Endangered and Threatened Species; Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines, 18243-18259 [2019-08656]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices 22, 2019, starting at 8 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and will end when business for the day has been completed. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration The meeting will be held at the Sheraton Portland Airport, Mt. Adams Room, 8235 NE Airport Way, Portland, OR 97220; telephone: (503) 281–2500. Council address: Pacific Fishery Management Council, 7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 101, Portland, OR 97220–1384. ADDRESSES: Dr. Jim Seger, Pacific Council; telephone: (503) 820–2416. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: At its meeting, the SaMTAAC will continue to develop alternatives that address obstacles to achieving the goals and objectives of the groundfish trawl catch share plan related to under-attainment of non-sablefish shorebased trawl allocations and unharvested sablefish quota pounds south of 36° N latitude. The SaMTAAC’s work on alternatives will be presented at the June 2019 Pacific Council meeting. Although non-emergency issues not contained in the meeting agenda may be discussed, those issues may not be the subject of formal action during this meeting. Action will be restricted to those issues specifically listed in this document and any issues arising after publication of this document that require emergency action under section 305(c) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, provided the public has been notified of the intent to take final action to address the emergency. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Special Accommodations amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES The meetings are physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Mr. Kris Kleinschmidt (kris.kleinschmidt@ noaa.gov; (503) 820–2411) at least 10 days prior to the meeting date. Dated: April 24, 2019. Tracey L. Thompson, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2019–08664 Filed 4–29–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 RIN 0648–XF282 Endangered and Threatened Species; Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of final guidelines. AGENCY: We, NMFS, announce final revisions to the Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities and the Recovery Plans sections of the 1990 Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines. The revised guidelines prioritize limited agency resources to advance the recovery of threatened and endangered species by focusing on the immediacy of the species’ overall extinction risk; the extent of information regarding major threats; the extent to which major threats are primarily under U.S. authority, jurisdiction, or influence; and the certainty that management or protective actions can be implemented successfully. We did not revise the Listing, Reclassification, and Delisting Priorities section of the 1990 Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines. We determined those guidelines, which are repeated herein (with minor editorial and format changes for consistency), are sufficient to prioritize listing actions. DATES: These guidelines are effective on May 30, 2019. ADDRESSES: These final guidelines are available on the internet at https:// www.federalregister.gov/ at Docket Number NOAA–NMFS–2017–0020 and at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/ national/endangered-speciesconservation/endangered-species-actguidance-policies-and-regulations. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Angela Somma, Endangered Species Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, 301–427–8403. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: Background Section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16 U.S.C. 1533(f)) requires the Secretary (as delegated to NMFS) to develop recovery plans for all species listed pursuant to the ESA, unless he/ she finds that such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species. PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 18243 ESA section 3(16) (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)) defines a species to include any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment (DPS) 1 of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature. ESA section 4(h) (16 U.S.C. 1533(h)) requires NMFS to establish a system for developing and implementing, on a priority basis, recovery plans under ESA section 4(f). The priority system applies to recovery plan preparation and implementation for species listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA unless we find that such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species. We finalized guidance to prioritize recovery plan development and implementation on June 15, 1990 (55 FR 24296). Through our application of the 1990 guidelines, we determined that the Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities and Recovery Plans sections of the guidelines (see parts B and C, 55 FR 24296; June 15, 1990) contain vague descriptions and lack sufficient detail regarding factors that should be considered when evaluating threats and recovery potential. For these reasons, we proposed revisions to the guidelines (82 FR 24944; May 31, 2017). Following review of public comments received on the proposed revision and additional internal review, we have revised the 1990 guidelines, as detailed herein. Changes From the Proposed Guidelines The final guidelines differ from our proposed guidelines (82 FR 24944; May 31, 2017) in three substantive respects: First, we added two ‘‘uncertain’’ population trend categories for assigning the severity of the species’ demographic risk: (a) Uncertain–likely decreasing, which is assigned a HIGH and MODERATE demographic risk rank for endangered and threatened species, respectively; and (b) uncertain–likely stable or increasing, which is assigned a MODERATE and LOW demographic risk rank for endangered and threatened species, respectively. See our response to comment 12 for details. Second, in the proposed guidelines, the recovery priority numbers ranged from 1 to 24. In the final guidelines, we simplify the numbering scheme to assign the same priority number to several combinations of the evaluation criteria based on total weights given to each criterion, resulting in priority 1 In the policy recognizing DPSs (61 FR 4722, February 7, 1996), NMFS determined that evolutionarily significant units for Pacific salmonids (56 FR 58612, November 20, 1991) represent DPSs. E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES 18244 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices numbers that range from 1 to 11. See our response to comment 28 for details. Third, we changed the broad application of the conflict criterion to a case-by-case determination indicated by a ‘C’ for conflict in Table 4 (columns 5 and 6). See our response to comment 7 for details. We also made a number of nonsubstantive and editorial changes to the proposed guidelines, based on comments received and internal review, as summarized in the remainder of this section. We added a sentence in the background section to clarify that ‘‘. . . the priority system applies to recovery plans for species listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA unless we find that such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species.’’ See our response to comment 19 for details. We changed the title of ‘‘Step 1. Identify a Demographic Risk Category’’ to ‘‘Step 1. Identify a Demographic Risk Rank’’ to more accurately describe the action in that step. We split the Decreasing/Unknown trend in Table 1 (82 FR 24946; Table 3 herein) into two trends to clarify each should be considered separately. We changed the title of Table 2 (82 FR 24848; Table 4, herein) to ‘‘Recovery Priority Plan Preparation and Implementation’’ to reflect the title of Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities. To the Recovery Potential Component 1 (Major Threats Well Understood), we added to the description of the HIGH category the sentence: ‘‘Identification and knowledge of a species’ response to any one major threat would fit into this category.’’ The addition is intended to clarify that not all major threats must be well understood to qualify for this category. We also added to the description of the HIGH category the sentence: ‘‘This can apply also to transnational or foreign species where major threats occur beyond U.S. waters or the high seas, but U.S. markets that contribute substantially to those major threats have been identified and the species’ responses to those threats are well understood.’’ The additional sentence illustrates application of the component to plans for transnational and foreign species. See our response to comment 19 for details. Finally, we added a sentence to the description of the LOW TO MODERATE category: ‘‘If no major impacts exist, natural and man-made threats that have or are believed to have less than a major impact on the species’ ability to persist also belong to this category’’ to clarify that if no major threats exist, then this category would apply. We added this VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 sentence to the LOW TO MODERATE categories for Recovery Potential Components 2 and 3 because it applies to all components. To Recovery Potential Component 2 (U.S. Jurisdiction, Authority, or Influence Exists for Management or Protective Actions to Address Major Threats), we added to the description of the HIGH category the sentence: ‘‘This may also apply to transnational or foreign species whose major threats include U.S. markets that represent a substantial source of demand for the species, and the United States may be able to influence the abatement of such demand.’’ The additional sentence illustrates application of the component to plans for transnational and foreign species. See our response to comment 19 for details. To Recovery Potential Component 3 (Certainty that Management or Protective Actions will be Effective), we added language to the description of the HIGH category to specify that demonstrated success may include categories of actions that have proven effective for other species, but may require further testing for the targeted species (e.g., fishing gear modifications, methods to overcome or modify barriers to fish passage). See our response to comment 26 for details. To Step 4: Assign Recovery Action Priority, we changed the title to ‘‘Assign Recovery Plan Action Priority’’ to indicate that actions within a recovery plan may be broader than those actions taken to achieve recovery. We added ‘‘Recovery’’ to priority numbers 1, 2, and 3 to clarify these actions are taken to achieve recovery. We added ‘research’ to the description for recovery action number 3 to clarify that research actions can also be in this category. We added the sentence: ‘‘In assigning subpriorities within a category, recovery actions that benefit multiple species and/or are likely to yield faster results that are sustainable should be given the highest priority, e.g., Priority 1a versus Priority 1c.’’ The additional sentence clarifies that recovery actions that may benefit multiple species should be given priority over others that are within the same recovery priority category. See our response to comments 34 and 35 for details. Finally, we deleted Table 3 (82 FR 24949) because the narrative for assigning recovery plan action priorities was more informative than the table. To the Process for Applying Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities, we added the following text to clarify how to prioritize when multiple species are being considered together in the recovery planning process: ‘‘The lead PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 NMFS Region or Headquarters will prioritize species within their jurisdiction according to the following factors. Where a recovery plan covers multiple species, the highest ranked species should dictate the priority for recovery plan preparation and implementation. For example, if a recovery plan covers species A assigned a recovery priority number 1 and species B assigned a recovery priority number 8, species A would dictate the recovery plan preparation priority. Implementation of recovery actions within the plan would also be prioritized for species A where recovery actions are assigned the same priority numbers (e.g., recovery actions assigned priority number 1 for species A would be given a priority over recovery actions assigned priority number 1 for species B).’’ Under Definitions, we made the following changes: 1. We deleted the definitions for ‘‘threatened species,’’ ‘‘endangered species,’’ and ‘‘foreseeable future.’’ See our response to comment 37 for details; 2. We changed the definition of ‘‘depensation’’ to: ‘‘A decline in productivity in a population as the abundance declines that can result in increased extinction risk due to factors such as the uncertainty that mates will be able to find one another, randomly skewed sex ratios, changes to predator behavior to shifting prey abundance, or scaling effects of random variation among individuals.’’ See our response to comment 39 for details; 3. We added a definition of ‘‘productivity’’ from the NMFS’ 2017 Guidance on Responding to Petitions and Conducting Status Reviews under the Endangered Species Act: ‘‘The population growth rate, over the entire life cycle. Factors that affect population growth rate provide information on how well a population is ‘‘performing.’’ These parameters, and related trends in abundance, reflect conditions that drive a population’s dynamics and thus determine its abundance. Changes in environmental conditions, including ecological interactions, can influence a population’s intrinsic productivity, the environment’s capacity to support a population, or both. Such changes may result from random environmental variation over a wide range of temporal scales (environmental stochasticity). A population growth rate that is unstable or declining over a long period of time indicates poor resiliency to future environmental change.’’ See our response to comment 42 for details. E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices Summary of Comments and Responses The notice announcing the proposed revision (82 FR 24944; May 31, 2017) requested public comment through June 30, 2017. We received several requests to extend the public comment period, which we extended through August 28, 2017 (82 FR 29841; June 30, 2017). We received 10 comment letters from the public, tribes, states, nongovernmental organizations, and one federal agency. Comments included support for the revision to the guidelines, minor clarifying edits, and substantive comments. We considered all substantive information and comments provided during the comment period, and where appropriate, incorporated them directly into these final guidelines or addressed them below. Comments received were grouped by topic or applicable section of the proposed guidelines. Comments and our responses are presented below. Comments not relevant to the guidelines are not discussed. amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES General to the Proposed Guidelines Comment (1): Several commenters felt that the subjective nature of the proposed guidelines would hinder NMFS’ ability to be more effective at recovery planning and implementation. One commenter acknowledged the subjective nature of the priority guidelines and recommended that NMFS regional offices seek concurrence with NMFS Headquarters on priority determinations to ensure consistency of application. Response: We acknowledge that the revised priority guidelines are subjective, as are the 1990 guidelines. Professional knowledge and judgement must be used, in part, when making decisions about resource priorities for recovery plan development and implementation. In the revised guidelines, we clarify terms and provide greater detail to guide decision-makers. We disagree with the comment that NMFS regional offices should seek NMFS Headquarters concurrence on priority determinations because it places an unnecessary administrative burden on staff. However, NMFS Headquarters is always available to consult, upon request, with a regional office on issues such as prioritization of high-profile species. And NMFS Headquarters does review the priority determinations every 2 years as part of the report to Congress (ESA section 4(f)(3)) on NMFS’ efforts to develop and implement recovery plans and the status of listed species. As part of that review process, we examine how the priority numbers are assigned and address any VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 apparent inconsistencies in priority numbers across species. Comment (2): One commenter felt NMFS should take a broader approach beyond prioritizing the order in which recovery planning is conducted for certain species. The commenter felt the broader approach should focus on delisting the species and rely on states, local governments, or other entities who are willing to fund or conduct activities that will promote recovery. The commenter stated that NMFS must recognize the important role these nonfederal partners have in achieving recovery of listed species and prioritize the recovery planning for species where there are such partners who will contribute to the effort. Response: We agree that a broad approach to recovery is necessary. NMFS recognizes the important role of partnerships in achieving recovery, and we have developed other guidance and policies that embody the concept of partnerships. For example, the cornerstone of the Interim Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Planning Guidance (NMFS and FWS 2010) focuses on how to build partnerships. We also recognize that a recovery plan must be implemented to achieve results. Communication, coordination, and collaboration with a wide variety of potential stakeholders is essential to the acceptance and implementation of recovery plans. State agencies, because of their legal authorities and their close working relationships with local governments and landowners, are in a unique position to assist the NMFS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Services) in recovering listed species. Comment (3): One commenter recommended that NMFS expand the guidelines to explain whether and, if so, how the priority for developing and implementing a recovery plan to conserve multiple species or ecosystembased plans would be different than if plans were developed and implemented separately for those species. Response: NMFS does not intend to prioritize development and implementation of multi-species or ecosystem recovery plans over singlespecies plans. Single-species plans may often result in benefits to more than one listed species (e.g., sea turtles) either directly or through improved ecosystem functions. A single-species recovery plan does not necessarily equate to fewer benefits compared to a multispecies or ecosystem plan. The guidelines specify where a recovery plan covers multiple species, the highest ranked species should dictate the priority for recovery plan PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 18245 preparation and implementation. However, we agree that when prioritizing individual recovery actions within a plan, direct and indirect benefits to other species should be considered (see our response to comment 34). Comment (4): One commenter stated that the proposed priority guidelines would result in assigning a lower recovery priority number to species whose demographic risk category improves. The commenter felt this prioritization system was contrary to the goal of delisting a species. Response: We acknowledge that the priority guidelines, which place the greatest weight on a species’ demographic risk, could potentially result in lower priority numbers as a species’ risk condition improves over time. An improved demographic condition is likely the result of implementing effective management or protective actions that address the threats affecting such condition. In such a case, all three components of the species’ Recovery Potential might be assigned a HIGH category. Thus, a species that goes from a HIGH to a LOW demographic risk could still be assigned a relatively high number on the recovery priority scale (see Table 2 in 82 FR 24948; Table 4, herein). We concluded that the balance between the demographic risk and the three recovery potential components allows for sustaining a focused recovery program to achieve delisting. Comment (5): One commenter requested that NMFS explore including the evolutionary significance of the species (i.e., monotypic genus, species, subspecies, distinct population segment (DPS)) when setting recovery priorities in order to preserve genetic diversity. The commenter noted that without consideration of taxonomic hierarchy, the guidelines might bias priorities toward DPSs or subspecies, which generally occupy more restricted ranges than full species and, as a result, might face threats that are more localized and easier to identify or remedy. Response: Assigning a lower priority to a subspecies or DPS may not result in saving as much genetic diversity as possible, as the commenter proposes. For example, when a DPS is listed, the Services must determine its importance to the taxon to which it belongs, in order to address Congressional guidance that the authority to list DPSs be used ‘‘. . . sparingly’’ while encouraging the conservation of genetic diversity (61 FR 4722; February 2, 1996). Further, NMFS policy (56 FR 58612; November 20, 1991) requires that a population must represent an important component of E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES 18246 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices the evolutionary legacy of a species in order to be considered an Evolutionarily Significant Unit, which is equivalent to a DPS (61 FR 4722; February 2, 1996). Therefore, the importance of conserving genetic diversity is clearly a driver in determining whether to list a DPS or not; if a DPS is listed, it follows that it is listed, in part, because it will conserve genetic diversity of the biological species. We acknowledge that the three components of the recovery potential criteria may result in prioritizing recovery plan development and implementation for listed entities with a restricted range over those with broader ranges encompassing multiple geopolitical boundaries. However, we stress that the guidelines provide for prioritizing far-ranging species. For example, Recovery Potential Component 2 considers international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, and agreements) and allows a HIGH category for transnational species that spend only a portion of their life cycle in U.S. waters, but whose major threats can be addressed by U.S. actions during that portion of their life cycle. We were unable to identify alternatives to the Recovery Potential Components that would provide more balance for those species with broader or global ranges without making prioritizing one species over another more difficult and less transparent regarding which attributes were being considered as more important. Comment (6): One commenter felt that life histories of species might affect their priority ranking under the proposed criteria. For example, a so-called rselected species might be able to recover quickly once threats to its survival have been removed. On the other hand, Kselected species, such as marine mammals, that have lower reproductive potential but higher survival, may take decades or even centuries to recover. The commenter felt that recovery options for some marine mammal species might be limited. Response: We disagree that the priority guidelines bias toward certain life history traits. In assigning a demographic risk, the severity of the condition for productivity, spatial distribution, diversity, and abundance is considered. We acknowledge that a species’ life history trait may make it more vulnerable to a particular demographic risk but the threats and the species’ response to those threats may vary greatly across taxa. In assigning recovery potential, the time it takes for a species to respond to a major threat is not a factor. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 Comment (7): One commenter supported considering the conflict criterion to be met for all listed species under NMFS jurisdiction, as was proposed. However, several commenters were concerned by what they described as NMFS eliminating the conflict criterion in the proposed priority guidelines. They recommended that NMFS retain and expand the conflict criterion to consider variations in the scope (global, regional, or local), nature (direct or indirect), and degree of potential conflicts between listed species and economic-related activities. One commenter recommended that, where appropriate, NMFS should ensure that it clearly identifies and explains the magnitude of risk or conflict with economic activity and identifies recovery measures that facilitate species conservation while ensuring that economic activities can continue. Response: To clarify, NMFS did not propose to eliminate the conflict criterion. The ESA specifically calls for considering the role of construction, other development projects, and other forms of economic activity in setting recovery priorities. Rather, we proposed to apply the criterion to all species based on the current and likely future condition that all listed species under our jurisdiction are either directly or indirectly in conflict to some degree with an economic activity (82 FR 24945). We are unaware of any ESAlisted species under our authority that is not considered, either directly or indirectly, to be in conflict to some degree with an economic activity. However, we agree with the commenters that the application of conflict is better applied on a case-by-case basis. We added a ‘C’ for conflict in Table 4. This is consistent with FWS’ Endangered and Threatened Species Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines (48 FR 43098; September 21, 1983). We considered including variations in the scope (global, regional, or local), nature (direct or indirect), and degree of potential conflicts between listed species and economic-related activities, but rejected it because we were unable to determine how to incorporate these variations across all taxa given that a species’ exposure and response to the same economic activity can vary greatly. Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 1. Identify a Demographic Risk Category Comment (8): One commenter felt that the inclusion of a demographic risk assessment would not meaningfully improve the recovery planning process. The commenter stated that a listed PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 species would presumably exhibit one of these demographic risk conditions, either presently or in the foreseeable future, by nature of it being listed. To the extent that these risk conditions already are captured by the species’ listing status, the commenter stated they do not further inform the priority ranking process or allow for ranking distinctions within the endangered or threatened classifications. Response: We determined that the demographic risk category was an important element to consider when prioritizing recovery plan development and implementation. While a status review provides the best available science on a species’ extinction risk at the time of listing, the available scientific information may evolve rapidly post-listing. We also recognize that not all listed endangered or threatened species exhibit similar demographic conditions and trends. The inclusion of the demographic risk category allows identification of the worst-case scenario for each demographic factor: Productivity, spatial distribution, diversity, and abundance. This approach allows us to focus attention on those species exhibiting the most severe demographic conditions (e.g., small, fragmented populations). Comment (9): One commenter mistakenly thought an endangered species could be assigned a LOW category for demographic risk. The commenter felt that such assignment might create a misunderstanding given the ESA definition of an endangered species. The commenter recommended some other categorization scheme such as ‘‘extremely critical, critical, and stable or increasing.’’ Response: The priority guidelines only allow a LOW category for demographic risk to be assigned to a threatened species and not an endangered species (82 FR 24926). An endangered species may be assigned a MODERATE category if it does not meet any of the adverse risk conditions for the demographic risk categories and its population trend is stable, increasing, or uncertain—likely stable or increasing (Table 3, herein). The uncertain population trend is a new category added to the final guidelines. See our response to comment 12 for details. Comment (10): One commenter was concerned about the proposed inclusion of the term ‘‘substantially’’ when considering mixed population trends in assigning a demographic risk category. The commenter characterized the term as ‘‘substantially increase the listed entity’s extinction risk’’ and claimed the language to be vague and subject to E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices arbitrary interpretation that could lead to inappropriately excluding declining populations from consideration, for example, due to political pressures or higher costs of recovery for those populations. Response: To clarify, the priority guideline language for mixed populations is if key populations are declining such that their continued decline would contribute substantially to the listed entity achieving the adverse risk conditions described in Table 1 (82 FR 24946). The priority guidelines are not an extinction risk analysis, as that analysis was conducted to support the decision to list the species. Rather, the priority guidelines are meant to guide the decision-maker in assigning a demographic risk category in the event that a listed entity exhibits mixed trends among key populations. The test is whether key populations’ decline would lead the listed entity to being at or below depensation; limited or fragmented in spatial distribution to a level that renders the listed entity vulnerable to catastrophe; low in genetic and phenotypic diversity to a degree that the listed entity is severely limited in adaptive potential; or exhibiting only one, or a few, small population(s) or subpopulations. We recognize that the term ‘‘substantially’’ can be subjective, but the adverse risk conditions described in Table 1 (82 FR 24296; Table 3 herein) are founded on conservation biology principles (for example, see McElhany et al. 2000). We find the term ‘‘substantially’’ (i.e., considerably or to a large extent) adequately describes the relative contribution of key populations to the listed entity’s ability to avoid the adverse risk conditions described in Table 1 (82 FR 24296; Table 3 herein). Comment (11): Several commenters recommended that a HIGH demographic risk rank be assigned to a threatened species to prevent it from becoming endangered. One commenter felt that we should prioritize first on recovery potential and second on demographic risk. As proposed, the commenter pointed out that, if a threatened species scores high on all recovery potential components, the highest recovery priority it can achieve is Recovery Priority number 4. The commenter stated that this outcome seems inconsistent with the goal of the guideline revision to ‘‘better prioritize limited agency resources to advance the recovery of threatened and endangered species.’’ The commenter felt it prudent to invest limited resources toward recovery planning for species that would benefit, regardless of their listed status. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 Response: We based the proposed guideline revision on the underlying principle that endangered species are a higher priority than threatened species because of the immediacy of the extinction risk, with endangered species being presently in danger of extinction. We determined that this approach was rational and appropriate because it focuses limited resources on species with a high extinction risk. We also do not agree that limiting a threatened species to a MODERATE demographic risk rank would increase its extinction risk. A threatened species with a HIGH recovery potential in all three components could potentially be assigned a Recovery Priority number 4 (out of 24) in the proposed and a number 3 in the final guidelines (out of 11; see our response to comment 28), which would allow limited agency resources to address those species whose demographic risk may not be high, but whose recovery potential is high. In addition, with regard to prioritizing recovery plan implementation, the endangered or threatened category may be applied to a species currently not listed as such if NMFS has recommended a reclassification through a 5-year review or proposed rule (see footnote to Table 1 in 82 FR 24296; Table 3 herein). Comment (12): One commenter felt that an unknown population trend should not default to the highest prioritization. The commenter recommended that an unknown population trend be categorized as MODERATE and LOW for endangered and threatened species, respectively. Response: An unknown population abundance trend was grouped with the decreasing trend as a caution to conserve the species in light of the lack of data. Unknown is defined as when a species has fewer than 3 data points over a 10-year period or all available data years to estimate trends. However, we recognize that there may be species for which some data are available to indicate the direction of the trend, but the data are uncertain. Uncertain is when the species has 3 or more data points over a 10-year period or all available data years, but there is great uncertainty over data quality to estimate trends. To differentiate these cases from truly unknown trend cases, we added two ‘‘uncertain’’ categories: (a) Uncertain—likely decreasing, which is assigned a HIGH and MODERATE for endangered and threatened species, respectively; and (b) uncertain—likely stable or increasing, which is assigned demographic risk ranks of MODERATE and LOW for endangered and threatened species, respectively. PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 18247 Comment (13): One commenter recommended NMFS use generations rather than a set number of years in determining the population trend. Another commenter recommended NMFS include an assessment of whether a fluctuation in population is temporary (and may self-correct) or is indicative of a long-term trend, and prioritize species accordingly. Response: In order to use generations to determine population trend, we would need to have sufficient data to determine the generation time for each taxa or each species. We recognize that our species vary widely in generation length. To the extent possible, we analyze the data for each species taking into account their unique life history, including generation time. The population trend measure is intended to indicate more of a medium-to long-term trend, and not temporary fluctuations in population. We have added a trend category of ‘UNCERTAIN’ to indicate when there is great uncertainty over data quality to estimate trends. Comment (14): One commenter recommended that NMFS develop a definition for the term ‘‘measurably’’ as used in the population trend to describe either higher or lower numbers between assessments, or that a more precise term (statistically significant) should be used. Response: The term ‘‘statistically significant’’ would be too limiting for the purposes of the priority guidelines. In many cases, we do not have adequate data on population trends to determine statistical significance. Rather, the common term ‘‘measurably’’ indicates that the data points across the years are noticeably different and can be measured, without the need for a formal definition. We concluded that this term was adequate for the purposes of assessing a population trend in Step 1. Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 2. Identify Categories of Recovery Potential: Recovery Potential Component 1: Major Threats Well Understood Comment (15): Several commenters felt that cases where only minimal data was needed to fill knowledge gaps on major threats should not be given priority over cases where data needs are substantial. They stressed this approach may contribute to putting some species in a negative feedback loop that hinders recovery. One commenter felt that assigning a lower priority to cases where major threats are not well understood was inconsistent with the recovery action priorities, which recognize research as an important component to achieving recovery. They recommended E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES 18248 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices that a HIGH category be assigned to species for which research is needed to fill knowledge gaps about major threats or effectiveness of management or protective actions (Recovery Potential Component 3: Certainty that Management or Protective Actions will be Effective). Response: The priority guidelines are meant to prioritize recovery plan development and implementation. The priority guidelines logically place a higher priority on those species where sufficient information regarding major threats exists, because in order to identify effective management or protective actions we need to understand the threats that affect the species’ ability to persist. Once a recovery plan is developed, the implementation of research actions to address knowledge gaps potentially can be given a recovery action priority 1 to identify those actions that must be taken to prevent extinction. We do not view this as an inconsistency between the Recovery Potential criteria and the Recovery Action criteria. Rather, through recovery plan implementation, the recovery priority guidelines are meant to encourage collection of data and evaluate progress. As more information is gathered about threats and effectiveness of management and protective actions, the species moves up the priority scale by improving the recovery potential. Comment (16): One commenter agreed with the HIGH category for species with minimal data gaps, but recommended the HIGH category also include situations where missing data can be secured with reasonable effort. Response: We concluded that incorporation of situations where missing data can be secured with ‘‘reasonable effort’’ was difficult to define and evaluate given that multiple variables (e.g., funding, partners, and research methods) could contribute to whether such effort was reasonable. Comment (17): One commenter felt that NMFS’ proposal to make a ranking distinction based on whether the natural or man-made threat has been identified and whether the species’ responses to these threats are well understood was inappropriate. The commenter stated this determination is already made by NMFS as part of the decision on whether to list the species. The commenter felt that if NMFS lacks the requisite data on identifiable threats or the species’ response to those threats in the recovery potential context, the species should not have been listed as a threshold matter. Response: The assessment described in the proposed priority guidelines is VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 not equivalent to the risk assessment conducted to develop a listing determination. The priority guidelines are based on whether threats that have a major impact on a species’ ability to persist have been identified, and whether the species’ response to those particular threats is well understood. This allows us to focus, as a priority, on those threats that are known to have a major impact on the species. In making a listing determination, the species’ vulnerability, exposure, and biological response to all threats are considered. A listing assessment thus considers the entire suite of threats, including any cumulative effects from multiple threats, and is not based on identification or consideration of just the major or the most serious threats. In addition, a listing decision is based on whether the species meets the definition of an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species.’’ In making a listing determination, we are required to rely on the best available scientific and commercial data. The available data may not allow us to distinguish or even identify which particular threat or threats pose the greatest risk to the species, nor are we required to do so in order to make a listing determination. The question is whether the species is in danger of extinction or is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. For prioritizing recovery plan development and implementation, we can, however, generally rely on the listing assessment to identify the major threats to the particular species. Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 2. Identify Categories of Recovery Potential: Recovery Potential Component 2: U.S. Jurisdiction, Authority, or Influence Exists To Address Major Threats Comment (18): One commenter felt that Recovery Potential Component 2 should be combined with Recovery Potential Component 3 (Certainty that Management or Protective Actions will be Effective) because they are sufficiently related, and this combination would simplify the guidelines. Response: We agree that, as a general matter, U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or influence may affect the certainty that actions will be effective. However, there may be novel or experimental actions that are less certain to be effective, regardless of jurisdiction. Prioritizing recovery efforts based on effectiveness of actions both beyond and within U.S. jurisdiction is an important aspect to PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 achieving recovery. We concluded that the two components are sufficiently distinct and should be considered separately. Comment (19): Several commenters requested clarification on exactly what Recovery Potential Component 2 addresses; i.e., is it to identify situations when a plan for a foreign species should be prepared, to set priorities for transnational species that occur within areas subject to the jurisdiction of both the United States and other countries, to set priorities for species that occur on the high seas, or some combination of these? Response: The priority guidelines address only those species for which a recovery plan will be or has been developed, not making a determination that development of a recovery plan would not promote the conservation of the species. We added language to the Background section on the scope of the priority scheme to clarify this point. We consider many factors in our finding that a recovery plan would not promote the conservation of the species. For example, there may be instances where effective international agreements, conventions, or treaties do not exist, or the United States does not or cannot participate in partnerships that would promote the conservation of transnational species, and the other range countries or international organizations are not interested in engaging in joint recovery efforts. Thus, in this instance, the species would not have a recovery plan developed and these guidelines would not apply. We added language to Recovery Potential 2 and Recovery Potential 1 (Major Threats are Well Understood) to include considerations applicable to transnational and foreign species where a recovery plan has been or will be developed. Comment (20): One commenter requested examples of where a LOW TO MODERATE category would be applied under Recovery Potential Component 2, for developing a recovery plan for foreign species. Response: The purpose of this criterion is to prioritize based on the United States’ ability to take management and protective actions to address major threats. Examples of species that occur only partly within U.S. jurisdiction include sea turtles, large whales, and some anadromous fish. It is not possible to provide a definite example of a LOW TO MODERATE categorization because that evaluation must be conducted during the prioritization process based on all information available at the time. Nonetheless, we can provide an E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices illustration of how the process could work. Olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidocheyls olivacea) range throughout temperate regions worldwide, and these turtles face threats within U.S. waters, on the high seas, and in foreign countries. NMFS would evaluate the degree to which the United States has jurisdiction, authority, or influence to address impacts of major threats to these turtles. A LOW TO MODERATE category could be assigned if threats within U.S. waters are minor, and major threats that are under the jurisdiction of foreign nations cannot be effectively addressed through any international mechanism to which the United States is a party or can otherwise influence. Comment (21): Several commenters requested clarification on the difference between ‘‘jurisdiction,’’ ‘‘authority,’’ and ‘‘influence.’’ One commenter felt that it was unclear what the United States can or might be able to influence, with respect to extra-jurisdictional species. To the extent possible, the commenter requested additional guidance concerning these terms. For example, is the term ‘‘influence’’ intended to apply exclusively to the U.S. Government, or would it also apply to influence exerted by U.S. businesses or non-governmental organizations? Response: In the second criterion for assessing recovery potential, we use the term ‘‘authority’’ in terms of legal authority, with a meaning very similar to ‘‘jurisdiction.’’ But because ‘‘jurisdiction’’ is a more technical term and can be used more narrowly, such as when describing the scope of judicial power, we included both terms to convey our intent to consider the full reach of U.S. governmental powers or control to implement management or protective actions. Our inclusion of the term ‘‘influence’’ is different. There we are describing the extent to which the United States may indirectly facilitate management or protective actions being put in place. For example, through its contacts with foreign governments that could further conservation of the species, the United States may at times be able to persuade those governments to adopt conservation practices affecting species on the high seas, even if the U.S. Government has no direct power over the species or its habitat. Comment (22): One commenter was concerned that Recovery Potential Component 2 was limited to considering only existing international mechanisms as proposed. The commenter claimed that the limitation was contrary to section 8 of the ESA, which directs the Secretary, along with the Secretary of State, to encourage foreign countries to VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 provide for the conservation of listed species and to enter into bilateral or multilateral agreements to provide for such conservation. The commenter requested that NMFS include consideration of additional potential agreements or other mechanisms that the United States could enter into and that would be effective in abating the risk to the species. Response: We acknowledge that ESA section 8(b) calls for the Secretary, through the Secretary of State to, among other things, encourage entering into bilateral or multilateral agreements with foreign countries to provide for species conservation. However, it would be too speculative to base recovery priorities on the possibility of future agreements where the countries involved along with provisions and processes for addressing threats have yet to be developed. The priority guidelines do not implicate our responsibilities under ESA section 8— rather, the priority guidelines assist in prioritizing efforts where they will be more effective at recovering species. Through our efforts under ESA section 8(b), should additional agreements be identified and entered into, then those would be considered under this component. Comment (23): Several commenters were concerned that the proposed language regarding how to assess climate threats might allow NMFS to deprioritize species impacted by climate change unless local management actions can help the species. The commenters requested the climate threats language be clarified so that species for which climate change is a major threat are classified as high priority because the United States has the ability to decrease local as well as global climate change impacts through U.S. greenhouse gas mitigation and climate adaption actions. Response: Where climate change impacts are a major threat and actions to abate the threat are global, the priority guidelines assume that the global management or protective actions are not primarily under U.S. authority, jurisdiction, or influence to abate major threats through existing international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, and agreements). We conclude this assumption is logical because of the scale and complexity of addressing global climate change. We consider U.S. activities undertaken to address greenhouse gas mitigation and climate adaption to be management or protective actions that would help offset global climate change impacts. Comment (24): One commenter felt that the guidelines’ language regarding how to assess climate threats implies that NMFS will place the needs of the PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 18249 species secondary to actions that offset climate change impacts. The commenter declared that given the large uncertainties associated with climate change, this climate priority factor is simply inconsistent with the better logic of focusing recovery on known, manageable threats where recovery actions are more effective. Response: We disagree that the guidelines’ language regarding how to assess climate threats de-prioritizes focus of recovery on known, manageable threats where recovery actions may be more effective. The language acknowledges that the United States may have jurisdiction, authority, or influence to address local threats that offset climate impacts despite a lack of jurisdiction, authority, or influence to address the impacts of climate change globally. For example, the recovery plan for elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and staghorn coral (A. cervicornis) identifies reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations as a high priority recovery strategy (NMFS 2015). However, the recovery plan calls for simultaneous local threat reductions and mitigation strategies, including reduced chronic or localized mortality sources (predation, anthropogenic physical damage, acute sedimentation, nutrients, and contaminants). The language in the guidelines will allow NMFS to consider these locally known and manageable threats when assigning a HIGH or LOW TO MODERATE category. By prioritizing species for which the United States can abate local threats to offset global impacts of climate change, we are better able to advance recovery for these vulnerable species. Comment (25): One commenter recommended the priority guidelines be expanded to include a temporal component for addressing climate change and similar threats, such that recovery actions that may take a long time to bear fruit, but that nevertheless are important to species recovery, are given high priority regardless of whether they are directed at endangered or threatened species. Response: We disagree that a temporal component to address climate change and similar threats is necessary to prioritize recovery plan development and implementation appropriately. The priority guidelines allow for an assessment of major threats regardless of timing. The recovery potential criteria are the extent to which major threats are understood; whether the United States has jurisdiction, authority, or influence to address major threats; and the relative certainty that management or protective actions to address major threats will be E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 18250 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES effective. Management or protective actions assessed under these criteria could yield results across different periods and will likely vary greatly depending on the action and the species. We determined that an assessment of the recovery potential based on the timing of a species’ response to abatement of a particular major threat should be done on a caseby-case basis. Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 2. Identify Categories of Recovery Potential: Recovery Potential Component 3: Certainty That Management or Protective Actions Will Be Effective Comment (26): Several commenters were concerned that species requiring novel or experimental protective actions will be scored too low under the proposed recovery plan priorities. One commenter cited additional gear research for reducing entanglementrelated mortality for North Atlantic right whales and fish passage across dams as novel or experimental. Response: In developing the criteria, we identified certain attributes that should place a species higher on the priority list. Management and protective actions that are less certain to achieve recovery goals are a lower priority over actions that are known to be effective because the costs (e.g., funding, staff, and monitoring) incurred may not realize the same benefits as those actions that are known to be effective at achieving recovery goals. However, the priority guidelines do not relieve NMFS of the responsibility to undertake recovery efforts, which may include experimental actions, for listed species. Rather, the priority guidelines help target limited resources in an efficient manner so that recovery goals can be met. Once a plan has been developed, the priority guidelines allow NMFS to prioritize research actions to fill knowledge gaps and identify management actions necessary to prevent extinction, thereby improving the certainty that a management or protective action will be effective. We added language to the description of the HIGH category for Recovery Potential Component 3 to explain that demonstrated success may include categories of actions that have proven effective for other species, but may require further testing for the targeted species (e.g., fishing gear modifications, methods to overcome or modify barriers to fish passage). Comment (27): One commenter recommended that NMFS add ‘‘economically feasible’’ and ‘‘capable of VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 timely implementation’’ to the criterion for effectiveness of management or protective actions. The commenter also recommended that NMFS add a recovery potential component that assigns priority based on the degree of certainty associated with the implementation of management or protective actions (e.g., existing partners willing to take action). The commenter felt that while technical feasibility is an important consideration, without a corresponding assessment of economic feasibility and timeliness and certainty of implementation, there is no way to fully assess the certainty of whether a particular action will be effective. Response: We considered whether to include economic feasibility when developing the criterion, but rejected it because the ESA calls for giving priority for recovery plan development to those species that are most likely to benefit from a plan, (which includes because they are in conflict with economic activity such as construction and other development projects), not based on broader economic considerations. In addition, inclusion of economic feasibility in the prioritization would introduce a factor not considered in the listing decision and may move us further away from the recovery goal to delist the species. We also considered inclusion of timeliness and degree of certainty of implementation, but rejected it because of the uncertainty in being able to evaluate timeliness and implementation, which are influenced by many factors (e.g., ready partners, funding, and opportunity). Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 3. Assign Recovery Priority Number for Plan Preparation and Implementation Comment (28): One commenter recommended that the assessment framework be simplified to capture the severity of the demographic risk within the context of the potential and immediacy of conservation measures for the species. Response: The priority guidelines provide a balance between consideration of the severity of the species’ demographic risk and the species’ potential for recovery. The assessment of recovery potential encompasses evaluation of whether major threats are well understood; abatement of major threats is under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or influence; and there is certainty that management and protective actions will be effective. As such, this assessment inherently considers whether conservation measures would be effective for recovering the species. However, we do PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 agree that the recovery priority numbering scheme described in the proposed guidance can be simplified. To develop the proposed table of recovery priority numbers, we used a spreadsheet to assign numerical weights to the criteria in descending order of importance: (1) Demographic risk, (2) extent to which major threats are understood, (3) whether management or protective actions are under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or ability to influence the abatement of major threats, and (4) certainty that management or protective actions will be effective. The values assigned for the numerical weights reflected the relative order of importance, with a higher numerical weight assigned to the demographic risk and so forth in descending order based on the stated order of importance (82 FR 24947). Summing the total of those numerical weights for each combination of criteria rankings resulted in a number of ties, depending on the combination of HIGH, MODERATE, LOW, or LOW TO MODERATE categories assigned to the criteria. To break the ties, we sorted the tied rows based on the rankings of the individual criteria in the same descending order of importance. For example, in the proposed guidelines, a HIGH demographic risk in combination with a HIGH for two of the three recovery potential components was assigned Recovery Priority Number 3; whereas a MODERATE demographic risk in combination with a HIGH for all three recovery potential components was assigned Recovery Priority Number 4. In this particular example, the criteria combination with a HIGH demographic risk was assigned a higher priority number than the combination with a MODERATE demographic risk given that this criterion was considered of greatest relative importance. In essence, we weighted the criteria twice to ensure the recovery priority numbers were unique for any one combination of rankings assigned to the criteria. Upon further evaluation, we determined that a simpler and more transparent prioritization scheme would be to assign the same priority number to rows with any combination of ranked criteria having the same total weights. Thus for the above example, the final guidelines assign Recovery Priority Number 3 to both rows (see Table 4 herein). We concluded that this approach, which results in a more limited, but sufficient, range of recovery priority numbers, best reflects the stated order of importance of the criteria and still meets the objective of the revised guidelines. E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 4. Assign Recovery Action Priority Comment (29): One commenter felt that the priority assignments for recovery actions would not lead to better species conservation outcomes. The commenter felt that the following language in the proposed revision to the guidelines was indicative of key problems currently undermining salmon recovery: ‘‘. . . some lower priority actions may be implemented before Priority 1 actions, for example because a partner is interested in implementing a lower priority action, because a Priority 1 action is not currently possible (e.g., there is a lack of political support for the action), or because implementation of the Priority 1 action may take many years’’ (82 FR 24949; May 31, 2017). The commenter cited a report prepared for NMFS in 2011 on the implementation of the Puget Sound Chinook Recovery Plan (http:// www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/ publications/recovery_planning/ salmon_steelhead/domains/puget_ sound/chinook/implement-rpt.pdf), which found socio-political factors obstructed progress on several highpriority recovery actions related to habitat. The commenter pointed out that the report recommended several remedial actions to address the lack of progress, including defining the level of critical habitat required to ensure the recovery of Chinook salmon and other listed species and assessing the effectiveness of protective regulations. The commenter claimed that NMFS had yet to carry forth on these recommendations. The commenter recommended that NMFS review existing critiques and assess implementation of individual recovery plans to improve effectiveness of the recovery program. Response: We undergo a review of listed species every 5 years. As part of the review, we evaluate progress made toward achieving the recovery criteria identified in the recovery plans and recommend, where appropriate, any changes that may be necessary to improve recovery progress. However, ESA section 4(h) requires an overarching priority system to develop and implement recovery plans, and we feel the revised guidelines improve our ability to identify those priorities. The priority guidelines identify criteria for assigning priorities to recovery actions and specify that priority 1 actions should be implemented first. However, the guidelines acknowledge that lower recovery actions may be implemented in advance of priority number 1 recovery VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 actions if opportunities arise that allow successful implementation of such actions. We conclude that flexibility in applying the guidelines increases the likelihood of recovery actions being implemented. In regard to the commenter’s concern about the 2011 report on the implementation of the Puget Sound Chinook Recovery Plan, we acknowledge the pace could be improved to implement recovery actions, protect tribal treaty rights, and honor our tribal trust responsibilities. In response to release of the report, NMFS initiated habitat status and trends monitoring to quantify the extent and condition of salmon habitat in Puget Sound, inform our 5-year species status reviews, set habitat protection priorities, and guide regional and local protection strategies for salmon recovery. NMFS continues to work with tribes and our recovery partners in the region to educate the public about the importance of habitat protection for salmon recovery and cultivate socio-political support for implementing the diverse range of habitat actions necessary to achieve recovery. We work closely with state and local agencies and recovery partners to identify and support implementation of priority actions and protection measures that expedite habitat conservation and salmon recovery. NMFS will continue to review and refine our staff and resource investments to support both recovery actions in the 2007 Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan and recommendations in the 2011 implementation status report. Comment (30): One commenter disagreed that threatened species should generally not be assigned priority 1 actions because, ‘‘even though the timeline to extinction may be longer for threatened species, there are often important recovery actions that should be taken to prevent extinction of threatened species and that merit a Priority 1 ranking.’’ Response: We agree there may be important recovery actions for threatened species, but in any priority ranking system a distinction must be made between the priority numbers assigned. Threatened species are likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future, in contrast to endangered species, which are presently in danger of extinction. Due to the greater risk of extinction, we determined that recovery actions that must be taken to prevent extinction of endangered species with a HIGH demographic risk rank are a higher priority than other recovery actions. We note that the priority guidelines allow some flexibility in assigning recovery PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 18251 action priorities. The use of Priority 1 recovery actions in a recovery plan for a species with a MODERATE demographic risk rank is allowed, but must be done judiciously and thoughtfully (82 FR 24948). Comment (31): One commenter generally agreed that recovery actions for an endangered species should be a priority over those for a threatened species. However, the commenter recommended that the priority guidelines include flexibility that encourages early recovery actions be taken for threatened species when it makes sense from an economic or other perspective. Response: The guidelines provide for the flexibility needed to allow for timely implementation of recovery actions for threatened species. As stated in the guidelines, this system recognizes the need to work toward the recovery of all listed species, not simply those facing the highest magnitude of threat (82 FR 24949). In general, NMFS intends Priority 1 actions be taken first, but we recognize that some lower priority actions may be implemented before Priority 1 actions, for example because a partner is interested in implementing a lower priority action. Periodic review of, and updates to, recovery plans and tracking of recovery efforts are also important elements of a successful recovery program. As research and monitoring results become available, priorities for implementing recovery actions, including those for threatened species, may change. Comment (32): One commenter recommended that NMFS give a higher priority to Priority 0 Actions, which are all other actions that are not required for ESA recovery but that would advance broader goals beyond delisting. The commenter felt that achieving broadsense conservation goals first might result in eliminating the need to take recovery actions identified for delisting. The commenter stated that in addition to ESA delisting, recovery plans should recognize other federal authorities, such as essential fish habitat under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which may advance recovery of the species. Another commenter felt that NMFS should prioritize actions that provide benefits not only to particular species, but also to other areas such as property protection, human health, water supply, and economic opportunity. Response: We agree that recovery plans, where appropriate, may identify species’ goals beyond delisting. We have done this for salmon recovery plans. For example, the Snake River Spring- E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES 18252 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices Summer Chinook and Steelhead recovery plan identifies actions to delist the species, but then outlines efforts beyond the minimum steps necessary to delist the species to provide for other legislative mandates or social, economic, and ecological values (NMFS 2017). This is why we have categorized and highlighted these types of actions in the priority guidelines. However, we assigned these actions a numerical value of 0 and identified them as ‘‘other actions’’ to separate them from those actions that are necessary to delist the species. In addition, section 4(f) of the ESA makes clear that the purpose of recovery plans is to provide for the conservation (and survival) of listed species. Recovery actions are the actions necessary to achieve the plan’s goal for the conservation and survival of the species. Conservation is defined in the ESA as the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided by the ESA are no longer necessary (i.e., delisting). Section 4(h) of the ESA requires the establishment of a priority system for developing and implementing recovery plans under section 4(f). Thus, we have appropriately focused the guidelines on prioritizing recovery actions based on delisting the species. Comment (33): One commenter disagreed with the addition of Priority Action numbers 4 and 0, because such actions are not directly related to downlisting or delisting and are not needed for ESA recovery. Response: Recovery plans can provide an opportunity to outline other goals beyond their primary purpose to delist species (see our response to comment 32). Priority Action number 0 (other actions) is identified in the guidelines because actions that achieve broader goals beyond delisting can be important to individuals who value and enjoy the substantial cultural, social, and economic benefits that are derived from having healthy and diverse ecosystems. NMFS often works closely with local planning groups, particularly for recovery of Pacific salmonids. Generally, these local recovery planning groups want to participate in broadsense conservation goals. NMFS believes that while the recovery plan’s primary goal is to ensure the survival of and delist the species, it is important to achieve ESA recovery in a manner that is consistent with other federal legal obligations, mitigation goals, and other broad-sense goals that provide social, cultural, or economic values. Priority Action number 4 is included because ESA section 4(g) requires NMFS to work VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 with affected states to monitor species for no less than 5 years post delisting. Actions related to post-delisting monitoring required under ESA section 4(g) are considered a component of sustaining a delisted status. Comment (34): One commenter felt the guidelines should prioritize actions that address multiple listed species. Prioritizing recovery actions that benefit multiple species and populations can help direct limited funds toward actions that will meet recovery goals more efficiently. Response: We disagree that addressing multiple listed species should be a criterion in assigning a recovery action priority number, because these assignments are based on the extent to which an action is necessary to delist a species, not multiple species. However, we agree that where a recovery action would benefit multiple species, it should be given a higher priority within a category as a sub-prioritization process. We added text to the guidelines’ discussion on sub-prioritization of recovery actions within a category to consider whether there may be benefits to more than one species. Comment (35): One commenter recommended prioritization of recovery actions that yield faster results and are sustainable and substantial relative to other actions. Response: We agree that within a recovery plan and recovery action priorities, recovery actions that yield faster results and are sustainable and substantial should be given priority over other actions. We added text to the guidelines’ discussion on subprioritization of recovery actions within a category to clarify this point. Comment (36): One commenter suggested that NMFS not strictly adhere to recovery action implementation based on priority number. The commenter stated that, in some cases, implementation of the highest priority actions might be necessary to prevent extinction and, in other cases, there may be lower priority actions that would achieve the recovery and delisting of species. These actions should not be deemphasized simply because the species is threatened or has a lower demographic risk. The commenter felt that NMFS should encourage the implementation of recovery actions that will achieve recovery goals irrespective of species status or action priority. Response: We agree that the goal is to implement all recovery actions as necessary. However, ESA section 4(h) requires the establishment of a priority system for developing and implementing recovery plans. Any PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 priority system must identify criteria upon which to prioritize one action/ approach over another. The objective of the revised priority guidelines is to implement a policy to prioritize limited agency resources to advance the recovery of threatened and endangered species (i.e., delist). We concluded that to best achieve recovery goals, efforts should go first to those species that are more immediately in danger of extinction, where the information regarding major threats is wellunderstood, and where management and protective actions can be implemented successfully. This prioritization approach does not relieve NMFS of undertaking management and protective actions to delist the species, but rather helps identify which species and actions to focus on first. The recovery action priority ranking, together with the species recovery priority number, will be used to set priorities for funding and implementation of individual recovery actions while recognizing the goal to recover all listed species. Definitions Comment (37): One commenter felt the terms ‘‘endangered species,’’ ‘‘foreseeable future,’’ and ‘‘threatened species,’’ which were included in the proposed guidelines, have broader ESA application and are either defined or referenced in the ESA. The commenter stated it was inappropriate for NMFS to modify these long-standing ESA definitions through the proposed guidelines. The commenter felt that NMFS should engage with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose the changes with an appropriate explanation in a separate notice and comment rulemaking to amend the joint regulations on listing at 50 CFR 424.02. Finally, the commenter recommended if the definition for foreseeable future is retained it should be modified to extend only as far as NMFS can make ‘‘reliable predictions’’ about the future. Response: The definitions for threatened species and endangered species are nearly identical to the definitions presented in section 3 of the ESA. The additional text to clarify the distinction between threatened and endangered species is taken directly from NMFS guidance (NMFS, May 26, 2016). This clarifying text states that the Services interpret an endangered species to be one that is presently at risk of extinction and a threatened species to be one that is not presently at risk of extinction, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future. The key statutory difference between a threatened and endangered species is the timing of E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices when a species is or is likely to become in danger of extinction, either presently (endangered) or in the foreseeable future (threatened). However, we agree with the commenter that definitions for threatened species, endangered species, and foreseeable future are not necessary for the purposes of the priority guidelines. Thus, in response to this comment, we have omitted them from the final recovery priority guidelines. Comment (38): One commenter recommended that NMFS define ‘‘key population’’ or explain how it differs from the population as a whole. Response: We disagree that ‘‘key population’’ needs to be defined when considering mixed population trends. However, we added clarifying language regarding how to apply the condition of a mixed population trend to determine the demographic risk category. Comment (39): Several commenters recommended that the term ‘‘depensation’’ be further defined. One commenter recommended: ‘‘Depensation—a factor associated with demographic risks—is the decline in productivity in a population (e.g., smolts per spawner) as the abundance declines and can result from the uncertainty of finding a mate in a sparse population and/or increased predation rates at low abundance.’’ Response: We changed the definition for depensation to: ‘‘A decline in productivity in a population as the abundance declines that can result in increased extinction risk due to factors such as the uncertainty that mates will be able to find one another, randomly skewed sex ratios, changes to predator behavior due to shifting prey abundance, or scaling effects of random variation among individuals.’’ Comment (40): One commenter requested clarification regarding the meaning of the demographic risk category of ‘‘diversity.’’ Specifically, is it meant to refer only to genetic diversity or is it intended to encompass other types of diversity, such as sex and age diversity or behavioral diversity within the population? Response: As specified in the proposed priority guidelines, the risk condition of concern for diversity is ‘‘low genetic and phenotypic diversity severely limiting adaptive potential.’’ Thus, it encompasses genetic diversity and the expression of those genes as influenced by the environment, which could include sex or age structure or behavioral diversity where it is linked to the underlying genetic makeup. Comment (41): One commenter requested additional clarification on the distinction between ‘‘major’’ and ‘‘nonmajor’’ threats and how major threats will be identified and considered during the recovery planning process. Response: Major threats may be identified through the extinction risk analysis for a listing determination or through the threats assessment in the recovery planning process. In making a listing determination, we are required to rely on the best available scientific and commercial data. The available data may not allow us to distinguish which particular threat or threats pose the greatest risk to the species, nor are we required to do so in order to make a listing determination. However, depending on the available data, we may qualitatively compare threats relative to their contribution to the species’ extinction risk (NMFS 2017 Guidance on Responding to Petitions and Conducting Status Reviews under the Endangered Species Act). For prioritizing recovery plan development and implementation, we can generally rely on the listing assessment to identify the major threats to the particular species. Where the listing determination has not identified the major threats, we 18253 rely on an assessment of threats during the recovery planning process. The definition of ‘‘major threat’’ reflects factors we consider in determining major threats. Comment (42): One commenter recommended that the guidelines define ‘‘productivity’’ since it is a key factor in assessing a species’ demographic risk. Response: We added the definition of productivity from the NMFS 2017 Guidance on Responding to Petitions and Conducting Status Reviews under the Endangered Species Act as follows: ‘‘Productivity is the population growth rate, over the entire life cycle, and factors that affect population growth rate provide information on how well a population is ‘performing.’ These parameters, and related trends in abundance, reflect conditions that drive a population’s dynamics and thus determine its abundance. Changes in environmental conditions, including ecological interactions, can influence a population’s intrinsic productivity, the environment’s capacity to support a population, or both. Such changes may result from random environmental variation over a wide range of temporal scales (environmental stochasticity). A population growth rate that is unstable or declining over a long period of time indicates poor resiliency to future environmental change.’’ Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines Part A: Listing, Reclassification, and Delisting Priorities 1. Listing and Reclassification from Threatened to Endangered In considering species to be listed or reclassified from threatened to endangered, two criteria will be evaluated to establish four priority categories as shown in Table 1. TABLE 1—PRIORITIES FOR LISTING OR RECLASSIFICATION FROM THREATENED TO ENDANGERED Magnitude of threat Immediacy of threat High .............................................................................................................................. Imminent ................................................... Non-imminent ............................................ Imminent ................................................... Non-imminent ............................................ amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Low to Moderate .......................................................................................................... The first criterion, magnitude of threat, gives a higher listing priority to species facing the greatest threats to their continued existence. Species facing threats of low to moderate magnitude will be given a lower priority. The second criterion, immediacy of threat, gives a higher listing priority to species facing actual VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 threats than to those species facing threats to which they are intrinsically vulnerable, but which are not currently active. 2. Delisting and Reclassification from Endangered to Threatened NMFS currently reviews listed species at least every 5 years in accordance with ESA section 4(c)(2) to PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Priority determine whether any listed species qualify for reclassification or removal from the list. When a species warrants reclassification or delisting, priority for developing regulations will be assigned according to the guidelines in Table 2. Two criteria will be evaluated to establish six priority categories. E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 1 2 3 4 18254 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices TABLE 2—PRIORITIES FOR DELISTING AND RECLASSIFICATION FROM ENDANGERED TO THREATENED Management impact Petition status High .............................................................................................................................. Petitioned Action ....................................... Unpetitioned Action ................................... Petitioned Action ....................................... Unpetitioned Action ................................... Petitioned Action ....................................... Unpetitioned Action ................................... Moderate ...................................................................................................................... amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Low ............................................................................................................................... The priorities established in Table 2 are not intended to direct or mandate decisions regarding a species’ reclassification or removal from the list. This priority system is intended only to set priorities for developing rules for species that no longer satisfy the listing criteria for their particular designation under the ESA. The decision regarding whether a species will be retained on the list, and in which category, will be based on the factors contained in ESA section 4(a)(1) and 50 CFR 424.11. The first consideration of the system outlined in Table 2 accounts for the management impact of a species’ inclusion on the list. Management impact is the extent of protective actions, including restrictions on human activities, which must be taken to protect and recover a listed species. If the current listing is no longer accurate, continuing protective management actions could divert resources from species more in need of conservation and recovery efforts, or impose an unnecessary restriction on the public. Because the ESA mandates timely response to petitions, the system also considers whether NMFS has been petitioned to remove a species from the list or to reclassify a species from endangered to threatened. Higher priority will be given to petitioned actions than to unpetitioned actions that are classified at the same level of management impact. There is no direct relationship between the systems outlined in Tables 1 and 2. Although the same statutory criteria apply in making listing and delisting determinations, the considerations for setting listing and delisting priorities are quite different. Candidate species facing immediate critical threats will be given a higher priority for listing than species being considered for delisting. Likewise, a delisting proposal for a recovered species that would eliminate unwarranted utilization of limited resources may, in appropriate instances, take precedence over listing proposals for species not facing immediate, critical threats. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities The objective of Part B of these guidelines is to implement a policy to prioritize limited agency resources to advance the recovery of threatened and endangered species. The guidelines are based on the immediacy and severity of the species’ extinction risk; extent of information available regarding major threats; degree to which the United States has jurisdiction, authority, or influence over major threats; and certainty that management or protective actions can be implemented successfully. To achieve this objective, we identified the following general principles for prioritizing recovery plan development and implementation: • Endangered species are a higher priority than threatened species; • Species with more severe demographic risks are a higher priority because they are at greater risk of extinction; • Species for which major threats are well understood are a higher priority because in such cases effective recovery criteria and recovery actions are more likely to be identified for that species; • Species for which major threats are primarily under U.S. authority, or the United States can influence the abatement of such threats through international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, and agreements), are a higher priority because we have ability to address those threats; and • Species for which there exist possible management or protective actions that are not novel or experimental, are technically feasible, and have been successful at removing, reducing, or mitigating effects of major threats are a higher priority, because these actions are more likely to be effective at advancing recovery. The process to prioritize recovery planning and implementation consists of four steps: 1. Identify a demographic risk rank based on the listing status and species’ condition in terms of its productivity, spatial distribution, diversity, abundance, and trends (Table 3); 2. Identify categories for three components of recovery potential; PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Priority 1 2 3 4 5 6 3. Based on results of steps 1 and 2, assign a recovery priority for recovery plan development and implementation (Table 4); and 4. Assign priority rankings to actions within the recovery plan. This prioritization process reflects a logical sequence for recovery plan development and implementation for a species: First, identify the species’ risk; second, develop the recovery plan; and third, implement the recovery actions on a priority basis and monitor and evaluate progress. As new information is obtained through the monitoring and evaluation process, recovery plans will be updated or revised as needed. Step 1. Identify a Demographic Risk Rank As a first step, we categorize the severity of an ESA-listed species’ extinction risk based on its status and on the productivity, spatial distribution, diversity, abundance, and, if needed, population trend of the species. We assess the species’ demographic risk based on information on past threats that have contributed to the species’ current status and the biological response of the species to present and future threats. The severity of a species’ demographic risk, relative to all species under our jurisdiction, will help inform how we prioritize resources toward recovery plan development and implementation. We first consider each of the first four indicators in the Demographic Risk Category—productivity, spatial distribution, diversity, and abundance (Table 3; column 1)—and the associated risk condition described in column 2 (Table 3) separately for endangered and threatened species. The risk condition is met when the listed entity (i.e., species, subspecies, or Distinct Population Segment) is considered at risk for that category. For example, populations or subpopulations within a listed entity may vary in terms of their productivity. Some may be at or below depensation, while others are stable and healthy. In those cases, we consider which population(s) contribute most substantially to the overall viability of the listed entity. If certain populations E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 18255 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices or subpopulations are at or below depensation and their loss would substantially increase the listed entity’s extinction risk, then the risk condition applies. If an endangered species meets any of the first four risk conditions in column 2 (Table 3), then the species is considered a HIGH demographic risk, regardless of its population trend. If an endangered species does not meet any of the first four risk conditions in column 2 (Table 3), then population trend information will be used to categorize the demographic risk—e.g., HIGH if the population trend is declining or unknown, or uncertain but likely declining; MODERATE if the trend is stable, increasing, or uncertain but likely stable or increasing, or MODERATE or HIGH if the trend is mixed. For a mixed population trend, a HIGH rating should be assigned if key populations are declining such that their continued decline would contribute substantially to the listed entity being any one or more of the following: At or below depensation, limited or fragmented in spatial distribution, low in genetic and phenotypic diversity, or declining to only one, or a few, small population(s) or subpopulations (see Table 3 Risk Condition); otherwise a MODERATE rating should be assigned for mixed population trends. If a threatened species meets any of the first four risk conditions in column 2 (Table 3), the species is assigned a MODERATE demographic risk, regardless of its population trend. If a threatened species does not meet any of the first four risk conditions in column 2 (Table 3), its population trend is used to assign the demographic risk—e.g., MODERATE if the trend is declining or unknown, or uncertain but likely decreasing; LOW if the trend is stable, or increasing, or uncertain but likely stable or increasing, or, LOW or MODERATE if the trend is mixed. For a mixed population trend, a MODERATE rating should be assigned if key populations are declining such that their continued decline would contribute substantially to the listed entity being any one or more of the following: At or below depensation, limited or fragmented in spatial distribution, low in genetic and phenotypic diversity, or declining to only one, or a few, small population(s) or subpopulations (see Table 3 Risk Condition); otherwise a LOW rating should be assigned for mixed population trends. NMFS reports ESA listed species population trends biennially to Congress pursuant to ESA section 4(f)(3). To ensure consistency between that report and setting priorities for recovery planning and implementation, we will apply the following general guidelines: Use a minimum of three or more abundance estimates for key population(s) over a 10-year period or, depending on taxa, all available data years (≤ 3 data points) for trend estimation. 1. Increasing: The species (includes consideration of all population units that make up the species ‘‘as-listed’’) shows measurably higher numbers from assessment to assessment. 2. Stable: The species shows no measurable increase or decrease over the period of time between assessments. 3. Decreasing: The species shows measurably lower numbers from assessment to assessment. 