Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of Lepanthes eltoroensis From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants, 31972-31986 [2021-12528]

Download as PDF 31972 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations § 17.12 Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes In accordance with the President’s memorandum of April 29, 1994, Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments (59 FR 22951), E.O. 13175, and the Department of the Interior’s manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with Tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge that Tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make information available to Tribes. We are aware of two water howellia occurrences that occur on Tribal lands; we have notified the Tribes that may be affected by this rule and offered government-to-government consultation. A complete list of all references cited in this rule is available on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS–R6–ES–2018–0045, or upon request from the Montana Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Authors The authors of this final rule are staff members of the Montana Ecological Services Field Office and field and regional offices in California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17 Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Transportation. Regulation Promulgation PART 17—ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Exercising the Delegated Authority of the Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [FR Doc. 2021–12522 Filed 6–15–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4333–15–P DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service 50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0073; FF09E22000 FXES1113090FEDR 212] RIN 1018–BB83 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of Lepanthes eltoroensis From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are removing Lepanthes eltoroensis (no common name), an orchid species from Puerto Rico, from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants, due to recovery. This determination is based on a thorough review of the best available scientific and commercial information, which indicates that the threats to the species have been eliminated or reduced to the point that the species no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). Accordingly, the prohibitions and conservation measures provided by the Act will no longer apply to this species. DATES: This rule is effective July 16, 2021. The proposed and final rules, the post-delisting monitoring plan, and the comments received on the proposed rule are available on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0073. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Edwin Mun˜iz, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (see ADDRESSES, above). If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), please call the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877–8339. ADDRESSES: Accordingly, we amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below: 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. 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: References Cited VerDate Sep<11>2014 [Amended] 2. Amend § 17.12(h) by removing the entry for ‘‘Howellia aquatilis’’ under FLOWERING PLANTS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. ■ Jkt 253001 PO 00000 Frm 00068 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 Executive Summary Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, a species may be delisted (i.e., removed from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants (Lists)) if it is determined that the species has recovered and no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened species. Removing a species from the Lists can only be completed by issuing a rule. What this document does. This rule removes Lepanthes eltoroensis from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants, based on its recovery. The basis for our action. We may delist a species if we determine, after a review of the best scientific and commercial data, that: (1) The species is extinct; (2) the species does not meet the definition of an endangered species or a threatened species; or (3) the listed entity does not meet the statutory definition of a species (50 CFR 424.11(e)). Here, we have determined that the species may be delisted because it no longer meets the definition of an endangered species or a threatened species, as it has recovered. Previous Federal Actions On March 10, 2020, we published in the Federal Register (85 FR 13844) a proposed rule to remove Lepanthes eltoroensis (no common name) from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants (List). Please refer to that proposed rule for a detailed description of previous Federal actions concerning this species. The proposed rule and supplemental documents are provided at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019– 0073. Species Status Assessment Report A team of Service biologists, in consultation with other species experts, prepared a species status assessment (SSA) report for Lepanthes eltoroensis. The SSA report represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data available concerning the status of the species, including the impacts of past, present, and future factors (both negative and beneficial) affecting the species. We solicited independent peer review of the SSA report by five individuals with expertise in L. eltoroensis or similar epiphytic (i.e., a plant that grows on another plant for support but not for food) orchid species’ biology or habitat, or climate change. The final SSA, which supports this final rule, was revised, as appropriate, in response to the E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations comments and suggestions received from our peer reviewers. The SSA report and other materials relating to this rule can be found on the Service’s Southeast Region website at http:// www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0073. Summary of Changes From the Proposed Rule In preparing this final rule, we reviewed and fully considered all comments we received during the comment period from the peer reviewers and the public on the proposed rule to delist Lepanthes eltoroensis. Minor, nonsubstantive changes and corrections were made throughout the document in response to comments. However, the information we received during the public comment period on the proposed rule did not change our determination that L. eltoroensis no longer meets the definition of endangered or threatened under the Act. Species Information A thorough review of the taxonomy, life history, and ecology of Lepanthes eltoroensis is presented in the SSA report (Service 2019, entire), which is available at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019– 0073 and summarized in this final rule. jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Species Description Lepanthes eltoroensis is a member of a large genus of more than 800 orchid species. Approximately 118 species in this genus are from the Caribbean, and all but one are single-island endemics (Stimson 1969, p. 332; Barre and Feldmann 1991, p. 11; Tremblay and Ackerman 1993, p. 339; Luer 2014, p. 260). This species is a small, epiphytic orchid about 1.57 inches (in.) (4 centimeters (cm)) tall and is distinguished from other members of the genus by its obovate to oblanceolate leaves, ciliate sepals, and the length of the inflorescence (Vivaldi et al. 1981, p. 26; Luer 2014, p. 260). The inflorescence is a small (0.03 in.; 0.75 millimeters (mm)), peduncled raceme (flower cluster with flowers on separate short stalks) with reddish flowers. No more than two flowers are produced at the same time, and the flowers are open on the inflorescence for about 10 days (Mele´ndez-Ackerman and Tremblay 2017, p. 1). Life History We considere Lepanthes eltoroensis to be a single metapopulation, with the individual trees that host the L. eltoroensis plants as subpopulations, and the host tree aggregates as patches VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 (Service 2019, p. 16). A number of characteristics (see below) indicate that a metapopulation approach may be appropriate to understand orchid population dynamics (see Service 2019, pp. 14–15) and epiphytic species (Snall et al. 2003, p. 567; Snall et al. 2004, p. 758; Snall et al. 2005, pp. 209–210) like L. eltoroensis. Metapopulations are defined as a set of subpopulations with independent local dynamics occupying discrete patches (Hanski 1999, entire; Hanski and Gaggiotti 2004, pp. 3–22) so that simultaneous extinction of all subpopulations is unlikely. Metapopulations of Lepanthes orchids exhibit high variance in reproductive potential, high variance in mean reproductive lifespan (Tremblay 2000, pp. 264–265), and few adults per subpopulation (Tremblay 1997a, p. 95). Less than 20 percent of individuals reproduce, and most subpopulations (60 percent of host trees) have fewer than 15 individuals. In addition, the distribution of individuals (seedling, juvenile, and adults) varies enormously among subpopulations (i.e. host trees) and is skewed towards few individuals per tree (Tremblay and Velazquez-Castro 2009, p. 214). The lifespan of L. eltoroensis can reach 30 to 50 years (Tremblay 1996, pp. 88–89, 114). However, the mean is 5.2 years, with an average percent mortality of 10 percent per year, although this varies greatly among life stages. Survival increases as individual orchids reach later life stages, but fewer plants reach adulthood and have the opportunity to contribute offspring to the next generation (Tremblay 2000, p. 265; Rosa-Fuentes and Tremblay 2007, p. 207). Because the species occurs within a protected National Forest, access to moss, dispersal ability, reproductive success, and lifespan influence survivorship more than other potential human-induced threats (Tremblay 2000, p. 265; Rosa-Fuentes and Tremblay 2007, p. 207). The reproductive success of Lepanthes eltoroensis subpopulations is highly sensitive to temporal variation in environmental conditions (Tremblay and Hutchings 2002, entire). Further, reproductive success of L. eltoroensis, as in most orchids, is pollinator-limited (Tremblay et al. 2005, p. 6). This obligate cross-pollinated species (Tremblay et al. 2006, p. 78) uses a deceptive pollination system (the plants send false signals to the insects, imitating some rewarding conditions), typically characterized by very few reproductive events (∼ less than 20 percent chance; Tremblay et al. 2005, p. 12). Although we do not know the pollinator for L. eltoroensis, elsewhere fungus gnats visit Lepanthes orchids PO 00000 Frm 00069 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 31973 (Blanco and Barboza 2005, p. 765) and pollinate by pseudocopulation (i.e., attempted copulation by a male insect with the orchid flower that resembles the female, carrying pollen to it in the process). Therefore, it is likely fungus gnats are a pollinator for L. eltoroensis. Fungus gnats do not travel far—perhaps tens of meters or even a few hundred meters (Ackerman 2018)—limiting pollen dispersal for L. eltoroensis. Most L. eltoroensis pollination occurs among individuals within a host tree, resulting in high inbreeding and low genetic variability (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, pp. 55–58). The seeds of L. eltoroensis are wind-dispersed and require a mycorrhizal association for germination and survival until plants start photosynthesis (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, p. 55; Tremblay 2008, p. 85). Distribution and Abundance Lepanthes eltoroensis is endemic to EYNF, Puerto Rico. It is restricted to one general area within the Sierra Palm, Palo Colorado, and dwarf forests of the El Toro and Trade Winds trails (Service 2015, p. 5) at elevations above 2,461 feet (750 meters) (Service 1996, p. 2). At the time of listing, the species consisted of an estimated 140 individual plants. Since then, surveys have located additional individuals and subpopulations (groups of L. eltoroensis on the same host tree), resulting in a much greater estimate of individuals than at the time of listing. Surveys for L. eltoroensis have been infrequent, sparse, and done with varying spatial spread and methodology, making the results difficult to compare over time (Service 2019, pp. 34–52). However, partial surveys conducted periodically from 2000 to 2018 have found greater numbers of L. eltoroensis (Service 2019, pp. 49–50). In addition, surveys conducted between 2000 and 2005 indicated the subpopulations surveyed along El Toro Trail and Trade Winds Trail were relatively stable over the 5year period (Service 2019, p. 39). The best available metapopulation estimate is 3,000 individual plants (Tremblay 2008, p. 90; Service 2015, p. 5). Overall, data do not indicate a general pattern of decline, but rather natural fluctuations (Service 2019, p. 52). The 3,000 plant population estimate was made prior to category 5 Hurricane Maria making landfall in 2017. A posthurricane partial survey along the El Toro Trail was completed in 2018, and found 641 total plants, including over 300 that had not been previously identified (Mele´ndez-Ackerman 2018, pers. comm.). We note that this was only a partial survey; there has never E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 31974 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations been a complete census of the entire metapopulation because most of the areas off the two main trails (El Toro and Trade Winds) are dangerous and inaccessible. The forest types Lepanthes eltoroensis is most affiliated with—Palo Colorado, Sierra Palm, and Dwarf Forest—cover over 13,000 acres (5,261 hectares) within the EYNF (Service 2019, p. 8). Given the amount of unreachable habitat that has not been surveyed, all estimates are likely to underestimate the true abundance of the species (Service 2019, p. 50). Surveys of habitat outside traditionally surveyed sites (on or just off trails) could result in discovery of additional plants (Tremblay 2008, p. 90; Service 2019, pp. 18, 50, 73). In addition, since the time of listing, the species has faced multiple strong hurricanes (Hugo, Georges, Hortense, Irma, and Maria), while the species’ abundance has remained stable (with all age classes represented and in good health); thus, we conclude the species has the ability to recover from stochastic disturbances (Service 2019, pp. 51–52). Therefore, although the species and its habitat were harmed by the recent hurricanes (namely Maria), the previous estimate of 3,000 individual plants is still our best estimate. jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Habitat Lepanthes eltoroensis occurs on mosscovered trunks (i.e., host trees) within upper elevation cloud forests in the Sierra Palm, Palo Colorado, and Dwarf Forest associations of EYNF (Luer 2014, p. 260; Ewel and Whitmore 1973, pp. 41–49), where humidity ranges from 90 to 100 percent, and cloud cover is continuous, particularly during the evening hours (55 FR 41248; October 10, 1990). Important habitat components seem to be elevation, adequate temperature and moisture regimes, open/semi-open gaps in the canopy, and presence of moss. Recovery and Recovery Plan Implementation Section 4(f) of the Act directs us to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation and survival of endangered and threatened species, unless we determine that such a plan will not promote the conservation of the species. Recovery plans are not regulatory documents. Rather, they are intended to establish goals for long-term conservation of a listed species and define criteria that are designed to indicate when the threats facing a species have been removed or reduced to such an extent that the species may no longer need the protections of the Act. Recovery plans also provide VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 guidance to our Federal, State, and other governmental and nongovernmental partners on methods to minimize threats to listed species. There are many paths to accomplishing recovery of a species, and recovery may be achieved without all criteria being fully met. For example, one or more criteria may have been exceeded while other criteria may not have been accomplished or become obsolete, yet we may judge that, overall, the threats have been minimized sufficiently, and the species is robust enough, to reclassify the species from endangered to threatened or perhaps delist the species. In other cases, recovery opportunities may be recognized that were not known at the time the recovery plan was finalized. These opportunities may be used instead of methods identified in the recovery plan. Likewise, information on the species that was not known at the time the recovery plan was finalized may become available. The new information may change the extent that criteria need to be met for recognizing recovery of the species. Recovery of species is a dynamic process requiring adaptive management that may or may not fully follow the guidance provided in a recovery plan. The following discussion provides a brief review of recovery planning and implementation for Lepanthes eltoroensis as well as an analysis of the recovery criteria and goals as they relate to evaluating the status of this orchid. Lepanthes eltoroensis was listed as an endangered species in 1991, due to its rarity (Factor E), its restricted distribution (Factor E), forest management practices (Factor A), impacts from hurricane damage (Factor E), and collection (Factor B) (56 FR 60933, November 29, 1991, p. 56 FR 60935). The most important factor affecting L. eltoroensis at that time was its limited distribution. Additionally, we concluded at the time that the species’ rarity made it vulnerable to impacts from hurricanes, such as unfavorable microclimatic conditions resulting from numerous canopy gaps. Because so few individuals were known to occur, the risk of extinction was considered to be extremely high (56 FR 60933, November 29, 1991, p. 56 FR 60935). The Lepanthes eltoroensis recovery plan was approved on July 15, 1996. The objective of the recovery plan is to provide direction for reversing the decline of this orchid and for restoring the species to a self-sustaining status, thereby permitting eventual removal from the Federal List of Endangered and PO 00000 Frm 00070 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 Threatened Plants (Service 1996, p. 8). However, the recovery plan provides only criteria for reclassifying the species from endangered to threatened (‘‘downlisting’’). The specific criteria are: (1) Prepare and implement an agreement between the Service and the USFS concerning the protection of L. eltoroensis within EYNF, and (2) establish new populations capable of self-perpetuation within protected areas (Service 1996, p. 8). The plan also includes the following recovery actions intended to address threats to the species: (1) Prevent further habitat loss and population decline; (2) Continue to gather information on the species’ distribution and abundance; (3) Conduct research; (4) Establish new populations; and (5) Refine recovery criteria. The following discussion provides specific details for each of these actions and the extent to which the recovery criteria have been met. Recovery Action 1: Prevent Further Habitat Loss and Population Decline This action has been completed. In the past, the species’ primary threat was identified as destruction and modification of habitat associated with forest management practices (e.g., establishment and maintenance of plantations, selective cutting, trail maintenance, and shelter construction; 56 FR 60933, November 29, 1991). As described below under ‘‘Forest Management Practices,’’ the best available data indicate that forest management practices are no longer negatively affecting Lepanthes eltoroensis. The area where the species is found is within a protected area (EYNF), part of which is the El Toro Wilderness designated in 2005, where the land is managed to preserve its natural conditions and species like L. eltoroensis (USFS 2016, p. 32). We expect this wilderness area will remain permanently protected as a nature reserve and be managed for conservation. Additionally, because this area is within a National Forest, the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq.) requires the USFS to develop management plans, and EYNF has. As noted below, the EYNF plan specifically includes a set of standards and guidelines to protect the natural resources within the El Toro Wilderness. Moreover, Federal agencies are mandated to carry out programs for the conservation of endangered species under section 7 of the Act to ensure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by a Federal agency is not E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a federally listed species. The USFS consults with the Service as necessary to avoid and minimize impacts to listed species and their habitat at EYNF. L. eltoroensis shares habitat with other federally listed species (e.g., the endangered plants Ilex sintenisii (no common name) and Ternstroemia luquillensis (palo colorado), and the threatened elfinwoods warbler (Setophaga angelae)), so L. eltoroensis will benefit from efforts to conserve their habitat. jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Recovery Action 2: Continue To Gather Information on the Species’ Distribution and Abundance This action has been completed. Since the species was listed in 1991, several surveys for Lepanthes eltoroensis have been conducted. Although these surveys have been done with varying spatial spread and methodology, making the results difficult to compare over time, even partial surveys have found greater numbers of L. eltoroensis. Surveys have indicated stable growth rates. While the best available estimate of the metapopulation is 3,000 individuals (Tremblay 2008, p. 90), surveys likely underestimate the species’ true abundance, as suitable habitat off the two main trails is dangerous and mostly inaccessible, preventing additional surveys. Surveys of habitat outside traditional population sites may result in additional individuals. Recovery Action 3: Conduct Research Much research has been completed; however, we continue to conduct research on the species. Information has been collected throughout the years on the distribution and dispersion patterns of Lepanthes eltoroensis (Tremblay 1997a, pp. 85–96), variance in floral morphology (Tremblay 1997b, pp. 38– 45), and genetic differentiation (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, pp. 47– 62). In 2016, the Service and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PRDNER) provided funding to researchers at the University to evaluate the current population status of L. eltoroensis and model its demographic variation in response to climatic variability (i.e., temperature and relative humidity). This research suggests that L. eltoroensis population growth rates are highly dynamic depending on drought conditions (Mele´ndez-Ackerman et al. 2018, entire). Partners continue analyzing the extent by which these changes may be related to changes in climatic variation in detail by analyzing data from meteorological stations in the region, and they recommend periodic VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 monitoring of L. eltoroensis’s population status (Mele´ndez-Ackerman et al. 2018, p. 10). The Service will address this recommendation as part of the postdelisting monitoring plan (PDM) and will include criteria to determine whether population trends allow for completion of monitoring, or if additional monitoring or a status review is needed. Moreover, the University, in collaboration with the USFS and the Service, developed a habitat model showing that further suitable habitat extends outside traditionally surveyed areas, including areas of Pico El Yunque and Pico del Este (Sparklin 2020, unpublished data). This model is still pending validation in the field. Despite species experts recording direct impacts to L. eltoroensis due to Hurricane Maria and high mortality of seedlings following the disturbance, they also recorded at least 16 previously unknown host trees with live plants (new populations), showing the species may be more widespread within its habitat (Herna´ndez-Mun˜iz et al., accepted for publication, entire). Recovery Action 4: Establish New Populations This action has not been met but is no longer necessary. At the time of listing, only 140 plants were thought to exist; we now estimate a population size of 3,000 individuals (Tremblay 2008, p. 90). The 2015 5-year status review of Lepanthes eltoroensis states that the action to establish new populations is not necessary at this time for the recovery of the species because additional subpopulations and individuals have been found since the species was listed (Service 2015, p. 5). Additionally, relocation of plants from fallen trees onto standing trees following hurricane events was found to be an effective management strategy to improve and maximize survival and reproductive success (Benı´tez and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67–69). Recent work and habitat modeling also show that further suitable habitat extends outside traditionally surveyed areas, including areas of Pico El Yunque and Pico del Este. Recovery Action 5: Refine Recovery Criteria This action has not been met but will no longer be necessary. The recovery plan states that as additional information on Lepanthes eltoroensis is gathered, it will be necessary to better define, and possibly modify, recovery criteria. Based on the information compiled in the SSA report (Service 2019, entire), this orchid is projected to remain viable over time such that it no PO 00000 Frm 00071 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 31975 longer meets the Act’s definition of an endangered or threatened species (see Determination of Status of Lepanthes eltoroensis, below). Recovery Criterion 1: Prepare and Implement an Agreement Between the Service and the USFS Concerning the Protection of Lepanthes Eltoroensis Within EYNF This criterion has been met. Existing populations and the species’ habitat are protected by the USFS. This orchid species occurs within the El Toro Wilderness Area where habitat destruction or modification is no longer considered a threat to the species or its habitat. Thus, although there is not a specific agreement between the Service and the USFS concerning the protection of Lepanthes eltoroensis, the intent of this criterion—to provide long-term protection for the species—has been met. The implementation of management practices in the forest has improved, no selective cutting is conducted, and the USFS coordinates with the Service to avoid impacts to listed species as part of their management practices. Furthermore, Commonwealth laws and regulations protect the species’ habitat, as well as protect the species from collection and removal. There is no evidence that L. eltoroensis or its habitat is being negatively impacted by forest management. Due to the high level of protection provided by the wilderness designation and other protections, we have determined that an agreement between the Service and the USFS is no longer necessary for protecting this species. Incidentally, because this species overlaps with other listed species, the USFS will continue to consult on projects that may affect this area. Recovery Criterion 2: Establish New Populations Capable of SelfPerpetuation Within Protected Areas As stated above under Recovery Action 4, we have found that the action to establish new populations is no longer necessary because additional subpopulations and individuals have been found since the species was listed (Service 2015, p. 5). Further, suitable habitat extends outside traditionally surveyed areas, including areas of Pico El Yunque and Pico del Este. Additionally, relocation of plants is an effective management strategy to improve and maximize survival and reproductive success, as has been demonstrated after hurricane events (Benı´tez and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67–69). E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 31976 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations Summary The recovery plan for Lepanthes eltoroensis provided direction for reversing the decline of this species, thereby informing when the species may be delisted. The recovery plan outlined two criteria for reclassifying the species from endangered to threatened: (1) Prepare and implement an agreement between the Service and the USFS concerning the protection of L. eltoroensis within EYNF, and (2) establish new populations capable of self-perpetuation within protected areas. These criteria have either been met or are no longer considered necessary. This species is protected by Commonwealth law and regulations and will continue to be should the species no longer require Federal protection, and the species occurs within a protected wilderness area that will remain protected and managed using techniques that are beneficial for this species and cooccurring federally listed species. There is no evidence that L. eltoroensis or its habitat is being negatively impacted by forest management activities or will be in the future. Additionally, the designation of wilderness where the species occurs has eliminated the need for an agreement between the Service and the USFS to protect this species. Since the species was listed under the Act and the recovery plan was written, additional plants have been found, additional plants likely exist in areas that are unsuitable for surveying, and the best available information indicates that additional habitat likely exists. Therefore, establishment of new populations is not necessary for recovery of L. eltoroensis at this time. Additionally, the five recovery actions intended to address threats to the species have all been either met or determined no longer to be necessary for recovery. Regulatory and Analytical Framework jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Regulatory Framework Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining whether a species is an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species.’’ The Act defines an ‘‘endangered species’’ as a species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and a ‘‘threatened species’’ as a species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Act requires that we determine whether any species is an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 species’’ because of any of the following factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) Disease or predation; (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. These factors represent broad categories of natural or human-caused actions or conditions that could have an effect on a species’ continued existence. In evaluating these actions and conditions, we look for those that may have a negative effect on individuals of the species, as well as other actions or conditions that may ameliorate any negative effects or may have positive effects. We consider these same five factors in reclassifying a species from endangered to threatened and in delisting a species (50 CFR 424.11(c)– (e)). We use the term ‘‘threat’’ to refer in general to actions or conditions that are known to or are reasonably likely to negatively affect individuals of a species. The term ‘‘threat’’ includes actions or conditions that have a direct impact on individuals (direct impacts), as well as those that affect individuals through alteration of their habitat or required resources (stressors). The term ‘‘threat’’ may encompass—either together or separately—the source of the action or condition or the action or condition itself. However, the mere identification of any threat(s) does not necessarily mean that the species meets the statutory definition of an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species.’’ In determining whether a species meets either definition, we must evaluate all identified threats by considering the species’ expected response, and the effects of the threats—in light of those actions and conditions that will ameliorate the threats—on an individual, population, and species level. We evaluate each threat and its expected effects on the species, then analyze the cumulative effect of all of the threats on the species as a whole. We also consider the cumulative effect of the threats in light of those actions and conditions that will have positive effects on the species—such as any existing regulatory mechanisms or conservation efforts. The Secretary determines whether the species meets the definition of an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species’’ only after conducting this cumulative PO 00000 Frm 00072 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 analysis and describing the expected effect on the species now and in the foreseeable future. The Act does not define the term ‘‘foreseeable future,’’ which appears in the statutory definition of ‘‘threatened species.’’ Our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.11(d) set forth a framework for evaluating the foreseeable future on a case-by-case basis. The term foreseeable future extends only so far into the future as the Services can reasonably determine that both the future threats and the species’ responses to those threats are likely. In other words, the foreseeable future is the period of time in which we can make reliable predictions. ‘‘Reliable’’ does not mean ‘‘certain’’; it means sufficient to provide a reasonable degree of confidence in the prediction. Thus, a prediction is reliable if it is reasonable to depend on it when making decisions. It is not always possible or necessary to define foreseeable future as a particular number of years. Analysis of the foreseeable future uses the best scientific and commercial data available and should consider the timeframes applicable to the relevant threats and to the species’ likely responses to those threats in view of its life-history characteristics. Data that are typically relevant to assessing the species’ biological response include speciesspecific factors such as lifespan, reproductive rates or productivity, certain behaviors, and other demographic factors. Given the average lifespan of the species (approximately 5 years), a period of 20 to 30 years allows for multiple generations and detection of any population changes. Additionally, the species has been listed for close to 30 years, so we have a baseline to understand how populations have performed in that period, which is a similar length of time as between now and mid-century. Therefore, the ‘‘foreseeable future’’ used in this determination is 20 to 30 years, which is the length of time into the future that the Service can reasonably determine that both the future threats and the species’ responses to those threats are likely. Analytical Framework The SSA report documents the results of our comprehensive biological review of the best scientific and commercial data regarding the status of the species, including an assessment of the potential threats to the species. The SSA report does not represent our decision on whether the species should be reclassified as a threatened species or delisted under the Act. It does, however, E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations provide the scientific basis that informs our regulatory decisions, which involve the further application of standards within the Act and its implementing regulations and policies. The following is a summary of the key results and conclusions from the SSA report; the full SSA report can be found at http:// www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0073. To assess Lepanthes eltoroensis viability, we used the three conservation biology principles of resiliency, redundancy, and representation (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 306–310). Briefly, resiliency supports the ability of the species to withstand environmental and demographic stochasticity (for example, wet or dry, warm or cold years); redundancy supports the ability of the species to withstand catastrophic events (for example, droughts, large pollution events), and representation supports the ability of the species to adapt over time to long-term changes in the environment (for example, climate changes). In general, the more resilient and redundant a species is and the more representation it has, the more likely it is to sustain populations over time, even under changing environmental conditions. Using these principles, we identified the species’ ecological requirements for survival and reproduction at the individual, population, and species levels, and described the beneficial and risk factors influencing the species’ viability. The SSA process can be categorized into three sequential stages. During the first stage, we evaluated individual species’ life-history needs. The next stage involved an assessment of the historical and current condition of the species’ demographics and habitat characteristics, including an explanation of how the species arrived at its current condition. The final stage of the SSA involved making predictions about the species’ responses to positive and negative environmental and anthropogenic influences. Throughout all of these stages, we used the best available information to characterize viability as the ability of a species to sustain populations in the wild over time. We use this information to inform our regulatory decision. Lepanthes eltoroensis was listed as an endangered species in 1991, due to its rarity (Factor E), its restricted distribution (Factor E), forest management practices (Factor A), impacts from hurricane damage (Factor E), and collection (Factor B) (56 FR 60933, November 29, 1991, p. 56 FR 60935). The most important factor affecting L. eltoroensis at that time was its limited distribution. Additionally, its rarity made the species vulnerable to VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 impacts from hurricanes, such as unfavorable microclimatic conditions resulting from numerous canopy gaps. Because so few individuals were known to occur, the risk of extinction was considered to be extremely high (56 FR 60933, November 29, 1991, p. 56 FR 60935). Summary of Biological Status and Threats In this section, we review the biological condition of the species and its resources, and the threats that influence the species’ current and future condition, in order to assess the species’ overall viability and the risks to that viability. Forest Management Practices At the time of listing (1991), management practices such as establishment and maintenance of plantations, selective cutting, trail maintenance, and shelter construction were considered threats to Lepanthes eltoroensis (56 FR 60933, November 29, 1991, p. 56 FR 60935). The recovery plan further indicated that destruction and modification of habitat might be the most significant factors affecting the number of individuals and distribution of the species (Service 1996, p. 5). Since the species was listed, several laws have been enacted that provide protections to this species. In 1999, Commonwealth Law No. 241 (New Wildlife Law of Puerto Rico or Nueva Ley de Vida Silvestre de Puerto Rico) was enacted to protect, conserve, and enhance native and migratory wildlife species (including plants). This law requires authorization from the PRDNER Secretary for any action that may affect the habitat of any species. Furthermore, part of EYNF (including the habitat where Lepanthes eltoroensis is currently known to occur) was congressionally designated as the El Toro Wilderness in 2005, to preserve its natural conditions, including species like L. eltoroensis, inhabiting the area (Caribbean National Forest Act of 2005 (Pub. L. 109–118); the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq.); U.S. Forest Service (USFS) 2016, p. 32). The El Toro Wilderness consists of undeveloped USFS lands and is managed to preserve its natural conditions without any permanent improvements or human habitation (USFS 2016, p. 32). All known populations of L. eltoroensis occur within this wilderness area. Scientists who have conducted research on Lepanthes eltoroensis do not consider destruction, curtailment, or modification of this species’ habitat to be a factor threatening this species (Ackerman 2007, pers. comm.). In 2019, PO 00000 Frm 00073 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 31977 the USFS finalized a revised land and resources management plan to guide the general direction of EYNF for the next 15 years. This plan specifically includes a set of standards and guidelines to protect the natural resources within the El Toro Wilderness, including listed species. Standards specific to the El Toro Wilderness include no salvaging of timber, no issuing permits for collection of plants or plant material unless for a scientific purpose, no new special-use permits for facilities or occupancy, managing recreation to minimize the number of people on the trails, and no construction of new trails (USFS 2019, pp. 1, 32–35). Standards and guidelines for at-risk (including listed) species detailed in the plan include not allowing collection of orchids unless approved for scientific purposes and making sure forest management activities are consistent with recovery plans (USFS 2019, p. 62). Implementation of management practices in EYNF has also improved; there is no selective cutting, and maintenance is minimal, as both El Toro and Trade Winds trails receive few visitors. Mostly researchers and forest personnel use El Toro and Trade Winds trails; therefore, few human encounters are expected (USFS 2016, p. 32). Additionally, the USFS coordinates with the Service to avoid or minimize impacts to a number of federally listed species (e.g., the endangered plants Ilex sintenisii and palo colorado, and the threatened elfin-woods warbler) that cooccur with L. eltoroensis as part of their management practices in accordance with section 7 of the Act. There is no evidence suggesting current forest management practices are negatively affecting the species or its specialized habitat (adequate temperature and moisture regimes, and presence of moss) (Service 2019, p. 24). Furthermore, based on existing laws, we expect EYNF will remain permanently protected as a nature reserve and be managed for conservation. Therefore, we no longer consider forest management practices or destruction and modification of habitat to be threats to the species. Hurricanes The restricted distribution of Lepanthes eltoroensis makes it particularly vulnerable to large-scale disturbances, such as hurricanes and tropical storms, that frequently affect islands of the Caribbean (NOAA 2018, unpaginated). Hurricanes are more frequent in the northeastern quadrant of Puerto Rico, where EYNF is located (White et al. 2014, p. 30). Current global climate models are rather poor at E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 31978 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations simulating tropical cyclones; however, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s climate simulations project that the Caribbean will experience a decrease in tropical cyclone frequency, but the most intense events will become more frequent (PRCC 2013, p. 10; Service 2019, p. 56). Cloud forests, where this species occurs, are much taller than other vegetation and are higher in elevation, making them more exposed and more easily affected by high winds, and they take more time to recover postdisturbance (Hu and Smith 2018, p. 827). Heavy rains and winds associated with tropical storms and hurricanes cause tree defoliation, habitat modification due to trees falling, and landslides (Lugo 2008, p. 368). Surveys in 2018 conducted along El Toro Trail following Hurricane Maria focused on assessing the impacts to the species and its host trees (subpopulations). Nineteen host trees were not found and assumed to be lost due to the hurricane. An additional nine host trees were found knocked down. In total, 641 plants, including seedlings, juveniles, and reproductive and non-reproductive adults, were found; 322 were found on previously marked host trees (including 191 individuals on those host trees that were knocked to the ground), and 319 were new individuals not previously surveyed (Melendez-Ackerman 2018, pers. comm.). Given that Lepanthes eltoroensis does not persist on felled or dead trees (Benı´tez and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67–69), we assume many of these 191 individuals (approximately 30 percent of individuals found) will not survive, resulting in the loss of those individuals from the metapopulation. However, individual plants moved to new host trees do quite well, highlighting the feasibility of relocation to increase the species’ long-term viability in the context of severe hurricanes such as Hurricane Maria. University researchers translocated some of these 191 individuals, but because the translocations occurred months after the hurricane, we do not expect survival to be as high as if it had occurred immediately after the hurricane. Furthermore, this species has persisted from past hurricane events without active management of translocating species from felled host trees. In addition, associated microclimate changes resulting from downed trees and landslides after severe storms (e.g., increased light exposure, reduction in relative humidity) may negatively affect the growth rate of Lepanthes eltoroensis populations (Tremblay 2008, pp. 89– 90). Following Hurricane Georges in VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 1998, non-transplanted populations of L. eltoroensis had negative growth rates, while groups of plants that were transplanted to better habitats within the forest had positive growth rates (Benitez-Joubert and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67–69). Furthermore, based on data on related species, L. eltoroensis growth rates may be negatively affected by excess light from gaps caused by felled trees during hurricanes (Fernandez et al. 2003, p. 76). The inherently low redundancy (the ability of a species to withstand catastrophic events) of Lepanthes eltoroensis due to its limited range makes hurricanes and tropical storms a primary risk factor. However, given the observed stable trend from past surveys and recent partial surveys in 2018 (Service 2019, pp. 39, 45–48), it appears that the species has the ability to recover from disturbances like hurricanes Hugo, Georges, Hortense, Irma, and Maria (Service 2019, pp. 51– 52). Additionally, relocation has proven to be a viable conservation strategy for this species (Benı´tez and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67–69). Relocating plants from fallen trees to standing trees following hurricane events results in higher survival of those transplanted individuals. This management strategy can improve and maximize species’ survival and reproductive success after hurricane events (Benı´tez and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67–69; Tremblay 2008, pp. 83–90). Following this recommendation after Hurricane Maria, researchers from the University translocated some L. eltoroensis individuals along the El Toro Trail. These individuals are currently being monitored to assess survival. In addition, since L. eltoroensis is part of the USFS’ ‘‘Plant Species of Conservation Interest of El Yunque’’ (USFS 2018, p. 37) and is included in the 2016 revised land and resource management plan that details a management concept focused on conservation, particularly to protect unique ecological resources (USFS 2016, p. 1), the USFS will continue to implement conservation actions, such as habitat protection, enhancement, and relocation of L. eltoroensis individuals following hurricanes, as deemed necessary. Collection Collection for commercial or recreational purposes eliminated one population of Lepanthes eltoroensis prior to listing under the Act (56 FR 60933; November 29, 1991). The rarity of the species made the loss of even a few individuals a critical loss to the species as a whole. PO 00000 Frm 00074 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 The USFS regulations in title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations at part 261, section 261.9 (36 CFR 261.9) prohibit damaging or removing any plant that is classified as a threatened, endangered, sensitive, rare, or unique species in wilderness areas. Additionally, since the species was listed under the Act in 1991, other laws have been enacted that provide protections to the species from collection or removal. Commonwealth Law No. 241 (New Wildlife Law of Puerto Rico or Nueva Ley de Vida Silvestre de Puerto Rico), enacted in 1999, protects, conserves, and enhances native and migratory wildlife species. Specifically, Article 5 of this law prohibits collection and hunting of wildlife species, including plants within the jurisdiction of Puerto Rico, without a permit from the PRDNER Secretary. In 2004, Lepanthes eltoroensis was included in the list of protected species of Regulation 6766 (Reglamento 6766 para Regir el Manejo de las Especies Vulnerables y en Peligro de Extincio´n en el Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico), which governs the management of endangered and threatened species within the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Article 2.06 of this regulation prohibits collecting, cutting, and removing, among other activities, listed plant individuals within the jurisdiction of Puerto Rico. Lepanthes eltoroensis will likely remain protected under Commonwealth laws and regulations after Federal delisting. Commonwealth Regulation 6766 provides protection to species that are not federally listed or that have been removed from the Federal Lists, and the species will remain protected under the wilderness provisions from the 2016 revised land and resource management plan for EYNF (USFS 2016, entire). According to this plan, any influences by humans on the natural process that take place in the wilderness area will be to protect endangered and threatened species in addition to human life (USFS 2016, p. 33). As such, the standards of the plan include conducting wildlife and plant habitat/population surveys and monitoring in a manner compatible with the goals and objectives of wilderness (USFS 2016, p. 34). Additional protection measures include not issuing forest product permits for collection of plants or plant material in wilderness areas (unless for scientific and educational purposes and approved by the forest biologist/ecologist), and management strategies to design, construct, and maintain trails to the appropriate trail standard in order to meet wilderness standards protections (USFS 2016, p. 34). E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Despite the one documented instance of collection, the threat of collection is low, given that few people venture into the El Toro Wilderness (Tremblay 2007, pers. comm.) and that the small size (less than 2 in. (4 cm) tall) and inconspicuousness of this species makes it easy to overlook (Ackerman 2007, pers. comm.; Tremblay 2007, pers. comm.). Additionally, this species is not used for commercial or recreational purposes and is not considered to have ornamental value (Service 2015, p. 8). Despite photos of the species on the internet, there is no direct evidence that the species is in private collections or that it has been advertised for sale. In addition, since early 2017, researchers from the University monitored population trends on all known host trees on a monthly basis, and recorded no evidence of poaching (e.g., unusual missing plants or scars on the trees). Thus, there is no evidence that collection is currently impacting Lepanthes eltoroensis (Service 2019, p. 24) or is likely to do so in the future. Small Population Size and Low Reproduction The smaller the population, the greater the probability that fluctuations in population size from stochastic variation (e.g., reproduction and mortality) will lead to extirpation. There are also genetic concerns with small populations, including reduced availability of compatible mates, genetic drift, and inbreeding depression. Small subpopulations of Lepanthes eltoroensis are particularly vulnerable to stochastic events, thus contributing to lower species viability (Service 2019, p. 24). Lepanthes eltoroensis may experience declining growth related to the uneven distribution of individuals among host trees and demographic processes (e.g., reproductive success, survival), which can be negatively influenced by environmental and catastrophic risks (Service 2019, p. 25). Fruit production is limited; therefore, opportunities for establishment are limited. Less than 20 percent of individuals reproduce, and most subpopulations (60 percent of host trees) have fewer than 15 individuals. In addition, the distribution of individuals (seedling, juvenile, and adults) varies enormously among trees and is skewed towards few individuals per tree (Tremblay and Velazquez-Castro 2009, p. 214). Despite small subpopulations of L. eltoroensis with limited distribution and naturally limited fruit production, this species has continued to recover even after regular exposure to disturbances. We now estimate the species population to be 3,000 individuals, which is a significant VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 increase from the 140 individuals known at the time of listing (Tremblay 2008, p. 90). This is because surveys have located additional individuals and subpopulations (groups of L. eltoroensis on the same host tree), resulting in a much greater estimate of individuals than at the time of listing. Therefore, the species’ vulnerability to extinction due to catastrophic events is reduced. Genetic Risks The main genetic risk factor for the species is low genetic variability. The effective population size (number of individuals in a population that contribute offspring to the next generation) ranges from 3 to 9 percent of the standing population (number of individuals in a population) (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, entire). In other words, for every 100 adults, maybe 9 will transfer genes to the next generation. In addition, although Lepanthes eltoroensis can survive for up to 50 years, most seedlings and juveniles die (Tremblay 2000, p. 264). Therefore, very few individuals are responsible for the majority of seed production, decreasing the genetic diversity as a whole in subpopulations (Mele´ndez-Ackerman and Tremblay 2017, pp. 5–6). Low genetic diversity may be reflected in reduced genetic and environmental plasticity, and, thus, low ability to adapt to environmental changes. However, L. eltoroensis has demonstrated the ability to withstand environmental change; therefore, low genetic diversity does not appear to be affecting the species’ viability. There is evidence of low gene flow in the species. Estimated gene flow in Lepanthes eltoroensis is less than two effective migrants per generation (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, p. 54). This result implies that most mating is among individuals within a host tree, potentially resulting in high inbreeding, low genetic variability, and inbreeding depression (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, pp. 55–58). If there are high rates of inbreeding, this could lead to inbreeding depression, and could have profound long-term negative impacts to the viability of the species (Service 2019, pp. 28–29). However, the species is likely an obligate cross-pollinated species (Tremblay et al. 2006, p. 78), which is a mechanism to reduce inbreeding. Although the effects of potential inbreeding in the future is possible, the species has demonstrated the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions (i.e., natural disturbances) over time (Service 2019, p. 54). Thus, both low genetic diversity and low gene flow do not appear to be affecting species’ viability currently, nor PO 00000 Frm 00075 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 31979 do we believe it will in the foreseeable future. Effects of Climate Change The average temperatures at EYNF have increased over the past 30 years (Jennings et al. 2014, p. 4; Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 277). Climate projections indicate a 4.6 to 9 degrees Celsius (°C) (8.2 to 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit (°F)) temperature increase for Puerto Rico from 1960–2099 (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 275). Additionally, projections indicate a decrease in precipitation and acceleration of the hydrological cycles resulting in wet and dry extremes (Jennings et al. 2014, p. 4; Cashman et al. 2010, pp. 52–54). In one downscaled model, precipitation is projected to decrease faster in wetter regions like the Luquillo Mountains, where EYNF is located, and the central mountains of Puerto Rico (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 274). In contrast, higher elevations may have a buffering effect on declining trends in precipitation (Bowden 2018, pers. comm.; Service 2019, pp. 65–66). Downscaled modeling for Puerto Rico was based on three Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change global emissions scenarios from phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (the CMIP3 data set): Mid-high (A2), mid-low (A1B), and low (B1) as the CMIP5 data set was not available for Puerto Rico at that time (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 267 and 279–280). These scenarios are generally comparable and span the more recent representative concentration pathways (RCP) scenarios from RCP4.5 (B1) to RCP8.5 (A2) (IPCC 2014, p. 57). Under all of these scenarios, emissions increase, precipitation declines, temperature and total dry days increase, and portions of subtropical rain and wet forests (that Lepanthes eltoroensis occupies) are lost, while all wet and moist forest types decrease in size in Puerto Rico; the differences in the scenarios depends on the extent of these changes and the timing of when they are predicted to occur (Service 2019, p. 67). In general, projections show similar patterns of changes in precipitation and drought intensity and extremes, although total changes were greater for the A2 scenario (Khalyani et al. 2016, pp. 272–273, 274; Service 2019, pp. 59– 60). Under scenarios A2, A1B, and B1, annual precipitation is projected to decrease. Current annual precipitation in Puerto Rico averages 745 to 4,346 mm (29 to 171 in.). However, differences in precipitation between the three scenarios were greater after midcentury, as was uncertainty of species’ response to the various scenarios past mid-century (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 31980 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations 274). Before then, decreases in rainfall are expected to be far less; rainfall decreases are expected to be 0.0012 to 0.0032 mm per day per year through 2050 (PRCC 2013, p. 7). Additionally, for all three climate scenarios, significant decreases in precipitation for the northern wet forests (like EYNF) are not predicted until after 2040 (Service 2019, p. 60). Furthermore, the U.S. Geological Survey projection for Puerto Rico predicts an overall drying of the island and a reduction in extreme rainfall occurrence; however, this model suggests higher elevations, like those supporting L. eltoroensis, may have a buffering effect on declining trends in precipitation (Bowden 2018, pers. comm.). Therefore, precipitation declines are not likely to occur in the area supporting L. eltoroensis during the foreseeable future. On the other hand, drought intensity increased steadily under all three scenarios (Khalyani et al. 2016, pp. 274–275). This increase is linear for all three scenarios. Given that the projections for precipitation and drought diverge significantly after midcentury, it is difficult to reasonably determine the species’ response to the coming changes. All three scenarios predict increases in temperature (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 275). However, like with precipitation, projected increases in temperature are not substantial until after 2040. Projections show only a 0.8 °C (1.4 °F) increase by mid-century under all three scenarios. These scenarios differentiate the most from each other in later time intervals (after 2040) (Khalyani et al. 2016, pp. 275, 277). Also, we are not aware of any information that indicates these air temperature increases will influence formation of the cloud cover over EYNF in the foreseeable future, which could in turn impact interior temperatures and humidity of the forest where Lepanthes eltoroensis is found. The divergence of all scenarios after 2040 makes it difficult to predict the species’ likely future condition; therefore, we are relying on species’ response 20 to 30 years into the future. Climatic changes are projected in the life zone distributions in Puerto Rico, although the changes vary by life zone and are predicted to be much more significant after mid-century. Because life zones are derived from climate variables (e.g., precipitation and temperature), general changes in life zone distribution are similar to changes in climatic variables. For example, annual precipitation changes will result in shifts from wet and moist zones to drier zones (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 275), and changes in temperature will result in changes from subtropical to VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 tropical. Under all three scenarios, models show decreasing trends in size for areas currently classified as wet and moist zones, while increasing trends were observed in the size covered by dry zones (Khalyani et al. 2016, pp. 275, 279). Therefore, under all scenarios, reduction of the size of areas covered by subtropical rain and wet forests are anticipated. Nonetheless, the loss of wet and moist zones in the northeastern mountain area that supports Lepanthes eltoroensis is not predicted to be substantial, and the area is predicted to remain relatively stable until after 2040 (Service 2019 p. 69). This may be due to possible buffering effects of elevation across the island. This projected shift of the life zones of Puerto Rico from humid to drier is the most important potential risk to Lepanthes eltoroensis. This includes changes in relative area and distribution pattern of the life zones, and the disappearance of humid life zones (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 275). Decreased rainfall in northeastern Puerto Rico could cause migration, distribution changes, and potential extirpation of many species that depend on the unique environmental conditions of the rain forest (Weaver and Gould 2013, p. 62). These projections may have direct implications for L. eltoroensis because the acreage of the lower montane wet forest life zone it occupies could decrease, resulting in less habitat being available for the species. Epiphytes like L. eltoroensis could experience moisture stress due to higher temperatures and less cloud cover with a rising cloud base, affecting their growth and flowering (Nadkarni and Solano 2002, p. 584). Due to its specialized ecological requirements and restricted distributions within the dwarf forest, L. eltoroensis could be more adversely impacted by the effects of climate change than other species with wider distribution (e.g., lower elevation species) and greater plasticity, thus reducing its viability. However, predictions of life zone changes are not expected to affect resiliency of L. eltoroensis within the foreseeable future (Service 2019, p. 69). Overall, we anticipate the range of Lepanthes eltoroensis could contract due to changes in climatic variables leading to loss of wet and tropical montane habitats. Although changes to precipitation and drought, temperature, life zones, and hurricane severity are expected to occur on Puerto Rico, thereby affecting the species’ habitat, they are not predicted to be substantial over the next 20 to 30 year foreseeable future. Modeling shows the divergence in these projections increases PO 00000 Frm 00076 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 substantially after mid-century, making projections beyond 20 to 30 years more uncertain; as a result, the species’ response to those changes beyond 30 years into the future is also uncertain (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 275). Climate change is a primary risk factor to the species; however, under all climate emission scenarios, Lepanthes eltoroensis is projected to remain moderately resilient within the foreseeable future. There is very little projected contraction of the wet and moist forests 30 years into the future. Although increasing catastrophic hurricanes are possible, relocation of plants and appropriate forest management can ameliorate some of these impacts. Overall, the viability of the species is predicted to remain stable despite climate change impacts. Cumulative Effects We note that, by using the SSA framework to guide our analysis of the scientific information documented in the SSA report, we have not only analyzed individual effects on the species, but we have also analyzed their potential cumulative effects. We incorporate the cumulative effects into our SSA analysis when we characterize the current and future condition of the species. To assess the current and future condition of the species, we undertake an iterative analysis that encompasses and incorporates the threats individually and then accumulates and evaluates the effects of all the factors that may be influencing the species, including threats and conservation efforts. Because the SSA framework considers not just the presence of the factors, but to what degree they collectively influence risk to the entire species, our assessment integrates the cumulative effects of the factors and replaces a standalone cumulative effects analysis. Summary of Current Condition Viability is defined as the ability of the species to sustain populations in the wild over time. To assess the viability of Lepanthes eltoroensis, we used the three conservation biology principles of resiliency, representation, and redundancy (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 306–310). Factors that influence the resiliency of Lepanthes eltoroensis include abundance and growth trends within host trees; habitat factors such as elevation, slope, aspect, precipitation, temperature, and canopy cover; and presence of moss, mycorrhizal fungi, and pollinators. Influencing those factors are elements of L. eltoroensis’s ecology that determine whether E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations populations can grow to maximize habitat occupancy, thereby increasing resiliency. Stochastic factors that have the potential to affect L. eltoroensis include impacts to its habitat from hurricanes and effects of climate change (i.e., changes in temperature and precipitation regimes). Beneficial factors that influence resiliency include the protected status of the species’ habitat, as the known range of the species is entirely within the El Toro Wilderness and, therefore, protected from humancaused habitat loss and collection. The number of Lepanthes eltoroensis individuals is greater than at the time of listing (Tremblay 2008, p. 90), approximately 3,000 individual plants currently. The distribution of L. eltoroensis has not been investigated outside of traditional areas (i.e., just off El Toro and Trade Wind trails); however, additional populations may occur within suitable habitat outside El Toro Trail. In fact, additional individuals have been found near, but outside of, El Toro Trail (Tremblay 2008, p. 90). Assuming a metapopulation size of 3,000 individuals and observed stable subpopulations from past surveys (including recent partial surveys in 2018), these numbers indicate that the species has the ability to recover from normal stochastic disturbances; thus, we consider the species to be moderately resilient. We lack the genetic and ecological diversity data to characterize representation for Lepanthes eltoroensis. In the absence of species-specific genetic and ecological diversity information, we typically evaluate representation based on the extent and variability of habitat characteristics across the geographical range. Because the species does not appear to have much physiological flexibility given that it has a rather restricted distribution (cloud forests on ridges), representative units were not delineated for this species. Available data suggest that conditions are present for genetic drift and inbreeding depression (Tremblay 1997a, p. 92). However, the most updated L. eltoroensis information shows that the species survived the almost entire deforestation of the lowlands of EYNF (habitat surrounding the known localities of L. eltoroensis) and the associated changes in microhabitat conditions, and thus the species has the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions (i.e., natural disturbances) over time and does not appear to be effected by genetic drift at present. Furthermore, some of the factors that we concluded would reduce representation at the time of VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 listing, such as habitat destruction and collection, are no longer acting as stressors upon the species. Finally, because the population is significantly larger than was known at the time of listing, representation has improved. Redundancy for Lepanthes eltoroensis is the total number and resilience of subpopulations and their distribution across the species’ range. This species is endemic to EYNF, and it has not been introduced elsewhere. Despite the presence of multiple subpopulations (i.e., host trees), these subpopulations are located within a narrow/restricted range at El Toro Wilderness and are all exposed to similar specific habitat and environmental conditions. Although redundancy is naturally low due to the narrow range that the species inhabits, it has recovered from past natural disturbances (i.e., hurricanes, tropical storms, etc.) and is considered more abundant within its habitat than previously documented, as noted above. Projected Future Status Lepanthes eltoroensis only occurs within the protected EYNF lands where stressors—including forest management practices, urban development surrounding EYNF, and overcollection—are not expected to be present or are expected to remain relatively stable. Because L. eltoroensis occurs on protected lands managed by the USFS, it will benefit from their ongoing conservation practices, which include the relocation of plants from fallen host trees after a hurricane, as deemed necessary, to alleviate the negative impacts of these storm events. The effect of genetic drift on the species into the future is unknown, but L. eltoroensis has thus far demonstrated the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions (i.e., natural disturbances) over time (Service 2019, pp. 51–52). The primary stressors affecting the future condition of L. eltoroensis are current and ongoing climate change (Mele´ndez-Ackerman and Tremblay 2017, p. 1) and the associated shifts in rainfall, temperature, and storm intensities. These stressors account for indirect and direct effects at some level to all life stages and across the species’ range. To examine the potential future condition of Lepanthes eltoroensis, we used three future scenarios based on climate change predictions for Puerto Rico (Khalyani et al. 2016, entire), which used global emission scenarios (mid-high (A2), mid-low (A1B), and low (B1) (Nakicenovic and Swart 2000, entire)) to capture a range of possible scenarios. Our assessment of future viability includes qualitative PO 00000 Frm 00077 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 31981 descriptions of the likely impacts of climate change under the above three scenarios from the literature and is intended to capture the uncertainty in the species’ response to climate stressors as well as capture our lack of information on abundance and growth rates relative to each scenario. Although modeling projects large changes in temperature and precipitation to Puerto Rico through 2100, the divergence in these projections increases substantially after mid-century, making projections beyond 20 to 30 years more uncertain (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 275). By mid-21st