Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Florida Bristle Fern, 10371-10397 [2020-03441]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules (2) Limitations or revocation of certain notification requirements. The provisions of § 721.185 apply to this section. [FR Doc. 2020–02892 Filed 2–21–20; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6560–50–P DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service 50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0068; 4500090023] RIN 1018–BE12 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Florida Bristle Fern Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Proposed rule. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to designate critical habitat for the Florida bristle fern (Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended. In total, approximately 1,624 hectares (4,014 acres) in Miami-Dade and Sumter Counties, Florida, fall within the boundaries of the proposed critical habitat designation. If we finalize this rule as proposed, it would extend the Act’s protections to this subspecies’ critical habitat. We also announce the availability of a draft economic analysis of the proposed designation of critical habitat. SUMMARY: We will accept comments on the proposed rule and draft economic analysis received or postmarked on or before April 24, 2020. 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 April 9, 2020. ADDRESSES: Written comments: You may submit comments on the proposed rule or draft economic analysis by one of the following methods: (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http:// www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2019–0068, 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 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS DATES: VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on ‘‘Comment Now!’’ (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2019– 0068; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803. We request that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on http:// www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see Information Requested, below, for more information). Document availability: The draft economic analysis is available at http:// www.fws.gov/verobeach, at http:// www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0068, and at the South Florida Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). The coordinates or plot points or both from which the maps are generated are included in the administrative record for this proposed critical habitat designation and are available at https:// www.fws.gov/verobeach, at http:// www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0068, and at the South Florida Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Any additional tools or supporting information that we may develop for the critical habitat designation will also be available at the Service website and Field Office set out above, and may also be included in the preamble of this proposed rule and/or at http://www.regulations.gov. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Roxanna Hinzman, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Florida Ecological Services Field Office, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960; telephone 772–562–3909. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Executive Summary Why we need to publish a rule. To the maximum extent prudent and determinable, we must designate critical habitat for any species that we determine to be an endangered or threatened species under the Act. Designations of critical habitat can only be completed by issuing a rule. What this document does. This document proposes to designate critical habitat for the Florida bristle fern (Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum), which was listed as PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10371 endangered under the Act on November 5, 2015 (80 FR 60440). The basis for our action. Section 4(a)(3) of the Act requires the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to designate critical habitat to the extent prudent and determinable. Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states that the Secretary shall designate critical habitat on the basis of the best available scientific data after taking into consideration the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other relevant impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. Section 3(5)(A) of the Act defines critical habitat as (i) the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed, on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special management considerations or protection; and (ii) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a determination by the Secretary that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species. Economic analysis. In accordance with section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we prepared an analysis of the economic impacts of the proposed critical habitat designation. In this document, we announce the availability of the draft economic analysis for public review and comment. 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 of listing actions under the Act, we will seek peer review of this proposed rule. We are seeking comments from independent specialists to ensure that our critical habitat proposal is based on scientifically sound data and analyses. We have invited these peer reviewers to comment on our specific assumptions and conclusions in this critical habitat proposal during the public comment period for this proposed rule (see DATES, above). Because we will consider all comments and information received during the comment period, our final critical habitat designation may differ from this proposal. Based on the new information we receive (and any comments on that new information), we may conclude that some additional areas meet the definition of critical habitat, and some areas proposed as critical habitat may not meet the definition of critical habitat. In addition, we may find that the benefit of excluding some areas outweigh the benefits of including those areas E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 10372 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules pursuant to 4(b)(2) of the Act, and may exclude them from the final designation unless we determine that exclusion would result in extinction of the Florida bristle fern. Such final decisions would be a logical outgrowth of this proposal, as long as we: (a) Base the decisions on the best scientific and commercial data available after considering all of the relevant factors; (2) do not rely on factors Congress has not intended us to consider; and (3) articulate a rational connection between the facts found and the conclusions made, including why we changed our conclusion. lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS Information Requested We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from other concerned government agencies, Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested party concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments concerning: (1) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as ‘‘critical habitat’’ under section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), including information to inform the following factors that the regulations identify as reasons why designation of critical habitat may be not prudent: (a) The subspecies is threatened by taking or other human activity and identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of such threat to the subspecies; (b) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of a subspecies’ habitat or range is not a threat to the subspecies, or threats to the subspecies’ habitat stem solely from causes that cannot be addressed through management actions resulting from consultations under section 7(a)(2) of the Act; (c) Areas within the jurisdiction of the United States provide no more than negligible conservation value, if any, for a species occurring primarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States; (d) No areas meet the definition of critical habitat. (2) Specific information on: (a) The amount and distribution of Florida bristle fern habitat; (b) What may constitute physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies, specifically those related to canopy cover, hydrology, humidity and moisture levels, and minimum habitat amounts; VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 (c) Reproduction and dispersal methods of the subspecies, such as spore dispersal distance, the association between dispersal and hydrological conditions, and the reliance on vegetative dispersal for subspecies growth; (d) What areas that were occupied at the time of listing and that contain the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies should be included in the designation and why; (e) Special management considerations or protection that may be needed in occupied critical habitat areas we are proposing, including managing for the potential effects of climate change; (f) What areas not occupied at the time of listing are essential for the conservation of the subspecies. We particularly seek comments regarding: (i) Whether occupied areas are inadequate for the conservation of the subspecies; and, (ii) Specific information that supports the determination that unoccupied areas will, with reasonable certainty, contribute to the conservation of the subspecies and, contain at least one physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of the subspecies; (g) The location and boundaries of hammock habitats and exposed limestone substrate within and surrounding the Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest in Sumter County, FL, that would support life-history processes essential for the conservation of the subspecies; (h) The delineation of the substrate or substrate mapping through the subspecies’ south Florida range; (i) The methods we used to identify unoccupied critical habitat for each of the metapopulations; and, (j) As to the following areas, their occupancy status and habitat suitability; whether physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies are present; and whether they should be included in the designation and why: (i) Monkey Jungle (also known as Cox Hammock), Big and Little George Hammocks, Charles Deering, Bill Sadowski Park, Whispering Pines Hammock, Black Creek Forest, Hardin Hammock, Silver Palm Groves, Camp Owaissa Bauer, Lucille Hammock, Loveland Hammock, and Holiday Hammock in Miami-Dade County; (ii) Rockland hammocks, other than Royal Palm Hammock, in Long Pine Key in Everglades National Park in MiamiDade County; PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 (iii) Rockland hammocks in Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier and Monroe Counties; (iv) Hammock habitats in the Jumper Creek Tract and Richloam Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest in Sumter County; (v) Hammock habitats in the vicinity of Lake Panasoffkee in Sumter County; (vi) Hammock habitats on Flying Eagle Ranch and Pineola Grotto in Citrus County; and, (vii) Hammock habitats in the vicinity of the Green Swamp in Pasco and Polk Counties. (3) Land use designations and current or planned activities in the subject areas and their possible impacts on proposed critical habitat. (4) Information on the projected and reasonably likely impacts of climate change on the Florida bristle fern and proposed critical habitat. (5) Any probable economic, national security, or other relevant impacts of designating any area that may be included in the final designation, and the benefits of including or excluding areas that may be impacted. (6) Information on the extent to which the description of probable economic impacts in the draft economic analysis is a reasonable estimate of those impacts. (7) Whether any specific areas we are proposing for critical habitat designation should be considered for exclusion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, and whether the benefits of potentially excluding any specific area outweigh the benefits of including that area under section 4(b)(2) of the Act. (8) The likelihood of adverse social reactions to the designation of critical habitat, as discussed in the associated documents of the draft economic analysis, and how the consequences of such reactions, if likely to occur, would relate to the conservation and regulatory benefits of the proposed critical habitat designation. (9) Whether we could improve or modify our approach to designating critical habitat in any way to provide for greater public participation and understanding, or to better accommodate public concerns and comments. 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. You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES. E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules If you submit information via http:// www.regulations.gov, your entire submission—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the website. If your submission is made via a hardcopy that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the top of your document that we withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will post all hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov. Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Florida Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Public Hearings Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for one or more public hearings on this proposal, if requested. Requests must be received by the date specified above in DATES. Such requests must be sent to the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. We will schedule a public hearing on this proposal, if any are requested, and announce the dates, times, and places of the hearing, as well as how to obtain reasonable accommodations, in the Federal Register and local newspapers at least 15 days before the hearing. Previous Federal Actions Please refer to the final listing rule for the Florida bristle fern, which published on October 6, 2015 (80 FR 60440), for a detailed description of previous Federal actions concerning this subspecies. lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS Critical Habitat Background Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as: (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found those physical or biological features (a) Essential to the conservation of the species, and (b) Which may require special management considerations or protection; and (2) Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.02 define the geographical area occupied by the species as an area that may generally be delineated around species’ occurrences, as determined by the Secretary (i.e., range). Such areas may include those areas used throughout all or part of the species’ life cycle, even if not used on a regular basis (e.g., migratory corridors, seasonal habitats, and habitats used periodically, but not solely by vagrant individuals). Conservation, as defined under section 3 of the Act, means to use and the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring an endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Such methods and procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated with scientific resources management such as research, census, law enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise relieved, may include regulated taking. Critical habitat receives protection under section 7 of the Act through the requirement that Federal agencies ensure, in consultation with the Service, that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. Such designation does not allow the government or public to access private lands, nor does designation require implementation of restoration, recovery, or enhancement measures by non-Federal landowners. Where a landowner requests Federal agency funding or authorization for an action that may affect a listed species or critical habitat, the Federal agency would be required to consult with the Service under section 7(a)(2) of the Act. However, even if the Service were to conclude that the proposed activity would result in destruction or adverse modification of the critical habitat, the Federal action agency and the landowner are not required to abandon the proposed activity, or to restore or recover the species; instead, they must implement ‘‘reasonable and prudent alternatives’’ to avoid destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. Under the first prong of the Act’s definition of critical habitat, areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it was listed PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10373 are included in a critical habitat designation if they contain physical or biological features (1) which are essential to the conservation of the species and (2) which may require special management considerations or protection. For these areas, critical habitat designations identify, to the extent known using the best scientific and commercial data available, those physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of the species (such as space, food, cover, and protected habitat). In identifying those physical or biological features that occur in specific occupied areas, we focus on the specific features that are essential to support the life-history needs of the species, including but not limited to, water characteristics, soil type, geological features, prey, vegetation, symbiotic species, or other features. A feature may be a single habitat characteristic, or a more complex combination of habitat characteristics. Features may include habitat characteristics that support ephemeral or dynamic habitat conditions. Features may also be expressed in terms relating to principles of conservation biology, such as patch size, distribution distances, and connectivity. Under the second prong of the Act’s definition of critical habitat, we can designate critical habitat in areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species. When designating critical habitat, the Secretary will first evaluate areas occupied by the species. The Secretary will only consider unoccupied areas to be essential where a critical habitat designation limited to geographical areas occupied by the species would be inadequate to ensure the conservation of the species. In addition, for an unoccupied area to be considered essential, the Secretary must determine that there is a reasonable certainty both that the area will contribute to the conservation of the species and that the area contains one or more of those physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species. Section 4 of the Act requires that we designate critical habitat on the basis of the best scientific data available. Further, our Policy on Information Standards under the Endangered Species Act (published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34271)), the Information Quality Act (section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Pub. L. 106–554; H.R. 5658)), and our associated Information E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS 10374 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules Quality Guidelines, provide criteria, establish procedures, and provide guidance to ensure that our decisions are based on the best scientific data available. They require our biologists, to the extent consistent with the Act and with the use of the best scientific data available, to use primary and original sources of information as the basis for recommendations to designate critical habitat. When we are determining which areas should be designated as critical habitat, our primary source of information is generally the information developed during the listing process for the species. Additional information sources may include any generalized conservation strategy, criteria, or outline that may have been developed for the species; the recovery plan for the species; articles in peer-reviewed journals; conservation plans developed by States and counties; scientific status surveys and studies; biological assessments; other unpublished materials; or experts’ opinions or personal knowledge. Habitat is dynamic, and species may move from one area to another over time. We recognize that critical habitat designated at a particular point in time may not include all of the habitat areas that we may later determine are necessary for the recovery of the species. For these reasons, a critical habitat designation does not signal that habitat outside the designated area is unimportant or may not be needed for recovery of the species. Areas that are important to the conservation of the species, both inside and outside the critical habitat designation, will continue to be subject to: (1) Conservation actions implemented under section 7(a)(1) of the Act, (2) regulatory protections afforded by the requirement in section 7(a)(2) of the Act for Federal agencies to ensure their actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species, and (3) section 9 of the Act’s prohibitions on taking any individual of the species, including taking caused by actions that affect habitat. Federally funded or permitted projects affecting listed species outside their designated critical habitat areas may still result in jeopardy findings in some cases. These protections and conservation tools will continue to contribute to recovery of this species. Similarly, critical habitat designations made on the basis of the best available information at the time of designation will not control the direction and substance of future recovery plans, habitat conservation plans (HCPs), or other species conservation planning VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 efforts if new information available at the time of these planning efforts calls for a different outcome. Prudency Determination Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and its implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.12), require that the Secretary shall designate critical habitat at the time the species is determined to be an endangered or threatened species to the maximum extent prudent and determinable. Our regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)) state that the Secretary may, but is not required to, determine that a designation would not be prudent in the following circumstances: (1) The species is threatened by taking or other human activity, and identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of threat to the species; (2) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of a species’ habitat or range is not a threat to the species, or threats to the species’ habitat stems solely from causes that cannot be addressed through management actions resulting from consultations under section 7(a)(2) of the Act; (3) Areas within jurisdiction of the United States provide no more than negligible conservation value, if any, for a species occurring primarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States; (4) No areas meet the definition of critical habitat; or (5) The Secretary otherwise determines that designation of critical habitat would not be prudent based on the best scientific data available. No imminent threat of take attributed to collection or vandalism under Factor B was identified in the final listing rule for this subspecies, and identification and mapping of critical habitat is not expected to initiate any such threat. In our final listing rule, we determined that the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of a species’ habitat or range (Factor A) is a threat to Florida bristle fern and that those threats in some way can be addressed by section 7(a)(2) consultation measures. The subspecies occurs wholly in the jurisdiction of the United States and we are able to identify areas that meet the definition of critical habitat. Therefore, because none of the circumstances enumerated in our regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(1) have been met and because there are no other circumstances the Secretary has identified for which this designation of critical habitat would be not prudent, we have determined that the PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 designation of critical habitat is prudent for the Florida bristle fern. Critical Habitat Determinability Having determined that designation is prudent, under section 4(a)(3) of the Act we must find whether critical habitat for the Florida bristle fern is determinable. Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(2) state that critical habitat is not determinable when one or both of the following situations exist: (i) Data sufficient to perform required analyses are lacking; or (ii) The biological needs of the species are not sufficiently well known to identify any area that meets the definition of ‘‘critical habitat.’’ We reviewed the available information pertaining to the biological needs of the subspecies and habitat characteristics where this subspecies is located. We find that this information is sufficient for us to conduct both the biological and economic analyses required for the critical habitat determination. This and other information represent the best scientific data available and lead us to conclude that the designation of critical habitat is now determinable for the Florida bristle fern. Physical or Biological Features In accordance with section 3(5)(A)(i) of the Act and regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(b), in determining which areas we will designate as critical habitat from within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing, we consider the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of the species and that may require special management considerations or protection. The regulations at 50 CFR 424.02 define ‘‘physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species’’ as the features that occur in specific areas and that are essential to support the lifehistory needs of the species. These include, but are not limited to, water characteristics, soil type, geological features, sites, prey, vegetation, symbiotic species, or other features. A feature may be a single habitat characteristic, or a more complex combination of habitat characteristics. Features may include habitat characteristics that support ephemeral or dynamic habitat conditions. Features may also be expressed in terms relating to principles of conservation biology, such as patch size, distribution distances, and connectivity. For example, physical features essential to the conservation of the species might include gravel of a particular size required for spawning, alkali soil for E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS seed germination, protective cover for migration, or susceptibility to flooding or fire that maintains necessary earlysuccessional habitat characteristics. Biological features might include prey species, forage grasses, specific kinds or ages of trees for roosting or nesting, symbiotic fungi, or a particular level of nonnative species consistent with conservation needs of the listed species. The features may also be combinations of habitat characteristics and may encompass the relationship between characteristics or the necessary amount of a characteristic essential to support the life history of the species. In considering whether features are essential to the conservation of the species, the Service may consider an appropriate quality, quantity, and spatial and temporal arrangement of habitat characteristics in the context of the life-history needs, condition, and status of the species. These characteristics include, but are not limited to space for individual and population growth and for normal behavior; food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements; cover or shelter; sites for breeding, reproduction, or rearing (or development) of offspring; and habitats that are protected from disturbance. The features may also be combinations of habitat characteristics and may encompass the relationship between characteristics or the necessary amount of a characteristic needed to support the life history of the species. In considering whether features are essential to the conservation of the species, the Service may consider an appropriate quality, quantity, and spatial and temporal arrangement of habitat characteristics in the context of the life-history needs, condition, and status of the species. Space for Individual and Population Growth and for Normal Behavior Florida bristle fern occurs exclusively in closed canopy, upland hardwood forest hammock habitats, which support the climate (stable humidity and temperature), hydrology, canopy cover, and limestone substrates necessary for the subspecies to persist, grow, and reproduce. Upland hardwood forests consist of a mosaic of natural hammock and hardwood communities primarily characterized as mesic, hydric, and rockland hammocks, or intermixed hammock strands, with associated transitional wetland matrix/hydric and upland communities (Florida Natural Areas Inventory [Inventory] 2010, pp. 16–28). The hammock habitats occurs within and as part of larger matrices of VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 hydric or pine rockland communities (Inventory 2010, pp.16–28). Detailed descriptions of these natural communities can be found in Natural Communities of Florida (Inventory 2010, pp. 16–28) and in the final listing rule for Florida bristle fern (80 FR 60440, October 6, 2015). Natural communities include both wetland and upland communities having intact vegetation (i.e., not cleared). The current range of Florida bristle fern includes two metapopulations, one in south Florida (Miami-Dade County) and one in central Florida (Sumter County). The south Florida metapopulation is currently composed of four known populations, and the central Florida metapopulation is composed of two known populations. The south Florida populations of Florida bristle fern occur in communities characterized by primarily rockland hammock or closed tropical hardwood hammocks occurring within a larger matrix of pine rockland on the Miami Rock Ridge. In central Florida, the populations of the subspecies occur in predominantly mesic hammocks situated in a mosaic of hydric hammock and mixed wetland hardwoods. These internal or inter-mixed strands of hammock within the forested communities are characterized by fairly dense to extremely dense canopy cover, which prevents drastic changes in temperature and humidity and the desiccation of the fern from direct sunlight and drying winds. The matrix of landscapes associated with the hammocks or the intermixed strands of these communities support the suitable conditions necessary for the growth and reproduction of Florida bristle fern. Suitable habitat quality and size are necessary to ensure the maintenance of the microclimate conditions (stable temperature, high humidity, moisture, canopy shade, and shelter) essential to the subspecies’ survival and conservation. These combined factors establish the fern’s microclimate: (a) The level of protection/exposure the fern experiences given its location in a solution hole (a limestone solution feature; in the Miami Rock Ridge, they consist of steep-sided pits, varying in size, formed by dissolution of subsurface limestone followed by a collapse above (Snyder et al. 1990, p. 236)) or on an exposed boulder, (b) the quality of the solution hole or exposed boulder substrate, and (c) the amount of canopy cover. The surrounding vegetation is a key component in producing and supporting this microclimate. There are differences in vegetation and substrate characteristics PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10375 between the two geographically distant metapopulations that can account for differences in the amount of habitat needed to support the fern. For example, Florida bristle fern in south Florida occurs in a tropical climate and attaches to the interior walls of wellprotected and insulated solution holes. By comparison, in central Florida, Florida bristle fern occurs in a more temperate climate and is found more exposed by attaching to a substrate that is above the surface. The size and quality of the intact habitat surrounding the exposed substrate can play a greater role in providing and supporting the stable, shaded, and wind-protected microclimate conditions the fern needs. Therefore, the microclimate conditions (stable temperature, high humidity, canopy shade, and shelter) have the potential to be maintained (and the plant is able to persist) within smaller areas in south Florida than those needed to support the microclimate conditions in central Florida. For both metapopulations, intact upland hardwood forest and associated hammock habitat is an essential feature to the conservation of this subspecies, and sufficient habitat is needed to ensure the maintenance of the fern’s microclimate and life processes (growth, dispersal). Therefore, we identify upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality and size to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for Florida bristle fern to be a physical or biological feature essential to the conservation for this subspecies. Food, Water, Air, Light, Minerals, or Other Nutritional or Physiological Requirements Substrate and Soils—Florida bristle fern is generally epipetric (grows on rocks) or epiphytic (grows nonparasitically upon another plant). In combination with the habitat characteristics discussed above, the subspecies requires exposed limestone substrate to provide suitable growing conditions for anchoring, nutrients, pH, and proper drainage (van der Heiden 2016, p. 1). Florida bristle fern prefers substrate having exposed oolitic (composed of minute rounded concretions resembling fish eggs) limestone or limestone solution features (solution holes) filled with a thin layer of highly organic soil and standing water for part or all of the year. The limestone substrate occurs primarily as solution holes in south Florida and exposed limestone boulders in central Florida. In south Florida, Florida bristle fern is currently found growing in rocky E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS 10376 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules outcrops of rockland hammocks, in oolitic limestone solution holes, and occasionally, on tree roots in limestonesurrounded areas (Nauman 1986, p. 181; Possley 2013a, pers. comm.). These rockland habitats are outcrops primarily composed of marine limestone representing the distinct geological formation of the Miami Rock Ridge, a feature that encompasses a broad area from Miami to Homestead, Florida, and narrows, westward through the Long Pine Key area of Everglades National Park (Snyder et al. 1990, pp. 233–234). The limestone solution holes are considered specialized habitat within these hammock areas that host Florida bristle fern (Snyder et al.1990, p. 247). The solution-hole features that dominate the rock surface in the Miami Rock Ridge are steep-sided pits formed by dissolution of subsurface limestone followed by the eventual collapse of the surface above (Snyder et al. 1990, p. 236). The limestone solution holes often have complex internal topography and vary in size and depth, from shallow holes a few centimeters deep to those that are several meters in size and up to several meters deep (Snyder et al. 1990, p. 238; Kobza et al. 2004, p. 154). The bottoms of most solution holes are filled with organic soils, while deeper solution holes penetrate the water table and have (at least historically) standing water for part of the year (Snyder et al. 1990, pp. 236–237; Rehage et al. 2014, pp. S160–S161). A direct relationship has been found between the length of time a solution hole contains water (hydroperiod length) and the habitat quality (vegetative cover) of the solution hole (Rehage et al. 2014, p. S161). Oolitic limestone occurs in south Florida (and other locations in the world), but it does not occur in central Florida. In central Florida, Florida bristle fern resides on limestone substrate in high-humidity hammocks (van der Heiden 2016, p. 1; van der Heiden 2013a, pers. comm.). In the mesic hammocks on the Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest, the subspecies has been observed growing on exposed limestone rocks as small as 0.1 meters (m) (0.3 feet (ft)) tall as well as larger boulders with tall, horizontal faces, and occurs alongside numerous other plant species, including rare State-listed species (e.g., hemlock spleenwort (Asplenium cristatum) and widespread polypody (Pecluma dispersa)) (van der Heiden 2013b, pers. comm.; van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 7–8). Rock outcrops may also provide suitable substrate where the underlying Ocala limestone (a geologic VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 formation of exposed limestone near Ocala, Florida) is near the surface. Therefore, based on the information above, we identify exposed substrate derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala limestone, or exposed limestone boulders, which provide anchoring and nutritional requirements, to be a physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern. Climate and Hydrology—Florida bristle fern is considered strongly hygrophilous (i.e., growing or adapted to damp or wet conditions) and is generally perceived as restricted to constantly humid microhabitat (Kro¨mer and Kessler 2006, p. 57; Proctor 2012, pp. 1024–1025). Features that allow for proper ecosystem functionality and a suitable microhabitat required for the growth and reproduction of the subspecies include a canopy cover of suitable density (i.e., average canopy closure more than 75 percent) and humidity and moisture of sufficient levels and stability (on average, above approximately 90 percent relative humidity) (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, p. 8; van der Heiden 2016, p. 18; Possley and Hazelton 2015, entire; Possley 2015, pers. comm.; Possley 2015, unpublished data). The relationship between moist habitats and the Hymenophyllaceae Family of ferns (filmy ferns), to which the Trichomanes species belongs, has been long observed and documented (Shreve 1911, pp. 187, 189; Proctor 2003, entire; Proctor 2012, p. 1024). In a tropical rain forest system, the diversity and number of filmy fern species is shown to have a direct relation to the air moisture (relative humidity) (Gehrig-Downie et al. 2012; pp. 40–42). While not in the same fern Family as the Florida bristle fern, a study of the rare temperate woodland fern, Braun’s hollyfern (Polystichum braunii), found air humidity to be a key factor in species health, with stronger plant productivity occurring in higher humidity levels (Schwerbrock and Leuschner 2016, p. 5). Although a minimum suitable humidity level, or threshold, for Florida bristle fern has not been quantified for either metapopulation of the subspecies, information from field studies indicates conditions of high and stable relative humidity are essential to the subspecies. Minor drops in ambient humidity may limit reproduction of the subspecies and can negatively impact overall health of the existing metapopulations, as well as inhibit the growth of new plants, impacting long-term viability (Possley 2013b, pers. comm.; van der Heiden 2013a, pers. comm.). This relationship PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 was observed in Sumter County, where small drops (approximately 1–2 percent) in relative humidity associated with colder weather resulted in observed declines in the health of some clusters of Florida bristle fern within the local population (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, p. 9). The average relative humidity for hammocks in Sumter County remained near 95 percent for the duration of a September–November 2013 study (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 8–9). Further, the minimum and maximum monthly average relative humidity from September 2013 to March 2015 for the two central Florida hammocks supporting Florida bristle fern were 88 and 99 percent and 89 and 100 percent, respectively (van der Heiden 2016, p. 18). The lowest monthly average relative humidity in each of the hammocks was 65 and 69 percent. In comparison, the minimum and maximum monthly average relative humidity documented outside of the hammock (from June 2014 to March 2015) was 68 and 93 percent with a low monthly relative humidity of 51 percent. In summary, similar and consistently high average humidity values occurred between and within the two hammocks supporting the subspecies, and consistently higher relative humidity values were recorded in the hammocks compared to outside the hammocks. Likewise, in south Florida, 8 years of data-log monitoring of Deering’s Cutler Slough (the location of a known extirpated population, Deering-Snapper Creek, of Florida bristle fern) recorded an average of 90 percent relative humidity occurring within a solution hole compared to the 84 percent average relative humidity documented in the slough outside of the solution hole during the same time period (Possley and Hazelton 2015, entire). The hammock environments are high or slightly elevated grounds that do not regularly flood, but are dependent on a high water table to keep humidity levels high (Inventory 2010, pp. 19–28). The subspecies is affected by humidity at two spatial scales: the larger hammock community-scale and the smaller substrate (boulder/solution hole) microclimate-scale (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 9–10). Moisture (precipitation and low evaporation) and humidity levels are likely factors limiting the occurrence of Florida bristle fern (Proctor 2003, p. 726; GehrigDownie et al. 2012, p. 40; Shreve 1911, p. 189). The high humidity levels discussed above and stable temperatures, moisture, and shading (cover) are all features considered E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules essential to the subspecies and produced by the combination of: (1) Solution hole or boulder microclimate; (2) Organic, moisture-retaining soils (high soil moisture conditions); (3) Hydrology of the surrounding or adjacent wetlands; and (4) Protective shelter of the surrounding habitat minimizing effects from drying winds and/solar radiation. Solution holes provide the limestone substrate and produce the necessary humid and moist microclimate needed by the subspecies in south Florida. In central Florida, the fern occurs in the more northerly portion of the hammocks and northern aspect of the limestone boulders, obtaining greater shading and moist conditions compared to the sunnier and drier south-facing portions of the hammocks and sides of boulders (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 7, 31). Variances within hammocks, such as slight structural differences or proximity to water, also play an important part in where suitable microhabitat occurs in the hammock habitats. Intact hydrology and the connectivity of substrates to surface water and streams may play a role in spore and vegetative fragment dispersal for the subspecies (more detail in following section, ‘‘Sites for Reproduction, Growth, Spore Production and Dispersal’’). Soils associated with the hammock ecosystems consist of sands mixed with organic matter, which produce better drained soils than soils of surrounding or adjacent wetland communities. Soils in habitats of extant Florida bristle fern populations in south Florida consist of an uneven layer of highly organic soil and moderately well-drained, sandy, and very shallow soils (classified as Matecumbe muck). Soils in habitats of the central Florida metapopulation are predominantly sand and Okeelanta muck (80 FR 60440, October 6 2015). For both metapopulations, a relatively high soil-moisture content and high humidity are maintained by dense litter accumulation, ground cover, and heavy shade produced by the dense canopy (Service 1999, pp. 3–99). In addition, the protected hammock habitats are slightly higher in elevation than the surrounding habitat, which combined with the limestone substrate, leaf litter and sandy soils create a hydrology that differs from lower elevation habitats. It is this combination of hammock ecosystem characteristics (i.e., closed canopy, limestone substrate, humid climate, higher elevation) occurring in hardwood forested upland communities as described earlier that VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 are essential to the conservation for the subspecies. Therefore, based on the information above, we identify a constantly humid microhabitat climate consisting of dense canopy cover, moisture, stable high temperature, and stable monthly average relative humidity of 90 percent or higher, with intact hydrology within hammocks and the surrounding and adjacent wetland communities, to be a physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern. Cover and Shelter—Florida bristle fern occurs exclusively in hardwood hammock habitats having dense canopy, which provides shade necessary to support suitable microhabitat for the subspecies to persist, grow, and reproduce. In south Florida (MiamiDade County), the extant populations of Florida bristle fern occur in communities classified as rockland hammocks on the Miami Rock Ridge. In central Florida (Sumter County), the extant populations of the subspecies occur in mesic hammocks, often situated in a mosaic of natural communities including hydric hammock and mixed wetland hardwoods. The dense canopies of the hammock systems (including rockland and mesic hammocks) contribute to maintaining suitable temperature and humidity levels within this microclimate. The dense canopies found in these habitats minimize temperature fluctuations by reducing soil warming during the day and heat loss at night, thereby helping to prevent frost damage to hammock interiors (Inventory 2010, p. 25). In areas with greater temperature variations, as in central Florida, these benefits afforded by the dense canopy of both the mesic hammock and surrounding habitat combined are important to maintaining suitable conditions for Florida bristle fern. The rounded canopy profile of hammocks help maintain mesic (moist) conditions by deflecting winds, thereby limiting desiccation (extreme dryness) during dry periods and reducing interior storm damage (Inventory 2010, p. 25). Changes in the canopy can impact humidity and evaporation rates, as well as the amount of light available to the understory. Both known extant metapopulations of Florida bristle fern live in dense canopy habitat, with shady conditions, which may be obligatory due to the poikilohydric (i.e., possess no mechanism to prevent desiccation) nature of some fern species including the Florida bristle fern (Kro¨mer and Kessler 2006, p. 57). PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10377 While the proper amount of canopy is critical to the persistence of Florida bristle fern, the lower limit of acceptable canopy density has yet to be quantified for either metapopulation. Field observations in south Florida have found clusters of Florida bristle fern desiccated when the immediate canopy above plants was destroyed or substantially reduced, allowing high amounts of light into the understory (Possley 2019, entire; Possley 2013c, entire); however, over the course of many months, these clusters eventually recovered. In addition, this dense, closed canopy may serve as a shield for Florida bristle fern to inhibit the growth of other plant species on the same part of an inhabited rock area (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, p. 9). In central Florida, the average canopy closure where Florida bristle fern occurs has been estimated to be more than 75 percent (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, p. 9). Although there are several occurrences in these mesic hammocks where sunlight can be observed through the canopy, generally the habitat is shaded throughout the year, with the lowest canopy cover recorded at 64 percent in December (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 8, 20). This information was obtained from a study of short duration (September–December 2013), and it is likely that percent canopy cover and consequently shading would be greater in summer months when foliage is densest (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, p. 8). Surrounding habitat that minimizes the effects from drying winds and solar radiation and provides a stable and protective shelter is necessary for this fern to survive. A suitable habitat size and quality is necessary to provide a functioning canopy cover that maintains the microclimate conditions (humidity, moisture, temperature, and shade) essential to the conservation of the subspecies. Therefore, based on the information above, we identify dense canopy cover of surrounding native vegetation that consists of the upland hardwood forest hammock habitats to be a physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern. Sites for Reproduction, Germination, and Spore Production and Dispersal Growth and reproduction of Florida bristle fern can occur through spore dispersal, rhizome (underground stem) growth, and clonal vegetative fragments (80 FR 60440). The habitats identified above provide plant communities, which require a self-maintaining closed canopy and climate-controlled interior, an adequate space for the rhizomal E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS 10378 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules growth, dispersal of seeds, sporophyte and gametophyte survival, and recruitment of plant fragments. While specific information on spore dispersal distances is largely unknown for this subspecies, the microclimate is found to be essential for spore germination and survival. Dispersal of spores, gametophytes, and vegetative fragments may take place via waterbased methods, animals, and to a lesser extent, wind-driven opportunities. In the Hymenophyllaceae family of ferns, spores lack the capacity to withstand desiccation, are not known to be dispersed long distance through the wind, and depend upon the moist microclimate for growth and survival (Nural Hafiza 2014, p. 21). In terms of protecting the subspecies’ genetic components, a recent study of Florida bristle fern chloroplast DNA found little genetic differentiation between the two metapopulations, which can indicate that both metapopulations are recently established from a single source or that there is a favoring of a genetic sequence (Hughs 2015, pp. 1–2). Lower genetic variation in a population produces a lower effective population (the number of individuals that can undergo crossfertilization). In such small populations, such as with Florida bristle fern, any loss of individuals may also be a loss of genetic information and a reduction of subspecies fitness (Fernando et al. 2015, pp. 32–34). Therefore, ensuring space for reproduction, germination, spore production, and dispersal of the subspecies helps ensure the conservation of genetic information and subspecies fitness. Adequate space and the maintenance of the stable microclimate habitat support clonal growth as well as the reproductive stages of Florida bristle fern. The rare American hart’s tongue fern is a species like the Florida bristle fern that relies on the specific microclimate conditions of high humidity, moisture, and shelter. In a study of the American hart’s tongue fern, the presence of these microclimate habitat conditions determined the success of the fern’s life-history processes (growth, reproduction, and spore production) (Fernando et al. 2015, p. 33). Interior condition of the hammock microclimate (e.g., humidity, temperature) are influenced by the hammock’s own canopy and hydrology and the vegetative structure and hydrology of the surrounding habitat. For example, in south Florida, the presettlement landscape of the rockland hammocks on the Miami Rock Ridge occurred as ‘‘small islands’’ in a sea of VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 pine rockland and seasonally flooded prairies, or transverse glades (shallow channels through the Miami Rock Ridge that had wet prairie vegetation and moved water out of the Everglades Basin toward the coast). It has been estimated that originally more than 500 hammocks occurred in this area, ranging in size from 0.1 hectares (ha) (0.2 acres (ac)) to over 40 ha (100 ac) (Craighead 1972, p. 153). The vast majority of these hammocks have been destroyed, and those that remain are significantly reduced in size. In addition, the habitats surrounding the remaining rockland hammocks have been drastically altered or destroyed, primarily