Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of Howellia aquatilis (Water Howellia) From the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants, 53380-53397 [2019-21645]

Download as PDF 53380 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules § 1250.2 Railroad performance data elements. (a) * * * (6) The weekly average of loaded and empty cars, operating in normal movement and billed to an origin or destination, which have not moved in 48 hours or more, sorted by service type (intermodal, grain, coal, crude oil, automotive, ethanol, fertilizer (the following Standard Transportation Commodity Codes (STCCs): 2812534, 2818142, 2818146, 2818170, 2818426, 2819173, 2819454, 2819815, 2871235, 2871236, 2871238, 2871244, 2871313, 2871315, and 2871451), chemicals or allied products (all remaining STCC 28), and all other). * * * * * Note: The following appendix will not appear in the Code of Federal Regulations. Appendix Information Collection Title: United States Rail Service Issues— Performance Data Reporting. OMB Control Number: 2140–0033. Form Number: None. Type of Review: Revision of a currently approved collection. Summary: As part of its continuing effort to reduce paperwork burdens, and as required by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, 44 U.S.C. 3501–3521, the Surface Transportation Board (Board) gives notice that it is requesting from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval for the revision of the currently approved information collection, United States Rail Service Issues-Performance Data Reporting, OMB Control No. 2140–0033. The requested revision to the currently approved collection is necessitated by this notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), which would require respondents to include chemical and plastics (STCC 28) traffic as a distinct reporting category for cars-held metric at 49 CFR 1250.2(a)(6). All other information collected by the Board in the currently approved collection is without change from its approval (currently expiring on June 30, 2020). Respondents: Class I railroads (on behalf of themselves and the Chicago Transportation Coordination Office (‘‘CTCO’’)). Number of Respondents: Seven. Estimated Time per Response: The proposed rules seek three related responses, as indicated in the table below. TABLE—ESTIMATED TIME PER RESPONSE Estimated time per response (hours) Type of responses Weekly .................................. Quarterly ............................... On occasion .......................... Frequency: The frequencies of the three related collections sought under the proposed rules are set forth in the table below. TABLE—FREQUENCY OF RESPONSES Frequency of responses (year) Type of responses Weekly .................................. Quarterly ............................... On occasion .......................... 52 4 2 Total Burden Hours (annually including all respondents): The recurring burden hours are estimated to be no more than 591 hours per year, as derived in the table below. In addition, there are some one-time, start-up costs of approximately 45 hours for each respondent that must be added as a one-time burden due to the programming changes to add the additional reporting category. To avoid inflating the estimated total annual hourly burden, the 45-hour start-up burden has been divided by three and spread over the three-year approval period. Thus, the total annual burden hours for each of the three years are estimated at no more than 696 hours per year. 1.5 1.5 1.5 TABLE—TOTAL BURDEN HOURS [per year] Type of responses Number of respondents Frequency of responses (year) Estimated time per response Total yearly burden hours Weekly ............................................................................... Quarterly ............................................................................ On occasion ...................................................................... One-Time ........................................................................... 7 7 1 7 1.5 hours ...................................... 1.5 hours ...................................... 1.5 hours ...................................... 15 hours (45 hours/3 years) ........ 52 4 2 1 546 42 3 105 Total ........................................................................... ........................ ...................................................... ........................ 696 Total ‘‘Non-hour Burden’’ Cost: There are no other costs identified because filings are submitted electronically to the Board. Needs and Uses: The information collection allows the Board to better understand current service issues and potentially to identify and resolve possible future regional and national service disruptions more quickly. Transparency would also benefit rail shippers and stakeholders, by allowing them to better plan operations and make informed business decisions based on publicly available data, and their own analysis of performance trends over time. As described in more detail above in the NPRM, the Board is amending the rules that apply to this collection to add chemical and plastics (STCC 28, except fertilizer) traffic as a distinct reporting category. The reporting of this traffic as a stand-along category of cars will allow the VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 Board to monitor the fluidity of these commodities and give chemical and plastics shippers the ability to identify and mitigate service issues more readily. The collection by the Board of this information, and the agency’s use of this information, enables the Board to meet its statutory duties. [FR Doc. 2019–21627 Filed 10–4–19; 8:45 am] Fish and Wildlife Service 50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2018–0045; FXES11130600000C6–178–FF06E11000] RIN 1018–BC03 BILLING CODE 4915–01–P PO 00000 DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of Howellia aquatilis (Water Howellia) From the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Proposed rule. AGENCY: Frm 00035 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to remove the plant Howellia aquatilis (water howellia) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. The best available scientific and commercial data indicate that threats to water howellia identified at the time of listing in 1994 are not as significant as originally anticipated and are being adequately managed. Therefore, the species no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). This determination is based on a thorough review of all available information, which indicates that this species’ population and distribution are much greater than was known at the time of listing in 1994 and that threats to this species have been sufficiently minimized. We are seeking information and comments from the public regarding this proposed rule and the draft post-delisting monitoring (PDM) plan for water howellia. DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before December 6, 2019. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below), must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT by November 21, 2019. ADDRESSES: Written comments: You may submit written comments by one of the following methods: • Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http:// www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2018– 0045, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on the blue ‘‘Comment Now!’’ box. If your comments will fit in the provided comment box, please use this feature of http://www.regulations.gov, as it is most compatible with our comment review procedures. If you attach your comments as a separate document, our preferred file format is Microsoft Word. If you attach multiple comments (such as form letters), our preferred formation is a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel. • By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R6–ES–2018– 0045, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 53381 MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803. We request that you submit written comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on http:// www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see Public Comments, below, for more details). Document availability: This proposed rule and supporting documents, including a copy of the draft postdelisting monitoring plan referenced throughout this document, are available on http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2018–0045. In addition, the supporting file for this proposed rule will be available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the Montana Ecological Services Field Office, 585 Shepard Way, Suite 1, Helena, MT 59601; telephone: 406–449– 5225. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jodi Bush, Office Supervisor, telephone: 406–449–5225. Direct all questions or requests for additional information to: WATER HOWELLIA QUESTIONS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Ecological Services Field Office, 585 Shepard Way, Suite 1, Helena, MT 59601. Individuals who are hearingimpaired or speech-impaired may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877– 8337 for TTY assistance. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: ‘‘delist’’ this species) because we have determined that it is not likely to become an endangered species now or within the foreseeable future. Delisting a species can only be completed by issuing a rule. The basis for our action. Under the Act, we can determine that a species is an endangered or threatened species based on any one or more of the following five factors or the cumulative effects thereof: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Based on an assessment of the best available information regarding the status of and threats to water howellia, we have determined that the species no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the Act. We will seek peer review. We will seek comments from independent specialists to ensure that our determination is based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We will invite these peer reviewers to comment on this delisting proposal. Because we will consider all comments and information we receive during the comment period, our final determination may differ from this proposal. Executive Summary Public Comments Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, if a species is determined to no longer be an endangered or threatened species, we may reclassify the species or remove it from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants due to recovery. A species is an ‘‘endangered species’’ for purposes of the Act if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range and is a ‘‘threatened species’’ if it is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Act does not define the term ‘‘foreseeable future.’’ However, we consider ‘‘foreseeable future’’ as that period of time within which a reliable prediction can be reasonably relied upon in making a determination about the future conservation status of a species. Water howellia is listed as threatened. We are proposing to remove this species from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants (i.e., We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies, Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. Comments should be as specific as possible. We particularly seek comments concerning: (1) Reasons why we should or should not remove water howellia from the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants; (2) New biological or other relevant data concerning any threat (or lack thereof) to this species (for example, those associated with climate change); (3) New information on any efforts by the State or other entities to protect or otherwise conserve the species; PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Information Requested E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 53382 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules (4) New information concerning the range, distribution, and population size or trends of this species; (5) New information on the current or planned activities in the habitat or range that may negatively affect or benefit the species; and (6) Information pertaining to the requirements for post-delisting monitoring of water howellia. Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to verify any scientific or commercial information you include. Please note that submissions merely stating support for or opposition to the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, may not meet the standard of information required by section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), which directs that determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or threatened species must be made ‘‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.’’ Prior to issuing a final determination on this proposed action, we will take into consideration all comments and any additional information we receive. Such information may lead to a final rule that differs from this proposal. All comments and information we collect, including commenters’ names and addresses, if provided to us, will become part of the supporting record. You may submit your comments and materials concerning the proposed rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. If you submit your comments electronically, you must submit your comments on http:// www.regulations.gov before 11:59 p.m. (Eastern Time) on the date specified in DATES. We will not consider handdelivered comments that we do not receive, or mailed comments that are not postmarked, by the date specified in DATES. If you submit information via http:// www.regulations.gov, your entire submission—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the website. Please note that comments posted on this website are not immediately viewable. When you submit a comment, the system receives it immediately. However, the comment will not be publicly viewable until we post it, which might not occur until several days after submission. If you mail or hand-deliver hardcopy comments that include personal identifying information, you may request at the top of your document that we withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 guarantee that we will be able to do so. To ensure that the electronic docket for this rulemaking is complete and all comments we receive are publicly available, we will post all hardcopy submissions on http:// www.regulations.gov. Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule and the draft post-delisting monitoring (PDM) plan, will be available for public inspection on http:// www.regulations.gov, or by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Public Hearings Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for a public hearing on this proposal, if requested. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, by the date specified above in DATES. You must send your request to the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. We will schedule at least one public hearing on this proposal if any are requested, and announce the dates, times, and places of those hearings, as well as how to obtain reasonable accommodation, in the Federal Register and local newspapers at least 15 days before the hearing. Peer Review In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994, (59 FR 34270) and our August 22, 2016, memorandum updating and clarifying the role of peer review under the Act, we will seek the expert opinion of at least three appropriate and independent specialists regarding the scientific data and interpretations contained in this proposed rule. These reviews will be completed during the public comment period; we will send copies of this proposed rule to the peer reviewers immediately following publication in the Federal Register. Peer reviewer comments will be available, along with other public comments, in the docket for this proposed rule. The purpose of such review is to ensure that our decisions are based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analysis. Accordingly, our final decision may differ from this proposal. Previous Federal Actions On December 15, 1980, we published a notice of review in the Federal Register (45 FR 82480) issuing a list of plant taxa being considered for listing as endangered or threatened. Water PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 howellia was included on this list as a Category 2 species. Category 2 species were taxa for which information in possession of the Service at that time indicated the probable appropriateness of listing as endangered or threatened but for which sufficient information was not available to biologically support a proposed rule. On February 21, 1990, we published a notice of review in the Federal Register (55 FR 6184) reclassifying water howellia from a Category 2 species to a Category 1 species. Category 1 species were taxa for which the Service currently had on file enough substantial information on biological vulnerability and threat(s) to support proposed rules to list them as endangered or threatened species. Because water howellia is the only species within the genera Howellia, we assigned a Category 1 listing priority to this plant. On October 30, 1991, the Service was petitioned to list water howellia as an endangered species. On April 16, 1993, we published in the Federal Register a proposed rule (58 FR 19795) to list water howellia as threatened. This proposed rule also served the Service’s finding for the October 30, 1991, petition. On July 14, 1994, we published in the Federal Register a final rule (59 FR 35860) listing water howellia as a threatened species. The final rule included a determination that the designation of critical habitat for water howellia was not prudent. In 1996, we drafted a recovery plan for the species (USFWS 1996, entire). To date, this plan has not been finalized. On April 18, 2007, we published a notice in the Federal Register (72 FR 19549) announcing the initiation of a 5year review for water howellia. The resulting recommendation from this 5year review (USFWS 2013, entire) was to take the necessary steps to remove water howellia from the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants (i.e., to ‘‘delist’’ the species). Background Species Information It is our intent to discuss only those topics directly related to delisting water howellia in this proposed rule. For more information on the description, biology, ecology, and habitat of water howellia, please refer to the final listing rule published in the Federal Register on July 14, 1994 (59 FR 35860); the most recent 5-year review for water howellia completed in August of 2013 (USFWS 2013, entire); and the draft recovery plan for water howellia, completed in E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules September 1996 (USFWS 1996, entire). These documents will be available as supporting materials on http:// www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2018–0045. Species Description and Habitat Information Water howellia was first collected in 1879, along the Columbia River in Multnomah County, Oregon (Gray 1880, entire), and is native to the northwestern United States. The taxonomy of water howellia as a full species in a monotypic genus is widely accepted as valid by the scientific community (The Plant List 2013, unpaginated; ITIS 2017). Water howellia is an annual, aquatic herb in the bellflower family (Campanulaceae). The entire plant is smooth, possessing no hairs or projections. The stems are fragile, submerged and floating, reaching up to 39 inches (in.) (100 centimeters (cm)) in length. Stems branch several inches from the base, and each branch extends to the water surface. The numerous leaves are narrow and range from 1–2 in. (25–50 millimeters (mm)) long. Water howellia produce two types of flowers: Cleistogamous (closed) and chasmogamous (showy, open for pollination). Small cleistogamous flowers are produced along the stem below the water surface and are selffertilizing. Chasmogamous flowers are produced on the water surface and commonly self-pollinate (Lesica et al. 1988, p. 276; Shelly and Moseley 1988, pp. 5–6). Seed germination occurs in the fall, only when ponds dry and seeds are exposed to air (Lesica 1990). Water howellia seedlings overwinter in soil and resume growth in spring in northern climates (Mincemoyer 2005, p. 3) or begin growing after fall germination in southern climates (e.g., California) (Johnson 2013, pers. comm.). Spring growth in California and lowelevation occurrences in western Washington typically commences in early April, and in eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana by early May. Range wide, emergent (chasmogamous) flowers bloom soon after the stems reach the water surface and are typically present from May through July. Seed dispersal starts in June from submerged (cleistogamous) flowers and extends until late summer from emergent flowers (Shelly and Moseley 1988, p. 5). Long-term viability of water howellia seeds is uncertain. Decreased germination rates have been documented for seeds residing in the soil longer than 8 months (Lesica 1992, pp. 415–416). However, monitoring data VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 and observations from Montana (U.S. Forest Service (USFS) 2002, pp. 6–7; USFWS 1996, pp. 17–18) and Washington (Gilbert 2008, pers. comm.) indicate the presence of water howellia occurrences after 2 consecutive years with no plant observations, suggesting a significant number of seeds may remain viable for at least 3 years. This lifehistory strategy likely provides a buffer against unfavorable growing conditions in consecutive years. Water howellia plants typically inhabit small, vernal freshwater wetlands and ponds with an annual cycle of filling with water in spring and drying up in summer or autumn (USFWS 1996, p. 14). These habitats can be glacial potholes or depressions (Shapley and Lesica 1997, p. 8; U.S. Department of Defense (USDOD) 2017a, p. 1) or river oxbows (Lesica 1997, p. 366) in Montana and western Washington, riverine meander scars (Idaho NHP 2017, p. 1; Wiechmann 2014a, p. 3) in Idaho, glacial-flood remnant wetlands (Robison 2007, p. 8) in eastern Washington, or landslide depressions (Johnson 2013, pers. comm.) in California, but are all ephemeral (transitory) to some degree. Depending on annual patterns of temperature and precipitation, the drying of the ponds may be complete or partial by autumn; these sites are usually shallow and less than 3 feet (ft) (1 meter (m)) in depth. Some ponds supporting water howellia are dependent on complex ground and surface water interactions. Snow melt runoff is important in maintaining suitable conditions in the spring, while localized groundwater flow mitigates water loss from evaporation and plant transpiration later in the summer (Reeves and Woessner 2004, pp. 7–9). Water howellia occupies habitats across its range that vary in the extent of canopy cover, suggesting some flexibility in light tolerance. Many water howellia occurrences are surrounded or nearly surrounded, by forested vegetation (Mincemoyer 2005, p. 7), with numerous observations reporting water howellia occupying shaded portions of ponds and wetlands (Isle 1997, p. 32; McCarten et al. 1998, p. 4). Conversely, on the Joint Base LewisMcChord (Lewis-McChord) military base in Washington, occupied ponds were historically surrounded by prairie vegetation and, as a result of years of fire suppression, are now surrounded by forest (Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.). Currently, water howellia is occurring in portions of ponds that receive the most light and least shade (Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.). In Montana’s Swan Valley, water howellia was present in 78 PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 53383 percent of sites with prior disturbance (roads, fire, grazing, and vegetation treatments) of vegetation surrounding the ponds (Pipp 2017, p. 6), indicating some plasticity to disturbance and varying light levels. Range, Distribution, Abundance, and Trends of Water Howellia Water howellia is endemic to the Pacific Northwest with historical occurrences identified in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana (Shelly and Moseley 1988, pp. 6, 9). Currently, the species still occurs in all five States representing six distinct geographic areas. The species’ historical distribution—before European settlement and modern development in the Pacific Northwest—is unknown. However, the geographic area historically occupied by the species was likely small, due to the species’ requirement of ephemeral wetlands with specific filling and drying regimes. Since listing in 1994, new occurrences of water howellia have been documented in all five States, generally in areas known historically to support the species. Thus, locations of extant occurrences are generally representative of the areas where the species was thought to historically occur. At the time of Federal listing (1994), 107 water howellia occurrences (defined as known populations) were known across the species’ range (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). In 2017, a minimum of 307 occurrences were documented. The majority of extant occurrences (91 percent) are within three metapopulations occupying distinct, geographic areas in Montana’s Swan Valley (Lake and Missoula Counties); Department of Defense property at Lewis-McChord, Pierce County in western Washington; and Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge (Turnbull Refuge), Spokane County in northeastern Washington (Figure 1). Regional occurrences of plants demonstrate metapopulation structure when regional persistence is governed by the processes of patch colonization, extirpation (local extinction), and recolonization (Freckleton and Watkinson 2002, p. 419). These metapopulations are important to the viability of the species as long-term persistence is expected of metapopulations compared to small, isolated occurrences that generally experience short persistence (Lesica 1992, p. 420). Consequently, identification of these metapopulations is important for directing conservation efforts toward the regional availability of suitable habitat (Freckleton and Watkinson 2002, p. 432). Currently, 258 E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 53384 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules of the 307 (84 percent) reported water howellia occurrences are on lands administered by the Federal Government. There are 37 reported occurrences of water howellia on private property; however, little is known about them, as limited monitoring of these occurrences has taken place over the years. BILLING CODE 4333–15–P Legend BILLING CODE 4333–15–C Trends for water howellia are difficult to determine. Substantial numbers of new occurrences have been discovered since listing in 1994, and, most recently, several occurrences have been documented in Oregon, where the species was thought to be extirpated. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 However, this may not necessarily indicate a positive population trend. Rather, this could indicate increased efficiency at finding new occurrences. Consistent, standardized monitoring has not occurred across the range of the species, making it difficult to document PO 00000 Frm 00039 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 trends. Additionally, an occurrence is broadly defined as ‘‘a known population.’’ Abundance of individual water howellia plants within occurrences fluctuates widely. This is due, in part, to environmental conditions of the preceding autumn, E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 EP07OC19.000</GPH> Figure 1. Historical and extant occurrences of water howellia across the species' known range. Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules which affect seed germination rates. Nevertheless, based on the discovery of many new occurrences and few recent extirpations of existing occurrences, population trends for the species appear to be stable. Genetic variation among water howellia occurrences is low. Occurrences in California and Montana are genetically similar; however, occurrences in Idaho and Washington are more distantly related (Schierenbeck and Phipps 2010, p. 5). These data suggest that gene flow is occurring between occurrences separated by large geographic distances, albeit at a relatively low rate. A correlation between migratory waterfowl routes with either genetic similarity or distance indicates that waterfowl may be transporting seed or plant material between water howellia population areas (Schierenbeck and Phipps 2010, pp. 6–7). A more robust sampling and genetic analysis of water howellia occurrences across the species’ range would be necessary to support or refute this hypothesis. Conservation Efforts Here, we provide a summary of progress made on the draft recovery criteria for water howellia. More detailed information related to conservation efforts can be found below under Summary of Factors Affecting the Species. A recovery plan for water howellia was drafted in 1996; to date, the plan has not been finalized (USFWS 1996, entire). The draft plan includes objective, measureable criteria for delisting; however, the plan is dated and may no longer reflect the best scientific information available for water howellia. Since 1994, monitoring has resulted in additional occurrences being documented in all five States, including Oregon, where the species was thought to be extirpated. Additionally, significant exchanges of land have occurred in Montana, resulting in ponds occupied by water 53385 howellia being transferred from private ownership to State or Federal ownership, which provides greater protections. Lastly, research specific to water howellia has increased our understanding of the biology and ecology of the species. Below are the recovery criteria as described in the draft recovery plan and the progress made to date in implementing each. 1. Recovery criterion: Management practices, in accordance with habitat management plans, have reduced and/or controlled anthropogenic threats, thereby maintaining the species and its habitat integrity throughout the currently known range on public lands in five geographic areas for 10 years after the effective date of the final recovery plan (when finalized). Monitoring will demonstrate the effectiveness of management plans. Management plans will be in place for, at a minimum, the occurrences listed in the following table: TABLE OF FORMALIZED MANAGEMENT PLANS PER GEOGRAPHIC AREA Minimum number of occurrences identified in draft recovery plan Geographic area Montana ........................................................................................................................... Spokane County, Washington ......................................................................................... Pierce County, Washington ............................................................................................. Clark County, Washington ............................................................................................... Mendocino County, California ......................................................................................... Progress: Despite the recovery plan not being finalized, management plans are in place on public lands for the minimum number of occurrences identified in the table above. Monitoring indicates management plans have been effective at maintaining the minimum number of occurrences by reducing or eliminating anthropogenic threats associated with land management activities (e.g., timber harvest, road construction, and maintenance) and other threats (e.g., invasive species). Prior to formalized management plans, some conservation efforts were occurring on Federal, State, and some private land. In addition, survey efforts have documented substantially more occurrences of water howellia range wide than were known at the time of listing (Mincemoyer 2005, pp. 4–5; Frymire 2017, pers. comm.; Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.; Johnson 2017, pers. comm.; Lichthardt and Pekas 2017, p. 1; ORBIC 2017, unpaginated; Rule 2017, pers. comm.). 2. Recovery criterion: Foster or promote the conservation of occurrences VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 on lands not addressed by agency management plans. Specifically, this recovery criterion recommends longterm conservation measures for the occurrence in Latah County, Idaho. Progress: Long-term conservation measures for water howellia have been established through land transfers, conservation easements, and management plans on some private lands. In Montana’s Swan Valley, largescale land transfers (67,000 acres (ac) (27,000 hectares (ha)) for the benefit of many species have occurred, and land supporting known water howellia occurrences have been transferred from private to Federal ownership. These occurrences are now protected under Federal agency management plans and conservation strategies. Additionally, one occurrence located on private land in Latah County, Idaho, is protected under a conservation agreement, held in perpetuity by the Palouse Land Trust. In the 5-year review (USFWS 2013, p. 6), it was noted that, in addition to the conservation agreement, a management plan for this occurrence was being PO 00000 Frm 00040 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Current number of occurrences covered by management plans 67 33 5 4 5 191 37 19 4 7 Years management plans in place 20 10 14 7 22 developed, but to date that has not yet been completed (Trujillo 2017, pers. comm.). The Service is unaware of any information regarding additional efforts to protect water howellia occurrences on private land in other parts of the species’ range. 3. Recovery criterion: A post-delisting strategy for monitoring the species’ population dynamics is in place. Progress: We have developed a draft post-delisting monitoring plan in cooperation with the States and Federal land management partners. The draft post-delisting monitoring plan is available for public review on http:// www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2018–0045. Additionally, the 5-year review recommended development of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the USFS and USDOD to ensure the continuation of existing conservation measures currently benefitting water howellia. Although a formal MOU has not been developed, both agencies have specific conservation strategies in place (for specific E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 53386 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules conservation strategies, see discussion of land management effects under A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range, below). Summary of Factors Affecting the Species Section 4 of the Act and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for listing species, reclassifying species, or removing species from listed status. ‘‘Species’’ is defined by the Act as including any species or subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct vertebrate population segment of fish or wildlife that interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A species may be determined to be an endangered or threatened species due to one or more of the five factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. We must consider these same five factors in delisting a species. For species that are already listed as endangered or threatened species, this analysis of threats is an evaluation of both the threats currently facing the species and the threats that are reasonably likely to affect the species in the foreseeable future following the removal of the Act’s protections. We may delist a species according to 50 CFR 424.11(d) if the best available scientific and commercial data indicate that the species is neither endangered nor threatened for the following reasons: (1) The species is extinct; (2) the species has recovered and is no longer endangered or threatened; and/or (3) the original scientific data used at the time the species was classified were in error. Water howellia is currently listed as threatened. Section 3(20) of the Act defines a ‘‘threatened species’’ as ‘‘any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range’’ (16 U.S.C. 1532(20)). We consider ‘‘foreseeable future’’ to be that period of time within which a reliable prediction can be reasonably relied upon in making a determination about the future conservation status of a species, as described on January 16, 2009, Solicitor’s opinion, and number M– 37021 (DOI 2009, entire). We consider 30 years to be a reasonable period of time within which reliable predictions VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 can be made for the species. This time period includes multiple generations of water howellia. Additionally, various global climate models and emission scenarios provide consistent predictions within that timeframe (IPCC 2014, p. 11). We consider 30 years a relatively conservative timeframe in view of the long-term protections in place for 84 percent of the species’ occupied habitat occurring on Federal land. A recovered species has had threats removed or reduced to the point that it no longer meets the Act’s definition of endangered or threatened. A species is ‘‘endangered’’ for purposes of the Act if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range and is ‘‘threatened’’ if it is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. For the purposes of this analysis, we will evaluate whether or not the currently listed species, water howellia, should continue to be listed as threatened, based on the best scientific and commercial information available. In considering what factors might constitute threats, we must look beyond the exposure of the species to a particular factor to evaluate whether the species may respond to the factor in a way that causes actual impacts to the species. If there is exposure to a factor and the species responds negatively, the factor may be a threat, and during the five-factor threats analysis, we will attempt to determine the significance of the threat. The threat is significant if it drives or contributes to the risk of extinction of the species such that the species warrants listing as endangered or threatened as those terms are defined by the Act. However, the identification of factors that could affect a species negatively may not be sufficient to justify a finding that the species warrants listing or should remain listed. The information must include evidence sufficient to suggest that the potential threat is likely to materialize and that it has the capacity (sufficient magnitude and extent) to affect the species’ status such that it meets the definition of endangered or threatened under the Act. This determination does not necessarily require empirical proof of a threat. The combination of exposure and some corroborating evidence of how the species is likely impacted could suffice. The mere identification of factors that could impact a species negatively is not sufficient to compel a finding that a listing action is appropriate; we require evidence that these factors are operative threats that act on the species to the point that the species meets the definition of an endangered species or PO 00000 Frm 00041 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 threatened species under the Act. The following analysis examines the five factors currently affecting water howellia, or that are likely to affect it within the foreseeable future. A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range Factor A requires the Service to consider present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of water howellia habitat or range. The following potential threats were identified for this species at the time of listing: (1) Invasive species, (2) land management (primarily timber harvest and road building), (3) trampling by domestic livestock, (4) direct habitat loss from urbanization or dam construction, and (5) the narrow ecological requirements of the species (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). In the analysis that follows, we also considered climate change in the context of narrow ecological requirements. An assessment of threats (1) through (4) follows; the narrow ecological requirements of the species and climate change are discussed under Factor E, below. Invasive Species In the 1994 final listing rule (59 FR 35860, July 14, 1994), invasive plant species were identified as a threat to water howellia in habitats where they overlap. Invasive species, such as reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) and sweet flag (Acorus calamus), were identified to have the capacity to outcompete water howellia, presumably for nutrients and space, effectively excluding water howellia from historically occupied water bodies (Lesica 1997, p. 367). P. arundinacea was specifically identified as having the potential to extirpate water howellia occurrences (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994), and as a result, we focus our analysis on this species. We are not aware of any information indicating potentially significant negative impacts to water howellia from any other invasive species. P. arundinacea is present in water howellia habitat in all States, except California (Johnson 2017, per. comm.), but the extent of invasion varies by site (Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.; Rule 2017, pers. comm.; Shelly 2017, pers. comm.; Lesica 1997, pp. 367–368). Abundance of P. arundinacea in ponds occupied by water howellia on Lewis-McChord and the Turnbull Refuge has fluctuated through time, with no definitive longterm trend, based on personal observation and long-term monitoring (Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.; Rule 2017, E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules pers. comm.). In Montana, P. arundinacea exhibited a slight upward trend in presence and abundance from long-term monitoring in 1998–2007 (USFS 2010, pp. 1–2), but increased distribution has not been detected recently (Shelly 2017, pers. comm.). In Idaho, monitoring efforts have not detected any decreases in pond size, which may act as a surrogate for P. arundinacea colonization; however, detailed monitoring of P. arundinacea has not been conducted (Lichthardt and Pekas 2017, p. 6). Little is known about the extent of P. arundinacea invasion with regard to the extent of occurrences in Oregon. The mechanisms driving invasive potential of P. arundinacea within water howellia habitats are unclear. The invasive potential may be due to some sites being occupied by a native genotype of P. arundinacea and other sites being occupied by a highly invasive variety (Lichthardt and Pekas 2017, p. 8; Wiechmann 2014a, p. 31). Density of P. arundinacea is a better determinant of impact to water howellia occurrences than presence alone (Wiechmann 2014a, pp. 31, 34, 38). Additionally, P. arundinacea was found to be dominant at shallower water depths and water howellia dominant at deeper depths, suggesting that water howellia is occupying a niche that P. arundinacea may be unable to occupy (Wiechmann 2014a, p. 32). Mechanical and chemical treatment efforts to decrease the abundance and distribution of P. arundinacea have largely been successful across the range of water howellia (TNC 2006, p. 65; Gilbert 2008, 2013, pers. comm.; Lichthardt and Gray 2010, pp. 9, 14; Johnson 2011, pers. comm.). In California, mechanical treatment has limited the spread of P. arundinacea in ponds and wetlands adjacent to water howellia occurrences, and chemical treatment is further reducing the size of P. arundinacea patches (Johnson 2011, 2017, pers. comm.). Similarly, consistent suppression of P. arundinacea at Lewis-McChord in Washington has reduced patch sizes of P. arundinacea in the past (TNC 2006, p. 65; Engler 2008, pers. comm.; Gilbert 2008, pers. comm.). Currently, no suppression efforts are underway at Lewis-McChord, due to little change in P. arundinacea distribution and the risk of harming water howellia plants in the process (Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.). In Idaho, the success of suppression efforts to limit abundance and distribution of P. arundinacea were mixed (Lichthardt and Gray 2010, p. 9). However, once suppression efforts were stopped, distribution and abundance of P. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 arundinacea appeared to vary more with fluctuating environmental conditions than with the presence of suppression effort (Lichthardt and Gray 2010, p. 9). No suppression efforts to control or eradicate P. arundinacea on the Turnbull Refuge in Washington are currently underway; the species is present, but trends indicate variability in abundance with fluctuating environmental conditions (Rule 2009, 2013a, 2017, pers. comm.). No suppression efforts of P. arundinacea have been attempted in Montana. A. calamus was identified by the State of Idaho as an invasive species that may be displacing water howellia at one location (Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) 2016, p. 3). Monitoring at this location has been ongoing since 1999, and water howellia has not been observed since 2001 (Lichthardt and Pekas 2017, p. 2). However, we are unaware of any other water howellia occurrences being affected by A. calamus. As a result, A. calamus is unlikely to become a threat to water howellia. Invasive plants can be aggressive and quickly displace natives in some situations. While there are some small sites that may have been completely or partially overtaken by invasive plants, water howellia metapopulations appear to be holding their own in the face of invasive species. This conclusion is reinforced by P. arundinacea coexisting with extant water howellia occurrences; large-scale displacement of water howellia by P. arundinaceae is not occurring in any of the metapopulations (Swan Valley, MT; Turnbull Refuge and Lewis-McChord, Washington), even in the absence of suppression efforts. Given the absence of displacement of water howellia by P. arundinacea within the three metapopulations of water howellia, and the success of existing suppression efforts where they have been applied, we do not consider P. arundinacea to be a significant threat to water howellia. We are also unaware of any information indicating that any other invasive species likely pose a threat to water howellia. Land Management Activities Land management activities that cause disturbance to vegetation surrounding water howellia occurrences were identified as a threat to the species in the 1994 final listing rule (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). Previous modeling efforts suggested that these activities, singularly or in combination, could result in a loss of vegetation at the pond fringe, disrupting the hydrological cycle and negatively impacting the phenology of water howellia (Reeves PO 00000 Frm 00042 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 53387 and Woessner 2004, pp. 10, 15). However, more recent evidence indicates that effects from land management activities are no longer a threat to the species. Most land management activities that could disturb vegetation surrounding water howellia occurrences on State and Federal land are now prohibited. For example, land management activities that could disturb vegetation within 300 ft (91 m) of water howellia occurrences on USFS lands in Montana and California are typically not allowed because of standards and guidelines to protect the plant included in USFS Forest Plans (USFS 1995, p. IV–32; USFS 1997, p. 17; Johnson 2013, pers. comm.). Limited activities (including prescribed fire) may be allowed within the 300-ft (91-m) buffer, but only if needed to maintain the integrity of the buffer (USFS 1997, p. 17; Johnson 2013, pers. comm.). As a result of these actions, abundance and distribution of water howellia have remained stable in Montana’s Swan Valley from 1978 to 2014 (Pipp 2017, p. 14). The Flathead National Forest (FNF) in Montana developed a conservation strategy for water howellia on USFS lands in 1994, and a second edition was finalized in 1997 (USFS 1997, entire). Additionally, the FNF amended their Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) in 1996, to provide measures specific to the conservation and recovery of water howellia (USFS 1996, entire). On State land in Montana, clear-cutting of timber and burning are prohibited within defined buffers surrounding waterbodies (Montana Code Annotated, p. 1). In Washington, wetlands containing water howellia on the Turnbull Refuge are buffered by the distance from mechanical thinning and prescribed fire used in treating conifer encroachment (Rule 2009, pers. comm.). Timber harvest and prescribed fire were not identified as potential threats to other water howellia occurrences in Washington (USDOD 2006, entire; USDOD 2012, entire; USDOD 2017a, entire; Anderson 2013, pers. comm.; Gilbert 2013, 2017, pers. comm.), or occurrences in Oregon or Idaho (Currin 2013, pers. comm.; USFWS 2009, entire; IDFG 2016, entire). Some disturbance of vegetation surrounding water howellia occurrences from land management activities occurred historically, prior to existing guidelines and standards in Federal land management plans. For example, in Montana’s Swan Valley, historical disturbances caused from land management activities (e.g., timber harvest, thinning, prescribed fire, road building, and grazing) have occurred in E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 53388 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules vegetated buffers surrounding many of the existing water howellia occurrences (Pipp 2017, p. 6). However, 79 percent of existing water howellia occurrences in the Swan Valley have experienced at least one historical disturbance event in the surrounding vegetation and are still present, suggesting some tolerance of water howellia to buffer disturbance. In addition, abundance or distribution of water howellia in the Swan Valley has remained stable, despite these historical disturbances from land management activities (Pipp 2017, p. 14). Further, despite experiencing a stand-replacing fire in 2003, water howellia occurrences occurring in the Crazy Horse area of the Swan Valley continue to persist; buffer vegetation appears to have recovered, and hydrology is adequately functioning (Pipp 2017, pp. 14–15). The effects of historic road building within vegetated buffers surrounding water howellia occurrences have largely been mitigated on Federal and State lands. Guidance established in the FNF LRMP and FNF conservation strategy for water howellia have resulted in the stabilization of roads to reduce sedimentation where they exist within 300 ft (91 m) of water howellia ponds in Montana (USFS 2001, p. II–46; USFS 1997, p. 18). No effects of historic roads occurring within vegetated buffers on water howellia in the Swan Valley were found in a recent analysis (Pipp 2017, p. 16). Similarly, in California, small spur roads are being closed and hydrologically stabilized in areas occupied by water howellia on the Mendocino National Forest (MNF) to minimize anthropogenic contribution to landscape instability per direction in the MNF LRMP (USFS 1995, p. III–26; Johnson 2008, pers. comm.). These conservation measures appear to be working in California, as all seven known occurrences of water howellia are still extant. In Idaho, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is to avoid adverse effects to wetlands during project implementation, and a Best Management Practices Manual identifies measures to minimize any potential effects during project implementation (ITD 2014, entire; ITD 2017, p. 1). The State of Idaho identified two water howellia occurrences within 98 ft (30 m) of an established highway and expressed concern about indirect effects of road work resulting in sedimentation and, of less concern, potential removal of shade (IDFG 2016, p. 4). However, we have no information of any potential effects that road work may pose to this population. Roads were not cited as a threat to water howellia occurrences in Washington or Oregon (USDOD 2006, VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 entire; USDOD 2012, entire; USDOD 2017a, entire; USFWS 2007, entire; USFWS 2010; entire; Anderson 2013, pers. comm.; Currin 2013, pers. comm.). Land management activities (e.g., timber harvest, thinning, road building, grazing, and prescribed fire) that disturb vegetation surrounding water howellia occurrences were once considered a threat to the species. However, most land management activities that have the potential to disturb surrounding vegetation are prohibited by land management plans or other Federal or State policy. Some of these prohibitions were put in place a result of the species being listed, but will remain in effect for the duration of the land management plan or other policy, even if the species is delisted. Where disturbance of vegetation from land management activities has occurred, water howellia has shown some tolerance for disturbance and no downward trend in abundance or distribution. Given that all three metapopulations currently have conservation measures in place to avoid vegetative buffer disturbance from land management activities and that water howellia has shown some tolerance to disturbance when it occurs, we do not consider land management activities to be a significant threat to water howellia. Trampling by Domestic Livestock Trampling of water howellia by domestic livestock was cited as a threat in the 1994 final listing rule for the species (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). Direct effects of plant crushing, seed bank disturbance, and alterations to substrate are likely to occur when livestock enter and exit ponds and wetlands. In addition, increased nutrient loading may be an indirect effect of livestock occupancy in and near water howellia habitat. Many water howellia occurrences are within habitats actively used by livestock. However, the level of livestock-caused disturbance that water howellia can withstand is not known and likely varies with sitespecific conditions, as well as timing, severity, and duration of cattle use of occupied water howellia habitat. The effects of trampling on water howellia occurrences on Federal and State land have largely been mitigated with fencing, cattle barricades, elimination of grazing in some areas occupied by water howellia, or limitations on the duration of time livestock have access to sensitive pond and wetland habitats (USFS 2002, p. 6; Mincemoyer 2005, p. 11; Johnson 2008, 2013, pers. comm.; Frymire 2017, pers.comm.). In Montana, analyses of monitoring data spanning nearly 30 PO 00000 Frm 00043 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 years have concluded that despite some grazing in occupied habitat, the presence of water howellia has not been affected (Pipp 2017, p. 17). Although no causal link was made between grazing levels and the probability of water howellia presence in the Pipp (2017) analysis, it appears that management actions implemented concurrently with grazing have provided protections to water howellia habitat and allowed the species to be conserved in Montana’s Swan Valley (Pipp 2017, p. 17). In California, specific grazing regimes near five occupied ponds within an active grazing allotment on National Forest land appear to be effective; monitoring indicates no effects to water howellia occurrences from livestock trampling (Johnson 2013, pers. comm.). Two other water howellia occurrences in California are within inactive grazing allotments, where livestock are not currently present and not expected to be present in the future (Johnson 2013, 2017, pers. comm.). Trampling is not reported as a threat in Washington, Idaho, or Oregon (USDOD 2006, entire; USDOD 2017a, entire; USFWS 2007, entire; USFWS 2010, entire; Currin 2013, pers. comm.; IDFG 2016, entire). It is unknown where grazing may occur on the 37 occurrences on private property. Therefore, the extent of trampling and other livestock-related alterations to water howellia habitat on these private lands is unknown. However, potential trampling effects from livestock on Federal and State land have been largely mitigated. Trampling of water howellia by domestic livestock is not a threat to the species on Federal or State land at current grazing levels because of mitigation measures being implemented, including riparian fencing, cattle guards, and timely removal or relocation of livestock from the sensitive pond and wetland habitats. We have no information indicating levels of livestock use (and thus potential trampling) will increase beyond current levels in the future. The severity and frequency of trampling of water howellia occurrences on private land are unknown, but as significantly fewer water howellia occurrences are known from private lands, these impacts are likely not significant at the species level. We conclude, based on the available information, that trampling by domestic livestock is not a significant threat to water howellia. Habitat Loss From Urbanization and Dam Construction Habitat loss from urbanization and dam construction occurred historically, E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules particularly in Oregon, and was considered a threat to water howellia at the time of listing in 1994. However, additional habitat loss from urbanization and dam construction is no longer a threat to the species because conservation strategies implemented following listing and increased Federal ownership now provide additional protections (see Conservation Efforts, above). Direct habitat loss from urbanization and dam construction occurred along the Columbia River in Oregon, and water howellia was thought to be extirpated from that area prior to 2015 (USFWS 2017, entire; Norman 2010, pers. comm.). However, since then, two occurrences of water howellia have been located in the Portland, Oregon, metro area (ORBIC 2017, unpaginated). Most of the water howellia occurrences on corporate or private lands in Montana were previously owned by Plum Creek Timber. In 2007, approximately 67,000 ac (27,000 ha) of Plum Creek land in the Swan Valley were sold to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Trust for Public Land; ownership was then transferred to either the USFS or the State of Montana (Swan Valley Connections 2017, entire). The 47 water howellia occurrences and potential habitat that were formerly on Plum Creek land are now protected from urbanization through either the FNF LRMP (USFS 1997, entire) or State agency direction for managing timberlands (DNRC 1996, p. 1). The FNF LRMP mandates avoidance of disturbance, including urbanization, in forested buffers of a minimum of 300 ft (91 m) from water howellia occurrences. The State of Montana manages its timberlands for long-term revenue and biodiversity (DNRC 1996, p. 2) and not for short-term revenue from selling timbered State lands and the potential urbanization that may follow. It is unknown if historical habitat loss occurred in California; however, most known occurrences of water howellia are within USFS lands, including some within designated wilderness areas (Johnson 2013, pers. comm.). Therefore, no current or future threat of habitat loss from urbanization is expected because any disturbance of vegetated buffers surrounding water howellia ponds is prohibited under the LRMP unless it is necessary to promote natural ecological and hydrological function (USFS 1995, pp. IV–19, 35). It is unknown how urbanization has affected the 37 water howellia occurrences on private land, but because there are significantly fewer occurrences known from private lands, these impacts are likely not significant at the species level. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 In sum, habitat loss from urbanization and dam construction occurred historically, particularly in Oregon, but is no longer considered a significant threat. In Oregon, recent new discoveries of water howellia suggest that the species has been able to remain extant on the landscape where it was once considered extirpated. In areas surrounding the extant, larger metapopulations, habitat loss from urbanization and dam construction is not considered a threat to the species because of conservation strategies and land transfers implemented in Montana (USFS) and Washington (USDOD and USFWS). Further, known habitat in California is largely within USFS lands, including designated wilderness; thus, there is no significant threat of habitat loss from urbanization or dam construction in California. Summary of Factor A The following stressors warranted consideration as possible current or future threats to water howellia under Factor A: Invasive species, land management activities, trampling by domestic livestock, and direct habitat loss from urbanization or dam construction (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). However, these stressors have not occurred to the extent anticipated at the time of listing in 1994, or the stressors are being adequately managed, or the species is tolerant of the stressor as described below. • Suppression efforts directed at P. arundinacea have resulted in some success. Furthermore, water howellia occupies a habitat niche that P. arundinacea appears unable to tolerate. Consequently, water howellia occurrences are not currently being displaced by P. arundinacea and we have no data to suggest that they are being displaced by other invasive species. • Land management plans and conservation management strategies have been adopted by Federal and State agencies to mitigate the effects of land management activities on water howellia and are in place for all three metapopulations. These plans vary in duration, but are mandated by Federal and State law and are expected to continue to provide protections to water howellia habitat into the future, even if the species is delisted. • The installation of riparian fencing and cattle barricades and the implementation of specific grazing routines have effectively mitigated the effects of trampling on water howellia. • The extant metapopulations, as well as most occurrences in California, are largely managed by Federal agencies PO 00000 Frm 00044 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 53389 that have conservation strategies in place. Therefore, neither urbanization nor dam construction is a threat to water howellia. • Limited information is available regarding the 37 occurrences (12 percent of known occurrences) that occur on private property. Due to the low number of occurrences on private land relative to Federal and State land, impacts are likely, not significant at the species level. Therefore, based on the available information, we do not consider there to be any significant threats related to the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range of water howellia. B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or Educational Purposes Overutilization, for any purpose, was not considered a threat in the final rule to list water howellia (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). We are not aware of any current utilization of water howellia for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes. Regarding future utilization, interest has been expressed by the Valencia Wetland Mitigation Bank in Priest River, Idaho, to collect seed via soil plugs from vigorous water howellia occurrences for use in establishing new occurrences where appropriate habitat exists (Wiechmann 2014b, entire). Initially, a harvest of 5 to 7 soil plugs from other Idaho occurrences has been proposed. It is unclear how ‘‘vigorous’’ populations have been defined in this context, although any proposed collection of soil plugs would have to be permitted by the Service, assuming a Federal nexus. The proposed project would be beneficial if it created another occurrence of water howellia in northern Idaho or had educational value. We are not aware of any other current or future plans for utilization of the species. Therefore, based on the available information, we find that there are no significant threats to water howellia related to overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes. C. Disease or Predation Predation (herbivory) on water howellia by domestic livestock was considered a threat in the final rule to list the species (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). As described in more detail above under the Factor A discussion, grazing is limited within the species’ habitat, and the persistence of water howellia in ponds accessible to livestock in the Swan Valley metapopulation has not been affected E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 53390 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules (Pipp 2017, p. 17). As a result, we conclude that predation does not affect the species throughout its range at the population or species level. We have no information suggesting levels of livestock grazing will increase in the future. We are not aware of any issues or potential stressors regarding disease or insect predation. Therefore, based on the available information, we do not consider there to be any significant threats to water howellia from disease or predation. D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms Under this factor, we examine whether existing regulatory mechanisms are inadequate to address the threats to water howellia discussed under other factors. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act requires the Service to take into account ‘‘those efforts, if any, being made by any State or foreign nation, or any political subdivision of a State or foreign nation, to protect such species.’’ In relation to Factor D under the Act, we interpret this language to require us to consider relevant Federal, State, and Tribal laws, regulations, and other such mechanisms that may minimize any of the threats we describe in the threats analyses under the other four factors or otherwise enhance conservation of the species. We give the strongest weight to statutes and their implementing regulations and to management direction that stems from those laws and regulations; an example would be State governmental actions enforced under a State statute or constitution or Federal action under the statute. For currently listed species, we consider the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms to address threats to the species absent the protections of the Act. Therefore, we examine whether other regulatory mechanisms would remain in place if the species were delisted, and the extent to which those mechanisms will continue to help ensure that future threats will be reduced or eliminated. In our discussion under Factors A, B, C, and E, we evaluate the significance of threats as mitigated by any conservation efforts and existing regulatory mechanisms. Where threats exist, we analyze the extent to which conservation measures and existing regulatory mechanisms address the specific threats to the species. Regulatory mechanisms, if they exist, may reduce or eliminate the impacts from one or more identified threats. Although inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms was not specifically identified as a threat to water howellia at the time of listing in VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 1994, we did mention the very limited number of protections that existed for the species (59 FR 35860, July 14, 1994, see p. 59 FR 35862). Specifically, we discussed the designation of water howellia as a sensitive species by the USFS and referred to wetland protection measures provided under section 404 of the Federal Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.), Food Security Act (16 U.S.C. 3801 et seq.), and some State laws. I. Federal Clean Water Act The Clean Water Act (CWA) was designed, in part, to protect surface waters of the United States from unregulated pollution from point sources. The CWA provides some benefit to water howellia through the regulation of discharge into surface waters through a permitting process; however, the historical threats to water howellia habitat have not typically been associated with point sources of pollution, and current information does not point to these as threats for occurrences today. Under section 404 of the CWA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regulates the discharge of fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. In general, the term ‘‘wetland’’ refers to areas meeting the USACE’s criteria of hydric soils, hydrology (either sufficient annual flooding or water on the soil surface), and hydrophytic vegetation (plants specifically adapted for growing in wetlands). Some habitat occupied by water howellia is considered isolated waters under the CWA. As a result of various Supreme Court decisions, the CWA jurisdiction over isolated waters has been uncertain and generally determined case-by-case. Further, federal agencies are currently considering removing isolated waters from CWA jurisdiction (82 FR 34899; July 27, 2017). Thus, the extent of water howellia receiving the protections of the CWA now and in the future is uncertain. However, the protections of the CWA to water howellia habitat that is under CWA jurisdiction are expected to remain, without the provisions of the Act. Food Security Act The Food Security Act was designed, in part, to protect wetlands by removing incentives for farmers to convert wetlands into crop fields. The Food Security Act likely provides some indirect protection of potential water howellia habitats on private land, but not those on Federal or State land. PO 00000 Frm 00045 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Although there are no data directly linking the Food Security Act and water howellia, historically, it has been demonstrated that the Food Security Act has had positive impacts on wetland function (Gleason et al. 2011, p. S65). Although the future of the Food Security Act in its current form is uncertain, any protections afforded to wetlands would infer benefit to water howellia should the species be present. National Environmental Policy Act Environmental review of potential effects of Federal actions is mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.). When NEPA analysis reveals significant environmental effects, the Federal agencies must disclose those effects to the public and consider mitigation that could offset the effects. These mitigations usually provide some protections for listed species. However, the NEPA does not require that adverse impacts be mitigated, only disclosed. Therefore, it is unclear what level of protection would be conveyed to water howellia through NEPA, in the absence of protections under the Act. National Forest Management Act Federal activities on USFS lands are subject to the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NFMA; 16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq.). The NFMA requires the development and implementation of resource management plans that guide the maintenance of ecological conditions that support natural distributions and abundance of species and not contribute to their extirpation. Water howellia is given consideration as a federally listed species by Federal agencies, and, if delisted, it would likely continue to be included on the sensitive species list for the USFS, as it was at the time of listing (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). Under the 2012 National Forest System land planning rule (77 FR 21162; April 9, 2012), the status given is ‘‘species of conservation concern,’’ and direction is given to provide ecological conditions necessary to maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern (Hayward et al. 2016, p. 8). Currently, the FNF in Montana is in the process of revising their LRMP, and the MNF in California anticipates revising their plan in the near future. The USFS anticipates that water howellia will be given the status of ‘‘species of conservation concern’’ in both plans, even if the species is delisted (Shelley 2016, pers. comm.; Johnson 2017, pers. comm.). Special status species policies (USFS manual, section 2670, p. 4) detail the need to conserve these species and the E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules ecosystems on which they depend on using all methods and procedures necessary to improve the condition of these species and their habitats to a point where their special status recognition is no longer warranted. The FNF adopted a plan specific to guiding conservation of the known water howellia occurrences on Federal land in Montana, and guidance provided in the MNF LRMP has resulted in the use of buffer strips to protect riparian species and function surrounding occupied ponds in California. Both the FNF plan and MNF policy are expected to continue to be implemented if we delist water howellia, based on discussions with the USFS (see Conservation Efforts and A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range, above). Federal Land Policy and Management Act Similar to NFMA, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) applies to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with regard to the conservation and use of public lands under their management. Water howellia is given consideration as a federally listed species by Federal agencies, and if delisted, would likely be included on the sensitive species list for the BLM as it was at the time of listing (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). Special status species policies (BLM manual, section 6840, p. 37) detail the need to conserve these species and the ecosystems on which they depend using all methods and procedures which are necessary to improve the condition of special status species and their habitat to a point where their special status recognition is no longer warranted. The one occurrence of water howellia in Washington on BLM land makes the existence of the plant vulnerable to localized actions. However, application of best management practices (BMPs) consistent with resource management plan (RMP) direction appears to have maintained this occurrence since 1993 (Frymire 2017, pers. comm.). The implementation of BMPs is expected to continue in the absence of protections under the Act because the current RMP (which requires BMPs) will still be the guiding land management document into the future. Sikes Act Water howellia occurrences and habitats on Federal military installations (Lewis-McChord in Pierce County, Washington) are managed under an INRMP (USDOD 2006, pp. 4–6; USDOD 2017, p. X–X) authorized by the Sikes VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 Act (16 U.S.C. 670a et seq.). Protections for water howellia habitat in the INRMP include restrictions on motorized equipment and military training activities in wetlands occupied by water howellia. In concert with the INRMP, Lewis-McChord has developed an Endangered Species Management Plan for water howellia that establishes conservation goals, management prescriptions, and monitoring efforts (USDOD 2012, entire). These protections would be expected to continue in the absence of protections under the Act because the Sikes Act mandates USDOD to conserve and rehabilitate wildlife, fish, and game on military reservations. National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act As directed by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act (Pub. L. 105–57, 16 U.S.C. 668dd), Refuge managers have the authority and responsibility to protect native ecosystems, fulfill the purposes for which an individual refuge was founded, and implement strategies to achieve the goals and objectives stated in management plans. For example, Turnbull Refuge (Spokane County, Washington) includes extensive habitat for water howellia, including 35 known occupied sites. The National Wildlife Refuge’s comprehensive conservation plan (CCP) is a land management plan with a 15-year term that directs protection of these habitats and identifies specific objectives relative to research and monitoring, invasive species management, and education regarding water howellia (USFWS 2007, p. 2–22). Given the 15-year timeframe of CCPs, these protections would remain in place until 2022 regardless of water howellia Federal listing status. Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in western Washington finalized a CCP in 2010, which included several conservation strategies for water howellia. These strategies included allowing natural flood-up and various methods (e.g., mechanical, biological, chemical) for invasive species control (USFWS 2010, pp. 2–37, 2–54). Given the 15-year timeframe of CCPs, protections outlined in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge CCP for water howellia are expected to remain in place until 2025 regardless of water howellia Federal listing status. In addition to specific protections for water howellia provided under CCPs, the species is permanently protected by the mission of all National Wildlife Refuges to manage their lands and waters for the conservation of fish, PO 00000 Frm 00046 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 53391 wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats. II. State Montana Streamside Management Zone Act The Montana Streamside Management Zone Act (SMZ), in part, designates vegetated buffer strips around surface waters, including wetlands adjacent to streams (and thus potential water howellia habitat), within the boundaries of timber harvest units in Montana. The SMZ law covers Federal, State, and private commercial timber practices (Montana Code Annotated 2009, p. 1). The SMZ law specifically prohibits slash fill of wetlands, off-road vehicle use, and clear cutting within 50 ft (15 m) of water bodies (Administrative Rules of Montana 2007, p. 7). There are no buffer strips designated for isolated wetlands (those not adjacent to a stream/river) under the SMZ and only voluntary restrictions on equipment travel through isolated wetlands. Although unclear, some water howellia occurrences in Montana’s Swan Valley may occur in isolated wetlands. Thus, the direct loss of habitat or plants for a small number of occurrences from timber harvest activities is a possibility if water howellia plants occupy isolated wetlands within a timber harvest unit. However, audits of timber sale practices conducted by interdisciplinary review teams have consistently documented few violations of the SMZ law and generally high compliance (>90%) with voluntary regulations in the recent past (Montana DNRC 2016, entire). Thus, while there is potential for water howellia habitat to be lost for occurrences in isolated wetlands, the magnitude of the stressor appears small. As State law, the protections of the SMZ are expected to continue if we delist water howellia. Montana State Comprehensive Fish and Wildlife Strategy This conservation strategy identifies focus areas, community types, species, and inventory needs along with their conservation concerns and strategies in Montana (Montana FWP 2005, p. 170). The emphasis of the strategy is conserving a broad range of species and habitats, not just game species and their habitats. The Swan Valley (site of the Montana water howellia metapopulation) is designated a ‘‘Terrestrial Conservation Focus Area in Greatest Need.’’ Multiple conservation strategies include riparian area conservation, conservation easement planning, sustainable land management practices, and weed control E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 53392 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules partnerships. However, implementation of these conservation actions is dependent on State wildlife grants— funds that have an uncertain future. For this reason, it is unlikely these conservation strategies could be relied upon to protect the 14 ponds occupied by water howellia on State land in Montana if we delist water howellia. Washington Natural Heritage Plan Washington State’s Natural Heritage Plan identifies priorities for preserving natural diversity, including wetlands, in Washington State (Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 2007, 2011, entire). The progressive plan aids Washington DNR in conserving key habitats that are currently imperiled or expected to be in the future. The prioritization of conservation efforts provided by this plan is expected to remain in place if we delist water howellia; however, the effects of plan implementation on water howellia would depend upon whether habitat for water howellia was part of a conservation effort. Washington Forest Practices Act Washington State’s Forest Practices Act, and associated regulations and rules, (Washington Annotated Code 2008, p. 30–3) provides protection of wetlands from the fill and cutting that could result from commercial timber harvest operations. Minimum buffers of 25 ft (8 m) are designated around ponds and wetlands inside timber sale boundaries, effectively prohibiting most harvest and all heavy equipment used in these areas. These buffers protect water howellia habitat from disturbance and minimize impacts to water quality. As State law, these protections are expected to remain in place if we delist water howellia. Oregon Senate Bill (SB) 533/Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 564 Oregon SB 533/ORS 564 requires nonFederal public agencies to protect Statelisted plant species found on their lands (Oregon Revised Statute 2009, entire). Any land action on Oregon non-Federal public lands which results, or might result, in the taking of an endangered or threatened species requires consultation with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) staff. Removal of Federal protections for water howellia would remove State protection of the species under this statute since water howellia was never formally listed by ODA. However, protections are expected to remain in place due to other rare, sensitive plant species in the area inhabited by water howellia and the commitment of the Metro (Portland-area VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 regional government) to protect the only known occurrences of water howellia in Oregon (Currin 2013, pers. comm.). III. Summary of Factor D As discussed above and under the other factors, conservation measures and existing regulatory mechanisms (such as Federal and State land management plans and conservation strategies) have minimized, and are continuing to minimize, the previously identified threats of invasive species, land management activities (primarily timber harvest and road building), trampling by domestic livestock, and direct habitat loss from urbanization or dam construction to all three water howellia metapopulations. As indicated above, we anticipate that the majority of these mechanisms will remain in place regardless of the species’ Federal listing status. Consequently, we find that conservation measures, along with existing regulatory mechanisms, are adequate to address these specific stressors. E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence Factor E requires the Service to consider any other factors that may be affecting water howellia. Under this factor, we discuss: (1) The narrow ecological requirements of the species in the context of climate change, (2) small population size/low genetic diversity, and (3) the potential for cumulative effects of stressors. Narrow Ecological Requirements/ Climate Change Here we consider the narrow ecological requirements of water howellia in the context of observed or projected changes in climate. The 1994 listing rule (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994) did not discuss the potential impacts of climate change on water howellia. The terms ‘‘climate’’ and ‘‘climate change’’ are defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The term ‘‘climate’’ refers to the mean and variability of relevant quantities (i.e., temperature, precipitation, wind) over time, with 30 years being a typical period for such measurements, although shorter or longer periods also may be used (IPCC 2014, pp. 119–120). The term ‘‘climate change’’ thus refers to a change in the mean or variability of one or more measures of climate (e.g., temperature or precipitation) that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer, whether the change is due to internal processes or anthropogenic changes (IPCC 2014, p. 120). PO 00000 Frm 00047 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Scientific measurements spanning several decades demonstrate that changes in climate are occurring. In particular, warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and many of the observed changes in the last 60 years are unprecedented over decades to millennia (IPCC 2014, p. 2). The current rate of climate change may be as fast as any extended warming period over the past 65 million years and is projected to accelerate in the next 30 to 80 years (National Research Council 2013, p. 5). Thus, rapid climate change is adding to other sources of extinction pressures, such as land use and invasive species, which will likely place extinction rates in this era among just a handful of the severe biodiversity crises observed in Earth’s geological record (AAAS 2014, p. 7). Examples of various other observed and projected changes in climate and associated effects and risks, and the basis for them, are provided for global and regional scales in recent reports issued by the IPCC (2013c, 2014), and similar types of information for the United States and regions within it can be found in the National Climate Assessment (Melillo et al. 2014, entire). Results of scientific analyses presented by the IPCC show that most of the observed increase in global average temperature since the mid-20th century cannot be explained by natural variability in climate alone and is ‘‘very likely’’ (defined by the IPCC as 95 percent or higher probability) due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere as a result of human activities, particularly carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use (IPCC 2014, pp. 47– 48; see also Walsh et al. 2014, pp. 20– 24). Further confirmation of the role of GHGs comes from analyses by Huber and Knutti (2012, p. 31), who concluded GHGs contributed 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.85 degrees Celsius) of warming since the mid-20th century and that it was extremely unlikely that internal variability contributed. Scientists use a variety of climate models, which include consideration of natural processes and variability, as well as various scenarios of potential levels and timing of GHG emissions, to evaluate the causes of changes already observed and to project future changes in temperature and other climate conditions. Model results yield very similar projections of average global warming until about 2030. Thereafter, the magnitude and rate of warming vary through the end of the century depending on the assumptions about population levels, emissions of GHGs, and other factors that influence climate E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules change. Thus, absent extremely rapid stabilization of GHGs at a global level, there is strong scientific support for projections that warming will continue through the 21st century, and that the magnitude and rate of change will be influenced substantially by human actions regarding GHG emissions (IPCC 2013b, 2014; entire). Global climate projections are informative, and in some cases, the only or the best scientific information available for us to use. However, projected changes in climate and related impacts can vary substantially across and within different regions of the world (e.g., IPCC 2013c, 2014; entire) and within the United States (Melillo et al. 2014, entire). Therefore, we use ‘‘downscaled’’ projections when they are available and have been developed through appropriate scientific procedures, because such projections provide higher resolution information that is more relevant to spatial scales used for analyses of a given species (see Glick et al. 2011, pp. 58–61, for a discussion of downscaling). Various changes in climate may have direct or indirect effects on species. These may be positive, neutral, or negative, and they may change over time, depending on the species and other relevant considerations, such as interactions of climate with other variables like habitat fragmentation (IPCC 2014, p. 67; for additional examples, see Franco et al. 2006; Forister et al. 2010; Galbraith et al. 2014; Chen et al. 2011; Bertelsmeier et al. 2013, entire). Identifying likely effects often involves aspects of climate change vulnerability analysis. Vulnerability to climate change has three principle components: Sensitivity, exposure, and adaptive capacity (Glick et al. 2011; Dawson et al. 2011). Sensitivity is the degree to which a system is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate-related stimuli (U.S. CCSP 2008b as cited by Glick et al. 2011). Exposure is the nature and degree to which a system is exposed to significant climate variations (IPCC 2001b as cited by Glick et al. 2011). Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences (IPCC 2001b as cited by Glick et al. 2011). There is no single method for conducting such analyses that applies to all situations (Glick et al. 2011, p. 3). We use our expert judgment and appropriate analytical approaches to weigh relevant information, including VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 uncertainty, in our consideration of various aspects of climate change. As is the case with all stressors that we assess, even if we conclude that a species is currently affected or is likely to be affected in a negative way by one or more climate-related impacts, it does not necessarily follow that the species meets the definition of an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species’’ under the Act. If a species is listed as endangered or threatened, knowledge regarding the vulnerability of the species to, and known or anticipated impacts from, climate-associated changes in environmental conditions can be used to help devise appropriate strategies for its recovery. Climate change trends predicted for the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana) broadly consist of an increase in annual average temperature; an increase in extreme precipitation events; and, with less certainty, variability in annual precipitation (Dalton et al. 2013, pp. 31– 38, Figure 1.1; Snover et al. 2013, pp. 5– 1–5–4). Lee et al. (2015) describe potential hydrological changes in response to predicted climate change on montane wetlands in the Pacific Northwest. These observations appear to vary with local conditions and include earlier drawdown, more rapid drying out in the summer, and reduced minimum water levels. We do not have a clear understanding of how water howellia responds to a diversity of temperature and precipitation changes, although the species has persisted in spite of rising temperatures and increasing variability in precipitation across its range over the past several decades (Shelly et al. 2016, entire). A potential increase in precipitation as a result of climate change may affect the species in several ways. First, increases in precipitation may increase the surface area of existing ponds and wetlands, or create new ones. These new habitats would be available for colonization by water howellia and could increase the range and resiliency of the species. However, new habitats would also be available to invasive species such as P. arundinacea and may also promote their expansion on the landscape. An important factor in increased habitat would likely be the site-specific conditions within each habitat; new habitat with deeper water and longer periods of inundation would likely preclude the establishment of P. arundinacea and be beneficial to water howellia. Conversely, the creation of shallower habitat may favor P. arundinacea. Another possible effect of increased precipitation may be the alteration of the hydrologic cycle of PO 00000 Frm 00048 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 53393 water howellia habitats. Specifically, these habitats may fill earlier (with heavier spring rainfall) and dry later in the season than they did historically, thereby reducing the timing window for air exposure needed for seed germination of water howellia in late summer and autumn. Alternatively, a potential decrease in precipitation as a result of climate change also may affect water howellia in several ways. Decreases in precipitation may result in water levels that are too low to support the submergent flower production. Additionally, earlier drawdowns and the faster receding of water in these wetlands as a result of decreased precipitation may ultimately limit the continued persistence of ephemeral ponds. This could provide an opportunity for expansion of P. arundinacea and other invasive species. On the other hand, amplified drying may allow for increased germination and expansion of water howellia. Another scenario of decreased precipitation is that the hydrological cycles could be altered in a way that would favor water howellia. Ponds that were previously perennial could potentially become ephemeral in nature, providing the wetting and drying cycle necessary for water howellia reproduction and, consequently, additional habitat for the species to occupy. Again, the site-specific conditions for each habitat would be an important factor. Changes in precipitation from snow to rain may also affect water howellia, particularly in the southernmost occurrences (e.g., California) (California DWR 2013, p. 22). More precipitation falling as rain rather than snow would likely alter the hydrologic cycle within these habitats. These alterations could include faster drying of wetlands than was observed historically, due to a lack of spring run-off from snow fields and increased annual air temperature. More frequent extreme precipitation events are predicted for California (California DWR 2013, p. 23). The effect of more extreme precipitation events on water howellia habitat in California is unclear, especially given the potential for interactions among precipitation and other environmental variables predicted to change (e.g., reduced snowpack, increased annual air temperature). The ability of water howellia to selffertilize and produce seeds at both the early season submergent and later season emergent forms may be an advantage to surviving lengthened, shortened, or generally more inconsistent growing seasons than occurred historically. Seed production from both flower forms in one growing E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 53394 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules season may increase the opportunity for surviving subsequent inclement years. It is uncertain how increases in water temperature and increased evaporation due to increased ambient temperatures would affect growth and reproduction of water howellia; however, climate conditions that restrict the dual seed production and seed banking could reduce the ability of water howellia to persist over time. Associated wetland vegetation that positively contributes to suitable microclimates for water howellia could be altered by predicted variance in temperatures and precipitation. An increase in daily temperatures paired with a decrease in precipitation could potentially result in stressed and dying vegetation, which could result in an increased risk of wildfire, insect pathogens such as pine bark beetles, an increase in noxious or invasive weeds, and an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that could accelerate natural ecological succession. The loss of vegetation around ponds from wildfire or other events could accelerate sedimentation, resulting in the loss of water howellia occurrences. Montana and eastern Washington occurrences of water howellia could be more resilient to these processes than other occurrences because of their distribution over a larger landscape with many separate occurrences. Increasing temperatures combined with increased demand for ground and surface water for human development may compound negative impacts to water howellia in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. Climate-induced effects on water howellia may appear first in California, as these occurrences are at the southern edge of the known range. However, these effects may be buffered by the higher elevation (approximately 3,800 ft/1,158 m) at which the California occurrences are found compared to elsewhere in the range (western Washington: Approximately 15 ft/5m). Predicted environmental changes resulting from climate change may have both positive and negative effects on water howellia, depending on the extent and type of impact and depending on site-specific conditions within each habitat type. The primary predicted negative effect is the alteration of hydrologic regimes potentially resulting in inconsistent growing seasons. This effect will likely be buffered by the ability of water howellia to produce seeds during both early and late seasons. Predicted environmental effects that may be positive for water howellia include increased habitat, seed dispersal, and species distribution in some areas, including within the three VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 metapopulations due to predicted increases in precipitation across the northern range of the species (IPCC 2014, p. 61). The intact nature and current spatial arrangement (geographically diverse and at varying elevations) of the three large metapopulations will likely provide more resilience to climate change than the smaller, isolated occurrences. Effects of potential composition shifts in vegetation surrounding water howellia occurrences as a result of climate change are unknown. In summary, climate change is affecting and will continue to affect temperature and precipitation events. The extent, duration, and impact of those changes are unknown, but could potentially increase or decrease precipitation in some areas. Water howellia may experience climate change-related effects in the future, most likely at the individual or local population level. Regional occurrences may experience some shifts. However, it is anticipated that the metapopulations important to the viability of the species would continue to persist because of resiliency due to geographic and elevational diversity. Available information indicates the species is adaptable to variable conditions. Therefore, based upon available information, we conclude that climate change is not a significant threat to water howellia. Small Population Size/Low Genetic Diversity The final rule to list water howellia (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994) cited small population size and lack of genetic variation within and among occurrences as a contributor to its vulnerability. Small occurrences with low genetic diversity could limit a species’ or population’s ability to respond to novel changes in its environment, necessitating redundancy of occurrences across larger areas to increase the probability of survival. At the time of listing in 1994, the only genetic investigation of the species showed very low genetic diversity within and among occurrences in Washington and Montana (Lesica et al. 1988, p. 278). More current genetic results indicate greater genetic diversity within and among occurrences than previously thought; however, diversity is still relatively low (Brunsfeld and Baldwin 1998, p. 2; Schierenbeck and Phipps 2010, p. 5). Additionally, one genetic investigation documented that all occurrences are distantly related and that gene flow is likely occurring between the States (Schierenbeck and Phipps 2010, p. 6). PO 00000 Frm 00049 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 The relatively low genetic diversity of water howellia across its current range may limit the species’ ability to respond to environmental changes. However, gene flow is occurring among occurrences, and the redundancy of smaller occurrences across the species’ range may mitigate for reduced genetic plasticity within individual occurrences (i.e., the lower genetic representation may be mitigated by higher geographic representation). The current spatial arrangement of small occurrences is favorable to the species’ long-term persistence because these occurrences are at different elevations and within varying climatic regimes (see discussion under ‘‘Narrow Ecological Requirements/Climate Change,’’ above). Thus, we do not consider small population size or low genetic diversity to be a significant threat to water howellia. Cumulative Effects of All Stressors Many of the stressors faced by water howellia are interrelated and could work in concert with each other, resulting in a cumulative adverse effect on the species. For example, stressors discussed under Factor A that individually do not rise to the level of a threat could together result in habitat loss. Similarly, small population size in combination with stressors discussed under Factor A could present a potential concern. Climate change is occurring across the range of the species, coinciding with all other identified stressors. As described previously, variations in climatic conditions may favor or preclude invasive species, depending on sitespecific habitat factors. Also described previously, climate change may alter hydrological cycles. However, despite changing climate conditions, water howellia has persisted across its range. Analysis of nearly 30 years of data on water howellia occurrences in the Swan Valley indicates the species has persisted even with climate change interacting with other potential stressors (Pipp 2017, entire). This suggests that the cumulative effects of climate change and other stressors are not meaningful at the metapopulation level, nor at the species level. Nevertheless, we recognize that there are uncertainties associated with climate change predictions; ongoing management and monitoring of water howellia (via the PDM plan) is designed to detect potential future changes in the species’ distribution and abundance. There may be locations of water howellia occurrences where invasive species are present, and cattle have access to occupied ponds. Grazing may E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules limit the expansion of invasive species in these instances. Otherwise, we are not aware of particular locations within water howellia occurrences where multiple stressors occur. Also, we do not anticipate stressors to increase on federally managed lands, which afford protection to the species in the most occupied habitat. Furthermore, the documented increases in the abundance and distribution of the species since it was listed in 1994 do not support a conclusion that cumulative effects pose a threat to the species. Therefore, we conclude, based on the available information, that cumulative effects are not a significant threat to water howellia. Summary of Factor E Given the lack of threats within water howellia occurrences and increases in abundance and distribution since listing in 1994, we conclude that climate change, small population size and low genetic diversity, and cumulative effects are not significant threats to water howellia. Proposed Determination of Species Status Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining whether a species meets the definition of ‘‘endangered species’’ or ‘‘threatened species.’’ The Act defines an ‘‘endangered species’’ as a species that is ‘‘in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range,’’ and a ‘‘threatened species’’ as a species that is ‘‘likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.’’ The Act requires that we determine whether a species meets the definition of ‘‘endangered species’’ or ‘‘threatened species’’ because of any of the following factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) Disease or predation; (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Determination of Status Throughout All of Water Howellia’s Range We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial information available regarding the past, present, and future threats to water howellia including invasive species (Factor A), land management activites (Factor A), trampling by domestic livestock (Factor VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 A), direct habitat loss from urbanization or dam construction (Factor A), narrow ecological requirements of the species in the context of climate change (Factor E), predation (herbivory) by domestic livestock (Factor C), small population size/low genetic variation (Factor E), and cumulative effects of stressors (Factor E). Based on the best available information, and as described in our five-factor analysis, above, the identified stressors fall into one or more of the following categories: • Stressors that have not occurred to the extent anticipated at the time of listing and existing information indicates that this will not change in the future (trampling by domestic livestock, predation (herbivory), direct habitat loss from urbanization). • Stressors that are adequately managed and existing information indicates that this will not change in the future (invasive species, land management activities). • Stressors for which the species is tolerant and existing information indicates that this will not change in the future (narrow ecological requirements, small population size/low genetic variation, climate change, cumulative effects). Thus, our analysis of this information indicates that these stressors are not of sufficient imminence, intensity, or magnitude to indicate that water howellia is in danger of extinction or likely to become so within the foreseeable future throughout all of its range. Therefore, after assessing the best available information, we conclude that water howellia is not in danger of extinction throughout all of its range nor is it likely to become so in the foreseeable future. Because we determined that water howellia is not in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout all of its range, we will consider whether there are any significant portions of its range in which water howellia is in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future. Determination of Status Throughout a Significant Portion of Water Howellia’s Range Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may warrant listing if it is in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range (SPR). Where the best available information allows the Services to determine a status for the species rangewide, that determination should be given conclusive weight because a rangewide determination of PO 00000 Frm 00050 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 53395 status more accurately reflects the species’ degree of imperilment and better promotes the purposes of the Act. Under this reading, we should first consider whether the species warrants listing ‘‘throughout all’’ of its range and proceed to conduct a ‘‘significant portion of its range’’ analysis if, and only if, a species does not qualify for listing as either an endangered or a threatened species according to the ‘‘throughout all’’ language. Having determined that the water howellia is not in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout all of its range, we now consider whether it may be in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future in an SPR. The range of a species can theoretically be divided into portions in an infinite number of ways, so we first screen the potential portions of the species’ range to determine if there are any portions that warrant further consideration. To do the ‘‘screening’’ analysis, we ask whether there are portions of the species’ range for which there is substantial information indicating that: (1) The portion may be significant; and, (2) the species may be, in that portion, either in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future. For a particular portion, if we cannot answer both questions in the affirmative, then that portion does not warrant further consideration and the species does not warrant listing because of its status in that portion of its range. We emphasize that answering these questions in the affirmative is not a determination that the species is in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout a significant portion of its range—rather, it is it is a step in determining whether a more detailed analysis of the issue is required. If we answer these questions in the affirmative, we then conduct a more thorough analysis to determine whether the portion does indeed meet both of the SPR prongs: (1) The portion is significant and (2) the species is, in that portion, either in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future. Confirmation that a portion does indeed meet one of these prongs does not create a presumption, prejudgment, or other determination as to whether the species is an endangered species or threatened species. Rather, we must then undertake a more detailed analysis of the other prong to make that determination. Only if the portion does indeed meet both SPR prongs would the species warrant listing because of its status in a significant portion of its range. E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 53396 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules At both stages in this process—the stage of screening potential portions to identify any portions that warrant further consideration and the stage of undertaking the more detailed analysis of any portions that do warrant further consideration—it might be more efficient for us to address the ‘‘significance’’ question or the ‘‘status’’ question first. Our selection of which question to address first for a particular portion depends on the biology of the species, its range, and the threats it faces. Regardless of which question we address first, if we reach a negative answer with respect to the first question that we address, we do not need to evaluate the second question for that portion of the species’ range. For water howellia, we chose to evaluate the status question (i.e., identifying portions where the water howellia may be in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future) first. To conduct this screening, we considered whether the threats are geographically concentrated in any portion of the species’ range at a biologically meaningful scale. If a species is not in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout all of its range and the threats to the species are essentially uniform throughout its range, then the species would not have a greater level of imperilment in any portion of its range than it does throughout all of its range and therefore no portions would qualify as an SPR. We examined the following threats: Invasive species, land management activities, trampling by domestic livestock, direct habitat loss from urbanization or dam construction, narrow ecological requirements of the species in the context of climate change, predation (herbivory) by domestic livestock, small population size/low genetic variation, and the cumulative effects of these threats. We found no concentration of threats in any portion of the water howellia’s range at a biologically meaningful scale. Since we found no portions of the species’ range where threats are significantly concentrated or substantially greater than in other portions of its range, we did not identify any portions where the species may be in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future. Therefore, no portions warrant further consideration through a more detailed analysis, and the species is not in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future in any significant portion of its range. Our approach to analyzing SPR in this determination is consistent with the court’s holding in Desert Survivors v. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 Department of the Interior, No. 16–cv– 01165–JCS, 2018 WL 4053447 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2018). Our review of the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the water howellia is not in danger of extinction nor likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Therefore, we find that the water howellia does not meet the definition of an endangered species or a threatened species, and we propose to remove the species from the List. Determination of Status We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial information available regarding the past, present, and future threats to water howellia. After review and analysis of the information regarding stressors as related to the five statutory factors, we find that the ongoing stressors are not of sufficient imminence, intensity, or magnitude to indicate that this species is presently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Additionally, no threats exist currently, nor are any potential stressors expected to rise to the level, that would likely cause the species to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of the species’ range. Because the species is neither in danger of extinction now nor likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout all or any significant portion of its range, the species does not meet the definition of an endangered species or threatened species under the Act. As a consequence of this determination, we find that water howellia no longer requires the protection of the Act, and we propose to remove the species from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. Effects of the Rule This proposal, if made final, would revise 50 CFR 17.12(h) to remove water howellia from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. Because no critical habitat was ever designated for this species, this rule will not affect 50 CFR 17.96. The prohibitions and conservation measures provided by the Act, particularly through sections 7 and 9, would no longer apply to this species. Federal agencies would no longer be required to consult with the Service under section 7 of the Act in the event that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out may affect water howellia. PO 00000 Frm 00051 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Post-Delisting Monitoring Section 4(g)(1) of the Act requires us, in cooperation with the States, to implement a monitoring program for not less than 5 years for all species that have been delisted due to recovery. The purpose of this requirement is to develop a program that detects the failure of any delisted species to sustain itself without the protective measures provided by the Act. If at any time during the monitoring period, data indicate that protective status under the Act should be reinstated, we can initiate listing procedures, including, if appropriate, emergency listing. We are proposing to delist water howellia based on new information we have received as well as conservation actions taken. Since delisting would be, in part, due to conservation taken by stakeholders, we have prepared a draft post-delisting monitoring (PDM) plan for water howellia. The draft PDM plan discusses the current status of the taxon and describes the methods proposed for monitoring if we delist the taxon. The draft PDM plan: (1) Summarizes the status of water howellia at the time of proposed delisting; (2) describes frequency and duration of monitoring; (3) discusses monitoring methods and potential sampling regimes; (4) defines what potential triggers will be evaluated to address the need for additional monitoring; (5) outlines reporting requirements and procedures; (6) proposes a schedule for implementing the PDM plan; and (7) defines responsibilities. It is our intent to work with our partners towards maintaining the recovered status of water howellia. We will seek public and peer reviewer comments on the draft PDM plan, including its objectives and procedures (see Document availability and Information Requested, above), with the publication of this proposed rule. Required Determinations Clarity of the Rule We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain language. This means that each rule we publish must: (1) Be logically organized; (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly; (3) Use clear language rather than jargon; (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible. If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us comments by one E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 194 / Monday, October 7, 2019 / Proposed Rules of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. To better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc. National Environmental Policy Act We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), need not be prepared in connection with regulations pursuant to section 4(a) of the Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244). Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes In accordance with the President’s memorandum of April 29, 1994, Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments (59 FR 22951), E.O. 13175, and the Department of the Interior’s manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our responsibility to communicate meaningfully with VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:17 Oct 04, 2019 Jkt 250001 recognized Federal Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with Tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge that tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make information available to Tribes. We are aware of two water howellia occurrences that occur on tribal lands; we have notified the Tribes that may be affected by this proposed rule and offered government-to-government consultation. References Cited Authors The authors of this proposed rule are staff members of the Montana Ecological Services Field Office and field and regional offices in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. PO 00000 Frm 00052 Fmt 4702 List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17 Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Transportation. Proposed Regulation Promulgation Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below: PART 17—ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS 1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361–1407; 1531– 1544; and 4201–4245, unless otherwise noted. § 17.12 A complete list of all references cited in this proposed rule is available at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2018–0045, or upon request from the Montana Ecological Services Field Office (see ADDRESSES). Sfmt 9990 53397 [Amended] 2. Amend § 17.12(h) by removing the entry for ‘‘Howellia aquatilis’’ under FLOWERING PLANTS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. ■ Dated: August 9, 2019. Margaret E. Everson, Principal Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Exercising the Authority of the Director, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [FR Doc. 2019–21645 Filed 10–4–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4333–15–P E:\FR\FM\07OCP1.SGM 07OCP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 194 (Monday, October 7, 2019)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 53380-53397]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-21645]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2018-0045; FXES11130600000C6-178-FF06E11000]
RIN 1018-BC03