century, Puerto Rico is predicted to be subject to a decrease in rainfall, along with increase drought intensity, particularly in wetter regions like EYNF (Khalyani et al. 2016, pp. 265, 274–275). Given the average lifespan of the species (approximately 5 years), a period of 20 to 30 years allows for multiple generations and detection of any population changes. In summary, changes to precipitation and drought, temperature, and life zones are expected to occur on Puerto Rico, but are not predicted to be substantial within the foreseeable future. Although modeling shows changes to Puerto Rico through 2100, the divergence in these projections increases after mid-century, making projections beyond 20 to 30 years more uncertain; as a result, the species’ response beyond 20 to 30 years is also uncertain. These projected changes may have direct or at least indirect effects on Lepanthes eltoroensis; however, viability of the species under all scenarios is expected to remain stable within the foreseeable future (Service 2019, p. 71). Potential direct effects include a reduced number of seedlings as the number of dry days increase, a reduced number of fruits as minimum average temperature increases, and a reduced number of adults as maximum temperature increases (Olaya-Arenas et al. 2011, p. 2042). Indirect effects are related to potential changes in moss cover and composition due to temperature and precipitation changes. Data from related species showed that orchid density, growth, and establishment were positively associated with moss species richness (Crain 2012, pp. 15–16; Garcia-Cancel et al. 2013, p. 6). Therefore, a change in forest temperature and humidity could affect the establishment and distribution of moss and also L. eltoroensis (Service 2019, p. 11). Persistence of the species through repeated past hurricanes and other storms indicates that the species has the ability to recover and adapt from E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 31982 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations disturbances. In fact, many researchers at EYNF have concluded that hurricanes are the main organizing force of the forests (Service 2019, p.71). The forests go through a cycle that averages 60 years, starting with great impact by winds and rain of a hurricane, and then 60 years of regrowth (Lugo 2008, p. 371). In those 60 years of regrowth, complete changes in the species that dominate the landscape can occur. Although the hurricane appears destructive, it can be constructive because it makes the area more productive—it rejuvenates the forest (Service 2019, p. 71). Currently, EYNF is at the initial phase of early succession following Hurricane Maria (2017), which produced severe tree mortality and defoliation, including Lepanthes eltoroensis host trees. In general, we anticipate the range of the species may contract somewhat due to changes in climatic variables, although the loss of wet and moist zones in the northeastern mountain area that supports Lepanthes eltoroensis is not predicted to be substantial within the foreseeable future (Service 2019, p. 66). Any range contraction may be exacerbated by an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes. However, as the species occurs within EYNF, synergistic negative effects of development and deleterious forest management practices are unlikely threats to the species in the future. Lepanthes eltoroensis and its habitat at the EYNF are protected by congressional designation of El Toro Wilderness Area (Forest Plan 2016, p. 32), thus precluding human disturbance. Because the EYNF management plan includes a set of standards and guidelines to protect the natural resources within the El Toro Wilderness, including cooccurring federally listed species (e.g., Ilex sintenisii and palo colorado) (Service 2019, pp. 1, 32–35), the Service anticipates continued implementation of conservation and management practices to improve the habitat of all species within the area, including actions to mitigate hurricane impacts. To summarize the future viability of Lepanthes eltoroensis, resiliency is projected to remain moderate through at least the next 20 to 30 years under all future scenarios. As mentioned above, very little contraction of the wet and moist forests is predicted within this timeframe. Although increasing catastrophic hurricanes are possible, relocation of plants can ameliorate some of these impacts. Redundancy is expected to remain stable under all scenarios for the next 20 to 30 years. However, Lepanthes eltoroensis has persisted through catastrophic events in VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 the past, and we expect it to remain viable within the foreseeable future. Because the species has a rather restricted distribution, representative units were not delineated for this species. The current condition of low genetic and environmental diversity, and little breadth to rely on if some plants are lost, is expected to continue under all scenarios, at least through the next 20 to 30 years. Available data suggest that conditions are present for genetic drift and inbreeding. However, Lepanthes eltoroensis has demonstrated the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions (i.e., natural disturbances) over time and does not appear to be affected by genetic drift. Summary of Comments and Recommendations In the proposed rule published on March 10, 2020 (85 FR 13844), we requested that all interested parties submit written comments on the proposed delisting of Lepanthes eltoroensis and the draft post-delisting monitoring (PDM) plan by May 11, 2020. We also contacted appropriate Federal and State agencies, scientific experts and organizations, and other interested parties and invited them to comment on the proposal and plan. A newspaper notice inviting general public comments was published in Primera Hora (major local newspaper) and also announced using online and social media sources. We did not receive any requests for a public hearing. Peer Review In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), and the Service’s August 22, 2016, Director’s Memo on the Peer Review Process, we sought the expert opinions of five appropriate and independent specialists regarding the SSA report for Lepanthes eltoroensis. These peer reviewers have expertise in L. eltoroensis or similar epiphytic orchid species’ biology or habitat, or climate change. We received comments from one of the five peer reviewers. The purpose of peer review is to ensure that our decisions are based on scientifically sound data, assumptions, and analyses. We reviewed all comments received from the peer reviewer for substantive issues and new information contained in the Lepanthes eltoroensis SSA report. The peer reviewer generally concurred with our methods and conclusions, and provided additional information, clarifications, and suggestions to improve the final SSA report. We revised the final SSA, which supports PO 00000 Frm 00078 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 this final rule, as appropriate, in response to the comments and suggestions we received from the peer reviewer. Public Comments We reviewed all public comments for substantive issues and new information regarding the species. Substantive comments we received during the comment period are addressed below and, where appropriate, are incorporated directly into this final rule. (1) Comment: One commenter indicated that the species should not be delisted because the population growth rate is highly variable, and the population is generally decreasing; further, seedling individuals are slowly decreasing, and plant mortality is slowly increasing following Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Our Response: The commenter did not provide substantial new information to support this comment. In addition, we do not have evidence indicating the species shows a long-term (over the past three decades) decreasing trend. In fact, the overall number of individuals detected has increased since the time of listing (1991) from 140 to approximately 3,000 individuals estimated along the Trade Winds Trail (Tremblay 2008, p. 90). Further populations (host trees) are expected to occur within suitable habitat just outside this trail in areas that have not yet been surveyed due to the inaccessibility and steepness of the terrain (Tremblay 2008, p. 90). Thus, the species’ viability is supported by information showing an increased number of individuals over the past three decades. The species’ mean lifespan is approximately 5.2 years, with an average annual mortality rate of 10 percent; however, this mortality rate varies greatly among life stages, with increased survival of older stages (adults) (Tremblay 2000, p. 265; RosaFuentes and Tremblay 2007, p. 207). This relatively short lifespan coupled with a relatively high mortality rate indicates that the species probably would have gone extinct were it not currently viable. A seasonal decrease in number of seedlings may also be associated with transition to more mature stages (juveniles and non-reproductive adults). As expected, a higher mortality of seedlings (80.3 percent) was found 6 months after Hurricane Maria due to the changes in canopy structure and associated microhabitat conditions that promoted drought stress (MelendezAckerman et al. 2019, p. 4). However, an overall survival rate for monitored plants was found to be approximately E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations 80 percent (Melendez-Ackerman et al. 2019, p. 5). In addition, in August 2018, at least 1,105 live individuals (768 in the El Toro trail and 337 in a portion of the Trade Winds trail) distributed across 61 phorophytes (host trees) were recorded after Hurricane Maria. While the surveyed number (1,105 individuals) is less than the estimated 3,000 population size, this is the result of monitoring of accessible habitat following the hurricane, and there is a consensus among experts that the species’ distribution extends beyond the surveyed areas. (2) Comment: Several commenters indicated that the species should not be delisted based on the impacts from hurricanes, including expected higher frequency and intensity of hurricanes associated with climate change. Commenters indicated that the species’ habitat is still recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Maria in 2017, as shown by low percentage of forest cover (34 percent in June 2019), increase in higher monthly averages in minimum temperatures, and lower number of moss species. One commenter expressed that, in general, the occurrences of Lepanthes spp. are correlated with high levels of moss cover, moss cover seems to be important for orchid growth and survival, and moss cover was affected by the hurricane. The commenter also mentioned that the L. eltoroensis population is still at pre-hurricane levels, having only added 100 individuals during surveys conducted post-hurricane and comparing with the numbers obtained as part of the assessments commissioned by the Service prior to Hurricane Maria. Our Response: As recognized in the proposed rule and the SSA report, we acknowledge the impacts from hurricanes and their expected higher frequency due to climate change. Lepanthes eltoroensis is endemic to El Toro and Trade Winds trails at El Yunque National Forest (EYNF), an area subject to recurrent hurricanes and storms. The continued presence and viability of the species through repeated past hurricanes (e.g., Hugo, Hortense, Georges, Irma, and Maria) shows the species has the ability to overcome and adapt from such disturbances. In fact, the species survived the peak in deforestation in Puerto Rico, including deforestation of the lowlands of EYNF, and the impact of Hurricane San Felipe II in 1928, the only category 5 hurricane on record to directly impact Puerto Rico. Thus, the species has been exposed to extreme natural disturbance and landscape modification via forest cover loss and moss reduction at EYNF that likely resulted in changes in VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 microhabitat conditions (i.e., higher temperature and evapotranspiration) caused by these disturbances and stochastic events. As addressed in the Lepanthes eltoroensis SSA report (Service 2019, p. 73), hurricanes are the main organizing force of the forests of EYNF, and the forests goes through a cycle that averages 60 years (Lugo 2008, p. 383). The cycle starts with great impact from winds and rain of a hurricane followed by 60 years of regrowth. Thus, L. eltoroensis is naturally adapted to hurricane disturbance, and we expected it to remain viable in habitats subject to such intermittent disturbances (e.g., hurricanes) (Crain et al. 2019, p. 89). Direct impacts to L. eltoroensis occurred from Hurricane Maria, and seedlings experienced high mortality following the disturbance (MelendezAckerman 2019, p. 4; Herna´ndez-Mun˜iz et al., accepted for publication, entire). However, 16 previously unknown host trees (new populations) were recorded during post-hurricane surveys, indicating the species may be more widespread within its habitat (Melendez-Ackerman 2019, p. 2; Herna´ndez-Mun˜iz et al., accepted for publication, entire). Despite the species’ apparent preference for caimitillo (Micropholis garciniifolia) (endemic to the higher elevations of EYNF) as a host tree, there are records of L. eltoroensis growing on palma de sierra (Prestoea acuminata) and helecho arboreo (Cyathea arborea), which are fast-growing species with widespread distributions within L. eltoroensis habitat whose abundance is favored by hurricanes. Therefore, the availability of potential host trees for L. eltoroensis should not be a limiting factor following hurricanes. (3) Comment: One commenter indicated that the species should not be delisted because there is a need of crucial data on the species’ reproductive biology (e.g., breeding system and pollinators), the feasibility of propagation, habitat requirements, and the ecology of the species. Our Response: We are required to make our determinations based on the best available scientific and commercial data at the time the determination is made. A need for further research on a species is not necessarily relevant to the question of whether the species meets the definition of an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species.’’ Regardless of the mechanism for pollination of the species, reproduction and recruitment of Lepanthes eltoroensis is occurring, evidenced by the presence of different size classes. The reportedly low fruit set of the PO 00000 Frm 00079 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 31983 species is not atypical of orchids of this type; thus, we do not consider it a concern for the future viability of the species. Finally, delisting the species does not prevent continued research on the species. (4) Comment: One commenter indicated that the species should not be delisted because its habitat has not been completely surveyed, and there is a need to gather information on the species’ distribution and abundance. Our Response: As stated above, we make our status determinations based on the best available scientific and commercial data at the time the determination is made. Our analysis of the best commercial and scientific information available indicates that Lepanthes eltoroensis does not meet the Act’s definitions of an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species.’’ Despite the limited range of this species, we determined that stressors either have not occurred, have been ameliorated, or are not expected to occur to the extent anticipated at the time of listing in 1991. We acknowledge that the species has not been extensively surveyed outside the El Toro and Trade Winds trails due to the areas’ remoteness and steep topography (Service 2019, p. 19). However, new occupied host trees were identified after Hurricane Maria, indicating the species extends beyond previously known areas. Additionally, species experts from University of Puerto Rico (University), in collaboration with the USFS and the Service, developed a habitat model using environmental variables such as elevation, aspect, and a topographic position index and heat load (Sparklin 2020, unpublished data). Although this model is pending field validation, the result from this analysis shows that further suitable habitat extends outside traditionally surveyed areas, including areas of Pico El Yunque and Pico del Este (Sparklin 2020, unpublished data). For these reasons, current population numbers are likely underestimated as the species is expected to be more widespread particularly considering the pristine status of its habitat. Further, delisting the species does not prevent future study or habitat surveys. (5) Comment: We received public comments indicating that the species should not be delisted because the Service has not completed the recovery actions stated in the species recovery plan. Two commenters indicated that the species should not be delisted because an agreement between the Service and the USFS concerning the protection of Lepanthes eltoroensis within the El Yunque National Forest property has not been prepared and E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 31984 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations implemented (Recovery Objective #1). In addition, two commenters indicated that the species should not be delisted because new populations (the number of which should be determined following the appropriate studies) capable of selfperpetuation have not been established within protected areas (Recovery Objective #2). Our Response: Recovery plans provide roadmaps to species recovery, but are not required in order to achieve recovery of a species or to evaluate it for delisting. In addition, recovery plans are also nonbinding documents that rely on voluntary participation from landowners, land managers, and other recovery partners. A determination of whether a valid, extant species should be delisted is made solely on the question of whether it meets the Act’s definitions of an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species.’’ We have determined that Lepanthes eltoroensis does not. As addressed under Recovery and Recovery Plan Implementation in the proposed rule (85 FR 13844, pp. 13852– 13854), we consider the need for an agreement between the Service and USFS as obsolete. At the time the recovery plan was approved in 1996, this agreement was deemed as needed because the potential of habitat modification due to forest management practices (e.g., establishment and maintenance of plantations, selective cutting, trail maintenance, and shelter construction). However, the habitat where L. eltoroensis is found was congressionally designated as El Toro Wilderness Area in 2005. This designation provides stronger protection for L. eltoroensis than a conservation agreement would. The designated wilderness area is managed to retain primitive character without any permanent improvements or human habitation, and to preserve its natural conditions (USFS 2016, pp. 32–35). Currently, trails across L. eltoroensis habitat are used mostly by researchers and forest personnel; few human encounters are expected on these trails (USFS 2016, pp. 32–35), and no evidence indicates that forest management practices are negatively impacting the species. Also addressed under Recovery and Recovery Plan Implementation in the proposed rule (85 FR 13844, pp. 13852– 13854), the second recovery criterion regarding establishment of new populations capable of self-perpetuation within protected areas is no longer necessary because additional populations (host trees) and individuals have been found since the species was listed. In addition, new host trees have VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 been found as part of increased survey efforts. Moreover, recent habitat modeling indicates suitable habitat extends beyond traditional surveyed areas; thus, population numbers are expected to be higher. (6) Comment: Several commenters indicated that the species should not be delisted because it is still threatened by potential overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes (Factor B); disease or predation (Factor C); the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms (Factor D); and other natural or manmade factors (Factor E). Particularly, one commenter highlighted the potential impacts due to overutilization for commercial and recreational purposes and that the species may be in private collections. One commenter indicated that several Lepanthes species may exist ex-situ in private collections in the Netherlands, provided a photo, and suggested further investigation to potential poaching is needed. Our Response: The commenters did not provide substantial new information indicating that Factors B, C, D, and E are threats to Lepanthes eltoroensis. We are proactively collaborating with the species’ experts, and no specific information on these issues have been brought to our attention or highlighted as a threat. As for the potential poaching of the species, the known populations and prime habitat occur on Federal lands congressionally designated as the El Toro Wilderness to preserve its natural conditions, including L. eltoroensis. Standards specific to the El Toro Wilderness include no salvaging of timber, no issuing permits for collection of plants or plant material unless for a scientific purpose, no new special-use permits for facilities or occupancy, managing recreation to minimize the number of people on the trails, and no construction of new trails. In addition, the known populations of L. eltoroensis occur on remote areas with little human traffic, and are subject to surveillance by USFS law enforcement officers. The Netherlands record is from a photo, and it is not clear that it is actually from a private collection. There is no evidence indicating that Lepanthes eltoroensis has been advertised for sale or that it is in private collections. In addition, there is no historical or current evidence of poaching of the species. Determination of Status of Lepanthes Eltoroensis Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424), set forth the procedures for determining whether a species meets the definition of ‘‘endangered species’’ PO 00000 Frm 00080 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 or ‘‘threatened species.’’ The Act defines an ‘‘endangered species’’ as a species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and a ‘‘threatened species’’ as a species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. For a more detailed discussion on the factors considered when determining whether a species meets the definition of an endangered species or a threatened species and our analysis on how we determine the foreseeable future in making these decisions, please see Regulatory and Analytical Framework. Status Throughout All of Its Range After evaluating threats to the species and assessing the cumulative effect of the threats under the section 4(a)(1) factors, we note that more individuals are known to occur than at the time of listing. Additionally, the best metapopulation estimate of 3,000 individuals is likely an underestimate, as not all potential habitat has been surveyed. Despite the effects of a small population size, continued limited distribution, and conditions rife for low gene flow (Factor E), the species has adapted to changing environmental conditions. Threats from incompatible forest management practices (Factor A) and collection (Factor B) have been addressed by regulatory changes, and are not anticipated to negatively affect Lepanthes eltoroensis in the future. Although hurricanes (Factor E) have the potential to negatively impact growth rates and survival of L. eltoroensis, stable subpopulations, even after recent severe hurricanes, indicate this species recovers from these natural disturbances. The greatest threat to the future of L. eltoroensis comes from the effects of climate change (Factor E); however, while changes to precipitation and drought, temperature, and life zones are expected to occur on Puerto Rico, they are not predicted to be substantial within the foreseeable future, and the viability of the species is expected to remain stable. We anticipate small population dynamics (small population size and restricted gene flow) (Factor E) will continue to be a concern, as conditions for genetic drift are present, nonetheless L. eltoroensis has demonstrated the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions over time at population levels lower than they are currently or projected to be in the future. The species was originally listed as an endangered species due to its rarity, restricted distribution, specialized habitat, and vulnerability to habitat E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations destruction or modification, as well as because of collection for commercial/ recreational uses. We find that these threats are no longer affecting the status of the species, as they have been minimized or eliminated. Surveys over the past 18 years, including following two strong hurricanes in 2018, documented more individuals than known at the time of listing, and the population appears to be relatively stable. The habitat at EYNF, where the species occurs, is a designated wilderness area and managed for its natural conditions; we conclude that this legal protection has addressed the threat of habitat modification or destruction to the degree that it is no longer a threat to the species continued existence. In addition, collection is prohibited under Puerto Rican law and USFS regulations, and there is no indication this is a current threat to the species. Stability of the species through repeated past strong hurricanes indicates the species has the ability to coexist with disturbances. While a narrow endemic, the species has continued to be viable across its historical range with all life stages represented and in good health. While projections show increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation over time into the future, projected impacts to the species’ habitat (e.g., life zone changes) are not expected to be significant within the foreseeable future (Service 2019, p. 69). Recent, yet unpublished, downscaled climate modeling (Bowden 2018, pers. comm.) indicates that higher elevation areas, like those supporting L. eltoroensis, may be buffered from the more generally predicted level of precipitation changes. This species has also demonstrated the ability to adapt to changes in its environment. Since the species was listed, warming temperatures have been documented and precipitation levels have decreased, yet the species has demonstrated resiliency. Additionally, following strong hurricanes that affected the species’ habitat, abundance has remained stable, with all age classes represented and in good health. While suitable habitat conditions for the species may contract some over the foreseeable future, the species is likely to continue to maintain close to current levels of resiliency, redundancy, and representation. We conclude that there are no existing or potential threats that, either alone or in combination with others (i.e., forest management practices, climate change, and hurricane damage), are likely to cause the species’ viability to decline. Thus, after assessing the best available information, we VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 31985 determine that L. eltoroensis is not in danger of extinction now nor likely to become so within the foreseeable future throughout all of its range. 4053447 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2018), and Center for Biological Diversity v. Jewell, 248 F. Supp. 3d, 946, 959 (D. Ariz. 2017). Status Throughout a Significant Portion of Its Range Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may warrant listing if it is in danger of extinction or likely to become so within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Having determined that Lepanthes eltoroensis is not in danger of extinction or likely to become so within the foreseeable future throughout all of its range, we now consider whether it may be in danger of extinction or likely to become so within the foreseeable future in a significant portion of its range—that is, whether there is any portion of the species’ range for which it is true that both (1) the portion is significant; and (2) the species is in danger of extinction now or likely to become so in the foreseeable future in that portion. Depending on the case, it might be more efficient for us to address the ‘‘significance’’ question or the ‘‘status’’ question first. We can choose to address either question first. Regardless of which question we address first, if we reach a negative answer with respect to the first question that we address, we do not need to evaluate the other question for that portion of the species’ range. In undertaking this analysis for Lepanthes eltoroensis, we choose to address the status question first—we consider information pertaining to the geographic distribution of both the species and the threats that the species faces to identify any portions of the range where the species is endangered or threatened. Lepanthes eltoroensis is a narrow endemic that functions as a single, contiguous population (with a metapopulation structure) and occurs within a very small area (EYNF, Puerto Rico). Thus, there is no biologically meaningful way to break this limited range into portions, and the threats that the species faces affect the species throughout its entire range. This means that no portions of the species’ range have a different status from its rangewide status. Therefore, no portion of the species’ range can provide a basis for determining that the species is in danger of extinction now or likely to become so in the foreseeable future in a significant portion of its range, and we find the species is not in danger of extinction now or likely to become so in the foreseeable future in any significant portion of its range. This is consistent with the courts’ holdings in Desert Survivors v. Department of the Interior, No. 16–cv–01165–JCS, 2018 WL Determination of Status Our review of the best available scientific and commercial data indicates that Lepanthes eltoroensis does not meet the definition of an endangered species or a threatened species in accordance with sections 3(6) and 3(20) of the Act. Therefore, we are removing Lepanthes eltoroensis from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. PO 00000 Frm 00081 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 Effects of This Rule This final rule revises 50 CFR 17.12(h) to remove Lepanthes eltoroensis from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. Therefore, revision of the species’ recovery plan is not necessary. On the effective date of this rule (see DATES, above), the prohibitions and conservation measures provided by the Act, particularly through sections 7 and 9, no longer apply to this species. Federal agencies will no longer be required to consult with the Service under section 7 of the Act in the event that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out may affect L. eltoroensis. There is no critical habitat designated for this species. Post-Delisting Monitoring Section 4(g)(1) of the Act requires us to monitor for not less than 5 years the status of all species that are delisted due to recovery. Post-delisting monitoring (PDM) refers to activities undertaken to verify that a species delisted due to recovery remains secure from the risk of extinction after the protections of the Act no longer apply. The primary goal of PDM is to monitor the species to ensure that its status does not deteriorate, and if a decline is detected, to take measures to halt the decline so that proposing it as an endangered or threatened species is not again needed. If at any time during the monitoring period data indicate that protective status under the Act should be reinstated, we can initiate listing procedures, including, if appropriate, emergency listing. At the conclusion of the monitoring period, we will review all available information to determine if relisting, the continuation of monitoring, or the termination of monitoring is appropriate. Section 4(g) of the Act explicitly requires that we cooperate with the States in development and implementation of PDM programs. However, we remain ultimately responsible for compliance with section 4(g) and, therefore, must remain actively E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1 31986 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 114 / Wednesday, June 16, 2021 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES engaged in all phases of PDM. We also seek active participation of other entities that are expected to assume responsibilities for the species’ conservation after delisting. The Service has coordinated with PRDNER and USFS on the PDM. We prepared a PDM plan for Lepanthes eltoroensis (Service 2019, entire). We published a notice of availability of a draft PDM plan with the proposed delisting rule (85 FR 13844; March 10, 2020), and we did not receive any comments on the plan. Therefore, we consider the plan final. The plan is designed to detect substantial declines in the species, with reasonable certainty and precision, or an increase in threats. The plan: (1) Summarizes the species’ status at the time of proposed delisting; (2) Defines thresholds or triggers for potential monitoring outcomes and conclusions; (3) Lays out frequency and duration of monitoring; (4) Articulates monitoring methods, including sampling considerations; (5) Outlines data compilation and reporting procedures and responsibilities; and (6) Provides a PDM implementation schedule, funding, and responsible parties. The final PDM plan is available at https://ecos.fws.gov and at http:// www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0073. It is our intent to work with our partners towards maintaining the recovered status of Lepanthes eltoroensis. VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:52 Jun 15, 2021 Jkt 253001 Required Determinations National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), need not be prepared in connection with determining a species’ listing status under the Endangered Species Act. In an October 25, 1983, notice in the Federal Register (48 FR 49244), we outlined our reasons for this determination, which included a compelling recommendation from the Council on Environmental Quality that we cease preparing environmental assessments or environmental impact statements for listing decisions. 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. We have determined that there are no Tribal interests affected by this rule. References Cited A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019– PO 00000 Frm 00082 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 9990 0073 and upon request from the Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Authors The primary authors of this rule are the staff members of the Service’s Species Assessment Team and the Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17 Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Transportation. Regulation Promulgation Accordingly, we amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below: PART 17—ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS 1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361–1407; 1531– 1544; and 4201–4245, unless otherwise noted. § 17.12 [Amended] 2. Amend § 17.12(h) by removing the entry for ‘‘Lepanthes eltoroensis’’ under FLOWERING PLANTS from the List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. ■ Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Exercising the Delegated Authority of the Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [FR Doc. 2021–12528 Filed 6–15–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4333–15–P E:\FR\FM\16JNR1.SGM 16JNR1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 86, Number 114 (Wednesday, June 16, 2021)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 31972-31986]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2021-12528]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2019-0073; FF09E22000 FXES1113090FEDR 212]
RIN 1018-BB83


