaniola, two (Pic Macaya and Pic La Visite) are 
likely to face extirpation by 2070 under all three projected future 
scenarios: Pic Macaya because of the lack of control of human access or 
ongoing conservation efforts, and Pic La Visite because of ongoing and 
increasing rates of degradation and its close proximity to the capital 
city, Port-au-Prince, where anthropogenic demand for resources (food, 
fuel, building material) is very high. In the case of Pic La Visite, 
the discovery of any additional petrel nesting sites in the adjacent 
and contiguous areas of Pic La Selle could potentially attenuate such 
losses, but no such additional nest sites have been found to date. The 
loss of these two breeding populations would represent a potential loss 
of up to 85 to 95 percent of the entire currently known breeding 
population of the black-capped petrel.
    The primary effects of anthropogenic actions on black-capped petrel 
viability have apparently occurred over the past four or five 
centuries, a relatively short time in an evolutionary context. The 
petrel has been subject to the stochastic occurrences of tropical 
storms and hurricanes in the Caribbean for much longer, and has 
presumably evolved adaptive strategies in response to such storm 
events. However, such adaptations evolved in the context of multiple 
breeding populations across multiple islands and larger populations, 
and under previous regional climatic regimes. Furthermore, the 
conditions in which the black-capped petrel evolved have drastically 
changed, and this is only predicted to worsen. In the case of regional 
climate regimes, the best available information suggests a hotter and 
drier future climate within the specific area where black-capped 
petrels currently nest, along with a steady increase in the number of 
intense (Category 3 to Category 5) hurricanes across the region over 
the next century. Although major hurricanes were likely not a threat to 
the black-capped petrel under their historic (i.e., pre-Columbian) 
population conditions, the combination of fewer and smaller breeding 
populations, ongoing nesting habitat loss and degradation, and more 
frequent and intense tropical storms will likely result in adverse 
effects to the petrel from these stochastic atmospheric phenomena. 
Based on past trends and evidence, these adverse effects will likely 
also include increased mortalities of adults on the western Atlantic 
foraging grounds due to increased frequency of hurricane-induced inland 
strandings.
    There remains an additional factor that we were unable to evaluate 
that could conceivably influence black-capped petrel viability. For 
many species, particularly those that form breeding colonies or other 
such aggregations, as population numbers decline they may reach a 
``critical level'' below which normal social and ecological 
interactions become impaired or inhibited. This is commonly referred to 
as the Allee effect (see, e.g., Courchamp et al. 1999, entire; Stephens 
et al. 1999, entire). Examples of such effects include increased per 
capita demographic effects of mortalities, disruption of normal pair-
bond formation, skewed sex ratios, lower reproductive success, and 
reduced foraging efficiency. These combined effects can result in an 
extinction vortex from which a species cannot demographically recover 
(Dennis 2002; entire). As the population declines, the potential for 
future manifestations of demographic Allee effects in this species 
should not be discounted or ignored.
    Finally, the best available science at the time of the analysis 
indicates that the future viability of the black-capped petrel is 
linked to the complex and challenging socioeconomic and environmental 
landscape within Haiti,

[[Page 50570]]

where as many as 90 to 95 percent of all known black-capped petrel nest 
sites occur. The current and future challenges faced by Haiti in terms 
of political and economic stability, environmental protection, food 
security, and public health are daunting. Also, while there are, and 
will continue to be, numerous successful initiatives by both local and 
international conservation and humanitarian organizations to provide 
needed financial and technical support for environmental conservation 
in Haiti, these efforts are nonetheless subject to the vicissitudes of 
donor funding in an ever unpredictable global financial setting. 
Natural resource conservation and management in Haiti would be 
seriously hampered in the event of a major global financial crisis, 
widespread social unrest in Haiti, or a military confrontation between 
Haiti and the Dominican Republic, all of which have occurred at some 
point in the past. Meanwhile, Haiti, and to a lesser but still 
significant degree, the Dominican Republic remain highly vulnerable to 
stochastic and catastrophic natural events such as major earthquakes 
and hurricanes, which can result in significant setbacks for ongoing 
conservation efforts (Castro et al. 2005, entire; Smucker et al. 2007, 
entire). In the end, the future of the black-capped petrel will depend 
in large measure on the long-term effectiveness of ongoing and future 
conservation efforts in Haiti.

