Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species Status With Section 4(d) Rule for Alligator Snapping Turtle, 62434-62463 [2021-23994]

Download as PDF 62434 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service 50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2021–0115; FF09E21000 FXES1111090FEDR 223] RIN 1018–BG00 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species Status With Section 4(d) Rule for Alligator Snapping Turtle Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Proposed rule. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce our 12-month finding on a petition to list the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii), North America’s largest freshwater turtle species, as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). After a review of the best available scientific and commercial information, we find that listing the species is warranted. Accordingly, we propose to list the alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species with a rule issued under section 4(d) of the Act (‘‘4(d) rule’’). If we finalize this rule as proposed, it will add the species to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and extend the Act’s protections to the species. DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before January 10, 2022. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below) must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT by December 27, 2021. Public informational meeting and public hearing: We will hold a public informational meeting on December 7, 2021, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Central Time, followed by a public hearing from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Central Time. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods: (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: https:// www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter the docket number or RIN for this rulemaking (presented above in the document headings). For best results, do not copy and paste either number; instead, type the docket number or RIN into the Search box using hyphens. Then, click on the Search button. On the jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 resulting page, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, check the Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on ‘‘Comment.’’ (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2021–0115, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041– 3803. We request that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on https:// www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see Information Requested, below, for more information). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brigette Firmin, Deputy Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Ecological Services Field Office, 200 Dulles Drive, Lafayette, LA 70506; telephone 337–291–3108. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800–877–8339. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Executive Summary Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, if we determine that a species warrants listing, we are required to promptly publish a proposal in the Federal Register, unless doing so is precluded by higher-priority actions and expeditious progress is being made to add and remove qualified species to or from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. The Service will make a determination on our proposal within 1 year. If there is substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency and accuracy of the available data relevant to the proposed listing, we may extend the final determination for not more than six months. To the maximum extent prudent and determinable, we must designate critical habitat for any species that we determine to be an endangered or threatened species under the Act. Listing a species as an endangered or threatened species and designating critical habitat can be completed only by issuing a rule. What this document does. We propose to list the alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species with a rule issued under section 4(d) of the Act. The basis for our action. Under the Act, we may determine that a species is an endangered or threatened species because of any of five factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its PO 00000 Frm 00002 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. We have determined that the primary threats acting on the alligator snapping turtle include habitat loss or modification (Factor A), harvest and collection (Factor B), nest predation (Factor C), and hook ingestion, entanglement, and drowning due to bycatch associated with freshwater fishing (Factor E). Existing regulatory mechanisms (Factor D) are not adequate to address these threats. Disease (Factor C), nest parasites (Factor C), and the effects of climate change (Factor E) may negatively influence the species, but the impacts of these threats on the species are uncertain based on current information. Section 4(a)(3) of the Act requires the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to designate critical habitat concurrent with listing to the maximum extent prudent and determinable. Section 3(5)(A) of the Act defines critical habitat as (i) the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed, on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special management considerations or protections; and (ii) specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a determination by the Secretary that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species. Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states that the Secretary must make the designation on the basis of the best scientific data available and after taking into consideration the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other relevant impacts of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. We have determined that designation of critical habitat is not determinable at this time. Information Requested We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies, Native American Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules We particularly seek comments concerning: (1) The species’ biology, range, and population trends, including: (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the species, including habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering; (b) Genetics, taxonomy, and population structure; (c) Historical and current range, including distribution patterns; (d) Survival rates for adults, juveniles, hatchlings, or eggs; (e) Historical and current population levels, and current and projected trends; (f) Past and ongoing conservation measures for the species; and (g) Tribal use or cultural significance of the species, including use of parts for ceremonial or traditional crafts. (2) Information on threats to the species, particularly information on: (a) Frequency of hook ingestion and entanglement associated with recreational or commercial fishing, effects on individual survival, and any population impacts; (b) Magnitude of poaching and any population impacts from poaching; and (c) Nest and hatchling predation rates and effects on recruitment and any population impacts. (3) The spatial distribution and extent of threats to this species. Notably, we seek any information on areas within the species’ range where these threats may overlap and potentially act synergistically or antagonistically as well as where there may be a complete absence of threats. (4) The spatial variation in demographic rates related to reproduction, recruitment, and survival. (5) Information regarding personal or commercial trade, not limited to the pet trade or breeding for personal collections. (6) Information regarding habitat loss or degradation impacts to the species at the analysis unit level. (7) Information, especially from the commercial and recreational fishing communities, about the design of a turtle escape or exclusion device, modified trot line techniques, or any other practices that would effectively eliminate or significantly reduce bycatch of alligator snapping turtles from recreational or commercial fishing. (8) Information to address uncertainties regarding the future conditions analyses that informed the listing determination, including: (a) Model input variables; (b) Scientific or commercial information that would inform the model; and (c) Treatment of uncertainty within the model. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 (9) Information on regulations that are necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the alligator snapping turtle and that the Service can consider in developing a 4(d) rule for the species. In particular, we seek information concerning the extent to which we should include any of the Act’s section 9 prohibitions in the 4(d) rule or whether we should consider any additional exceptions from the prohibitions in the 4(d) rule. (10) Whether the measures outlined in the proposed 4(d) rule are necessary and advisable for the conservation and management of the alligator snapping turtle. We particularly seek comments concerning: (a) Whether we should include a provision excepting incidental take resulting from legal recreational or commercial fishing activities for other targeted species, in compliance with State regulations. In addition, if we include such a provision, whether we should also include a requirement to report to the Service injured or dead turtles resulting from such legal fishing activities and how such reporting should be conducted; (b) Whether the provision excepting activities such as take and interstate commerce for captive-bred specimens from State-approved captive breeding operations-should be revised or clarified regarding additional restrictions or requirements, or best management practices, or whether the Service should also except from the prohibited activities the foreign trade of live specimens from captive breeding operations; (c) Whether the provisions excepting incidental take resulting from construction, operation, and maintenance activities; pesticide and herbicide application; and silviculture practices and forestry activities that follow best management practices should be revised or clarified to remove or add information, including spatial or temporal restrictions or deferments, or additional best management practices; (d) Whether there are additional provisions the Service may wish to consider for the final 4(d) rule in order to conserve, recover, and manage the alligator snapping turtle, such as allowing take associated with certain infrastructure and other construction activities, riparian management activities, or wetland management activities; (e) Methods for identifying, marking, and tracking captive brood-stock to differentiate them from wild-stock; and (f) Whether there are any additional management activities not described within this proposed rule that PO 00000 Frm 00003 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62435 contribute to the conservation of the alligator snapping turtle. (11) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as ‘‘critical habitat’’ under section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), including information to inform the following factors that the regulations identify as reasons why designation of critical habitat may be not prudent: (a) The species is threatened by taking or other human activity and identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of such threat to the species; (b) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of a species’ habitat or range is not a threat to the species, or threats to the species’ habitat stem solely from causes that cannot be addressed through management actions resulting from consultations under section 7(a)(2) of the Act; (c) Areas within the jurisdiction of the United States provide no more than negligible conservation value, if any, for a species occurring primarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States; or (d) No areas meet the definition of critical habitat. (12) Whether the designation of critical habitat is not prudent because it would more widely announce the exact locations of alligator snapping turtles and their highly suitable habitat which could facilitate poaching, exacerbating the existing threat of collection and contributing to further declines of the species’ viability. (13) Specific information on the possible risks or benefits of designating critical habitat, including risks associated with publication of maps designating any area on which this species may be located, now or in the future, as critical habitat. We specifically request information on the threats of taking or other human activity on the alligator snapping turtle and its habitat, and the extent to which designation might increase those threats, as well as the possible benefits of critical habitat designation to the species. Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to verify any scientific or commercial information you include. Please note that submissions merely stating support for, or opposition to, the actions under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or a threatened E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62436 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 species must be made ‘‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.’’ You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES. If you submit information via https:// www.regulations.gov, your entire submission—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the website. If your submission is made via a hardcopy that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the top of your document that we withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will post all hardcopy submissions on https://www.regulations.gov. Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection on https://www.regulations.gov. Because we will consider all comments and information we receive during the comment period, our final determinations may differ from this proposal. Based on the new information we receive (and any comments on that new information), we may conclude that the species is endangered instead of threatened, or we may conclude that the species does not warrant listing as either an endangered species or a threatened species. In addition, we may change the parameters of the prohibitions or the exceptions to those prohibitions in the 4(d) rule if we conclude it is appropriate in light of comments and new information we receive. For example, we may expand the prohibitions to include prohibiting additional activities if we conclude that those additional activities are not compatible with conservation of the species. Conversely, we may establish additional exceptions to the prohibitions in the final rule if we conclude that the activities would facilitate or are compatible with the conservation and recovery of the species. Public Hearing We are holding a public informational meeting followed by a public hearing on the date and at the time listed in DATES. We are holding the public informational meeting and public hearing via the Zoom online video platform and via teleconference so that participants can attend remotely. For security purposes, registration is required. All participants must register in order to listen and view the meeting and hearing via Zoom, listen to the meeting and hearing by VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 telephone, or provide oral public comments at the public hearing by Zoom or telephone. For information on how to register, or if technical problems occur joining Zoom the day of the meeting, visit https://www.fws.gov/ southeast/lafayette/news/. Registrants will receive the Zoom link and the telephone number for the public informational meeting and public hearing. If applicable, interested members of the public not familiar with the Zoom platform should view the Zoom video tutorials (https:// support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/ 206618765-Zoom-video-tutorials) prior to the public informational meeting and public hearing. We are holding the public informational meeting to present information about the proposed rule to list the alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species and to provide interested parties an opportunity to ask questions about the proposed 4(d) rule. The public hearing will provide interested parties an opportunity to present verbal testimony (formal, oral comments) regarding the proposed rule to list the alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species and the proposed 4(d) rule. While the public informational meeting will be an opportunity for dialogue with the Service, the public hearing is not. The public hearing portion is a forum for accepting formal verbal testimony. In the event there is a large attendance, the time allotted for oral statements may be limited. Therefore, anyone wishing to make an oral statement at the public hearing for the record is encouraged to provide a prepared written copy of their statement to us through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, or U.S. mail (see ADDRESSES, above). There are no limits on the length of written comments submitted to us. Anyone wishing to make an oral statement at the public hearing must register before the hearing (https://www.fws.gov/southeast/ lafayette/news/). The use of a virtual public hearing is consistent with our regulations at 50 CFR 424.16(c)(3). Reasonable Accommodation The Service is committed to providing access to the public informational meeting and public hearing for all participants. Closed captioning will be available during the public informational meeting and public hearing. Further, a full audio and video recording and transcript of the public hearing will be posted online at https:// www.fws.gov/southeast/lafayette/news/ after the hearing. Participants will also have access