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removal of 
Lepanthes eltoroensis From the Federal List of Endangered and 
Threatened Plants

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are removing Lepanthes 
eltoroensis (no common name), an orchid species from Puerto Rico, from 
the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants, due to recovery. 
This determination is based on a thorough review of the best available 
scientific and commercial information, which indicates that the threats 
to the species have been eliminated or reduced to the point that the 
species no longer meets the definition of an endangered or threatened 
species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). 
Accordingly, the prohibitions and conservation measures provided by the 
Act will no longer apply to this species.

DATES: This rule is effective July 16, 2021.

ADDRESSES: The proposed and final rules, the post-delisting monitoring 
plan, and the comments received on the proposed rule are available on 
the internet at http://www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-
2019-0073.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Edwin Mu[ntilde]iz, Field Supervisor, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Caribbean Ecological Services Field 
Office (see ADDRESSES, above). If you use a telecommunications device 
for the deaf (TDD), please call the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-
8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, a species may be 
delisted (i.e., removed from the Federal Lists of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife and Plants (Lists)) if it is determined that the 
species has recovered and no longer meets the definition of an 
endangered or threatened species. Removing a species from the Lists can 
only be completed by issuing a rule.
    What this document does. This rule removes Lepanthes eltoroensis 
from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants, based on its 
recovery.
    The basis for our action. We may delist a species if we determine, 
after a review of the best scientific and commercial data, that: (1) 
The species is extinct; (2) the species does not meet the definition of 
an endangered species or a threatened species; or (3) the listed entity 
does not meet the statutory definition of a species (50 CFR 424.11(e)). 
Here, we have determined that the species may be delisted because it no 
longer meets the definition of an endangered species or a threatened 
species, as it has recovered.

Previous Federal Actions

    On March 10, 2020, we published in the Federal Register (85 FR 
13844) a proposed rule to remove Lepanthes eltoroensis (no common name) 
from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants (List). 
Please refer to that proposed rule for a detailed description of 
previous Federal actions concerning this species. The proposed rule and 
supplemental documents are provided at http://www.regulations.gov under 
Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2019-0073.

Species Status Assessment Report

    A team of Service biologists, in consultation with other species 
experts, prepared a species status assessment (SSA) report for 
Lepanthes eltoroensis. The SSA report represents a compilation of the 
best scientific and commercial data available concerning the status of 
the species, including the impacts of past, present, and future factors 
(both negative and beneficial) affecting the species. We solicited 
independent peer review of the SSA report by five individuals with 
expertise in L. eltoroensis or similar epiphytic (i.e., a plant that 
grows on another plant for support but not for food) orchid species' 
biology or habitat, or climate change. The final SSA, which supports 
this final rule, was revised, as appropriate, in response to the

[[Page 31973]]

comments and suggestions received from our peer reviewers. The SSA 
report and other materials relating to this rule can be found on the 
Service's Southeast Region website at http://www.regulations.gov under 
Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2019-0073.

Summary of Changes From the Proposed Rule

    In preparing this final rule, we reviewed and fully considered all 
comments we received during the comment period from the peer reviewers 
and the public on the proposed rule to delist Lepanthes eltoroensis. 
Minor, nonsubstantive changes and corrections were made throughout the 
document in response to comments. However, the information we received 
during the public comment period on the proposed rule did not change 
our determination that L. eltoroensis no longer meets the definition of 
endangered or threatened under the Act.