Determination

    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.
    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
to the black-capped petrel. Habitat loss and degradation due to 
deforestation for agricultural development and charcoal production are 
currently the major threats to the species on its nesting grounds on 
the island of Hispaniola (Factor A). Historically, the black-capped 
petrel also nested on the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, 
and possibly Cuba. The species was extirpated from Martinique in pre-
Columbian times by island residents that over-harvested the petrel for 
consumption (Factor B). Nonnative mammalian species are a threat to 
native wildlife on islands and contributed to the loss and probable 
extirpation of the species on the island of Dominica in the late 19th 
century (Factor C). The species' nesting range is limited to the steep, 
high-elevation areas that can be affected by erosion due to increased 
hurricane intensity and frequency, reducing available cavities or 
access to nesting sites (Factor E). Due to the loss of nesting areas 
across the historical range of the species, the black-capped petrel is 
currently only confirmed to be reproducing on the island of Hispaniola. 
The species' range reduction has led to the loss of redundancy of 
populations, with only four known nesting colonies, all confined to one 
island, remaining. This also contributes to the loss of representation, 
as the species has high fidelity to the same nesting sites each year; 
there is limited genetic exchange between populations. With the loss of 
populations on other islands, this reduces the potential for additional 
genetic lineages to increase genotypic diversity within the species.
    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 within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range.'' Foreseeable future was determined 
to be between 30 and 50 years; based on available data regarding human 
population growth on Hispaniola and associated sociological factors 
(energy sources/demand, resource availability, increased need/
conversion of land to agriculture to support increasing human 
populations) and climate change projections, we can reasonably project 
future conditions out that far.
    Climate change data are less reliable in the Caribbean, augmenting 
the level of uncertainty and reliability of the projections. The most 
important driving factor for breeding habitat changes into the future 
is human population growth and resource use (e.g., charcoal). The 
greatest threats to the species currently affect the species on their 
breeding grounds. Due to deforestation from agricultural development 
and charcoal production, the breeding range has been reduced from its 
historical range; the remaining habitat and populations are threatened 
by a variety of factors acting in combination to reduce the overall 
viability of the species. Viability in terms of resiliency, redundancy, 
and representation was analyzed and described in the SSA report. In 
summary, the species' resiliency is expected to decline, as well as its 
redundancy and representation.
    The current condition of each of the breeding populations was 
evaluated using the number of radar targets per night, acoustic 
detections per hour, and nest success at each of the confirmed nesting 
areas. To determine and quantify current species-level overall 
resiliency we compared current population resiliency to the historical 
optimal, based on known prior distribution and number of breeding 
populations (Service 2018, p. 39-41). In respect to redundancy, the 
number of populations has declined due to the extirpation of the 
species on Guadaloupe, Martinique, and Dominica. The contraction of the 
breeding range and loss of populations on the additional islands 
results in low redundancy and leaves the species more vulnerable to 
catastrophic events.
    The risk of extinction in the foreseeable future is high because 
the remaining populations are small, suitable habitat is limited for 
additional nesting areas, and the impacts from stressors acting on the 
species on the nesting grounds are expected to increase. Therefore, on 
the basis of the best available scientific and commercial information, 
we find that the black-capped petrel is likely to become endangered 
within the foreseeable future throughout its entire range because of 
the threats facing the species. However, the current status of the 
species as evaluated in the SSA report indicates the species is 
presently not at risk of extinction throughout its range (i.e., 
endangered throughout its range), because the species has retained 
resiliency, with four extant breeding populations on Hispaniola and 
with a current population estimated to be between 2,000 to 4,000 
individuals, an estimated 500 to 1,000 breeding pairs, and an overall 
nesting success rate of around 75 percent (Service 2018, pp. 17-19).
    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 the 
black-capped petrel is likely to become an endangered species within 
the foreseeable future throughout its range, we find it unnecessary to 
proceed to an evaluation of potentially significant portions of the 
range. Where the best available information allows the Services to 
determine a status for the species rangewide, that determination should 
be given conclusive weight because a rangewide determination of status 
more accurately reflects the species' degree of imperilment and better 
promotes the purposes of the statute. Under this reading, we should 
first consider whether listing is appropriate based on a rangewide 
analysis and proceed to conduct a ``significant portion of its range''