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of 
Howellia aquatilis (Water Howellia) From the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Plants

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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[[Page 53381]]

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to 
remove the plant Howellia aquatilis (water howellia) from the Federal 
List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. The best available scientific 
and commercial data indicate that threats to water howellia identified 
at the time of listing in 1994 are not as significant as originally 
anticipated and are being adequately managed. Therefore, the species no 
longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species 
under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). This 
determination is based on a thorough review of all available 
information, which indicates that this species' population and 
distribution are much greater than was known at the time of listing in 
1994 and that threats to this species have been sufficiently minimized. 
We are seeking information and comments from the public regarding this 
proposed rule and the draft post-delisting monitoring (PDM) plan for 
water howellia.

DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before 
December 6, 2019. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal 
eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below), must be received by 11:59 
p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for 
public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT by November 21, 2019.

ADDRESSES: Written comments: You may submit written comments by one of 
the following methods:
     Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: 
http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter Docket No. FWS-R6-
ES-2018-0045, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, 
click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel 
on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click 
on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a 
comment by clicking on the blue ``Comment Now!'' box. If your comments 
will fit in the provided comment box, please use this feature of http://www.regulations.gov, as it is most compatible with our comment review 
procedures. If you attach your comments as a separate document, our 
preferred file format is Microsoft Word. If you attach multiple 
comments (such as form letters), our preferred formation is a 
spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.
     By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: 
Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2018-0045, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-
3803.
    We request that you submit written comments only by the methods 
described above. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any 
personal information you provide us (see Public Comments, below, for 
more details).
    Document availability: This proposed rule and supporting documents, 
including a copy of the draft post-delisting monitoring plan referenced 
throughout this document, are available on http://www.regulations.gov 
at Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2018-0045. In addition, the supporting file for 
this proposed rule will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the Montana Ecological 
Services Field Office, 585 Shepard Way, Suite 1, Helena, MT 59601; 
telephone: 406-449-5225. Persons who use a telecommunications device 
for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jodi Bush, Office Supervisor, 
telephone: 406-449-5225. Direct all questions or requests for 
additional information to: WATER HOWELLIA QUESTIONS, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Montana Ecological Services Field Office, 585 Shepard 
Way, Suite 1, Helena, MT 59601. Individuals who are hearing-impaired or 
speech-impaired may call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8337 for 
TTY assistance.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, if a species is 
determined to no longer be an endangered or threatened species, we may 
reclassify the species or remove it from the Federal Lists of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants due to recovery. A 
species is an ``endangered species'' for purposes of the Act if it is 
in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range and is a ``threatened species'' if it is likely to become an 
endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. The Act does not define the term 
``foreseeable future.'' However, we consider ``foreseeable future'' as 
that period of time within which a reliable prediction can be 
reasonably relied upon in making a determination about the future 
conservation status of a species. Water howellia is listed as 
threatened. We are proposing to remove this species from the Federal 
List of Endangered and Threatened Plants (i.e., ``delist'' this 
species) because we have determined that it is not likely to become an 
endangered species now or within the foreseeable future. Delisting a 
species can only be completed by issuing a rule.
    The basis for our action. Under the Act, we can determine that a 
species is an endangered or threatened species based on any one or more 
of the following five factors or the cumulative effects thereof: (A) 
The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or 
manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Based on an 
assessment of the best available information regarding the status of 
and threats to water howellia, we have determined that the species no 
longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species 
under the Act.
    We will seek peer review. We will seek comments from independent 
specialists to ensure that our determination is based on scientifically 
sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We will invite these peer 
reviewers to comment on this delisting proposal. Because we will 
consider all comments and information we receive during the comment 
period, our final determination may differ from this proposal.

Information Requested

Public Comments

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request 
comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies, 
Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any 
other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. Comments should 
be as specific as possible. We particularly seek comments concerning:
    (1) Reasons why we should or should not remove water howellia from 
the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants;
    (2) New biological or other relevant data concerning any threat (or 
lack thereof) to this species (for example, those associated with 
climate change);
    (3) New information on any efforts by the State or other entities 
to protect or otherwise conserve the species;

[[Page 53382]]

    (4) New information concerning the range, distribution, and 
population size or trends of this species;
    (5) New information on the current or planned activities in the 
habitat or range that may negatively affect or benefit the species; and
    (6) Information pertaining to the requirements for post-delisting 
monitoring of water howellia.
    Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as 
scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to 
verify any scientific or commercial information you include. Please 
note that submissions merely stating support for or opposition to the 
action under consideration without providing supporting information, 
although noted, may not meet the standard of information required by 
section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), which directs 
that determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or 
threatened species must be made ``solely on the basis of the best 
scientific and commercial data available.''
    Prior to issuing a final determination on this proposed action, we 
will take into consideration all comments and any additional 
information we receive. Such information may lead to a final rule that 
differs from this proposal. All comments and information we collect, 
including commenters' names and addresses, if provided to us, will 
become part of the supporting record.
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning the proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. If you submit your 
comments electronically, you must submit your comments on http://www.regulations.gov before 11:59 p.m. (Eastern Time) on the date 
specified in DATES. We will not consider hand-delivered comments that 
we do not receive, or mailed comments that are not postmarked, by the 
date specified in DATES.
    If you submit information via http://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the website. Please note that comments posted on this 
website are not immediately viewable. When you submit a comment, the 
system receives it immediately. However, the comment will not be 
publicly viewable until we post it, which might not occur until several 
days after submission.
    If you mail or hand-deliver hardcopy comments that include personal 
identifying information, you may request at the top of your document 
that we withhold this information from public review. However, we 
cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. To ensure that the 
electronic docket for this rulemaking is complete and all comments we 
receive are publicly available, we will post all hardcopy submissions 
on http://www.regulations.gov.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule and the draft 
post-delisting monitoring (PDM) plan, will be available for public 
inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by appointment, during 
normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana 
Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Public Hearings

    Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for a public hearing on this 
proposal, if requested. We must receive requests for public hearings, 
in writing, by the date specified above in DATES. You must send your 
request to the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. We 
will schedule at least one public hearing on this proposal if any are 
requested, and announce the dates, times, and places of those hearings, 
as well as how to obtain reasonable accommodation, in the Federal 
Register and local newspapers at least 15 days before the hearing.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the 
Federal Register on July 1, 1994, (59 FR 34270) and our August 22, 
2016, memorandum updating and clarifying the role of peer review under 
the Act, we will seek the expert opinion of at least three appropriate 
and independent specialists regarding the scientific data and 
interpretations contained in this proposed rule. These reviews will be 
completed during the public comment period; we will send copies of this 
proposed rule to the peer reviewers immediately following publication 
in the Federal Register. Peer reviewer comments will be available, 
along with other public comments, in the docket for this proposed rule. 
The purpose of such review is to ensure that our decisions are based on 
scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analysis. Accordingly, our 
final decision may differ from this proposal.

Previous Federal Actions

    On December 15, 1980, we published a notice of review in the 
Federal Register (45 FR 82480) issuing a list of plant taxa being 
considered for listing as endangered or threatened. Water howellia was 
included on this list as a Category 2 species. Category 2 species were 
taxa for which information in possession of the Service at that time 
indicated the probable appropriateness of listing as endangered or 
threatened but for which sufficient information was not available to 
biologically support a proposed rule.
    On February 21, 1990, we published a notice of review in the 
Federal Register (55 FR 6184) reclassifying water howellia from a 
Category 2 species to a Category 1 species. Category 1 species were 
taxa for which the Service currently had on file enough substantial 
information on biological vulnerability and threat(s) to support 
proposed rules to list them as endangered or threatened species. 
Because water howellia is the only species within the genera Howellia, 
we assigned a Category 1 listing priority to this plant.
    On October 30, 1991, the Service was petitioned to list water 
howellia as an endangered species. On April 16, 1993, we published in 
the Federal Register a proposed rule (58 FR 19795) to list water 
howellia as threatened. This proposed rule also served the Service's 
finding for the October 30, 1991, petition.
    On July 14, 1994, we published in the Federal Register a final rule 
(59 FR 35860) listing water howellia as a threatened species. The final 
rule included a determination that the designation of critical habitat 
for water howellia was not prudent.
    In 1996, we drafted a recovery plan for the species (USFWS 1996, 
entire). To date, this plan has not been finalized.
    On April 18, 2007, we published a notice in the Federal Register 
(72 FR 19549) announcing the initiation of a 5-year review for water 
howellia. The resulting recommendation from this 5-year review (USFWS 
2013, entire) was to take the necessary steps to remove water howellia 
from the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants (i.e., to ``delist'' 
the species).

Background

Species Information

    It is our intent to discuss only those topics directly related to 
delisting water howellia in this proposed rule. For more information on 
the description, biology, ecology, and habitat of water howellia, 
please refer to the final listing rule published in the Federal 
Register on July 14, 1994 (59 FR 35860); the most recent 5-year review 
for water howellia completed in August of 2013 (USFWS 2013, entire); 
and the draft recovery plan for water howellia, completed in

[[Page 53383]]

September 1996 (USFWS 1996, entire). These documents will be available 
as supporting materials on http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. 
FWS-R6-ES-2018-0045.

Species Description and Habitat Information

    Water howellia was first collected in 1879, along the Columbia 
River in Multnomah County, Oregon (Gray 1880, entire), and is native to 
the northwestern United States. The taxonomy of water howellia as a 
full species in a monotypic genus is widely accepted as valid by the 
scientific community (The Plant List 2013, unpaginated; ITIS 2017).
    Water howellia is an annual, aquatic herb in the bellflower family 
(Campanulaceae). The entire plant is smooth, possessing no hairs or 
projections. The stems are fragile, submerged and floating, reaching up 
to 39 inches (in.) (100 centimeters (cm)) in length. Stems branch 
several inches from the base, and each branch extends to the water 
surface. The numerous leaves are narrow and range from 1-2 in. (25-50 
millimeters (mm)) long.
    Water howellia produce two types of flowers: Cleistogamous (closed) 
and chasmogamous (showy, open for pollination). Small cleistogamous 
flowers are produced along the stem below the water surface and are 
self-fertilizing. Chasmogamous flowers are produced on the water 
surface and commonly self-pollinate (Lesica et al. 1988, p. 276; Shelly 
and Moseley 1988, pp. 5-6).
    Seed germination occurs in the fall, only when ponds dry and seeds 
are exposed to air (Lesica 1990). Water howellia seedlings overwinter 
in soil and resume growth in spring in northern climates (Mincemoyer 
2005, p. 3) or begin growing after fall germination in southern 
climates (e.g., California) (Johnson 2013, pers. comm.). Spring growth 
in California and low-elevation occurrences in western Washington 
typically commences in early April, and in eastern Washington, Idaho, 
and Montana by early May. Range wide, emergent (chasmogamous) flowers 
bloom soon after the stems reach the water surface and are typically 
present from May through July. Seed dispersal starts in June from 
submerged (cleistogamous) flowers and extends until late summer from 
emergent flowers (Shelly and Moseley 1988, p. 5).
    Long-term viability of water howellia seeds is uncertain. Decreased 
germination rates have been documented for seeds residing in the soil 
longer than 8 months (Lesica 1992, pp. 415-416). However, monitoring 
data and observations from Montana (U.S. Forest Service (USFS) 2002, 
pp. 6-7; USFWS 1996, pp. 17-18) and Washington (Gilbert 2008, pers. 
comm.) indicate the presence of water howellia occurrences after 2 
consecutive years with no plant observations, suggesting a significant 
number of seeds may remain viable for at least 3 years. This life-
history strategy likely provides a buffer against unfavorable growing 
conditions in consecutive years.
    Water howellia plants typically inhabit small, vernal freshwater 
wetlands and ponds with an annual cycle of filling with water in spring 
and drying up in summer or autumn (USFWS 1996, p. 14). These habitats 
can be glacial potholes or depressions (Shapley and Lesica 1997, p. 8; 
U.S. Department of Defense (USDOD) 2017a, p. 1) or river oxbows (Lesica 
1997, p. 366) in Montana and western Washington, riverine meander scars 
(Idaho NHP 2017, p. 1; Wiechmann 2014a, p. 3) in Idaho, glacial-flood 
remnant wetlands (Robison 2007, p. 8) in eastern Washington, or 
landslide depressions (Johnson 2013, pers. comm.) in California, but 
are all ephemeral (transitory) to some degree. Depending on annual 
patterns of temperature and precipitation, the drying of the ponds may 
be complete or partial by autumn; these sites are usually shallow and 
less than 3 feet (ft) (1 meter (m)) in depth. Some ponds supporting 
water howellia are dependent on complex ground and surface water 
interactions. Snow melt runoff is important in maintaining suitable 
conditions in the spring, while localized groundwater flow mitigates 
water loss from evaporation and plant transpiration later in the summer 
(Reeves and Woessner 2004, pp. 7-9).
    Water howellia occupies habitats across its range that vary in the 
extent of canopy cover, suggesting some flexibility in light tolerance. 
Many water howellia occurrences are surrounded or nearly surrounded, by 
forested vegetation (Mincemoyer 2005, p. 7), with numerous observations 
reporting water howellia occupying shaded portions of ponds and 
wetlands (Isle 1997, p. 32; McCarten et al. 1998, p. 4). Conversely, on 
the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (Lewis-McChord) military base in 
Washington, occupied ponds were historically surrounded by prairie 
vegetation and, as a result of years of fire suppression, are now 
surrounded by forest (Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.). Currently, water 
howellia is occurring in portions of ponds that receive the most light 
and least shade (Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.). In Montana's Swan Valley, 
water howellia was present in 78 percent of sites with prior 
disturbance (roads, fire, grazing, and vegetation treatments) of 
vegetation surrounding the ponds (Pipp 2017, p. 6), indicating some 
plasticity to disturbance and varying light levels.

Range, Distribution, Abundance, and Trends of Water Howellia

    Water howellia is endemic to the Pacific Northwest with historical 
occurrences identified in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and 
Montana (Shelly and Moseley 1988, pp. 6, 9). Currently, the species 
still occurs in all five States representing six distinct geographic 
areas. The species' historical distribution--before European settlement 
and modern development in the Pacific Northwest--is unknown. However, 
the geographic area historically occupied by the species was likely 
small, due to the species' requirement of ephemeral wetlands with 
specific filling and drying regimes. Since listing in 1994, new 
occurrences of water howellia have been documented in all five States, 
generally in areas known historically to support the species. Thus, 
locations of extant occurrences are generally representative of the 
areas where the species was thought to historically occur.
    At the time of Federal listing (1994), 107 water howellia 
occurrences (defined as known populations) were known across the 
species' range (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). In 2017, a minimum of 307 
occurrences were documented. The majority of extant occurrences (91 
percent) are within three metapopulations occupying distinct, 
geographic areas in Montana's Swan Valley (Lake and Missoula Counties); 
Department of Defense property at Lewis-McChord, Pierce County in 
western Washington; and Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge (Turnbull 
Refuge), Spokane County in northeastern Washington (Figure 1). Regional 
occurrences of plants demonstrate metapopulation structure when 
regional persistence is governed by the processes of patch 
colonization, extirpation (local extinction), and recolonization 
(Freckleton and Watkinson 2002, p. 419). These metapopulations are 
important to the viability of the species as long-term persistence is 
expected of metapopulations compared to small, isolated occurrences 
that generally experience short persistence (Lesica 1992, p. 420). 
Consequently, identification of these metapopulations is important for 
directing conservation efforts toward the regional availability of 
suitable habitat (Freckleton and Watkinson 2002, p. 432). Currently, 
258

[[Page 53384]]

of the 307 (84 percent) reported water howellia occurrences are on 
lands administered by the Federal Government. There are 37 reported 
occurrences of water howellia on private property; however, little is 
known about them, as limited monitoring of these occurrences has taken 
place over the years.
BILLING CODE 4333-15-P
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP07OC19.000

BILLING CODE 4333-15-C
    Trends for water howellia are difficult to determine. Substantial 
numbers of new occurrences have been discovered since listing in 1994, 
and, most recently, several occurrences have been documented in Oregon, 
where the species was thought to be extirpated. However, this may not 
necessarily indicate a positive population trend. Rather, this could 
indicate increased efficiency at finding new occurrences. Consistent, 
standardized monitoring has not occurred across the range of the 
species, making it difficult to document trends. Additionally, an 
occurrence is broadly defined as ``a known population.'' Abundance of 
individual water howellia plants within occurrences fluctuates widely. 
This is due, in part, to environmental conditions of the preceding 
autumn,

[[Page 53385]]

which affect seed germination rates. Nevertheless, based on the 
discovery of many new occurrences and few recent extirpations of 
existing occurrences, population trends for the species appear to be 
stable.
    Genetic variation among water howellia occurrences is low. 
Occurrences in California and Montana are genetically similar; however, 
occurrences in Idaho and Washington are more distantly related 
(Schierenbeck and Phipps 2010, p. 5). These data suggest that gene flow 
is occurring between occurrences separated by large geographic 
distances, albeit at a relatively low rate. A correlation between 
migratory waterfowl routes with either genetic similarity or distance 
indicates that waterfowl may be transporting seed or plant material 
between water howellia population areas (Schierenbeck and Phipps 2010, 
pp. 6-7). A more robust sampling and genetic analysis of water howellia 
occurrences across the species' range would be necessary to support or 
refute this hypothesis.

Conservation Efforts

    Here, we provide a summary of progress made on the draft recovery 
criteria for water howellia. More detailed information related to 
conservation efforts can be found below under Summary of Factors 
Affecting the Species. A recovery plan for water howellia was drafted 
in 1996; to date, the plan has not been finalized (USFWS 1996, entire). 
The draft plan includes objective, measureable criteria for delisting; 
however, the plan is dated and may no longer reflect the best 
scientific information available for water howellia. Since 1994, 
monitoring has resulted in additional occurrences being documented in 
all five States, including Oregon, where the species was thought to be 
extirpated. Additionally, significant exchanges of land have occurred 
in Montana, resulting in ponds occupied by water howellia being 
transferred from private ownership to State or Federal ownership, which 
provides greater protections. Lastly, research specific to water 
howellia has increased our understanding of the biology and ecology of 
the species.
    Below are the recovery criteria as described in the draft recovery 
plan and the progress made to date in implementing each.
    1. Recovery criterion: Management practices, in accordance with 
habitat management plans, have reduced and/or controlled anthropogenic 
threats, thereby maintaining the species and its habitat integrity 
throughout the currently known range on public lands in five geographic 
areas for 10 years after the effective date of the final recovery plan 
(when finalized). Monitoring will demonstrate the effectiveness of 
management plans. Management plans will be in place for, at a minimum, 
the occurrences listed in the following table:

                            Table of Formalized Management Plans per Geographic Area
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                             Minimum number
                                                             of occurrences    Current number
                      Geographic area                         identified in    of occurrences   Years management
                                                             draft recovery      covered by      plans in place
                                                                  plan        management plans
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Montana...................................................                67               191                20
Spokane County, Washington................................                33                37                10
Pierce County, Washington.................................                 5                19                14
Clark County, Washington..................................                 4                 4                 7
Mendocino County, California..............................                 5                 7                22
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Progress: Despite the recovery plan not being finalized, management 
plans are in place on public lands for the minimum number of 
occurrences identified in the table above.
    Monitoring indicates management plans have been effective at 
maintaining the minimum number of occurrences by reducing or 
eliminating anthropogenic threats associated with land management 
activities (e.g., timber harvest, road construction, and maintenance) 
and other threats (e.g., invasive species). Prior to formalized 
management plans, some conservation efforts were occurring on Federal, 
State, and some private land. In addition, survey efforts have 
documented substantially more occurrences of water howellia range wide 
than were known at the time of listing (Mincemoyer 2005, pp. 4-5; 
Frymire 2017, pers. comm.; Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.; Johnson 2017, 
pers. comm.; Lichthardt and Pekas 2017, p. 1; ORBIC 2017, unpaginated; 
Rule 2017, pers. comm.).
    2. Recovery criterion: Foster or promote the conservation of 
occurrences on lands not addressed by agency management plans. 
Specifically, this recovery criterion recommends long-term conservation 
measures for the occurrence in Latah County, Idaho.
    Progress: Long-term conservation measures for water howellia have 
been established through land transfers, conservation easements, and 
management plans on some private lands. In Montana's Swan Valley, 
large-scale land transfers (67,000 acres (ac) (27,000 hectares (ha)) 
for the benefit of many species have occurred, and land supporting 
known water howellia occurrences have been transferred from private to 
Federal ownership. These occurrences are now protected under Federal 
agency management plans and conservation strategies. Additionally, one 
occurrence located on private land in Latah County, Idaho, is protected 
under a conservation agreement, held in perpetuity by the Palouse Land 
Trust. In the 5-year review (USFWS 2013, p. 6), it was noted that, in 
addition to the conservation agreement, a management plan for this 
occurrence was being developed, but to date that has not yet been 
completed (Trujillo 2017, pers. comm.). The Service is unaware of any 
information regarding additional efforts to protect water howellia 
occurrences on private land in other parts of the species' range.
    3. Recovery criterion: A post-delisting strategy for monitoring the 
species' population dynamics is in place.
    Progress: We have developed a draft post-delisting monitoring plan 
in cooperation with the States and Federal land management partners. 
The draft post-delisting monitoring plan is available for public review 
on http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2018-0045.
    Additionally, the 5-year review recommended development of a 
memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the USFS and USDOD to ensure the 
continuation of existing conservation measures currently benefitting 
water howellia. Although a formal MOU has not been developed, both 
agencies have specific conservation strategies in place (for specific

[[Page 53386]]

conservation strategies, see discussion of land management effects 
under A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range, below).