through urban and agricultural development, and in many cases, no longer function as effective or efficient buffers to protect rockland hammocks from the impacts of changes in temperature and humidity, or extreme weather or natural stochastic events (e.g., frost, high winds, and hurricanes/tropical storms). This fragmentation and distance between hammocks can hinder water-based dispersal and the recruitment of new plants and gametophytes. Fragmentation may reduce the stable, protected microclimate conditions and the survivability of spores within that microclimate. Thus, the hammock microhabitat supporting the subspecies must be of a suitable minimum size with sufficiently dense canopy, substrate, and understory vegetation within a hammock’s interior, and there must also be intact surrounding habitat of sufficient amount, distribution, and space to support appropriate growing conditions for Florida bristle fern across its range. The central Florida metapopulation of Florida bristle fern occurs in two mesic hammocks, which exist as part of a wetland matrix of hydric hammock, mixed wetland hardwoods, cypress/ tupelo floodplain swamp, and freshwater marsh. The surrounding existing suitable habitat and substrate are essential to providing space for growth, reproduction and dispersal of the existing populations. Therefore, we identify the habitats described as physical or biological features above that also provide suitable microhabitat conditions, hydrology, and connectivity that can support the subspecies growth, distribution, and population expansion (including rhizomal growth, spore dispersal, and sporophyte and gametophyte growth and survival) to be a physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern. PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Habitats Protected From Disturbance Florida bristle fern can be outcompeted by other native, as well as nonnative, invasive species. Nonnative and native invasive plants, including a few of the most common invasive plants such as Love vine (Cassytha filiformis), Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), and Burma reed (Neyraudia reynaudiana), compete with the subspecies for space, light, water, and nutrients; limit growth and abundance; and can make habitat conditions unsuitable. Nonnative plant species have affected hammock habitats where Florida bristle fern occurs, and as identified in the final listing rule (80 FR 60440, October 6, 2015), are considered one of the threats to the subspecies (Snyder et al. 1990, p. 273; Gann et al. 2002, pp. 552–554; Inventory 2010, pp. 22, 26). Nonnative plants can outcompete and displace the subspecies in solution holes, and can blanket existing occurrences, blocking out all light and smothering the fern (Possley 2013d, pers. comm.). In addition to the negative impacts of nonnative and native invasive plants, feral hogs can impact substrate and vegetation (directly) and habitat suitability (indirectly). Rooting from hogs can destroy existing habitat by displacing smaller rocks where the subspecies grows and potentially damage or eliminate a cluster of the fern (Werner 2013, pers. comm.). In Withlacoochee State Forest, damaged areas from feral hogs are also more susceptible to invasion from nonnative plant species (Werner 2013, pers. comm.). Therefore, based on the information above, we identify a plant community of predominantly native vegetation that is minimally disturbed or free from human-related disturbance with either no competitive nonnative, invasive plant species, or such species in quantities low enough to have minimal effect on Florida bristle fern to be a physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern. Summary of Essential Physical or Biological Features We have determined that the following physical or biological features are essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern: (1) Upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality and size to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for Florida bristle fern. (2) Exposed substrate derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala limestone, or exposed limestone boulders, which E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS provide anchoring and nutritional requirements. (3) Constantly humid microhabitat consisting of dense canopy cover, moisture, stable high temperature, and stable monthly average humidity of 90 percent or higher, with intact hydrology within hammocks and the surrounding and adjacent wetland communities. (4) Dense canopy cover of surrounding native vegetation that consists of the upland hardwood forest hammock habitats and provides shade, shelter, and moisture. (5) Suitable microhabitat conditions, hydrology, and connectivity that can support the Florida bristle fern growth, distribution, and population expansion (including rhizomal growth, spore dispersal, and sporophyte and gametophyte growth and survival). (6) Plant community of predominantly native vegetation that is minimally disturbed, free from humanrelated disturbance with either no competitive nonnative, invasive plant species, or such species in quantities low enough to have minimal effect on Florida bristle fern. Special Management Considerations or Protection When designating critical habitat, we assess whether the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing contain features that are essential to the conservation of the species and that may require special management considerations or protection. The features essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern may require special management considerations or protections to reduce threats related to habitat modification and destruction primarily due to development, agricultural conversion, hydrologic alteration, nonnative invasive species, and sea level rise. For more information on threats to Florida bristle fern, please refer to the final listing rule (80 FR 60440, October 6, 2015). The four known populations of the south Florida metapopulation occur on County-managed conservation lands at Castellow Hammock, Hattie Bauer Hammock, Fuchs Hammock, and Meissner Hammock. However, these areas are still vulnerable to the effects of activities in the surrounding areas, including agricultural clearing and hydrologic alterations. In addition, these areas are vulnerable to threats from nonnative invasive species, especially if current control efforts are discontinued or decreased. The small amount of rockland hammock or mixed rockland/ mesic hammock is vulnerable to impacts related to urban and VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 agricultural development, including hydrologic alterations, and threats by nonnative invasive species (especially as such areas are often not actively managed for nonnative species). We expect these hammock communities in south Florida to be further degraded due to sea level rise and the increase in the number of flood events, which would fully or partially inundate some rockland hammocks along the coast and in the southern portion of Miami-Dade County and in Everglades National Park. Sea level rise is also expected to increase the salinity of the water table and soils, resulting in vegetation shifts across the Miami Rock Ridge. The two known populations of the central Florida metapopulation both occur on State-owned land in the Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest. Land clearing and hydrological alterations on private lands adjacent to the Jumper Creek Tract continue to be threats to the subspecies’ populations and habitat. In addition, while the Withlacoochee State Forest is generally considered public conservation land, it is managed by the Florida Forest Service and is subject to logging in certain areas. Logging is less likely to occur on the Jumper Creek Tract due to the existing matrix of hammocks and pinelands (versus a predominantly pineland community). This area is also subject to impacts from nonnative invasive species, although forest management on the Jumper Creek Tract currently includes nonnative plant control. Moisture and humidity levels of the fern habitat are also dependent upon the hydrology of the surrounding or adjacent wetlands. Alterations in the natural hydrologic regime within the hammock and these adjacent habitats affect these physical or biological features. Draining, ditching, and excessive pumping of groundwater can lower the water table in hammocks, causing reduced moisture and humidity levels. In such cases, mesic hammocks, for example, may undergo shifts in species composition toward xeric hammock composition. These impacts to hammock systems may ultimately reduce or eliminate suitable habitat for the subspecies. A lowered water table or dewatering of hammocks can also render the habitat vulnerable to catastrophic fire. Special management considerations and protections that will address these threats include increased coordination and conservation of the subspecies and its habitat (including preventing impacts to hammock hydrology, canopy cover, and substrate) on Federal lands and with State, County, and private landowners of non-Federal lands. PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10379 Habitat restoration and management efforts (including nonnative plant treatments) of high-priority sites will be emphasized. At this time, the subspecies does not occur on Federal lands for either metapopulation, but reintroduction is being explored for Royal Palm Hammock in Everglades National Park in south Florida. Criteria Used To Identify Critical Habitat As required by section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we use the best scientific data available to designate critical habitat. In accordance with the Act and our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(b), we review available information pertaining to the habitat requirements of the species and identify specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing and any specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species to be considered for designation as critical habitat. The current distribution of Florida bristle fern is reduced from its historical distribution to a level where it is danger of extinction. We anticipate that recovery will require continued protection of existing populations and habitat, as well as establishing sites that more closely approximate its historical distribution, in order to ensure there are adequate numbers of Florida bristle fern in stable populations and that these populations occur over a wide geographic area within both metapopulations. This strategy will help to ensure that catastrophic events, such as fire, cannot simultaneously affect all known populations. Rangewide recovery considerations, such as maintaining existing genetic diversity and striving for representation of all major portions of the subspecies’ historical range, were considered in formulating this proposed critical habitat designation. The amount and distribution of the proposed critical habitat are designed to provide: (1) The processes that maintain the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of the subspecies; (2) Sufficient quality and size of habitat to support the persistence of the physical or biological features for the subspecies (hammock microclimate, humidity, temperature, substrate, canopy cover, native plant community); (3) Habitat to expand the distribution of Florida bristle fern into historically occupied areas; (4) Space to increase the size of each population to a level where the threats of genetic, demographic, and normal E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 10380 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS environmental uncertainties are diminished; and (5) Additional space to improve the ability of the subspecies to withstand local or regional-level environmental fluctuations or catastrophes. For Florida bristle fern, we are proposing to designate critical habitat in areas within the geographical area occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing. For those areas, we determined that they were of suitable habitat within the known historical range, with current occurrence records, and could support the physical or biological features identified earlier, such as through restoration. We are also proposing to designate specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing because we have determined that a designation limited to occupied areas would be inadequate to ensure the conservation of the subspecies. For those unoccupied areas, we have determined that it is reasonably certain that the unoccupied areas will contribute to the conservation of the subspecies and contain one or more of the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of the subspecies. Sources of Data To Identify Critical Habitat Boundaries To determine the general extent, location, and boundaries of the proposed critical habitat, we used the following sources of information: (1) Historical and current records of Florida bristle fern occurrence and distribution found in publications, reports, personal communications, and associated voucher specimens housed at museums and private collections; (2) Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (Commission), Inventory, Institute for Regional Conservation (Institute), and Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (Fairchild) geographic information system (GIS) data showing the location and extent of documented occurrences of Florida bristle fern; (3) Reports and databases prepared by the Institute and Fairchild; (4) ESRI ArcGIS online basemap aerial imagery (December 2010) and historical aerial imagery (1938 for Miami-Dade County; 1941 for Sumter County); and (5) GIS data depicting land cover (Commission and Inventory Cooperative Land Cover Map, version 3.1) within Miami-Dade and Sumter Counties, and the location and habitat boundaries of rockland hammocks in Miami-Dade County (Florida Geographic Data Library 2017; Commission and Inventory 2018; Institute 2009; MiamiDade County Information Technology VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 Department 2015; Sumter County, Florida 2019). The presence of the physical or biological features was determined using the above sources of information as well as site visits by biologists and botanists (Possley 2019, entire), and through field surveys, habitat mapping, and substrate mapping by the Institute (Possley and Hazelton 2015, entire; van der Heiden 2016, entire; van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, entire). Areas Occupied at the Time of Listing The proposed occupied critical habitat units were delineated around the documented extant populations and the existing physical or biological features that require special management and protection. We have determined that all currently known occupied habitat for Florida bristle fern was also occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing, and that these areas contain the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies and which may require special management considerations or protection. We are proposing to designate these areas as occupied habitat. Occupied Habitat—South Florida Metapopulation (Miami-Dade County) Occupied habitat, which for the south Florida metapopulation occurs in rockland hammock habitat, was identified based on available occurrence data for Florida bristle fern. Rockland hammock boundaries were delineated using the Institute’s 2009 rockland hammock GIS layer. Based on our assessment of rockland hammocks on the Miami Rock Ridge (see Sites for Reproduction, Germination, or Spore Production and Dispersal), we included in the assessment all of the remaining rockland hammocks within the proposed critical habitat boundaries. Next, we grouped rockland hammocks, where appropriate, to form units. Rockland hammocks in close proximity to one another provide connectivity and allow spore dispersal (water-based, animal, or wind-driven dispersal) from occupied to adjacent habitat, which is important for establishing new clusters of plants to increase population resiliency and subspecies redundancy. In addition, based on the Act’s implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.12 (d)), when habitats are in close proximity to one another, an inclusive area may be designated. Although the population historically observed in Ross Hammock has been reported as extirpated, we combined Ross Hammock with Castellow Hammock into a single occupied unit (unit South Florida 9 [SF 9]) because: (1) The PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 subspecies is exceedingly hard to find even by species experts and, therefore, may be present even though it has been reported as extirpated; (2) there is the likelihood that spores could travel between occupied and adjacent habitat, particularly during high-water events; and (3) habitat directly adjacent to known occurrences (e.g., separated only by a road) can also be occupied if habitat conditions are suitable. Three occupied units (Castellow/Ross, Hattie Bauer, and Fuchs and Meissner hammocks) totaling 52 ha (129 ac) are proposed as critical habitat for the south Florida metapopulation. Occupied Critical Habitat—Central Florida Metapopulation (Sumter County) For the central Florida populations, habitat was defined as the intersection of mesic, hydric, and elevated hydric hammocks and a boulder layer shapefile (van der Heiden 2016, p. 3). On the Jumper Creek Tract, known extant populations of Florida bristle fern occur in two small mesic hammocks located within and supported by a matrix of hydric hammock and mixed wetland hardwood communities. The mesic hammocks are approximately 0.18 ha (0.44 ac) and 0.11 ha (0.28 ac) in size and difficult to differentiate from the surrounding forested vegetation. Our evaluation of occurrence data for this metapopulation also included historical observations of the Florida bristle fern south of the Jumper Creek Tract where the subspecies was formerly known to occur near Battle Slough (near the existing town of Wahoo) and located in close proximity to the extant populations. In this area, habitat types include mixed wetland hardwoods surrounded by freshwater marsh, cypress/tupelo, and mixed hardwoodconiferous forest. Using the information mentioned above on current and historical occurrences and habitat type and applying the data for suitable substrate (boulders), we delineated a contiguous unit of occupied habitat for Florida bristle fern. As discussed earlier, suitable hammock micro-conditions in this landscape (specifically the high humidity, stable temperatures, moisture, and shade) required by Florida bristle fern are supported by the surrounding vegetation, which minimizes drastic changes in temperature or humidity at the microclimate scale. Generally, forest edges receive more light, are prone to greater desiccation, and have a reduced biodiversity compared to the forest interiors. Pronounced edge effects from adjacent land clearing and fragmentation, such as with agricultural E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules lands, reduce the quality of forested habitat and detrimentally affect the interior microclimate. Field observations of Florida bristle fern in central Florida found more robust and healthy ferns in an interior hammock with approximately 300 m (985 ft) of surrounding habitat between it and cleared pasture land. This was compared to ferns in a hammock that had only 100 m (328 ft) of surrounding habitat separating it from the edge of cleared pasture. The ferns located nearer the edge (approximately 100 m) of the adjacent cleared pasture had visible signs of stress, and these ferns appeared desiccated and had fewer reproductive bristles than the ferns in the hammock and with 300 m of surrounding vegetation (van der Heiden 2016, p. 3). These observations are consistent with findings that documented edge effects on ferns up to 200 m into the forest (Hylander et al. 2013, pp. 559–560). Edge effects included loss of individual plants, loss of percent canopy cover, and increased temperature, sunlight, and wind on the microclimate (Hylander et al. 2013, pp. 559–560; Lea˜o da Silva and Schmitt 2015, pp. 227– 228). To most accurately represent suitable habitat for Florida bristle fern within these central Florida communities and ensure the persistence of the necessary microclimate, we consider natural communities within 300 m (985 ft) as measured from the edge of and surrounding the boulder substrate (equivalent to 9.3 ha (23 ac)) to be habitat essential to the conservation of the subspecies (van der Heiden 2014, pers. comm.; van der Heiden 2016, p. 3) in protecting the habitat from edge effects. The suitable habitat communities and the distribution of exposed limestone substrate (boulder) in these communities were delineated with the use of ground survey and satellite imagery data (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 6–7; van der Heiden 2016, p. 3). Site-level data of vegetative communities produced from aerial photography (Commission and Inventory 2018) and feedback from species experts and local biologists on habitat and substrate occurrence in this area were also used. Thus, using the best available data, one occupied unit totaling 742 ha (1,834 ac) is proposed as critical habitat for the central Florida metapopulation. This proposed critical habitat designation consists of a contiguous unit within and adjacent to Jumper Creek Tract of intact vegetation (i.e., not cleared) in mesic or hydric hammocks and mixed wetland hardwood communities having exposed limestone substrate (boulders), which VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 have, at minimum, a 300-m radius of surrounding intact vegetation. Areas Outside the Geographic Area Occupied at the Time of Listing To consider for designation areas not occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing, we must demonstrate that these areas are essential for the conservation of Florida bristle fern. In south Florida, proposed occupied critical habitat for the subspecies is within a relatively small amount of highly fragmented habitat and occupied patches are generally isolated from one another within the landscape. In addition, the extent of the geographic area in south Florida (Miami-Dade County) that is currently occupied by the plant is substantially (nearly 80 percent) smaller than its historical range. In central Florida, the two known existing populations are in very close proximity and also in a much smaller area than the known historical range. Because of this fragmentation and loss of range, both metapopulations have lower resiliency under these current conditions compared to historical occurrences, and therefore, the subspecies’ adaptive capacity (representation) and redundancy has been reduced. Based on these factors in relation to the threats to Florida bristle fern, we have determined we cannot recover the subspecies with only the occupied habitat; thus, additional habitat is essential to provide a sufficient amount of habitat (total area and number of patches) and connectivity for the longterm conservation of the plant. Therefore, because we have determined occupied areas alone are not adequate for the conservation of the subspecies, we have identified and are proposing for designation as critical habitat specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing that are essential to the conservation of the subspecies. This will ensure enough sites and individuals exist for each metapopulation of Florida bristle fern. We used habitat and historical occurrence data and the physical or biological features described earlier to identify unoccupied habitat essential for the conservation of the Florida bristle fern. As discussed in more detail below, the unoccupied areas we selected are essential for the conservation of the subspecies because they: (1) Consist of a documented historical, but now extirpated, occurrence of the subspecies; (2) Provide areas of sufficient size to support ecosystem processes; PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10381 (3) Provide suitable habitat (that contain some or all of the physical or biological features) that allow for growth and expansion; and (4) Occur in the known historical range of the subspecies. These unoccupied areas provide sufficient space for growth and reproduction for the subspecies within the historical range and will provide ecological diversity so that the subspecies has the ability to evolve and adapt over time (representation) and ensure that the subspecies has an adequate level of redundancy to guard against future catastrophic events. These areas also represent the areas within the historical range with the best potential for recovery of the subspecies due to their current conditions, provide habitat and space to support spore dispersal and new growth, and are likely suitable for reintroductions. Unoccupied Habitat—South Florida Metapopulation (Miami-Dade County) The existing suitable habitat for the south Florida metapopulation consists of a patchwork of small parcels. Therefore, we must ensure the integrity of the solution hole and canopy cover, which is responsible for maintaining the stable damp, humid, and shaded microclimate identified as a physical or biological feature for the subspecies. Using the Institute’s 2009 rockland hammock GIS layer and Commission and Inventory’s Cooperative Land Cover site-level data for rockland hammocks and site visit information from Service staff biologists and botanists from Fairchild, Miami, we evaluated all unoccupied sites within rockland hammock habitats, including mixed rockland/mesic hammock and rockland hammock with connecting mixed wetland hardwood habitat, in MiamiDade County. Specifically, we reviewed available historical aerial photography of 20 rockland hammocks historically occupied, but now unoccupied, by the subspecies. Ten additional potential sites were visited by Service staff. Also, specific information provided by Miami-Dade County and Fairchild on four additional areas was reviewed. A site was considered in the evaluation for proposed unoccupied critical habitat if it is within the historical range of the subspecies and: (1) Holds a documented historical occurrence; (2) Contains one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies; (3) Provides viable habitat for introductions or could be restored to support Florida bristle fern; E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 10382 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules (4) Occurs at the edge of the range and provided areas that would allow for growth and expansion; or (5) Occurs near an occupied site (for potential recruitment). Each site would, in conjunction with occupied areas of proposed critical habitat, support the conservation of the subspecies. Based on our review, we identified three unoccupied rockland hammock units on the Miami Rock Ridge outside of Everglades National Park (see table 1). These three proposed units represent the units with documented, but now extirpated, historical occurrences with intact rockland hammock within the historical range of the subspecies outside of the Everglades National Park. Within the Everglades National Park, we identified a fourth unit, the Royal Palm Hammock, for inclusion in the proposed critical habitat. This hammock was also historically occupied by the subspecies but was not occupied at the time of listing. The resulting four unoccupied proposed units consist of 83 ha (205 ac) and are considered essential for the conservation of Florida bristle fern because they protect habitat needed to recover the subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the known historical range of the subspecies in Miami-Dade County. The unoccupied units each contain one or more of the physical or biological features and are likely to provide for the conservation of the subspecies. Three of the unoccupied units are on lands managed by MiamiDade County and the fourth unoccupied unit is on land managed by Everglades National Park. lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS Unoccupied Habitat—Central Florida Metapopulation (Sumter County) For the central Florida metapopulation, criteria for determining unoccupied critical habitat included units that: (1) Holds a documented historical occurrence; (2) Contains one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies; (3) Provides space for growth and recovery (to add resiliency to a small population); (4) Provides viable habitat for introductions; and VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 (5) Provides connectivity across the range of the subspecies. Unoccupied habitat was delineated based on documented historical occurrences, existing suitable habitat (as defined by the physical or biological features), and evaluation of the habitat and substrate delineation mapping (van der Heiden 2016, pp. 5–7) with data obtained through field surveys and satellite mapping. The one unoccupied unit proposed for critical habitat designation consists of approximately 747 ha (1,846 ac) (table 1). It consists of documented historically occupied (now extirpated) habitat with suitable wetland and upland communities having intact vegetation (not cleared) and hammocks and exposed limestone boulders with at least a 300-m radius (984 ft) or greater of surrounding native vegetation (van der Heiden 2014, pers. comm.; van der Heiden 2016, p. 3). Its size was based on the conditions necessary to maintain the physical or biological features. It is considered essential for the conservation of Florida bristle fern because it protects habitat needed to recover the subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the known historical range of the subspecies in Sumter County. The unoccupied unit contains one or more of the physical or biological features and is likely to provide for the conservation of the subspecies. General Information on the Maps of the Proposed Critical Habitat Designation The proposed critical habitat designation is defined by the map or maps, as modified by any accompanying regulatory text, presented at the end of this document under Proposed Regulation Promulgation. We include more detailed information on the boundaries of the critical habitat designation in the discussion of individual units below. We will make the coordinates or plot points or both on which each map is based available to the public at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019– 0068, at http://www.fws.gov/verobeach, and at the South Florida Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT, above). When determining proposed critical habitat boundaries, we made every PO 00000 Frm 00039 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 effort to avoid including developed areas such as lands covered by buildings, pavement, and other structures because such lands lack physical or biological features necessary for Florida bristle fern. The scale of the maps we prepared under the parameters for publication within the Code of Federal Regulations may not reflect the exclusion of such developed lands. Any such lands inadvertently left inside critical habitat boundaries shown on the maps of this proposed rule have been excluded by text in the proposed rule and are not proposed for designation as critical habitat. Therefore, if the critical habitat is finalized as proposed, a Federal action involving these lands would not trigger section 7 consultation under the Act with respect to critical habitat and the requirement of no adverse modification unless the specific action would affect the physical or biological features in the adjacent critical habitat. Proposed Critical Habitat Designation We are proposing to designate as critical habitat for Florida bristle fern approximately 1,624 ha (4,014 ac) in nine units in Miami-Dade and Sumter Counties, Florida. The proposed critical habitat consists of units identified for the south and central Florida metapopulations and are delineated in (1) south Florida by rockland/tropical hammocks of Miami-Dade County (135 ha (334 ac)); and (2) central Florida by Withlacoochee State Forest, Jumper Creek Tract, and adjacent lands in Sumter County (1,489 ha (3680 ac)). Four of the units are currently occupied by the subspecies and contains those physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies but may require special management considerations. Five of the units are currently unoccupied by the subspecies but are essential to the conservation of the subspecies. Table 1 shows the name, occupancy, area, and land ownership of each unit within the proposed critical habitat designation for Florida bristle fern. Land ownership within the entire proposed critical habitat consists of Federal (4 percent), State (92 percent), County (3 percent), and private (1 percent). E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 10383 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules TABLE 1—NAME, OCCUPANCY (O = OCCUPIED, U = UNOCCUPIED), AREA, AND LAND OWNERSHIP OF PROPOSED CRITICAL HABITAT UNITS FOR FLORIDA BRISTLE FERN (Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum) [Area estimates reflect all land within critical habitat unit boundaries. All areas are rounded to the nearest whole hectare (ha) and acre (ac). Ownership information is based on Miami-Dade County data (2017) and Sumter County data (2019).] Unit Occupancy Federal ha (ac) State ha (ac) County ha (ac) Private/other ha (ac) Total ha (ac) Rockland/Tropical Hammocks of South Florida, Miami-Dade County Matheson Hammock * (SF 1) .................... Snapper Creek * (SF 2) ............................. Castellow and Ross * Hammocks (SF 3) .. Silver Palm Hammock * (SF 4) ................. Hattie Bauer Hammock (SF 5) .................. Fuchs and Meissner Hammocks (SF 6) ... Royal Palm Hammock * (SF 7) ................. U U O U O O U South Florida Total ............................ 0 0 0 0 0 0 60 (148) 0 3 (8) 13 (32) 4 (10) 0 2 (5) 0 16 (39) 0 25 (61) 0 3 (8) 9 (23) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 16 (39) 3 (8) 38 (93) 4 (10) 3 (8) 11 (28) 60 (148) 60 (148) 22 (55) 53 (131) 0 135 (334) Withlacoochee State Forest, Jumper Creek Tract, and adjacent lands of Central Florida, Sumter County CF 1 .......................................................... CF 2 * ........................................................ Central Florida Total .......................... Total South and Central Florida O U 0 0 I f-------1 0 60 (148) 726 (1,795) 747 (1,846) 0 0 16 (39) 0 742 (1,834) 747 (1,846) 1,473 (3,641) 0 16 (39) 1,489 (3,680) 1---------+---------+---- 1,495 (3,696) 53 (131) 16 (39) 1,624 (4,014) * Historically occupied. Note: Area sizes may not sum due to rounding. We present brief descriptions of all proposed units, and reasons why they meet the definition of critical habitat for Florida bristle fern, below. Rockland/Tropical Hammocks of South Florida, Miami-Dade County, Florida The proposed critical habitat for the south Florida metapopulation is composed of seven units (SF 1–SF 7) consisting of approximately 135 ha (334 ac) located between South Miami and eastern Everglades National Park in central and southern Miami-Dade County, Florida. lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS SF 1—Matheson Hammock Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies and identified this area as essential for the conservation of the Florida bristle fern. SF 1 consists of approximately 16 ha (39 ac) of habitat in Matheson Hammock in Matheson Hammock Park in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This unit is composed of County-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the MiamiDade County Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program and the Natural Areas Management division. Matheson Hammock is within the historical range of Florida bristle fern but is not within the geographical range currently occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains some or all of the physical or biological features necessary for the conservation of the subspecies. Unit SF1 possesses those characteristics as described by physical or biological feature 1 (upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality and size to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for Florida bristle fern) and physical or biological feature 2 (exposed substrate derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala limestone, or exposed limestone boulders, which provide anchoring and nutritional requirements). Physical or biological features 3–6 are degraded in this unit, and with appropriate management and restoration actions such as prescribed burns and removal of invasive plant species, these physical or biological features can be restored. This unit would serve to protect habitat needed to recover the subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the historical range in Miami-Dade County. Re-establishing a population in this unit would increase redundancy in the South Florida metapopulation. It would also provide habitat for recolonization in the case of stochastic events (such as hurricanes), should other areas of suitable habitat be destroyed or Florida bristle fern be extirpated from one of its currently occupied locations. This unit is essential for the conservation of the subspecies because it will provide habitat for range expansion in known PO 00000 Frm 00040 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 historical habitat that is necessary to increase viability of the subspecies by increasing its resiliency, redundancy, and representation. We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the conservation of the subspecies, because the need for conservation efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies are being developed. As stated previously, this unit is entirely composed of Countyowned land and primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program and the Natural Areas Management division. The EEL program’s focus is on the ‘‘protection and conservation of endangered lands,’’ and these EEL areas are managed for restoration and conservation through actions such as prescribed burns and invasive plant removal. In addition, State and County partners have shown interest in reintroduction efforts for the Florida bristle fern in this area. SF 2—Snapper Creek Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies and identified this area as essential for the conservation of the subspecies. SF 2 consists of approximately 3 ha (8 ac) of habitat in Deering-Snapper Creek Hammock E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS 10384 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules adjacent to R. Hardy Matheson Preserve in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This unit consists of State-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County EEL program and the Natural Areas Management Division. Snapper Creek is within the historical range of Florida bristle fern but was not occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing. Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains some or all of the physical or biological features necessary for the conservation of the subspecies. Unit SF2 possesses those characteristics as described by physical or biological feature 1 (upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality and size to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for Florida bristle fern) and physical or biological feature 2 (exposed substrate derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala limestone, or exposed limestone boulders, which provide anchoring and nutritional requirements). Physical or biological features 3–6 are degraded in this unit, and with appropriate management and restoration actions such as prescribed burns and removal of invasive plant species, these physical or biological features can be restored. This unit would serve to protect habitat needed to recover the subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the historical range in Miami-Dade County. Re-establishing a population in this unit would an increase the subspecies redundancy in the South Florida metapopulation. It would also provide habitat for recolonization in the case of stochastic events (such as hurricanes), should other areas of suitable habitat be destroyed or Florida bristle fern be extirpated from one of its currently occupied locations. This unit is essential for the conservation of the subspecies because it will provide habitat for range expansion in known historical habitat that is necessary to increase viability of the subspecies by increasing its resiliency, redundancy, and representation. We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the conservation of the subspecies, because the need for conservation efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies are being developed. As stated previously, this unit is entirely composed of Stateowned land and is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County EEL program and the Natural Areas Management Division. The EEL program’s focus is on the ‘‘protection and conservation of endangered lands,’’ and these EEL areas are managed for VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 restoration and conservation through actions such as prescribed burns and invasive plant removal. In addition, State and County partners have shown interest in reintroduction efforts for the Florida bristle fern in this area. SF 3—Castellow and Ross Hammocks SF 3 consists of approximately 38 ha (93 ac) of habitat in Castellow and Ross Hammocks in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This unit consists of 13 ha (32 ac) of State-owned and 25 ha (61 ac) of County-owned lands that are primarily managed cooperatively by the MiamiDade County EEL program and Natural Areas Management Division. This unit is occupied by the subspecies and contains some or all of the physical or biological features essential to its conservation. Special management considerations or protection may be required to address threats of commercial, residential, or agricultural development; hydrological alterations; competition with nonnative species; human use and recreation; and sea level rise. In some cases, these threats are being addressed or coordinated with our partners and landowners to implement needed actions. Such actions include removal of invasive species, review of County development plans, and review of projects considering land use changes. SF 4—Silver Palm Hammock Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies and identified this area as essential for the conservation of the subspecies. SF 4 consists of approximately 4 ha (10 ac) of habitat in Silver Palm Hammock in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This unit consists of State-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the MiamiDade County EEL program and Natural Areas Management Division. Silver Palm Hammock is within the historical range of Florida bristle fern but was not occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing. Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains some or all of the physical or biological features necessary for the conservation of the subspecies. Unit SF4 possesses those characteristics as describe by physical or biological feature 1 (upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality and size to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for Florida bristle fern); physical or biological feature 2 (exposed substrate derived from oolitic limestone, PO 00000 Frm 00041 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Ocala limestone, or exposed limestone boulders, which provide anchoring and nutritional requirements); physical or biological feature 3 (constantly humid microhabitat consisting of dense canopy cover, moisture, stable high temperature, and stable monthly average humidity of 90 percent or higher, with intact hydrology within hammocks and the surrounding and adjacent wetland communities); physical or biological feature 4 (dense canopy cover of surrounding native vegetation that consists of the upland hardwood forest hammock habitats and provides shade, shelter, and moisture); and physical or biological feature 5 (suitable microhabitat conditions, hydrology, and connectivity that can support the Florida bristle fern growth, distribution, and population expansion (including rhizomal growth, spore dispersal, and sporophyte and gametophyte growth and survival)). Physical or biological feature 6 is degraded in this unit, and with appropriate management and restoration actions such as prescribed burns and removal of invasive plant species, this feature can be restored. This unit would serve to protect habitat needed to recover the subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the historical range in Miami-Dade County. Re-establishing a population in this unit would increase the subspecies redundancy in the South Florida metapopulation. It would also provide habitat for recolonization in the case of stochastic events (such as hurricanes), should other areas of suitable habitat be destroyed or Florida bristle fern be extirpated from one of its currently occupied locations. This unit is essential for the conservation of the subspecies because it will provide habitat for range expansion in known historical habitat that is necessary to increase viability of the subspecies by increasing its resiliency, redundancy, and representation. We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the conservation of the subspecies because the need for conservation efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies are being developed. As stated previously, this unit is entirely composed of Stateowned land and is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County EEL program and the Natural Areas Management Division. The EEL program’s focus is on the ‘‘protection and conservation of endangered lands,’’ and these EEL areas are managed for restoration and conservation through actions such as prescribed burns and invasive plant removal. In addition, E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules State and County partners have shown interest in reintroduction efforts for the Florida bristle fern in this area. SF 5—Hattie Bauer Hammock SF 5 consists of approximately 3 ha (8 ac) of habitat in Hattie Bauer Hammock in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This unit consists of County-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County EEL program and Natural Areas Management Division. This unit is occupied by the subspecies and contains some or all of the physical or biological features essential to its conservation. Special management considerations or protection may be required to address threats of commercial, residential, or agricultural development; hydrological alterations; competition with nonnative species; human use and recreation; and sea level rise. In some cases, these threats are being addressed or coordinated with our partners and landowners to implement needed actions. Such actions include removal of invasive species, review of County development plans, and review of projects considering land use changes. lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS SF 6—Fuchs and Meissner Hammocks SF 6 consists of approximately 11 ha (28 ac) of habitat in Fuchs Hammock on Fuchs Hammock Preserve and Meissner Hammock in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This unit consists of 2 ha (5 ac) of State-owned and 9 ha (23 ac) of County-owned lands that are primarily managed cooperatively by the MiamiDade County EEL program and Natural Areas Management Division. This unit is occupied by the subspecies and contains some or all of the physical or biological features essential to its conservation. Special management considerations or protection may be required to address threats of commercial, residential, or agricultural development; hydrological alterations; competition with nonnative species; human use and recreation; and sea level rise. In some cases, these threats are being addressed or coordinated with our partners and landowners to implement needed actions. Such actions include removal of invasive species, review of County development plans, and review of projects considering land use changes. SF 7—Royal Palm Hammock Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies and identified this area as essential for the conservation of VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 the subspecies. SF 7 consists of approximately 60 ha (148 ac) of habitat in Royal Palm Hammock in Everglades National Park, which is Federally owned land, in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Royal Palm Hammock is within the historical range of Florida bristle fern but was not occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing. Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains all of the physical or biological features necessary for the conservation of the subspecies. Unit SF7 possesses those characteristics as described by physical or biological features 1 through 6. This unit would serves to protect habitat needed to recover the subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the historical range in Miami-Dade County. Re-establishing a population in this unit would increase the subspecies redundancy in the South Florida metapopulation. It would also provide habitat for recolonization in the case of stochastic events (such as hurricanes), should other areas of suitable habitat be destroyed or Florida bristle fern be extirpated from one of its currently occupied locations. This unit is essential for the conservation of the subspecies because it will provide habitat for range expansion in known historical habitat that is necessary to increase viability of the subspecies by increasing its resiliency, redundancy, and representation. We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the conservation of the subspecies because the need for conservation efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies are being developed. This unit is entirely composed of Everglades National Park, which is Federally owned land with section 7(a)(1) responsibilities to carry out programs for the conservation of federally listed threatened and endangered species. The Everglades National Park General Management Plan (Plan), approved in 2015 prior to the published final listing rule for Florida bristle fern, guides the National Park Service’s management of Everglades National Park, including conservation of threatened and endangered species. The 2015 Plan identifies the Florida bristle fern as extirpated from Everglades National Park (Royal Palm Hammock), and therefore, specific conservation measures were not discussed for the subspecies. However, Everglades National Park continues to conduct nonnative plant species control in Royal Palm Hammock, which helps maintain the physical or biological essential to PO 00000 Frm 00042 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10385 the conservation of the Florida bristle fern. Withlacoochee State Forest, Jumper Creek Tract, and Adjacent Lands of Central Florida, Sumter County The proposed critical habitat for the central Florida metapopulation is composed of two units (CF 1 and CF 2) consisting of approximately 1,489 ha (3,680 ac) located within and adjacent to the Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest in Sumter County, Florida. CF 1 CF 1 consists of approximately 742 ha (1,834 ac) of habitat in Sumter County, Florida. This unit consists of 726 ha (1,795 ac) of State-owned land within the Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest and 16 ha (39 ac) of privately owned land directly adjacent to the two locations where Florida bristle fern is currently observed. The State-owned land is managed by the Florida Forest Service. This unit is occupied by the subspecies and contains all of the physical or biological features essential to its conservation. Special management considerations or protection may be required to address threats of residential and agricultural development, land clearing, logging, cattle grazing, hydrological alteration, competition with nonnative species, human use and recreation, and impacts related to climate change. In some cases, these threats are being addressed or coordinated with our partners and landowners to implement needed actions. CF 2 Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies and identified this area as essential for the conservation of the subspecies. CF 2 consists of approximately 747 ha (1,846 ac) of habitat on State-owned land within the Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest, Sumter County, Florida. This unit has a documented historical population of Florida bristle fern but was not occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing. Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains all of the physical or biological features necessary for the conservation of the subspecies. Unit CF2 possesses those characteristics as described by physical or biological features 1 through 6. E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS 10386 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules This unit would ensure maintenance of the microclimate and contains suitable habitat in association with documented presence of substrate and all of the physical or biological features that can support the subspecies. This unit would provide for an increase in range and connectivity of the subspecies through the natural processes of growth, spore dispersal, and fragmentation, and is considered suitable habitat for introductions to reestablish wild populations within the historical range in Sumter County. Re-establishing at least one historical population in this unit would increase the subspecies redundancy in the Central Florida metapopulation. It also provides habitat for recolonization in the case of stochastic events (such as hurricanes), should other areas of suitable habitat be destroyed or Florida bristle fern be extirpated from one of its currently occupied locations. This unit is essential for the conservation of the subspecies because it will provide habitat for range expansion in known historical habitat that is necessary to increase viability of the subspecies by increasing its resiliency, redundancy, and representation. We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the conservation of the subspecies because the need for conservation efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies are being developed. This unit is entirely composed of State-owned land that is part of the Withlacoochee State Forest. The Ten-Year Resource Management Plan for the Withlacoochee State Forest (Management Plan), approved in 2015 prior to the published final listing rule for Florida bristle fern, guides the Florida Forest Service’s management, including protection of threatened and endangered species found on the Withlacoochee State Forest. The Management Plan does not specifically mention Florida bristle fern; therefore, specific conservation measures are not discussed for the subspecies. However, the Withlacoochee State Forest conducts nonnative species control, which helps maintain the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the Florida bristle fern. The Forest has shown interest in reintroduction efforts for the Florida bristle fern in this area. Effects of Critical Habitat Designation Section 7 Consultation Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies, including the Service, to ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out is not likely to VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species. In addition, section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to confer with the Service on any agency action that is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any species proposed to be listed under the Act or result in the destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. We published a final regulation with a revised definition of destruction or adverse modification on August 27, 2019 (84 FR 44976). Destruction or adverse modification means a direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of critical habitat as a whole for the conservation of a listed species. If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency (action agency) must enter into consultation with us. Examples of actions that are subject to the section 7 consultation process are actions on State, tribal, local, or private lands that require a Federal permit (such as a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) or a permit from the Service under section 10 of the Act) or that involve some other Federal action (such as funding from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Federal agency actions within the subspecies’ habitat that may require conference or consultation or both include management and any other landscape-altering activities on Federal lands administered by the Service, U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service; issuance of section 404 Clean Water Act permits by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and construction and maintenance of roads or highways by the Federal Highway Administration. Federal actions not affecting listed species or critical habitat, and actions on State, tribal, local, or private lands that are not federally funded, authorized, or carried out by a Federal agency, do not require section 7 consultation. Compliance with the requirements of section 7(a)(2) is documented through the issuance of: (1) A concurrence letter for Federal actions that may affect, but are not likely to adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat; or (2) A biological opinion for Federal actions that may affect, and are likely to PO 00000 Frm 00043 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat. When we issue a biological opinion concluding that a project is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species and/or destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, we provide reasonable and prudent alternatives to the project, if any are identifiable, that would avoid the likelihood of jeopardy and/or destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. We define ‘‘reasonable and prudent alternatives’’ (at 50 CFR 402.02) as alternative actions identified during consultation that: (1) Can be implemented in a manner consistent with the intended purpose of the action, (2) Can be implemented consistent with the scope of the Federal agency’s legal authority and jurisdiction, (3) Are economically and technologically feasible, and (4) Would, in the Service Director’s opinion, avoid the likelihood of jeopardizing the continued existence of the listed species and/or avoid the likelihood of destroying or adversely modifying critical habitat. Reasonable and prudent alternatives can vary from slight project modifications to extensive redesign or relocation of the project. Costs associated with implementing a reasonable and prudent alternative are similarly variable. Regulations at 50 CFR 402.16 set forth requirements for Federal agencies to reinitiate formal consultation on previously reviewed actions. These requirements apply when the Federal agency has retained discretionary involvement or control over the action (or the agency’s discretionary involvement or control is authorized by law) and, subsequent to the previous consultation, we have listed a new species or designated critical habitat that may be affected by the Federal action, or the action has been modified in a manner that affects the species or critical habitat in a way not considered in the previous consultation. In such situations, Federal agencies sometimes may need to request reinitiation of consultation with us, but the regulations also specify some exceptions to the requirement to reinitiate consultation on specific land management plans after subsequently listing a new species or designation critical habitat. See the regulations for descriptions of those exceptions. Application of the ‘‘Adverse Modification’’ Standard The key factor related to the destruction or adverse modification E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules determination is whether implementation of the proposed Federal action directly or indirectly alters the designated critical habitat in a way that appreciably diminishes the value of the critical habitat as a whole for the conservation of the listed species. As discussed above, the role of critical habitat is to support physical or biological features essential to the conservation of a listed species and provide for the conservation of the species. Section 4(b)(8) of the Act requires us to briefly evaluate and describe, in any proposed or final regulation that designates critical habitat, activities involving a Federal action that may violate 7(a)(2) of the Act by destroying or adversely modifying such designation. Activities that the Services may, during consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, find are likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat include, but are not limited to: (1) Actions that would significantly alter native vegetation structure or composition within the upland hardwood forest hammock habitat consisting of rockland or closed tropical hardwood hammock (south Florida) or mesic, hydric, or intermixed hammock strands ecosystems (central Florida) as defined as a physical or biological feature in the proposed critical habitat. Such activities could include, but are not limited to, land conversion or clearing related to residential, commercial, agricultural, or recreational development, including associated infrastructure; logging; introduction of nonnative plant species; or improper fire management. These activities could result in loss, modification, and fragmentation of rockland/mesic hammock habitat, thereby eliminating or reducing the habitat necessary for the growth and reproduction of the subspecies. (2) Actions that would significantly alter microhabitat for Florida bristle fern within the rockland or closed tropical hardwood hammock (in south Florida) or mesic, hydric, or intermixed hammock strands (in central Florida) ecosystems, including significant alterations to the substrate within the rockland/mesic-hydric hammocks or to the canopy or hydrology within the rockland/mesic-hydric hammocks or surrounding upland hardwood forest vegetation as identified as a physical or biological feature in the proposed critical habitat. Such activities could include, but are not limited to, residential, commercial, agricultural, or recreational development, including associated infrastructure; land VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 conversion or clearing; logging; introduction of nonnative species including invasive plants or feral hogs; ground or surface water withdrawals; and ditching. These activities could result in changes to temperature, humidity, light, and existing water levels, thereby eliminating or reducing the microhabitat necessary for the growth and reproduction of the subspecies. (3) Actions that would significantly alter the hydrology of the upland forested hammock ecosystems as defined as a physical or biological feature in the proposed critical habitat, including significant alterations to the hydrology of surrounding wetland habitat and the underlying water table. Such activities could include, but are not limited to, regional drainage efforts; ground or surface water withdrawals; and ditching. These activities could result in changes to existing water levels and humidity levels within the hammocks, thereby eliminating or reducing the habitat necessary for the growth and reproduction of the subspecies. Exemptions Application of Section 4(a)(3) of the Act Section 4(a)(3)(B)(i) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(B)(i)) provides that: ‘‘The Secretary shall not designate as critical habitat any lands or other geographical areas owned or controlled by the Department of Defense, or designated for its use, that are subject to an integrated natural resources management plan [INRMP] prepared under section 101 of the Sikes Act (16 U.S.C. 670a), if the Secretary determines in writing that such plan provides a benefit to the species for which critical habitat is proposed for designation.’’ There are no Department of Defense lands with a completed INRMP within the proposed critical habitat designation. Consideration of Impacts Under Section 4(b)(2) of the Act Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states that the Secretary shall designate and make revisions to critical habitat on the basis of the best available scientific data after taking into consideration the economic impact, national security impact, and any other relevant impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. The Secretary may exclude an area from critical habitat if he determines that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying such area as part of the critical habitat, unless he determines, based on the best scientific data available, that the failure to PO 00000 Frm 00044 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10387 designate such area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species. In making that determination to exclude a particular area, the statute on its face, as well as the legislative history, are clear that the Secretary has broad discretion regarding which factor(s) to use and how much weight to give to any factor. As discussed below, we are not proposing to exclude any areas from critical habitat. However, the final decision on whether to exclude any areas will be based on the best scientific data available at the time of the final designation, including information obtained during the comment period and information about the economic impact of designation. Consideration of Economic Impacts Section 4(b)(2) of the Act and its implementing regulations require that we consider the economic impact that may result from a designation of critical habitat. To assess the probable economic impacts of a designation, we must first evaluate specific land uses or activities and projects that may occur in the area of the critical habitat. We then must evaluate the impacts that a specific critical habitat designation may have on restricting or modifying specific land uses or activities for the benefit of the species and its habitat within the areas proposed. We then identify which conservation efforts may be the result of the species being listed under the Act versus those attributed solely to the designation of critical habitat for this particular species. The probable economic impact of a proposed critical habitat designation is analyzed by comparing scenarios both ‘‘with critical habitat’’ and ‘‘without critical habitat.’’ The ‘‘without critical habitat’’ scenario represents the baseline for the analysis, which includes the existing regulatory and socio-economic burden imposed on landowners, managers, or other resource users potentially affected by the designation of critical habitat (e.g., under the Federal listing as well as other Federal, State, and local regulations). The baseline, therefore, represents the costs of all efforts attributable to the listing of the species under the Act (i.e., conservation of the species and its habitat incurred regardless of whether critical habitat is designated). The ‘‘with critical habitat’’ scenario describes the incremental impacts associated specifically with the designation of critical habitat for the species. The incremental conservation efforts and associated impacts would not be expected without the designation of critical habitat for the species. In other words, the incremental costs are E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS 10388 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules those attributable solely to the designation of critical habitat, above and beyond the baseline costs. These are the costs we use when evaluating the benefits of inclusion and exclusion of particular areas from the final designation of critical habitat should we choose to conduct a discretionary 4(b)(2) exclusion analysis. For this proposed designation, we developed an incremental effects memorandum (IEM) considering the probable incremental economic impacts that may result from this proposed designation of critical habitat. The information contained in our IEM was then used to develop a screening analysis of the probable effects of the designation of critical habitat for Florida bristle fern (IEc 2020, entire). The purpose of the screening analysis is to filter out the geographic areas in which the critical habitat designation is unlikely to result in probable incremental economic impacts. In particular, the screening analysis considers baseline costs (i.e., absent critical habitat designation) and includes probable economic impacts where land and water use may be subject to conservation plans, land management plans, best management practices, or regulations that protect the habitat area as a result of the Federal listing status of the subspecies. The screening analysis filters out particular areas of critical habitat that are already subject to such protections and are, therefore, unlikely to incur incremental economic impacts. Ultimately, the screening analysis allows us to focus our analysis on the specific areas or sectors that may incur probable incremental economic impacts as a result of the designation. The screening analysis also assesses whether units unoccupied by the subspecies may require additional management or conservation efforts as a result of the designation and which may incur incremental economic impacts. This screening analysis, combined with the information contained in our IEM, constitutes our draft economic analysis (DEA) of the proposed critical habitat designation for Florida bristle fern and is summarized in the narrative below. Executive Orders (E.O.s) 12866 and 13563 direct Federal agencies to assess the costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives in quantitative (to the extent feasible) and qualitative terms. Consistent with the E.O. regulatory analysis requirements, our effects analysis under the Act may take into consideration impacts to both directly and indirectly affected entities, where practicable and reasonable. If sufficient data are available, we assess VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 to the extent practicable the probable impacts to both directly and indirectly affected entities. As part of our screening analysis, we considered the types of economic activities that are likely to occur within the areas likely affected by the critical habitat designation. In our evaluation of the probable incremental economic impacts that may result from the proposed designation of critical habitat for Florida bristle fern, first we identified, in the IEM dated October 2019, probable incremental economic impacts associated with the following categories of activities: (1) Commercial or residential development; (2) roadway and bridge construction; (3) utility-related activities; (4) agriculture, including land clearing; (5) grazing; (6) groundwater pumping; (7) surface water withdrawals and diversions; (8) forest management; (9) fire management; (10) conservation and restoration activities, including nonnative species control; and (11) recreation. Additionally, we considered whether the activities have any Federal involvement. Critical habitat designation generally will not affect activities that do not have any Federal involvement; under the Act, designation of critical habitat only affects activities conducted, funded, permitted, or authorized by Federal agencies. In areas where Florida bristle fern is present, Federal agencies already are required to consult with the Service under section 7 of the Act on activities they fund, permit, or implement that may affect the subspecies. If we finalize this proposed critical habitat designation, consultations to avoid the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat would be incorporated into the existing consultation process. In our IEM, we attempted to clarify the distinction between the effects that will result from the subspecies being listed and those attributable to the critical habitat designation (i.e., the difference between the jeopardy and adverse modification standards) for Florida bristle fern. The following considerations helped to inform our evaluation: (1) The essential physical or biological features identified for critical habitat are the same features essential for the life requisites of the subspecies, and (2) any actions that would result in sufficient harm or harassment to constitute jeopardy to Florida bristle fern would also likely adversely affect the essential physical or biological features of critical habitat. The IEM outlines our rationale concerning this limited distinction between baseline conservation efforts and incremental impacts of the designation of critical habitat for this subspecies. This PO 00000 Frm 00045 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 evaluation of the incremental effects has been used as the basis to evaluate the probable incremental economic impacts of this proposed designation. The proposed critical habitat designation for Florida bristle fern totals approximately 1,624 ha (4,014 ac) in Miami-Dade and Sumter Counties, Florida, and includes both occupied and unoccupied units. Within the occupied units, any actions that may affect the subspecies would also affect proposed critical habitat, and it is unlikely that any additional conservation efforts would be recommended to address the adverse modification standard over and above those recommended as necessary to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of Florida bristle fern. Therefore, the economic impacts of implementing the rule through section 7 of the Act will most likely be limited to additional administrative effort to consider adverse modification. Within the unoccupied units, incremental section 7 costs will include both the administrative costs of consultation and the costs of developing and implementing conservation measures needed to avoid adverse modification of critical habitat. Therefore, this analysis focuses on the likely impacts to activities occurring in unoccupied units of the proposed critical habitat designation. This analysis considers the potential need to consult on development, transportation, and other activities authorized, undertaken, or funded by Federal agencies within unoccupied habitat. The total incremental section 7 costs associated with the designation were estimated to be $210,000 in 2019 dollars (IEC 2020, p. 12). Accordingly, we conclude that these costs would not reach the threshold of ‘‘significant’’ under E.O. 12866. As we stated earlier, we are soliciting data and comments from the public on the DEA, as well as all aspects of the proposed rule and our required determinations. See ADDRESSES, above, for information on where to send comments. We may revise the proposed rule or supporting documents to incorporate or address information we receive during the public comment period. In particular, we may exclude an area from critical habitat if we determine that the benefits of excluding the area outweigh the benefits of including the area, provided the exclusion will not result in the extinction of this subspecies. E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules Exclusions Exclusions Based on Economic Impacts We are soliciting data and comments from the public on the DEA discussed above, as well as all aspects of the proposed rule. During the development of a final designation, we will consider the information presented in the DEA and any additional information on economic impacts received through the public comment period to determine whether any specific areas should be excluded from the final critical habitat designation under authority of section 4(b)(2) and our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.19. lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS Exclusions Based on National Security Impacts or Homeland Security Impacts In preparing this proposal, we have determined that no lands within the proposed designation of critical habitat for Florida bristle fern are owned or managed by the Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security, and therefore, we anticipate no impact on national security. However, during the development of a final designation we will consider any additional information received through the public comment period on the impacts of the proposed designation on national security or homeland security to determine whether any specific areas should be excluded from the final critical habitat designation under authority of section 4(b)(2) and our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.19. Exclusions Based on Other Relevant Impacts Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider any other relevant impacts, in addition to economic impacts and impacts on national security. We consider a number of factors, including whether there are permitted conservation plans covering the species in the area such as habitat conservation plans (HCPs), safe harbor agreements, or candidate conservation agreements with assurances, or whether there are nonpermitted conservation agreements and partnerships that would be encouraged by designation of, or exclusion from, critical habitat. In addition, we look at the existence of tribal conservation plans and partnerships, and consider the government-to-government relationship of the United States with tribal entities. We also consider any social impacts that might occur because of the designation. In preparing this proposal, we have determined that there are currently no HCPs or other management plans for Florida bristle fern, and the proposed VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 designation does not include any tribal lands or trust resources. We anticipate no impact on tribal lands, partnerships, or HCPs from this proposed critical habitat designation. During the development of a final designation, we will consider any additional information received through the public comment period regarding other relevant impacts to determine whether any specific areas should be excluded from the final critical habitat designation under authority of section 4(b)(2) and our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.19. Required Determinations Clarity of the Rule We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain language. This means that each rule we publish must: (1) Be logically organized; (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly; (3) Use clear language rather than jargon; (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible. If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us comments by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. To better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc. Regulatory Planning and Review (Executive Orders 12866 and 13563) Executive Order 12866 provides that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Office of Management and Budget will review all significant rules. OIRA has determined that this rule is not significant. Executive Order 13563 reaffirms the principles of E.O. 12866 while calling for improvements in the nation’s regulatory system to promote predictability, to reduce uncertainty, and to use the best, most innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends. The executive order directs agencies to consider regulatory approaches that reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for the public where these approaches are relevant, feasible, and consistent with regulatory objectives. E.O. 13563 emphasizes further that regulations must be based PO 00000 Frm 00046 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10389 on the best available science and that the rulemaking process must allow for public participation and an open exchange of ideas. We have developed this rule in a manner consistent with these requirements. Executive Order 13771 This proposed rule is not an E.O. 13771 (‘‘Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs’’) (82 FR 9339, February 3, 2017) regulatory action because this proposed rule is not significant under E.O. 12866. Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA; 5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.), as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA; 5 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), whenever an agency is required to publish a notice of rulemaking for any proposed or final rule, it must prepare and make available for public comment a regulatory flexibility analysis that describes the effects of the rule on small entities (i.e., small businesses, small organizations, and small government jurisdictions). However, no regulatory flexibility analysis is required if the head of the agency certifies the rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The SBREFA amended the RFA to require Federal agencies to provide a certification statement of the factual basis for certifying that the rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. According to the Small Business Administration, small entities include small organizations such as independent nonprofit organizations; small governmental jurisdictions, including school boards and city and town governments that serve fewer than 50,000 residents; and small businesses (13 CFR 121.201). Small businesses include manufacturing and mining concerns with fewer than 500 employees, wholesale trade entities with fewer than 100 employees, retail and service businesses with less than $5 million in annual sales, general and heavy construction businesses with less than $27.5 million in annual business, special trade contractors doing less than $11.5 million in annual business, and agricultural businesses with annual sales less than $750,000. To determine if potential economic impacts to these small entities are significant, we considered the types of activities that might trigger regulatory impacts under this designation as well as types of project modifications that may result. In general, the term ‘‘significant economic E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 10390 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS impact’’ is meant to apply to a typical small business firm’s business operations. The Service’s current understanding of the requirements under the RFA, as amended, and following recent court decisions, is that Federal agencies are only required to evaluate the potential incremental impacts of rulemaking on those entities directly regulated by the rulemaking itself and, therefore, not required to evaluate the potential impacts to indirectly regulated entities. The regulatory mechanism through which critical habitat protections are realized is section 7 of the Act, which requires Federal agencies, in consultation with the Service, to ensure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by the agency is not likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Therefore, under section 7, only Federal action agencies are directly subject to the specific regulatory requirement (avoiding destruction and adverse modification) imposed by critical habitat designation. Consequently, it is our position that only Federal action agencies will be directly regulated if we adopt the proposed critical habitat designation. There is no requirement under the RFA to evaluate the potential impacts to entities not directly regulated. Moreover, Federal agencies are not small entities. Therefore, because no small entities are directly regulated by this rulemaking, the Service certifies that, if made final as proposed, this proposed critical habitat designation will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. In summary, we have considered whether the proposed designation would result in a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. For the above reasons and based on currently available information, we certify that, if made final as proposed, this proposed critical habitat designation will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small business entities. Therefore, an initial regulatory flexibility analysis is not required. Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use— Executive Order 13211 Executive Order 13211 (Actions Concerning Regulations That Significantly Affect Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use) requires agencies to prepare Statements of Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. In our economic analysis, we did not find that the designation of this proposed critical habitat would significantly affect energy supplies, distribution, or use. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 Therefore, this action is not a significant energy action, and no Statement of Energy Effects is required. Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.) In accordance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.), we make the following findings: (1) This proposed rule would not produce a Federal mandate. In general, a Federal mandate is a provision in legislation, statute, or regulation that would impose an enforceable duty upon State, local, or tribal governments, or the private sector, and includes both ‘‘Federal intergovernmental mandates’’ and ‘‘Federal private sector mandates.’’ These terms are defined in 2 U.S.C. 658(5)–(7). ‘‘Federal intergovernmental mandate’’ includes a regulation that ‘‘would impose an enforceable duty upon State, local, or tribal governments’’ with two exceptions. It excludes ‘‘a condition of Federal assistance.’’ It also excludes ‘‘a duty arising from participation in a voluntary Federal program,’’ unless the regulation ‘‘relates to a then-existing Federal program under which $500,000,000 or more is provided annually to State, local, and tribal governments under entitlement authority,’’ if the provision would ‘‘increase the stringency of conditions of assistance’’ or ‘‘place caps upon, or otherwise decrease, the Federal Government’s responsibility to provide funding,’’ and the State, local, or tribal governments ‘‘lack authority’’ to adjust accordingly. At the time of enactment, these entitlement programs were: Medicaid; Aid to Families with Dependent Children work programs; Child Nutrition; Food Stamps; Social Services Block Grants; Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants; Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, and Independent Living; Family Support Welfare Services; and Child Support Enforcement. ‘‘Federal private sector mandate’’ includes a regulation that ‘‘would impose an enforceable duty upon the private sector, except (i) a condition of Federal assistance or (ii) a duty arising from participation in a voluntary Federal program.’’ The designation of critical habitat does not impose a legally binding duty on non-Federal Government entities or private parties. Under the Act, the only regulatory effect is that Federal agencies must ensure that their actions do not destroy or adversely modify critical habitat under section 7. While nonFederal entities that receive Federal funding, assistance, or permits, or that otherwise require approval or authorization from a Federal agency for an action, may be indirectly impacted PO 00000 Frm 00047 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 by the designation of critical habitat, the legally binding duty to avoid destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat rests squarely on the Federal agency. Furthermore, to the extent that non-Federal entities are indirectly impacted because they receive Federal assistance or participate in a voluntary Federal aid program, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act would not apply, nor would critical habitat shift the costs of the large entitlement programs listed above onto State governments. (2) We do not believe that this rule will significantly or uniquely affect small governments because it will not produce a Federal mandate of $100 million or greater in any year, that is, it is not a ‘‘significant regulatory action’’ under the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. The economic analysis concludes that incremental impacts may primarily occur due to administrative costs of section 7 consultations for development and transportation projects, and for other activities primarily related to land and facility management, cultural resource, research, and conservation activities in Everglades National Park; however, these are not expected to significantly affect small governments. Incremental impacts stemming from various species conservation and development control activities are expected to be borne by the Federal Government, State of Florida, and Miami-Dade County, which are not considered small governments. Consequently, we do not believe that the critical habitat designation would significantly or uniquely affect small government entities. As such, a Small Government Agency Plan is not required. Takings—Executive Order 12630 In accordance with E.O. 12630 (Government Actions and Interference with Constitutionally Protected Private Property Rights), we have analyzed the potential takings implications of designating critical habitat for Florida bristle fern in a takings implications assessment. The Act does not authorize the Service to regulate private actions on private lands or confiscate private property as a result of critical habitat designation. Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership, or establish any closures, or restrictions on use of or access to the designated areas. Furthermore, the designation of critical habitat does not affect landowner actions that do not require Federal funding or permits, nor does it preclude development of habitat conservation programs or issuance of incidental take permits to permit actions E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS that do require Federal funding or permits to go forward. However, Federal agencies are prohibited from carrying out, funding, or authorizing actions that would destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. A takings implications assessment has been completed and concludes that, if adopted, this designation of critical habitat for Florida bristle fern does not pose significant takings implications for lands within or affected by the designation. Federalism—Executive Order 13132 In accordance with E.O. 13132 (Federalism), this proposed rule does not have significant Federalism effects. A federalism summary impact statement is not required. In keeping with Department of the Interior and Department of Commerce policy, we requested information from, and coordinated development of this proposed critical habitat designation with, appropriate State resource agencies in Florida. From a federalism perspective, the designation of critical habitat directly affects only the responsibilities of Federal agencies. The Act imposes no other duties with respect to critical habitat, either for States and local governments, or for anyone else. As a result, the rule does not have substantial direct effects either on the States, or on the relationship between the national government and the States, or on the distribution of powers and responsibilities among the various levels of government. The proposed designation may have some benefit to these governments because the areas that contain the features essential to the conservation of the subspecies are more clearly defined, and the physical or biological features of the habitat necessary to the conservation of the subspecies are specifically identified. This information does not alter where and what federally sponsored activities may occur. However, it may assist State and local governments in long-range planning because they no longer have to wait for case-by-case section 7 consultations to occur. Where State and local governments require approval or authorization from a Federal agency for actions that may affect critical habitat, consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act would be required. While nonFederal entities that receive Federal funding, assistance, or permits, or that otherwise require approval or authorization from a Federal agency for an action, may be indirectly impacted by the designation of critical habitat, the legally binding duty to avoid VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat rests squarely on the Federal agency. Civil Justice Reform—Executive Order 12988 In accordance with Executive Order 12988 (Civil Justice Reform), the Office of the Solicitor has determined that the rule does not unduly burden the judicial system and that it meets the requirements of sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of the Order. We have proposed designating critical habitat in accordance with the provisions of the Act. To assist the public in understanding the habitat needs of the subspecies, this proposed rule identifies the elements of physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies. The proposed areas of designated critical habitat are presented on maps, and the proposed rule provides several options for the interested public to obtain more detailed location information, if desired. Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.) This rule does not contain information collection requirements, and a submission to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.) is not required. We may not conduct or sponsor and you are not required to respond to a collection of information unless it displays a currently valid OMB control number. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) It is our position that, outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, we do not need to prepare environmental analyses pursuant to NEPA in connection with designating critical habitat under the Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244). This position was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Douglas County v. Babbitt, 48 F.3d 1495 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied 516 U.S. 1042 (1996)). 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), Executive Order 13175 (Consultation and Coordination With Indian Tribal PO 00000 Frm 00048 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 10391 Governments), 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. As discussed above (see Exclusions), we have determined that no tribal lands would be affected by this designation. Authors The primary authors of this proposed rule are the staff members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service South Florida Ecological Services Field Office. References Cited A complete list of references cited in this proposed rule is available on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the South Florida Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17 Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Transportation. Proposed Regulation Promulgation Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below: PART 17—ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS 1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361–1407; 1531– 1544; and 4201–4245, unless otherwise noted. 2. Amend § 17.12(h) by revising the entry for ‘‘Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum (Florida bristle fern)’’ under ‘‘Ferns and Allies’’ in the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants to read as follows: ■ § 17.12 * Endangered and threatened plants. * * (h) * * * E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 * * 10392 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules Scientific name * FERNS AND ALLIES * Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum. * ■ Common name * * * lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS (a) [Reserved.] (b) Ferns and allies. (1) Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum (Florida bristle fern). (i) Critical habitat units are depicted for Miami-Dade and Sumter Counties, Florida, on the maps in this entry. (ii) Within these areas, the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern consist of the following components: (A) Upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality and size to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for Florida bristle fern. (B) Exposed substrate derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala limestone, or exposed limestone boulders, which provide anchoring and nutritional requirements. (C) Constantly humid microhabitat consisting of dense canopy cover, moisture, stable high temperature, and stable monthly average humidity of 90 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 Listing citations and applicable rules * * Wherever found .............. * § 17.97 Critical habitat; conifers, ferns and allies, lichens. Status * * * Florida bristle fern ........... 3. Add § 17.97 to read as follows: VerDate Sep<11>2014 Where listed * * E * * * 80 FR 60439, 10/6/2015; 50 CFR 17.97(b)(1).CH * percent or higher, with intact hydrology within hammocks and the surrounding and adjacent wetland communities. (D) Dense canopy cover of surrounding native vegetation that consists of the upland hardwood forest hammock habitats and provides shade, shelter, and moisture. (E) Suitable microhabitat conditions, hydrology, and connectivity that can support Florida bristle fern growth, distribution, and population expansion (including rhizomal growth, spore dispersal, and sporophyte and gametophyte growth and survival). (F) Plant community of predominantly native vegetation that is minimally disturbed, free from humanrelated disturbance with either no competitive nonnative, invasive plant species, or such species in quantities low enough to have minimal effect on Florida bristle fern. (iii) Critical habitat does not include manmade structures (such as buildings, aqueducts, runways, roads, and other paved areas) and the land on which they are located existing within the legal PO 00000 Frm 00049 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 * * * boundaries on [EFFECTIVE DATE OF THE FINAL RULE]. (iv) Critical habitat map units. Data layers defining map units were created using ESRI ArcGIS mapping software along with various spatial data layers. ArcGIS was used to calculate the size of habitat areas. The projection used in mapping and calculating distances and locations within the units was North American Albers Equal Area Conic, NAD 83 Geographic. The maps in this entry, as modified by any accompanying regulatory text, establish the boundaries of the critical habitat designation. The coordinates or plot points or both on which each map is based are available to the public at http://www.fws.gov/ verobeach, http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019– 0068 and at the South Florida Ecological Services Field Office. You may obtain field office location information by contacting one of the Service regional offices, the addresses of which are listed at 50 CFR 2.2. (v) Note: Index map follows: BILLING CODE 4333–15–P E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules 10393 lndex ofCritical Habitat Units for Tiichomanes. punctaium ssp ..noridanum Atlantic Ocean 8miNaiti. GUif of Mexico · · Critical Habitat· .1111. Triclu,m11n$s puncJ~tQm $$p. ~num I lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS 0 (vi) SF 1—Matheson Hammock, Miami-Dade County, Florida; and SF 2—Snapper Creek Hammock, MiamiDade County, Florida. (A) SF 1 consists of approximately 16 ha (39 ac) of unoccupied critical habitat in Matheson Hammock in Matheson Hammock Park. This unit comprises VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 I 25 County-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the MiamiDade County Environmentally Endangered Lands program and Natural Areas Management division. (B) SF 2 consists of approximately 3 ha (8 ac) of unoccupied critical habitat in Deering-Snapper Creek Hammock PO 00000 Frm 00050 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 l!O .,,_. l liO i 1i!O KllcJmetel'!I I 75 100:MIJH adjacent to R. Hardy Matheson Preserve. This unit comprises State-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands program and Natural Areas Management division. (C) Map of SF 1 and SF 2 follows: E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 EP24FE20.010</GPH> zs o 10394 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules Critical Habitat for TrichomfJnes punctatum ssp. floridanum South Florida.Units SF1 and SF2, Miami-Dade Couhty .N Kendall Dr, The Crossiilgs Ocean l"\:,t,o--Col-ller __ - Browam Miemf-Oade South Trlda Critical Habitat Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum 5Kllomet<m, 4 2 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS (vii) SF 3—Castellow and Ross Hammocks, Miami-Dade County, Florida; SF 4—Silver Palm Hammock, Miami-Dade County, Florida; SF 5— Hattie Bauer Hammock, Miami-Dade County, Florida; and SF 6—Fuchs and Meisnner Hammocks, Miami-Dade County, Florida. (A) SF 3 consists of approximately 38 ha (93 ac) of occupied critical habitat in Castellow and Ross Hammocks. This unit consists of 13 ha (32 ac) of Stateowned and 25 ha (61 ac) of Countyowned lands that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County Environmentally Endangered VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 Lands program and Natural Areas Management division. (B) SF 4 consists of approximately 4 ha (10 ac) of unoccupied critical habitat in Silver Palm Hammock. This unit comprises State-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands program and Natural Areas Management division. (C) SF 5 consists of approximately 3 ha (8 ac) of occupied critical habitat in Hattie Bauer Hammock. This unit consists of County-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County Environmentally PO 00000 Frm 00051 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 4 5Mlles Endangered Lands program and Natural Areas Management division. (D) SF 6 consists of approximately 11 ha (28 ac) of occupied critical habitat in Fuchs Hammock on Fuchs Hammock Preserve and Meissner Hammock. This unit consists of 2 ha (5 ac) of Stateowned and 9 ha (23 ac) of Countyowned lands that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands program and Natural Areas Management division. (E) Map of SF 3, SF 4, SF 5, and SF 6 follows: E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 EP24FE20.011</GPH> J·-, I Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules 10395 Critical Habitat forTrichomanes punctatum ssp. "oridanum SouthFlorida Units SF3; SF4, ~F5; and SF6, MiamhDade County 'CatallowandRoa,,.Hammocks•·. . .,.., ... (S1'3}: , ■ Sliver Palm Hammock (SF4J I , Fuchs and Meissner Hammocks (SF6l - 2018 Critical Habitat Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum 2 3 4 0 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS (viii) SF 7—Royal Palm Hammock, Miami-Dade County, Florida. VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 4 (A) SF 7 consists of approximately 60 ha (148 ac) of unoccupied critical PO 00000 Frm 00052 Fmt 4702 5 KIiometers Sfmt 4702 8 Miles habitat in Royal Palm Hammock in Everglades National Park. (B) Map of SF 7 follows: E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 EP24FE20.012</GPH> Frorida NQral Areas tnwnto . Florida COiiiervetion 10396 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules Critical Habitat forTrichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum South Florida Unit SF7, Miam,~DadeCounty ·\,, """ I Sfi!,!ny·Palm.,: "'{"land ,--1 2 4 4 2 lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS (ix) CF 1, Sumter County, Florida; and CF 2, Sumter County, Florida. (A) CF 1 consists of approximately 742 ha (1,834 ac) of occupied critical habitat of State-owned land (726 ha (1,795 ac)) within the Jumper Creek VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest and of privately owned land (16 ha (39 ac)) directly adjacent to Withlacoochee State Forest. The State-owned land is managed by the Florida Forest Service. PO 00000 Frm 00053 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 5 Kilometers SMIies (B) CF 2 consists of approximately 747 ha (1,846 ac) of unoccupied critical habitat on State-owned land within the Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest. (C) Map of CF 1 and CF 2 follows: E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 EP24FE20.013</GPH> - Critical Habitat Trichomanespunctatum ssp. floridanum Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 36 / Monday, February 24, 2020 / Proposed Rules 10397 Critical Habitat for Trichomanespunctatum ssp. floridanum Centraf Ftotida Units CF1 and CF2, Sumter County Sumter r;lorlda Natural Amas Inventory. Florida Conservation Lands; 2018 IIII Critical Habitat Trichomanes punctatum ssp. f/oridanum Orange 3 Kilornetera 0 Pasco r' 0 2 3 Miles Dated: February 10, 2020. Aurelia Skipwith, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. BILLING CODE 4333–15–C VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:34 Feb 21, 2020 Jkt 250001 PO 00000 Frm 00054 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 9990 E:\FR\FM\24FEP1.SGM 24FEP1 EP24FE20.014</GPH> lotter on DSKBCFDHB2PROD with PROPOSALS [FR Doc. 2020–03441 Filed 2–21–20; 8:45 am]