4. Mixed: Mixed is a designation reserved for species with multiple populations or portions of the range that have markedly different population trends, and species are considered mixed if there are at least 3 data points and the criteria for increasing, decreasing, or stable are not met. 5. Uncertain: The species has 3 or more data points over a 10-year period or all available data years, but there is great uncertainty over data quality to estimate trends. a. Uncertain—likely stable or increasing: Major threats generally have been abated and the abundance is sufficiently high that the first four risk conditions in column 2 (Table 3) have not been met and no new major threats have been identified since listing. b. Uncertain—likely decreasing: Major threats remain or have been only partially abated or the abundance is sufficiently low that the first four risk conditions in column 2 (Table 3) cannot be ruled out. 6. Unknown: The species has fewer than 3 data points over a 10-year period or all available data years to estimate trends. TABLE 3—SEVERITY OF SPECIES’ DEMOGRAPHIC RISK Demographic risk category Endangered Threatened If any one of these risk conditions is met, the ranking is HIGH. If not, use the Trend information below to determine rank. If any one of these risk conditions is met, the ranking is MODERATE. If not, use the Trend information below to determine rank. Decreasing trend .................................. HIGH MODERATE Unknown trend ...................................... HIGH MODERATE Uncertain trend, likely decreasing ........ HIGH MODERATE Uncertain trend, likely stable or increasing. MODERATE LOW Stable trend .......................................... MODERATE LOW Increasing trend .................................... MODERATE LOW Productivity ....................... Spatial distribution ............ At or below depensation ....................... Limited/fragmented spatial distribution; vulnerable to catastrophe. Diversity ............................ Low genetic and phenotypic diversity severely limiting adaptive potential. One, or a few, small population(s) or subpopulations. Abundance ........................ Trends ............................... amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Demographic risk rank 1 Risk condition VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 18256 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices TABLE 3—SEVERITY OF SPECIES’ DEMOGRAPHIC RISK—Continued Mixed trend ........................................... HIGH MODERATE MODERATE LOW 1 For those species with recovery plans, the endangered or threatened category may be applied to a species currently not listed as such if NMFS has recommended a reclassification through a 5-year review or proposed rule. Step 2. Identify Categories of Recovery Potential In Step 2, we evaluate a species’ recovery potential. We have defined recovery potential to include three components: (1) Whether the origin of major threats is known and the species’ response to those major threats is well understood; (2) whether the United States has jurisdiction, authority, or influence to implement management or protective actions to address major threats; and (3) the certainty that management or protective actions will be effective. Each of the three components is considered to be HIGH or LOW TO MODERATE based on the following descriptions: amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES Recovery Potential Component 1: Major Threats Well Understood • HIGH: Natural and man-made threats that have a major impact on the species’ ability to persist have been identified, and the species’ responses to those threats are well understood. This also applies to transnational species that spend only a portion of their life cycle in U.S. waters, but major threats have been identified and the species’ responses to those threats are well understood. This can apply also to transnational or foreign species where major threats occur beyond U.S. waters or the high seas, but U.S. markets that contribute substantially to those major threats have been identified and the species’ responses to those threats are well understood. Data needs to fill knowledge gaps on threats that have an impact on the species’ ability to persist are minimal. Identification and knowledge of a species’ response to any one major threat would fit the species into this category. • LOW TO MODERATE: Natural and man-made threats that have or are believed to have a major impact on the species’ ability to persist may not have been identified and/or the species’ responses to those major threats are not well understood. Data needs to fill knowledge gaps on major threats that have or are believed to have an impact on the species’ ability to persist are substantial. If no major impacts exist, natural and man-made threats that have or are believed to have less than a major impact on the species’ ability to persist also belong to this category. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 Recovery Potential Component 2: U.S. Jurisdiction, Authority, or Influence Exists for Management or Protective Actions To Address Major Threats • HIGH: Management or protective actions to address major threats are primarily under U.S. jurisdiction or authority, or the United States can influence the abatement of major threats through existing international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, and agreements). This also applies to transnational species that spend only a portion of their life cycle in U.S. waters, but major threats can be addressed by U.S. actions. This may also apply to transnational or foreign species whose major threats include U.S. markets that represent a substantial source of demand for the species, and the United States may be able to influence the abatement of such demand. Where climate change impacts are a major threat and necessary actions to abate the threat are global in nature, management or protective actions under U.S. authority to address a threat that would help offset the impacts of climate change would fall into this category. • LOW TO MODERATE: Management or protective actions to address major threats are mainly beyond U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or ability to influence those major threats. If no major impacts exist, natural and manmade threats that have or are believed to have less than a major impact on the species’ ability to persist also belong to this category. Recovery Potential Component 3: Certainty That Management or Protective Actions Will Be Effective • HIGH: Management or protective actions are technically feasible; have been successful at removing, reducing, or mitigating effects of major threats; and do not use novel or experimental techniques. These actions can include categories of actions that have proven effective for other species, but that may require further testing for the targeted species (e.g., fishing gear modifications, methods to overcome or modify barriers to fish passage). Where climate change impacts are a major threat and actions to abate the threat are global and are not under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or influence through existing international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, and agreements), management or protective actions under U.S. authority PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 that effectively address a threat to help offset the impacts of climate change would fall into this category. Demonstrated success may be incremental on a small scale or with a few individuals. For species with current recovery plans, high certainty of effectiveness may be determined on the basis of individual recovery actions. If multiple recovery actions are needed to address a major threat that impedes recovery, not all need to fit the criterion of high certainty of effectiveness. If there are multiple major threats, only one major threat needs to meet the high level of certainty for the species to be assigned this category. • LOW TO MODERATE: Management or protective actions, if known, may be novel or experimental, may not be technically feasible, and have less certainty of removing, reducing, or mitigating effects of major threats. If no major impacts exist, natural and manmade threats that have or are believed to have less than a major impact on the species’ ability to persist also belong to this category. Step 3. Assign Recovery Priority Number for Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation In Step 3, we combine the results of the Demographic Risk Rank (Step 1) and Recovery Potential (Step 2) to assign Recovery Priority numbers, which will be used to prioritize resources for recovery plan development and implementation. We assign the greatest weight to demographic risk (Table 4; column 1), because species with more severe demographic risks are at greater risk of extinction. Although demographic risk is the most important factor to consider in assigning a Recovery Priority number, the species’ recovery potential is also an important factor. For example, a species with a HIGH demographic risk and a LOW TO MODERATE recovery potential for all three components (major threats understood, management actions exist under U.S. authority or influence to abate major threats, and certainty that actions will be effective) will be a lower priority than a species with a MODERATE or LOW demographic risk and a HIGH recovery potential. For Recovery Potential (Table 4; Columns 2, 3, and 4), we assign the weights as follows: E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 18257 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices 1. The greatest weight is given to when major threats are well understood. In order to identify effective management or protective actions, we need to understand the threats that impact the species’ ability to persist; 2. The second greatest weight is given to management or protective actions under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or ability to influence the abatement of major threats. We acknowledge that management or protective actions beyond U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or influence exist and may greatly affect recovery progress for transnational species that spend a portion of their life history within U.S. waters. However, for the purposes of prioritizing, we assign a greater weight to those species and recovery plans for which recovery actions are or are expected to be mainly under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or influence, because this is where we have the greatest opportunity to implement recovery actions; and 3. The lowest weight is given to the certainty that management or protective actions will be effective, because the likelihood of effectiveness depends, in part, on whether sufficient knowledge of threats to develop actions exists, and the United States has the jurisdiction, authority, or ability to influence implementation of such actions Once a recovery priority number is identified, species that are, or may be, in conflict with construction or other development projects or other forms of economic activity are assigned a ‘C’ (Table 4; column 5) and are given a higher priority over those species that are not in conflict (Table 4; column 6). TABLE 4—RECOVERY PRIORITY FOR RECOVERY PLAN PREPARATION AND IMPLEMENTATION Recovery potential Demographic risk a HIGH .......................... HIGH .......................... HIGH .......................... MODERATE .............. HIGH .......................... HIGH .......................... MODERATE .............. LOW ........................... HIGH .......................... MODERATE .............. LOW ........................... HIGH .......................... MODERATE .............. MODERATE .............. LOW ........................... HIGH .......................... MODERATE .............. LOW ........................... LOW ........................... MODERATE .............. LOW ........................... MODERATE .............. LOW ........................... LOW ........................... Recovery priority Major threats are well understood U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or influence exists for management or protective actions to address major threats Certainty that management or protective actions will be effective Conflict High .......................... High .......................... High .......................... High .......................... Low to Moderate ...... High .......................... High .......................... High .......................... Low to Moderate ...... High .......................... High .......................... Low to Moderate ...... Low to Moderate ...... High .......................... High .......................... Low to Moderate ...... Low to Moderate ...... Low to Moderate ...... High .......................... Low to Moderate ...... Low to Moderate ...... Low to Moderate ...... Low to Moderate ...... Low to Moderate ...... High ................................. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. High ................................. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. Low to Moderate ............. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. Low to Moderate ............. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. High ................................. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. Low to Moderate ............. High ................................. Low to Moderate ............. 1C ............................. 2C ............................. 3C ............................. 3C ............................. 4C ............................. 4C ............................. 4C ............................. 5C ............................. 5C ............................. 5C ............................. 6C ............................. 6C ............................. 6C ............................. 6C ............................. 7C ............................. 7C ............................. 7C ............................. 8C ............................. 8C ............................. 8C ............................. 9C ............................. 9C ............................. 10C ........................... 11C ........................... No conflict 1 2 3 3 4 4 4 5 5 5 6 6 6 6 7 7 7 8 8 8 9 9 10 11 amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES a Demographic Risk Rank was determined in Table 3. HIGH or MODERATE may be an endangered species and MODERATE or LOW may be a threatened species (see Table 3). Step 4. Assign Recovery Plan Action Priority In Step 4, we prioritize actions contained in a recovery plan. NMFS will assign action priorities from 0 to 4 based on the criteria described below. Assigning priorities does not imply that some recovery actions are not important; rather it simply means that they may be deferred while higher priority recovery actions are being implemented. All actions will be assigned priorities based on the following: Priority 1 Recovery Actions: These are the recovery actions that must be taken to remove, reduce, or mitigate major threats and prevent extinction and often require urgent implementation. Because VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 threatened species by definition are likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future and are presently not in danger of extinction, Priority 1 should be given primarily to recovery actions for species ranked as HIGH demographic risk in Table 3. The use of Priority 1 recovery actions in a recovery plan for a species with MODERATE demographic risk should be done judiciously and thoughtfully. Even the highest priority actions within a particular plan will not be assigned a Priority 1 ranking unless they are actions necessary to prevent a species from becoming extinct or are research actions needed to fill knowledge gaps and identify management actions necessary to prevent extinction. PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Therefore, some plans will not have any Priority 1 actions. At the same time, we also need to be careful not to assign a lower priority than is warranted, simply because an action is but one component of a larger effort that must be undertaken. For instance, there is often confusion as to whether a research action can be assigned a Priority of 1 since it, in and of itself, will not prevent extinction. However, the outcome of a research project may provide critical information necessary to initiate a protective action to prevent extinction (e.g., applying the results of a genetics study to a captive propagation program for a seriously declining species) and would warrant Priority 1 status. E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES 18258 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices Priority 2 Recovery Actions: These are recovery actions to remove, reduce, or mitigate major threats and prevent continued population decline or research needed to fill knowledge gaps, but their implementation is less urgent than Priority 1 actions. Priority 3 Recovery Actions: These are all recovery actions that should be taken to remove, reduce, or mitigate any remaining, non-major threats and ensure the species can maintain an increasing or stable population to achieve delisting criteria, including research needed to fill knowledge gaps and monitoring to demonstrate achievement of demographic criteria. Priority 4 Post-Delisting Actions: These are actions that are not linked to downlisting or delisting criteria and are not needed for ESA recovery, but are needed to facilitate post-delisting monitoring under ESA section 4(g), such as the development of a post-delisting monitoring plan that provides monitoring design (e.g., sampling error estimates). Some of these actions may carry out post-delisting monitoring. Priority 0 Other Actions: These are actions that are not needed for ESA recovery or post-delisting monitoring but that would advance broader goals beyond delisting. Other actions include, for example, other legislative mandates or social, economic, and ecological values. These actions are given a zero priority number because they do not fall within the priorities for delisting the species, yet the numeric value allows tracking these types of actions in the NMFS Recovery Action Mapping Tool Database [http:// www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/ protected_species/salmon_steelhead/ recovery_planning_and_ implementation/recovery_action_ mapping_tool.html]. Most actions will likely be Priority 2 or 3, because the majority of actions will likely contribute to preventing further declines of the species, but may not prevent extinction. This system recognizes the need to work toward the recovery of all listed species, not simply those facing the highest magnitude of threat. In general, NMFS intends that Priority 1 actions will be addressed before Priority 2 actions and Priority 2 actions before Priority 3 actions, etc. We also recognize, however, that some lower priority actions may be implemented before Priority 1 actions because, for example, a partner is interested in implementing a lower priority action, or a Priority 1 action is not currently possible (e.g., there is lack of political support for the action), or VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 implementation of the Priority 1 action may take many years. For some species, such as those with complicated recovery programs involving multiple listed species and many actions, it may be useful to assign sub-priorities within these categories (e.g., Priority 2a, Priority 2b, Priority 2c). In assigning sub-priorities within a category, recovery actions that benefit multiple species and/or are likely to yield faster results that are sustainable should be given the highest priority, e.g., Priority 1a versus Priority 1c. If sub-priorities are assigned, a description of and criteria for each sub-priority should be provided in the recovery plan. Process for Applying Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities The lead NMFS Region or Headquarters will identify a species’ Recovery Priority number (Table 4) by assessing the species’ Demographic Risk Rank (Step 1; Table 3) and Recovery Potential (Step 2) and apply it to the Recovery Priority (Step 3; Table 4). Where multiple NMFS Regions are involved, the lead Region or Headquarters office will coordinate with all NMFS regions involved to reach consensus on the Demographic Risk Rank, Recovery Potential, and Recovery Priority. Application of these guidelines to assess recovery priority relative to all species within our jurisdiction will be done on a biennial basis as part of the report to Congress (ESA section 4(f)(3)) and through the 5-year review process (ESA section 4(c)(2)). In applying Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities, the lead NMFS Region or Headquarters will prioritize species within their jurisdiction. Where a recovery plan covers multiple species, the highest ranked species should dictate the priority for recovery plan preparation and implementation. For example, if a recovery plan covers species A (assigned a recovery priority number 1) and species B (assigned a recovery priority number 8), species A would dictate the recovery plan preparation priority. Implementation of recovery actions within the plan would also be prioritized for species A where recovery actions are assigned the same priority numbers (e.g., recovery actions assigned priority number 1 for species A would be given a priority over recovery actions assigned priority number 1 for species B). We anticipate the recovery prioritization to be a dynamic process— as more information is made available through research and monitoring about PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 demographic risk, limiting factors, and threats, the species could move up or down the priority scale depending on whether the new information reveals there are management or protective actions that can be implemented and be effective at recovering the species. Recovery Action Priority Numbers will be assigned to each recovery action when the recovery plan is developed, revised, or updated. These revised guidelines will apply only to plans that are developed, revised, or updated after the finalization of these guidelines. As the results of research or monitoring of recovery implementation become available, the Recovery Action Priority Numbers can be modified through plan updates or revisions to address changing priorities based on this new information. Part C: Recovery Plans NMFS believes that periodic review of and updates to recovery plans and tracking recovery efforts are important elements of a successful recovery program. As we develop recovery plans for each species, specific recovery actions are identified and prioritized according to the criteria discussed above. This prioritization process recognizes that recovery plans should be viewed as living documents, and that research and monitoring, planning, and implementation describe a cycle of adaptive implementation of recovery actions for ESA-listed species. Even after recovery planning is complete and the plan is being implemented, key information gaps and uncertainties should constantly be evaluated. Research and monitoring results should inform recovery plan changes and refine strategies to implement recovery actions. The recovery action priority ranking, together with the species recovery priority, will be used to set priorities for funding and implementation of individual recovery actions. Although the guidelines provide a framework for prioritizing the timing of recovery plan development and implementation, NMFS will work closely with partners to develop recovery plans and implement recovery actions for all species, unless a recovery plan would not promote the conservation of the species. Definitions For purposes of this guidance only, the below terms have the following meanings: Demographic Risk: Characteristics of a population (productivity, spatial distribution, diversity, abundance, and population trend) that are indicators of the species’ ability to persist. E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 83 / Tuesday, April 30, 2019 / Notices Depensation: A decline in productivity in a population as the abundance declines that can result in increased extinction risk due to factors such as the uncertainty that mates will be able to find one another, randomly skewed sex ratios, changes in predator behavior to shifting prey abundance, or scaling effects of random variation among individuals. Major Threat: A threat whose scope, immediacy, and intensity results in a response by the species that prevents the improvement of its status to the point that such species may not be reclassified or delisted based on the factors set out in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA. Conversely, non-major threats are those threats whose scope, immediacy, and intensity results in a response by the species but singularly or cumulatively do not prevent the improvement of its status to the point that such species may be reclassified or delisted based on the factors set out in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA. Productivity: The population growth rate, over the entire life cycle. Factors that affect population growth rate provide information on how well a population is ‘‘performing.’’ These parameters, and related trends in abundance, reflect conditions that drive a population’s dynamics and thus determine its abundance. Changes in environmental conditions, including ecological interactions, can influence a population’s intrinsic productivity, the environment’s capacity to support a population, or both. Such changes may result from random environmental variation over a wide range of temporal scales (environmental stochasticity). A population growth rate that is unstable or declining over a long period of time indicates poor resiliency to future environmental change. Technically Feasible: The scientific, engineering, and operational aspects of management or protective actions that are capable of being implemented. amozie on DSK9F9SC42PROD with NOTICES References A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon request (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Withdrawal From the 1994 Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act With this notice, we also are announcing NMFS’ withdrawal from the 1994 Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act. On July 1, 1994, NMFS and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published notice of six joint policy VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:08 Apr 29, 2019 Jkt 247001 statements on various issues involving implementation of the ESA (59 FR 34270). One of these, the Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act, established the policy that NMFS and FWS would develop recovery plans within 21⁄2 years after final listing. That timeframe was expanded upon in NMFS’ Interim Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Planning Guidance (Interim Recovery Planning Guidance) (updated version 1.4, July 2018; available at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ endangered-species-conservation/ endangered-species-act-guidancepolicies-and-regulations), which was adopted by FWS on August 26, 2010. The Interim Recovery Planning Guidance restated the 21⁄2 year deadline to complete final recovery plans and added a deadline of 11⁄2 years for completion of draft recovery plans. As explained in the revised recovery priority guidelines announced in this notice, we must prioritize limited agency resources to advance the recovery of threatened and endangered species. These limited agency resources have meant that it is not always possible to complete recovery plans within 21⁄2 years after final listing of the species as endangered or threatened. NMFS will complete recovery plans within a reasonable amount of time, but must do so on a priority basis within the limits of available resources, which may require more than 21⁄2 years. Therefore NMFS is withdrawing from the Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act. The remainder of that policy has been expanded and updated for the most part through the Interim Recovery Planning Guidance, and NMFS will continue to follow that guidance. However, where section 1.5.1 of the Interim Recovery Planning Guidance also contains deadlines for completing draft and final recovery plans, we will no longer follow that portion of the guidance. The remainder of the Interim Recovery Planning Guidance continues to be applicable to our recovery planning and implementation efforts. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq. Dated: April 24, 2019. Samuel D. Rauch, III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2019–08656 Filed 4–29–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 18259 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XG949 Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to National Wildlife Refuge Complex Research, Monitoring, and Maintenance Activities in Massachusetts National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; proposed issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS has received a request from the Eastern Massachusetts (MA) National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to conducting biological research, monitoring, and maintenance at the Eastern MA NWR Complex (Complex). The USFWS’s activities are similar to activities previously analyzed and for which take was authorized by NMFS. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to incidentally take marine mammals during the specified activities. NMFS is also requesting comments on a possible one-year renewal that could be issued under certain circumstances and if all requirements are met, as described in Request for Public Comments at the end of this notice. NMFS will consider public comments prior to making any final decision on the issuance of the requested MMPA authorizations and agency responses will be summarized in the final notice of our decision. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than May 30, 2019. ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should be sent to 1315 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments should be sent to ITP.Fowler@noaa.gov. Instructions: NMFS is not responsible for comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period. Comments received electronically, including all SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\30APN1.SGM 30APN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 83 (Tuesday, April 30, 2019)]
[Notices]
[Pages 18243-18259]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-08656]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XF282