Species Information

    A thorough review of the taxonomy, life history, and ecology of 
Lepanthes eltoroensis is presented in the SSA report (Service 2019, 
entire), which is available at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket 
No. FWS-R4-ES-2019-0073 and summarized in this final rule.

Species Description

    Lepanthes eltoroensis is a member of a large genus of more than 800 
orchid species. Approximately 118 species in this genus are from the 
Caribbean, and all but one are single-island endemics (Stimson 1969, p. 
332; Barre and Feldmann 1991, p. 11; Tremblay and Ackerman 1993, p. 
339; Luer 2014, p. 260). This species is a small, epiphytic orchid 
about 1.57 inches (in.) (4 centimeters (cm)) tall and is distinguished 
from other members of the genus by its obovate to oblanceolate leaves, 
ciliate sepals, and the length of the inflorescence (Vivaldi et al. 
1981, p. 26; Luer 2014, p. 260). The inflorescence is a small (0.03 
in.; 0.75 millimeters (mm)), peduncled raceme (flower cluster with 
flowers on separate short stalks) with reddish flowers. No more than 
two flowers are produced at the same time, and the flowers are open on 
the inflorescence for about 10 days (Mel[eacute]ndez-Ackerman and 
Tremblay 2017, p. 1).

Life History

    We considere Lepanthes eltoroensis to be a single metapopulation, 
with the individual trees that host the L. eltoroensis plants as 
subpopulations, and the host tree aggregates as patches (Service 2019, 
p. 16). A number of characteristics (see below) indicate that a 
metapopulation approach may be appropriate to understand orchid 
population dynamics (see Service 2019, pp. 14-15) and epiphytic species 
(Snall et al. 2003, p. 567; Snall et al. 2004, p. 758; Snall et al. 
2005, pp. 209-210) like L. eltoroensis. Metapopulations are defined as 
a set of subpopulations with independent local dynamics occupying 
discrete patches (Hanski 1999, entire; Hanski and Gaggiotti 2004, pp. 
3-22) so that simultaneous extinction of all subpopulations is 
unlikely.
    Metapopulations of Lepanthes orchids exhibit high variance in 
reproductive potential, high variance in mean reproductive lifespan 
(Tremblay 2000, pp. 264-265), and few adults per subpopulation 
(Tremblay 1997a, p. 95). Less than 20 percent of individuals reproduce, 
and most subpopulations (60 percent of host trees) have fewer than 15 
individuals. In addition, the distribution of individuals (seedling, 
juvenile, and adults) varies enormously among subpopulations (i.e. host 
trees) and is skewed towards few individuals per tree (Tremblay and 
Velazquez-Castro 2009, p. 214). The lifespan of L. eltoroensis can 
reach 30 to 50 years (Tremblay 1996, pp. 88-89, 114). However, the mean 
is 5.2 years, with an average percent mortality of 10 percent per year, 
although this varies greatly among life stages. Survival increases as 
individual orchids reach later life stages, but fewer plants reach 
adulthood and have the opportunity to contribute offspring to the next 
generation (Tremblay 2000, p. 265; Rosa-Fuentes and Tremblay 2007, p. 
207). Because the species occurs within a protected National Forest, 
access to moss, dispersal ability, reproductive success, and lifespan 
influence survivorship more than other potential human-induced threats 
(Tremblay 2000, p. 265; Rosa-Fuentes and Tremblay 2007, p. 207).
    The reproductive success of Lepanthes eltoroensis subpopulations is 
highly sensitive to temporal variation in environmental conditions 
(Tremblay and Hutchings 2002, entire). Further, reproductive success of 
L. eltoroensis, as in most orchids, is pollinator-limited (Tremblay et 
al. 2005, p. 6). This obligate cross-pollinated species (Tremblay et 
al. 2006, p. 78) uses a deceptive pollination system (the plants send 
false signals to the insects, imitating some rewarding conditions), 
typically characterized by very few reproductive events (~ less than 20 
percent chance; Tremblay et al. 2005, p. 12). Although we do not know 
the pollinator for L. eltoroensis, elsewhere fungus gnats visit 
Lepanthes orchids (Blanco and Barboza 2005, p. 765) and pollinate by 
pseudocopulation (i.e., attempted copulation by a male insect with the 
orchid flower that resembles the female, carrying pollen to it in the 
process). Therefore, it is likely fungus gnats are a pollinator for L. 
eltoroensis. Fungus gnats do not travel far--perhaps tens of meters or 
even a few hundred meters (Ackerman 2018)--limiting pollen dispersal 
for L. eltoroensis. Most L. eltoroensis pollination occurs among 
individuals within a host tree, resulting in high inbreeding and low 
genetic variability (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, pp. 55-58). The seeds 
of L. eltoroensis are wind-dispersed and require a mycorrhizal 
association for germination and survival until plants start 
photosynthesis (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, p. 55; Tremblay 2008, p. 
85).

Distribution and Abundance

    Lepanthes eltoroensis is endemic to EYNF, Puerto Rico. It is 
restricted to one general area within the Sierra Palm, Palo Colorado, 
and dwarf forests of the El Toro and Trade Winds trails (Service 2015, 
p. 5) at elevations above 2,461 feet (750 meters) (Service 1996, p. 2). 
At the time of listing, the species consisted of an estimated 140 
individual plants. Since then, surveys have located additional 
individuals and subpopulations (groups of L. eltoroensis on the same 
host tree), resulting in a much greater estimate of individuals than at 
the time of listing. Surveys for L. eltoroensis have been infrequent, 
sparse, and done with varying spatial spread and methodology, making 
the results difficult to compare over time (Service 2019, pp. 34-52). 
However, partial surveys conducted periodically from 2000 to 2018 have 
found greater numbers of L. eltoroensis (Service 2019, pp. 49-50). In 
addition, surveys conducted between 2000 and 2005 indicated the 
subpopulations surveyed along El Toro Trail and Trade Winds Trail were 
relatively stable over the 5-year period (Service 2019, p. 39). The 
best available metapopulation estimate is 3,000 individual plants 
(Tremblay 2008, p. 90; Service 2015, p. 5). Overall, data do not 
indicate a general pattern of decline, but rather natural fluctuations 
(Service 2019, p. 52).
    The 3,000 plant population estimate was made prior to category 5 
Hurricane Maria making landfall in 2017. A post-hurricane partial 
survey along the El Toro Trail was completed in 2018, and found 641 
total plants, including over 300 that had not been previously 
identified (Mel[eacute]ndez-Ackerman 2018, pers. comm.). We note that 
this was only a partial survey; there has never

[[Page 31974]]

been a complete census of the entire metapopulation because most of the 
areas off the two main trails (El Toro and Trade Winds) are dangerous 
and inaccessible.
    The forest types Lepanthes eltoroensis is most affiliated with--
Palo Colorado, Sierra Palm, and Dwarf Forest--cover over 13,000 acres 
(5,261 hectares) within the EYNF (Service 2019, p. 8). Given the amount 
of unreachable habitat that has not been surveyed, all estimates are 
likely to underestimate the true abundance of the species (Service 
2019, p. 50). Surveys of habitat outside traditionally surveyed sites 
(on or just off trails) could result in discovery of additional plants 
(Tremblay 2008, p. 90; Service 2019, pp. 18, 50, 73). In addition, 
since the time of listing, the species has faced multiple strong 
hurricanes (Hugo, Georges, Hortense, Irma, and Maria), while the 
species' abundance has remained stable (with all age classes 
represented and in good health); thus, we conclude the species has the 
ability to recover from stochastic disturbances (Service 2019, pp. 51-
52). Therefore, although the species and its habitat were harmed by the 
recent hurricanes (namely Maria), the previous estimate of 3,000 
individual plants is still our best estimate.

Habitat

    Lepanthes eltoroensis occurs on moss-covered trunks (i.e., host 
trees) within upper elevation cloud forests in the Sierra Palm, Palo 
Colorado, and Dwarf Forest associations of EYNF (Luer 2014, p. 260; 
Ewel and Whitmore 1973, pp. 41-49), where humidity ranges from 90 to 
100 percent, and cloud cover is continuous, particularly during the 
evening hours (55 FR 41248; October 10, 1990). Important habitat 
components seem to be elevation, adequate temperature and moisture 
regimes, open/semi-open gaps in the canopy, and presence of moss.

Recovery and Recovery Plan Implementation

    Section 4(f) of the Act directs us to develop and implement 
recovery plans for the conservation and survival of endangered and 
threatened species, unless we determine that such a plan will not 
promote the conservation of the species. Recovery plans are not 
regulatory documents. Rather, they are intended to establish goals for 
long-term conservation of a listed species and define criteria that are 
designed to indicate when the threats facing a species have been 
removed or reduced to such an extent that the species may no longer 
need the protections of the Act. Recovery plans also provide guidance 
to our Federal, State, and other governmental and nongovernmental 
partners on methods to minimize threats to listed species.
    There are many paths to accomplishing recovery of a species, and 
recovery may be achieved without all criteria being fully met. For 
example, one or more criteria may have been exceeded while other 
criteria may not have been accomplished or become obsolete, yet we may 
judge that, overall, the threats have been minimized sufficiently, and 
the species is robust enough, to reclassify the species from endangered 
to threatened or perhaps delist the species. In other cases, recovery 
opportunities may be recognized that were not known at the time the 
recovery plan was finalized. These opportunities may be used instead of 
methods identified in the recovery plan.
    Likewise, information on the species that was not known at the time 
the recovery plan was finalized may become available. The new 
information may change the extent that criteria need to be met for 
recognizing recovery of the species. Recovery of species is a dynamic 
process requiring adaptive management that may or may not fully follow 
the guidance provided in a recovery plan.
    The following discussion provides a brief review of recovery 
planning and implementation for Lepanthes eltoroensis as well as an 
analysis of the recovery criteria and goals as they relate to 
evaluating the status of this orchid. Lepanthes eltoroensis was listed 
as an endangered species in 1991, due to its rarity (Factor E), its 
restricted distribution (Factor E), forest management practices (Factor 
A), impacts from hurricane damage (Factor E), and collection (Factor B) 
(56 FR 60933, November 29, 1991, p. 56 FR 60935). The most important 
factor affecting L. eltoroensis at that time was its limited 
distribution. Additionally, we concluded at the time that the species' 
rarity made it vulnerable to impacts from hurricanes, such as 
unfavorable microclimatic conditions resulting from numerous canopy 
gaps. Because so few individuals were known to occur, the risk of 
extinction was considered to be extremely high (56 FR 60933, November 
29, 1991, p. 56 FR 60935).
    The Lepanthes eltoroensis recovery plan was approved on July 15, 
1996. The objective of the recovery plan is to provide direction for 
reversing the decline of this orchid and for restoring the species to a 
self-sustaining status, thereby permitting eventual removal from the 
Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants (Service 1996, p. 8). 
However, the recovery plan provides only criteria for reclassifying the 
species from endangered to threatened (``downlisting''). The specific 
criteria are: (1) Prepare and implement an agreement between the 
Service and the USFS concerning the protection of L. eltoroensis within 
EYNF, and (2) establish new populations capable of self-perpetuation 
within protected areas (Service 1996, p. 8). The plan also includes the 
following recovery actions intended to address threats to the species:
    (1) Prevent further habitat loss and population decline;
    (2) Continue to gather information on the species' distribution and 
abundance;
    (3) Conduct research;
    (4) Establish new populations; and
    (5) Refine recovery criteria.
    The following discussion provides specific details for each of 
these actions and the extent to which the recovery criteria have been 
met.

Recovery Action 1: Prevent Further Habitat Loss and Population Decline

    This action has been completed. In the past, the species' primary 
threat was identified as destruction and modification of habitat 
associated with forest management practices (e.g., establishment and 
maintenance of plantations, selective cutting, trail maintenance, and 
shelter construction; 56 FR 60933, November 29, 1991). As described 
below under ``Forest Management Practices,'' the best available data 
indicate that forest management practices are no longer negatively 
affecting Lepanthes eltoroensis. The area where the species is found is 
within a protected area (EYNF), part of which is the El Toro Wilderness 
designated in 2005, where the land is managed to preserve its natural 
conditions and species like L. eltoroensis (USFS 2016, p. 32). We 
expect this wilderness area will remain permanently protected as a 
nature reserve and be managed for conservation. Additionally, because 
this area is within a National Forest, the National Forest Management 
Act of 1976 (16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq.) requires the USFS to develop 
management plans, and EYNF has. As noted below, the EYNF plan 
specifically includes a set of standards and guidelines to protect the 
natural resources within the El Toro Wilderness.
    Moreover, Federal agencies are mandated to carry out programs for 
the conservation of endangered species under section 7 of the Act to 
ensure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by a Federal 
agency is not

[[Page 31975]]

likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a federally listed 
species. The USFS consults with the Service as necessary to avoid and 
minimize impacts to listed species and their habitat at EYNF. L. 
eltoroensis shares habitat with other federally listed species (e.g., 
the endangered plants Ilex sintenisii (no common name) and Ternstroemia 
luquillensis (palo colorado), and the threatened elfin-woods warbler 
(Setophaga angelae)), so L. eltoroensis will benefit from efforts to 
conserve their habitat.

Recovery Action 2: Continue To Gather Information on the Species' 
Distribution and Abundance

    This action has been completed. Since the species was listed in 
1991, several surveys for Lepanthes eltoroensis have been conducted. 
Although these surveys have been done with varying spatial spread and 
methodology, making the results difficult to compare over time, even 
partial surveys have found greater numbers of L. eltoroensis. Surveys 
have indicated stable growth rates. While the best available estimate 
of the metapopulation is 3,000 individuals (Tremblay 2008, p. 90), 
surveys likely underestimate the species' true abundance, as suitable 
habitat off the two main trails is dangerous and mostly inaccessible, 
preventing additional surveys. Surveys of habitat outside traditional 
population sites may result in additional individuals.

Recovery Action 3: Conduct Research

    Much research has been completed; however, we continue to conduct 
research on the species. Information has been collected throughout the 
years on the distribution and dispersion patterns of Lepanthes 
eltoroensis (Tremblay 1997a, pp. 85-96), variance in floral morphology 
(Tremblay 1997b, pp. 38-45), and genetic differentiation (Tremblay and 
Ackerman 2001, pp. 47-62). In 2016, the Service and the Puerto Rico 
Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PRDNER) provided 
funding to researchers at the University to evaluate the current 
population status of L. eltoroensis and model its demographic variation 
in response to climatic variability (i.e., temperature and relative 
humidity). This research suggests that L. eltoroensis population growth 
rates are highly dynamic depending on drought conditions 
(Mel[eacute]ndez-Ackerman et al. 2018, entire). Partners continue 
analyzing the extent by which these changes may be related to changes 
in climatic variation in detail by analyzing data from meteorological 
stations in the region, and they recommend periodic monitoring of L. 
eltoroensis's population status (Mel[eacute]ndez-Ackerman et al. 2018, 
p. 10). The Service will address this recommendation as part of the 
post-delisting monitoring plan (PDM) and will include criteria to 
determine whether population trends allow for completion of monitoring, 
or if additional monitoring or a status review is needed. Moreover, the 
University, in collaboration with the USFS and the Service, developed a 
habitat model showing that further suitable habitat extends outside 
traditionally surveyed areas, including areas of Pico El Yunque and 
Pico del Este (Sparklin 2020, unpublished data). This model is still 
pending validation in the field. Despite species experts recording 
direct impacts to L. eltoroensis due to Hurricane Maria and high 
mortality of seedlings following the disturbance, they also recorded at 
least 16 previously unknown host trees with live plants (new 
populations), showing the species may be more widespread within its 
habitat (Hern[aacute]ndez-Mu[ntilde]iz et al., accepted for 
publication, entire).

Recovery Action 4: Establish New Populations

    This action has not been met but is no longer necessary. At the 
time of listing, only 140 plants were thought to exist; we now estimate 
a population size of 3,000 individuals (Tremblay 2008, p. 90). The 2015 
5-year status review of Lepanthes eltoroensis states that the action to 
establish new populations is not necessary at this time for the 
recovery of the species because additional subpopulations and 
individuals have been found since the species was listed (Service 2015, 
p. 5). Additionally, relocation of plants from fallen trees onto 
standing trees following hurricane events was found to be an effective 
management strategy to improve and maximize survival and reproductive 
success (Ben[iacute]tez and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67-69). Recent work and 
habitat modeling also show that further suitable habitat extends 
outside traditionally surveyed areas, including areas of Pico El Yunque 
and Pico del Este.

Recovery Action 5: Refine Recovery Criteria

    This action has not been met but will no longer be necessary. The 
recovery plan states that as additional information on Lepanthes 
eltoroensis is gathered, it will be necessary to better define, and 
possibly modify, recovery criteria. Based on the information compiled 
in the SSA report (Service 2019, entire), this orchid is projected to 
remain viable over time such that it no longer meets the Act's 
definition of an endangered or threatened species (see Determination of 
Status of Lepanthes eltoroensis, below).

Recovery Criterion 1: Prepare and Implement an Agreement Between the 
Service and the USFS Concerning the Protection of Lepanthes Eltoroensis 
Within EYNF

    This criterion has been met. Existing populations and the species' 
habitat are protected by the USFS. This orchid species occurs within 
the El Toro Wilderness Area where habitat destruction or modification 
is no longer considered a threat to the species or its habitat. Thus, 
although there is not a specific agreement between the Service and the 
USFS concerning the protection of Lepanthes eltoroensis, the intent of 
this criterion--to provide long-term protection for the species--has 
been met. The implementation of management practices in the forest has 
improved, no selective cutting is conducted, and the USFS coordinates 
with the Service to avoid impacts to listed species as part of their 
management practices. Furthermore, Commonwealth laws and regulations 
protect the species' habitat, as well as protect the species from 
collection and removal. There is no evidence that L. eltoroensis or its 
habitat is being negatively impacted by forest management. Due to the 
high level of protection provided by the wilderness designation and 
other protections, we have determined that an agreement between the 
Service and the USFS is no longer necessary for protecting this 
species. Incidentally, because this species overlaps with other listed 
species, the USFS will continue to consult on projects that may affect 
this area.

Recovery Criterion 2: Establish New Populations Capable of Self-
Perpetuation Within Protected Areas

    As stated above under Recovery Action 4, we have found that the 
action to establish new populations is no longer necessary because 
additional subpopulations and individuals have been found since the 
species was listed (Service 2015, p. 5). Further, suitable habitat 
extends outside traditionally surveyed areas, including areas of Pico 
El Yunque and Pico del Este. Additionally, relocation of plants is an 
effective management strategy to improve and maximize survival and 
reproductive success, as has been demonstrated after hurricane events 
(Ben[iacute]tez and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67-69).

[[Page 31976]]

Summary

    The recovery plan for Lepanthes eltoroensis provided direction for 
reversing the decline of this species, thereby informing when the 
species may be delisted. The recovery plan outlined two criteria for 
reclassifying the species from endangered to threatened: (1) Prepare 
and implement an agreement between the Service and the USFS concerning 
the protection of L. eltoroensis within EYNF, and (2) establish new 
populations capable of self-perpetuation within protected areas. These 
criteria have either been met or are no longer considered necessary. 
This species is protected by Commonwealth law and regulations and will 
continue to be should the species no longer require Federal protection, 
and the species occurs within a protected wilderness area that will 
remain protected and managed using techniques that are beneficial for 
this species and co-occurring federally listed species. There is no 
evidence that L. eltoroensis or its habitat is being negatively 
impacted by forest management activities or will be in the future. 
Additionally, the designation of wilderness where the species occurs 
has eliminated the need for an agreement between the Service and the 
USFS to protect this species. Since the species was listed under the 
Act and the recovery plan was written, additional plants have been 
found, additional plants likely exist in areas that are unsuitable for 
surveying, and the best available information indicates that additional 
habitat likely exists. Therefore, establishment of new populations is 
not necessary for recovery of L. eltoroensis at this time. 
Additionally, the five recovery actions intended to address threats to 
the species have all been either met or determined no longer to be 
necessary for recovery.