[[Page 50571]]

analysis if, and only if, a species does not qualify for listing as 
either endangered or threatened according to the ``all'' language. We 
note that the court in Desert Survivors v. Department of the Interior, 
No. 16-cv-01165-JCS, 2018 WL 4053447 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2018), did not 
address this issue, and our conclusion is therefore consistent with the 
opinion in that case.
    Therefore, we propose to list the black-capped petrel as a 
threatened species across its entire range in accordance with sections 
3(20) and 4(a)(1) of the Act.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened species 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 other countries, and calls for recovery actions to be 
carried out for 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 calls for 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 also identifies 
recovery criteria for review of when a species may be ready for 
reclassification (e.g., from endangered to threatened, also called 
``downlisting'') or removal from listed status (``delisting''), 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, NGOs, 
and stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. When 
completed, the recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the final 
recovery plan will be available on our website (https://www.fws.gov/endangered), or from our Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office 
(see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the 
participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal 
agencies, States, Tribes, NGOs, businesses, and private landowners. 
Examples of recovery actions include habitat restoration (e.g., 
restoration of native vegetation), research, captive propagation and 
reintroduction, and outreach and education. The recovery of many listed 
species cannot be accomplished solely on Federal lands because their 
range may occur primarily or solely on non-Federal lands. To achieve 
recovery of these species requires cooperative conservation efforts on 
private, State, and Tribal lands, and areas outside of U.S. 
jurisdiction. If this species is listed, funding for recovery actions 
will be available from a variety of sources, including Federal budgets, 
State programs, and cost share grants for non-Federal landowners, the 
academic community, and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, 
pursuant to section 6 of the Act, the State of North Carolina would be 
eligible for Federal funds to implement management actions that promote 
the protection or recovery of the black-capped petrel because North 
Carolina State waters are the only place in the United States where the 
species is found aside from vagrant or extralimital occurrences. 
Information on our grant programs that are available to aid species 
recovery can be found at: https://www.fws.gov/grants.
    Although the black-capped petrel is only proposed for listing under 
the Act at this time, please let us know if you are interested in 
participating in recovery efforts for this species. Additionally, we 
invite you to submit any new information on this species whenever it 
becomes available and any information you may have for recovery 
planning purposes (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 species' habitat that may require 
conference or consultation or both as described in the preceding 
paragraph include management of and any other landscape-altering 
activities on Federal waters used by the Department of Defense or 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and offshore 
energy activities of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and 
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

Provisions of Section 4(d) of the Act

    The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to threatened wildlife. 
Under section 4(d) of the Act, the Secretary of the Interior has the 
discretion to issue such regulations as he 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 any threatened species of fish or wildlife, any act 
prohibited under section 9(a)(1) of the Act. The prohibitions of 
section 9(a)(1) of the Act, codified at 50 CFR 17.31, make it illegal 
for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to take 
(which includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture, or collect; or to attempt any of these) threatened wildlife 
within the United States or on the high seas. In addition, it is 
unlawful to import; export; deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship 
in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity; 
or sell or