Endangered and Threatened Species; Listing and Recovery Priority 
Guidelines

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of final guidelines.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: We, NMFS, announce final revisions to the Recovery Plan 
Preparation and Implementation Priorities and the Recovery Plans 
sections of the 1990 Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines. The 
revised guidelines prioritize limited agency resources to advance the 
recovery of threatened and endangered species by focusing on the 
immediacy of the species' overall extinction risk; the extent of 
information regarding major threats; the extent to which major threats 
are primarily under U.S. authority, jurisdiction, or influence; and the 
certainty that management or protective actions can be implemented 
successfully. We did not revise the Listing, Reclassification, and 
Delisting Priorities section of the 1990 Listing and Recovery Priority 
Guidelines. We determined those guidelines, which are repeated herein 
(with minor editorial and format changes for consistency), are 
sufficient to prioritize listing actions.

DATES: These guidelines are effective on May 30, 2019.

ADDRESSES: These final guidelines are available on the internet at 
https://www.federalregister.gov/ at Docket Number NOAA-NMFS-2017-0020 
and at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/endangered-species-conservation/endangered-species-act-guidance-policies-and-regulations.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Angela Somma, Endangered Species 
Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, 
301-427-8403.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16 U.S.C. 
1533(f)) requires the Secretary (as delegated to NMFS) to develop 
recovery plans for all species listed pursuant to the ESA, unless he/
she finds that such a plan will not promote the conservation of the 
species. ESA section 3(16) (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)) defines a species to 
include any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct 
population segment (DPS) \1\ of any species of vertebrate fish or 
wildlife which interbreeds when mature. ESA section 4(h) (16 U.S.C. 
1533(h)) requires NMFS to establish a system for developing and 
implementing, on a priority basis, recovery plans under ESA section 
4(f). The priority system applies to recovery plan preparation and 
implementation for species listed as endangered or threatened under the 
ESA unless we find that such a plan will not promote the conservation 
of the species. We finalized guidance to prioritize recovery plan 
development and implementation on June 15, 1990 (55 FR 24296). Through 
our application of the 1990 guidelines, we determined that the Recovery 
Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities and Recovery Plans 
sections of the guidelines (see parts B and C, 55 FR 24296; June 15, 
1990) contain vague descriptions and lack sufficient detail regarding 
factors that should be considered when evaluating threats and recovery 
potential. For these reasons, we proposed revisions to the guidelines 
(82 FR 24944; May 31, 2017). Following review of public comments 
received on the proposed revision and additional internal review, we 
have revised the 1990 guidelines, as detailed herein.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \1\ In the policy recognizing DPSs (61 FR 4722, February 7, 
1996), NMFS determined that evolutionarily significant units for 
Pacific salmonids (56 FR 58612, November 20, 1991) represent DPSs.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Changes From the Proposed Guidelines

    The final guidelines differ from our proposed guidelines (82 FR 
24944; May 31, 2017) in three substantive respects:
    First, we added two ``uncertain'' population trend categories for 
assigning the severity of the species' demographic risk: (a) Uncertain-
likely decreasing, which is assigned a HIGH and MODERATE demographic 
risk rank for endangered and threatened species, respectively; and (b) 
uncertain-likely stable or increasing, which is assigned a MODERATE and 
LOW demographic risk rank for endangered and threatened species, 
respectively. See our response to comment 12 for details.
    Second, in the proposed guidelines, the recovery priority numbers 
ranged from 1 to 24. In the final guidelines, we simplify the numbering 
scheme to assign the same priority number to several combinations of 
the evaluation criteria based on total weights given to each criterion, 
resulting in priority

[[Page 18244]]

numbers that range from 1 to 11. See our response to comment 28 for 
details.
    Third, we changed the broad application of the conflict criterion 
to a case-by-case determination indicated by a `C' for conflict in 
Table 4 (columns 5 and 6). See our response to comment 7 for details.
    We also made a number of non-substantive and editorial changes to 
the proposed guidelines, based on comments received and internal 
review, as summarized in the remainder of this section.
    We added a sentence in the background section to clarify that ``. . 
. the priority system applies to recovery plans for species listed as 
endangered or threatened under the ESA unless we find that such a plan 
will not promote the conservation of the species.'' See our response to 
comment 19 for details.
    We changed the title of ``Step 1. Identify a Demographic Risk 
Category'' to ``Step 1. Identify a Demographic Risk Rank'' to more 
accurately describe the action in that step.
    We split the Decreasing/Unknown trend in Table 1 (82 FR 24946; 
Table 3 herein) into two trends to clarify each should be considered 
separately.
    We changed the title of Table 2 (82 FR 24848; Table 4, herein) to 
``Recovery Priority Plan Preparation and Implementation'' to reflect 
the title of Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation 
Priorities.
    To the Recovery Potential Component 1 (Major Threats Well 
Understood), we added to the description of the HIGH category the 
sentence: ``Identification and knowledge of a species' response to any 
one major threat would fit into this category.'' The addition is 
intended to clarify that not all major threats must be well understood 
to qualify for this category. We also added to the description of the 
HIGH category the sentence: ``This can apply also to transnational or 
foreign species where major threats occur beyond U.S. waters or the 
high seas, but U.S. markets that contribute substantially to those 
major threats have been identified and the species' responses to those 
threats are well understood.'' The additional sentence illustrates 
application of the component to plans for transnational and foreign 
species. See our response to comment 19 for details. Finally, we added 
a sentence to the description of the LOW TO MODERATE category: ``If no 
major impacts exist, natural and man-made threats that have or are 
believed to have less than a major impact on the species' ability to 
persist also belong to this category'' to clarify that if no major 
threats exist, then this category would apply. We added this sentence 
to the LOW TO MODERATE categories for Recovery Potential Components 2 
and 3 because it applies to all components.
    To Recovery Potential Component 2 (U.S. Jurisdiction, Authority, or 
Influence Exists for Management or Protective Actions to Address Major 
Threats), we added to the description of the HIGH category the 
sentence: ``This may also apply to transnational or foreign species 
whose major threats include U.S. markets that represent a substantial 
source of demand for the species, and the United States may be able to 
influence the abatement of such demand.'' The additional sentence 
illustrates application of the component to plans for transnational and 
foreign species. See our response to comment 19 for details.
    To Recovery Potential Component 3 (Certainty that Management or 
Protective Actions will be Effective), we added language to the 
description of the HIGH category to specify that demonstrated success 
may include categories of actions that have proven effective for other 
species, but may require further testing for the targeted species 
(e.g., fishing gear modifications, methods to overcome or modify 
barriers to fish passage). See our response to comment 26 for details.
    To Step 4: Assign Recovery Action Priority, we changed the title to 
``Assign Recovery Plan Action Priority'' to indicate that actions 
within a recovery plan may be broader than those actions taken to 
achieve recovery. We added ``Recovery'' to priority numbers 1, 2, and 3 
to clarify these actions are taken to achieve recovery. We added 
`research' to the description for recovery action number 3 to clarify 
that research actions can also be in this category. We added the 
sentence: ``In assigning sub-priorities within a category, recovery 
actions that benefit multiple species and/or are likely to yield faster 
results that are sustainable should be given the highest priority, 
e.g., Priority 1a versus Priority 1c.'' The additional sentence 
clarifies that recovery actions that may benefit multiple species 
should be given priority over others that are within the same recovery 
priority category. See our response to comments 34 and 35 for details. 
Finally, we deleted Table 3 (82 FR 24949) because the narrative for 
assigning recovery plan action priorities was more informative than the 
table.
    To the Process for Applying Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and 
Implementation Priorities, we added the following text to clarify how 
to prioritize when multiple species are being considered together in 
the recovery planning process: ``The lead NMFS Region or Headquarters 
will prioritize species within their jurisdiction according to the 
following factors. Where a recovery plan covers multiple species, the 
highest ranked species should dictate the priority for recovery plan 
preparation and implementation. For example, if a recovery plan covers 
species A assigned a recovery priority number 1 and species B assigned 
a recovery priority number 8, species A would dictate the recovery plan 
preparation priority. Implementation of recovery actions within the 
plan would also be prioritized for species A where recovery actions are 
assigned the same priority numbers (e.g., recovery actions assigned 
priority number 1 for species A would be given a priority over recovery 
actions assigned priority number 1 for species B).''
    Under Definitions, we made the following changes:
    1. We deleted the definitions for ``threatened species,'' 
``endangered species,'' and ``foreseeable future.'' See our response to 
comment 37 for details;
    2. We changed the definition of ``depensation'' to: ``A decline in 
productivity in a population as the abundance declines that can result 
in increased extinction risk due to factors such as the uncertainty 
that mates will be able to find one another, randomly skewed sex 
ratios, changes to predator behavior to shifting prey abundance, or 
scaling effects of random variation among individuals.'' See our 
response to comment 39 for details;
    3. We added a definition of ``productivity'' from the NMFS' 2017 
Guidance on Responding to Petitions and Conducting Status Reviews under 
the Endangered Species Act: ``The population growth rate, over the 
entire life cycle. Factors that affect population growth rate provide 
information on how well a population is ``performing.'' These 
parameters, and related trends in abundance, reflect conditions that 
drive a population's dynamics and thus determine its abundance. Changes 
in environmental conditions, including ecological interactions, can 
influence a population's intrinsic productivity, the environment's 
capacity to support a population, or both. Such changes may result from 
random environmental variation over a wide range of temporal scales 
(environmental stochasticity). A population growth rate that is 
unstable or declining over a long period of time indicates poor 
resiliency to future environmental change.'' See our response to 
comment 42 for details.

[[Page 18245]]

Summary of Comments and Responses

    The notice announcing the proposed revision (82 FR 24944; May 31, 
2017) requested public comment through June 30, 2017. We received 
several requests to extend the public comment period, which we extended 
through August 28, 2017 (82 FR 29841; June 30, 2017). We received 10 
comment letters from the public, tribes, states, nongovernmental 
organizations, and one federal agency. Comments included support for 
the revision to the guidelines, minor clarifying edits, and substantive 
comments. We considered all substantive information and comments 
provided during the comment period, and where appropriate, incorporated 
them directly into these final guidelines or addressed them below. 
Comments received were grouped by topic or applicable section of the 
proposed guidelines. Comments and our responses are presented below. 
Comments not relevant to the guidelines are not discussed.

General to the Proposed Guidelines

    Comment (1): Several commenters felt that the subjective nature of 
the proposed guidelines would hinder NMFS' ability to be more effective 
at recovery planning and implementation. One commenter acknowledged the 
subjective nature of the priority guidelines and recommended that NMFS 
regional offices seek concurrence with NMFS Headquarters on priority 
determinations to ensure consistency of application.
    Response: We acknowledge that the revised priority guidelines are 
subjective, as are the 1990 guidelines. Professional knowledge and 
judgement must be used, in part, when making decisions about resource 
priorities for recovery plan development and implementation. In the 
revised guidelines, we clarify terms and provide greater detail to 
guide decision-makers. We disagree with the comment that NMFS regional 
offices should seek NMFS Headquarters concurrence on priority 
determinations because it places an unnecessary administrative burden 
on staff. However, NMFS Headquarters is always available to consult, 
upon request, with a regional office on issues such as prioritization 
of high-profile species. And NMFS Headquarters does review the priority 
determinations every 2 years as part of the report to Congress (ESA 
section 4(f)(3)) on NMFS' efforts to develop and implement recovery 
plans and the status of listed species. As part of that review process, 
we examine how the priority numbers are assigned and address any 
apparent inconsistencies in priority numbers across species.
    Comment (2): One commenter felt NMFS should take a broader approach 
beyond prioritizing the order in which recovery planning is conducted 
for certain species. The commenter felt the broader approach should 
focus on delisting the species and rely on states, local governments, 
or other entities who are willing to fund or conduct activities that 
will promote recovery. The commenter stated that NMFS must recognize 
the important role these non-federal partners have in achieving 
recovery of listed species and prioritize the recovery planning for 
species where there are such partners who will contribute to the 
effort.
    Response: We agree that a broad approach to recovery is necessary. 
NMFS recognizes the important role of partnerships in achieving 
recovery, and we have developed other guidance and policies that embody 
the concept of partnerships. For example, the cornerstone of the 
Interim Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Planning Guidance 
(NMFS and FWS 2010) focuses on how to build partnerships. We also 
recognize that a recovery plan must be implemented to achieve results. 
Communication, coordination, and collaboration with a wide variety of 
potential stakeholders is essential to the acceptance and 
implementation of recovery plans. State agencies, because of their 
legal authorities and their close working relationships with local 
governments and landowners, are in a unique position to assist the NMFS 
and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Services) in recovering listed 
species.
    Comment (3): One commenter recommended that NMFS expand the 
guidelines to explain whether and, if so, how the priority for 
developing and implementing a recovery plan to conserve multiple 
species or ecosystem-based plans would be different than if plans were 
developed and implemented separately for those species.
    Response: NMFS does not intend to prioritize development and 
implementation of multi-species or ecosystem recovery plans over 
single-species plans. Single-species plans may often result in benefits 
to more than one listed species (e.g., sea turtles) either directly or 
through improved ecosystem functions. A single-species recovery plan 
does not necessarily equate to fewer benefits compared to a multi-
species or ecosystem plan. The guidelines specify where a recovery plan 
covers multiple species, the highest ranked species should dictate the 
priority for recovery plan preparation and implementation. However, we 
agree that when prioritizing individual recovery actions within a plan, 
direct and indirect benefits to other species should be considered (see 
our response to comment 34).
    Comment (4): One commenter stated that the proposed priority 
guidelines would result in assigning a lower recovery priority number 
to species whose demographic risk category improves. The commenter felt 
this prioritization system was contrary to the goal of delisting a 
species.
    Response: We acknowledge that the priority guidelines, which place 
the greatest weight on a species' demographic risk, could potentially 
result in lower priority numbers as a species' risk condition improves 
over time. An improved demographic condition is likely the result of 
implementing effective management or protective actions that address 
the threats affecting such condition. In such a case, all three 
components of the species' Recovery Potential might be assigned a HIGH 
category. Thus, a species that goes from a HIGH to a LOW demographic 
risk could still be assigned a relatively high number on the recovery 
priority scale (see Table 2 in 82 FR 24948; Table 4, herein). We 
concluded that the balance between the demographic risk and the three 
recovery potential components allows for sustaining a focused recovery 
program to achieve delisting.
    Comment (5): One commenter requested that NMFS explore including 
the evolutionary significance of the species (i.e., monotypic genus, 
species, subspecies, distinct population segment (DPS)) when setting 
recovery priorities in order to preserve genetic diversity. The 
commenter noted that without consideration of taxonomic hierarchy, the 
guidelines might bias priorities toward DPSs or subspecies, which 
generally occupy more restricted ranges than full species and, as a 
result, might face threats that are more localized and easier to 
identify or remedy.
    Response: Assigning a lower priority to a subspecies or DPS may not 
result in saving as much genetic diversity as possible, as the 
commenter proposes. For example, when a DPS is listed, the Services 
must determine its importance to the taxon to which it belongs, in 
order to address Congressional guidance that the authority to list DPSs 
be used ``. . . sparingly'' while encouraging the conservation of 
genetic diversity (61 FR 4722; February 2, 1996). Further, NMFS policy 
(56 FR 58612; November 20, 1991) requires that a population must 
represent an important component of

[[Page 18246]]

the evolutionary legacy of a species in order to be considered an 
Evolutionarily Significant Unit, which is equivalent to a DPS (61 FR 
4722; February 2, 1996). Therefore, the importance of conserving 
genetic diversity is clearly a driver in determining whether to list a 
DPS or not; if a DPS is listed, it follows that it is listed, in part, 
because it will conserve genetic diversity of the biological species.
    We acknowledge that the three components of the recovery potential 
criteria may result in prioritizing recovery plan development and 
implementation for listed entities with a restricted range over those 
with broader ranges encompassing multiple geopolitical boundaries. 
However, we stress that the guidelines provide for prioritizing far-
ranging species. For example, Recovery Potential Component 2 considers 
international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, and agreements) 
and allows a HIGH category for transnational species that spend only a 
portion of their life cycle in U.S. waters, but whose major threats can 
be addressed by U.S. actions during that portion of their life cycle. 
We were unable to identify alternatives to the Recovery Potential 
Components that would provide more balance for those species with 
broader or global ranges without making prioritizing one species over 
another more difficult and less transparent regarding which attributes 
were being considered as more important.
    Comment (6): One commenter felt that life histories of species 
might affect their priority ranking under the proposed criteria. For 
example, a so-called r-selected species might be able to recover 
quickly once threats to its survival have been removed. On the other 
hand, K-selected species, such as marine mammals, that have lower 
reproductive potential but higher survival, may take decades or even 
centuries to recover. The commenter felt that recovery options for some 
marine mammal species might be limited.
    Response: We disagree that the priority guidelines bias toward 
certain life history traits. In assigning a demographic risk, the 
severity of the condition for productivity, spatial distribution, 
diversity, and abundance is considered. We acknowledge that a species' 
life history trait may make it more vulnerable to a particular 
demographic risk but the threats and the species' response to those 
threats may vary greatly across taxa. In assigning recovery potential, 
the time it takes for a species to respond to a major threat is not a 
factor.
    Comment (7): One commenter supported considering the conflict 
criterion to be met for all listed species under NMFS jurisdiction, as 
was proposed. However, several commenters were concerned by what they 
described as NMFS eliminating the conflict criterion in the proposed 
priority guidelines. They recommended that NMFS retain and expand the 
conflict criterion to consider variations in the scope (global, 
regional, or local), nature (direct or indirect), and degree of 
potential conflicts between listed species and economic-related 
activities. One commenter recommended that, where appropriate, NMFS 
should ensure that it clearly identifies and explains the magnitude of 
risk or conflict with economic activity and identifies recovery 
measures that facilitate species conservation while ensuring that 
economic activities can continue.
    Response: To clarify, NMFS did not propose to eliminate the 
conflict criterion. The ESA specifically calls for considering the role 
of construction, other development projects, and other forms of 
economic activity in setting recovery priorities. Rather, we proposed 
to apply the criterion to all species based on the current and likely 
future condition that all listed species under our jurisdiction are 
either directly or indirectly in conflict to some degree with an 
economic activity (82 FR 24945). We are unaware of any ESA-listed 
species under our authority that is not considered, either directly or 
indirectly, to be in conflict to some degree with an economic activity. 
However, we agree with the commenters that the application of conflict 
is better applied on a case-by-case basis. We added a `C' for conflict 
in Table 4. This is consistent with FWS' Endangered and Threatened 
Species Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines (48 FR 43098; 
September 21, 1983). We considered including variations in the scope 
(global, regional, or local), nature (direct or indirect), and degree 
of potential conflicts between listed species and economic-related 
activities, but rejected it because we were unable to determine how to 
incorporate these variations across all taxa given that a species' 
exposure and response to the same economic activity can vary greatly.

Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 
1. Identify a Demographic Risk Category

    Comment (8): One commenter felt that the inclusion of a demographic 
risk assessment would not meaningfully improve the recovery planning 
process. The commenter stated that a listed species would presumably 
exhibit one of these demographic risk conditions, either presently or 
in the foreseeable future, by nature of it being listed. To the extent 
that these risk conditions already are captured by the species' listing 
status, the commenter stated they do not further inform the priority 
ranking process or allow for ranking distinctions within the endangered 
or threatened classifications.
    Response: We determined that the demographic risk category was an 
important element to consider when prioritizing recovery plan 
development and implementation. While a status review provides the best 
available science on a species' extinction risk at the time of listing, 
the available scientific information may evolve rapidly post-listing. 
We also recognize that not all listed endangered or threatened species 
exhibit similar demographic conditions and trends. The inclusion of the 
demographic risk category allows identification of the worst-case 
scenario for each demographic factor: Productivity, spatial 
distribution, diversity, and abundance. This approach allows us to 
focus attention on those species exhibiting the most severe demographic 
conditions (e.g., small, fragmented populations).
    Comment (9): One commenter mistakenly thought an endangered species 
could be assigned a LOW category for demographic risk. The commenter 
felt that such assignment might create a misunderstanding given the ESA 
definition of an endangered species. The commenter recommended some 
other categorization scheme such as ``extremely critical, critical, and 
stable or increasing.''
    Response: The priority guidelines only allow a LOW category for 
demographic risk to be assigned to a threatened species and not an 
endangered species (82 FR 24926). An endangered species may be assigned 
a MODERATE category if it does not meet any of the adverse risk 
conditions for the demographic risk categories and its population trend 
is stable, increasing, or uncertain--likely stable or increasing (Table 
3, herein). The uncertain population trend is a new category added to 
the final guidelines. See our response to comment 12 for details.
    Comment (10): One commenter was concerned about the proposed 
inclusion of the term ``substantially'' when considering mixed 
population trends in assigning a demographic risk category. The 
commenter characterized the term as ``substantially increase the listed 
entity's extinction risk'' and claimed the language to be vague and 
subject to

[[Page 18247]]

arbitrary interpretation that could lead to inappropriately excluding 
declining populations from consideration, for example, due to political 
pressures or higher costs of recovery for those populations.
    Response: To clarify, the priority guideline language for mixed 
populations is if key populations are declining such that their 
continued decline would contribute substantially to the listed entity 
achieving the adverse risk conditions described in Table 1 (82 FR 
24946). The priority guidelines are not an extinction risk analysis, as 
that analysis was conducted to support the decision to list the 
species. Rather, the priority guidelines are meant to guide the 
decision-maker in assigning a demographic risk category in the event 
that a listed entity exhibits mixed trends among key populations. The 
test is whether key populations' decline would lead the listed entity 
to being at or below depensation; limited or fragmented in spatial 
distribution to a level that renders the listed entity vulnerable to 
catastrophe; low in genetic and phenotypic diversity to a degree that 
the listed entity is severely limited in adaptive potential; or 
exhibiting only one, or a few, small population(s) or subpopulations. 
We recognize that the term ``substantially'' can be subjective, but the 
adverse risk conditions described in Table 1 (82 FR 24296; Table 3 
herein) are founded on conservation biology principles (for example, 
see McElhany et al. 2000). We find the term ``substantially'' (i.e., 
considerably or to a large extent) adequately describes the relative 
contribution of key populations to the listed entity's ability to avoid 
the adverse risk conditions described in Table 1 (82 FR 24296; Table 3 
herein).
    Comment (11): Several commenters recommended that a HIGH 
demographic risk rank be assigned to a threatened species to prevent it 
from becoming endangered. One commenter felt that we should prioritize 
first on recovery potential and second on demographic risk. As 
proposed, the commenter pointed out that, if a threatened species 
scores high on all recovery potential components, the highest recovery 
priority it can achieve is Recovery Priority number 4. The commenter 
stated that this outcome seems inconsistent with the goal of the 
guideline revision to ``better prioritize limited agency resources to 
advance the recovery of threatened and endangered species.'' The 
commenter felt it prudent to invest limited resources toward recovery 
planning for species that would benefit, regardless of their listed 
status.
    Response: We based the proposed guideline revision on the 
underlying principle that endangered species are a higher priority than 
threatened species because of the immediacy of the extinction risk, 
with endangered species being presently in danger of extinction. We 
determined that this approach was rational and appropriate because it 
focuses limited resources on species with a high extinction risk. We 
also do not agree that limiting a threatened species to a MODERATE 
demographic risk rank would increase its extinction risk. A threatened 
species with a HIGH recovery potential in all three components could 
potentially be assigned a Recovery Priority number 4 (out of 24) in the 
proposed and a number 3 in the final guidelines (out of 11; see our 
response to comment 28), which would allow limited agency resources to 
address those species whose demographic risk may not be high, but whose 
recovery potential is high. In addition, with regard to prioritizing 
recovery plan implementation, the endangered or threatened category may 
be applied to a species currently not listed as such if NMFS has 
recommended a reclassification through a 5-year review or proposed rule 
(see footnote to Table 1 in 82 FR 24296; Table 3 herein).
    Comment (12): One commenter felt that an unknown population trend 
should not default to the highest prioritization. The commenter 
recommended that an unknown population trend be categorized as MODERATE 
and LOW for endangered and threatened species, respectively.
    Response: An unknown population abundance trend was grouped with 
the decreasing trend as a caution to conserve the species in light of 
the lack of data. Unknown is defined as when a species has fewer than 3 
data points over a 10-year period or all available data years to 
estimate trends. However, we recognize that there may be species for 
which some data are available to indicate the direction of the trend, 
but the data are uncertain. Uncertain is when the species has 3 or more 
data points over a 10-year period or all available data years, but 
there is great uncertainty over data quality to estimate trends. To 
differentiate these cases from truly unknown trend cases, we added two 
``uncertain'' categories: (a) Uncertain--likely decreasing, which is 
assigned a HIGH and MODERATE for endangered and threatened species, 
respectively; and (b) uncertain--likely stable or increasing, which is 
assigned demographic risk ranks of MODERATE and LOW for endangered and 
threatened species, respectively.
    Comment (13): One commenter recommended NMFS use generations rather 
than a set number of years in determining the population trend. Another 
commenter recommended NMFS include an assessment of whether a 
fluctuation in population is temporary (and may self-correct) or is 
indicative of a long-term trend, and prioritize species accordingly.
    Response: In order to use generations to determine population 
trend, we would need to have sufficient data to determine the 
generation time for each taxa or each species. We recognize that our 
species vary widely in generation length. To the extent possible, we 
analyze the data for each species taking into account their unique life 
history, including generation time. The population trend measure is 
intended to indicate more of a medium-to long-term trend, and not 
temporary fluctuations in population. We have added a trend category of 
`UNCERTAIN' to indicate when there is great uncertainty over data 
quality to estimate trends.
    Comment (14): One commenter recommended that NMFS develop a 
definition for the term ``measurably'' as used in the population trend 
to describe either higher or lower numbers between assessments, or that 
a more precise term (statistically significant) should be used.
    Response: The term ``statistically significant'' would be too 
limiting for the purposes of the priority guidelines. In many cases, we 
do not have adequate data on population trends to determine statistical 
significance. Rather, the common term ``measurably'' indicates that the 
data points across the years are noticeably different and can be 
measured, without the need for a formal definition. We concluded that 
this term was adequate for the purposes of assessing a population trend 
in Step 1.

Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 
2. Identify Categories of Recovery Potential: Recovery Potential 
Component 1: Major Threats Well Understood

    Comment (15): Several commenters felt that cases where only minimal 
data was needed to fill knowledge gaps on major threats should not be 
given priority over cases where data needs are substantial. They 
stressed this approach may contribute to putting some species in a 
negative feedback loop that hinders recovery. One commenter felt that 
assigning a lower priority to cases where major threats are not well 
understood was inconsistent with the recovery action priorities, which 
recognize research as an important component to achieving recovery. 
They recommended

[[Page 18248]]

that a HIGH category be assigned to species for which research is 
needed to fill knowledge gaps about major threats or effectiveness of 
management or protective actions (Recovery Potential Component 3: 
Certainty that Management or Protective Actions will be Effective).
    Response: The priority guidelines are meant to prioritize recovery 
plan development and implementation. The priority guidelines logically 
place a higher priority on those species where sufficient information 
regarding major threats exists, because in order to identify effective 
management or protective actions we need to understand the threats that 
affect the species' ability to persist. Once a recovery plan is 
developed, the implementation of research actions to address knowledge 
gaps potentially can be given a recovery action priority 1 to identify 
those actions that must be taken to prevent extinction. We do not view 
this as an inconsistency between the Recovery Potential criteria and 
the Recovery Action criteria. Rather, through recovery plan 
implementation, the recovery priority guidelines are meant to encourage 
collection of data and evaluate progress. As more information is 
gathered about threats and effectiveness of management and protective 
actions, the species moves up the priority scale by improving the 
recovery potential.
    Comment (16): One commenter agreed with the HIGH category for 
species with minimal data gaps, but recommended the HIGH category also 
include situations where missing data can be secured with reasonable 
effort.
    Response: We concluded that incorporation of situations where 
missing data can be secured with ``reasonable effort'' was difficult to 
define and evaluate given that multiple variables (e.g., funding, 
partners, and research methods) could contribute to whether such effort 
was reasonable.
    Comment (17): One commenter felt that NMFS' proposal to make a 
ranking distinction based on whether the natural or man-made threat has 
been identified and whether the species' responses to these threats are 
well understood was inappropriate. The commenter stated this 
determination is already made by NMFS as part of the decision on 
whether to list the species. The commenter felt that if NMFS lacks the 
requisite data on identifiable threats or the species' response to 
those threats in the recovery potential context, the species should not 
have been listed as a threshold matter.
    Response: The assessment described in the proposed priority 
guidelines is not equivalent to the risk assessment conducted to 
develop a listing determination. The priority guidelines are based on 
whether threats that have a major impact on a species' ability to 
persist have been identified, and whether the species' response to 
those particular threats is well understood. This allows us to focus, 
as a priority, on those threats that are known to have a major impact 
on the species. In making a listing determination, the species' 
vulnerability, exposure, and biological response to all threats are 
considered. A listing assessment thus considers the entire suite of 
threats, including any cumulative effects from multiple threats, and is 
not based on identification or consideration of just the major or the 
most serious threats. In addition, a listing decision is based on 
whether the species meets the definition of an ``endangered species'' 
or a ``threatened species.'' In making a listing determination, we are 
required to rely on the best available scientific and commercial data. 
The available data may not allow us to distinguish or even identify 
which particular threat or threats pose the greatest risk to the 
species, nor are we required to do so in order to make a listing 
determination. The question is whether the species is in danger of 
extinction or is likely to become in danger of extinction within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. For prioritizing recovery plan development and implementation, 
we can, however, generally rely on the listing assessment to identify 
the major threats to the particular species.

Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 
2. Identify Categories of Recovery Potential: Recovery Potential 
Component 2: U.S. Jurisdiction, Authority, or Influence Exists To 
Address Major Threats

    Comment (18): One commenter felt that Recovery Potential Component 
2 should be combined with Recovery Potential Component 3 (Certainty 
that Management or Protective Actions will be Effective) because they 
are sufficiently related, and this combination would simplify the 
guidelines.
    Response: We agree that, as a general matter, U.S. jurisdiction, 
authority, or influence may affect the certainty that actions will be 
effective. However, there may be novel or experimental actions that are 
less certain to be effective, regardless of jurisdiction. Prioritizing 
recovery efforts based on effectiveness of actions both beyond and 
within U.S. jurisdiction is an important aspect to achieving recovery. 
We concluded that the two components are sufficiently distinct and 
should be considered separately.
    Comment (19): Several commenters requested clarification on exactly 
what Recovery Potential Component 2 addresses; i.e., is it to identify 
situations when a plan for a foreign species should be prepared, to set 
priorities for transnational species that occur within areas subject to 
the jurisdiction of both the United States and other countries, to set 
priorities for species that occur on the high seas, or some combination 
of these?
    Response: The priority guidelines address only those species for 
which a recovery plan will be or has been developed, not making a 
determination that development of a recovery plan would not promote the 
conservation of the species. We added language to the Background 
section on the scope of the priority scheme to clarify this point. We 
consider many factors in our finding that a recovery plan would not 
promote the conservation of the species. For example, there may be 
instances where effective international agreements, conventions, or 
treaties do not exist, or the United States does not or cannot 
participate in partnerships that would promote the conservation of 
transnational species, and the other range countries or international 
organizations are not interested in engaging in joint recovery efforts. 
Thus, in this instance, the species would not have a recovery plan 
developed and these guidelines would not apply. We added language to 
Recovery Potential 2 and Recovery Potential 1 (Major Threats are Well 
Understood) to include considerations applicable to transnational and 
foreign species where a recovery plan has been or will be developed.
    Comment (20): One commenter requested examples of where a LOW TO 
MODERATE category would be applied under Recovery Potential Component 
2, for developing a recovery plan for foreign species.
    Response: The purpose of this criterion is to prioritize based on 
the United States' ability to take management and protective actions to 
address major threats. Examples of species that occur only partly 
within U.S. jurisdiction include sea turtles, large whales, and some 
anadromous fish. It is not possible to provide a definite example of a 
LOW TO MODERATE categorization because that evaluation must be 
conducted during the prioritization process based on all information 
available at the time. Nonetheless, we can provide an

[[Page 18249]]

illustration of how the process could work. Olive ridley sea turtles 
(Lepidocheyls olivacea) range throughout temperate regions worldwide, 
and these turtles face threats within U.S. waters, on the high seas, 
and in foreign countries. NMFS would evaluate the degree to which the 
United States has jurisdiction, authority, or influence to address 
impacts of major threats to these turtles. A LOW TO MODERATE category 
could be assigned if threats within U.S. waters are minor, and major 
threats that are under the jurisdiction of foreign nations cannot be 
effectively addressed through any international mechanism to which the 
United States is a party or can otherwise influence.
    Comment (21): Several commenters requested clarification on the 
difference between ``jurisdiction,'' ``authority,'' and ``influence.'' 
One commenter felt that it was unclear what the United States can or 
might be able to influence, with respect to extra-jurisdictional 
species. To the extent possible, the commenter requested additional 
guidance concerning these terms. For example, is the term ``influence'' 
intended to apply exclusively to the U.S. Government, or would it also 
apply to influence exerted by U.S. businesses or non-governmental 
organizations?
    Response: In the second criterion for assessing recovery potential, 
we use the term ``authority'' in terms of legal authority, with a 
meaning very similar to ``jurisdiction.'' But because ``jurisdiction'' 
is a more technical term and can be used more narrowly, such as when 
describing the scope of judicial power, we included both terms to 
convey our intent to consider the full reach of U.S. governmental 
powers or control to implement management or protective actions. Our 
inclusion of the term ``influence'' is different. There we are 
describing the extent to which the United States may indirectly 
facilitate management or protective actions being put in place. For 
example, through its contacts with foreign governments that could 
further conservation of the species, the United States may at times be 
able to persuade those governments to adopt conservation practices 
affecting species on the high seas, even if the U.S. Government has no 
direct power over the species or its habitat.
    Comment (22): One commenter was concerned that Recovery Potential 
Component 2 was limited to considering only existing international 
mechanisms as proposed. The commenter claimed that the limitation was 
contrary to section 8 of the ESA, which directs the Secretary, along 
with the Secretary of State, to encourage foreign countries to provide 
for the conservation of listed species and to enter into bilateral or 
multilateral agreements to provide for such conservation. The commenter 
requested that NMFS include consideration of additional potential 
agreements or other mechanisms that the United States could enter into 
and that would be effective in abating the risk to the species.
    Response: We acknowledge that ESA section 8(b) calls for the 
Secretary, through the Secretary of State to, among other things, 
encourage entering into bilateral or multilateral agreements with 
foreign countries to provide for species conservation. However, it 
would be too speculative to base recovery priorities on the possibility 
of future agreements where the countries involved along with provisions 
and processes for addressing threats have yet to be developed. The 
priority guidelines do not implicate our responsibilities under ESA 
section 8--rather, the priority guidelines assist in prioritizing 
efforts where they will be more effective at recovering species. 
Through our efforts under ESA section 8(b), should additional 
agreements be identified and entered into, then those would be 
considered under this component.
    Comment (23): Several commenters were concerned that the proposed 
language regarding how to assess climate threats might allow NMFS to 
de-prioritize species impacted by climate change unless local 
management actions can help the species. The commenters requested the 
climate threats language be clarified so that species for which climate 
change is a major threat are classified as high priority because the 
United States has the ability to decrease local as well as global 
climate change impacts through U.S. greenhouse gas mitigation and 
climate adaption actions.
    Response: Where climate change impacts are a major threat and 
actions to abate the threat are global, the priority guidelines assume 
that the global management or protective actions are not primarily 
under U.S. authority, jurisdiction, or influence to abate major threats 
through existing international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, 
and agreements). We conclude this assumption is logical because of the 
scale and complexity of addressing global climate change. We consider 
U.S. activities undertaken to address greenhouse gas mitigation and 
climate adaption to be management or protective actions that would help 
offset global climate change impacts.
    Comment (24): One commenter felt that the guidelines' language 
regarding how to assess climate threats implies that NMFS will place 
the needs of the species secondary to actions that offset climate 
change impacts. The commenter declared that given the large 
uncertainties associated with climate change, this climate priority 
factor is simply inconsistent with the better logic of focusing 
recovery on known, manageable threats where recovery actions are more 
effective.
    Response: We disagree that the guidelines' language regarding how 
to assess climate threats de-prioritizes focus of recovery on known, 
manageable threats where recovery actions may be more effective. The 
language acknowledges that the United States may have jurisdiction, 
authority, or influence to address local threats that offset climate 
impacts despite a lack of jurisdiction, authority, or influence to 
address the impacts of climate change globally. For example, the 
recovery plan for elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and staghorn coral 
(A. cervicornis) identifies reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide 
concentrations as a high priority recovery strategy (NMFS 2015). 
However, the recovery plan calls for simultaneous local threat 
reductions and mitigation strategies, including reduced chronic or 
localized mortality sources (predation, anthropogenic physical damage, 
acute sedimentation, nutrients, and contaminants). The language in the 
guidelines will allow NMFS to consider these locally known and 
manageable threats when assigning a HIGH or LOW TO MODERATE category. 
By prioritizing species for which the United States can abate local 
threats to offset global impacts of climate change, we are better able 
to advance recovery for these vulnerable species.
    Comment (25): One commenter recommended the priority guidelines be 
expanded to include a temporal component for addressing climate change 
and similar threats, such that recovery actions that may take a long 
time to bear fruit, but that nevertheless are important to species 
recovery, are given high priority regardless of whether they are 
directed at endangered or threatened species.
    Response: We disagree that a temporal component to address climate 
change and similar threats is necessary to prioritize recovery plan 
development and implementation appropriately. The priority guidelines 
allow for an assessment of major threats regardless of timing. The 
recovery potential criteria are the extent to which major threats are 
understood; whether the United States has jurisdiction, authority, or 
influence to address major threats; and the relative certainty that 
management or protective actions to address major threats will be

[[Page 18250]]

effective. Management or protective actions assessed under these 
criteria could yield results across different periods and will likely 
vary greatly depending on the action and the species. We determined 
that an assessment of the recovery potential based on the timing of a 
species' response to abatement of a particular major threat should be 
done on a case-by-case basis.

Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 
2. Identify Categories of Recovery Potential: Recovery Potential 
Component 3: Certainty That Management or Protective Actions Will Be 
Effective

    Comment (26): Several commenters were concerned that species 
requiring novel or experimental protective actions will be scored too 
low under the proposed recovery plan priorities. One commenter cited 
additional gear research for reducing entanglement-related mortality 
for North Atlantic right whales and fish passage across dams as novel 
or experimental.
    Response: In developing the criteria, we identified certain 
attributes that should place a species higher on the priority list. 
Management and protective actions that are less certain to achieve 
recovery goals are a lower priority over actions that are known to be 
effective because the costs (e.g., funding, staff, and monitoring) 
incurred may not realize the same benefits as those actions that are 
known to be effective at achieving recovery goals. However, the 
priority guidelines do not relieve NMFS of the responsibility to 
undertake recovery efforts, which may include experimental actions, for 
listed species. Rather, the priority guidelines help target limited 
resources in an efficient manner so that recovery goals can be met. 
Once a plan has been developed, the priority guidelines allow NMFS to 
prioritize research actions to fill knowledge gaps and identify 
management actions necessary to prevent extinction, thereby improving 
the certainty that a management or protective action will be effective. 
We added language to the description of the HIGH category for Recovery 
Potential Component 3 to explain that demonstrated success may include 
categories of actions that have proven effective for other species, but 
may require further testing for the targeted species (e.g., fishing 
gear modifications, methods to overcome or modify barriers to fish 
passage).
    Comment (27): One commenter recommended that NMFS add 
``economically feasible'' and ``capable of timely implementation'' to 
the criterion for effectiveness of management or protective actions. 
The commenter also recommended that NMFS add a recovery potential 
component that assigns priority based on the degree of certainty 
associated with the implementation of management or protective actions 
(e.g., existing partners willing to take action). The commenter felt 
that while technical feasibility is an important consideration, without 
a corresponding assessment of economic feasibility and timeliness and 
certainty of implementation, there is no way to fully assess the 
certainty of whether a particular action will be effective.
    Response: We considered whether to include economic feasibility 
when developing the criterion, but rejected it because the ESA calls 
for giving priority for recovery plan development to those species that 
are most likely to benefit from a plan, (which includes because they 
are in conflict with economic activity such as construction and other 
development projects), not based on broader economic considerations. In 
addition, inclusion of economic feasibility in the prioritization would 
introduce a factor not considered in the listing decision and may move 
us further away from the recovery goal to delist the species. We also 
considered inclusion of timeliness and degree of certainty of 
implementation, but rejected it because of the uncertainty in being 
able to evaluate timeliness and implementation, which are influenced by 
many factors (e.g., ready partners, funding, and opportunity).

Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 
3. Assign Recovery Priority Number for Plan Preparation and 
Implementation

    Comment (28): One commenter recommended that the assessment 
framework be simplified to capture the severity of the demographic risk 
within the context of the potential and immediacy of conservation 
measures for the species.
    Response: The priority guidelines provide a balance between 
consideration of the severity of the species' demographic risk and the 
species' potential for recovery. The assessment of recovery potential 
encompasses evaluation of whether major threats are well understood; 
abatement of major threats is under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or 
influence; and there is certainty that management and protective 
actions will be effective. As such, this assessment inherently 
considers whether conservation measures would be effective for 
recovering the species. However, we do agree that the recovery priority 
numbering scheme described in the proposed guidance can be simplified. 
To develop the proposed table of recovery priority numbers, we used a 
spreadsheet to assign numerical weights to the criteria in descending 
order of importance: (1) Demographic risk, (2) extent to which major 
threats are understood, (3) whether management or protective actions 
are under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or ability to influence the 
abatement of major threats, and (4) certainty that management or 
protective actions will be effective. The values assigned for the 
numerical weights reflected the relative order of importance, with a 
higher numerical weight assigned to the demographic risk and so forth 
in descending order based on the stated order of importance (82 FR 
24947). Summing the total of those numerical weights for each 
combination of criteria rankings resulted in a number of ties, 
depending on the combination of HIGH, MODERATE, LOW, or LOW TO MODERATE 
categories assigned to the criteria. To break the ties, we sorted the 
tied rows based on the rankings of the individual criteria in the same 
descending order of importance. For example, in the proposed 
guidelines, a HIGH demographic risk in combination with a HIGH for two 
of the three recovery potential components was assigned Recovery 
Priority Number 3; whereas a MODERATE demographic risk in combination 
with a HIGH for all three recovery potential components was assigned 
Recovery Priority Number 4. In this particular example, the criteria 
combination with a HIGH demographic risk was assigned a higher priority 
number than the combination with a MODERATE demographic risk given that 
this criterion was considered of greatest relative importance. In 
essence, we weighted the criteria twice to ensure the recovery priority 
numbers were unique for any one combination of rankings assigned to the 
criteria. Upon further evaluation, we determined that a simpler and 
more transparent prioritization scheme would be to assign the same 
priority number to rows with any combination of ranked criteria having 
the same total weights. Thus for the above example, the final 
guidelines assign Recovery Priority Number 3 to both rows (see Table 4 
herein). We concluded that this approach, which results in a more 
limited, but sufficient, range of recovery priority numbers, best 
reflects the stated order of importance of the criteria and still meets 
the objective of the revised guidelines.