Regulatory and Analytical Framework

Regulatory Framework

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining 
whether a species is an ``endangered species'' or a ``threatened 
species.'' The Act defines an ``endangered species'' as a species that 
is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of 
its range, and a ``threatened species'' as a species that is likely to 
become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range. The Act requires that we 
determine whether any species is an ``endangered species'' or a 
``threatened species'' because of any of the following factors:
    (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range;
    (B) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes;
    (C) Disease or predation;
    (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
    (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued 
existence.
    These factors represent broad categories of natural or human-caused 
actions or conditions that could have an effect on a species' continued 
existence. In evaluating these actions and conditions, we look for 
those that may have a negative effect on individuals of the species, as 
well as other actions or conditions that may ameliorate any negative 
effects or may have positive effects. We consider these same five 
factors in reclassifying a species from endangered to threatened and in 
delisting a species (50 CFR 424.11(c)-(e)).
    We use the term ``threat'' to refer in general to actions or 
conditions that are known to or are reasonably likely to negatively 
affect individuals of a species. The term ``threat'' includes actions 
or conditions that have a direct impact on individuals (direct 
impacts), as well as those that affect individuals through alteration 
of their habitat or required resources (stressors). The term ``threat'' 
may encompass--either together or separately--the source of the action 
or condition or the action or condition itself.
    However, the mere identification of any threat(s) does not 
necessarily mean that the species meets the statutory definition of an 
``endangered species'' or a ``threatened species.'' In determining 
whether a species meets either definition, we must evaluate all 
identified threats by considering the species' expected response, and 
the effects of the threats--in light of those actions and conditions 
that will ameliorate the threats--on an individual, population, and 
species level. We evaluate each threat and its expected effects on the 
species, then analyze the cumulative effect of all of the threats on 
the species as a whole. We also consider the cumulative effect of the 
threats in light of those actions and conditions that will have 
positive effects on the species--such as any existing regulatory 
mechanisms or conservation efforts. The Secretary determines whether 
the species meets the definition of an ``endangered species'' or a 
``threatened species'' only after conducting this cumulative analysis 
and describing the expected effect on the species now and in the 
foreseeable future.
    The Act does not define the term ``foreseeable future,'' which 
appears in the statutory definition of ``threatened species.'' Our 
implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.11(d) set forth a framework for 
evaluating the foreseeable future on a case-by-case basis. The term 
foreseeable future extends only so far into the future as the Services 
can reasonably determine that both the future threats and the species' 
responses to those threats are likely. In other words, the foreseeable 
future is the period of time in which we can make reliable predictions. 
``Reliable'' does not mean ``certain''; it means sufficient to provide 
a reasonable degree of confidence in the prediction. Thus, a prediction 
is reliable if it is reasonable to depend on it when making decisions.
    It is not always possible or necessary to define foreseeable future 
as a particular number of years. Analysis of the foreseeable future 
uses the best scientific and commercial data available and should 
consider the timeframes applicable to the relevant threats and to the 
species' likely responses to those threats in view of its life-history 
characteristics. Data that are typically relevant to assessing the 
species' biological response include species-specific factors such as 
lifespan, reproductive rates or productivity, certain behaviors, and 
other demographic factors.
    Given the average lifespan of the species (approximately 5 years), 
a period of 20 to 30 years allows for multiple generations and 
detection of any population changes. Additionally, the species has been 
listed for close to 30 years, so we have a baseline to understand how 
populations have performed in that period, which is a similar length of 
time as between now and mid-century. Therefore, the ``foreseeable 
future'' used in this determination is 20 to 30 years, which is the 
length of time into the future that the Service can reasonably 
determine that both the future threats and the species' responses to 
those threats are likely.

Analytical Framework

    The SSA report documents the results of our comprehensive 
biological review of the best scientific and commercial data regarding 
the status of the species, including an assessment of the potential 
threats to the species. The SSA report does not represent our decision 
on whether the species should be reclassified as a threatened species 
or delisted under the Act. It does, however,

[[Page 31977]]

provide the scientific basis that informs our regulatory decisions, 
which involve the further application of standards within the Act and 
its implementing regulations and policies. The following is a summary 
of the key results and conclusions from the SSA report; the full SSA 
report can be found at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-
R4-ES-2019-0073.
    To assess Lepanthes eltoroensis viability, we used the three 
conservation biology principles of resiliency, redundancy, and 
representation (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 306-310). Briefly, 
resiliency supports the ability of the species to withstand 
environmental and demographic stochasticity (for example, wet or dry, 
warm or cold years); redundancy supports the ability of the species to 
withstand catastrophic events (for example, droughts, large pollution 
events), and representation supports the ability of the species to 
adapt over time to long-term changes in the environment (for example, 
climate changes). In general, the more resilient and redundant a 
species is and the more representation it has, the more likely it is to 
sustain populations over time, even under changing environmental 
conditions. Using these principles, we identified the species' 
ecological requirements for survival and reproduction at the 
individual, population, and species levels, and described the 
beneficial and risk factors influencing the species' viability.
    The SSA process can be categorized into three sequential stages. 
During the first stage, we evaluated individual species' life-history 
needs. The next stage involved an assessment of the historical and 
current condition of the species' demographics and habitat 
characteristics, including an explanation of how the species arrived at 
its current condition. The final stage of the SSA involved making 
predictions about the species' responses to positive and negative 
environmental and anthropogenic influences. Throughout all of these 
stages, we used the best available information to characterize 
viability as the ability of a species to sustain populations in the 
wild over time. We use this information to inform our regulatory 
decision. Lepanthes eltoroensis was listed as an endangered species in 
1991, due to its rarity (Factor E), its restricted distribution (Factor 
E), forest management practices (Factor A), impacts from hurricane 
damage (Factor E), and collection (Factor B) (56 FR 60933, November 29, 
1991, p. 56 FR 60935). The most important factor affecting L. 
eltoroensis at that time was its limited distribution. Additionally, 
its rarity made the species vulnerable to impacts from hurricanes, such 
as unfavorable microclimatic conditions resulting from numerous canopy 
gaps. Because so few individuals were known to occur, the risk of 
extinction was considered to be extremely high (56 FR 60933, November 
29, 1991, p. 56 FR 60935).

Summary of Biological Status and Threats

    In this section, we review the biological condition of the species 
and its resources, and the threats that influence the species' current 
and future condition, in order to assess the species' overall viability 
and the risks to that viability.

Forest Management Practices

    At the time of listing (1991), management practices such as 
establishment and maintenance of plantations, selective cutting, trail 
maintenance, and shelter construction were considered threats to 
Lepanthes eltoroensis (56 FR 60933, November 29, 1991, p. 56 FR 60935). 
The recovery plan further indicated that destruction and modification 
of habitat might be the most significant factors affecting the number 
of individuals and distribution of the species (Service 1996, p. 5).
    Since the species was listed, several laws have been enacted that 
provide protections to this species. In 1999, Commonwealth Law No. 241 
(New Wildlife Law of Puerto Rico or Nueva Ley de Vida Silvestre de 
Puerto Rico) was enacted to protect, conserve, and enhance native and 
migratory wildlife species (including plants). This law requires 
authorization from the PRDNER Secretary for any action that may affect 
the habitat of any species. Furthermore, part of EYNF (including the 
habitat where Lepanthes eltoroensis is currently known to occur) was 
congressionally designated as the El Toro Wilderness in 2005, to 
preserve its natural conditions, including species like L. eltoroensis, 
inhabiting the area (Caribbean National Forest Act of 2005 (Pub. L. 
109-118); the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq.); U.S. Forest 
Service (USFS) 2016, p. 32). The El Toro Wilderness consists of 
undeveloped USFS lands and is managed to preserve its natural 
conditions without any permanent improvements or human habitation (USFS 
2016, p. 32). All known populations of L. eltoroensis occur within this 
wilderness area.
    Scientists who have conducted research on Lepanthes eltoroensis do 
not consider destruction, curtailment, or modification of this species' 
habitat to be a factor threatening this species (Ackerman 2007, pers. 
comm.). In 2019, the USFS finalized a revised land and resources 
management plan to guide the general direction of EYNF for the next 15 
years. This plan specifically includes a set of standards and 
guidelines to protect the natural resources within the El Toro 
Wilderness, including listed species. Standards specific to the El Toro 
Wilderness include no salvaging of timber, no issuing permits for 
collection of plants or plant material unless for a scientific purpose, 
no new special-use permits for facilities or occupancy, managing 
recreation to minimize the number of people on the trails, and no 
construction of new trails (USFS 2019, pp. 1, 32-35). Standards and 
guidelines for at-risk (including listed) species detailed in the plan 
include not allowing collection of orchids unless approved for 
scientific purposes and making sure forest management activities are 
consistent with recovery plans (USFS 2019, p. 62). Implementation of 
management practices in EYNF has also improved; there is no selective 
cutting, and maintenance is minimal, as both El Toro and Trade Winds 
trails receive few visitors. Mostly researchers and forest personnel 
use El Toro and Trade Winds trails; therefore, few human encounters are 
expected (USFS 2016, p. 32). Additionally, the USFS coordinates with 
the Service to avoid or minimize impacts to a number of federally 
listed species (e.g., the endangered plants Ilex sintenisii and palo 
colorado, and the threatened elfin-woods warbler) that co-occur with L. 
eltoroensis as part of their management practices in accordance with 
section 7 of the Act.
    There is no evidence suggesting current forest management practices 
are negatively affecting the species or its specialized habitat 
(adequate temperature and moisture regimes, and presence of moss) 
(Service 2019, p. 24). Furthermore, based on existing laws, we expect 
EYNF will remain permanently protected as a nature reserve and be 
managed for conservation. Therefore, we no longer consider forest 
management practices or destruction and modification of habitat to be 
threats to the species.

Hurricanes

    The restricted distribution of Lepanthes eltoroensis makes it 
particularly vulnerable to large-scale disturbances, such as hurricanes 
and tropical storms, that frequently affect islands of the Caribbean 
(NOAA 2018, unpaginated). Hurricanes are more frequent in the 
northeastern quadrant of Puerto Rico, where EYNF is located (White et 
al. 2014, p. 30). Current global climate models are rather poor at

[[Page 31978]]

simulating tropical cyclones; however, the Intergovernmental Panel on 
Climate Change's climate simulations project that the Caribbean will 
experience a decrease in tropical cyclone frequency, but the most 
intense events will become more frequent (PRCC 2013, p. 10; Service 
2019, p. 56).
    Cloud forests, where this species occurs, are much taller than 
other vegetation and are higher in elevation, making them more exposed 
and more easily affected by high winds, and they take more time to 
recover post-disturbance (Hu and Smith 2018, p. 827). Heavy rains and 
winds associated with tropical storms and hurricanes cause tree 
defoliation, habitat modification due to trees falling, and landslides 
(Lugo 2008, p. 368). Surveys in 2018 conducted along El Toro Trail 
following Hurricane Maria focused on assessing the impacts to the 
species and its host trees (subpopulations). Nineteen host trees were 
not found and assumed to be lost due to the hurricane. An additional 
nine host trees were found knocked down. In total, 641 plants, 
including seedlings, juveniles, and reproductive and non-reproductive 
adults, were found; 322 were found on previously marked host trees 
(including 191 individuals on those host trees that were knocked to the 
ground), and 319 were new individuals not previously surveyed 
(Melendez-Ackerman 2018, pers. comm.). Given that Lepanthes eltoroensis 
does not persist on felled or dead trees (Ben[iacute]tez and Tremblay 
2003, pp. 67-69), we assume many of these 191 individuals 
(approximately 30 percent of individuals found) will not survive, 
resulting in the loss of those individuals from the metapopulation. 
However, individual plants moved to new host trees do quite well, 
highlighting the feasibility of relocation to increase the species' 
long-term viability in the context of severe hurricanes such as 
Hurricane Maria. University researchers translocated some of these 191 
individuals, but because the translocations occurred months after the 
hurricane, we do not expect survival to be as high as if it had 
occurred immediately after the hurricane. Furthermore, this species has 
persisted from past hurricane events without active management of 
translocating species from felled host trees.
    In addition, associated microclimate changes resulting from downed 
trees and landslides after severe storms (e.g., increased light 
exposure, reduction in relative humidity) may negatively affect the 
growth rate of Lepanthes eltoroensis populations (Tremblay 2008, pp. 
89-90). Following Hurricane Georges in 1998, non-transplanted 
populations of L. eltoroensis had negative growth rates, while groups 
of plants that were transplanted to better habitats within the forest 
had positive growth rates (Benitez-Joubert and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67-
69). Furthermore, based on data on related species, L. eltoroensis 
growth rates may be negatively affected by excess light from gaps 
caused by felled trees during hurricanes (Fernandez et al. 2003, p. 
76).
    The inherently low redundancy (the ability of a species to 
withstand catastrophic events) of Lepanthes eltoroensis due to its 
limited range makes hurricanes and tropical storms a primary risk 
factor. However, given the observed stable trend from past surveys and 
recent partial surveys in 2018 (Service 2019, pp. 39, 45-48), it 
appears that the species has the ability to recover from disturbances 
like hurricanes Hugo, Georges, Hortense, Irma, and Maria (Service 2019, 
pp. 51-52). Additionally, relocation has proven to be a viable 
conservation strategy for this species (Ben[iacute]tez and Tremblay 
2003, pp. 67-69). Relocating plants from fallen trees to standing trees 
following hurricane events results in higher survival of those 
transplanted individuals. This management strategy can improve and 
maximize species' survival and reproductive success after hurricane 
events (Ben[iacute]tez and Tremblay 2003, pp. 67-69; Tremblay 2008, pp. 
83-90). Following this recommendation after Hurricane Maria, 
researchers from the University translocated some L. eltoroensis 
individuals along the El Toro Trail. These individuals are currently 
being monitored to assess survival. In addition, since L. eltoroensis 
is part of the USFS' ``Plant Species of Conservation Interest of El 
Yunque'' (USFS 2018, p. 37) and is included in the 2016 revised land 
and resource management plan that details a management concept focused 
on conservation, particularly to protect unique ecological resources 
(USFS 2016, p. 1), the USFS will continue to implement conservation 
actions, such as habitat protection, enhancement, and relocation of L. 
eltoroensis individuals following hurricanes, as deemed necessary.

Collection

    Collection for commercial or recreational purposes eliminated one 
population of Lepanthes eltoroensis prior to listing under the Act (56 
FR 60933; November 29, 1991). The rarity of the species made the loss 
of even a few individuals a critical loss to the species as a whole.
    The USFS regulations in title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations 
at part 261, section 261.9 (36 CFR 261.9) prohibit damaging or removing 
any plant that is classified as a threatened, endangered, sensitive, 
rare, or unique species in wilderness areas. Additionally, since the 
species was listed under the Act in 1991, other laws have been enacted 
that provide protections to the species from collection or removal. 
Commonwealth Law No. 241 (New Wildlife Law of Puerto Rico or Nueva Ley 
de Vida Silvestre de Puerto Rico), enacted in 1999, protects, 
conserves, and enhances native and migratory wildlife species. 
Specifically, Article 5 of this law prohibits collection and hunting of 
wildlife species, including plants within the jurisdiction of Puerto 
Rico, without a permit from the PRDNER Secretary. In 2004, Lepanthes 
eltoroensis was included in the list of protected species of Regulation 
6766 (Reglamento 6766 para Regir el Manejo de las Especies Vulnerables 
y en Peligro de Extinci[oacute]n en el Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto 
Rico), which governs the management of endangered and threatened 
species within the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Article 2.06 of this 
regulation prohibits collecting, cutting, and removing, among other 
activities, listed plant individuals within the jurisdiction of Puerto 
Rico.
    Lepanthes eltoroensis will likely remain protected under 
Commonwealth laws and regulations after Federal delisting. Commonwealth 
Regulation 6766 provides protection to species that are not federally 
listed or that have been removed from the Federal Lists, and the 
species will remain protected under the wilderness provisions from the 
2016 revised land and resource management plan for EYNF (USFS 2016, 
entire). According to this plan, any influences by humans on the 
natural process that take place in the wilderness area will be to 
protect endangered and threatened species in addition to human life 
(USFS 2016, p. 33). As such, the standards of the plan include 
conducting wildlife and plant habitat/population surveys and monitoring 
in a manner compatible with the goals and objectives of wilderness 
(USFS 2016, p. 34). Additional protection measures include not issuing 
forest product permits for collection of plants or plant material in 
wilderness areas (unless for scientific and educational purposes and 
approved by the forest biologist/ecologist), and management strategies 
to design, construct, and maintain trails to the appropriate trail 
standard in order to meet wilderness standards protections (USFS 2016, 
p. 34).

[[Page 31979]]

    Despite the one documented instance of collection, the threat of 
collection is low, given that few people venture into the El Toro 
Wilderness (Tremblay 2007, pers. comm.) and that the small size (less 
than 2 in. (4 cm) tall) and inconspicuousness of this species makes it 
easy to overlook (Ackerman 2007, pers. comm.; Tremblay 2007, pers. 
comm.). Additionally, this species is not used for commercial or 
recreational purposes and is not considered to have ornamental value 
(Service 2015, p. 8). Despite photos of the species on the internet, 
there is no direct evidence that the species is in private collections 
or that it has been advertised for sale. In addition, since early 2017, 
researchers from the University monitored population trends on all 
known host trees on a monthly basis, and recorded no evidence of 
poaching (e.g., unusual missing plants or scars on the trees). Thus, 
there is no evidence that collection is currently impacting Lepanthes 
eltoroensis (Service 2019, p. 24) or is likely to do so in the future.

Small Population Size and Low Reproduction

    The smaller the population, the greater the probability that 
fluctuations in population size from stochastic variation (e.g., 
reproduction and mortality) will lead to extirpation. There are also 
genetic concerns with small populations, including reduced availability 
of compatible mates, genetic drift, and inbreeding depression. Small 
subpopulations of Lepanthes eltoroensis are particularly vulnerable to 
stochastic events, thus contributing to lower species viability 
(Service 2019, p. 24).
    Lepanthes eltoroensis may experience declining growth related to 
the uneven distribution of individuals among host trees and demographic 
processes (e.g., reproductive success, survival), which can be 
negatively influenced by environmental and catastrophic risks (Service 
2019, p. 25). Fruit production is limited; therefore, opportunities for 
establishment are limited. Less than 20 percent of individuals 
reproduce, and most subpopulations (60 percent of host trees) have 
fewer than 15 individuals. In addition, the distribution of individuals 
(seedling, juvenile, and adults) varies enormously among trees and is 
skewed towards few individuals per tree (Tremblay and Velazquez-Castro 
2009, p. 214). Despite small subpopulations of L. eltoroensis with 
limited distribution and naturally limited fruit production, this 
species has continued to recover even after regular exposure to 
disturbances. We now estimate the species population to be 3,000 
individuals, which is a significant increase from the 140 individuals 
known at the time of listing (Tremblay 2008, p. 90). This is because 
surveys have located additional individuals and subpopulations (groups 
of L. eltoroensis on the same host tree), resulting in a much greater 
estimate of individuals than at the time of listing. Therefore, the 
species' vulnerability to extinction due to catastrophic events is 
reduced.

Genetic Risks

    The main genetic risk factor for the species is low genetic 
variability. The effective population size (number of individuals in a 
population that contribute offspring to the next generation) ranges 
from 3 to 9 percent of the standing population (number of individuals 
in a population) (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, entire). In other words, 
for every 100 adults, maybe 9 will transfer genes to the next 
generation. In addition, although Lepanthes eltoroensis can survive for 
up to 50 years, most seedlings and juveniles die (Tremblay 2000, p. 
264). Therefore, very few individuals are responsible for the majority 
of seed production, decreasing the genetic diversity as a whole in 
subpopulations (Mel[eacute]ndez-Ackerman and Tremblay 2017, pp. 5-6). 
Low genetic diversity may be reflected in reduced genetic and 
environmental plasticity, and, thus, low ability to adapt to 
environmental changes. However, L. eltoroensis has demonstrated the 
ability to withstand environmental change; therefore, low genetic 
diversity does not appear to be affecting the species' viability.
    There is evidence of low gene flow in the species. Estimated gene 
flow in Lepanthes eltoroensis is less than two effective migrants per 
generation (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, p. 54). This result implies 
that most mating is among individuals within a host tree, potentially 
resulting in high inbreeding, low genetic variability, and inbreeding 
depression (Tremblay and Ackerman 2001, pp. 55-58). If there are high 
rates of inbreeding, this could lead to inbreeding depression, and 
could have profound long-term negative impacts to the viability of the 
species (Service 2019, pp. 28-29). However, the species is likely an 
obligate cross-pollinated species (Tremblay et al. 2006, p. 78), which 
is a mechanism to reduce inbreeding. Although the effects of potential 
inbreeding in the future is possible, the species has demonstrated the 
ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions (i.e., natural 
disturbances) over time (Service 2019, p. 54). Thus, both low genetic 
diversity and low gene flow do not appear to be affecting species' 
viability currently, nor do we believe it will in the foreseeable 
future.