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 
424) set forth the procedures for listing species, reclassifying 
species, or removing species from listed status. ``Species'' is defined 
by the Act as including any species or subspecies of fish or wildlife 
or plants, and any distinct vertebrate population segment of fish or 
wildlife that interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A species 
may be determined to be an endangered or threatened species due to one 
or more of the five factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act: 
(A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment 
of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or 
predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) 
other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. We 
must consider these same five factors in delisting a species. For 
species that are already listed as endangered or threatened species, 
this analysis of threats is an evaluation of both the threats currently 
facing the species and the threats that are reasonably likely to affect 
the species in the foreseeable future following the removal of the 
Act's protections. We may delist a species according to 50 CFR 
424.11(d) if the best available scientific and commercial data indicate 
that the species is neither endangered nor threatened for the following 
reasons: (1) The species is extinct; (2) the species has recovered and 
is no longer endangered or threatened; and/or (3) the original 
scientific data used at the time the species was classified were in 
error.
    Water howellia is currently listed as threatened. Section 3(20) of 
the Act defines a ``threatened species'' as ``any species which is 
likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range'' (16 U.S.C. 
1532(20)). We consider ``foreseeable future'' to be that period of time 
within which a reliable prediction can be reasonably relied upon in 
making a determination about the future conservation status of a 
species, as described on January 16, 2009, Solicitor's opinion, and 
number M-37021 (DOI 2009, entire). We consider 30 years to be a 
reasonable period of time within which reliable predictions can be made 
for the species. This time period includes multiple generations of 
water howellia. Additionally, various global climate models and 
emission scenarios provide consistent predictions within that timeframe 
(IPCC 2014, p. 11). We consider 30 years a relatively conservative 
timeframe in view of the long-term protections in place for 84 percent 
of the species' occupied habitat occurring on Federal land.
    A recovered species has had threats removed or reduced to the point 
that it no longer meets the Act's definition of endangered or 
threatened. A species is ``endangered'' for purposes of the Act if it 
is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of 
its range and is ``threatened'' if it is likely to become endangered 
within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion 
of its range. For the purposes of this analysis, we will evaluate 
whether or not the currently listed species, water howellia, should 
continue to be listed as threatened, based on the best scientific and 
commercial information available.
    In considering what factors might constitute threats, we must look 
beyond the exposure of the species to a particular factor to evaluate 
whether the species may respond to the factor in a way that causes 
actual impacts to the species. If there is exposure to a factor and the 
species responds negatively, the factor may be a threat, and during the 
five-factor threats analysis, we will attempt to determine the 
significance of the threat. The threat is significant if it drives or 
contributes to the risk of extinction of the species such that the 
species warrants listing as endangered or threatened as those terms are 
defined by the Act. However, the identification of factors that could 
affect a species negatively may not be sufficient to justify a finding 
that the species warrants listing or should remain listed. The 
information must include evidence sufficient to suggest that the 
potential threat is likely to materialize and that it has the capacity 
(sufficient magnitude and extent) to affect the species' status such 
that it meets the definition of endangered or threatened under the Act. 
This determination does not necessarily require empirical proof of a 
threat. The combination of exposure and some corroborating evidence of 
how the species is likely impacted could suffice. The mere 
identification of factors that could impact a species negatively is not 
sufficient to compel a finding that a listing action is appropriate; we 
require evidence that these factors are operative threats that act on 
the species to the point that the species meets the definition of an 
endangered species or threatened species under the Act. The following 
analysis examines the five factors currently affecting water howellia, 
or that are likely to affect it within the foreseeable future.

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

    Factor A requires the Service to consider present or threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of water howellia habitat or 
range. The following potential threats were identified for this species 
at the time of listing: (1) Invasive species, (2) land management 
(primarily timber harvest and road building), (3) trampling by domestic 
livestock, (4) direct habitat loss from urbanization or dam 
construction, and (5) the narrow ecological requirements of the species 
(59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). In the analysis that follows, we also 
considered climate change in the context of narrow ecological 
requirements. An assessment of threats (1) through (4) follows; the 
narrow ecological requirements of the species and climate change are 
discussed under Factor E, below.
Invasive Species
    In the 1994 final listing rule (59 FR 35860, July 14, 1994), 
invasive plant species were identified as a threat to water howellia in 
habitats where they overlap. Invasive species, such as reed canarygrass 
(Phalaris arundinacea) and sweet flag (Acorus calamus), were identified 
to have the capacity to outcompete water howellia, presumably for 
nutrients and space, effectively excluding water howellia from 
historically occupied water bodies (Lesica 1997, p. 367). P. 
arundinacea was specifically identified as having the potential to 
extirpate water howellia occurrences (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994), and 
as a result, we focus our analysis on this species. We are not aware of 
any information indicating potentially significant negative impacts to 
water howellia from any other invasive species.
    P. arundinacea is present in water howellia habitat in all States, 
except California (Johnson 2017, per. comm.), but the extent of 
invasion varies by site (Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.; Rule 2017, pers. 
comm.; Shelly 2017, pers. comm.; Lesica 1997, pp. 367-368). Abundance 
of P. arundinacea in ponds occupied by water howellia on Lewis-McChord 
and the Turnbull Refuge has fluctuated through time, with no definitive 
long-term trend, based on personal observation and long-term monitoring 
(Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.; Rule 2017,

[[Page 53387]]

pers. comm.). In Montana, P. arundinacea exhibited a slight upward 
trend in presence and abundance from long-term monitoring in 1998-2007 
(USFS 2010, pp. 1-2), but increased distribution has not been detected 
recently (Shelly 2017, pers. comm.). In Idaho, monitoring efforts have 
not detected any decreases in pond size, which may act as a surrogate 
for P. arundinacea colonization; however, detailed monitoring of P. 
arundinacea has not been conducted (Lichthardt and Pekas 2017, p. 6). 
Little is known about the extent of P. arundinacea invasion with regard 
to the extent of occurrences in Oregon.
    The mechanisms driving invasive potential of P. arundinacea within 
water howellia habitats are unclear. The invasive potential may be due 
to some sites being occupied by a native genotype of P. arundinacea and 
other sites being occupied by a highly invasive variety (Lichthardt and 
Pekas 2017, p. 8; Wiechmann 2014a, p. 31). Density of P. arundinacea is 
a better determinant of impact to water howellia occurrences than 
presence alone (Wiechmann 2014a, pp. 31, 34, 38). Additionally, P. 
arundinacea was found to be dominant at shallower water depths and 
water howellia dominant at deeper depths, suggesting that water 
howellia is occupying a niche that P. arundinacea may be unable to 
occupy (Wiechmann 2014a, p. 32).
    Mechanical and chemical treatment efforts to decrease the abundance 
and distribution of P. arundinacea have largely been successful across 
the range of water howellia (TNC 2006, p. 65; Gilbert 2008, 2013, pers. 
comm.; Lichthardt and Gray 2010, pp. 9, 14; Johnson 2011, pers. comm.). 
In California, mechanical treatment has limited the spread of P. 
arundinacea in ponds and wetlands adjacent to water howellia 
occurrences, and chemical treatment is further reducing the size of P. 
arundinacea patches (Johnson 2011, 2017, pers. comm.). Similarly, 
consistent suppression of P. arundinacea at Lewis-McChord in Washington 
has reduced patch sizes of P. arundinacea in the past (TNC 2006, p. 65; 
Engler 2008, pers. comm.; Gilbert 2008, pers. comm.). Currently, no 
suppression efforts are underway at Lewis-McChord, due to little change 
in P. arundinacea distribution and the risk of harming water howellia 
plants in the process (Gilbert 2017, pers. comm.). In Idaho, the 
success of suppression efforts to limit abundance and distribution of 
P. arundinacea were mixed (Lichthardt and Gray 2010, p. 9). However, 
once suppression efforts were stopped, distribution and abundance of P. 
arundinacea appeared to vary more with fluctuating environmental 
conditions than with the presence of suppression effort (Lichthardt and 
Gray 2010, p. 9). No suppression efforts to control or eradicate P. 
arundinacea on the Turnbull Refuge in Washington are currently 
underway; the species is present, but trends indicate variability in 
abundance with fluctuating environmental conditions (Rule 2009, 2013a, 
2017, pers. comm.). No suppression efforts of P. arundinacea have been 
attempted in Montana.
    A. calamus was identified by the State of Idaho as an invasive 
species that may be displacing water howellia at one location (Idaho 
Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) 2016, p. 3). Monitoring at this 
location has been ongoing since 1999, and water howellia has not been 
observed since 2001 (Lichthardt and Pekas 2017, p. 2). However, we are 
unaware of any other water howellia occurrences being affected by A. 
calamus. As a result, A. calamus is unlikely to become a threat to 
water howellia.
    Invasive plants can be aggressive and quickly displace natives in 
some situations. While there are some small sites that may have been 
completely or partially overtaken by invasive plants, water howellia 
metapopulations appear to be holding their own in the face of invasive 
species. This conclusion is reinforced by P. arundinacea coexisting 
with extant water howellia occurrences; large-scale displacement of 
water howellia by P. arundinaceae is not occurring in any of the 
metapopulations (Swan Valley, MT; Turnbull Refuge and Lewis-McChord, 
Washington), even in the absence of suppression efforts. Given the 
absence of displacement of water howellia by P. arundinacea within the 
three metapopulations of water howellia, and the success of existing 
suppression efforts where they have been applied, we do not consider P. 
arundinacea to be a significant threat to water howellia. We are also 
unaware of any information indicating that any other invasive species 
likely pose a threat to water howellia.
Land Management Activities
    Land management activities that cause disturbance to vegetation 
surrounding water howellia occurrences were identified as a threat to 
the species in the 1994 final listing rule (59 FR 35860; July 14, 
1994). Previous modeling efforts suggested that these activities, 
singularly or in combination, could result in a loss of vegetation at 
the pond fringe, disrupting the hydrological cycle and negatively 
impacting the phenology of water howellia (Reeves and Woessner 2004, 
pp. 10, 15). However, more recent evidence indicates that effects from 
land management activities are no longer a threat to the species.
    Most land management activities that could disturb vegetation 
surrounding water howellia occurrences on State and Federal land are 
now prohibited. For example, land management activities that could 
disturb vegetation within 300 ft (91 m) of water howellia occurrences 
on USFS lands in Montana and California are typically not allowed 
because of standards and guidelines to protect the plant included in 
USFS Forest Plans (USFS 1995, p. IV-32; USFS 1997, p. 17; Johnson 2013, 
pers. comm.). Limited activities (including prescribed fire) may be 
allowed within the 300-ft (91-m) buffer, but only if needed to maintain 
the integrity of the buffer (USFS 1997, p. 17; Johnson 2013, pers. 
comm.). As a result of these actions, abundance and distribution of 
water howellia have remained stable in Montana's Swan Valley from 1978 
to 2014 (Pipp 2017, p. 14). The Flathead National Forest (FNF) in 
Montana developed a conservation strategy for water howellia on USFS 
lands in 1994, and a second edition was finalized in 1997 (USFS 1997, 
entire). Additionally, the FNF amended their Land and Resource 
Management Plan (LRMP) in 1996, to provide measures specific to the 
conservation and recovery of water howellia (USFS 1996, entire). On 
State land in Montana, clear-cutting of timber and burning are 
prohibited within defined buffers surrounding waterbodies (Montana Code 
Annotated, p. 1). In Washington, wetlands containing water howellia on 
the Turnbull Refuge are buffered by the distance from mechanical 
thinning and prescribed fire used in treating conifer encroachment 
(Rule 2009, pers. comm.). Timber harvest and prescribed fire were not 
identified as potential threats to other water howellia occurrences in 
Washington (USDOD 2006, entire; USDOD 2012, entire; USDOD 2017a, 
entire; Anderson 2013, pers. comm.; Gilbert 2013, 2017, pers. comm.), 
or occurrences in Oregon or Idaho (Currin 2013, pers. comm.; USFWS 
2009, entire; IDFG 2016, entire).
    Some disturbance of vegetation surrounding water howellia 
occurrences from land management activities occurred historically, 
prior to existing guidelines and standards in Federal land management 
plans. For example, in Montana's Swan Valley, historical disturbances 
caused from land management activities (e.g., timber harvest, thinning, 
prescribed fire, road building, and grazing) have occurred in

[[Page 53388]]

vegetated buffers surrounding many of the existing water howellia 
occurrences (Pipp 2017, p. 6). However, 79 percent of existing water 
howellia occurrences in the Swan Valley have experienced at least one 
historical disturbance event in the surrounding vegetation and are 
still present, suggesting some tolerance of water howellia to buffer 
disturbance. In addition, abundance or distribution of water howellia 
in the Swan Valley has remained stable, despite these historical 
disturbances from land management activities (Pipp 2017, p. 14). 
Further, despite experiencing a stand-replacing fire in 2003, water 
howellia occurrences occurring in the Crazy Horse area of the Swan 
Valley continue to persist; buffer vegetation appears to have 
recovered, and hydrology is adequately functioning (Pipp 2017, pp. 14-
15).
    The effects of historic road building within vegetated buffers 
surrounding water howellia occurrences have largely been mitigated on 
Federal and State lands. Guidance established in the FNF LRMP and FNF 
conservation strategy for water howellia have resulted in the 
stabilization of roads to reduce sedimentation where they exist within 
300 ft (91 m) of water howellia ponds in Montana (USFS 2001, p. II-46; 
USFS 1997, p. 18). No effects of historic roads occurring within 
vegetated buffers on water howellia in the Swan Valley were found in a 
recent analysis (Pipp 2017, p. 16). Similarly, in California, small 
spur roads are being closed and hydrologically stabilized in areas 
occupied by water howellia on the Mendocino National Forest (MNF) to 
minimize anthropogenic contribution to landscape instability per 
direction in the MNF LRMP (USFS 1995, p. III-26; Johnson 2008, pers. 
comm.). These conservation measures appear to be working in California, 
as all seven known occurrences of water howellia are still extant. In 
Idaho, the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) is to avoid adverse 
effects to wetlands during project implementation, and a Best 
Management Practices Manual identifies measures to minimize any 
potential effects during project implementation (ITD 2014, entire; ITD 
2017, p. 1). The State of Idaho identified two water howellia 
occurrences within 98 ft (30 m) of an established highway and expressed 
concern about indirect effects of road work resulting in sedimentation 
and, of less concern, potential removal of shade (IDFG 2016, p. 4). 
However, we have no information of any potential effects that road work 
may pose to this population. Roads were not cited as a threat to water 
howellia occurrences in Washington or Oregon (USDOD 2006, entire; USDOD 
2012, entire; USDOD 2017a, entire; USFWS 2007, entire; USFWS 2010; 
entire; Anderson 2013, pers. comm.; Currin 2013, pers. comm.).
    Land management activities (e.g., timber harvest, thinning, road 
building, grazing, and prescribed fire) that disturb vegetation 
surrounding water howellia occurrences were once considered a threat to 
the species. However, most land management activities that have the 
potential to disturb surrounding vegetation are prohibited by land 
management plans or other Federal or State policy. Some of these 
prohibitions were put in place a result of the species being listed, 
but will remain in effect for the duration of the land management plan 
or other policy, even if the species is delisted. Where disturbance of 
vegetation from land management activities has occurred, water howellia 
has shown some tolerance for disturbance and no downward trend in 
abundance or distribution. Given that all three metapopulations 
currently have conservation measures in place to avoid vegetative 
buffer disturbance from land management activities and that water 
howellia has shown some tolerance to disturbance when it occurs, we do 
not consider land management activities to be a significant threat to 
water howellia.
Trampling by Domestic Livestock
    Trampling of water howellia by domestic livestock was cited as a 
threat in the 1994 final listing rule for the species (59 FR 35860; 
July 14, 1994). Direct effects of plant crushing, seed bank 
disturbance, and alterations to substrate are likely to occur when 
livestock enter and exit ponds and wetlands. In addition, increased 
nutrient loading may be an indirect effect of livestock occupancy in 
and near water howellia habitat. Many water howellia occurrences are 
within habitats actively used by livestock. However, the level of 
livestock-caused disturbance that water howellia can withstand is not 
known and likely varies with site-specific conditions, as well as 
timing, severity, and duration of cattle use of occupied water howellia 
habitat.
    The effects of trampling on water howellia occurrences on Federal 
and State land have largely been mitigated with fencing, cattle 
barricades, elimination of grazing in some areas occupied by water 
howellia, or limitations on the duration of time livestock have access 
to sensitive pond and wetland habitats (USFS 2002, p. 6; Mincemoyer 
2005, p. 11; Johnson 2008, 2013, pers. comm.; Frymire 2017, 
pers.comm.). In Montana, analyses of monitoring data spanning nearly 30 
years have concluded that despite some grazing in occupied habitat, the 
presence of water howellia has not been affected (Pipp 2017, p. 17).
    Although no causal link was made between grazing levels and the 
probability of water howellia presence in the Pipp (2017) analysis, it 
appears that management actions implemented concurrently with grazing 
have provided protections to water howellia habitat and allowed the 
species to be conserved in Montana's Swan Valley (Pipp 2017, p. 17). In 
California, specific grazing regimes near five occupied ponds within an 
active grazing allotment on National Forest land appear to be 
effective; monitoring indicates no effects to water howellia 
occurrences from livestock trampling (Johnson 2013, pers. comm.). Two 
other water howellia occurrences in California are within inactive 
grazing allotments, where livestock are not currently present and not 
expected to be present in the future (Johnson 2013, 2017, pers. comm.). 
Trampling is not reported as a threat in Washington, Idaho, or Oregon 
(USDOD 2006, entire; USDOD 2017a, entire; USFWS 2007, entire; USFWS 
2010, entire; Currin 2013, pers. comm.; IDFG 2016, entire). It is 
unknown where grazing may occur on the 37 occurrences on private 
property. Therefore, the extent of trampling and other livestock-
related alterations to water howellia habitat on these private lands is 
unknown. However, potential trampling effects from livestock on Federal 
and State land have been largely mitigated.
    Trampling of water howellia by domestic livestock is not a threat 
to the species on Federal or State land at current grazing levels 
because of mitigation measures being implemented, including riparian 
fencing, cattle guards, and timely removal or relocation of livestock 
from the sensitive pond and wetland habitats. We have no information 
indicating levels of livestock use (and thus potential trampling) will 
increase beyond current levels in the future. The severity and 
frequency of trampling of water howellia occurrences on private land 
are unknown, but as significantly fewer water howellia occurrences are 
known from private lands, these impacts are likely not significant at 
the species level. We conclude, based on the available information, 
that trampling by domestic livestock is not a significant threat to 
water howellia.
Habitat Loss From Urbanization and Dam Construction
    Habitat loss from urbanization and dam construction occurred 
historically,

[[Page 53389]]

particularly in Oregon, and was considered a threat to water howellia 
at the time of listing in 1994. However, additional habitat loss from 
urbanization and dam construction is no longer a threat to the species 
because conservation strategies implemented following listing and 
increased Federal ownership now provide additional protections (see 
Conservation Efforts, above).
    Direct habitat loss from urbanization and dam construction occurred 
along the Columbia River in Oregon, and water howellia was thought to 
be extirpated from that area prior to 2015 (USFWS 2017, entire; Norman 
2010, pers. comm.). However, since then, two occurrences of water 
howellia have been located in the Portland, Oregon, metro area (ORBIC 
2017, unpaginated).
    Most of the water howellia occurrences on corporate or private 
lands in Montana were previously owned by Plum Creek Timber. In 2007, 
approximately 67,000 ac (27,000 ha) of Plum Creek land in the Swan 
Valley were sold to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Trust for Public 
Land; ownership was then transferred to either the USFS or the State of 
Montana (Swan Valley Connections 2017, entire). The 47 water howellia 
occurrences and potential habitat that were formerly on Plum Creek land 
are now protected from urbanization through either the FNF LRMP (USFS 
1997, entire) or State agency direction for managing timberlands (DNRC 
1996, p. 1). The FNF LRMP mandates avoidance of disturbance, including 
urbanization, in forested buffers of a minimum of 300 ft (91 m) from 
water howellia occurrences. The State of Montana manages its 
timberlands for long-term revenue and biodiversity (DNRC 1996, p. 2) 
and not for short-term revenue from selling timbered State lands and 
the potential urbanization that may follow.
    It is unknown if historical habitat loss occurred in California; 
however, most known occurrences of water howellia are within USFS 
lands, including some within designated wilderness areas (Johnson 2013, 
pers. comm.). Therefore, no current or future threat of habitat loss 
from urbanization is expected because any disturbance of vegetated 
buffers surrounding water howellia ponds is prohibited under the LRMP 
unless it is necessary to promote natural ecological and hydrological 
function (USFS 1995, pp. IV-19, 35). It is unknown how urbanization has 
affected the 37 water howellia occurrences on private land, but because 
there are significantly fewer occurrences known from private lands, 
these impacts are likely not significant at the species level.
    In sum, habitat loss from urbanization and dam construction 
occurred historically, particularly in Oregon, but is no longer 
considered a significant threat. In Oregon, recent new discoveries of 
water howellia suggest that the species has been able to remain extant 
on the landscape where it was once considered extirpated. In areas 
surrounding the extant, larger metapopulations, habitat loss from 
urbanization and dam construction is not considered a threat to the 
species because of conservation strategies and land transfers 
implemented in Montana (USFS) and Washington (USDOD and USFWS). 
Further, known habitat in California is largely within USFS lands, 
including designated wilderness; thus, there is no significant threat 
of habitat loss from urbanization or dam construction in California.
Summary of Factor A
    The following stressors warranted consideration as possible current 
or future threats to water howellia under Factor A: Invasive species, 
land management activities, trampling by domestic livestock, and direct 
habitat loss from urbanization or dam construction (59 FR 35860; July 
14, 1994). However, these stressors have not occurred to the extent 
anticipated at the time of listing in 1994, or the stressors are being 
adequately managed, or the species is tolerant of the stressor as 
described below.
     Suppression efforts directed at P. arundinacea have 
resulted in some success. Furthermore, water howellia occupies a 
habitat niche that P. arundinacea appears unable to tolerate. 
Consequently, water howellia occurrences are not currently being 
displaced by P. arundinacea and we have no data to suggest that they 
are being displaced by other invasive species.
     Land management plans and conservation management 
strategies have been adopted by Federal and State agencies to mitigate 
the effects of land management activities on water howellia and are in 
place for all three metapopulations. These plans vary in duration, but 
are mandated by Federal and State law and are expected to continue to 
provide protections to water howellia habitat into the future, even if 
the species is delisted.
     The installation of riparian fencing and cattle barricades 
and the implementation of specific grazing routines have effectively 
mitigated the effects of trampling on water howellia.
     The extant metapopulations, as well as most occurrences in 
California, are largely managed by Federal agencies that have 
conservation strategies in place. Therefore, neither urbanization nor 
dam construction is a threat to water howellia.
     Limited information is available regarding the 37 
occurrences (12 percent of known occurrences) that occur on private 
property. Due to the low number of occurrences on private land relative 
to Federal and State land, impacts are likely, not significant at the 
species level.
    Therefore, based on the available information, we do not consider 
there to be any significant threats related to the present or 
threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or 
range of water howellia.