[[Page 18251]]

Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities: Step 
4. Assign Recovery Action Priority

    Comment (29): One commenter felt that the priority assignments for 
recovery actions would not lead to better species conservation 
outcomes. The commenter felt that the following language in the 
proposed revision to the guidelines was indicative of key problems 
currently undermining salmon recovery: ``. . . some lower priority 
actions may be implemented before Priority 1 actions, for example 
because a partner is interested in implementing a lower priority 
action, because a Priority 1 action is not currently possible (e.g., 
there is a lack of political support for the action), or because 
implementation of the Priority 1 action may take many years'' (82 FR 
24949; May 31, 2017). The commenter cited a report prepared for NMFS in 
2011 on the implementation of the Puget Sound Chinook Recovery Plan 
(http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/publications/recovery_planning/salmon_steelhead/domains/puget_sound/chinook/implement-rpt.pdf), which found socio-political factors obstructed 
progress on several high-priority recovery actions related to habitat. 
The commenter pointed out that the report recommended several remedial 
actions to address the lack of progress, including defining the level 
of critical habitat required to ensure the recovery of Chinook salmon 
and other listed species and assessing the effectiveness of protective 
regulations. The commenter claimed that NMFS had yet to carry forth on 
these recommendations. The commenter recommended that NMFS review 
existing critiques and assess implementation of individual recovery 
plans to improve effectiveness of the recovery program.
    Response: We undergo a review of listed species every 5 years. As 
part of the review, we evaluate progress made toward achieving the 
recovery criteria identified in the recovery plans and recommend, where 
appropriate, any changes that may be necessary to improve recovery 
progress. However, ESA section 4(h) requires an overarching priority 
system to develop and implement recovery plans, and we feel the revised 
guidelines improve our ability to identify those priorities. The 
priority guidelines identify criteria for assigning priorities to 
recovery actions and specify that priority 1 actions should be 
implemented first. However, the guidelines acknowledge that lower 
recovery actions may be implemented in advance of priority number 1 
recovery actions if opportunities arise that allow successful 
implementation of such actions. We conclude that flexibility in 
applying the guidelines increases the likelihood of recovery actions 
being implemented.
    In regard to the commenter's concern about the 2011 report on the 
implementation of the Puget Sound Chinook Recovery Plan, we acknowledge 
the pace could be improved to implement recovery actions, protect 
tribal treaty rights, and honor our tribal trust responsibilities. In 
response to release of the report, NMFS initiated habitat status and 
trends monitoring to quantify the extent and condition of salmon 
habitat in Puget Sound, inform our 5-year species status reviews, set 
habitat protection priorities, and guide regional and local protection 
strategies for salmon recovery. NMFS continues to work with tribes and 
our recovery partners in the region to educate the public about the 
importance of habitat protection for salmon recovery and cultivate 
socio-political support for implementing the diverse range of habitat 
actions necessary to achieve recovery. We work closely with state and 
local agencies and recovery partners to identify and support 
implementation of priority actions and protection measures that 
expedite habitat conservation and salmon recovery. NMFS will continue 
to review and refine our staff and resource investments to support both 
recovery actions in the 2007 Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan and 
recommendations in the 2011 implementation status report.
    Comment (30): One commenter disagreed that threatened species 
should generally not be assigned priority 1 actions because, ``even 
though the timeline to extinction may be longer for threatened species, 
there are often important recovery actions that should be taken to 
prevent extinction of threatened species and that merit a Priority 1 
ranking.''
    Response: We agree there may be important recovery actions for 
threatened species, but in any priority ranking system a distinction 
must be made between the priority numbers assigned. Threatened species 
are likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable 
future, in contrast to endangered species, which are presently in 
danger of extinction. Due to the greater risk of extinction, we 
determined that recovery actions that must be taken to prevent 
extinction of endangered species with a HIGH demographic risk rank are 
a higher priority than other recovery actions. We note that the 
priority guidelines allow some flexibility in assigning recovery action 
priorities. The use of Priority 1 recovery actions in a recovery plan 
for a species with a MODERATE demographic risk rank is allowed, but 
must be done judiciously and thoughtfully (82 FR 24948).
    Comment (31): One commenter generally agreed that recovery actions 
for an endangered species should be a priority over those for a 
threatened species. However, the commenter recommended that the 
priority guidelines include flexibility that encourages early recovery 
actions be taken for threatened species when it makes sense from an 
economic or other perspective.
    Response: The guidelines provide for the flexibility needed to 
allow for timely implementation of recovery actions for threatened 
species. As stated in the guidelines, this system recognizes the need 
to work toward the recovery of all listed species, not simply those 
facing the highest magnitude of threat (82 FR 24949). In general, NMFS 
intends Priority 1 actions be taken first, but we recognize that some 
lower priority actions may be implemented before Priority 1 actions, 
for example because a partner is interested in implementing a lower 
priority action. Periodic review of, and updates to, recovery plans and 
tracking of recovery efforts are also important elements of a 
successful recovery program. As research and monitoring results become 
available, priorities for implementing recovery actions, including 
those for threatened species, may change.
    Comment (32): One commenter recommended that NMFS give a higher 
priority to Priority 0 Actions, which are all other actions that are 
not required for ESA recovery but that would advance broader goals 
beyond delisting. The commenter felt that achieving broad-sense 
conservation goals first might result in eliminating the need to take 
recovery actions identified for delisting. The commenter stated that in 
addition to ESA delisting, recovery plans should recognize other 
federal authorities, such as essential fish habitat under the Magnuson-
Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which may advance 
recovery of the species. Another commenter felt that NMFS should 
prioritize actions that provide benefits not only to particular 
species, but also to other areas such as property protection, human 
health, water supply, and economic opportunity.
    Response: We agree that recovery plans, where appropriate, may 
identify species' goals beyond delisting. We have done this for salmon 
recovery plans. For example, the Snake River Spring-

[[Page 18252]]

Summer Chinook and Steelhead recovery plan identifies actions to delist 
the species, but then outlines efforts beyond the minimum steps 
necessary to delist the species to provide for other legislative 
mandates or social, economic, and ecological values (NMFS 2017). This 
is why we have categorized and highlighted these types of actions in 
the priority guidelines. However, we assigned these actions a numerical 
value of 0 and identified them as ``other actions'' to separate them 
from those actions that are necessary to delist the species. In 
addition, section 4(f) of the ESA makes clear that the purpose of 
recovery plans is to provide for the conservation (and survival) of 
listed species. Recovery actions are the actions necessary to achieve 
the plan's goal for the conservation and survival of the species. 
Conservation is defined in the ESA as the use of all methods and 
procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered or threatened 
species to the point at which the measures provided by the ESA are no 
longer necessary (i.e., delisting). Section 4(h) of the ESA requires 
the establishment of a priority system for developing and implementing 
recovery plans under section 4(f). Thus, we have appropriately focused 
the guidelines on prioritizing recovery actions based on delisting the 
species.
    Comment (33): One commenter disagreed with the addition of Priority 
Action numbers 4 and 0, because such actions are not directly related 
to downlisting or delisting and are not needed for ESA recovery.
    Response: Recovery plans can provide an opportunity to outline 
other goals beyond their primary purpose to delist species (see our 
response to comment 32). Priority Action number 0 (other actions) is 
identified in the guidelines because actions that achieve broader goals 
beyond delisting can be important to individuals who value and enjoy 
the substantial cultural, social, and economic benefits that are 
derived from having healthy and diverse ecosystems. NMFS often works 
closely with local planning groups, particularly for recovery of 
Pacific salmonids. Generally, these local recovery planning groups want 
to participate in broad-sense conservation goals. NMFS believes that 
while the recovery plan's primary goal is to ensure the survival of and 
delist the species, it is important to achieve ESA recovery in a manner 
that is consistent with other federal legal obligations, mitigation 
goals, and other broad-sense goals that provide social, cultural, or 
economic values. Priority Action number 4 is included because ESA 
section 4(g) requires NMFS to work with affected states to monitor 
species for no less than 5 years post delisting. Actions related to 
post-delisting monitoring required under ESA section 4(g) are 
considered a component of sustaining a delisted status.
    Comment (34): One commenter felt the guidelines should prioritize 
actions that address multiple listed species. Prioritizing recovery 
actions that benefit multiple species and populations can help direct 
limited funds toward actions that will meet recovery goals more 
efficiently.
    Response: We disagree that addressing multiple listed species 
should be a criterion in assigning a recovery action priority number, 
because these assignments are based on the extent to which an action is 
necessary to delist a species, not multiple species. However, we agree 
that where a recovery action would benefit multiple species, it should 
be given a higher priority within a category as a sub-prioritization 
process. We added text to the guidelines' discussion on sub-
prioritization of recovery actions within a category to consider 
whether there may be benefits to more than one species.
    Comment (35): One commenter recommended prioritization of recovery 
actions that yield faster results and are sustainable and substantial 
relative to other actions.
    Response: We agree that within a recovery plan and recovery action 
priorities, recovery actions that yield faster results and are 
sustainable and substantial should be given priority over other 
actions. We added text to the guidelines' discussion on sub-
prioritization of recovery actions within a category to clarify this 
point.
    Comment (36): One commenter suggested that NMFS not strictly adhere 
to recovery action implementation based on priority number. The 
commenter stated that, in some cases, implementation of the highest 
priority actions might be necessary to prevent extinction and, in other 
cases, there may be lower priority actions that would achieve the 
recovery and delisting of species. These actions should not be de-
emphasized simply because the species is threatened or has a lower 
demographic risk. The commenter felt that NMFS should encourage the 
implementation of recovery actions that will achieve recovery goals 
irrespective of species status or action priority.
    Response: We agree that the goal is to implement all recovery 
actions as necessary. However, ESA section 4(h) requires the 
establishment of a priority system for developing and implementing 
recovery plans. Any priority system must identify criteria upon which 
to prioritize one action/approach over another. The objective of the 
revised priority guidelines is to implement a policy to prioritize 
limited agency resources to advance the recovery of threatened and 
endangered species (i.e., delist). We concluded that to best achieve 
recovery goals, efforts should go first to those species that are more 
immediately in danger of extinction, where the information regarding 
major threats is well-understood, and where management and protective 
actions can be implemented successfully. This prioritization approach 
does not relieve NMFS of undertaking management and protective actions 
to delist the species, but rather helps identify which species and 
actions to focus on first. The recovery action priority ranking, 
together with the species recovery priority number, will be used to set 
priorities for funding and implementation of individual recovery 
actions while recognizing the goal to recover all listed species.

Definitions

    Comment (37): One commenter felt the terms ``endangered species,'' 
``foreseeable future,'' and ``threatened species,'' which were included 
in the proposed guidelines, have broader ESA application and are either 
defined or referenced in the ESA. The commenter stated it was 
inappropriate for NMFS to modify these long-standing ESA definitions 
through the proposed guidelines. The commenter felt that NMFS should 
engage with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose the changes 
with an appropriate explanation in a separate notice and comment 
rulemaking to amend the joint regulations on listing at 50 CFR 424.02. 
Finally, the commenter recommended if the definition for foreseeable 
future is retained it should be modified to extend only as far as NMFS 
can make ``reliable predictions'' about the future.
    Response: The definitions for threatened species and endangered 
species are nearly identical to the definitions presented in section 3 
of the ESA. The additional text to clarify the distinction between 
threatened and endangered species is taken directly from NMFS guidance 
(NMFS, May 26, 2016). This clarifying text states that the Services 
interpret an endangered species to be one that is presently at risk of 
extinction and a threatened species to be one that is not presently at 
risk of extinction, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable 
future. The key statutory difference between a threatened and 
endangered species is the timing of

[[Page 18253]]

when a species is or is likely to become in danger of extinction, 
either presently (endangered) or in the foreseeable future 
(threatened). However, we agree with the commenter that definitions for 
threatened species, endangered species, and foreseeable future are not 
necessary for the purposes of the priority guidelines. Thus, in 
response to this comment, we have omitted them from the final recovery 
priority guidelines.
    Comment (38): One commenter recommended that NMFS define ``key 
population'' or explain how it differs from the population as a whole.
    Response: We disagree that ``key population'' needs to be defined 
when considering mixed population trends. However, we added clarifying 
language regarding how to apply the condition of a mixed population 
trend to determine the demographic risk category.
    Comment (39): Several commenters recommended that the term 
``depensation'' be further defined. One commenter recommended: 
``Depensation--a factor associated with demographic risks--is the 
decline in productivity in a population (e.g., smolts per spawner) as 
the abundance declines and can result from the uncertainty of finding a 
mate in a sparse population and/or increased predation rates at low 
abundance.''
    Response: We changed the definition for depensation to: ``A decline 
in productivity in a population as the abundance declines that can 
result in increased extinction risk due to factors such as the 
uncertainty that mates will be able to find one another, randomly 
skewed sex ratios, changes to predator behavior due to shifting prey 
abundance, or scaling effects of random variation among individuals.''
    Comment (40): One commenter requested clarification regarding the 
meaning of the demographic risk category of ``diversity.'' 
Specifically, is it meant to refer only to genetic diversity or is it 
intended to encompass other types of diversity, such as sex and age 
diversity or behavioral diversity within the population?
    Response: As specified in the proposed priority guidelines, the 
risk condition of concern for diversity is ``low genetic and phenotypic 
diversity severely limiting adaptive potential.'' Thus, it encompasses 
genetic diversity and the expression of those genes as influenced by 
the environment, which could include sex or age structure or behavioral 
diversity where it is linked to the underlying genetic makeup.
    Comment (41): One commenter requested additional clarification on 
the distinction between ``major'' and ``non-major'' threats and how 
major threats will be identified and considered during the recovery 
planning process.
    Response: Major threats may be identified through the extinction 
risk analysis for a listing determination or through the threats 
assessment in the recovery planning process. In making a listing 
determination, we are required to rely on the best available scientific 
and commercial data. The available data may not allow us to distinguish 
which particular threat or threats pose the greatest risk to the 
species, nor are we required to do so in order to make a listing 
determination. However, depending on the available data, we may 
qualitatively compare threats relative to their contribution to the 
species' extinction risk (NMFS 2017 Guidance on Responding to Petitions 
and Conducting Status Reviews under the Endangered Species Act). For 
prioritizing recovery plan development and implementation, we can 
generally rely on the listing assessment to identify the major threats 
to the particular species. Where the listing determination has not 
identified the major threats, we rely on an assessment of threats 
during the recovery planning process. The definition of ``major 
threat'' reflects factors we consider in determining major threats.
    Comment (42): One commenter recommended that the guidelines define 
``productivity'' since it is a key factor in assessing a species' 
demographic risk.
    Response: We added the definition of productivity from the NMFS 
2017 Guidance on Responding to Petitions and Conducting Status Reviews 
under the Endangered Species Act as follows: ``Productivity is the 
population growth rate, over the entire life cycle, and factors that 
affect population growth rate provide information on how well a 
population is `performing.' These parameters, and related trends in 
abundance, reflect conditions that drive a population's dynamics and 
thus determine its abundance. Changes in environmental conditions, 
including ecological interactions, can influence a population's 
intrinsic productivity, the environment's capacity to support a 
population, or both. Such changes may result from random environmental 
variation over a wide range of temporal scales (environmental 
stochasticity). A population growth rate that is unstable or declining 
over a long period of time indicates poor resiliency to future 
environmental change.''

Listing and Recovery Priority Guidelines

Part A: Listing, Reclassification, and Delisting Priorities

1. Listing and Reclassification from Threatened to Endangered
    In considering species to be listed or reclassified from threatened 
to endangered, two criteria will be evaluated to establish four 
priority categories as shown in Table 1.

 Table 1--Priorities for Listing or Reclassification From Threatened to
                               Endangered
------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Magnitude of threat          Immediacy of threat     Priority
------------------------------------------------------------------------
High..............................  Imminent............               1
                                    Non-imminent........               2
Low to Moderate...................  Imminent............               3
                                    Non-imminent........               4
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The first criterion, magnitude of threat, gives a higher listing 
priority to species facing the greatest threats to their continued 
existence. Species facing threats of low to moderate magnitude will be 
given a lower priority. The second criterion, immediacy of threat, 
gives a higher listing priority to species facing actual threats than 
to those species facing threats to which they are intrinsically 
vulnerable, but which are not currently active.
    2. Delisting and Reclassification from Endangered to Threatened
    NMFS currently reviews listed species at least every 5 years in 
accordance with ESA section 4(c)(2) to determine whether any listed 
species qualify for reclassification or removal from the list. When a 
species warrants reclassification or delisting, priority for developing 
regulations will be assigned according to the guidelines in Table 2. 
Two criteria will be evaluated to establish six priority categories.

[[Page 18254]]



 Table 2--Priorities for Delisting and Reclassification From Endangered
                              to Threatened
------------------------------------------------------------------------
         Management impact             Petition status       Priority
------------------------------------------------------------------------
High..............................  Petitioned Action...               1
                                    Unpetitioned Action.               2
Moderate..........................  Petitioned Action...               3
                                    Unpetitioned Action.               4
Low...............................  Petitioned Action...               5
                                    Unpetitioned Action.               6
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The priorities established in Table 2 are not intended to direct or 
mandate decisions regarding a species' reclassification or removal from 
the list. This priority system is intended only to set priorities for 
developing rules for species that no longer satisfy the listing 
criteria for their particular designation under the ESA. The decision 
regarding whether a species will be retained on the list, and in which 
category, will be based on the factors contained in ESA section 4(a)(1) 
and 50 CFR 424.11.
    The first consideration of the system outlined in Table 2 accounts 
for the management impact of a species' inclusion on the list. 
Management impact is the extent of protective actions, including 
restrictions on human activities, which must be taken to protect and 
recover a listed species. If the current listing is no longer accurate, 
continuing protective management actions could divert resources from 
species more in need of conservation and recovery efforts, or impose an 
unnecessary restriction on the public. Because the ESA mandates timely 
response to petitions, the system also considers whether NMFS has been 
petitioned to remove a species from the list or to reclassify a species 
from endangered to threatened. Higher priority will be given to 
petitioned actions than to unpetitioned actions that are classified at 
the same level of management impact.
    There is no direct relationship between the systems outlined in 
Tables 1 and 2. Although the same statutory criteria apply in making 
listing and delisting determinations, the considerations for setting 
listing and delisting priorities are quite different. Candidate species 
facing immediate critical threats will be given a higher priority for 
listing than species being considered for delisting. Likewise, a 
delisting proposal for a recovered species that would eliminate 
unwarranted utilization of limited resources may, in appropriate 
instances, take precedence over listing proposals for species not 
facing immediate, critical threats.

Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation Priorities

    The objective of Part B of these guidelines is to implement a 
policy to prioritize limited agency resources to advance the recovery 
of threatened and endangered species. The guidelines are based on the 
immediacy and severity of the species' extinction risk; extent of 
information available regarding major threats; degree to which the 
United States has jurisdiction, authority, or influence over major 
threats; and certainty that management or protective actions can be 
implemented successfully. To achieve this objective, we identified the 
following general principles for prioritizing recovery plan development 
and implementation:
     Endangered species are a higher priority than threatened 
species;
     Species with more severe demographic risks are a higher 
priority because they are at greater risk of extinction;
     Species for which major threats are well understood are a 
higher priority because in such cases effective recovery criteria and 
recovery actions are more likely to be identified for that species;
     Species for which major threats are primarily under U.S. 
authority, or the United States can influence the abatement of such 
threats through international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, 
and agreements), are a higher priority because we have ability to 
address those threats; and
     Species for which there exist possible management or 
protective actions that are not novel or experimental, are technically 
feasible, and have been successful at removing, reducing, or mitigating 
effects of major threats are a higher priority, because these actions 
are more likely to be effective at advancing recovery.
    The process to prioritize recovery planning and implementation 
consists of four steps:
    1. Identify a demographic risk rank based on the listing status and 
species' condition in terms of its productivity, spatial distribution, 
diversity, abundance, and trends (Table 3);
    2. Identify categories for three components of recovery potential;
    3. Based on results of steps 1 and 2, assign a recovery priority 
for recovery plan development and implementation (Table 4); and
    4. Assign priority rankings to actions within the recovery plan.
    This prioritization process reflects a logical sequence for 
recovery plan development and implementation for a species: First, 
identify the species' risk; second, develop the recovery plan; and 
third, implement the recovery actions on a priority basis and monitor 
and evaluate progress. As new information is obtained through the 
monitoring and evaluation process, recovery plans will be updated or 
revised as needed.

Step 1. Identify a Demographic Risk Rank

    As a first step, we categorize the severity of an ESA-listed 
species' extinction risk based on its status and on the productivity, 
spatial distribution, diversity, abundance, and, if needed, population 
trend of the species. We assess the species' demographic risk based on 
information on past threats that have contributed to the species' 
current status and the biological response of the species to present 
and future threats. The severity of a species' demographic risk, 
relative to all species under our jurisdiction, will help inform how we 
prioritize resources toward recovery plan development and 
implementation.
    We first consider each of the first four indicators in the 
Demographic Risk Category--productivity, spatial distribution, 
diversity, and abundance (Table 3; column 1)--and the associated risk 
condition described in column 2 (Table 3) separately for endangered and 
threatened species. The risk condition is met when the listed entity 
(i.e., species, subspecies, or Distinct Population Segment) is 
considered at risk for that category. For example, populations or 
subpopulations within a listed entity may vary in terms of their 
productivity. Some may be at or below depensation, while others are 
stable and healthy. In those cases, we consider which population(s) 
contribute most substantially to the overall viability of the listed 
entity. If certain populations

[[Page 18255]]

or subpopulations are at or below depensation and their loss would 
substantially increase the listed entity's extinction risk, then the 
risk condition applies.
    If an endangered species meets any of the first four risk 
conditions in column 2 (Table 3), then the species is considered a HIGH 
demographic risk, regardless of its population trend. If an endangered 
species does not meet any of the first four risk conditions in column 2 
(Table 3), then population trend information will be used to categorize 
the demographic risk--e.g., HIGH if the population trend is declining 
or unknown, or uncertain but likely declining; MODERATE if the trend is 
stable, increasing, or uncertain but likely stable or increasing, or 
MODERATE or HIGH if the trend is mixed. For a mixed population trend, a 
HIGH rating should be assigned if key populations are declining such 
that their continued decline would contribute substantially to the 
listed entity being any one or more of the following: At or below 
depensation, limited or fragmented in spatial distribution, low in 
genetic and phenotypic diversity, or declining to only one, or a few, 
small population(s) or subpopulations (see Table 3 Risk Condition); 
otherwise a MODERATE rating should be assigned for mixed population 
trends.
    If a threatened species meets any of the first four risk conditions 
in column 2 (Table 3), the species is assigned a MODERATE demographic 
risk, regardless of its population trend. If a threatened species does 
not meet any of the first four risk conditions in column 2 (Table 3), 
its population trend is used to assign the demographic risk--e.g., 
MODERATE if the trend is declining or unknown, or uncertain but likely 
decreasing; LOW if the trend is stable, or increasing, or uncertain but 
likely stable or increasing, or, LOW or MODERATE if the trend is mixed. 
For a mixed population trend, a MODERATE rating should be assigned if 
key populations are declining such that their continued decline would 
contribute substantially to the listed entity being any one or more of 
the following: At or below depensation, limited or fragmented in 
spatial distribution, low in genetic and phenotypic diversity, or 
declining to only one, or a few, small population(s) or subpopulations 
(see Table 3 Risk Condition); otherwise a LOW rating should be assigned 
for mixed population trends.
    NMFS reports ESA listed species population trends biennially to 
Congress pursuant to ESA section 4(f)(3). To ensure consistency between 
that report and setting priorities for recovery planning and 
implementation, we will apply the following general guidelines:
    Use a minimum of three or more abundance estimates for key 
population(s) over a 10-year period or, depending on taxa, all 
available data years (> 3 data points) for trend estimation.
    1. Increasing: The species (includes consideration of all 
population units that make up the species ``as-listed'') shows 
measurably higher numbers from assessment to assessment.
    2. Stable: The species shows no measurable increase or decrease 
over the period of time between assessments.
    3. Decreasing: The species shows measurably lower numbers from 
assessment to assessment.
    4. Mixed: Mixed is a designation reserved for species with multiple 
populations or portions of the range that have markedly different 
population trends, and species are considered mixed if there are at 
least 3 data points and the criteria for increasing, decreasing, or 
stable are not met.
    5. Uncertain: The species has 3 or more data points over a 10-year 
period or all available data years, but there is great uncertainty over 
data quality to estimate trends.
    a. Uncertain--likely stable or increasing: Major threats generally 
have been abated and the abundance is sufficiently high that the first 
four risk conditions in column 2 (Table 3) have not been met and no new 
major threats have been identified since listing.
    b. Uncertain--likely decreasing: Major threats remain or have been 
only partially abated or the abundance is sufficiently low that the 
first four risk conditions in column 2 (Table 3) cannot be ruled out.
    6. Unknown: The species has fewer than 3 data points over a 10-year 
period or all available data years to estimate trends.