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 36 (Monday, February 24, 2020)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 10371-10397]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-03441]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2019-0068; 4500090023]
RIN 1018-BE12


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of 
Critical Habitat for Florida Bristle Fern

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to 
designate critical habitat for the Florida bristle fern (Trichomanes 
punctatum ssp. floridanum) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 
(Act), as amended. In total, approximately 1,624 hectares (4,014 acres) 
in Miami-Dade and Sumter Counties, Florida, fall within the boundaries 
of the proposed critical habitat designation. If we finalize this rule 
as proposed, it would extend the Act's protections to this subspecies' 
critical habitat. We also announce the availability of a draft economic 
analysis of the proposed designation of critical habitat.

DATES: We will accept comments on the proposed rule and draft economic 
analysis received or postmarked on or before April 24, 2020. 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 April 9, 
2020.

ADDRESSES: Written comments: You may submit comments on the proposed 
rule or draft economic analysis by one of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R4-ES-2019-0068, 
which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the 
Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left 
side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the 
Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by 
clicking on ``Comment Now!''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public 
Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2019-0068; U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described 
above. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see Information Requested, below, for more information).
    Document availability: The draft economic analysis is available at 
http://www.fws.gov/verobeach, at http://www.regulations.gov under 
Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2019-0068, and at the South Florida Ecological 
Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    The coordinates or plot points or both from which the maps are 
generated are included in the administrative record for this proposed 
critical habitat designation and are available at https://www.fws.gov/verobeach, at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-
2019-0068, and at the South Florida Ecological Services Field Office 
(see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Any additional tools or 
supporting information that we may develop for the critical habitat 
designation will also be available at the Service website and Field 
Office set out above, and may also be included in the preamble of this 
proposed rule and/or at http://www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Roxanna Hinzman, Field Supervisor, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, South Florida Ecological Services Field 
Office, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960; telephone 772-562-3909. 
Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call 
the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. To the maximum extent prudent and 
determinable, we must designate critical habitat for any species that 
we determine to be an endangered or threatened species under the Act. 
Designations of critical habitat can only be completed by issuing a 
rule.
    What this document does. This document proposes to designate 
critical habitat for the Florida bristle fern (Trichomanes punctatum 
ssp. floridanum), which was listed as endangered under the Act on 
November 5, 2015 (80 FR 60440).
    The basis for our action. Section 4(a)(3) of the Act requires the 
Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to designate critical habitat to 
the extent prudent and determinable. Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states 
that the Secretary shall designate critical habitat on the basis of the 
best available scientific data after taking into consideration the 
economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other 
relevant impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. 
Section 3(5)(A) of the Act defines critical habitat as (i) the specific 
areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time 
it is listed, on which are found those physical or biological features 
(I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may 
require special management considerations or protection; and (ii) 
specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at 
the time it is listed, upon a determination by the Secretary that such 
areas are essential for the conservation of the species.
    Economic analysis. In accordance with section 4(b)(2) of the Act, 
we prepared an analysis of the economic impacts of the proposed 
critical habitat designation. In this document, we announce the 
availability of the draft economic analysis for public review and 
comment.
    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 of listing actions under the Act, we will seek peer review 
of this proposed rule. We are seeking comments from independent 
specialists to ensure that our critical habitat proposal is based on 
scientifically sound data and analyses. We have invited these peer 
reviewers to comment on our specific assumptions and conclusions in 
this critical habitat proposal during the public comment period for 
this proposed rule (see DATES, above).
    Because we will consider all comments and information received 
during the comment period, our final critical habitat designation may 
differ from this proposal. Based on the new information we receive (and 
any comments on that new information), we may conclude that some 
additional areas meet the definition of critical habitat, and some 
areas proposed as critical habitat may not meet the definition of 
critical habitat. In addition, we may find that the benefit of 
excluding some areas outweigh the benefits of including those areas

[[Page 10372]]

pursuant to 4(b)(2) of the Act, and may exclude them from the final 
designation unless we determine that exclusion would result in 
extinction of the Florida bristle fern. Such final decisions would be a 
logical outgrowth of this proposal, as long as we: (a) Base the 
decisions on the best scientific and commercial data available after 
considering all of the relevant factors; (2) do not rely on factors 
Congress has not intended us to consider; and (3) articulate a rational 
connection between the facts found and the conclusions made, including 
why we changed our conclusion.