Effects of Climate Change

    The average temperatures at EYNF have increased over the past 30 
years (Jennings et al. 2014, p. 4; Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 277). 
Climate projections indicate a 4.6 to 9 degrees Celsius ([deg]C) (8.2 
to 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit ([deg]F)) temperature increase for Puerto 
Rico from 1960-2099 (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 275). Additionally, 
projections indicate a decrease in precipitation and acceleration of 
the hydrological cycles resulting in wet and dry extremes (Jennings et 
al. 2014, p. 4; Cashman et al. 2010, pp. 52-54). In one downscaled 
model, precipitation is projected to decrease faster in wetter regions 
like the Luquillo Mountains, where EYNF is located, and the central 
mountains of Puerto Rico (Khalyani et al. 2016, p. 274). In contrast, 
higher elevations may have a buffering effect on declining trends in 
precipitation (Bowden 2018, pers. comm.; Service 2019, pp. 65-66).
    Downscaled modeling for Puerto Rico was based on three 
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change global emissions scenarios 
from phase 3 of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (the CMIP3 
data set): Mid-high (A2), mid-low (A1B), and low (B1) as the CMIP5 data 
set was not available for Puerto Rico at that time (Khalyani et al. 
2016, p. 267 and 279-280). These scenarios are generally comparable and 
span the more recent representative concentration pathways (RCP) 
scenarios from RCP4.5 (B1) to RCP8.5 (A2) (IPCC 2014, p. 57). Under all 
of these scenarios, emissions increase, precipitation declines, 
temperature and total dry days increase, and portions of subtropical 
rain and wet forests (that Lepanthes eltoroensis occupies) are lost, 
while all wet and moist forest types decrease in size in Puerto Rico; 
the differences in the scenarios depends on the extent of these changes 
and the timing of when they are predicted to occur (Service 2019, p. 
67).
    In general, projections show similar patterns of changes in 
precipitation and drought intensity and extremes, although total 
changes were greater for the A2 scenario (Khalyani et al. 2016, pp. 
272-273, 274; Service 2019, pp. 59-60). Under scenarios A2, A1B, and 
B1, annual precipitation is projected to decrease. Current annual 
precipitation in Puerto Rico averages 745 to 4,346 mm (29 to 171 in.). 
However, differences in precipitation between the three scenarios were 
greater after mid-century, as was uncertainty of species' response to 
the various scenarios past mid-century (Khalyani et al. 2016, p.

[[Page 31980]]

274). Before then, decreases in rainfall are expected to be far less; 
rainfall decreases are expected to be 0.0012 to 0.0032 mm per day per 
year through 2050 (PRCC 2013, p. 7). Additionally, for all three 
climate scenarios, significant decreases in precipitation for the 
northern wet forests (like EYNF) are not predicted until after 2040 
(Service 2019, p. 60). Furthermore, the U.S. Geological Survey 
projection for Puerto Rico predicts an overall drying of the island and 
a reduction in extreme rainfall occurrence; however, this model 
suggests higher elevations, like those supporting L. eltoroensis, may 
have a buffering effect on declining trends in precipitation (Bowden 
2018, pers. comm.). Therefore, precipitation declines are not likely to 
occur in the area supporting L. eltoroensis during the foreseeable 
future. On the other hand, drought intensity increased steadily under 
all three scenarios (Khalyani et al. 2016, pp. 274-275). This increase 
is linear for all three scenarios. Given that the projections for 
precipitation and drought diverge significantly after midcentury, it is 
difficult to reasonably determine the species' response to the coming 
changes.
    All three scenarios predict increases in temperature (Khalyani et 
al. 2016, p. 275). However, like with precipitation, projected 
increases in temperature are not substantial until after 2040. 
Projections show only a 0.8 [deg]C (1.4 [deg]F) increase by mid-century 
under all three scenarios. These scenarios differentiate the most from 
each other in later time intervals (after 2040) (Khalyani et al. 2016, 
pp. 275, 277). Also, we are not aware of any information that indicates 
these air temperature increases will influence formation of the cloud 
cover over EYNF in the foreseeable future, which could in turn impact 
interior temperatures and humidity of the forest where Lepanthes 
eltoroensis is found. The divergence of all scenarios after 2040 makes 
it difficult to predict the species' likely future condition; 
therefore, we are relying on species' response 20 to 30 years into the 
future.
    Climatic changes are projected in the life zone distributions in 
Puerto Rico, although the changes vary by life zone and are predicted 
to be much more significant after mid-century. Because life zones are 
derived from climate variables (e.g., precipitation and temperature), 
general changes in life zone distribution are similar to changes in 
climatic variables. For example, annual precipitation changes will 
result in shifts from wet and moist zones to drier zones (Khalyani et 
al. 2016, p. 275), and changes in temperature will result in changes 
from subtropical to tropical. Under all three scenarios, models show 
decreasing trends in size for areas currently classified as wet and 
moist zones, while increasing trends were observed in the size covered 
by dry zones (Khalyani et al. 2016, pp. 275, 279). Therefore, under all 
scenarios, reduction of the size of areas covered by subtropical rain 
and wet forests are anticipated. Nonetheless, the loss of wet and moist 
zones in the northeastern mountain area that supports Lepanthes 
eltoroensis is not predicted to be substantial, and the area is 
predicted to remain relatively stable until after 2040 (Service 2019 p. 
69). This may be due to possible buffering effects of elevation across 
the island.
    This projected shift of the life zones of Puerto Rico from humid to 
drier is the most important potential risk to Lepanthes eltoroensis. 
This includes changes in relative area and distribution pattern of the 
life zones, and the disappearance of humid life zones (Khalyani et al. 
2016, p. 275). Decreased rainfall in northeastern Puerto Rico could 
cause migration, distribution changes, and potential extirpation of 
many species that depend on the unique environmental conditions of the 
rain forest (Weaver and Gould 2013, p. 62). These projections may have 
direct implications for L. eltoroensis because the acreage of the lower 
montane wet forest life zone it occupies could decrease, resulting in 
less habitat being available for the species. Epiphytes like L. 
eltoroensis could experience moisture stress due to higher temperatures 
and less cloud cover with a rising cloud base, affecting their growth 
and flowering (Nadkarni and Solano 2002, p. 584). Due to its 
specialized ecological requirements and restricted distributions within 
the dwarf forest, L. eltoroensis could be more adversely impacted by 
the effects of climate change than other species with wider 
distribution (e.g., lower elevation species) and greater plasticity, 
thus reducing its viability. However, predictions of life zone changes 
are not expected to affect resiliency of L. eltoroensis within the 
foreseeable future (Service 2019, p. 69).
    Overall, we anticipate the range of Lepanthes eltoroensis could 
contract due to changes in climatic variables leading to loss of wet 
and tropical montane habitats. Although changes to precipitation and 
drought, temperature, life zones, and hurricane severity are expected 
to occur on Puerto Rico, thereby affecting the species' habitat, they 
are not predicted to be substantial over the next 20 to 30 year 
foreseeable future. Modeling shows the divergence in these projections 
increases substantially after mid-century, making projections beyond 20 
to 30 years more uncertain; as a result, the species' response to those 
changes beyond 30 years into the future is also uncertain (Khalyani et 
al. 2016, p. 275).
    Climate change is a primary risk factor to the species; however, 
under all climate emission scenarios, Lepanthes eltoroensis is 
projected to remain moderately resilient within the foreseeable future. 
There is very little projected contraction of the wet and moist forests 
30 years into the future. Although increasing catastrophic hurricanes 
are possible, relocation of plants and appropriate forest management 
can ameliorate some of these impacts. Overall, the viability of the 
species is predicted to remain stable despite climate change impacts.

Cumulative Effects

    We note that, by using the SSA framework to guide our analysis of 
the scientific information documented in the SSA report, we have not 
only analyzed individual effects on the species, but we have also 
analyzed their potential cumulative effects. We incorporate the 
cumulative effects into our SSA analysis when we characterize the 
current and future condition of the species. To assess the current and 
future condition of the species, we undertake an iterative analysis 
that encompasses and incorporates the threats individually and then 
accumulates and evaluates the effects of all the factors that may be 
influencing the species, including threats and conservation efforts. 
Because the SSA framework considers not just the presence of the 
factors, but to what degree they collectively influence risk to the 
entire species, our assessment integrates the cumulative effects of the 
factors and replaces a standalone cumulative effects analysis.

Summary of Current Condition

    Viability is defined as the ability of the species to sustain 
populations in the wild over time. To assess the viability of Lepanthes 
eltoroensis, we used the three conservation biology principles of 
resiliency, representation, and redundancy (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 
306-310).
    Factors that influence the resiliency of Lepanthes eltoroensis 
include abundance and growth trends within host trees; habitat factors 
such as elevation, slope, aspect, precipitation, temperature, and 
canopy cover; and presence of moss, mycorrhizal fungi, and pollinators. 
Influencing those factors are elements of L. eltoroensis's ecology that 
determine whether

[[Page 31981]]

populations can grow to maximize habitat occupancy, thereby increasing 
resiliency. Stochastic factors that have the potential to affect L. 
eltoroensis include impacts to its habitat from hurricanes and effects 
of climate change (i.e., changes in temperature and precipitation 
regimes). Beneficial factors that influence resiliency include the 
protected status of the species' habitat, as the known range of the 
species is entirely within the El Toro Wilderness and, therefore, 
protected from human-caused habitat loss and collection.
    The number of Lepanthes eltoroensis individuals is greater than at 
the time of listing (Tremblay 2008, p. 90), approximately 3,000 
individual plants currently. The distribution of L. eltoroensis has not 
been investigated outside of traditional areas (i.e., just off El Toro 
and Trade Wind trails); however, additional populations may occur 
within suitable habitat outside El Toro Trail. In fact, additional 
individuals have been found near, but outside of, El Toro Trail 
(Tremblay 2008, p. 90). Assuming a metapopulation size of 3,000 
individuals and observed stable subpopulations from past surveys 
(including recent partial surveys in 2018), these numbers indicate that 
the species has the ability to recover from normal stochastic 
disturbances; thus, we consider the species to be moderately resilient.
    We lack the genetic and ecological diversity data to characterize 
representation for Lepanthes eltoroensis. In the absence of species-
specific genetic and ecological diversity information, we typically 
evaluate representation based on the extent and variability of habitat 
characteristics across the geographical range. Because the species does 
not appear to have much physiological flexibility given that it has a 
rather restricted distribution (cloud forests on ridges), 
representative units were not delineated for this species. Available 
data suggest that conditions are present for genetic drift and 
inbreeding depression (Tremblay 1997a, p. 92). However, the most 
updated L. eltoroensis information shows that the species survived the 
almost entire deforestation of the lowlands of EYNF (habitat 
surrounding the known localities of L. eltoroensis) and the associated 
changes in microhabitat conditions, and thus the species has the 
ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions (i.e., natural 
disturbances) over time and does not appear to be effected by genetic 
drift at present. Furthermore, some of the factors that we concluded 
would reduce representation at the time of listing, such as habitat 
destruction and collection, are no longer acting as stressors upon the 
species. Finally, because the population is significantly larger than 
was known at the time of listing, representation has improved. 
Redundancy for Lepanthes eltoroensis is the total number and resilience 
of subpopulations and their distribution across the species' range. 
This species is endemic to EYNF, and it has not been introduced 
elsewhere. Despite the presence of multiple subpopulations (i.e., host 
trees), these subpopulations are located within a narrow/restricted 
range at El Toro Wilderness and are all exposed to similar specific 
habitat and environmental conditions. Although redundancy is naturally 
low due to the narrow range that the species inhabits, it has recovered 
from past natural disturbances (i.e., hurricanes, tropical storms, 
etc.) and is considered more abundant within its habitat than 
previously documented, as noted above.

Projected Future Status

    Lepanthes eltoroensis only occurs within the protected EYNF lands 
where stressors--including forest management practices, urban 
development surrounding EYNF, and overcollection--are not expected to 
be present or are expected to remain relatively stable. Because L. 
eltoroensis occurs on protected lands managed by the USFS, it will 
benefit from their ongoing conservation practices, which include the 
relocation of plants from fallen host trees after a hurricane, as 
deemed necessary, to alleviate the negative impacts of these storm 
events. The effect of genetic drift on the species into the future is 
unknown, but L. eltoroensis has thus far demonstrated the ability to 
adapt to changing environmental conditions (i.e., natural disturbances) 
over time (Service 2019, pp. 51-52). The primary stressors affecting 
the future condition of L. eltoroensis are current and ongoing climate 
change (Mel[eacute]ndez-Ackerman and Tremblay 2017, p. 1) and the 
associated shifts in rainfall, temperature, and storm intensities. 
These stressors account for indirect and direct effects at some level 
to all life stages and across the species' range.
    To examine the potential future condition of Lepanthes eltoroensis, 
we used three future scenarios based on climate change predictions for 
Puerto Rico (Khalyani et al. 2016, entire), which used global emission 
scenarios (mid-high (A2), mid-low (A1B), and low (B1) (Nakicenovic and 
Swart 2000, entire)) to capture a range of possible scenarios. Our 
assessment of future viability includes qualitative descriptions of the 
likely impacts of climate change under the above three scenarios from 
the literature and is intended to capture the uncertainty in the 
species' response to climate stressors as well as capture our lack of 
information on abundance and growth rates relative to each scenario.
    Although modeling projects large changes in temperature and 
precipitation to Puerto Rico through 2100, the divergence in these 
projections increases substantially after mid-century, making 
projections beyond 20 to 30 years more uncertain (Khalyani et al. 2016, 
p. 275). By mid-21st century, Puerto Rico is predicted to be subject to 
a decrease in rainfall, along with increase drought intensity, 
particularly in wetter regions like EYNF (Khalyani et al. 2016, pp. 
265, 274-275). Given the average lifespan of the species (approximately 
5 years), a period of 20 to 30 years allows for multiple generations 
and detection of any population changes.
    In summary, changes to precipitation and drought, temperature, and 
life zones are expected to occur on Puerto Rico, but are not predicted 
to be substantial within the foreseeable future. Although modeling 
shows changes to Puerto Rico through 2100, the divergence in these 
projections increases after mid-century, making projections beyond 20 
to 30 years more uncertain; as a result, the species' response beyond 
20 to 30 years is also uncertain.
    These projected changes may have direct or at least indirect 
effects on Lepanthes eltoroensis; however, viability of the species 
under all scenarios is expected to remain stable within the foreseeable 
future (Service 2019, p. 71). Potential direct effects include a 
reduced number of seedlings as the number of dry days increase, a 
reduced number of fruits as minimum average temperature increases, and 
a reduced number of adults as maximum temperature increases (Olaya-
Arenas et al. 2011, p. 2042). Indirect effects are related to potential 
changes in moss cover and composition due to temperature and 
precipitation changes. Data from related species showed that orchid 
density, growth, and establishment were positively associated with moss 
species richness (Crain 2012, pp. 15-16; Garcia-Cancel et al. 2013, p. 
6). Therefore, a change in forest temperature and humidity could affect 
the establishment and distribution of moss and also L. eltoroensis 
(Service 2019, p. 11).
    Persistence of the species through repeated past hurricanes and 
other storms indicates that the species has the ability to recover and 
adapt from

[[Page 31982]]

disturbances. In fact, many researchers at EYNF have concluded that 
hurricanes are the main organizing force of the forests (Service 2019, 
p.71). The forests go through a cycle that averages 60 years, starting 
with great impact by winds and rain of a hurricane, and then 60 years 
of regrowth (Lugo 2008, p. 371). In those 60 years of regrowth, 
complete changes in the species that dominate the landscape can occur. 
Although the hurricane appears destructive, it can be constructive 
because it makes the area more productive--it rejuvenates the forest 
(Service 2019, p. 71). Currently, EYNF is at the initial phase of early 
succession following Hurricane Maria (2017), which produced severe tree 
mortality and defoliation, including Lepanthes eltoroensis host trees.
    In general, we anticipate the range of the species may contract 
somewhat due to changes in climatic variables, although the loss of wet 
and moist zones in the northeastern mountain area that supports 
Lepanthes eltoroensis is not predicted to be substantial within the 
foreseeable future (Service 2019, p. 66). Any range contraction may be 
exacerbated by an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes. 
However, as the species occurs within EYNF, synergistic negative 
effects of development and deleterious forest management practices are 
unlikely threats to the species in the future. Lepanthes eltoroensis 
and its habitat at the EYNF are protected by congressional designation 
of El Toro Wilderness Area (Forest Plan 2016, p. 32), thus precluding 
human disturbance. Because the EYNF management plan includes a set of 
standards and guidelines to protect the natural resources within the El 
Toro Wilderness, including co-occurring federally listed species (e.g., 
Ilex sintenisii and palo colorado) (Service 2019, pp. 1, 32-35), the 
Service anticipates continued implementation of conservation and 
management practices to improve the habitat of all species within the 
area, including actions to mitigate hurricane impacts.
    To summarize the future viability of Lepanthes eltoroensis, 
resiliency is projected to remain moderate through at least the next 20 
to 30 years under all future scenarios. As mentioned above, very little 
contraction of the wet and moist forests is predicted within this 
timeframe. Although increasing catastrophic hurricanes are possible, 
relocation of plants can ameliorate some of these impacts. Redundancy 
is expected to remain stable under all scenarios for the next 20 to 30 
years. However, Lepanthes eltoroensis has persisted through 
catastrophic events in the past, and we expect it to remain viable 
within the foreseeable future. Because the species has a rather 
restricted distribution, representative units were not delineated for 
this species. The current condition of low genetic and environmental 
diversity, and little breadth to rely on if some plants are lost, is 
expected to continue under all scenarios, at least through the next 20 
to 30 years. Available data suggest that conditions are present for 
genetic drift and inbreeding. However, Lepanthes eltoroensis has 
demonstrated the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions 
(i.e., natural disturbances) over time and does not appear to be 
affected by genetic drift.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    In the proposed rule published on March 10, 2020 (85 FR 13844), we 
requested that all interested parties submit written comments on the 
proposed delisting of Lepanthes eltoroensis and the draft post-
delisting monitoring (PDM) plan by May 11, 2020. We also contacted 
appropriate Federal and State agencies, scientific experts and 
organizations, and other interested parties and invited them to comment 
on the proposal and plan. A newspaper notice inviting general public 
comments was published in Primera Hora (major local newspaper) and also 
announced using online and social media sources. We did not receive any 
requests for a public hearing.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the 
Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), and the Service's 
August 22, 2016, Director's Memo on the Peer Review Process, we sought 
the expert opinions of five appropriate and independent specialists 
regarding the SSA report for Lepanthes eltoroensis. These peer 
reviewers have expertise in L. eltoroensis or similar epiphytic orchid 
species' biology or habitat, or climate change. We received comments 
from one of the five peer reviewers. The purpose of peer review is to 
ensure that our decisions are based on scientifically sound data, 
assumptions, and analyses.
    We reviewed all comments received from the peer reviewer for 
substantive issues and new information contained in the Lepanthes 
eltoroensis SSA report. The peer reviewer generally concurred with our 
methods and conclusions, and provided additional information, 
clarifications, and suggestions to improve the final SSA report. We 
revised the final SSA, which supports this final rule, as appropriate, 
in response to the comments and suggestions we received from the peer 
reviewer.