                                                     Table 3--Severity of Species' Demographic Risk
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Demographic risk category              Risk condition                                       Demographic risk rank \1\
                                                        ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                            Endangered
                                                      Threatened
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Productivity.......................  At or below         If any one of these risk conditions is met, the
Spatial distribution...............   depensation.            ranking is HIGH. If not, use the Trend
                                     Limited/fragmented        information below to determine rank.
                                      spatial
                                      distribution;
                                      vulnerable to
                                      catastrophe..
                                     If any one of these risk conditions is met,
                                       the ranking is MODERATE. If not, use the
                                      Trend information below to determine rank.
Diversity..........................  Low genetic and
                                      phenotypic
                                      diversity
                                      severely limiting
                                      adaptive
                                      potential.
 
Abundance..........................  One, or a few,
                                      small
                                      population(s) or
                                      subpopulations.
 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Trends.............................  Decreasing trend..                        HIGH
                                                       MODERATE
                                    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Unknown trend.....                        HIGH
                                                       MODERATE
                                    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Uncertain trend,                          HIGH
                                      likely decreasing.
                                                       MODERATE
                                    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Uncertain trend,                        MODERATE
                                      likely stable or
                                      increasing.
                                                         LOW
                                    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Stable trend......                      MODERATE
                                                         LOW
                                    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Increasing trend..                      MODERATE
                                                         LOW
                                    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[[Page 18256]]

 
                                     Mixed trend.......            HIGH                  MODERATE                MODERATE                   LOW
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ For those species with recovery plans, the endangered or threatened category may be applied to a species currently not listed as such if NMFS has
  recommended a reclassification through a 5-year review or proposed rule.

Step 2. Identify Categories of Recovery Potential

    In Step 2, we evaluate a species' recovery potential. We have 
defined recovery potential to include three components: (1) Whether the 
origin of major threats is known and the species' response to those 
major threats is well understood; (2) whether the United States has 
jurisdiction, authority, or influence to implement management or 
protective actions to address major threats; and (3) the certainty that 
management or protective actions will be effective. Each of the three 
components is considered to be HIGH or LOW TO MODERATE based on the 
following descriptions:
Recovery Potential Component 1: Major Threats Well Understood
     HIGH: Natural and man-made threats that have a major 
impact on the species' ability to persist have been identified, and the 
species' responses to those threats are well understood. This also 
applies to transnational species that spend only a portion of their 
life cycle in U.S. waters, but major threats have been identified and 
the species' responses to those threats are well understood. This can 
apply also to transnational or foreign species where major threats 
occur beyond U.S. waters or the high seas, but U.S. markets that 
contribute substantially to those major threats have been identified 
and the species' responses to those threats are well understood. Data 
needs to fill knowledge gaps on threats that have an impact on the 
species' ability to persist are minimal. Identification and knowledge 
of a species' response to any one major threat would fit the species 
into this category.
     LOW TO MODERATE: Natural and man-made threats that have or 
are believed to have a major impact on the species' ability to persist 
may not have been identified and/or the species' responses to those 
major threats are not well understood. Data needs to fill knowledge 
gaps on major threats that have or are believed to have an impact on 
the species' ability to persist are substantial. If no major impacts 
exist, natural and man-made threats that have or are believed to have 
less than a major impact on the species' ability to persist also belong 
to this category.
Recovery Potential Component 2: U.S. Jurisdiction, Authority, or 
Influence Exists for Management or Protective Actions To Address Major 
Threats
     HIGH: Management or protective actions to address major 
threats are primarily under U.S. jurisdiction or authority, or the 
United States can influence the abatement of major threats through 
existing international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, and 
agreements). This also applies to transnational species that spend only 
a portion of their life cycle in U.S. waters, but major threats can be 
addressed by U.S. actions. This may also apply to transnational or 
foreign species whose major threats include U.S. markets that represent 
a substantial source of demand for the species, and the United States 
may be able to influence the abatement of such demand. Where climate 
change impacts are a major threat and necessary actions to abate the 
threat are global in nature, management or protective actions under 
U.S. authority to address a threat that would help offset the impacts 
of climate change would fall into this category.
     LOW TO MODERATE: Management or protective actions to 
address major threats are mainly beyond U.S. jurisdiction, authority, 
or ability to influence those major threats. If no major impacts exist, 
natural and man-made threats that have or are believed to have less 
than a major impact on the species' ability to persist also belong to 
this category.
Recovery Potential Component 3: Certainty That Management or Protective 
Actions Will Be Effective
     HIGH: Management or protective actions are technically 
feasible; have been successful at removing, reducing, or mitigating 
effects of major threats; and do not use novel or experimental 
techniques. These actions can include categories of actions that have 
proven effective for other species, but that may require further 
testing for the targeted species (e.g., fishing gear modifications, 
methods to overcome or modify barriers to fish passage). Where climate 
change impacts are a major threat and actions to abate the threat are 
global and are not under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or influence 
through existing international mechanisms (e.g., treaties, conventions, 
and agreements), management or protective actions under U.S. authority 
that effectively address a threat to help offset the impacts of climate 
change would fall into this category. Demonstrated success may be 
incremental on a small scale or with a few individuals. For species 
with current recovery plans, high certainty of effectiveness may be 
determined on the basis of individual recovery actions. If multiple 
recovery actions are needed to address a major threat that impedes 
recovery, not all need to fit the criterion of high certainty of 
effectiveness. If there are multiple major threats, only one major 
threat needs to meet the high level of certainty for the species to be 
assigned this category.
     LOW TO MODERATE: Management or protective actions, if 
known, may be novel or experimental, may not be technically feasible, 
and have less certainty of removing, reducing, or mitigating effects of 
major threats. If no major impacts exist, natural and man-made threats 
that have or are believed to have less than a major impact on the 
species' ability to persist also belong to this category.

Step 3. Assign Recovery Priority Number for Recovery Plan Preparation 
and Implementation

    In Step 3, we combine the results of the Demographic Risk Rank 
(Step 1) and Recovery Potential (Step 2) to assign Recovery Priority 
numbers, which will be used to prioritize resources for recovery plan 
development and implementation. We assign the greatest weight to 
demographic risk (Table 4; column 1), because species with more severe 
demographic risks are at greater risk of extinction. Although 
demographic risk is the most important factor to consider in assigning 
a Recovery Priority number, the species' recovery potential is also an 
important factor. For example, a species with a HIGH demographic risk 
and a LOW TO MODERATE recovery potential for all three components 
(major threats understood, management actions exist under U.S. 
authority or influence to abate major threats, and certainty that 
actions will be effective) will be a lower priority than a species with 
a MODERATE or LOW demographic risk and a HIGH recovery potential.
    For Recovery Potential (Table 4; Columns 2, 3, and 4), we assign 
the weights as follows:

[[Page 18257]]

    1. The greatest weight is given to when major threats are well 
understood. In order to identify effective management or protective 
actions, we need to understand the threats that impact the species' 
ability to persist;
    2. The second greatest weight is given to management or protective 
actions under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or ability to influence the 
abatement of major threats. We acknowledge that management or 
protective actions beyond U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or influence 
exist and may greatly affect recovery progress for transnational 
species that spend a portion of their life history within U.S. waters. 
However, for the purposes of prioritizing, we assign a greater weight 
to those species and recovery plans for which recovery actions are or 
are expected to be mainly under U.S. jurisdiction, authority, or 
influence, because this is where we have the greatest opportunity to 
implement recovery actions; and
    3. The lowest weight is given to the certainty that management or 
protective actions will be effective, because the likelihood of 
effectiveness depends, in part, on whether sufficient knowledge of 
threats to develop actions exists, and the United States has the 
jurisdiction, authority, or ability to influence implementation of such 
actions
    Once a recovery priority number is identified, species that are, or 
may be, in conflict with construction or other development projects or 
other forms of economic activity are assigned a `C' (Table 4; column 5) 
and are given a higher priority over those species that are not in 
conflict (Table 4; column 6).

                   Table 4--Recovery Priority for Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Recovery potential                        Recovery priority
                             -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     U.S.
                                                jurisdiction,
                                                authority, or
                                                  influence      Certainty that
    Demographic risk \a\       Major threats      exists for     management or
                                  are well      management or      protective        Conflict       No conflict
                                 understood       protective    actions will be
                                                  actions to       effective
                                                address major
                                                   threats
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
HIGH........................  High...........  High...........  High...........  1C.............               1
HIGH........................  High...........  High...........  Low to Moderate  2C.............               2
HIGH........................  High...........  Low to Moderate  High...........  3C.............               3
MODERATE....................  High...........  High...........  High...........  3C.............               3
HIGH........................  Low to Moderate  High...........  High...........  4C.............               4
HIGH........................  High...........  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  4C.............               4
MODERATE....................  High...........  High...........  Low to Moderate  4C.............               4
LOW.........................  High...........  High...........  High...........  5C.............               5
HIGH........................  Low to Moderate  High...........  Low to Moderate  5C.............               5
MODERATE....................  High...........  Low to Moderate  High...........  5C.............               5
LOW.........................  High...........  High...........  Low to Moderate  6C.............               6
HIGH........................  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  High...........  6C.............               6
MODERATE....................  Low to Moderate  High...........  High...........  6C.............               6
MODERATE....................  High...........  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  6C.............               6
LOW.........................  High...........  Low to Moderate  High...........  7C.............               7
HIGH........................  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  7C.............               7
MODERATE....................  Low to Moderate  High...........  Low to Moderate  7C.............               7
LOW.........................  Low to Moderate  High...........  High...........  8C.............               8
LOW.........................  High...........  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  8C.............               8
MODERATE....................  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  High...........  8C.............               8
LOW.........................  Low to Moderate  High...........  Low to Moderate  9C.............               9
MODERATE....................  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  9C.............               9
LOW.........................  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  High...........  10C............              10
LOW.........................  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  Low to Moderate  11C............              11
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\a\ Demographic Risk Rank was determined in Table 3. HIGH or MODERATE may be an endangered species and MODERATE
  or LOW may be a threatened species (see Table 3).

Step 4. Assign Recovery Plan Action Priority

    In Step 4, we prioritize actions contained in a recovery plan. NMFS 
will assign action priorities from 0 to 4 based on the criteria 
described below. Assigning priorities does not imply that some recovery 
actions are not important; rather it simply means that they may be 
deferred while higher priority recovery actions are being implemented. 
All actions will be assigned priorities based on the following:
    Priority 1 Recovery Actions: These are the recovery actions that 
must be taken to remove, reduce, or mitigate major threats and prevent 
extinction and often require urgent implementation. Because threatened 
species by definition are likely to become an endangered species within 
the foreseeable future and are presently not in danger of extinction, 
Priority 1 should be given primarily to recovery actions for species 
ranked as HIGH demographic risk in Table 3. The use of Priority 1 
recovery actions in a recovery plan for a species with MODERATE 
demographic risk should be done judiciously and thoughtfully. Even the 
highest priority actions within a particular plan will not be assigned 
a Priority 1 ranking unless they are actions necessary to prevent a 
species from becoming extinct or are research actions needed to fill 
knowledge gaps and identify management actions necessary to prevent 
extinction. Therefore, some plans will not have any Priority 1 actions. 
At the same time, we also need to be careful not to assign a lower 
priority than is warranted, simply because an action is but one 
component of a larger effort that must be undertaken. For instance, 
there is often confusion as to whether a research action can be 
assigned a Priority of 1 since it, in and of itself, will not prevent 
extinction. However, the outcome of a research project may provide 
critical information necessary to initiate a protective action to 
prevent extinction (e.g., applying the results of a genetics study to a 
captive propagation program for a seriously declining species) and 
would warrant Priority 1 status.

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    Priority 2 Recovery Actions: These are recovery actions to remove, 
reduce, or mitigate major threats and prevent continued population 
decline or research needed to fill knowledge gaps, but their 
implementation is less urgent than Priority 1 actions.
    Priority 3 Recovery Actions: These are all recovery actions that 
should be taken to remove, reduce, or mitigate any remaining, non-major 
threats and ensure the species can maintain an increasing or stable 
population to achieve delisting criteria, including research needed to 
fill knowledge gaps and monitoring to demonstrate achievement of 
demographic criteria.
    Priority 4 Post-Delisting Actions: These are actions that are not 
linked to downlisting or delisting criteria and are not needed for ESA 
recovery, but are needed to facilitate post-delisting monitoring under 
ESA section 4(g), such as the development of a post-delisting 
monitoring plan that provides monitoring design (e.g., sampling error 
estimates). Some of these actions may carry out post-delisting 
monitoring.
    Priority 0 Other Actions: These are actions that are not needed for 
ESA recovery or post-delisting monitoring but that would advance 
broader goals beyond delisting. Other actions include, for example, 
other legislative mandates or social, economic, and ecological values. 
These actions are given a zero priority number because they do not fall 
within the priorities for delisting the species, yet the numeric value 
allows tracking these types of actions in the NMFS Recovery Action 
Mapping Tool Database [http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/salmon_steelhead/recovery_planning_and_implementation/recovery_action_mapping_tool.html].

    Most actions will likely be Priority 2 or 3, because the majority 
of actions will likely contribute to preventing further declines of the 
species, but may not prevent extinction.
    This system recognizes the need to work toward the recovery of all 
listed species, not simply those facing the highest magnitude of 
threat. In general, NMFS intends that Priority 1 actions will be 
addressed before Priority 2 actions and Priority 2 actions before 
Priority 3 actions, etc. We also recognize, however, that some lower 
priority actions may be implemented before Priority 1 actions because, 
for example, a partner is interested in implementing a lower priority 
action, or a Priority 1 action is not currently possible (e.g., there 
is lack of political support for the action), or implementation of the 
Priority 1 action may take many years.
    For some species, such as those with complicated recovery programs 
involving multiple listed species and many actions, it may be useful to 
assign sub-priorities within these categories (e.g., Priority 2a, 
Priority 2b, Priority 2c). In assigning sub-priorities within a 
category, recovery actions that benefit multiple species and/or are 
likely to yield faster results that are sustainable should be given the 
highest priority, e.g., Priority 1a versus Priority 1c. If sub-
priorities are assigned, a description of and criteria for each sub-
priority should be provided in the recovery plan.

Process for Applying Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and 
Implementation Priorities

    The lead NMFS Region or Headquarters will identify a species' 
Recovery Priority number (Table 4) by assessing the species' 
Demographic Risk Rank (Step 1; Table 3) and Recovery Potential (Step 2) 
and apply it to the Recovery Priority (Step 3; Table 4). Where multiple 
NMFS Regions are involved, the lead Region or Headquarters office will 
coordinate with all NMFS regions involved to reach consensus on the 
Demographic Risk Rank, Recovery Potential, and Recovery Priority. 
Application of these guidelines to assess recovery priority relative to 
all species within our jurisdiction will be done on a biennial basis as 
part of the report to Congress (ESA section 4(f)(3)) and through the 5-
year review process (ESA section 4(c)(2)).
    In applying Part B: Recovery Plan Preparation and Implementation 
Priorities, the lead NMFS Region or Headquarters will prioritize 
species within their jurisdiction. Where a recovery plan covers 
multiple species, the highest ranked species should dictate the 
priority for recovery plan preparation and implementation. For example, 
if a recovery plan covers species A (assigned a recovery priority 
number 1) and species B (assigned a recovery priority number 8), 
species A would dictate the recovery plan preparation priority. 
Implementation of recovery actions within the plan would also be 
prioritized for species A where recovery actions are assigned the same 
priority numbers (e.g., recovery actions assigned priority number 1 for 
species A would be given a priority over recovery actions assigned 
priority number 1 for species B).
    We anticipate the recovery prioritization to be a dynamic process--
as more information is made available through research and monitoring 
about demographic risk, limiting factors, and threats, the species 
could move up or down the priority scale depending on whether the new 
information reveals there are management or protective actions that can 
be implemented and be effective at recovering the species.
    Recovery Action Priority Numbers will be assigned to each recovery 
action when the recovery plan is developed, revised, or updated. These 
revised guidelines will apply only to plans that are developed, 
revised, or updated after the finalization of these guidelines. As the 
results of research or monitoring of recovery implementation become 
available, the Recovery Action Priority Numbers can be modified through 
plan updates or revisions to address changing priorities based on this 
new information.

Part C: Recovery Plans

    NMFS believes that periodic review of and updates to recovery plans 
and tracking recovery efforts are important elements of a successful 
recovery program. As we develop recovery plans for each species, 
specific recovery actions are identified and prioritized according to 
the criteria discussed above. This prioritization process recognizes 
that recovery plans should be viewed as living documents, and that 
research and monitoring, planning, and implementation describe a cycle 
of adaptive implementation of recovery actions for ESA-listed species. 
Even after recovery planning is complete and the plan is being 
implemented, key information gaps and uncertainties should constantly 
be evaluated. Research and monitoring results should inform recovery 
plan changes and refine strategies to implement recovery actions. The 
recovery action priority ranking, together with the species recovery 
priority, will be used to set priorities for funding and implementation 
of individual recovery actions. Although the guidelines provide a 
framework for prioritizing the timing of recovery plan development and 
implementation, NMFS will work closely with partners to develop 
recovery plans and implement recovery actions for all species, unless a 
recovery plan would not promote the conservation of the species.

Definitions

    For purposes of this guidance only, the below terms have the 
following meanings:
    Demographic Risk: Characteristics of a population (productivity, 
spatial distribution, diversity, abundance, and population trend) that 
are indicators of the species' ability to persist.

[[Page 18259]]

    Depensation: A decline in productivity in a population as the 
abundance declines that can result in increased extinction risk due to 
factors such as the uncertainty that mates will be able to find one 
another, randomly skewed sex ratios, changes in predator behavior to 
shifting prey abundance, or scaling effects of random variation among 
individuals.
    Major Threat: A threat whose scope, immediacy, and intensity 
results in a response by the species that prevents the improvement of 
its status to the point that such species may not be reclassified or 
delisted based on the factors set out in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA. 
Conversely, non-major threats are those threats whose scope, immediacy, 
and intensity results in a response by the species but singularly or 
cumulatively do not prevent the improvement of its status to the point 
that such species may be reclassified or delisted based on the factors 
set out in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA.
    Productivity: The population growth rate, over the entire life 
cycle. Factors that affect population growth rate provide information 
on how well a population is ``performing.'' These parameters, and 
related trends in abundance, reflect conditions that drive a 
population's dynamics and thus determine its abundance. Changes in 
environmental conditions, including ecological interactions, can 
influence a population's intrinsic productivity, the environment's 
capacity to support a population, or both. Such changes may result from 
random environmental variation over a wide range of temporal scales 
(environmental stochasticity). A population growth rate that is 
unstable or declining over a long period of time indicates poor 
resiliency to future environmental change.
    Technically Feasible: The scientific, engineering, and operational 
aspects of management or protective actions that are capable of being 
implemented.

References

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available upon 
request (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Withdrawal From the 1994 Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery 
Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act

    With this notice, we also are announcing NMFS' withdrawal from the 
1994 Interagency Cooperative Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and 
Implementation Under the Endangered Species Act. On July 1, 1994, NMFS 
and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published notice of six joint 
policy statements on various issues involving implementation of the ESA 
(59 FR 34270). One of these, the Interagency Cooperative Policy on 
Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the Endangered 
Species Act, established the policy that NMFS and FWS would develop 
recovery plans within 2\1/2\ years after final listing. That timeframe 
was expanded upon in NMFS' Interim Endangered and Threatened Species 
Recovery Planning Guidance (Interim Recovery Planning Guidance) 
(updated version 1.4, July 2018; available at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/endangered-species-conservation/endangered-species-act-guidance-policies-and-regulations), which was 
adopted by FWS on August 26, 2010. The Interim Recovery Planning 
Guidance restated the 2\1/2\ year deadline to complete final recovery 
plans and added a deadline of 1\1/2\ years for completion of draft 
recovery plans.
    As explained in the revised recovery priority guidelines announced 
in this notice, we must prioritize limited agency resources to advance 
the recovery of threatened and endangered species. These limited agency 
resources have meant that it is not always possible to complete 
recovery plans within 2\1/2\ years after final listing of the species 
as endangered or threatened. NMFS will complete recovery plans within a 
reasonable amount of time, but must do so on a priority basis within 
the limits of available resources, which may require more than 2\1/2\ 
years.
    Therefore NMFS is withdrawing from the Interagency Cooperative 
Policy on Recovery Plan Participation and Implementation Under the 
Endangered Species Act. The remainder of that policy has been expanded 
and updated for the most part through the Interim Recovery Planning 
Guidance, and NMFS will continue to follow that guidance. However, 
where section 1.5.1 of the Interim Recovery Planning Guidance also 
contains deadlines for completing draft and final recovery plans, we 
will no longer follow that portion of the guidance. The remainder of 
the Interim Recovery Planning Guidance continues to be applicable to 
our recovery planning and implementation efforts.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.

    Dated: April 24, 2019.
Samuel D. Rauch, III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2019-08656 Filed 4-29-19; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P