Information Requested

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request 
comments or information from other concerned government agencies, 
Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any 
other interested party concerning this proposed rule. We particularly 
seek comments concerning:
    (1) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as 
``critical habitat'' under section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.), including information to inform the following factors that the 
regulations identify as reasons why designation of critical habitat may 
be not prudent:
    (a) The subspecies is threatened by taking or other human activity 
and identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the 
degree of such threat to the subspecies;
    (b) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of a subspecies' habitat or range is not a threat to the 
subspecies, or threats to the subspecies' habitat stem solely from 
causes that cannot be addressed through management actions resulting 
from consultations under section 7(a)(2) of the Act;
    (c) Areas within the jurisdiction of the United States provide no 
more than negligible conservation value, if any, for a species 
occurring primarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States;
    (d) No areas meet the definition of critical habitat.
    (2) Specific information on:
    (a) The amount and distribution of Florida bristle fern habitat;
    (b) What may constitute physical or biological features essential 
to the conservation of the subspecies, specifically those related to 
canopy cover, hydrology, humidity and moisture levels, and minimum 
habitat amounts;
    (c) Reproduction and dispersal methods of the subspecies, such as 
spore dispersal distance, the association between dispersal and 
hydrological conditions, and the reliance on vegetative dispersal for 
subspecies growth;
    (d) What areas that were occupied at the time of listing and that 
contain the physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the subspecies should be included in the designation 
and why;
    (e) Special management considerations or protection that may be 
needed in occupied critical habitat areas we are proposing, including 
managing for the potential effects of climate change;
    (f) What areas not occupied at the time of listing are essential 
for the conservation of the subspecies. We particularly seek comments 
regarding:
    (i) Whether occupied areas are inadequate for the conservation of 
the subspecies; and,
    (ii) Specific information that supports the determination that 
unoccupied areas will, with reasonable certainty, contribute to the 
conservation of the subspecies and, contain at least one physical or 
biological feature essential to the conservation of the subspecies;
    (g) The location and boundaries of hammock habitats and exposed 
limestone substrate within and surrounding the Jumper Creek Tract of 
the Withlacoochee State Forest in Sumter County, FL, that would support 
life-history processes essential for the conservation of the 
subspecies;
    (h) The delineation of the substrate or substrate mapping through 
the subspecies' south Florida range;
    (i) The methods we used to identify unoccupied critical habitat for 
each of the metapopulations; and,
    (j) As to the following areas, their occupancy status and habitat 
suitability; whether physical or biological features essential to the 
conservation of the subspecies are present; and whether they should be 
included in the designation and why:
    (i) Monkey Jungle (also known as Cox Hammock), Big and Little 
George Hammocks, Charles Deering, Bill Sadowski Park, Whispering Pines 
Hammock, Black Creek Forest, Hardin Hammock, Silver Palm Groves, Camp 
Owaissa Bauer, Lucille Hammock, Loveland Hammock, and Holiday Hammock 
in Miami-Dade County;
    (ii) Rockland hammocks, other than Royal Palm Hammock, in Long Pine 
Key in Everglades National Park in Miami-Dade County;
    (iii) Rockland hammocks in Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier 
and Monroe Counties;
    (iv) Hammock habitats in the Jumper Creek Tract and Richloam Tract 
of the Withlacoochee State Forest in Sumter County;
    (v) Hammock habitats in the vicinity of Lake Panasoffkee in Sumter 
County;
    (vi) Hammock habitats on Flying Eagle Ranch and Pineola Grotto in 
Citrus County; and,
    (vii) Hammock habitats in the vicinity of the Green Swamp in Pasco 
and Polk Counties.
    (3) Land use designations and current or planned activities in the 
subject areas and their possible impacts on proposed critical habitat.
    (4) Information on the projected and reasonably likely impacts of 
climate change on the Florida bristle fern and proposed critical 
habitat.
    (5) Any probable economic, national security, or other relevant 
impacts of designating any area that may be included in the final 
designation, and the benefits of including or excluding areas that may 
be impacted.
    (6) Information on the extent to which the description of probable 
economic impacts in the draft economic analysis is a reasonable 
estimate of those impacts.
    (7) Whether any specific areas we are proposing for critical 
habitat designation should be considered for exclusion under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act, and whether the benefits of potentially excluding 
any specific area outweigh the benefits of including that area under 
section 4(b)(2) of the Act.
    (8) The likelihood of adverse social reactions to the designation 
of critical habitat, as discussed in the associated documents of the 
draft economic analysis, and how the consequences of such reactions, if 
likely to occur, would relate to the conservation and regulatory 
benefits of the proposed critical habitat designation.
    (9) Whether we could improve or modify our approach to designating 
critical habitat in any way to provide for greater public participation 
and understanding, or to better accommodate public concerns and 
comments.
    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.
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you 
send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES.

[[Page 10373]]

    If you submit information via http://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the website. If your submission is made via a hardcopy 
that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the 
top of your document that we withhold this information from public 
review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We 
will post all hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be 
available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, South Florida Ecological Services Field Office (see 
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Public Hearings

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

Previous Federal Actions

    Please refer to the final listing rule for the Florida bristle 
fern, which published on October 6, 2015 (80 FR 60440), for a detailed 
description of previous Federal actions concerning this subspecies.

Critical Habitat

Background

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as:
    (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the 
species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which 
are found those physical or biological features
    (a) Essential to the conservation of the species, and
    (b) Which may require special management considerations or 
protection; and
    (2) Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas 
are essential for the conservation of the species.
    Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.02 define the geographical area 
occupied by the species as an area that may generally be delineated 
around species' occurrences, as determined by the Secretary (i.e., 
range). Such areas may include those areas used throughout all or part 
of the species' life cycle, even if not used on a regular basis (e.g., 
migratory corridors, seasonal habitats, and habitats used periodically, 
but not solely by vagrant individuals).
    Conservation, as defined under section 3 of the Act, means to use 
and the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring 
an endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures 
provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Such methods and 
procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated 
with scientific resources management such as research, census, law 
enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live 
trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where 
population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise 
relieved, may include regulated taking.
    Critical habitat receives protection under section 7 of the Act 
through the requirement that Federal agencies ensure, in consultation 
with the Service, that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is 
not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of 
critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat does not affect 
land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or 
other conservation area. Such designation does not allow the government 
or public to access private lands, nor does designation require 
implementation of restoration, recovery, or enhancement measures by 
non-Federal landowners. Where a landowner requests Federal agency 
funding or authorization for an action that may affect a listed species 
or critical habitat, the Federal agency would be required to consult 
with the Service under section 7(a)(2) of the Act. However, even if the 
Service were to conclude that the proposed activity would result in 
destruction or adverse modification of the critical habitat, the 
Federal action agency and the landowner are not required to abandon the 
proposed activity, or to restore or recover the species; instead, they 
must implement ``reasonable and prudent alternatives'' to avoid 
destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
    Under the first prong of the Act's definition of critical habitat, 
areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time 
it was listed are included in a critical habitat designation if they 
contain physical or biological features (1) which are essential to the 
conservation of the species and (2) which may require special 
management considerations or protection. For these areas, critical 
habitat designations identify, to the extent known using the best 
scientific and commercial data available, those physical or biological 
features that are essential to the conservation of the species (such as 
space, food, cover, and protected habitat). In identifying those 
physical or biological features that occur in specific occupied areas, 
we focus on the specific features that are essential to support the 
life-history needs of the species, including but not limited to, water 
characteristics, soil type, geological features, prey, vegetation, 
symbiotic species, or other features. A feature may be a single habitat 
characteristic, or a more complex combination of habitat 
characteristics. Features may include habitat characteristics that 
support ephemeral or dynamic habitat conditions. Features may also be 
expressed in terms relating to principles of conservation biology, such 
as patch size, distribution distances, and connectivity.
    Under the second prong of the Act's definition of critical habitat, 
we can designate critical habitat in areas outside the geographical 
area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a 
determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the 
species. When designating critical habitat, the Secretary will first 
evaluate areas occupied by the species. The Secretary will only 
consider unoccupied areas to be essential where a critical habitat 
designation limited to geographical areas occupied by the species would 
be inadequate to ensure the conservation of the species. In addition, 
for an unoccupied area to be considered essential, the Secretary must 
determine that there is a reasonable certainty both that the area will 
contribute to the conservation of the species and that the area 
contains one or more of those physical or biological features essential 
to the conservation of the species.
    Section 4 of the Act requires that we designate critical habitat on 
the basis of the best scientific data available. Further, our Policy on 
Information Standards under the Endangered Species Act (published in 
the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34271)), the Information 
Quality Act (section 515 of the Treasury and General Government 
Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Pub. L. 106-554; H.R. 5658)), 
and our associated Information

[[Page 10374]]

Quality Guidelines, provide criteria, establish procedures, and provide 
guidance to ensure that our decisions are based on the best scientific 
data available. They require our biologists, to the extent consistent 
with the Act and with the use of the best scientific data available, to 
use primary and original sources of information as the basis for 
recommendations to designate critical habitat.
    When we are determining which areas should be designated as 
critical habitat, our primary source of information is generally the 
information developed during the listing process for the species. 
Additional information sources may include any generalized conservation 
strategy, criteria, or outline that may have been developed for the 
species; the recovery plan for the species; articles in peer-reviewed 
journals; conservation plans developed by States and counties; 
scientific status surveys and studies; biological assessments; other 
unpublished materials; or experts' opinions or personal knowledge.
    Habitat is dynamic, and species may move from one area to another 
over time. We recognize that critical habitat designated at a 
particular point in time may not include all of the habitat areas that 
we may later determine are necessary for the recovery of the species. 
For these reasons, a critical habitat designation does not signal that 
habitat outside the designated area is unimportant or may not be needed 
for recovery of the species. Areas that are important to the 
conservation of the species, both inside and outside the critical 
habitat designation, will continue to be subject to: (1) Conservation 
actions implemented under section 7(a)(1) of the Act, (2) regulatory 
protections afforded by the requirement in section 7(a)(2) of the Act 
for Federal agencies to ensure their actions are not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened 
species, and (3) section 9 of the Act's prohibitions on taking any 
individual of the species, including taking caused by actions that 
affect habitat. Federally funded or permitted projects affecting listed 
species outside their designated critical habitat areas may still 
result in jeopardy findings in some cases. These protections and 
conservation tools will continue to contribute to recovery of this 
species. Similarly, critical habitat designations made on the basis of 
the best available information at the time of designation will not 
control the direction and substance of future recovery plans, habitat 
conservation plans (HCPs), or other species conservation planning 
efforts if new information available at the time of these planning 
efforts calls for a different outcome.

Prudency Determination

    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12), require that the Secretary shall designate 
critical habitat at the time the species is determined to be an 
endangered or threatened species to the maximum extent prudent and 
determinable. Our regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)) state that the 
Secretary may, but is not required to, determine that a designation 
would not be prudent in the following circumstances:
    (1) The species is threatened by taking or other human activity, 
and identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the 
degree of threat to the species;
    (2) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of a species' habitat or range is not a threat to the 
species, or threats to the species' habitat stems solely from causes 
that cannot be addressed through management actions resulting from 
consultations under section 7(a)(2) of the Act;
    (3) Areas within jurisdiction of the United States provide no more 
than negligible conservation value, if any, for a species occurring 
primarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States;
    (4) No areas meet the definition of critical habitat; or
    (5) The Secretary otherwise determines that designation of critical 
habitat would not be prudent based on the best scientific data 
available.
    No imminent threat of take attributed to collection or vandalism 
under Factor B was identified in the final listing rule for this 
subspecies, and identification and mapping of critical habitat is not 
expected to initiate any such threat. In our final listing rule, we 
determined that the present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of a species' habitat or range (Factor A) is a threat to 
Florida bristle fern and that those threats in some way can be 
addressed by section 7(a)(2) consultation measures. The subspecies 
occurs wholly in the jurisdiction of the United States and we are able 
to identify areas that meet the definition of critical habitat. 
Therefore, because none of the circumstances enumerated in our 
regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(1) have been met and because there are 
no other circumstances the Secretary has identified for which this 
designation of critical habitat would be not prudent, we have 
determined that the designation of critical habitat is prudent for the 
Florida bristle fern.

Critical Habitat Determinability

    Having determined that designation is prudent, under section 
4(a)(3) of the Act we must find whether critical habitat for the 
Florida bristle fern is determinable. Our regulations at 50 CFR 
424.12(a)(2) state that critical habitat is not determinable when one 
or both of the following situations exist:
    (i) Data sufficient to perform required analyses are lacking; or
    (ii) The biological needs of the species are not sufficiently well 
known to identify any area that meets the definition of ``critical 
habitat.''
    We reviewed the available information pertaining to the biological 
needs of the subspecies and habitat characteristics where this 
subspecies is located. We find that this information is sufficient for 
us to conduct both the biological and economic analyses required for 
the critical habitat determination. This and other information 
represent the best scientific data available and lead us to conclude 
that the designation of critical habitat is now determinable for the 
Florida bristle fern.

Physical or Biological Features

    In accordance with section 3(5)(A)(i) of the Act and regulations at 
50 CFR 424.12(b), in determining which areas we will designate as 
critical habitat from within the geographical area occupied by the 
species at the time of listing, we consider the physical or biological 
features that are essential to the conservation of the species and that 
may require special management considerations or protection. The 
regulations at 50 CFR 424.02 define ``physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the species'' as the features that 
occur in specific areas and that are essential to support the life-
history needs of the species. These include, but are not limited to, 
water characteristics, soil type, geological features, sites, prey, 
vegetation, symbiotic species, or other features. A feature may be a 
single habitat characteristic, or a more complex combination of habitat 
characteristics. Features may include habitat characteristics that 
support ephemeral or dynamic habitat conditions. Features may also be 
expressed in terms relating to principles of conservation biology, such 
as patch size, distribution distances, and connectivity. For example, 
physical features essential to the conservation of the species might 
include gravel of a particular size required for spawning, alkali soil 
for

[[Page 10375]]

seed germination, protective cover for migration, or susceptibility to 
flooding or fire that maintains necessary early-successional habitat 
characteristics. Biological features might include prey species, forage 
grasses, specific kinds or ages of trees for roosting or nesting, 
symbiotic fungi, or a particular level of nonnative species consistent 
with conservation needs of the listed species. The features may also be 
combinations of habitat characteristics and may encompass the 
relationship between characteristics or the necessary amount of a 
characteristic essential to support the life history of the species. In 
considering whether features are essential to the conservation of the 
species, the Service may consider an appropriate quality, quantity, and 
spatial and temporal arrangement of habitat characteristics in the 
context of the life-history needs, condition, and status of the 
species. These characteristics include, but are not limited to space 
for individual and population growth and for normal behavior; food, 
water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological 
requirements; cover or shelter; sites for breeding, reproduction, or 
rearing (or development) of offspring; and habitats that are protected 
from disturbance.
    The features may also be combinations of habitat characteristics 
and may encompass the relationship between characteristics or the 
necessary amount of a characteristic needed to support the life history 
of the species. In considering whether features are essential to the 
conservation of the species, the Service may consider an appropriate 
quality, quantity, and spatial and temporal arrangement of habitat 
characteristics in the context of the life-history needs, condition, 
and status of the species.

Space for Individual and Population Growth and for Normal Behavior

    Florida bristle fern occurs exclusively in closed canopy, upland 
hardwood forest hammock habitats, which support the climate (stable 
humidity and temperature), hydrology, canopy cover, and limestone 
substrates necessary for the subspecies to persist, grow, and 
reproduce. Upland hardwood forests consist of a mosaic of natural 
hammock and hardwood communities primarily characterized as mesic, 
hydric, and rockland hammocks, or intermixed hammock strands, with 
associated transitional wetland matrix/hydric and upland communities 
(Florida Natural Areas Inventory [Inventory] 2010, pp. 16-28). The 
hammock habitats occurs within and as part of larger matrices of hydric 
or pine rockland communities (Inventory 2010, pp.16-28). Detailed 
descriptions of these natural communities can be found in Natural 
Communities of Florida (Inventory 2010, pp. 16-28) and in the final 
listing rule for Florida bristle fern (80 FR 60440, October 6, 2015). 
Natural communities include both wetland and upland communities having 
intact vegetation (i.e., not cleared).
    The current range of Florida bristle fern includes two 
metapopulations, one in south Florida (Miami-Dade County) and one in 
central Florida (Sumter County). The south Florida metapopulation is 
currently composed of four known populations, and the central Florida 
metapopulation is composed of two known populations. The south Florida 
populations of Florida bristle fern occur in communities characterized 
by primarily rockland hammock or closed tropical hardwood hammocks 
occurring within a larger matrix of pine rockland on the Miami Rock 
Ridge. In central Florida, the populations of the subspecies occur in 
predominantly mesic hammocks situated in a mosaic of hydric hammock and 
mixed wetland hardwoods. These internal or inter-mixed strands of 
hammock within the forested communities are characterized by fairly 
dense to extremely dense canopy cover, which prevents drastic changes 
in temperature and humidity and the desiccation of the fern from direct 
sunlight and drying winds.
    The matrix of landscapes associated with the hammocks or the 
intermixed strands of these communities support the suitable conditions 
necessary for the growth and reproduction of Florida bristle fern. 
Suitable habitat quality and size are necessary to ensure the 
maintenance of the microclimate conditions (stable temperature, high 
humidity, moisture, canopy shade, and shelter) essential to the 
subspecies' survival and conservation. These combined factors establish 
the fern's microclimate: (a) The level of protection/exposure the fern 
experiences given its location in a solution hole (a limestone solution 
feature; in the Miami Rock Ridge, they consist of steep-sided pits, 
varying in size, formed by dissolution of subsurface limestone followed 
by a collapse above (Snyder et al. 1990, p. 236)) or on an exposed 
boulder, (b) the quality of the solution hole or exposed boulder 
substrate, and (c) the amount of canopy cover. The surrounding 
vegetation is a key component in producing and supporting this 
microclimate. There are differences in vegetation and substrate 
characteristics between the two geographically distant metapopulations 
that can account for differences in the amount of habitat needed to 
support the fern. For example, Florida bristle fern in south Florida 
occurs in a tropical climate and attaches to the interior walls of 
well-protected and insulated solution holes. By comparison, in central 
Florida, Florida bristle fern occurs in a more temperate climate and is 
found more exposed by attaching to a substrate that is above the 
surface. The size and quality of the intact habitat surrounding the 
exposed substrate can play a greater role in providing and supporting 
the stable, shaded, and wind-protected microclimate conditions the fern 
needs. Therefore, the microclimate conditions (stable temperature, high 
humidity, canopy shade, and shelter) have the potential to be 
maintained (and the plant is able to persist) within smaller areas in 
south Florida than those needed to support the microclimate conditions 
in central Florida. For both metapopulations, intact upland hardwood 
forest and associated hammock habitat is an essential feature to the 
conservation of this subspecies, and sufficient habitat is needed to 
ensure the maintenance of the fern's microclimate and life processes 
(growth, dispersal).
    Therefore, we identify upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of 
sufficient quality and size to sustain the necessary microclimate and 
life processes for Florida bristle fern to be a physical or biological 
feature essential to the conservation for this subspecies.

Food, Water, Air, Light, Minerals, or Other Nutritional or 
Physiological Requirements

    Substrate and Soils--Florida bristle fern is generally epipetric 
(grows on rocks) or epiphytic (grows non-parasitically upon another 
plant). In combination with the habitat characteristics discussed 
above, the subspecies requires exposed limestone substrate to provide 
suitable growing conditions for anchoring, nutrients, pH, and proper 
drainage (van der Heiden 2016, p. 1). Florida bristle fern prefers 
substrate having exposed oolitic (composed of minute rounded 
concretions resembling fish eggs) limestone or limestone solution 
features (solution holes) filled with a thin layer of highly organic 
soil and standing water for part or all of the year. The limestone 
substrate occurs primarily as solution holes in south Florida and 
exposed limestone boulders in central Florida.
    In south Florida, Florida bristle fern is currently found growing 
in rocky

[[Page 10376]]

outcrops of rockland hammocks, in oolitic limestone solution holes, and 
occasionally, on tree roots in limestone-surrounded areas (Nauman 1986, 
p. 181; Possley 2013a, pers. comm.). These rockland habitats are 
outcrops primarily composed of marine limestone representing the 
distinct geological formation of the Miami Rock Ridge, a feature that 
encompasses a broad area from Miami to Homestead, Florida, and narrows, 
westward through the Long Pine Key area of Everglades National Park 
(Snyder et al. 1990, pp. 233-234). The limestone solution holes are 
considered specialized habitat within these hammock areas that host 
Florida bristle fern (Snyder et al.1990, p. 247). The solution-hole 
features that dominate the rock surface in the Miami Rock Ridge are 
steep-sided pits formed by dissolution of subsurface limestone followed 
by the eventual collapse of the surface above (Snyder et al. 1990, p. 
236). The limestone solution holes often have complex internal 
topography and vary in size and depth, from shallow holes a few 
centimeters deep to those that are several meters in size and up to 
several meters deep (Snyder et al. 1990, p. 238; Kobza et al. 2004, p. 
154). The bottoms of most solution holes are filled with organic soils, 
while deeper solution holes penetrate the water table and have (at 
least historically) standing water for part of the year (Snyder et al. 
1990, pp. 236-237; Rehage et al. 2014, pp. S160-S161). A direct 
relationship has been found between the length of time a solution hole 
contains water (hydroperiod length) and the habitat quality (vegetative 
cover) of the solution hole (Rehage et al. 2014, p. S161).
    Oolitic limestone occurs in south Florida (and other locations in 
the world), but it does not occur in central Florida. In central 
Florida, Florida bristle fern resides on limestone substrate in high-
humidity hammocks (van der Heiden 2016, p. 1; van der Heiden 2013a, 
pers. comm.). In the mesic hammocks on the Jumper Creek Tract of the 
Withlacoochee State Forest, the subspecies has been observed growing on 
exposed limestone rocks as small as 0.1 meters (m) (0.3 feet (ft)) tall 
as well as larger boulders with tall, horizontal faces, and occurs 
alongside numerous other plant species, including rare State-listed 
species (e.g., hemlock spleenwort (Asplenium cristatum) and widespread 
polypody (Pecluma dispersa)) (van der Heiden 2013b, pers. comm.; van 
der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 7-8). Rock outcrops may also provide 
suitable substrate where the underlying Ocala limestone (a geologic 
formation of exposed limestone near Ocala, Florida) is near the 
surface.
    Therefore, based on the information above, we identify exposed 
substrate derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala limestone, or exposed 
limestone boulders, which provide anchoring and nutritional 
requirements, to be a physical or biological feature essential to the 
conservation of Florida bristle fern.
    Climate and Hydrology--Florida bristle fern is considered strongly 
hygrophilous (i.e., growing or adapted to damp or wet conditions) and 
is generally perceived as restricted to constantly humid microhabitat 
(Kr[ouml]mer and Kessler 2006, p. 57; Proctor 2012, pp. 1024-1025). 
Features that allow for proper ecosystem functionality and a suitable 
microhabitat required for the growth and reproduction of the subspecies 
include a canopy cover of suitable density (i.e., average canopy 
closure more than 75 percent) and humidity and moisture of sufficient 
levels and stability (on average, above approximately 90 percent 
relative humidity) (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, p. 8; van der 
Heiden 2016, p. 18; Possley and Hazelton 2015, entire; Possley 2015, 
pers. comm.; Possley 2015, unpublished data).
    The relationship between moist habitats and the Hymenophyllaceae 
Family of ferns (filmy ferns), to which the Trichomanes species 
belongs, has been long observed and documented (Shreve 1911, pp. 187, 
189; Proctor 2003, entire; Proctor 2012, p. 1024). In a tropical rain 
forest system, the diversity and number of filmy fern species is shown 
to have a direct relation to the air moisture (relative humidity) 
(Gehrig-Downie et al. 2012; pp. 40-42). While not in the same fern 
Family as the Florida bristle fern, a study of the rare temperate 
woodland fern, Braun's hollyfern (Polystichum braunii), found air 
humidity to be a key factor in species health, with stronger plant 
productivity occurring in higher humidity levels (Schwerbrock and 
Leuschner 2016, p. 5). Although a minimum suitable humidity level, or 
threshold, for Florida bristle fern has not been quantified for either 
metapopulation of the subspecies, information from field studies 
indicates conditions of high and stable relative humidity are essential 
to the subspecies. Minor drops in ambient humidity may limit 
reproduction of the subspecies and can negatively impact overall health 
of the existing metapopulations, as well as inhibit the growth of new 
plants, impacting long-term viability (Possley 2013b, pers. comm.; van 
der Heiden 2013a, pers. comm.). This relationship was observed in 
Sumter County, where small drops (approximately 1-2 percent) in 
relative humidity associated with colder weather resulted in observed 
declines in the health of some clusters of Florida bristle fern within 
the local population (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, p. 9).
    The average relative humidity for hammocks in Sumter County 
remained near 95 percent for the duration of a September-November 2013 
study (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 8-9). Further, the minimum 
and maximum monthly average relative humidity from September 2013 to 
March 2015 for the two central Florida hammocks supporting Florida 
bristle fern were 88 and 99 percent and 89 and 100 percent, 
respectively (van der Heiden 2016, p. 18). The lowest monthly average 
relative humidity in each of the hammocks was 65 and 69 percent. In 
comparison, the minimum and maximum monthly average relative humidity 
documented outside of the hammock (from June 2014 to March 2015) was 68 
and 93 percent with a low monthly relative humidity of 51 percent. In 
summary, similar and consistently high average humidity values occurred 
between and within the two hammocks supporting the subspecies, and 
consistently higher relative humidity values were recorded in the 
hammocks compared to outside the hammocks.
    Likewise, in south Florida, 8 years of data-log monitoring of 
Deering's Cutler Slough (the location of a known extirpated population, 
Deering-Snapper Creek, of Florida bristle fern) recorded an average of 
90 percent relative humidity occurring within a solution hole compared 
to the 84 percent average relative humidity documented in the slough 
outside of the solution hole during the same time period (Possley and 
Hazelton 2015, entire).
    The hammock environments are high or slightly elevated grounds that 
do not regularly flood, but are dependent on a high water table to keep 
humidity levels high (Inventory 2010, pp. 19-28). The subspecies is 
affected by humidity at two spatial scales: the larger hammock 
community-scale and the smaller substrate (boulder/solution hole) 
microclimate-scale (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 9-10). 
Moisture (precipitation and low evaporation) and humidity levels are 
likely factors limiting the occurrence of Florida bristle fern (Proctor 
2003, p. 726; Gehrig-Downie et al. 2012, p. 40; Shreve 1911, p. 189). 
The high humidity levels discussed above and stable temperatures, 
moisture, and shading (cover) are all features considered

[[Page 10377]]

essential to the subspecies and produced by the combination of:
    (1) Solution hole or boulder microclimate;
    (2) Organic, moisture-retaining soils (high soil moisture 
conditions);
    (3) Hydrology of the surrounding or adjacent wetlands; and
    (4) Protective shelter of the surrounding habitat minimizing 
effects from drying winds and/solar radiation.
    Solution holes provide the limestone substrate and produce the 
necessary humid and moist microclimate needed by the subspecies in 
south Florida. In central Florida, the fern occurs in the more 
northerly portion of the hammocks and northern aspect of the limestone 
boulders, obtaining greater shading and moist conditions compared to 
the sunnier and drier south-facing portions of the hammocks and sides 
of boulders (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 7, 31). Variances 
within hammocks, such as slight structural differences or proximity to 
water, also play an important part in where suitable microhabitat 
occurs in the hammock habitats. Intact hydrology and the connectivity 
of substrates to surface water and streams may play a role in spore and 
vegetative fragment dispersal for the subspecies (more detail in 
following section, ``Sites for Reproduction, Growth, Spore Production 
and Dispersal''). Soils associated with the hammock ecosystems consist 
of sands mixed with organic matter, which produce better drained soils 
than soils of surrounding or adjacent wetland communities. Soils in 
habitats of extant Florida bristle fern populations in south Florida 
consist of an uneven layer of highly organic soil and moderately well-
drained, sandy, and very shallow soils (classified as Matecumbe muck). 
Soils in habitats of the central Florida metapopulation are 
predominantly sand and Okeelanta muck (80 FR 60440, October 6 2015). 
For both metapopulations, a relatively high soil-moisture content and 
high humidity are maintained by dense litter accumulation, ground 
cover, and heavy shade produced by the dense canopy (Service 1999, pp. 
3-99).
    In addition, the protected hammock habitats are slightly higher in 
elevation than the surrounding habitat, which combined with the 
limestone substrate, leaf litter and sandy soils create a hydrology 
that differs from lower elevation habitats. It is this combination of 
hammock ecosystem characteristics (i.e., closed canopy, limestone 
substrate, humid climate, higher elevation) occurring in hardwood 
forested upland communities as described earlier that are essential to 
the conservation for the subspecies.
    Therefore, based on the information above, we identify a constantly 
humid microhabitat climate consisting of dense canopy cover, moisture, 
stable high temperature, and stable monthly average relative humidity 
of 90 percent or higher, with intact hydrology within hammocks and the 
surrounding and adjacent wetland communities, to be a physical or 
biological feature essential to the conservation of Florida bristle 
fern.
    Cover and Shelter--Florida bristle fern occurs exclusively in 
hardwood hammock habitats having dense canopy, which provides shade 
necessary to support suitable microhabitat for the subspecies to 
persist, grow, and reproduce. In south Florida (Miami-Dade County), the 
extant populations of Florida bristle fern occur in communities 
classified as rockland hammocks on the Miami Rock Ridge. In central 
Florida (Sumter County), the extant populations of the subspecies occur 
in mesic hammocks, often situated in a mosaic of natural communities 
including hydric hammock and mixed wetland hardwoods.
    The dense canopies of the hammock systems (including rockland and 
mesic hammocks) contribute to maintaining suitable temperature and 
humidity levels within this microclimate. The dense canopies found in 
these habitats minimize temperature fluctuations by reducing soil 
warming during the day and heat loss at night, thereby helping to 
prevent frost damage to hammock interiors (Inventory 2010, p. 25). In 
areas with greater temperature variations, as in central Florida, these 
benefits afforded by the dense canopy of both the mesic hammock and 
surrounding habitat combined are important to maintaining suitable 
conditions for Florida bristle fern. The rounded canopy profile of 
hammocks help maintain mesic (moist) conditions by deflecting winds, 
thereby limiting desiccation (extreme dryness) during dry periods and 
reducing interior storm damage (Inventory 2010, p. 25). Changes in the 
canopy can impact humidity and evaporation rates, as well as the amount 
of light available to the understory. Both known extant metapopulations 
of Florida bristle fern live in dense canopy habitat, with shady 
conditions, which may be obligatory due to the poikilohydric (i.e., 
possess no mechanism to prevent desiccation) nature of some fern 
species including the Florida bristle fern (Kr[ouml]mer and Kessler 
2006, p. 57).
    While the proper amount of canopy is critical to the persistence of 
Florida bristle fern, the lower limit of acceptable canopy density has 
yet to be quantified for either metapopulation. Field observations in 
south Florida have found clusters of Florida bristle fern desiccated 
when the immediate canopy above plants was destroyed or substantially 
reduced, allowing high amounts of light into the understory (Possley 
2019, entire; Possley 2013c, entire); however, over the course of many 
months, these clusters eventually recovered. In addition, this dense, 
closed canopy may serve as a shield for Florida bristle fern to inhibit 
the growth of other plant species on the same part of an inhabited rock 
area (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, p. 9). In central Florida, the 
average canopy closure where Florida bristle fern occurs has been 
estimated to be more than 75 percent (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, 
p. 9). Although there are several occurrences in these mesic hammocks 
where sunlight can be observed through the canopy, generally the 
habitat is shaded throughout the year, with the lowest canopy cover 
recorded at 64 percent in December (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, 
pp. 8, 20). This information was obtained from a study of short 
duration (September-December 2013), and it is likely that percent 
canopy cover and consequently shading would be greater in summer months 
when foliage is densest (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, p. 8).
    Surrounding habitat that minimizes the effects from drying winds 
and solar radiation and provides a stable and protective shelter is 
necessary for this fern to survive. A suitable habitat size and quality 
is necessary to provide a functioning canopy cover that maintains the 
microclimate conditions (humidity, moisture, temperature, and shade) 
essential to the conservation of the subspecies.
    Therefore, based on the information above, we identify dense canopy 
cover of surrounding native vegetation that consists of the upland 
hardwood forest hammock habitats to be a physical or biological feature 
essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern.