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

    Overutilization, for any purpose, was not considered a threat in 
the final rule to list water howellia (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). We 
are not aware of any current utilization of water howellia for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes. 
Regarding future utilization, interest has been expressed by the 
Valencia Wetland Mitigation Bank in Priest River, Idaho, to collect 
seed via soil plugs from vigorous water howellia occurrences for use in 
establishing new occurrences where appropriate habitat exists 
(Wiechmann 2014b, entire). Initially, a harvest of 5 to 7 soil plugs 
from other Idaho occurrences has been proposed. It is unclear how 
``vigorous'' populations have been defined in this context, although 
any proposed collection of soil plugs would have to be permitted by the 
Service, assuming a Federal nexus. The proposed project would be 
beneficial if it created another occurrence of water howellia in 
northern Idaho or had educational value. We are not aware of any other 
current or future plans for utilization of the species. Therefore, 
based on the available information, we find that there are no 
significant threats to water howellia related to overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes.

C. Disease or Predation

    Predation (herbivory) on water howellia by domestic livestock was 
considered a threat in the final rule to list the species (59 FR 35860; 
July 14, 1994). As described in more detail above under the Factor A 
discussion, grazing is limited within the species' habitat, and the 
persistence of water howellia in ponds accessible to livestock in the 
Swan Valley metapopulation has not been affected

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(Pipp 2017, p. 17). As a result, we conclude that predation does not 
affect the species throughout its range at the population or species 
level. We have no information suggesting levels of livestock grazing 
will increase in the future. We are not aware of any issues or 
potential stressors regarding disease or insect predation. Therefore, 
based on the available information, we do not consider there to be any 
significant threats to water howellia from disease or predation.

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    Under this factor, we examine whether existing regulatory 
mechanisms are inadequate to address the threats to water howellia 
discussed under other factors. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act requires 
the Service to take into account ``those efforts, if any, being made by 
any State or foreign nation, or any political subdivision of a State or 
foreign nation, to protect such species.'' In relation to Factor D 
under the Act, we interpret this language to require us to consider 
relevant Federal, State, and Tribal laws, regulations, and other such 
mechanisms that may minimize any of the threats we describe in the 
threats analyses under the other four factors or otherwise enhance 
conservation of the species. We give the strongest weight to statutes 
and their implementing regulations and to management direction that 
stems from those laws and regulations; an example would be State 
governmental actions enforced under a State statute or constitution or 
Federal action under the statute.
    For currently listed species, we consider the adequacy of existing 
regulatory mechanisms to address threats to the species absent the 
protections of the Act. Therefore, we examine whether other regulatory 
mechanisms would remain in place if the species were delisted, and the 
extent to which those mechanisms will continue to help ensure that 
future threats will be reduced or eliminated.
    In our discussion under Factors A, B, C, and E, we evaluate the 
significance of threats as mitigated by any conservation efforts and 
existing regulatory mechanisms. Where threats exist, we analyze the 
extent to which conservation measures and existing regulatory 
mechanisms address the specific threats to the species. Regulatory 
mechanisms, if they exist, may reduce or eliminate the impacts from one 
or more identified threats.
    Although inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms was not 
specifically identified as a threat to water howellia at the time of 
listing in 1994, we did mention the very limited number of protections 
that existed for the species (59 FR 35860, July 14, 1994, see p. 59 FR 
35862). Specifically, we discussed the designation of water howellia as 
a sensitive species by the USFS and referred to wetland protection 
measures provided under section 404 of the Federal Clean Water Act (33 
U.S.C. 1251 et seq.), Food Security Act (16 U.S.C. 3801 et seq.), and 
some State laws.
I. Federal
Clean Water Act
    The Clean Water Act (CWA) was designed, in part, to protect surface 
waters of the United States from unregulated pollution from point 
sources. The CWA provides some benefit to water howellia through the 
regulation of discharge into surface waters through a permitting 
process; however, the historical threats to water howellia habitat have 
not typically been associated with point sources of pollution, and 
current information does not point to these as threats for occurrences 
today.
    Under section 404 of the CWA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 
(USACE) regulates the discharge of fill material into waters of the 
United States, including wetlands. In general, the term ``wetland'' 
refers to areas meeting the USACE's criteria of hydric soils, hydrology 
(either sufficient annual flooding or water on the soil surface), and 
hydrophytic vegetation (plants specifically adapted for growing in 
wetlands). Some habitat occupied by water howellia is considered 
isolated waters under the CWA. As a result of various Supreme Court 
decisions, the CWA jurisdiction over isolated waters has been uncertain 
and generally determined case-by-case. Further, federal agencies are 
currently considering removing isolated waters from CWA jurisdiction 
(82 FR 34899; July 27, 2017). Thus, the extent of water howellia 
receiving the protections of the CWA now and in the future is 
uncertain. However, the protections of the CWA to water howellia 
habitat that is under CWA jurisdiction are expected to remain, without 
the provisions of the Act.
Food Security Act
    The Food Security Act was designed, in part, to protect wetlands by 
removing incentives for farmers to convert wetlands into crop fields. 
The Food Security Act likely provides some indirect protection of 
potential water howellia habitats on private land, but not those on 
Federal or State land. Although there are no data directly linking the 
Food Security Act and water howellia, historically, it has been 
demonstrated that the Food Security Act has had positive impacts on 
wetland function (Gleason et al. 2011, p. S65). Although the future of 
the Food Security Act in its current form is uncertain, any protections 
afforded to wetlands would infer benefit to water howellia should the 
species be present.
National Environmental Policy Act
    Environmental review of potential effects of Federal actions is 
mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 
4321 et seq.). When NEPA analysis reveals significant environmental 
effects, the Federal agencies must disclose those effects to the public 
and consider mitigation that could offset the effects. These 
mitigations usually provide some protections for listed species. 
However, the NEPA does not require that adverse impacts be mitigated, 
only disclosed. Therefore, it is unclear what level of protection would 
be conveyed to water howellia through NEPA, in the absence of 
protections under the Act.
National Forest Management Act
    Federal activities on USFS lands are subject to the National Forest 
Management Act of 1976 (NFMA; 16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq.). The NFMA 
requires the development and implementation of resource management 
plans that guide the maintenance of ecological conditions that support 
natural distributions and abundance of species and not contribute to 
their extirpation.
    Water howellia is given consideration as a federally listed species 
by Federal agencies, and, if delisted, it would likely continue to be 
included on the sensitive species list for the USFS, as it was at the 
time of listing (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). Under the 2012 National 
Forest System land planning rule (77 FR 21162; April 9, 2012), the 
status given is ``species of conservation concern,'' and direction is 
given to provide ecological conditions necessary to maintain viable 
populations of species of conservation concern (Hayward et al. 2016, p. 
8). Currently, the FNF in Montana is in the process of revising their 
LRMP, and the MNF in California anticipates revising their plan in the 
near future. The USFS anticipates that water howellia will be given the 
status of ``species of conservation concern'' in both plans, even if 
the species is delisted (Shelley 2016, pers. comm.; Johnson 2017, pers. 
comm.). Special status species policies (USFS manual, section 2670, p. 
4) detail the need to conserve these species and the

[[Page 53391]]

ecosystems on which they depend on using all methods and procedures 
necessary to improve the condition of these species and their habitats 
to a point where their special status recognition is no longer 
warranted. The FNF adopted a plan specific to guiding conservation of 
the known water howellia occurrences on Federal land in Montana, and 
guidance provided in the MNF LRMP has resulted in the use of buffer 
strips to protect riparian species and function surrounding occupied 
ponds in California. Both the FNF plan and MNF policy are expected to 
continue to be implemented if we delist water howellia, based on 
discussions with the USFS (see Conservation Efforts and A. The Present 
or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of Its Habitat 
or Range, above).
Federal Land Policy and Management Act
    Similar to NFMA, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 
U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) applies to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 
with regard to the conservation and use of public lands under their 
management. Water howellia is given consideration as a federally listed 
species by Federal agencies, and if delisted, would likely be included 
on the sensitive species list for the BLM as it was at the time of 
listing (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994). Special status species policies 
(BLM manual, section 6840, p. 37) detail the need to conserve these 
species and the ecosystems on which they depend using all methods and 
procedures which are necessary to improve the condition of special 
status species and their habitat to a point where their special status 
recognition is no longer warranted. The one occurrence of water 
howellia in Washington on BLM land makes the existence of the plant 
vulnerable to localized actions. However, application of best 
management practices (BMPs) consistent with resource management plan 
(RMP) direction appears to have maintained this occurrence since 1993 
(Frymire 2017, pers. comm.). The implementation of BMPs is expected to 
continue in the absence of protections under the Act because the 
current RMP (which requires BMPs) will still be the guiding land 
management document into the future.
Sikes Act
    Water howellia occurrences and habitats on Federal military 
installations (Lewis-McChord in Pierce County, Washington) are managed 
under an INRMP (USDOD 2006, pp. 4-6; USDOD 2017, p. X-X) authorized by 
the Sikes Act (16 U.S.C. 670a et seq.). Protections for water howellia 
habitat in the INRMP include restrictions on motorized equipment and 
military training activities in wetlands occupied by water howellia. In 
concert with the INRMP, Lewis-McChord has developed an Endangered 
Species Management Plan for water howellia that establishes 
conservation goals, management prescriptions, and monitoring efforts 
(USDOD 2012, entire). These protections would be expected to continue 
in the absence of protections under the Act because the Sikes Act 
mandates USDOD to conserve and rehabilitate wildlife, fish, and game on 
military reservations.
National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act
    As directed by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act 
(Pub. L. 105-57, 16 U.S.C. 668dd), Refuge managers have the authority 
and responsibility to protect native ecosystems, fulfill the purposes 
for which an individual refuge was founded, and implement strategies to 
achieve the goals and objectives stated in management plans. For 
example, Turnbull Refuge (Spokane County, Washington) includes 
extensive habitat for water howellia, including 35 known occupied 
sites. The National Wildlife Refuge's comprehensive conservation plan 
(CCP) is a land management plan with a 15-year term that directs 
protection of these habitats and identifies specific objectives 
relative to research and monitoring, invasive species management, and 
education regarding water howellia (USFWS 2007, p. 2-22). Given the 15-
year timeframe of CCPs, these protections would remain in place until 
2022 regardless of water howellia Federal listing status.
    Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in western Washington finalized 
a CCP in 2010, which included several conservation strategies for water 
howellia. These strategies included allowing natural flood-up and 
various methods (e.g., mechanical, biological, chemical) for invasive 
species control (USFWS 2010, pp. 2-37, 2-54). Given the 15-year 
timeframe of CCPs, protections outlined in the Ridgefield National 
Wildlife Refuge CCP for water howellia are expected to remain in place 
until 2025 regardless of water howellia Federal listing status.
    In addition to specific protections for water howellia provided 
under CCPs, the species is permanently protected by the mission of all 
National Wildlife Refuges to manage their lands and waters for the 
conservation of fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats.
II. State
Montana Streamside Management Zone Act
    The Montana Streamside Management Zone Act (SMZ), in part, 
designates vegetated buffer strips around surface waters, including 
wetlands adjacent to streams (and thus potential water howellia 
habitat), within the boundaries of timber harvest units in Montana. The 
SMZ law covers Federal, State, and private commercial timber practices 
(Montana Code Annotated 2009, p. 1). The SMZ law specifically prohibits 
slash fill of wetlands, off-road vehicle use, and clear cutting within 
50 ft (15 m) of water bodies (Administrative Rules of Montana 2007, p. 
7). There are no buffer strips designated for isolated wetlands (those 
not adjacent to a stream/river) under the SMZ and only voluntary 
restrictions on equipment travel through isolated wetlands. Although 
unclear, some water howellia occurrences in Montana's Swan Valley may 
occur in isolated wetlands. Thus, the direct loss of habitat or plants 
for a small number of occurrences from timber harvest activities is a 
possibility if water howellia plants occupy isolated wetlands within a 
timber harvest unit. However, audits of timber sale practices conducted 
by interdisciplinary review teams have consistently documented few 
violations of the SMZ law and generally high compliance (>90%) with 
voluntary regulations in the recent past (Montana DNRC 2016, entire). 
Thus, while there is potential for water howellia habitat to be lost 
for occurrences in isolated wetlands, the magnitude of the stressor 
appears small. As State law, the protections of the SMZ are expected to 
continue if we delist water howellia.
Montana State Comprehensive Fish and Wildlife Strategy
    This conservation strategy identifies focus areas, community types, 
species, and inventory needs along with their conservation concerns and 
strategies in Montana (Montana FWP 2005, p. 170). The emphasis of the 
strategy is conserving a broad range of species and habitats, not just 
game species and their habitats. The Swan Valley (site of the Montana 
water howellia metapopulation) is designated a ``Terrestrial 
Conservation Focus Area in Greatest Need.'' Multiple conservation 
strategies include riparian area conservation, conservation easement 
planning, sustainable land management practices, and weed control

[[Page 53392]]

partnerships. However, implementation of these conservation actions is 
dependent on State wildlife grants--funds that have an uncertain 
future. For this reason, it is unlikely these conservation strategies 
could be relied upon to protect the 14 ponds occupied by water howellia 
on State land in Montana if we delist water howellia.
Washington Natural Heritage Plan
    Washington State's Natural Heritage Plan identifies priorities for 
preserving natural diversity, including wetlands, in Washington State 
(Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) 2007, 2011, entire). 
The progressive plan aids Washington DNR in conserving key habitats 
that are currently imperiled or expected to be in the future. The 
prioritization of conservation efforts provided by this plan is 
expected to remain in place if we delist water howellia; however, the 
effects of plan implementation on water howellia would depend upon 
whether habitat for water howellia was part of a conservation effort.
Washington Forest Practices Act
    Washington State's Forest Practices Act, and associated regulations 
and rules, (Washington Annotated Code 2008, p. 30-3) provides 
protection of wetlands from the fill and cutting that could result from 
commercial timber harvest operations. Minimum buffers of 25 ft (8 m) 
are designated around ponds and wetlands inside timber sale boundaries, 
effectively prohibiting most harvest and all heavy equipment used in 
these areas. These buffers protect water howellia habitat from 
disturbance and minimize impacts to water quality. As State law, these 
protections are expected to remain in place if we delist water 
howellia.
Oregon Senate Bill (SB) 533/Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 564
    Oregon SB 533/ORS 564 requires non-Federal public agencies to 
protect State-listed plant species found on their lands (Oregon Revised 
Statute 2009, entire). Any land action on Oregon non-Federal public 
lands which results, or might result, in the taking of an endangered or 
threatened species requires consultation with the Oregon Department of 
Agriculture (ODA) staff. Removal of Federal protections for water 
howellia would remove State protection of the species under this 
statute since water howellia was never formally listed by ODA. However, 
protections are expected to remain in place due to other rare, 
sensitive plant species in the area inhabited by water howellia and the 
commitment of the Metro (Portland-area regional government) to protect 
the only known occurrences of water howellia in Oregon (Currin 2013, 
pers. comm.).
III. Summary of Factor D
    As discussed above and under the other factors, conservation 
measures and existing regulatory mechanisms (such as Federal and State 
land management plans and conservation strategies) have minimized, and 
are continuing to minimize, the previously identified threats of 
invasive species, land management activities (primarily timber harvest 
and road building), trampling by domestic livestock, and direct habitat 
loss from urbanization or dam construction to all three water howellia 
metapopulations. As indicated above, we anticipate that the majority of 
these mechanisms will remain in place regardless of the species' 
Federal listing status. Consequently, we find that conservation 
measures, along with existing regulatory mechanisms, are adequate to 
address these specific stressors.

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    Factor E requires the Service to consider any other factors that 
may be affecting water howellia. Under this factor, we discuss: (1) The 
narrow ecological requirements of the species in the context of climate 
change, (2) small population size/low genetic diversity, and (3) the 
potential for cumulative effects of stressors.
Narrow Ecological Requirements/Climate Change
    Here we consider the narrow ecological requirements of water 
howellia in the context of observed or projected changes in climate. 
The 1994 listing rule (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994) did not discuss the 
potential impacts of climate change on water howellia. The terms 
``climate'' and ``climate change'' are defined by the Intergovernmental 
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The term ``climate'' refers to the mean 
and variability of relevant quantities (i.e., temperature, 
precipitation, wind) over time, with 30 years being a typical period 
for such measurements, although shorter or longer periods also may be 
used (IPCC 2014, pp. 119-120). The term ``climate change'' thus refers 
to a change in the mean or variability of one or more measures of 
climate (e.g., temperature or precipitation) that persists for an 
extended period, typically decades or longer, whether the change is due 
to internal processes or anthropogenic changes (IPCC 2014, p. 120).
    Scientific measurements spanning several decades demonstrate that 
changes in climate are occurring. In particular, warming of the climate 
system is unequivocal, and many of the observed changes in the last 60 
years are unprecedented over decades to millennia (IPCC 2014, p. 2). 
The current rate of climate change may be as fast as any extended 
warming period over the past 65 million years and is projected to 
accelerate in the next 30 to 80 years (National Research Council 2013, 
p. 5). Thus, rapid climate change is adding to other sources of 
extinction pressures, such as land use and invasive species, which will 
likely place extinction rates in this era among just a handful of the 
severe biodiversity crises observed in Earth's geological record (AAAS 
2014, p. 7).
    Examples of various other observed and projected changes in climate 
and associated effects and risks, and the basis for them, are provided 
for global and regional scales in recent reports issued by the IPCC 
(2013c, 2014), and similar types of information for the United States 
and regions within it can be found in the National Climate Assessment 
(Melillo et al. 2014, entire).
    Results of scientific analyses presented by the IPCC show that most 
of the observed increase in global average temperature since the mid-
20th century cannot be explained by natural variability in climate 
alone and is ``very likely'' (defined by the IPCC as 95 percent or 
higher probability) due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas 
(GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere as a result of human activities, 
particularly carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use (IPCC 2014, 
pp. 47-48; see also Walsh et al. 2014, pp. 20-24). Further confirmation 
of the role of GHGs comes from analyses by Huber and Knutti (2012, p. 
31), who concluded GHGs contributed 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.85 
degrees Celsius) of warming since the mid-20th century and that it was 
extremely unlikely that internal variability contributed.
    Scientists use a variety of climate models, which include 
consideration of natural processes and variability, as well as various 
scenarios of potential levels and timing of GHG emissions, to evaluate 
the causes of changes already observed and to project future changes in 
temperature and other climate conditions. Model results yield very 
similar projections of average global warming until about 2030. 
Thereafter, the magnitude and rate of warming vary through the end of 
the century depending on the assumptions about population levels, 
emissions of GHGs, and other factors that influence climate