Public Comments

    We reviewed all public comments for substantive issues and new 
information regarding the species. Substantive comments we received 
during the comment period are addressed below and, where appropriate, 
are incorporated directly into this final rule.
    (1) Comment: One commenter indicated that the species should not be 
delisted because the population growth rate is highly variable, and the 
population is generally decreasing; further, seedling individuals are 
slowly decreasing, and plant mortality is slowly increasing following 
Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
    Our Response: The commenter did not provide substantial new 
information to support this comment. In addition, we do not have 
evidence indicating the species shows a long-term (over the past three 
decades) decreasing trend. In fact, the overall number of individuals 
detected has increased since the time of listing (1991) from 140 to 
approximately 3,000 individuals estimated along the Trade Winds Trail 
(Tremblay 2008, p. 90). Further populations (host trees) are expected 
to occur within suitable habitat just outside this trail in areas that 
have not yet been surveyed due to the inaccessibility and steepness of 
the terrain (Tremblay 2008, p. 90). Thus, the species' viability is 
supported by information showing an increased number of individuals 
over the past three decades.
    The species' mean lifespan is approximately 5.2 years, with an 
average annual mortality rate of 10 percent; however, this mortality 
rate varies greatly among life stages, with increased survival of older 
stages (adults) (Tremblay 2000, p. 265; Rosa-Fuentes and Tremblay 2007, 
p. 207). This relatively short lifespan coupled with a relatively high 
mortality rate indicates that the species probably would have gone 
extinct were it not currently viable.
    A seasonal decrease in number of seedlings may also be associated 
with transition to more mature stages (juveniles and non-reproductive 
adults). As expected, a higher mortality of seedlings (80.3 percent) 
was found 6 months after Hurricane Maria due to the changes in canopy 
structure and associated microhabitat conditions that promoted drought 
stress (Melendez-Ackerman et al. 2019, p. 4). However, an overall 
survival rate for monitored plants was found to be approximately

[[Page 31983]]

80 percent (Melendez-Ackerman et al. 2019, p. 5). In addition, in 
August 2018, at least 1,105 live individuals (768 in the El Toro trail 
and 337 in a portion of the Trade Winds trail) distributed across 61 
phorophytes (host trees) were recorded after Hurricane Maria. While the 
surveyed number (1,105 individuals) is less than the estimated 3,000 
population size, this is the result of monitoring of accessible habitat 
following the hurricane, and there is a consensus among experts that 
the species' distribution extends beyond the surveyed areas.
    (2) Comment: Several commenters indicated that the species should 
not be delisted based on the impacts from hurricanes, including 
expected higher frequency and intensity of hurricanes associated with 
climate change. Commenters indicated that the species' habitat is still 
recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Maria in 2017, as shown by low 
percentage of forest cover (34 percent in June 2019), increase in 
higher monthly averages in minimum temperatures, and lower number of 
moss species. One commenter expressed that, in general, the occurrences 
of Lepanthes spp. are correlated with high levels of moss cover, moss 
cover seems to be important for orchid growth and survival, and moss 
cover was affected by the hurricane. The commenter also mentioned that 
the L. eltoroensis population is still at pre-hurricane levels, having 
only added 100 individuals during surveys conducted post-hurricane and 
comparing with the numbers obtained as part of the assessments 
commissioned by the Service prior to Hurricane Maria.
    Our Response: As recognized in the proposed rule and the SSA 
report, we acknowledge the impacts from hurricanes and their expected 
higher frequency due to climate change. Lepanthes eltoroensis is 
endemic to El Toro and Trade Winds trails at El Yunque National Forest 
(EYNF), an area subject to recurrent hurricanes and storms. The 
continued presence and viability of the species through repeated past 
hurricanes (e.g., Hugo, Hortense, Georges, Irma, and Maria) shows the 
species has the ability to overcome and adapt from such disturbances. 
In fact, the species survived the peak in deforestation in Puerto Rico, 
including deforestation of the lowlands of EYNF, and the impact of 
Hurricane San Felipe II in 1928, the only category 5 hurricane on 
record to directly impact Puerto Rico. Thus, the species has been 
exposed to extreme natural disturbance and landscape modification via 
forest cover loss and moss reduction at EYNF that likely resulted in 
changes in microhabitat conditions (i.e., higher temperature and 
evapotranspiration) caused by these disturbances and stochastic events.
    As addressed in the Lepanthes eltoroensis SSA report (Service 2019, 
p. 73), hurricanes are the main organizing force of the forests of 
EYNF, and the forests goes through a cycle that averages 60 years (Lugo 
2008, p. 383). The cycle starts with great impact from winds and rain 
of a hurricane followed by 60 years of regrowth. Thus, L. eltoroensis 
is naturally adapted to hurricane disturbance, and we expected it to 
remain viable in habitats subject to such intermittent disturbances 
(e.g., hurricanes) (Crain et al. 2019, p. 89).
    Direct impacts to L. eltoroensis occurred from Hurricane Maria, and 
seedlings experienced high mortality following the disturbance 
(Melendez-Ackerman 2019, p. 4; Hern[aacute]ndez-Mu[ntilde]iz et al., 
accepted for publication, entire). However, 16 previously unknown host 
trees (new populations) were recorded during post-hurricane surveys, 
indicating the species may be more widespread within its habitat 
(Melendez-Ackerman 2019, p. 2; Hern[aacute]ndez-Mu[ntilde]iz et al., 
accepted for publication, entire).
    Despite the species' apparent preference for caimitillo 
(Micropholis garciniifolia) (endemic to the higher elevations of EYNF) 
as a host tree, there are records of L. eltoroensis growing on palma de 
sierra (Prestoea acuminata) and helecho arboreo (Cyathea arborea), 
which are fast-growing species with widespread distributions within L. 
eltoroensis habitat whose abundance is favored by hurricanes. 
Therefore, the availability of potential host trees for L. eltoroensis 
should not be a limiting factor following hurricanes.
    (3) Comment: One commenter indicated that the species should not be 
delisted because there is a need of crucial data on the species' 
reproductive biology (e.g., breeding system and pollinators), the 
feasibility of propagation, habitat requirements, and the ecology of 
the species.
    Our Response: We are required to make our determinations based on 
the best available scientific and commercial data at the time the 
determination is made. A need for further research on a species is not 
necessarily relevant to the question of whether the species meets the 
definition of an ``endangered species'' or a ``threatened species.'' 
Regardless of the mechanism for pollination of the species, 
reproduction and recruitment of Lepanthes eltoroensis is occurring, 
evidenced by the presence of different size classes. The reportedly low 
fruit set of the species is not atypical of orchids of this type; thus, 
we do not consider it a concern for the future viability of the 
species. Finally, delisting the species does not prevent continued 
research on the species.
    (4) Comment: One commenter indicated that the species should not be 
delisted because its habitat has not been completely surveyed, and 
there is a need to gather information on the species' distribution and 
abundance.
    Our Response: As stated above, we make our status determinations 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data at the time 
the determination is made. Our analysis of the best commercial and 
scientific information available indicates that Lepanthes eltoroensis 
does not meet the Act's definitions of an ``endangered species'' or a 
``threatened species.'' Despite the limited range of this species, we 
determined that stressors either have not occurred, have been 
ameliorated, or are not expected to occur to the extent anticipated at 
the time of listing in 1991.
    We acknowledge that the species has not been extensively surveyed 
outside the El Toro and Trade Winds trails due to the areas' remoteness 
and steep topography (Service 2019, p. 19). However, new occupied host 
trees were identified after Hurricane Maria, indicating the species 
extends beyond previously known areas. Additionally, species experts 
from University of Puerto Rico (University), in collaboration with the 
USFS and the Service, developed a habitat model using environmental 
variables such as elevation, aspect, and a topographic position index 
and heat load (Sparklin 2020, unpublished data). Although this model is 
pending field validation, the result from this analysis shows that 
further suitable habitat extends outside traditionally surveyed areas, 
including areas of Pico El Yunque and Pico del Este (Sparklin 2020, 
unpublished data).
    For these reasons, current population numbers are likely 
underestimated as the species is expected to be more widespread 
particularly considering the pristine status of its habitat. Further, 
delisting the species does not prevent future study or habitat surveys.
    (5) Comment: We received public comments indicating that the 
species should not be delisted because the Service has not completed 
the recovery actions stated in the species recovery plan. Two 
commenters indicated that the species should not be delisted because an 
agreement between the Service and the USFS concerning the protection of 
Lepanthes eltoroensis within the El Yunque National Forest property has 
not been prepared and

[[Page 31984]]

implemented (Recovery Objective #1). In addition, two commenters 
indicated that the species should not be delisted because new 
populations (the number of which should be determined following the 
appropriate studies) capable of self-perpetuation have not been 
established within protected areas (Recovery Objective #2).
    Our Response: Recovery plans provide roadmaps to species recovery, 
but are not required in order to achieve recovery of a species or to 
evaluate it for delisting. In addition, recovery plans are also 
nonbinding documents that rely on voluntary participation from 
landowners, land managers, and other recovery partners. A determination 
of whether a valid, extant species should be delisted is made solely on 
the question of whether it meets the Act's definitions of an 
``endangered species'' or a ``threatened species.'' We have determined 
that Lepanthes eltoroensis does not.
    As addressed under Recovery and Recovery Plan Implementation in the 
proposed rule (85 FR 13844, pp. 13852-13854), we consider the need for 
an agreement between the Service and USFS as obsolete. At the time the 
recovery plan was approved in 1996, this agreement was deemed as needed 
because the potential of habitat modification due to forest management 
practices (e.g., establishment and maintenance of plantations, 
selective cutting, trail maintenance, and shelter construction). 
However, the habitat where L. eltoroensis is found was congressionally 
designated as El Toro Wilderness Area in 2005. This designation 
provides stronger protection for L. eltoroensis than a conservation 
agreement would. The designated wilderness area is managed to retain 
primitive character without any permanent improvements or human 
habitation, and to preserve its natural conditions (USFS 2016, pp. 32-
35). Currently, trails across L. eltoroensis habitat are used mostly by 
researchers and forest personnel; few human encounters are expected on 
these trails (USFS 2016, pp. 32-35), and no evidence indicates that 
forest management practices are negatively impacting the species.
    Also addressed under Recovery and Recovery Plan Implementation in 
the proposed rule (85 FR 13844, pp. 13852-13854), the second recovery 
criterion regarding establishment of new populations capable of self-
perpetuation within protected areas is no longer necessary because 
additional populations (host trees) and individuals have been found 
since the species was listed. In addition, new host trees have been 
found as part of increased survey efforts. Moreover, recent habitat 
modeling indicates suitable habitat extends beyond traditional surveyed 
areas; thus, population numbers are expected to be higher.
    (6) Comment: Several commenters indicated that the species should 
not be delisted because it is still threatened by potential 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes (Factor B); disease or predation (Factor C); the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms (Factor D); and other 
natural or manmade factors (Factor E). Particularly, one commenter 
highlighted the potential impacts due to overutilization for commercial 
and recreational purposes and that the species may be in private 
collections. One commenter indicated that several Lepanthes species may 
exist ex-situ in private collections in the Netherlands, provided a 
photo, and suggested further investigation to potential poaching is 
needed.
    Our Response: The commenters did not provide substantial new 
information indicating that Factors B, C, D, and E are threats to 
Lepanthes eltoroensis. We are proactively collaborating with the 
species' experts, and no specific information on these issues have been 
brought to our attention or highlighted as a threat. As for the 
potential poaching of the species, the known populations and prime 
habitat occur on Federal lands congressionally designated as the El 
Toro Wilderness to preserve its natural conditions, including L. 
eltoroensis. Standards specific to the El Toro Wilderness include no 
salvaging of timber, no issuing permits for collection of plants or 
plant material unless for a scientific purpose, no new special-use 
permits for facilities or occupancy, managing recreation to minimize 
the number of people on the trails, and no construction of new trails. 
In addition, the known populations of L. eltoroensis occur on remote 
areas with little human traffic, and are subject to surveillance by 
USFS law enforcement officers. The Netherlands record is from a photo, 
and it is not clear that it is actually from a private collection. 
There is no evidence indicating that Lepanthes eltoroensis has been 
advertised for sale or that it is in private collections. In addition, 
there is no historical or current evidence of poaching of the species.

Determination of Status of Lepanthes Eltoroensis

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR part 424), set forth the procedures for determining 
whether a species meets the definition of ``endangered species'' or 
``threatened species.'' The Act defines an ``endangered species'' as a 
species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range, and a ``threatened species'' as a species that is 
likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range. For a more 
detailed discussion on the factors considered when determining whether 
a species meets the definition of an endangered species or a threatened 
species and our analysis on how we determine the foreseeable future in 
making these decisions, please see Regulatory and Analytical Framework.

Status Throughout All of Its Range

    After evaluating threats to the species and assessing the 
cumulative effect of the threats under the section 4(a)(1) factors, we 
note that more individuals are known to occur than at the time of 
listing. Additionally, the best metapopulation estimate of 3,000 
individuals is likely an underestimate, as not all potential habitat 
has been surveyed. Despite the effects of a small population size, 
continued limited distribution, and conditions rife for low gene flow 
(Factor E), the species has adapted to changing environmental 
conditions. Threats from incompatible forest management practices 
(Factor A) and collection (Factor B) have been addressed by regulatory 
changes, and are not anticipated to negatively affect Lepanthes 
eltoroensis in the future. Although hurricanes (Factor E) have the 
potential to negatively impact growth rates and survival of L. 
eltoroensis, stable subpopulations, even after recent severe 
hurricanes, indicate this species recovers from these natural 
disturbances. The greatest threat to the future of L. eltoroensis comes 
from the effects of climate change (Factor E); however, while changes 
to precipitation and drought, temperature, and life zones are expected 
to occur on Puerto Rico, they are not predicted to be substantial 
within the foreseeable future, and the viability of the species is 
expected to remain stable. We anticipate small population dynamics 
(small population size and restricted gene flow) (Factor E) will 
continue to be a concern, as conditions for genetic drift are present, 
nonetheless L. eltoroensis has demonstrated the ability to adapt to 
changing environmental conditions over time at population levels lower 
than they are currently or projected to be in the future.
    The species was originally listed as an endangered species due to 
its rarity, restricted distribution, specialized habitat, and 
vulnerability to habitat

[[Page 31985]]

destruction or modification, as well as because of collection for 
commercial/recreational uses. We find that these threats are no longer 
affecting the status of the species, as they have been minimized or 
eliminated. Surveys over the past 18 years, including following two 
strong hurricanes in 2018, documented more individuals than known at 
the time of listing, and the population appears to be relatively 
stable. The habitat at EYNF, where the species occurs, is a designated 
wilderness area and managed for its natural conditions; we conclude 
that this legal protection has addressed the threat of habitat 
modification or destruction to the degree that it is no longer a threat 
to the species continued existence. In addition, collection is 
prohibited under Puerto Rican law and USFS regulations, and there is no 
indication this is a current threat to the species. Stability of the 
species through repeated past strong hurricanes indicates the species 
has the ability to coexist with disturbances. While a narrow endemic, 
the species has continued to be viable across its historical range with 
all life stages represented and in good health. While projections show 
increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation over time into the 
future, projected impacts to the species' habitat (e.g., life zone 
changes) are not expected to be significant within the foreseeable 
future (Service 2019, p. 69). Recent, yet unpublished, downscaled 
climate modeling (Bowden 2018, pers. comm.) indicates that higher 
elevation areas, like those supporting L. eltoroensis, may be buffered 
from the more generally predicted level of precipitation changes. This 
species has also demonstrated the ability to adapt to changes in its 
environment. Since the species was listed, warming temperatures have 
been documented and precipitation levels have decreased, yet the 
species has demonstrated resiliency. Additionally, following strong 
hurricanes that affected the species' habitat, abundance has remained 
stable, with all age classes represented and in good health. While 
suitable habitat conditions for the species may contract some over the 
foreseeable future, the species is likely to continue to maintain close 
to current levels of resiliency, redundancy, and representation. We 
conclude that there are no existing or potential threats that, either 
alone or in combination with others (i.e., forest management practices, 
climate change, and hurricane damage), are likely to cause the species' 
viability to decline. Thus, after assessing the best available 
information, we determine that L. eltoroensis is not in danger of 
extinction now nor likely to become so within the foreseeable future 
throughout all of its range.

Status Throughout a Significant Portion of Its Range

    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is in danger of extinction or likely to become so 
within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion 
of its range. Having determined that Lepanthes eltoroensis is not in 
danger of extinction or likely to become so within the foreseeable 
future throughout all of its range, we now consider whether it may be 
in danger of extinction or likely to become so within the foreseeable 
future in a significant portion of its range--that is, whether there is 
any portion of the species' range for which it is true that both (1) 
the portion is significant; and (2) the species is in danger of 
extinction now or likely to become so in the foreseeable future in that 
portion. Depending on the case, it might be more efficient for us to 
address the ``significance'' question or the ``status'' question first. 
We can choose to address either question first. Regardless of which 
question we address first, if we reach a negative answer with respect 
to the first question that we address, we do not need to evaluate the 
other question for that portion of the species' range.
    In undertaking this analysis for Lepanthes eltoroensis, we choose 
to address the status question first--we consider information 
pertaining to the geographic distribution of both the species and the 
threats that the species faces to identify any portions of the range 
where the species is endangered or threatened. Lepanthes eltoroensis is 
a narrow endemic that functions as a single, contiguous population 
(with a metapopulation structure) and occurs within a very small area 
(EYNF, Puerto Rico). Thus, there is no biologically meaningful way to 
break this limited range into portions, and the threats that the 
species faces affect the species throughout its entire range. This 
means that no portions of the species' range have a different status 
from its rangewide status. Therefore, no portion of the species' range 
can provide a basis for determining that the species is in danger of 
extinction now or likely to become so in the foreseeable future in a 
significant portion of its range, and we find the species is not in 
danger of extinction now or likely to become so in the foreseeable 
future in any significant portion of its range. This is consistent with 
the courts' holdings in Desert Survivors v. Department of the Interior, 
No. 16-cv-01165-JCS, 2018 WL 4053447 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2018), and 
Center for Biological Diversity v. Jewell, 248 F. Supp. 3d, 946, 959 
(D. Ariz. 2017).

Determination of Status

    Our review of the best available scientific and commercial data 
indicates that Lepanthes eltoroensis does not meet the definition of an 
endangered species or a threatened species in accordance with sections 
3(6) and 3(20) of the Act. Therefore, we are removing Lepanthes 
eltoroensis from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants.

Effects of This Rule

    This final rule revises 50 CFR 17.12(h) to remove Lepanthes 
eltoroensis from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Plants. 
Therefore, revision of the species' recovery plan is not necessary. On 
the effective date of this rule (see DATES, above), the prohibitions 
and conservation measures provided by the Act, particularly through 
sections 7 and 9, no longer apply to this species. Federal agencies 
will no longer be required to consult with the Service under section 7 
of the Act in the event that activities they authorize, fund, or carry 
out may affect L. eltoroensis. There is no critical habitat designated 
for this species.

Post-Delisting Monitoring

    Section 4(g)(1) of the Act requires us to monitor for not less than 
5 years the status of all species that are delisted due to recovery. 
Post-delisting monitoring (PDM) refers to activities undertaken to 
verify that a species delisted due to recovery remains secure from the 
risk of extinction after the protections of the Act no longer apply. 
The primary goal of PDM is to monitor the species to ensure that its 
status does not deteriorate, and if a decline is detected, to take 
measures to halt the decline so that proposing it as an endangered or 
threatened species is not again needed. If at any time during the 
monitoring period data indicate that protective status under the Act 
should be reinstated, we can initiate listing procedures, including, if 
appropriate, emergency listing. At the conclusion of the monitoring 
period, we will review all available information to determine if 
relisting, the continuation of monitoring, or the termination of 
monitoring is appropriate.
    Section 4(g) of the Act explicitly requires that we cooperate with 
the States in development and implementation of PDM programs. However, 
we remain ultimately responsible for compliance with section 4(g) and, 
therefore, must remain actively

[[Page 31986]]

engaged in all phases of PDM. We also seek active participation of 
other entities that are expected to assume responsibilities for the 
species' conservation after delisting. The Service has coordinated with 
PRDNER and USFS on the PDM.
    We prepared a PDM plan for Lepanthes eltoroensis (Service 2019, 
entire). We published a notice of availability of a draft PDM plan with 
the proposed delisting rule (85 FR 13844; March 10, 2020), and we did 
not receive any comments on the plan. Therefore, we consider the plan 
final. The plan is designed to detect substantial declines in the 
species, with reasonable certainty and precision, or an increase in 
threats. The plan:
    (1) Summarizes the species' status at the time of proposed 
delisting;
    (2) Defines thresholds or triggers for potential monitoring 
outcomes and conclusions;
    (3) Lays out frequency and duration of monitoring;
    (4) Articulates monitoring methods, including sampling 
considerations;
    (5) Outlines data compilation and reporting procedures and 
responsibilities; and
    (6) Provides a PDM implementation schedule, funding, and 
responsible parties.
    The final PDM plan is available at https://ecos.fws.gov and at 
http://www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2019-0073. It is our 
intent to work with our partners towards maintaining the recovered 
status of Lepanthes eltoroensis.

Required Determinations

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

    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental 
impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), need not be 
prepared in connection with determining a species' listing status under 
the Endangered Species Act. In an October 25, 1983, notice in the 
Federal Register (48 FR 49244), we outlined our reasons for this 
determination, which included a compelling recommendation from the 
Council on Environmental Quality that we cease preparing environmental 
assessments or environmental impact statements for listing decisions.

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. We have determined that 
there are no Tribal interests affected by this rule.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available 
on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R4-
ES-2019-0073 and upon request from the Caribbean Ecological Services 
Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authors

    The primary authors of this rule are the staff members of the 
Service's Species Assessment Team and the Caribbean Ecological Services 
Field Office.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

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

Regulation Promulgation

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

PART 17--ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS

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

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


Sec.  17.12   [Amended]

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

Martha Williams,
Principal Deputy Director, Exercising the Delegated Authority of the 
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2021-12528 Filed 6-15-21; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4333-15-P