Sites for Reproduction, Germination, and Spore Production and Dispersal

    Growth and reproduction of Florida bristle fern can occur through 
spore dispersal, rhizome (underground stem) growth, and clonal 
vegetative fragments (80 FR 60440). The habitats identified above 
provide plant communities, which require a self-maintaining closed 
canopy and climate-controlled interior, an adequate space for the 
rhizomal

[[Page 10378]]

growth, dispersal of seeds, sporophyte and gametophyte survival, and 
recruitment of plant fragments.
    While specific information on spore dispersal distances is largely 
unknown for this subspecies, the microclimate is found to be essential 
for spore germination and survival. Dispersal of spores, gametophytes, 
and vegetative fragments may take place via water-based methods, 
animals, and to a lesser extent, wind-driven opportunities. In the 
Hymenophyllaceae family of ferns, spores lack the capacity to withstand 
desiccation, are not known to be dispersed long distance through the 
wind, and depend upon the moist microclimate for growth and survival 
(Nural Hafiza 2014, p. 21).
    In terms of protecting the subspecies' genetic components, a recent 
study of Florida bristle fern chloroplast DNA found little genetic 
differentiation between the two metapopulations, which can indicate 
that both metapopulations are recently established from a single source 
or that there is a favoring of a genetic sequence (Hughs 2015, pp. 1-
2). Lower genetic variation in a population produces a lower effective 
population (the number of individuals that can undergo cross-
fertilization). In such small populations, such as with Florida bristle 
fern, any loss of individuals may also be a loss of genetic information 
and a reduction of subspecies fitness (Fernando et al. 2015, pp. 32-
34). Therefore, ensuring space for reproduction, germination, spore 
production, and dispersal of the subspecies helps ensure the 
conservation of genetic information and subspecies fitness.
    Adequate space and the maintenance of the stable microclimate 
habitat support clonal growth as well as the reproductive stages of 
Florida bristle fern. The rare American hart's tongue fern is a species 
like the Florida bristle fern that relies on the specific microclimate 
conditions of high humidity, moisture, and shelter. In a study of the 
American hart's tongue fern, the presence of these microclimate habitat 
conditions determined the success of the fern's life-history processes 
(growth, reproduction, and spore production) (Fernando et al. 2015, p. 
33).
    Interior condition of the hammock microclimate (e.g., humidity, 
temperature) are influenced by the hammock's own canopy and hydrology 
and the vegetative structure and hydrology of the surrounding habitat. 
For example, in south Florida, the pre-settlement landscape of the 
rockland hammocks on the Miami Rock Ridge occurred as ``small islands'' 
in a sea of pine rockland and seasonally flooded prairies, or 
transverse glades (shallow channels through the Miami Rock Ridge that 
had wet prairie vegetation and moved water out of the Everglades Basin 
toward the coast). It has been estimated that originally more than 500 
hammocks occurred in this area, ranging in size from 0.1 hectares (ha) 
(0.2 acres (ac)) to over 40 ha (100 ac) (Craighead 1972, p. 153). The 
vast majority of these hammocks have been destroyed, and those that 
remain are significantly reduced in size. In addition, the habitats 
surrounding the remaining rockland hammocks have been drastically 
altered or destroyed, primarily through urban and agricultural 
development, and in many cases, no longer function as effective or 
efficient buffers to protect rockland hammocks from the impacts of 
changes in temperature and humidity, or extreme weather or natural 
stochastic events (e.g., frost, high winds, and hurricanes/tropical 
storms). This fragmentation and distance between hammocks can hinder 
water-based dispersal and the recruitment of new plants and 
gametophytes. Fragmentation may reduce the stable, protected 
microclimate conditions and the survivability of spores within that 
microclimate. Thus, the hammock microhabitat supporting the subspecies 
must be of a suitable minimum size with sufficiently dense canopy, 
substrate, and understory vegetation within a hammock's interior, and 
there must also be intact surrounding habitat of sufficient amount, 
distribution, and space to support appropriate growing conditions for 
Florida bristle fern across its range.
    The central Florida metapopulation of Florida bristle fern occurs 
in two mesic hammocks, which exist as part of a wetland matrix of 
hydric hammock, mixed wetland hardwoods, cypress/tupelo floodplain 
swamp, and freshwater marsh. The surrounding existing suitable habitat 
and substrate are essential to providing space for growth, reproduction 
and dispersal of the existing populations.
    Therefore, we identify the habitats described as physical or 
biological features above that also provide suitable microhabitat 
conditions, hydrology, and connectivity that can support the subspecies 
growth, distribution, and population expansion (including rhizomal 
growth, spore dispersal, and sporophyte and gametophyte growth and 
survival) to be a physical or biological feature essential to the 
conservation of Florida bristle fern.

Habitats Protected From Disturbance

    Florida bristle fern can be outcompeted by other native, as well as 
nonnative, invasive species. Nonnative and native invasive plants, 
including a few of the most common invasive plants such as Love vine 
(Cassytha filiformis), Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), and 
Burma reed (Neyraudia reynaudiana), compete with the subspecies for 
space, light, water, and nutrients; limit growth and abundance; and can 
make habitat conditions unsuitable. Nonnative plant species have 
affected hammock habitats where Florida bristle fern occurs, and as 
identified in the final listing rule (80 FR 60440, October 6, 2015), 
are considered one of the threats to the subspecies (Snyder et al. 
1990, p. 273; Gann et al. 2002, pp. 552-554; Inventory 2010, pp. 22, 
26). Nonnative plants can outcompete and displace the subspecies in 
solution holes, and can blanket existing occurrences, blocking out all 
light and smothering the fern (Possley 2013d, pers. comm.). In addition 
to the negative impacts of nonnative and native invasive plants, feral 
hogs can impact substrate and vegetation (directly) and habitat 
suitability (indirectly). Rooting from hogs can destroy existing 
habitat by displacing smaller rocks where the subspecies grows and 
potentially damage or eliminate a cluster of the fern (Werner 2013, 
pers. comm.). In Withlacoochee State Forest, damaged areas from feral 
hogs are also more susceptible to invasion from nonnative plant species 
(Werner 2013, pers. comm.).
    Therefore, based on the information above, we identify a plant 
community of predominantly native vegetation that is minimally 
disturbed or free from human-related disturbance with either no 
competitive nonnative, invasive plant species, or such species in 
quantities low enough to have minimal effect on Florida bristle fern to 
be a physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of 
Florida bristle fern.

Summary of Essential Physical or Biological Features

    We have determined that the following physical or biological 
features are essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern:
    (1) Upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality 
and size to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for 
Florida bristle fern.
    (2) Exposed substrate derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala 
limestone, or exposed limestone boulders, which

[[Page 10379]]

provide anchoring and nutritional requirements.
    (3) Constantly humid microhabitat consisting of dense canopy cover, 
moisture, stable high temperature, and stable monthly average humidity 
of 90 percent or higher, with intact hydrology within hammocks and the 
surrounding and adjacent wetland communities.
    (4) Dense canopy cover of surrounding native vegetation that 
consists of the upland hardwood forest hammock habitats and provides 
shade, shelter, and moisture.
    (5) Suitable microhabitat conditions, hydrology, and connectivity 
that can support the Florida bristle fern growth, distribution, and 
population expansion (including rhizomal growth, spore dispersal, and 
sporophyte and gametophyte growth and survival).
    (6) Plant community of predominantly native vegetation that is 
minimally disturbed, free from human-related disturbance with either no 
competitive nonnative, invasive plant species, or such species in 
quantities low enough to have minimal effect on Florida bristle fern.

Special Management Considerations or Protection

    When designating critical habitat, we assess whether the specific 
areas within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time 
of listing contain features that are essential to the conservation of 
the species and that may require special management considerations or 
protection. The features essential to the conservation of Florida 
bristle fern may require special management considerations or 
protections to reduce threats related to habitat modification and 
destruction primarily due to development, agricultural conversion, 
hydrologic alteration, nonnative invasive species, and sea level rise. 
For more information on threats to Florida bristle fern, please refer 
to the final listing rule (80 FR 60440, October 6, 2015).
    The four known populations of the south Florida metapopulation 
occur on County-managed conservation lands at Castellow Hammock, Hattie 
Bauer Hammock, Fuchs Hammock, and Meissner Hammock. However, these 
areas are still vulnerable to the effects of activities in the 
surrounding areas, including agricultural clearing and hydrologic 
alterations. In addition, these areas are vulnerable to threats from 
nonnative invasive species, especially if current control efforts are 
discontinued or decreased. The small amount of rockland hammock or 
mixed rockland/mesic hammock is vulnerable to impacts related to urban 
and agricultural development, including hydrologic alterations, and 
threats by nonnative invasive species (especially as such areas are 
often not actively managed for nonnative species). We expect these 
hammock communities in south Florida to be further degraded due to sea 
level rise and the increase in the number of flood events, which would 
fully or partially inundate some rockland hammocks along the coast and 
in the southern portion of Miami-Dade County and in Everglades National 
Park. Sea level rise is also expected to increase the salinity of the 
water table and soils, resulting in vegetation shifts across the Miami 
Rock Ridge.
    The two known populations of the central Florida metapopulation 
both occur on State-owned land in the Jumper Creek Tract of the 
Withlacoochee State Forest. Land clearing and hydrological alterations 
on private lands adjacent to the Jumper Creek Tract continue to be 
threats to the subspecies' populations and habitat. In addition, while 
the Withlacoochee State Forest is generally considered public 
conservation land, it is managed by the Florida Forest Service and is 
subject to logging in certain areas. Logging is less likely to occur on 
the Jumper Creek Tract due to the existing matrix of hammocks and 
pinelands (versus a predominantly pineland community). This area is 
also subject to impacts from nonnative invasive species, although 
forest management on the Jumper Creek Tract currently includes 
nonnative plant control. Moisture and humidity levels of the fern 
habitat are also dependent upon the hydrology of the surrounding or 
adjacent wetlands. Alterations in the natural hydrologic regime within 
the hammock and these adjacent habitats affect these physical or 
biological features. Draining, ditching, and excessive pumping of 
groundwater can lower the water table in hammocks, causing reduced 
moisture and humidity levels. In such cases, mesic hammocks, for 
example, may undergo shifts in species composition toward xeric hammock 
composition. These impacts to hammock systems may ultimately reduce or 
eliminate suitable habitat for the subspecies. A lowered water table or 
dewatering of hammocks can also render the habitat vulnerable to 
catastrophic fire.
    Special management considerations and protections that will address 
these threats include increased coordination and conservation of the 
subspecies and its habitat (including preventing impacts to hammock 
hydrology, canopy cover, and substrate) on Federal lands and with 
State, County, and private landowners of non-Federal lands. Habitat 
restoration and management efforts (including nonnative plant 
treatments) of high-priority sites will be emphasized. At this time, 
the subspecies does not occur on Federal lands for either 
metapopulation, but reintroduction is being explored for Royal Palm 
Hammock in Everglades National Park in south Florida.

Criteria Used To Identify Critical Habitat

    As required by section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we use the best 
scientific data available to designate critical habitat. In accordance 
with the Act and our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(b), we 
review available information pertaining to the habitat requirements of 
the species and identify specific areas within the geographical area 
occupied by the species at the time of listing and any specific areas 
outside the geographical area occupied by the species to be considered 
for designation as critical habitat.
    The current distribution of Florida bristle fern is reduced from 
its historical distribution to a level where it is danger of 
extinction. We anticipate that recovery will require continued 
protection of existing populations and habitat, as well as establishing 
sites that more closely approximate its historical distribution, in 
order to ensure there are adequate numbers of Florida bristle fern in 
stable populations and that these populations occur over a wide 
geographic area within both metapopulations. This strategy will help to 
ensure that catastrophic events, such as fire, cannot simultaneously 
affect all known populations. Rangewide recovery considerations, such 
as maintaining existing genetic diversity and striving for 
representation of all major portions of the subspecies' historical 
range, were considered in formulating this proposed critical habitat 
designation.
    The amount and distribution of the proposed critical habitat are 
designed to provide:
    (1) The processes that maintain the physical or biological features 
that are essential to the conservation of the subspecies;
    (2) Sufficient quality and size of habitat to support the 
persistence of the physical or biological features for the subspecies 
(hammock microclimate, humidity, temperature, substrate, canopy cover, 
native plant community);
    (3) Habitat to expand the distribution of Florida bristle fern into 
historically occupied areas;
    (4) Space to increase the size of each population to a level where 
the threats of genetic, demographic, and normal

[[Page 10380]]

environmental uncertainties are diminished; and
    (5) Additional space to improve the ability of the subspecies to 
withstand local or regional-level environmental fluctuations or 
catastrophes.
    For Florida bristle fern, we are proposing to designate critical 
habitat in areas within the geographical area occupied by the 
subspecies at the time of listing. For those areas, we determined that 
they were of suitable habitat within the known historical range, with 
current occurrence records, and could support the physical or 
biological features identified earlier, such as through restoration. We 
are also proposing to designate specific areas outside the geographical 
area occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing because we have 
determined that a designation limited to occupied areas would be 
inadequate to ensure the conservation of the subspecies. For those 
unoccupied areas, we have determined that it is reasonably certain that 
the unoccupied areas will contribute to the conservation of the 
subspecies and contain one or more of the physical or biological 
features that are essential to the conservation of the subspecies.

Sources of Data To Identify Critical Habitat Boundaries

    To determine the general extent, location, and boundaries of the 
proposed critical habitat, we used the following sources of 
information:
    (1) Historical and current records of Florida bristle fern 
occurrence and distribution found in publications, reports, personal 
communications, and associated voucher specimens housed at museums and 
private collections;
    (2) Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (Commission), Inventory, 
Institute for Regional Conservation (Institute), and Fairchild Tropical 
Botanic Garden (Fairchild) geographic information system (GIS) data 
showing the location and extent of documented occurrences of Florida 
bristle fern;
    (3) Reports and databases prepared by the Institute and Fairchild;
    (4) ESRI ArcGIS online basemap aerial imagery (December 2010) and 
historical aerial imagery (1938 for Miami-Dade County; 1941 for Sumter 
County); and
    (5) GIS data depicting land cover (Commission and Inventory 
Cooperative Land Cover Map, version 3.1) within Miami-Dade and Sumter 
Counties, and the location and habitat boundaries of rockland hammocks 
in Miami-Dade County (Florida Geographic Data Library 2017; Commission 
and Inventory 2018; Institute 2009; Miami-Dade County Information 
Technology Department 2015; Sumter County, Florida 2019).
    The presence of the physical or biological features was determined 
using the above sources of information as well as site visits by 
biologists and botanists (Possley 2019, entire), and through field 
surveys, habitat mapping, and substrate mapping by the Institute 
(Possley and Hazelton 2015, entire; van der Heiden 2016, entire; van 
der Heiden and Johnson 2014, entire).

Areas Occupied at the Time of Listing

    The proposed occupied critical habitat units were delineated around 
the documented extant populations and the existing physical or 
biological features that require special management and protection. We 
have determined that all currently known occupied habitat for Florida 
bristle fern was also occupied by the subspecies at the time of 
listing, and that these areas contain the physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the subspecies and which may 
require special management considerations or protection. We are 
proposing to designate these areas as occupied habitat.

Occupied Habitat--South Florida Metapopulation (Miami-Dade County)

    Occupied habitat, which for the south Florida metapopulation occurs 
in rockland hammock habitat, was identified based on available 
occurrence data for Florida bristle fern. Rockland hammock boundaries 
were delineated using the Institute's 2009 rockland hammock GIS layer. 
Based on our assessment of rockland hammocks on the Miami Rock Ridge 
(see Sites for Reproduction, Germination, or Spore Production and 
Dispersal), we included in the assessment all of the remaining rockland 
hammocks within the proposed critical habitat boundaries. Next, we 
grouped rockland hammocks, where appropriate, to form units. Rockland 
hammocks in close proximity to one another provide connectivity and 
allow spore dispersal (water-based, animal, or wind-driven dispersal) 
from occupied to adjacent habitat, which is important for establishing 
new clusters of plants to increase population resiliency and subspecies 
redundancy. In addition, based on the Act's implementing regulations 
(50 CFR 424.12 (d)), when habitats are in close proximity to one 
another, an inclusive area may be designated. Although the population 
historically observed in Ross Hammock has been reported as extirpated, 
we combined Ross Hammock with Castellow Hammock into a single occupied 
unit (unit South Florida 9 [SF 9]) because: (1) The subspecies is 
exceedingly hard to find even by species experts and, therefore, may be 
present even though it has been reported as extirpated; (2) there is 
the likelihood that spores could travel between occupied and adjacent 
habitat, particularly during high-water events; and (3) habitat 
directly adjacent to known occurrences (e.g., separated only by a road) 
can also be occupied if habitat conditions are suitable. Three occupied 
units (Castellow/Ross, Hattie Bauer, and Fuchs and Meissner hammocks) 
totaling 52 ha (129 ac) are proposed as critical habitat for the south 
Florida metapopulation.

Occupied Critical Habitat--Central Florida Metapopulation (Sumter 
County)

    For the central Florida populations, habitat was defined as the 
intersection of mesic, hydric, and elevated hydric hammocks and a 
boulder layer shapefile (van der Heiden 2016, p. 3).
    On the Jumper Creek Tract, known extant populations of Florida 
bristle fern occur in two small mesic hammocks located within and 
supported by a matrix of hydric hammock and mixed wetland hardwood 
communities. The mesic hammocks are approximately 0.18 ha (0.44 ac) and 
0.11 ha (0.28 ac) in size and difficult to differentiate from the 
surrounding forested vegetation. Our evaluation of occurrence data for 
this metapopulation also included historical observations of the 
Florida bristle fern south of the Jumper Creek Tract where the 
subspecies was formerly known to occur near Battle Slough (near the 
existing town of Wahoo) and located in close proximity to the extant 
populations. In this area, habitat types include mixed wetland 
hardwoods surrounded by freshwater marsh, cypress/tupelo, and mixed 
hardwood-coniferous forest. Using the information mentioned above on 
current and historical occurrences and habitat type and applying the 
data for suitable substrate (boulders), we delineated a contiguous unit 
of occupied habitat for Florida bristle fern.
    As discussed earlier, suitable hammock micro-conditions in this 
landscape (specifically the high humidity, stable temperatures, 
moisture, and shade) required by Florida bristle fern are supported by 
the surrounding vegetation, which minimizes drastic changes in 
temperature or humidity at the microclimate scale. Generally, forest 
edges receive more light, are prone to greater desiccation, and have a 
reduced biodiversity compared to the forest interiors. Pronounced edge 
effects from adjacent land clearing and fragmentation, such as with 
agricultural

[[Page 10381]]

lands, reduce the quality of forested habitat and detrimentally affect 
the interior microclimate.
    Field observations of Florida bristle fern in central Florida found 
more robust and healthy ferns in an interior hammock with approximately 
300 m (985 ft) of surrounding habitat between it and cleared pasture 
land. This was compared to ferns in a hammock that had only 100 m (328 
ft) of surrounding habitat separating it from the edge of cleared 
pasture. The ferns located nearer the edge (approximately 100 m) of the 
adjacent cleared pasture had visible signs of stress, and these ferns 
appeared desiccated and had fewer reproductive bristles than the ferns 
in the hammock and with 300 m of surrounding vegetation (van der Heiden 
2016, p. 3). These observations are consistent with findings that 
documented edge effects on ferns up to 200 m into the forest (Hylander 
et al. 2013, pp. 559-560). Edge effects included loss of individual 
plants, loss of percent canopy cover, and increased temperature, 
sunlight, and wind on the microclimate (Hylander et al. 2013, pp. 559-
560; Le[atilde]o da Silva and Schmitt 2015, pp. 227-228).
    To most accurately represent suitable habitat for Florida bristle 
fern within these central Florida communities and ensure the 
persistence of the necessary microclimate, we consider natural 
communities within 300 m (985 ft) as measured from the edge of and 
surrounding the boulder substrate (equivalent to 9.3 ha (23 ac)) to be 
habitat essential to the conservation of the subspecies (van der Heiden 
2014, pers. comm.; van der Heiden 2016, p. 3) in protecting the habitat 
from edge effects. The suitable habitat communities and the 
distribution of exposed limestone substrate (boulder) in these 
communities were delineated with the use of ground survey and satellite 
imagery data (van der Heiden and Johnson 2014, pp. 6-7; van der Heiden 
2016, p. 3). Site-level data of vegetative communities produced from 
aerial photography (Commission and Inventory 2018) and feedback from 
species experts and local biologists on habitat and substrate 
occurrence in this area were also used.
    Thus, using the best available data, one occupied unit totaling 742 
ha (1,834 ac) is proposed as critical habitat for the central Florida 
metapopulation. This proposed critical habitat designation consists of 
a contiguous unit within and adjacent to Jumper Creek Tract of intact 
vegetation (i.e., not cleared) in mesic or hydric hammocks and mixed 
wetland hardwood communities having exposed limestone substrate 
(boulders), which have, at minimum, a 300-m radius of surrounding 
intact vegetation.

Areas Outside the Geographic Area Occupied at the Time of Listing

    To consider for designation areas not occupied by the subspecies at 
the time of listing, we must demonstrate that these areas are essential 
for the conservation of Florida bristle fern. In south Florida, 
proposed occupied critical habitat for the subspecies is within a 
relatively small amount of highly fragmented habitat and occupied 
patches are generally isolated from one another within the landscape. 
In addition, the extent of the geographic area in south Florida (Miami-
Dade County) that is currently occupied by the plant is substantially 
(nearly 80 percent) smaller than its historical range. In central 
Florida, the two known existing populations are in very close proximity 
and also in a much smaller area than the known historical range. 
Because of this fragmentation and loss of range, both metapopulations 
have lower resiliency under these current conditions compared to 
historical occurrences, and therefore, the subspecies' adaptive 
capacity (representation) and redundancy has been reduced.
    Based on these factors in relation to the threats to Florida 
bristle fern, we have determined we cannot recover the subspecies with 
only the occupied habitat; thus, additional habitat is essential to 
provide a sufficient amount of habitat (total area and number of 
patches) and connectivity for the long-term conservation of the plant. 
Therefore, because we have determined occupied areas alone are not 
adequate for the conservation of the subspecies, we have identified and 
are proposing for designation as critical habitat specific areas 
outside the geographical area occupied by the subspecies at the time of 
listing that are essential to the conservation of the subspecies. This 
will ensure enough sites and individuals exist for each metapopulation 
of Florida bristle fern. We used habitat and historical occurrence data 
and the physical or biological features described earlier to identify 
unoccupied habitat essential for the conservation of the Florida 
bristle fern. As discussed in more detail below, the unoccupied areas 
we selected are essential for the conservation of the subspecies 
because they:
    (1) Consist of a documented historical, but now extirpated, 
occurrence of the subspecies;
    (2) Provide areas of sufficient size to support ecosystem 
processes;
    (3) Provide suitable habitat (that contain some or all of the 
physical or biological features) that allow for growth and expansion; 
and
    (4) Occur in the known historical range of the subspecies.
    These unoccupied areas provide sufficient space for growth and 
reproduction for the subspecies within the historical range and will 
provide ecological diversity so that the subspecies has the ability to 
evolve and adapt over time (representation) and ensure that the 
subspecies has an adequate level of redundancy to guard against future 
catastrophic events. These areas also represent the areas within the 
historical range with the best potential for recovery of the subspecies 
due to their current conditions, provide habitat and space to support 
spore dispersal and new growth, and are likely suitable for 
reintroductions.

Unoccupied Habitat--South Florida Metapopulation (Miami-Dade County)

    The existing suitable habitat for the south Florida metapopulation 
consists of a patchwork of small parcels. Therefore, we must ensure the 
integrity of the solution hole and canopy cover, which is responsible 
for maintaining the stable damp, humid, and shaded microclimate 
identified as a physical or biological feature for the subspecies.
    Using the Institute's 2009 rockland hammock GIS layer and 
Commission and Inventory's Cooperative Land Cover site-level data for 
rockland hammocks and site visit information from Service staff 
biologists and botanists from Fairchild, Miami, we evaluated all 
unoccupied sites within rockland hammock habitats, including mixed 
rockland/mesic hammock and rockland hammock with connecting mixed 
wetland hardwood habitat, in Miami-Dade County. Specifically, we 
reviewed available historical aerial photography of 20 rockland 
hammocks historically occupied, but now unoccupied, by the subspecies. 
Ten additional potential sites were visited by Service staff. Also, 
specific information provided by Miami-Dade County and Fairchild on 
four additional areas was reviewed. A site was considered in the 
evaluation for proposed unoccupied critical habitat if it is within the 
historical range of the subspecies and:
    (1) Holds a documented historical occurrence;
    (2) Contains one or more of the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the subspecies;
    (3) Provides viable habitat for introductions or could be restored 
to support Florida bristle fern;

[[Page 10382]]

    (4) Occurs at the edge of the range and provided areas that would 
allow for growth and expansion; or
    (5) Occurs near an occupied site (for potential recruitment).
    Each site would, in conjunction with occupied areas of proposed 
critical habitat, support the conservation of the subspecies. Based on 
our review, we identified three unoccupied rockland hammock units on 
the Miami Rock Ridge outside of Everglades National Park (see table 1). 
These three proposed units represent the units with documented, but now 
extirpated, historical occurrences with intact rockland hammock within 
the historical range of the subspecies outside of the Everglades 
National Park. Within the Everglades National Park, we identified a 
fourth unit, the Royal Palm Hammock, for inclusion in the proposed 
critical habitat. This hammock was also historically occupied by the 
subspecies but was not occupied at the time of listing. The resulting 
four unoccupied proposed units consist of 83 ha (205 ac) and are 
considered essential for the conservation of Florida bristle fern 
because they protect habitat needed to recover the subspecies and 
reestablish wild populations within the known historical range of the 
subspecies in Miami-Dade County. The unoccupied units each contain one 
or more of the physical or biological features and are likely to 
provide for the conservation of the subspecies. Three of the unoccupied 
units are on lands managed by Miami-Dade County and the fourth 
unoccupied unit is on land managed by Everglades National Park.