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change. Thus, absent extremely rapid stabilization of GHGs at a global 
level, there is strong scientific support for projections that warming 
will continue through the 21st century, and that the magnitude and rate 
of change will be influenced substantially by human actions regarding 
GHG emissions (IPCC 2013b, 2014; entire).
    Global climate projections are informative, and in some cases, the 
only or the best scientific information available for us to use. 
However, projected changes in climate and related impacts can vary 
substantially across and within different regions of the world (e.g., 
IPCC 2013c, 2014; entire) and within the United States (Melillo et al. 
2014, entire). Therefore, we use ``downscaled'' projections when they 
are available and have been developed through appropriate scientific 
procedures, because such projections provide higher resolution 
information that is more relevant to spatial scales used for analyses 
of a given species (see Glick et al. 2011, pp. 58-61, for a discussion 
of downscaling).
    Various changes in climate may have direct or indirect effects on 
species. These may be positive, neutral, or negative, and they may 
change over time, depending on the species and other relevant 
considerations, such as interactions of climate with other variables 
like habitat fragmentation (IPCC 2014, p. 67; for additional examples, 
see Franco et al. 2006; Forister et al. 2010; Galbraith et al. 2014; 
Chen et al. 2011; Bertelsmeier et al. 2013, entire). Identifying likely 
effects often involves aspects of climate change vulnerability 
analysis. Vulnerability to climate change has three principle 
components: Sensitivity, exposure, and adaptive capacity (Glick et al. 
2011; Dawson et al. 2011). Sensitivity is the degree to which a system 
is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate-related 
stimuli (U.S. CCSP 2008b as cited by Glick et al. 2011). Exposure is 
the nature and degree to which a system is exposed to significant 
climate variations (IPCC 2001b as cited by Glick et al. 2011). Adaptive 
capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to climate change 
(including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential 
damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the 
consequences (IPCC 2001b as cited by Glick et al. 2011). There is no 
single method for conducting such analyses that applies to all 
situations (Glick et al. 2011, p. 3). We use our expert judgment and 
appropriate analytical approaches to weigh relevant information, 
including uncertainty, in our consideration of various aspects of 
climate change.
    As is the case with all stressors that we assess, even if we 
conclude that a species is currently affected or is likely to be 
affected in a negative way by one or more climate-related impacts, it 
does not necessarily follow that the species meets the definition of an 
``endangered species'' or a ``threatened species'' under the Act. If a 
species is listed as endangered or threatened, knowledge regarding the 
vulnerability of the species to, and known or anticipated impacts from, 
climate-associated changes in environmental conditions can be used to 
help devise appropriate strategies for its recovery.
    Climate change trends predicted for the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, 
Washington, Idaho, and Montana) broadly consist of an increase in 
annual average temperature; an increase in extreme precipitation 
events; and, with less certainty, variability in annual precipitation 
(Dalton et al. 2013, pp. 31-38, Figure 1.1; Snover et al. 2013, pp. 5-
1-5-4). Lee et al. (2015) describe potential hydrological changes in 
response to predicted climate change on montane wetlands in the Pacific 
Northwest. These observations appear to vary with local conditions and 
include earlier drawdown, more rapid drying out in the summer, and 
reduced minimum water levels. We do not have a clear understanding of 
how water howellia responds to a diversity of temperature and 
precipitation changes, although the species has persisted in spite of 
rising temperatures and increasing variability in precipitation across 
its range over the past several decades (Shelly et al. 2016, entire).
    A potential increase in precipitation as a result of climate change 
may affect the species in several ways. First, increases in 
precipitation may increase the surface area of existing ponds and 
wetlands, or create new ones. These new habitats would be available for 
colonization by water howellia and could increase the range and 
resiliency of the species. However, new habitats would also be 
available to invasive species such as P. arundinacea and may also 
promote their expansion on the landscape. An important factor in 
increased habitat would likely be the site-specific conditions within 
each habitat; new habitat with deeper water and longer periods of 
inundation would likely preclude the establishment of P. arundinacea 
and be beneficial to water howellia. Conversely, the creation of 
shallower habitat may favor P. arundinacea. Another possible effect of 
increased precipitation may be the alteration of the hydrologic cycle 
of water howellia habitats. Specifically, these habitats may fill 
earlier (with heavier spring rainfall) and dry later in the season than 
they did historically, thereby reducing the timing window for air 
exposure needed for seed germination of water howellia in late summer 
and autumn.
    Alternatively, a potential decrease in precipitation as a result of 
climate change also may affect water howellia in several ways. 
Decreases in precipitation may result in water levels that are too low 
to support the submergent flower production. Additionally, earlier 
drawdowns and the faster receding of water in these wetlands as a 
result of decreased precipitation may ultimately limit the continued 
persistence of ephemeral ponds. This could provide an opportunity for 
expansion of P. arundinacea and other invasive species. On the other 
hand, amplified drying may allow for increased germination and 
expansion of water howellia. Another scenario of decreased 
precipitation is that the hydrological cycles could be altered in a way 
that would favor water howellia. Ponds that were previously perennial 
could potentially become ephemeral in nature, providing the wetting and 
drying cycle necessary for water howellia reproduction and, 
consequently, additional habitat for the species to occupy. Again, the 
site-specific conditions for each habitat would be an important factor.
    Changes in precipitation from snow to rain may also affect water 
howellia, particularly in the southernmost occurrences (e.g., 
California) (California DWR 2013, p. 22). More precipitation falling as 
rain rather than snow would likely alter the hydrologic cycle within 
these habitats. These alterations could include faster drying of 
wetlands than was observed historically, due to a lack of spring run-
off from snow fields and increased annual air temperature. More 
frequent extreme precipitation events are predicted for California 
(California DWR 2013, p. 23). The effect of more extreme precipitation 
events on water howellia habitat in California is unclear, especially 
given the potential for interactions among precipitation and other 
environmental variables predicted to change (e.g., reduced snowpack, 
increased annual air temperature).
    The ability of water howellia to self-fertilize and produce seeds 
at both the early season submergent and later season emergent forms may 
be an advantage to surviving lengthened, shortened, or generally more 
inconsistent growing seasons than occurred historically. Seed 
production from both flower forms in one growing

[[Page 53394]]

season may increase the opportunity for surviving subsequent inclement 
years. It is uncertain how increases in water temperature and increased 
evaporation due to increased ambient temperatures would affect growth 
and reproduction of water howellia; however, climate conditions that 
restrict the dual seed production and seed banking could reduce the 
ability of water howellia to persist over time.
    Associated wetland vegetation that positively contributes to 
suitable microclimates for water howellia could be altered by predicted 
variance in temperatures and precipitation. An increase in daily 
temperatures paired with a decrease in precipitation could potentially 
result in stressed and dying vegetation, which could result in an 
increased risk of wildfire, insect pathogens such as pine bark beetles, 
an increase in noxious or invasive weeds, and an increase in 
atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that could accelerate natural 
ecological succession. The loss of vegetation around ponds from 
wildfire or other events could accelerate sedimentation, resulting in 
the loss of water howellia occurrences. Montana and eastern Washington 
occurrences of water howellia could be more resilient to these 
processes than other occurrences because of their distribution over a 
larger landscape with many separate occurrences. Increasing 
temperatures combined with increased demand for ground and surface 
water for human development may compound negative impacts to water 
howellia in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. Climate-induced 
effects on water howellia may appear first in California, as these 
occurrences are at the southern edge of the known range. However, these 
effects may be buffered by the higher elevation (approximately 3,800 
ft/1,158 m) at which the California occurrences are found compared to 
elsewhere in the range (western Washington: Approximately 15 ft/5m).
    Predicted environmental changes resulting from climate change may 
have both positive and negative effects on water howellia, depending on 
the extent and type of impact and depending on site-specific conditions 
within each habitat type. The primary predicted negative effect is the 
alteration of hydrologic regimes potentially resulting in inconsistent 
growing seasons. This effect will likely be buffered by the ability of 
water howellia to produce seeds during both early and late seasons. 
Predicted environmental effects that may be positive for water howellia 
include increased habitat, seed dispersal, and species distribution in 
some areas, including within the three metapopulations due to predicted 
increases in precipitation across the northern range of the species 
(IPCC 2014, p. 61). The intact nature and current spatial arrangement 
(geographically diverse and at varying elevations) of the three large 
metapopulations will likely provide more resilience to climate change 
than the smaller, isolated occurrences. Effects of potential 
composition shifts in vegetation surrounding water howellia occurrences 
as a result of climate change are unknown.
    In summary, climate change is affecting and will continue to affect 
temperature and precipitation events. The extent, duration, and impact 
of those changes are unknown, but could potentially increase or 
decrease precipitation in some areas. Water howellia may experience 
climate change-related effects in the future, most likely at the 
individual or local population level. Regional occurrences may 
experience some shifts. However, it is anticipated that the 
metapopulations important to the viability of the species would 
continue to persist because of resiliency due to geographic and 
elevational diversity. Available information indicates the species is 
adaptable to variable conditions. Therefore, based upon available 
information, we conclude that climate change is not a significant 
threat to water howellia.
Small Population Size/Low Genetic Diversity
    The final rule to list water howellia (59 FR 35860; July 14, 1994) 
cited small population size and lack of genetic variation within and 
among occurrences as a contributor to its vulnerability. Small 
occurrences with low genetic diversity could limit a species' or 
population's ability to respond to novel changes in its environment, 
necessitating redundancy of occurrences across larger areas to increase 
the probability of survival. At the time of listing in 1994, the only 
genetic investigation of the species showed very low genetic diversity 
within and among occurrences in Washington and Montana (Lesica et al. 
1988, p. 278). More current genetic results indicate greater genetic 
diversity within and among occurrences than previously thought; 
however, diversity is still relatively low (Brunsfeld and Baldwin 1998, 
p. 2; Schierenbeck and Phipps 2010, p. 5). Additionally, one genetic 
investigation documented that all occurrences are distantly related and 
that gene flow is likely occurring between the States (Schierenbeck and 
Phipps 2010, p. 6).
    The relatively low genetic diversity of water howellia across its 
current range may limit the species' ability to respond to 
environmental changes. However, gene flow is occurring among 
occurrences, and the redundancy of smaller occurrences across the 
species' range may mitigate for reduced genetic plasticity within 
individual occurrences (i.e., the lower genetic representation may be 
mitigated by higher geographic representation). The current spatial 
arrangement of small occurrences is favorable to the species' long-term 
persistence because these occurrences are at different elevations and 
within varying climatic regimes (see discussion under ``Narrow 
Ecological Requirements/Climate Change,'' above). Thus, we do not 
consider small population size or low genetic diversity to be a 
significant threat to water howellia.
Cumulative Effects of All Stressors
    Many of the stressors faced by water howellia are interrelated and 
could work in concert with each other, resulting in a cumulative 
adverse effect on the species. For example, stressors discussed under 
Factor A that individually do not rise to the level of a threat could 
together result in habitat loss. Similarly, small population size in 
combination with stressors discussed under Factor A could present a 
potential concern.
    Climate change is occurring across the range of the species, 
coinciding with all other identified stressors. As described 
previously, variations in climatic conditions may favor or preclude 
invasive species, depending on site-specific habitat factors. Also 
described previously, climate change may alter hydrological cycles. 
However, despite changing climate conditions, water howellia has 
persisted across its range. Analysis of nearly 30 years of data on 
water howellia occurrences in the Swan Valley indicates the species has 
persisted even with climate change interacting with other potential 
stressors (Pipp 2017, entire). This suggests that the cumulative 
effects of climate change and other stressors are not meaningful at the 
metapopulation level, nor at the species level. Nevertheless, we 
recognize that there are uncertainties associated with climate change 
predictions; ongoing management and monitoring of water howellia (via 
the PDM plan) is designed to detect potential future changes in the 
species' distribution and abundance.
    There may be locations of water howellia occurrences where invasive 
species are present, and cattle have access to occupied ponds. Grazing 
may

[[Page 53395]]

limit the expansion of invasive species in these instances. Otherwise, 
we are not aware of particular locations within water howellia 
occurrences where multiple stressors occur. Also, we do not anticipate 
stressors to increase on federally managed lands, which afford 
protection to the species in the most occupied habitat. Furthermore, 
the documented increases in the abundance and distribution of the 
species since it was listed in 1994 do not support a conclusion that 
cumulative effects pose a threat to the species. Therefore, we 
conclude, based on the available information, that cumulative effects 
are not a significant threat to water howellia.
Summary of Factor E
    Given the lack of threats within water howellia occurrences and 
increases in abundance and distribution since listing in 1994, we 
conclude that climate change, small population size and low genetic 
diversity, and cumulative effects are not significant threats to water 
howellia.

Proposed Determination of Species Status

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining 
whether a species meets the definition of ``endangered species'' or 
``threatened species.'' The Act defines an ``endangered species'' as a 
species that is ``in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range,'' and a ``threatened species'' as a 
species that is ``likely to become an endangered species within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range.'' The Act requires that we determine whether a species meets the 
definition of ``endangered species'' or ``threatened species'' because 
of any of the following factors: (A) The present or threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) Disease or predation; (D) The inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) Other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence.

Determination of Status Throughout All of Water Howellia's Range

    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
to water howellia including invasive species (Factor A), land 
management activites (Factor A), trampling by domestic livestock 
(Factor A), direct habitat loss from urbanization or dam construction 
(Factor A), narrow ecological requirements of the species in the 
context of climate change (Factor E), predation (herbivory) by domestic 
livestock (Factor C), small population size/low genetic variation 
(Factor E), and cumulative effects of stressors (Factor E). Based on 
the best available information, and as described in our five-factor 
analysis, above, the identified stressors fall into one or more of the 
following categories:
     Stressors that have not occurred to the extent anticipated 
at the time of listing and existing information indicates that this 
will not change in the future (trampling by domestic livestock, 
predation (herbivory), direct habitat loss from urbanization).
     Stressors that are adequately managed and existing 
information indicates that this will not change in the future (invasive 
species, land management activities).
     Stressors for which the species is tolerant and existing 
information indicates that this will not change in the future (narrow 
ecological requirements, small population size/low genetic variation, 
climate change, cumulative effects).
    Thus, our analysis of this information indicates that these 
stressors are not of sufficient imminence, intensity, or magnitude to 
indicate that water howellia is in danger of extinction or likely to 
become so within the foreseeable future throughout all of its range. 
Therefore, after assessing the best available information, we conclude 
that water howellia is not in danger of extinction throughout all of 
its range nor is it likely to become so in the foreseeable future.
    Because we determined that water howellia is not in danger of 
extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout 
all of its range, we will consider whether there are any significant 
portions of its range in which water howellia is in danger of 
extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future.

Determination of Status Throughout a Significant Portion of Water 
Howellia's Range

    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is in danger of extinction or likely to become so 
in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of 
its range (SPR). Where the best available information allows the 
Services to determine a status for the species rangewide, that 
determination should be given conclusive weight because a rangewide 
determination of status more accurately reflects the species' degree of 
imperilment and better promotes the purposes of the Act. Under this 
reading, we should first consider whether the species warrants listing 
``throughout all'' of its range and proceed to conduct a ``significant 
portion of its range'' analysis if, and only if, a species does not 
qualify for listing as either an endangered or a threatened species 
according to the ``throughout all'' language.
    Having determined that the water howellia is not in danger of 
extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout 
all of its range, we now consider whether it may be in danger of 
extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future in an SPR. 
The range of a species can theoretically be divided into portions in an 
infinite number of ways, so we first screen the potential portions of 
the species' range to determine if there are any portions that warrant 
further consideration. To do the ``screening'' analysis, we ask whether 
there are portions of the species' range for which there is substantial 
information indicating that: (1) The portion may be significant; and, 
(2) the species may be, in that portion, either in danger of extinction 
or likely to become so in the foreseeable future. For a particular 
portion, if we cannot answer both questions in the affirmative, then 
that portion does not warrant further consideration and the species 
does not warrant listing because of its status in that portion of its 
range. We emphasize that answering these questions in the affirmative 
is not a determination that the species is in danger of extinction or 
likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout a significant 
portion of its range--rather, it is it is a step in determining whether 
a more detailed analysis of the issue is required.
    If we answer these questions in the affirmative, we then conduct a 
more thorough analysis to determine whether the portion does indeed 
meet both of the SPR prongs: (1) The portion is significant and (2) the 
species is, in that portion, either in danger of extinction or likely 
to become so in the foreseeable future. Confirmation that a portion 
does indeed meet one of these prongs does not create a presumption, 
prejudgment, or other determination as to whether the species is an 
endangered species or threatened species. Rather, we must then 
undertake a more detailed analysis of the other prong to make that 
determination. Only if the portion does indeed meet both SPR prongs 
would the species warrant listing because of its status in a 
significant portion of its range.

[[Page 53396]]

    At both stages in this process--the stage of screening potential 
portions to identify any portions that warrant further consideration 
and the stage of undertaking the more detailed analysis of any portions 
that do warrant further consideration--it might be more efficient for 
us to address the ``significance'' question or the ``status'' question 
first. Our selection of which question to address first for a 
particular portion depends on the biology of the species, its range, 
and the threats it faces. Regardless of which question we address 
first, if we reach a negative answer with respect to the first question 
that we address, we do not need to evaluate the second question for 
that portion of the species' range.
    For water howellia, we chose to evaluate the status question (i.e., 
identifying portions where the water howellia may be in danger of 
extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future) first. To 
conduct this screening, we considered whether the threats are 
geographically concentrated in any portion of the species' range at a 
biologically meaningful scale. If a species is not in danger of 
extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout 
all of its range and the threats to the species are essentially uniform 
throughout its range, then the species would not have a greater level 
of imperilment in any portion of its range than it does throughout all 
of its range and therefore no portions would qualify as an SPR.
    We examined the following threats: Invasive species, land 
management activities, trampling by domestic livestock, direct habitat 
loss from urbanization or dam construction, narrow ecological 
requirements of the species in the context of climate change, predation 
(herbivory) by domestic livestock, small population size/low genetic 
variation, and the cumulative effects of these threats. We found no 
concentration of threats in any portion of the water howellia's range 
at a biologically meaningful scale. Since we found no portions of the 
species' range where threats are significantly concentrated or 
substantially greater than in other portions of its range, we did not 
identify any portions where the species may be in danger of extinction 
or likely to become so in the foreseeable future. Therefore, no 
portions warrant further consideration through a more detailed 
analysis, and the species is not in danger of extinction or likely to 
become so in the foreseeable future in any significant portion of its 
range. Our approach to analyzing SPR in this determination is 
consistent with the court's holding in Desert Survivors v. Department 
of the Interior, No. 16-cv-01165-JCS, 2018 WL 4053447 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 
24, 2018).
    Our review of the best available scientific and commercial 
information indicates that the water howellia is not in danger of 
extinction nor likely to become an endangered species within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range. Therefore, we find that the water howellia does not meet the 
definition of an endangered species or a threatened species, and we 
propose to remove the species from the List.

Determination of Status

    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
to water howellia. After review and analysis of the information 
regarding stressors as related to the five statutory factors, we find 
that the ongoing stressors are not of sufficient imminence, intensity, 
or magnitude to indicate that this species is presently in danger of 
extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. 
Additionally, no threats exist currently, nor are any potential 
stressors expected to rise to the level, that would likely cause the 
species to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future 
throughout all or a significant portion of the species' range. Because 
the species is neither in danger of extinction now nor likely to become 
so in the foreseeable future throughout all or any significant portion 
of its range, the species does not meet the definition of an endangered 
species or threatened species under the Act. As a consequence of this 
determination, we find that water howellia no longer requires the 
protection of the Act, and we propose to remove the species from the 
Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants.

Effects of the Rule

    This proposal, if made final, would revise 50 CFR 17.12(h) to 
remove water howellia from the Federal List of Endangered and 
Threatened Plants. Because no critical habitat was ever designated for 
this species, this rule will not affect 50 CFR 17.96.
    The prohibitions and conservation measures provided by the Act, 
particularly through sections 7 and 9, would no longer apply to this 
species. Federal agencies would no longer be required to consult with 
the Service under section 7 of the Act in the event that activities 
they authorize, fund, or carry out may affect water howellia.

Post-Delisting Monitoring

    Section 4(g)(1) of the Act requires us, in cooperation with the 
States, to implement a monitoring program for not less than 5 years for 
all species that have been delisted due to recovery. The purpose of 
this requirement is to develop a program that detects the failure of 
any delisted species to sustain itself without the protective measures 
provided by the Act. If at any time during the monitoring period, data 
indicate that protective status under the Act should be reinstated, we 
can initiate listing procedures, including, if appropriate, emergency 
listing.
    We are proposing to delist water howellia based on new information 
we have received as well as conservation actions taken. Since delisting 
would be, in part, due to conservation taken by stakeholders, we have 
prepared a draft post-delisting monitoring (PDM) plan for water 
howellia. The draft PDM plan discusses the current status of the taxon 
and describes the methods proposed for monitoring if we delist the 
taxon. The draft PDM plan: (1) Summarizes the status of water howellia 
at the time of proposed delisting; (2) describes frequency and duration 
of monitoring; (3) discusses monitoring methods and potential sampling 
regimes; (4) defines what potential triggers will be evaluated to 
address the need for additional monitoring; (5) outlines reporting 
requirements and procedures; (6) proposes a schedule for implementing 
the PDM plan; and (7) defines responsibilities. It is our intent to 
work with our partners towards maintaining the recovered status of 
water howellia. We will seek public and peer reviewer comments on the 
draft PDM plan, including its objectives and procedures (see Document 
availability and Information Requested, above), with the publication of 
this proposed rule.

Required Determinations

Clarity of the Rule

    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the 
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain 
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (1) Be logically organized;
    (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (3) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us 
comments by one

[[Page 53397]]

of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. To better help us revise the rule, 
your comments should be as specific as possible. For example, you 
should tell us the numbers of the sections or paragraphs that are 
unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, the 
sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental 
impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), need not be 
prepared in connection with regulations pursuant to section 4(a) of the 
Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination 
in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 
Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments (59 FR 22951), E.O. 13175, and the Department of the 
Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our 
responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal 
Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with 
Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, 
Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), 
we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with 
Tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge 
that tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal 
public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make 
information available to Tribes. We are aware of two water howellia 
occurrences that occur on tribal lands; we have notified the Tribes 
that may be affected by this proposed rule and offered government-to-
government consultation.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this proposed rule is 
available at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2018-
0045, or upon request from the Montana Ecological Services Field Office 
(see ADDRESSES).

Authors

    The authors of this proposed rule are staff members of the Montana 
Ecological Services Field Office and field and regional offices in 
California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

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

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

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

PART 17--ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS

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

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


Sec.  17.12  [Amended]

0
2. Amend Sec.  17.12(h) by removing the entry for ``Howellia 
aquatilis'' under FLOWERING PLANTS from the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Plants.

    Dated: August 9, 2019.
Margaret E. Everson,
Principal Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Exercising 
the Authority of the Director, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2019-21645 Filed 10-4-19; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4333-15-P