[[Page 50572]]

offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any listed species. It 
is also illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship 
any such wildlife that has been taken illegally. The Service has 
exercised discretion under section 4(d) of the Act to develop a rule 
that is tailored to the specific threats and conservation needs of this 
species.
    The black-capped petrel is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty 
Act (MBTA). The MBTA makes it unlawful ``at any time, by any means or 
in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, 
capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barter, 
barter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, 
export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for 
transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to 
be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or 
export, any migratory bird, [or] any part, nest, or egg of any such 
bird . . .'' included in the terms of four specific conventions between 
the United States and certain foreign countries (16 U.S.C. 703). See 50 
CFR 10.13 for the list of migratory birds protected by the MBTA.
    This proposed rule under section 4(d) of the Act adopts existing 
requirements under the MBTA as the appropriate regulatory provisions 
for the black-capped petrel. Accordingly, under the proposed 4(d) rule, 
incidental take is not prohibited, and purposeful take is not 
prohibited if the activity is authorized or exempted under the MBTA. 
Thus, if a permit is issued for activities resulting in purposeful take 
under the MBTA, it would not be necessary to have an additional permit 
under the Act.
    The terms ``conserve'', ``conserving'', and ``conservation'' as 
defined by the Act, 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 Act are no longer necessary. Due to threats acting on the 
black-capped petrel on the nesting grounds and the projected impacts to 
the species and its habitat in the foreseeable future, the viability of 
the species is expected to decline. The loss of habitat due to 
deforestation along with increased precipitation and drought events 
leave the species vulnerable to becoming endangered in the foreseeable 
future. The species that was once abundant continues to decline due to 
the conditions at the nesting locations on Hispaniola. The primary 
stressors to the species are occurring on the breeding grounds in Haiti 
and the Dominican Republic; therefore, prohibiting incidental take in 
the United States is not going to contribute meaningfully to the 
conservation of the species. Prohibiting unregulated, purposeful take 
is beneficial in order to protect the black-capped petrel from 
activities that may occur within U.S. territory and from import/export 
of the species or any of its parts, nests, or eggs.
    For the reasons discussed above, we find that this rule under 
section 4(d) of the Act is necessary and advisable to provide for the 
conservation of the black-capped petrel. We do, however, seek public 
comment on whether there are additional activities that should be 
considered under the 4(d) provision for the black-capped petrel (see 
Information Requested, above). This proposal will not be made final 
until we have reviewed comments from the public and peer reviewers.

Critical Habitat Designation

Background

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as:
    (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the 
species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which 
are found those physical or biological features
    (a) Essential to the conservation of the species, and
    (b) Which may require special management considerations or 
protection; and
    (2) Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas 
are essential for the conservation of the species.

Prudency Determination

    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 designate critical habitat at 
the time the species is determined to be endangered or threatened. 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. 
In determining whether a designation would not be beneficial, the 
factors the Service may consider include but are not limited to, 
whether the present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of a species' habitat or range is not a threat to the 
species, or whether any areas meet the definition of ``critical 
habitat.'' As explained below, we conclude that designation of critical 
habitat would not be beneficial to the black-capped petrel.
Breeding and Nesting Habitat
    As stated previously in this proposed rule, black-capped petrels 
have only been confirmed to currently breed and nest on the island of 
Hispaniola within the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 
There are past anecdotal accounts and recent indirect indications of 
the possible nesting activity on the islands of Cuba and Dominica 
(Goetz et al. 2012, p. 13; Simons et al. 2013, p. S15; Brown 2015, 
entire). There are no historical or current records of the species 
nesting within the United States. Under Determination, above, we found 
that deforestation due to agricultural development and charcoal 
production (Factor A) due to increased population growth on Hispaniola 
is the primary current and future threat to the black-capped petrel. 
This present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
the petrel's breeding and nesting habitat occurs outside of U.S. 
jurisdiction, and we can only designate critical habitat on lands under 
U.S. jurisdiction; therefore, we cannot designate the petrel's breeding 
and nesting habitat on Hispaniola as critical habitat for the species.
Marine, Foraging Habitat
    The black-capped petrel is widely distributed throughout much of 
its range during the non-breeding season and is considered to have 
flexible foraging habitat requirements. The species tends to forage 
near areas of upwelling and other areas where prey species are 
abundant, and the species is typically found in warmer waters 
associated with the Gulf Stream (Haney 1987, p. 157; Simons et al. 
2013, entire; Jodice et al. 2015, entire). The best scientific 
information available on foraging habitat suggests that where the 
black-capped petrel is found, it is widely distributed in pelagic 
waters offshore of the eastern United States down to northern South 
America. The species' foraging range extends approximately from 
latitude 40[deg] North and south to 10[deg] North near northern South 
America (Goetz et al. 2012, p. 4; Jodice et al. 2015, entire). Marine 
habitat contains elements that the black-capped petrel needs (foraging, 
resting, and commuting between nesting and foraging habitat); however, 
the best available information