Unoccupied Habitat--Central Florida Metapopulation (Sumter County)

    For the central Florida metapopulation, criteria for determining 
unoccupied critical habitat included units that:
    (1) Holds a documented historical occurrence;
    (2) Contains one or more of the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of the subspecies;
    (3) Provides space for growth and recovery (to add resiliency to a 
small population);
    (4) Provides viable habitat for introductions; and
    (5) Provides connectivity across the range of the subspecies.
    Unoccupied habitat was delineated based on documented historical 
occurrences, existing suitable habitat (as defined by the physical or 
biological features), and evaluation of the habitat and substrate 
delineation mapping (van der Heiden 2016, pp. 5-7) with data obtained 
through field surveys and satellite mapping. The one unoccupied unit 
proposed for critical habitat designation consists of approximately 747 
ha (1,846 ac) (table 1). It consists of documented historically 
occupied (now extirpated) habitat with suitable wetland and upland 
communities having intact vegetation (not cleared) and hammocks and 
exposed limestone boulders with at least a 300-m radius (984 ft) or 
greater of surrounding native vegetation (van der Heiden 2014, pers. 
comm.; van der Heiden 2016, p. 3). Its size was based on the conditions 
necessary to maintain the physical or biological features. It is 
considered essential for the conservation of Florida bristle fern 
because it protects habitat needed to recover the subspecies and 
reestablish wild populations within the known historical range of the 
subspecies in Sumter County. The unoccupied unit contains one or more 
of the physical or biological features and is likely to provide for the 
conservation of the subspecies.

General Information on the Maps of the Proposed Critical Habitat 
Designation

    The proposed critical habitat designation is defined by the map or 
maps, as modified by any accompanying regulatory text, presented at the 
end of this document under Proposed Regulation Promulgation. We include 
more detailed information on the boundaries of the critical habitat 
designation in the discussion of individual units below. We will make 
the coordinates or plot points or both on which each map is based 
available to the public at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. 
FWS-R4-ES-2019-0068, at http://www.fws.gov/verobeach, and at the South 
Florida Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT, above).
    When determining proposed critical habitat boundaries, we made 
every effort to avoid including developed areas such as lands covered 
by buildings, pavement, and other structures because such lands lack 
physical or biological features necessary for Florida bristle fern. The 
scale of the maps we prepared under the parameters for publication 
within the Code of Federal Regulations may not reflect the exclusion of 
such developed lands. Any such lands inadvertently left inside critical 
habitat boundaries shown on the maps of this proposed rule have been 
excluded by text in the proposed rule and are not proposed for 
designation as critical habitat. Therefore, if the critical habitat is 
finalized as proposed, a Federal action involving these lands would not 
trigger section 7 consultation under the Act with respect to critical 
habitat and the requirement of no adverse modification unless the 
specific action would affect the physical or biological features in the 
adjacent critical habitat.

Proposed Critical Habitat Designation

    We are proposing to designate as critical habitat for Florida 
bristle fern approximately 1,624 ha (4,014 ac) in nine units in Miami-
Dade and Sumter Counties, Florida. The proposed critical habitat 
consists of units identified for the south and central Florida 
metapopulations and are delineated in (1) south Florida by rockland/
tropical hammocks of Miami-Dade County (135 ha (334 ac)); and (2) 
central Florida by Withlacoochee State Forest, Jumper Creek Tract, and 
adjacent lands in Sumter County (1,489 ha (3680 ac)). Four of the units 
are currently occupied by the subspecies and contains those physical or 
biological features essential to the conservation of the subspecies but 
may require special management considerations. Five of the units are 
currently unoccupied by the subspecies but are essential to the 
conservation of the subspecies. Table 1 shows the name, occupancy, 
area, and land ownership of each unit within the proposed critical 
habitat designation for Florida bristle fern. Land ownership within the 
entire proposed critical habitat consists of Federal (4 percent), State 
(92 percent), County (3 percent), and private (1 percent).

[[Page 10383]]



      Table 1--Name, Occupancy (O = Occupied, U = Unoccupied), Area, and Land Ownership of Proposed Critical Habitat Units for Florida Bristle Fern
                                                         (Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum)
    [Area estimates reflect all land within critical habitat unit boundaries. All areas are rounded to the nearest whole hectare (ha) and acre (ac).
                             Ownership information is based on Miami-Dade County data (2017) and Sumter County data (2019).]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                           Federal ha                                     Private/other
                   Unit                              Occupancy                (ac)        State ha (ac)  County ha (ac)      ha (ac)       Total ha (ac)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             Rockland/Tropical Hammocks of South Florida, Miami-Dade County
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Matheson Hammock * (SF 1)................  U                                          0               0         16 (39)                0         16 (39)
Snapper Creek * (SF 2)...................  U                                          0           3 (8)               0                0           3 (8)
Castellow and Ross * Hammocks (SF 3).....  O                                          0         13 (32)         25 (61)                0         38 (93)
Silver Palm Hammock * (SF 4).............  U                                          0          4 (10)               0                0          4 (10)
Hattie Bauer Hammock (SF 5)..............  O                                          0               0           3 (8)                0           3 (8)
Fuchs and Meissner Hammocks (SF 6).......  O                                          0           2 (5)          9 (23)                0         11 (28)
Royal Palm Hammock * (SF 7)..............  U                                   60 (148)               0               0                0        60 (148)
                                                                        --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    South Florida Total..................  ............................        60 (148)         22 (55)        53 (131)                0       135 (334)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                          Withlacoochee State Forest, Jumper Creek Tract, and adjacent lands of Central Florida, Sumter County
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
CF 1.....................................  O                                          0     726 (1,795)               0          16 (39)     742 (1,834)
CF 2 *...................................  U                                          0     747 (1,846)               0                0     747 (1,846)
                                                                        --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Central Florida Total................  ............................               0   1,473 (3,641)               0          16 (39)   1,489 (3,680)
                                                                        --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Total South and Central Florida..  ............................        60 (148)   1,495 (3,696)        53 (131)          16 (39)   1,624 (4,014)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Historically occupied.
Note: Area sizes may not sum due to rounding.

    We present brief descriptions of all proposed units, and reasons 
why they meet the definition of critical habitat for Florida bristle 
fern, below.

Rockland/Tropical Hammocks of South Florida, Miami-Dade County, Florida

    The proposed critical habitat for the south Florida metapopulation 
is composed of seven units (SF 1-SF 7) consisting of approximately 135 
ha (334 ac) located between South Miami and eastern Everglades National 
Park in central and southern Miami-Dade County, Florida.
SF 1--Matheson Hammock
    Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the 
conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any 
unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies 
and identified this area as essential for the conservation of the 
Florida bristle fern. SF 1 consists of approximately 16 ha (39 ac) of 
habitat in Matheson Hammock in Matheson Hammock Park in Miami-Dade 
County, Florida. This unit is composed of County-owned land that is 
primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County 
Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program and the Natural Areas 
Management division. Matheson Hammock is within the historical range of 
Florida bristle fern but is not within the geographical range currently 
occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing.
    Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains 
some or all of the physical or biological features necessary for the 
conservation of the subspecies. Unit SF1 possesses those 
characteristics as described by physical or biological feature 1 
(upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality and size 
to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for Florida 
bristle fern) and physical or biological feature 2 (exposed substrate 
derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala limestone, or exposed limestone 
boulders, which provide anchoring and nutritional requirements). 
Physical or biological features 3-6 are degraded in this unit, and with 
appropriate management and restoration actions such as prescribed burns 
and removal of invasive plant species, these physical or biological 
features can be restored.
    This unit would serve to protect habitat needed to recover the 
subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the historical range 
in Miami-Dade County. Re-establishing a population in this unit would 
increase redundancy in the South Florida metapopulation. It would also 
provide habitat for recolonization in the case of stochastic events 
(such as hurricanes), should other areas of suitable habitat be 
destroyed or Florida bristle fern be extirpated from one of its 
currently occupied locations. This unit is essential for the 
conservation of the subspecies because it will provide habitat for 
range expansion in known historical habitat that is necessary to 
increase viability of the subspecies by increasing its resiliency, 
redundancy, and representation.
    We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the 
conservation of the subspecies, because the need for conservation 
efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation 
partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies 
are being developed. As stated previously, this unit is entirely 
composed of County-owned land and primarily managed cooperatively by 
the Miami-Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program 
and the Natural Areas Management division. The EEL program's focus is 
on the ``protection and conservation of endangered lands,'' and these 
EEL areas are managed for restoration and conservation through actions 
such as prescribed burns and invasive plant removal. In addition, State 
and County partners have shown interest in reintroduction efforts for 
the Florida bristle fern in this area.
SF 2--Snapper Creek
    Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the 
conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any 
unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies 
and identified this area as essential for the conservation of the 
subspecies. SF 2 consists of approximately 3 ha (8 ac) of habitat in 
Deering-Snapper Creek Hammock

[[Page 10384]]

adjacent to R. Hardy Matheson Preserve in Miami-Dade County, Florida. 
This unit consists of State-owned land that is primarily managed 
cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County EEL program and the Natural 
Areas Management Division. Snapper Creek is within the historical range 
of Florida bristle fern but was not occupied by the subspecies at the 
time of listing.
    Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains 
some or all of the physical or biological features necessary for the 
conservation of the subspecies. Unit SF2 possesses those 
characteristics as described by physical or biological feature 1 
(upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality and size 
to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for Florida 
bristle fern) and physical or biological feature 2 (exposed substrate 
derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala limestone, or exposed limestone 
boulders, which provide anchoring and nutritional requirements). 
Physical or biological features 3-6 are degraded in this unit, and with 
appropriate management and restoration actions such as prescribed burns 
and removal of invasive plant species, these physical or biological 
features can be restored.
    This unit would serve to protect habitat needed to recover the 
subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the historical range 
in Miami-Dade County. Re-establishing a population in this unit would 
an increase the subspecies redundancy in the South Florida 
metapopulation. It would also provide habitat for recolonization in the 
case of stochastic events (such as hurricanes), should other areas of 
suitable habitat be destroyed or Florida bristle fern be extirpated 
from one of its currently occupied locations. This unit is essential 
for the conservation of the subspecies because it will provide habitat 
for range expansion in known historical habitat that is necessary to 
increase viability of the subspecies by increasing its resiliency, 
redundancy, and representation.
    We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the 
conservation of the subspecies, because the need for conservation 
efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation 
partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies 
are being developed. As stated previously, this unit is entirely 
composed of State-owned land and is primarily managed cooperatively by 
the Miami-Dade County EEL program and the Natural Areas Management 
Division. The EEL program's focus is on the ``protection and 
conservation of endangered lands,'' and these EEL areas are managed for 
restoration and conservation through actions such as prescribed burns 
and invasive plant removal. In addition, State and County partners have 
shown interest in reintroduction efforts for the Florida bristle fern 
in this area.
SF 3--Castellow and Ross Hammocks
    SF 3 consists of approximately 38 ha (93 ac) of habitat in 
Castellow and Ross Hammocks in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This unit 
consists of 13 ha (32 ac) of State-owned and 25 ha (61 ac) of County-
owned lands that are primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade 
County EEL program and Natural Areas Management Division. This unit is 
occupied by the subspecies and contains some or all of the physical or 
biological features essential to its conservation.
    Special management considerations or protection may be required to 
address threats of commercial, residential, or agricultural 
development; hydrological alterations; competition with nonnative 
species; human use and recreation; and sea level rise. In some cases, 
these threats are being addressed or coordinated with our partners and 
landowners to implement needed actions. Such actions include removal of 
invasive species, review of County development plans, and review of 
projects considering land use changes.
SF 4--Silver Palm Hammock
    Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the 
conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any 
unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies 
and identified this area as essential for the conservation of the 
subspecies. SF 4 consists of approximately 4 ha (10 ac) of habitat in 
Silver Palm Hammock in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This unit consists 
of State-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the 
Miami-Dade County EEL program and Natural Areas Management Division. 
Silver Palm Hammock is within the historical range of Florida bristle 
fern but was not occupied by the subspecies at the time of listing.
    Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains 
some or all of the physical or biological features necessary for the 
conservation of the subspecies. Unit SF4 possesses those 
characteristics as describe by physical or biological feature 1 (upland 
hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality and size to 
sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for Florida 
bristle fern); physical or biological feature 2 (exposed substrate 
derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala limestone, or exposed limestone 
boulders, which provide anchoring and nutritional requirements); 
physical or biological feature 3 (constantly humid microhabitat 
consisting of dense canopy cover, moisture, stable high temperature, 
and stable monthly average humidity of 90 percent or higher, with 
intact hydrology within hammocks and the surrounding and adjacent 
wetland communities); physical or biological feature 4 (dense canopy 
cover of surrounding native vegetation that consists of the upland 
hardwood forest hammock habitats and provides shade, shelter, and 
moisture); and physical or biological feature 5 (suitable microhabitat 
conditions, hydrology, and connectivity that can support the Florida 
bristle fern growth, distribution, and population expansion (including 
rhizomal growth, spore dispersal, and sporophyte and gametophyte growth 
and survival)). Physical or biological feature 6 is degraded in this 
unit, and with appropriate management and restoration actions such as 
prescribed burns and removal of invasive plant species, this feature 
can be restored.
    This unit would serve to protect habitat needed to recover the 
subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the historical range 
in Miami-Dade County. Re-establishing a population in this unit would 
increase the subspecies redundancy in the South Florida metapopulation. 
It would also provide habitat for recolonization in the case of 
stochastic events (such as hurricanes), should other areas of suitable 
habitat be destroyed or Florida bristle fern be extirpated from one of 
its currently occupied locations. This unit is essential for the 
conservation of the subspecies because it will provide habitat for 
range expansion in known historical habitat that is necessary to 
increase viability of the subspecies by increasing its resiliency, 
redundancy, and representation.
    We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the 
conservation of the subspecies because the need for conservation 
efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation 
partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies 
are being developed. As stated previously, this unit is entirely 
composed of State-owned land and is primarily managed cooperatively by 
the Miami-Dade County EEL program and the Natural Areas Management 
Division. The EEL program's focus is on the ``protection and 
conservation of endangered lands,'' and these EEL areas are managed for 
restoration and conservation through actions such as prescribed burns 
and invasive plant removal. In addition,

[[Page 10385]]

State and County partners have shown interest in reintroduction efforts 
for the Florida bristle fern in this area.
SF 5--Hattie Bauer Hammock
    SF 5 consists of approximately 3 ha (8 ac) of habitat in Hattie 
Bauer Hammock in Miami-Dade County, Florida. This unit consists of 
County-owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-
Dade County EEL program and Natural Areas Management Division. This 
unit is occupied by the subspecies and contains some or all of the 
physical or biological features essential to its conservation.
    Special management considerations or protection may be required to 
address threats of commercial, residential, or agricultural 
development; hydrological alterations; competition with nonnative 
species; human use and recreation; and sea level rise. In some cases, 
these threats are being addressed or coordinated with our partners and 
landowners to implement needed actions. Such actions include removal of 
invasive species, review of County development plans, and review of 
projects considering land use changes.
SF 6--Fuchs and Meissner Hammocks
    SF 6 consists of approximately 11 ha (28 ac) of habitat in Fuchs 
Hammock on Fuchs Hammock Preserve and Meissner Hammock in Miami-Dade 
County, Florida. This unit consists of 2 ha (5 ac) of State-owned and 9 
ha (23 ac) of County-owned lands that are primarily managed 
cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County EEL program and Natural Areas 
Management Division. This unit is occupied by the subspecies and 
contains some or all of the physical or biological features essential 
to its conservation.
    Special management considerations or protection may be required to 
address threats of commercial, residential, or agricultural 
development; hydrological alterations; competition with nonnative 
species; human use and recreation; and sea level rise. In some cases, 
these threats are being addressed or coordinated with our partners and 
landowners to implement needed actions. Such actions include removal of 
invasive species, review of County development plans, and review of 
projects considering land use changes.
SF 7--Royal Palm Hammock
    Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the 
conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any 
unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies 
and identified this area as essential for the conservation of the 
subspecies. SF 7 consists of approximately 60 ha (148 ac) of habitat in 
Royal Palm Hammock in Everglades National Park, which is Federally 
owned land, in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Royal Palm Hammock is within 
the historical range of Florida bristle fern but was not occupied by 
the subspecies at the time of listing.
    Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains 
all of the physical or biological features necessary for the 
conservation of the subspecies. Unit SF7 possesses those 
characteristics as described by physical or biological features 1 
through 6.
    This unit would serves to protect habitat needed to recover the 
subspecies and reestablish wild populations within the historical range 
in Miami-Dade County. Re-establishing a population in this unit would 
increase the subspecies redundancy in the South Florida metapopulation. 
It would also provide habitat for recolonization in the case of 
stochastic events (such as hurricanes), should other areas of suitable 
habitat be destroyed or Florida bristle fern be extirpated from one of 
its currently occupied locations. This unit is essential for the 
conservation of the subspecies because it will provide habitat for 
range expansion in known historical habitat that is necessary to 
increase viability of the subspecies by increasing its resiliency, 
redundancy, and representation.
    We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the 
conservation of the subspecies because the need for conservation 
efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation 
partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies 
are being developed. This unit is entirely composed of Everglades 
National Park, which is Federally owned land with section 7(a)(1) 
responsibilities to carry out programs for the conservation of 
federally listed threatened and endangered species. The Everglades 
National Park General Management Plan (Plan), approved in 2015 prior to 
the published final listing rule for Florida bristle fern, guides the 
National Park Service's management of Everglades National Park, 
including conservation of threatened and endangered species. The 2015 
Plan identifies the Florida bristle fern as extirpated from Everglades 
National Park (Royal Palm Hammock), and therefore, specific 
conservation measures were not discussed for the subspecies. However, 
Everglades National Park continues to conduct nonnative plant species 
control in Royal Palm Hammock, which helps maintain the physical or 
biological essential to the conservation of the Florida bristle fern.

Withlacoochee State Forest, Jumper Creek Tract, and Adjacent Lands of 
Central Florida, Sumter County

    The proposed critical habitat for the central Florida 
metapopulation is composed of two units (CF 1 and CF 2) consisting of 
approximately 1,489 ha (3,680 ac) located within and adjacent to the 
Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest in Sumter County, 
Florida.
CF 1
    CF 1 consists of approximately 742 ha (1,834 ac) of habitat in 
Sumter County, Florida. This unit consists of 726 ha (1,795 ac) of 
State-owned land within the Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee 
State Forest and 16 ha (39 ac) of privately owned land directly 
adjacent to the two locations where Florida bristle fern is currently 
observed. The State-owned land is managed by the Florida Forest 
Service. This unit is occupied by the subspecies and contains all of 
the physical or biological features essential to its conservation.
    Special management considerations or protection may be required to 
address threats of residential and agricultural development, land 
clearing, logging, cattle grazing, hydrological alteration, competition 
with nonnative species, human use and recreation, and impacts related 
to climate change. In some cases, these threats are being addressed or 
coordinated with our partners and landowners to implement needed 
actions.
CF 2
    Because we have determined occupied areas are not adequate for the 
conservation of the subspecies, we have evaluated whether any 
unoccupied areas are essential for the conservation of the subspecies 
and identified this area as essential for the conservation of the 
subspecies. CF 2 consists of approximately 747 ha (1,846 ac) of habitat 
on State-owned land within the Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee 
State Forest, Sumter County, Florida. This unit has a documented 
historical population of Florida bristle fern but was not occupied by 
the subspecies at the time of listing.
    Although it is currently considered unoccupied, this unit contains 
all of the physical or biological features necessary for the 
conservation of the subspecies. Unit CF2 possesses those 
characteristics as described by physical or biological features 1 
through 6.

[[Page 10386]]

    This unit would ensure maintenance of the microclimate and contains 
suitable habitat in association with documented presence of substrate 
and all of the physical or biological features that can support the 
subspecies. This unit would provide for an increase in range and 
connectivity of the subspecies through the natural processes of growth, 
spore dispersal, and fragmentation, and is considered suitable habitat 
for introductions to reestablish wild populations within the historical 
range in Sumter County. Re-establishing at least one historical 
population in this unit would increase the subspecies redundancy in the 
Central Florida metapopulation. It also provides habitat for 
recolonization in the case of stochastic events (such as hurricanes), 
should other areas of suitable habitat be destroyed or Florida bristle 
fern be extirpated from one of its currently occupied locations. This 
unit is essential for the conservation of the subspecies because it 
will provide habitat for range expansion in known historical habitat 
that is necessary to increase viability of the subspecies by increasing 
its resiliency, redundancy, and representation.
    We are reasonably certain that this unit will contribute to the 
conservation of the subspecies because the need for conservation 
efforts is recognized and is being discussed by our conservation 
partners, and methods for restoring and reintroducing the subspecies 
are being developed. This unit is entirely composed of State-owned land 
that is part of the Withlacoochee State Forest. The Ten-Year Resource 
Management Plan for the Withlacoochee State Forest (Management Plan), 
approved in 2015 prior to the published final listing rule for Florida 
bristle fern, guides the Florida Forest Service's management, including 
protection of threatened and endangered species found on the 
Withlacoochee State Forest. The Management Plan does not specifically 
mention Florida bristle fern; therefore, specific conservation measures 
are not discussed for the subspecies. However, the Withlacoochee State 
Forest conducts nonnative species control, which helps maintain the 
physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the 
Florida bristle fern. The Forest has shown interest in reintroduction 
efforts for the Florida bristle fern in this area.

Effects of Critical Habitat Designation

Section 7 Consultation

    Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies, including the 
Service, to ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out 
is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered 
species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse 
modification of designated critical habitat of such species. In 
addition, section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with the Service on any agency action that is likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of any species proposed to be listed 
under the Act or result in the destruction or adverse modification of 
proposed critical habitat.
    We published a final regulation with a revised definition of 
destruction or adverse modification on August 27, 2019 (84 FR 44976). 
Destruction or adverse modification means a direct or indirect 
alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of critical habitat as 
a whole for the conservation of a listed species.
    If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical 
habitat, the responsible Federal agency (action agency) must enter into 
consultation with us. Examples of actions that are subject to the 
section 7 consultation process are actions on State, tribal, local, or 
private lands that require a Federal permit (such as a permit from the 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean Water Act 
(33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) or a permit from the Service under section 10 
of the Act) or that involve some other Federal action (such as funding 
from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation 
Administration, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Federal 
agency actions within the subspecies' habitat that may require 
conference or consultation or both include management and any other 
landscape-altering activities on Federal lands administered by the 
Service, U.S. Forest Service, and National Park Service; issuance of 
section 404 Clean Water Act permits by the U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers; and construction and maintenance of roads or highways by the 
Federal Highway Administration. Federal actions not affecting listed 
species or critical habitat, and actions on State, tribal, local, or 
private lands that are not federally funded, authorized, or carried out 
by a Federal agency, do not require section 7 consultation.
    Compliance with the requirements of section 7(a)(2) is documented 
through the issuance of:
    (1) A concurrence letter for Federal actions that may affect, but 
are not likely to adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat; 
or
    (2) A biological opinion for Federal actions that may affect, and 
are likely to adversely affect, listed species or critical habitat.
    When we issue a biological opinion concluding that a project is 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a listed species and/or 
destroy or adversely modify critical habitat, we provide reasonable and 
prudent alternatives to the project, if any are identifiable, that 
would avoid the likelihood of jeopardy and/or destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat. We define ``reasonable and prudent 
alternatives'' (at 50 CFR 402.02) as alternative actions identified 
during consultation that:
    (1) Can be implemented in a manner consistent with the intended 
purpose of the action,
    (2) Can be implemented consistent with the scope of the Federal 
agency's legal authority and jurisdiction,
    (3) Are economically and technologically feasible, and
    (4) Would, in the Service Director's opinion, avoid the likelihood 
of jeopardizing the continued existence of the listed species and/or 
avoid the likelihood of destroying or adversely modifying critical 
habitat.
    Reasonable and prudent alternatives can vary from slight project 
modifications to extensive redesign or relocation of the project. Costs 
associated with implementing a reasonable and prudent alternative are 
similarly variable.
    Regulations at 50 CFR 402.16 set forth requirements for Federal 
agencies to reinitiate formal consultation on previously reviewed 
actions. These requirements apply when the Federal agency has retained 
discretionary involvement or control over the action (or the agency's 
discretionary involvement or control is authorized by law) and, 
subsequent to the previous consultation, we have listed a new species 
or designated critical habitat that may be affected by the Federal 
action, or the action has been modified in a manner that affects the 
species or critical habitat in a way not considered in the previous 
consultation. In such situations, Federal agencies sometimes may need 
to request reinitiation of consultation with us, but the regulations 
also specify some exceptions to the requirement to reinitiate 
consultation on specific land management plans after subsequently 
listing a new species or designation critical habitat. See the 
regulations for descriptions of those exceptions.

Application of the ``Adverse Modification'' Standard

    The key factor related to the destruction or adverse modification

[[Page 10387]]

determination is whether implementation of the proposed Federal action 
directly or indirectly alters the designated critical habitat in a way 
that appreciably diminishes the value of the critical habitat as a 
whole for the conservation of the listed species. As discussed above, 
the role of critical habitat is to support physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of a listed species and provide 
for the conservation of the species.
    Section 4(b)(8) of the Act requires us to briefly evaluate and 
describe, in any proposed or final regulation that designates critical 
habitat, activities involving a Federal action that may violate 7(a)(2) 
of the Act by destroying or adversely modifying such designation.
    Activities that the Services may, during consultation under section 
7(a)(2) of the Act, find are likely to destroy or adversely modify 
critical habitat include, but are not limited to:
    (1) Actions that would significantly alter native vegetation 
structure or composition within the upland hardwood forest hammock 
habitat consisting of rockland or closed tropical hardwood hammock 
(south Florida) or mesic, hydric, or intermixed hammock strands 
ecosystems (central Florida) as defined as a physical or biological 
feature in the proposed critical habitat. Such activities could 
include, but are not limited to, land conversion or clearing related to 
residential, commercial, agricultural, or recreational development, 
including associated infrastructure; logging; introduction of nonnative 
plant species; or improper fire management. These activities could 
result in loss, modification, and fragmentation of rockland/mesic 
hammock habitat, thereby eliminating or reducing the habitat necessary 
for the growth and reproduction of the subspecies.
    (2) Actions that would significantly alter microhabitat for Florida 
bristle fern within the rockland or closed tropical hardwood hammock 
(in south Florida) or mesic, hydric, or intermixed hammock strands (in 
central Florida) ecosystems, including significant alterations to the 
substrate within the rockland/mesic-hydric hammocks or to the canopy or 
hydrology within the rockland/mesic-hydric hammocks or surrounding 
upland hardwood forest vegetation as identified as a physical or 
biological feature in the proposed critical habitat. Such activities 
could include, but are not limited to, residential, commercial, 
agricultural, or recreational development, including associated 
infrastructure; land conversion or clearing; logging; introduction of 
nonnative species including invasive plants or feral hogs; ground or 
surface water withdrawals; and ditching. These activities could result 
in changes to temperature, humidity, light, and existing water levels, 
thereby eliminating or reducing the microhabitat necessary for the 
growth and reproduction of the subspecies.
    (3) Actions that would significantly alter the hydrology of the 
upland forested hammock ecosystems as defined as a physical or 
biological feature in the proposed critical habitat, including 
significant alterations to the hydrology of surrounding wetland habitat 
and the underlying water table. Such activities could include, but are 
not limited to, regional drainage efforts; ground or surface water 
withdrawals; and ditching. These activities could result in changes to 
existing water levels and humidity levels within the hammocks, thereby 
eliminating or reducing the habitat necessary for the growth and 
reproduction of the subspecies.

Exemptions

Application of Section 4(a)(3) of the Act

    Section 4(a)(3)(B)(i) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(3)(B)(i)) 
provides that: ``The Secretary shall not designate as critical habitat 
any lands or other geographical areas owned or controlled by the 
Department of Defense, or designated for its use, that are subject to 
an integrated natural resources management plan [INRMP] prepared under 
section 101 of the Sikes Act (16 U.S.C. 670a), if the Secretary 
determines in writing that such plan provides a benefit to the species 
for which critical habitat is proposed for designation.'' There are no 
Department of Defense lands with a completed INRMP within the proposed 
critical habitat designation.