[[Page 50573]]

indicates that the species' specific needs and preferences for these 
habitat elements are relatively flexible, plentiful, and widely 
distributed, and there are no habitat-based threats to the species in 
the foraging range.
Summary
    The critical habitat regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)(ii) provide 
two examples of when designating critical habitat may not be beneficial 
to the species and, therefore, may be not prudent. These examples are 
where the present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of a species' habitat or range is not a threat to the 
species, or where there are no areas that meet the definition of 
``critical habitat'' for the species. In the preamble to the final rule 
in which these two examples were expressly added to the regulations (81 
FR 7414, February 11, 2016), the Service explains: ``[I]n some 
circumstances, a species may be listed because of factors other than 
threats to its habitat or range, such as disease, and the species may 
be a habitat generalist. In such a case, on the basis of the existing 
and revised regulations, it is permissible to determine that critical 
habitat is not beneficial and, therefore, not prudent. It is also 
permissible to determine that a designation would not be beneficial if 
no areas meet the definition of `critical habitat' '' (81 FR 7425). 
Although the present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of nesting habitat is a threat to the petrel's current 
breeding and nesting habitat, such habitat is not located within U.S. 
jurisdiction thus cannot be designated as critical habitat. The 
foraging habitat for the black-capped petrel falls within the second 
example; although there are extensive areas of foraging habitat within 
U.S. jurisdiction, the species faces no habitat-based threats there, 
and designation would not be beneficial to the species.
    Therefore, we preliminarily conclude that the designation of 
critical habitat for the black-capped petrel is not prudent, in 
accordance with 50 CFR 424(a)(1), because destruction of habitat is not 
a threat to the species in the U.S. portions of the range. However, we 
seek public comment on the characteristics of black-capped petrel 
foraging habitat and its relationship to the needs of the species.

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 ADDRESSES. 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 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)

    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental 
impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act, 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 
Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT).

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--ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS

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

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

0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11, paragraph (h), in the Table the ``List of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife'', under the heading BIRDS, by 
adding a new entry for ``Petrel, black-capped'' in alphabetical order 
to read as set forth below:


Sec.  17.11   Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                          Listing citations and
           Common name              Scientific name      Where listed         Status         applicable rules
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
              Birds
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
Petrel, black-capped............  Pterodroma          Wherever found....  T              [Federal Register
                                   hasitata.                                              citation when
                                                                                          published as a final
                                                                                          rule]; 50 CFR
                                                                                          17.41(g).\4d\
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
3. Amend Sec.  17.41 by adding a paragraph (g) to read as set forth 
below:


Sec.  17.41   Special rules--birds.

* * * * *
    (g) Black-capped petrel (Pterodroma hasitata).
    (1) Except as noted in paragraphs (g)(2) and (g)(3) of this 
section, all prohibitions and provisions of Sec. Sec.  17.31 and 17.32 
of this part apply to the black-capped petrel.
    (2) Incidental take of black-capped petrel is not prohibited.
    (3) None of the prohibitions in Sec.  17.31 of this part apply to 
any activity

[[Page 50574]]

conducted in a manner that is consistent with the Migratory Bird Treaty 
Act (MBTA), 16 U.S.C. 703-712, provided that the person carrying out 
the activity has complied with the terms and conditions that apply to 
that activity under the provisions of the MBTA and its implementing 
regulations.
* * * * *

    Dated: September 20, 2018.
James W. Kurth,
Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Exercising the 
Authority of the Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2018-21793 Filed 10-5-18; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 4333-15-P