Consideration of Impacts Under Section 4(b)(2) of the Act

    Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states that the Secretary shall 
designate and make revisions to critical habitat on the basis of the 
best available scientific data after taking into consideration the 
economic impact, national security impact, and any other relevant 
impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. The 
Secretary may exclude an area from critical habitat if he determines 
that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of specifying 
such area as part of the critical habitat, unless he determines, based 
on the best scientific data available, that the failure to designate 
such area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the 
species. In making that determination to exclude a particular area, the 
statute on its face, as well as the legislative history, are clear that 
the Secretary has broad discretion regarding which factor(s) to use and 
how much weight to give to any factor.
    As discussed below, we are not proposing to exclude any areas from 
critical habitat. However, the final decision on whether to exclude any 
areas will be based on the best scientific data available at the time 
of the final designation, including information obtained during the 
comment period and information about the economic impact of 
designation.

Consideration of Economic Impacts

    Section 4(b)(2) of the Act and its implementing regulations require 
that we consider the economic impact that may result from a designation 
of critical habitat. To assess the probable economic impacts of a 
designation, we must first evaluate specific land uses or activities 
and projects that may occur in the area of the critical habitat. We 
then must evaluate the impacts that a specific critical habitat 
designation may have on restricting or modifying specific land uses or 
activities for the benefit of the species and its habitat within the 
areas proposed. We then identify which conservation efforts may be the 
result of the species being listed under the Act versus those 
attributed solely to the designation of critical habitat for this 
particular species. The probable economic impact of a proposed critical 
habitat designation is analyzed by comparing scenarios both ``with 
critical habitat'' and ``without critical habitat.'' The ``without 
critical habitat'' scenario represents the baseline for the analysis, 
which includes the existing regulatory and socio-economic burden 
imposed on landowners, managers, or other resource users potentially 
affected by the designation of critical habitat (e.g., under the 
Federal listing as well as other Federal, State, and local 
regulations). The baseline, therefore, represents the costs of all 
efforts attributable to the listing of the species under the Act (i.e., 
conservation of the species and its habitat incurred regardless of 
whether critical habitat is designated). The ``with critical habitat'' 
scenario describes the incremental impacts associated specifically with 
the designation of critical habitat for the species. The incremental 
conservation efforts and associated impacts would not be expected 
without the designation of critical habitat for the species. In other 
words, the incremental costs are

[[Page 10388]]

those attributable solely to the designation of critical habitat, above 
and beyond the baseline costs. These are the costs we use when 
evaluating the benefits of inclusion and exclusion of particular areas 
from the final designation of critical habitat should we choose to 
conduct a discretionary 4(b)(2) exclusion analysis.
    For this proposed designation, we developed an incremental effects 
memorandum (IEM) considering the probable incremental economic impacts 
that may result from this proposed designation of critical habitat. The 
information contained in our IEM was then used to develop a screening 
analysis of the probable effects of the designation of critical habitat 
for Florida bristle fern (IEc 2020, entire). The purpose of the 
screening analysis is to filter out the geographic areas in which the 
critical habitat designation is unlikely to result in probable 
incremental economic impacts. In particular, the screening analysis 
considers baseline costs (i.e., absent critical habitat designation) 
and includes probable economic impacts where land and water use may be 
subject to conservation plans, land management plans, best management 
practices, or regulations that protect the habitat area as a result of 
the Federal listing status of the subspecies. The screening analysis 
filters out particular areas of critical habitat that are already 
subject to such protections and are, therefore, unlikely to incur 
incremental economic impacts. Ultimately, the screening analysis allows 
us to focus our analysis on the specific areas or sectors that may 
incur probable incremental economic impacts as a result of the 
designation. The screening analysis also assesses whether units 
unoccupied by the subspecies may require additional management or 
conservation efforts as a result of the designation and which may incur 
incremental economic impacts. This screening analysis, combined with 
the information contained in our IEM, constitutes our draft economic 
analysis (DEA) of the proposed critical habitat designation for Florida 
bristle fern and is summarized in the narrative below.
    Executive Orders (E.O.s) 12866 and 13563 direct Federal agencies to 
assess the costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives in 
quantitative (to the extent feasible) and qualitative terms. Consistent 
with the E.O. regulatory analysis requirements, our effects analysis 
under the Act may take into consideration impacts to both directly and 
indirectly affected entities, where practicable and reasonable. If 
sufficient data are available, we assess to the extent practicable the 
probable impacts to both directly and indirectly affected entities. As 
part of our screening analysis, we considered the types of economic 
activities that are likely to occur within the areas likely affected by 
the critical habitat designation.
    In our evaluation of the probable incremental economic impacts that 
may result from the proposed designation of critical habitat for 
Florida bristle fern, first we identified, in the IEM dated October 
2019, probable incremental economic impacts associated with the 
following categories of activities: (1) Commercial or residential 
development; (2) roadway and bridge construction; (3) utility-related 
activities; (4) agriculture, including land clearing; (5) grazing; (6) 
groundwater pumping; (7) surface water withdrawals and diversions; (8) 
forest management; (9) fire management; (10) conservation and 
restoration activities, including nonnative species control; and (11) 
recreation. Additionally, we considered whether the activities have any 
Federal involvement. Critical habitat designation generally will not 
affect activities that do not have any Federal involvement; under the 
Act, designation of critical habitat only affects activities conducted, 
funded, permitted, or authorized by Federal agencies. In areas where 
Florida bristle fern is present, Federal agencies already are required 
to consult with the Service under section 7 of the Act on activities 
they fund, permit, or implement that may affect the subspecies. If we 
finalize this proposed critical habitat designation, consultations to 
avoid the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat would 
be incorporated into the existing consultation process.
    In our IEM, we attempted to clarify the distinction between the 
effects that will result from the subspecies being listed and those 
attributable to the critical habitat designation (i.e., the difference 
between the jeopardy and adverse modification standards) for Florida 
bristle fern. The following considerations helped to inform our 
evaluation: (1) The essential physical or biological features 
identified for critical habitat are the same features essential for the 
life requisites of the subspecies, and (2) any actions that would 
result in sufficient harm or harassment to constitute jeopardy to 
Florida bristle fern would also likely adversely affect the essential 
physical or biological features of critical habitat. The IEM outlines 
our rationale concerning this limited distinction between baseline 
conservation efforts and incremental impacts of the designation of 
critical habitat for this subspecies. This evaluation of the 
incremental effects has been used as the basis to evaluate the probable 
incremental economic impacts of this proposed designation.
    The proposed critical habitat designation for Florida bristle fern 
totals approximately 1,624 ha (4,014 ac) in Miami-Dade and Sumter 
Counties, Florida, and includes both occupied and unoccupied units. 
Within the occupied units, any actions that may affect the subspecies 
would also affect proposed critical habitat, and it is unlikely that 
any additional conservation efforts would be recommended to address the 
adverse modification standard over and above those recommended as 
necessary to avoid jeopardizing the continued existence of Florida 
bristle fern. Therefore, the economic impacts of implementing the rule 
through section 7 of the Act will most likely be limited to additional 
administrative effort to consider adverse modification.
    Within the unoccupied units, incremental section 7 costs will 
include both the administrative costs of consultation and the costs of 
developing and implementing conservation measures needed to avoid 
adverse modification of critical habitat. Therefore, this analysis 
focuses on the likely impacts to activities occurring in unoccupied 
units of the proposed critical habitat designation. This analysis 
considers the potential need to consult on development, transportation, 
and other activities authorized, undertaken, or funded by Federal 
agencies within unoccupied habitat. The total incremental section 7 
costs associated with the designation were estimated to be $210,000 in 
2019 dollars (IEC 2020, p. 12). Accordingly, we conclude that these 
costs would not reach the threshold of ``significant'' under E.O. 
12866.
    As we stated earlier, we are soliciting data and comments from the 
public on the DEA, as well as all aspects of the proposed rule and our 
required determinations. See ADDRESSES, above, for information on where 
to send comments. We may revise the proposed rule or supporting 
documents to incorporate or address information we receive during the 
public comment period. In particular, we may exclude an area from 
critical habitat if we determine that the benefits of excluding the 
area outweigh the benefits of including the area, provided the 
exclusion will not result in the extinction of this subspecies.

[[Page 10389]]

Exclusions

Exclusions Based on Economic Impacts

    We are soliciting data and comments from the public on the DEA 
discussed above, as well as all aspects of the proposed rule. During 
the development of a final designation, we will consider the 
information presented in the DEA and any additional information on 
economic impacts received through the public comment period to 
determine whether any specific areas should be excluded from the final 
critical habitat designation under authority of section 4(b)(2) and our 
implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.19.

Exclusions Based on National Security Impacts or Homeland Security 
Impacts

    In preparing this proposal, we have determined that no lands within 
the proposed designation of critical habitat for Florida bristle fern 
are owned or managed by the Department of Defense or Department of 
Homeland Security, and therefore, we anticipate no impact on national 
security. However, during the development of a final designation we 
will consider any additional information received through the public 
comment period on the impacts of the proposed designation on national 
security or homeland security to determine whether any specific areas 
should be excluded from the final critical habitat designation under 
authority of section 4(b)(2) and our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 
424.19.

Exclusions Based on Other Relevant Impacts

    Under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, we consider any other relevant 
impacts, in addition to economic impacts and impacts on national 
security. We consider a number of factors, including whether there are 
permitted conservation plans covering the species in the area such as 
habitat conservation plans (HCPs), safe harbor agreements, or candidate 
conservation agreements with assurances, or whether there are non-
permitted conservation agreements and partnerships that would be 
encouraged by designation of, or exclusion from, critical habitat. In 
addition, we look at the existence of tribal conservation plans and 
partnerships, and consider the government-to-government relationship of 
the United States with tribal entities. We also consider any social 
impacts that might occur because of the designation.
    In preparing this proposal, we have determined that there are 
currently no HCPs or other management plans for Florida bristle fern, 
and the proposed designation does not include any tribal lands or trust 
resources. We anticipate no impact on tribal lands, partnerships, or 
HCPs from this proposed critical habitat designation. During the 
development of a final designation, we will consider any additional 
information received through the public comment period regarding other 
relevant impacts to determine whether any specific areas should be 
excluded from the final critical habitat designation under authority of 
section 4(b)(2) and our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.19. 
Required Determinations

Clarity of the Rule

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

Regulatory Planning and Review (Executive Orders 12866 and 13563)

    Executive Order 12866 provides that the Office of Information and 
Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Office of Management and Budget will 
review all significant rules. OIRA has determined that this rule is not 
significant.
    Executive Order 13563 reaffirms the principles of E.O. 12866 while 
calling for improvements in the nation's regulatory system to promote 
predictability, to reduce uncertainty, and to use the best, most 
innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends. 
The executive order directs agencies to consider regulatory approaches 
that reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for 
the public where these approaches are relevant, feasible, and 
consistent with regulatory objectives. E.O. 13563 emphasizes further 
that regulations must be based on the best available science and that 
the rulemaking process must allow for public participation and an open 
exchange of ideas. We have developed this rule in a manner consistent 
with these requirements.

Executive Order 13771

    This proposed rule is not an E.O. 13771 (``Reducing Regulation and 
Controlling Regulatory Costs'') (82 FR 9339, February 3, 2017) 
regulatory action because this proposed rule is not significant under 
E.O. 12866.

Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.)

    Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA; 5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.), 
as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 
1996 (SBREFA; 5 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), whenever an agency is required to 
publish a notice of rulemaking for any proposed or final rule, it must 
prepare and make available for public comment a regulatory flexibility 
analysis that describes the effects of the rule on small entities 
(i.e., small businesses, small organizations, and small government 
jurisdictions). However, no regulatory flexibility analysis is required 
if the head of the agency certifies the rule will not have a 
significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. 
The SBREFA amended the RFA to require Federal agencies to provide a 
certification statement of the factual basis for certifying that the 
rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial 
number of small entities.
    According to the Small Business Administration, small entities 
include small organizations such as independent nonprofit 
organizations; small governmental jurisdictions, including school 
boards and city and town governments that serve fewer than 50,000 
residents; and small businesses (13 CFR 121.201). Small businesses 
include manufacturing and mining concerns with fewer than 500 
employees, wholesale trade entities with fewer than 100 employees, 
retail and service businesses with less than $5 million in annual 
sales, general and heavy construction businesses with less than $27.5 
million in annual business, special trade contractors doing less than 
$11.5 million in annual business, and agricultural businesses with 
annual sales less than $750,000. To determine if potential economic 
impacts to these small entities are significant, we considered the 
types of activities that might trigger regulatory impacts under this 
designation as well as types of project modifications that may result. 
In general, the term ``significant economic

[[Page 10390]]

impact'' is meant to apply to a typical small business firm's business 
operations.
    The Service's current understanding of the requirements under the 
RFA, as amended, and following recent court decisions, is that Federal 
agencies are only required to evaluate the potential incremental 
impacts of rulemaking on those entities directly regulated by the 
rulemaking itself and, therefore, not required to evaluate the 
potential impacts to indirectly regulated entities. The regulatory 
mechanism through which critical habitat protections are realized is 
section 7 of the Act, which requires Federal agencies, in consultation 
with the Service, to ensure that any action authorized, funded, or 
carried out by the agency is not likely to destroy or adversely modify 
critical habitat. Therefore, under section 7, only Federal action 
agencies are directly subject to the specific regulatory requirement 
(avoiding destruction and adverse modification) imposed by critical 
habitat designation. Consequently, it is our position that only Federal 
action agencies will be directly regulated if we adopt the proposed 
critical habitat designation. There is no requirement under the RFA to 
evaluate the potential impacts to entities not directly regulated. 
Moreover, Federal agencies are not small entities. Therefore, because 
no small entities are directly regulated by this rulemaking, the 
Service certifies that, if made final as proposed, this proposed 
critical habitat designation will not have a significant economic 
impact on a substantial number of small entities.
    In summary, we have considered whether the proposed designation 
would result in a significant economic impact on a substantial number 
of small entities. For the above reasons and based on currently 
available information, we certify that, if made final as proposed, this 
proposed critical habitat designation will not have a significant 
economic impact on a substantial number of small business entities. 
Therefore, an initial regulatory flexibility analysis is not required.

Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use--Executive Order 13211

    Executive Order 13211 (Actions Concerning Regulations That 
Significantly Affect Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use) requires 
agencies to prepare Statements of Energy Effects when undertaking 
certain actions. In our economic analysis, we did not find that the 
designation of this proposed critical habitat would significantly 
affect energy supplies, distribution, or use. Therefore, this action is 
not a significant energy action, and no Statement of Energy Effects is 
required.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.)

    In accordance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 
et seq.), we make the following findings:
    (1) This proposed rule would not produce a Federal mandate. In 
general, a Federal mandate is a provision in legislation, statute, or 
regulation that would impose an enforceable duty upon State, local, or 
tribal governments, or the private sector, and includes both ``Federal 
intergovernmental mandates'' and ``Federal private sector mandates.'' 
These terms are defined in 2 U.S.C. 658(5)-(7). ``Federal 
intergovernmental mandate'' includes a regulation that ``would impose 
an enforceable duty upon State, local, or tribal governments'' with two 
exceptions. It excludes ``a condition of Federal assistance.'' It also 
excludes ``a duty arising from participation in a voluntary Federal 
program,'' unless the regulation ``relates to a then-existing Federal 
program under which $500,000,000 or more is provided annually to State, 
local, and tribal governments under entitlement authority,'' if the 
provision would ``increase the stringency of conditions of assistance'' 
or ``place caps upon, or otherwise decrease, the Federal Government's 
responsibility to provide funding,'' and the State, local, or tribal 
governments ``lack authority'' to adjust accordingly. At the time of 
enactment, these entitlement programs were: Medicaid; Aid to Families 
with Dependent Children work programs; Child Nutrition; Food Stamps; 
Social Services Block Grants; Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants; 
Foster Care, Adoption Assistance, and Independent Living; Family 
Support Welfare Services; and Child Support Enforcement. ``Federal 
private sector mandate'' includes a regulation that ``would impose an 
enforceable duty upon the private sector, except (i) a condition of 
Federal assistance or (ii) a duty arising from participation in a 
voluntary Federal program.''
    The designation of critical habitat does not impose a legally 
binding duty on non-Federal Government entities or private parties. 
Under the Act, the only regulatory effect is that Federal agencies must 
ensure that their actions do not destroy or adversely modify critical 
habitat under section 7. While non-Federal entities that receive 
Federal funding, assistance, or permits, or that otherwise require 
approval or authorization from a Federal agency for an action, may be 
indirectly impacted by the designation of critical habitat, the legally 
binding duty to avoid destruction or adverse modification of critical 
habitat rests squarely on the Federal agency. Furthermore, to the 
extent that non-Federal entities are indirectly impacted because they 
receive Federal assistance or participate in a voluntary Federal aid 
program, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act would not apply, nor would 
critical habitat shift the costs of the large entitlement programs 
listed above onto State governments.
    (2) We do not believe that this rule will significantly or uniquely 
affect small governments because it will not produce a Federal mandate 
of $100 million or greater in any year, that is, it is not a 
``significant regulatory action'' under the Unfunded Mandates Reform 
Act. The economic analysis concludes that incremental impacts may 
primarily occur due to administrative costs of section 7 consultations 
for development and transportation projects, and for other activities 
primarily related to land and facility management, cultural resource, 
research, and conservation activities in Everglades National Park; 
however, these are not expected to significantly affect small 
governments. Incremental impacts stemming from various species 
conservation and development control activities are expected to be 
borne by the Federal Government, State of Florida, and Miami-Dade 
County, which are not considered small governments. Consequently, we do 
not believe that the critical habitat designation would significantly 
or uniquely affect small government entities. As such, a Small 
Government Agency Plan is not required.

Takings--Executive Order 12630

    In accordance with E.O. 12630 (Government Actions and Interference 
with Constitutionally Protected Private Property Rights), we have 
analyzed the potential takings implications of designating critical 
habitat for Florida bristle fern in a takings implications assessment. 
The Act does not authorize the Service to regulate private actions on 
private lands or confiscate private property as a result of critical 
habitat designation. Designation of critical habitat does not affect 
land ownership, or establish any closures, or restrictions on use of or 
access to the designated areas. Furthermore, the designation of 
critical habitat does not affect landowner actions that do not require 
Federal funding or permits, nor does it preclude development of habitat 
conservation programs or issuance of incidental take permits to permit 
actions

[[Page 10391]]

that do require Federal funding or permits to go forward. However, 
Federal agencies are prohibited from carrying out, funding, or 
authorizing actions that would destroy or adversely modify critical 
habitat. A takings implications assessment has been completed and 
concludes that, if adopted, this designation of critical habitat for 
Florida bristle fern does not pose significant takings implications for 
lands within or affected by the designation.

Federalism--Executive Order 13132

    In accordance with E.O. 13132 (Federalism), this proposed rule does 
not have significant Federalism effects. A federalism summary impact 
statement is not required. In keeping with Department of the Interior 
and Department of Commerce policy, we requested information from, and 
coordinated development of this proposed critical habitat designation 
with, appropriate State resource agencies in Florida. From a federalism 
perspective, the designation of critical habitat directly affects only 
the responsibilities of Federal agencies. The Act imposes no other 
duties with respect to critical habitat, either for States and local 
governments, or for anyone else. As a result, the rule does not have 
substantial direct effects either on the States, or on the relationship 
between the national government and the States, or on the distribution 
of powers and responsibilities among the various levels of government. 
The proposed designation may have some benefit to these governments 
because the areas that contain the features essential to the 
conservation of the subspecies are more clearly defined, and the 
physical or biological features of the habitat necessary to the 
conservation of the subspecies are specifically identified. This 
information does not alter where and what federally sponsored 
activities may occur. However, it may assist State and local 
governments in long-range planning because they no longer have to wait 
for case-by-case section 7 consultations to occur. Where State and 
local governments require approval or authorization from a Federal 
agency for actions that may affect critical habitat, consultation under 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act would be required. While non-Federal 
entities that receive Federal funding, assistance, or permits, or that 
otherwise require approval or authorization from a Federal agency for 
an action, may be indirectly impacted by the designation of critical 
habitat, the legally binding duty to avoid destruction or adverse 
modification of critical habitat rests squarely on the Federal agency.

Civil Justice Reform--Executive Order 12988

    In accordance with Executive Order 12988 (Civil Justice Reform), 
the Office of the Solicitor has determined that the rule does not 
unduly burden the judicial system and that it meets the requirements of 
sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of the Order. We have proposed designating 
critical habitat in accordance with the provisions of the Act. To 
assist the public in understanding the habitat needs of the subspecies, 
this proposed rule identifies the elements of physical or biological 
features essential to the conservation of the subspecies. The proposed 
areas of designated critical habitat are presented on maps, and the 
proposed rule provides several options for the interested public to 
obtain more detailed location information, if desired.

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.)

    This rule does not contain information collection requirements, and 
a submission to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under the 
Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.) is not 
required. We may not conduct or sponsor and you are not required to 
respond to a collection of information unless it displays a currently 
valid OMB control number.

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

    It is our position that, outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court 
of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, we do not need to prepare 
environmental analyses pursuant to NEPA in connection with designating 
critical habitat under the Act. We published a notice outlining our 
reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 
1983 (48 FR 49244). This position was upheld by the U.S. Court of 
Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Douglas County v. Babbitt, 48 F.3d 1495 
(9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied 516 U.S. 1042 (1996)).

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), Executive Order 13175 (Consultation and 
Coordination With Indian Tribal Governments), 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. As discussed above (see Exclusions), 
we have determined that no tribal lands would be affected by this 
designation.

Authors

    The primary authors of this proposed rule are the staff members of 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service South Florida Ecological Services 
Field Office.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this proposed rule is 
available on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov and upon 
request from the South Florida Ecological Services Field Office (see 
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

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

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

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

PART 17--ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS

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

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

0
 2. Amend Sec.  17.12(h) by revising the entry for ``Trichomanes 
punctatum ssp. floridanum (Florida bristle fern)'' under ``Ferns and 
Allies'' in the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants to read as 
follows:


Sec.  17.12  Endangered and threatened plants.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

[[Page 10392]]



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                          Listing citations and
         Scientific name                Common name          Where listed      Status       applicable rules
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
         Ferns and Allies
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
Trichomanes punctatum ssp.         Florida bristle fern  Wherever found.....        E   80 FR 60439, 10/6/2015;
 floridanum.                                                                             50 CFR 17.97(b)(1).\CH\
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
3. Add Sec.  17.97 to read as follows:


Sec.  17.97   Critical habitat; conifers, ferns and allies, lichens.

    (a) [Reserved.]
    (b) Ferns and allies. (1) Trichomanes punctatum ssp. floridanum 
(Florida bristle fern).
    (i) Critical habitat units are depicted for Miami-Dade and Sumter 
Counties, Florida, on the maps in this entry.
    (ii) Within these areas, the physical or biological features 
essential to the conservation of Florida bristle fern consist of the 
following components:
    (A) Upland hardwood forest hammock habitats of sufficient quality 
and size to sustain the necessary microclimate and life processes for 
Florida bristle fern.
    (B) Exposed substrate derived from oolitic limestone, Ocala 
limestone, or exposed limestone boulders, which provide anchoring and 
nutritional requirements.
    (C) Constantly humid microhabitat consisting of dense canopy cover, 
moisture, stable high temperature, and stable monthly average humidity 
of 90 percent or higher, with intact hydrology within hammocks and the 
surrounding and adjacent wetland communities.
    (D) Dense canopy cover of surrounding native vegetation that 
consists of the upland hardwood forest hammock habitats and provides 
shade, shelter, and moisture.
    (E) Suitable microhabitat conditions, hydrology, and connectivity 
that can support Florida bristle fern growth, distribution, and 
population expansion (including rhizomal growth, spore dispersal, and 
sporophyte and gametophyte growth and survival).
    (F) Plant community of predominantly native vegetation that is 
minimally disturbed, free from human-related disturbance with either no 
competitive nonnative, invasive plant species, or such species in 
quantities low enough to have minimal effect on Florida bristle fern.
    (iii) Critical habitat does not include manmade structures (such as 
buildings, aqueducts, runways, roads, and other paved areas) and the 
land on which they are located existing within the legal boundaries on 
[EFFECTIVE DATE OF THE FINAL RULE].
    (iv) Critical habitat map units. Data layers defining map units 
were created using ESRI ArcGIS mapping software along with various 
spatial data layers. ArcGIS was used to calculate the size of habitat 
areas. The projection used in mapping and calculating distances and 
locations within the units was North American Albers Equal Area Conic, 
NAD 83 Geographic. The maps in this entry, as modified by any 
accompanying regulatory text, establish the boundaries of the critical 
habitat designation. The coordinates or plot points or both on which 
each map is based are available to the public at http://www.fws.gov/verobeach, http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2019-
0068 and at the South Florida Ecological Services Field Office. You may 
obtain field office location information by contacting one of the 
Service regional offices, the addresses of which are listed at 50 CFR 
2.2.
    (v) Note: Index map follows:
BILLING CODE 4333-15-P

[[Page 10393]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP24FE20.010

    (vi) SF 1--Matheson Hammock, Miami-Dade County, Florida; and SF 2--
Snapper Creek Hammock, Miami-Dade County, Florida.
    (A) SF 1 consists of approximately 16 ha (39 ac) of unoccupied 
critical habitat in Matheson Hammock in Matheson Hammock Park. This 
unit comprises County-owned land that is primarily managed 
cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands 
program and Natural Areas Management division.
    (B) SF 2 consists of approximately 3 ha (8 ac) of unoccupied 
critical habitat in Deering-Snapper Creek Hammock adjacent to R. Hardy 
Matheson Preserve. This unit comprises State-owned land that is 
primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County 
Environmentally Endangered Lands program and Natural Areas Management 
division.
    (C) Map of SF 1 and SF 2 follows:

[[Page 10394]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP24FE20.011

    (vii) SF 3--Castellow and Ross Hammocks, Miami-Dade County, 
Florida; SF 4--Silver Palm Hammock, Miami-Dade County, Florida; SF 5--
Hattie Bauer Hammock, Miami-Dade County, Florida; and SF 6--Fuchs and 
Meisnner Hammocks, Miami-Dade County, Florida.
    (A) SF 3 consists of approximately 38 ha (93 ac) of occupied 
critical habitat in Castellow and Ross Hammocks. This unit consists of 
13 ha (32 ac) of State-owned and 25 ha (61 ac) of County-owned lands 
that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County 
Environmentally Endangered Lands program and Natural Areas Management 
division.
    (B) SF 4 consists of approximately 4 ha (10 ac) of unoccupied 
critical habitat in Silver Palm Hammock. This unit comprises State-
owned land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade 
County Environmentally Endangered Lands program and Natural Areas 
Management division.
    (C) SF 5 consists of approximately 3 ha (8 ac) of occupied critical 
habitat in Hattie Bauer Hammock. This unit consists of County-owned 
land that is primarily managed cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County 
Environmentally Endangered Lands program and Natural Areas Management 
division.
    (D) SF 6 consists of approximately 11 ha (28 ac) of occupied 
critical habitat in Fuchs Hammock on Fuchs Hammock Preserve and 
Meissner Hammock. This unit consists of 2 ha (5 ac) of State-owned and 
9 ha (23 ac) of County-owned lands that is primarily managed 
cooperatively by the Miami-Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands 
program and Natural Areas Management division.
    (E) Map of SF 3, SF 4, SF 5, and SF 6 follows:

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    (viii) SF 7--Royal Palm Hammock, Miami-Dade County, Florida.
    (A) SF 7 consists of approximately 60 ha (148 ac) of unoccupied 
critical habitat in Royal Palm Hammock in Everglades National Park.
    (B) Map of SF 7 follows:

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    (ix) CF 1, Sumter County, Florida; and CF 2, Sumter County, 
Florida.
    (A) CF 1 consists of approximately 742 ha (1,834 ac) of occupied 
critical habitat of State-owned land (726 ha (1,795 ac)) within the 
Jumper Creek Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest and of privately 
owned land (16 ha (39 ac)) directly adjacent to Withlacoochee State 
Forest. The State-owned land is managed by the Florida Forest Service.
    (B) CF 2 consists of approximately 747 ha (1,846 ac) of unoccupied 
critical habitat on State-owned land within the Jumper Creek Tract of 
the Withlacoochee State Forest.
    (C) Map of CF 1 and CF 2 follows:

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    Dated: February 10, 2020.
Aurelia Skipwith,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2020-03441 Filed 2-21-20; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 4333-15-C