to live audio during the public informational meeting and public PO 00000 Frm 00004 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 hearing via their telephone or computer speakers. Persons with disabilities requiring reasonable accommodations to participate in the meeting and/or hearing should contact the person listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT at least 5 business days prior to the date of the meeting and hearing to help ensure accessibility. An accessible version of the Service’s public informational meeting presentation will also be posted online at https://www.fws.gov/southeast/ lafayette/news/ prior to the meeting and hearing (see DATES, above). See https:// www.fws.gov/southeast/lafayette/news/ for more information about reasonable accommodation. Previous Federal Actions On July 11, 2012, the Service received a petition to list 53 amphibians and reptiles across the United States, including the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii), as endangered or threatened species. On July 1, 2015, we published a 90-day finding (80 FR 37568) that the petition contained substantial information indicating the alligator snapping turtle may warrant listing. On September 1, 2015, the petitioner submitted supplemental information to add to the petition that described new studies that could lead to taxonomic differentiation of the single Macrochelys species into multiple entities (Center for Biological Diversity 2015, entire). This information was considered and is described in further detail below in the Background discussion under I. Proposed Listing Determination in this document. New information since the time of the original petition, including that submitted to supplement the petition, provided sufficient evidence to support splitting the alligator snapping turtle (M. temminckii) into two separate species based on genetic and morphological differences as well as geographic isolation, resulting in alligator snapping turtle (M. temminckii) and Suwannee alligator snapping turtle (M. suwanniensis). This proposed rule serves as the 12-month finding for the alligator snapping turtle (M. temminckii). Supporting Documents A species status assessment (SSA) team prepared an SSA report for the alligator snapping turtle (Service 2021, entire). The SSA team was composed of Service biologists, in consultation with other species experts. The SSA report represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data available concerning the status of the species, including the impacts of factors (both E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules negative and beneficial) affecting the species in the past, present, and future. In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), and our August 22, 2016, memorandum updating and clarifying the role of peer review of listing actions under the Act, we sought the expert opinions of eight appropriate specialists regarding the SSA report and received three responses. We also requested review of the model that was used in the SSA analysis; we sent it to three reviewers and received two responses. We received review from 14 partners, most of which are State agencies. The SSA report and other materials relating to this proposal can be found at https:// www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS. jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 I. Proposed Listing Determination Background A thorough review of the taxonomy, distribution, life history, and ecology of the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is presented in the SSA report (Service 2021, pp. 3– 16); however, much of this information is based on the Macrochelys genus as a whole and is not specific to the alligator snapping turtle. Turtles in the genus Macrochelys are the largest species of freshwater turtle in North America, are highly aquatic, and are somewhat secretive. Macrochelys turtles are characterized as having a large head, a long tail, and an upper jaw with a strongly hooked beak. They have three raised keels with posterior elevations on the scutes of the carapace (upper shell), which is dark brown and often has algal growth that adds to their camouflage. The eyes are positioned on the side of the head and are surrounded by small, fleshy, pointed projections that are unique to the genus. The common name for M. temminckii is alligator snapping turtle, or occasionally, western alligator snapping turtle to differentiate between this species and Suwannee alligator snapping turtle. Alligator snapping turtles are primarily freshwater turtles in freshwater bodies centralized in the southeastern United States and are confined to river systems that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, extending from the Apalachicola River in Florida to the San Jacinto and Trinity rivers in Texas. In the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, the species is widely distributed from the Gulf to as far north as Indiana, Illinois, southeastern Kansas, and eastern Oklahoma. In the Gulf Coastal Plain, the species’ range extends from eastern Texas to southern Georgia and northern VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 Florida. Historically, the alligator snapping turtle occurred over eastern Oklahoma, but today it is believed to be restricted to the east-central and southeastern portion of the State (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 139). The historical range of alligator snapping turtles included 14 States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. Currently, the species is known to occur in 12 States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. This list includes all historically occupied States except for Indiana and Kansas, where occurrence is unknown. The range of the species has contracted in many areas of the historical distribution. The species once occupied eastern Oklahoma, but today it is believed to be restricted to the east-central and southeastern portion of the State (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 139). In Indiana, alligator snapping turtle eDNA (genetic material found within the environment) has been collected in the water, but presence has not been confirmed with trapping. In Kansas, the species has not been detected since a 1991 record in Montgomery County. Range contractions or declines in the species’ abundance have occurred in several States along the northern extent of the species’ distribution, including Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee. The physiography of the coastal plain, particularly in the States of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, provides good habitat conditions for the species and supports greater number of alligator snapping turtles than the northern fringe of the range. The estimated abundance of the species is around 360,000 individuals (Service 2021, p. 55). The alligator snapping turtle is a member of the Family Chelydridae, Order Testudinata, Class Reptilia. The species was first described in 1789 as Testudo planitia, but it was placed in the genus Macrochelys in 1856 (Gray 1856, entire). Although subsequent authors referred to the genus as Macrochelys, this placement was refuted, and it was believed the alligator snapping turtle should be included in the genus Macroclemys (Smith 1955, p. 16). In 1995, Webb demonstrated that the genus Macrochelys has precedence over Macroclemys, and the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles adopted this revision in 2000 (Crother et al. 2000, p. 79). Accordingly, for the purpose of this proposed rule, we will use the taxonomic nomenclature, Macrochelys, as the genus for the PO 00000 Frm 00005 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62437 alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) was considered a single, wide-ranging species until a recent analysis of variation in morphology and genetic structure among M. temminckii specimens resulted in differentiation of three species of alligator snapping turtles: alligator snapping turtle (M. temminckii), Apalachicola alligator snapping turtle (M. apalachicolae), and Suwannee alligator snapping turtle (M. suwanniensis) (Thomas et al. 2014, entire). Subsequent morphological and genetic comparisons did not support distinguishing M. apalachicolae from M. temminckii (Folt and Guyer 2015, entire). The herpetology community, including the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, recognizes two species of Macrochelys: (1) M. temminckii and (2) M. suwanniensis (Crother 2017, p. 88). The Turtle Taxonomy Working Group also concurs with the recognition of two species and provides evidence to support the distinction of M. temminckii (Rhodin et al. 2017, p. 26). According to the best available science, we consider M. temminckii and M. suwanniensis as the only two distinct species within the genus. Throughout this document, we provide descriptions of alligator snapping turtle where the information is available specific to the species. We reference Macrochelys when describing the genus and M. temminckii when referring to the species, alligator snapping turtle. Since the taxonomic distinction of the two Macrochelys spp. is relatively recent, we may refer to the genus, or alligator snapping turtles in general, to describe life-history traits. Summary of Biological Status and Threats In this discussion, we review the biological condition of alligator snapping turtle and its resources, and the threats that influence the species’ current and future conditions, in order to assess the species’ overall viability and the risks to that viability. We provide the best available information on the species’ life history and the threats acting on the species as provided in the SSA report (Service 2021, entire). To assess the current condition and abundance levels to inform the current and future conditions, we compared the historical and current ranges of alligator snapping turtles by querying State biologists or those with access to the State’s natural heritage program data. We sought expert estimates, using a 4point elicitation procedure in a written E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62438 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 questionnaire (Speirs-Bridge et al. 2010, p. 515). Experts were asked to respond only for those analysis units for which they have experience or expertise. Experts were asked to provide what they estimated to be the lowest likely number, the highest likely number, and the most likely number of alligator snapping turtles in each analysis unit. They were then asked to report how confident they were that their interval (lowest estimate to highest estimate) captured the actual number of alligator snapping turtles (akin to a confidence interval). Finally, the experts were asked to describe how they generated their estimates (Service 2021, p. 51). We also elicited information about the prevalence of negative and positive influences on alligator snapping turtles in each analysis unit. Using the same 4point elicitation format, we asked the species experts to estimate the extent of occupied area in each analysis unit where alligator snapping turtles are exposed to each of the following threats: incidental hooking on trot and limb lines, commercial fishing bycatch, legal collection or harvest, illegal collection or harvest (poaching), and nest predation by subsidized or nonnative predators. In addition, we asked experts to describe and estimate the spatial extent of any other threats known to occur in their analysis units, as well as any conservation actions that are being implemented (Service 2021, pp. 51–52). In addition to soliciting information from the expert team about the spatial extent of different threats in each analysis unit, we also asked about the demographic impact of different threats rangewide. We used the 4-point elicitation to receive information regarding the effects that commercial bycatch, incidental hooking, hook ingestion, legal harvest, illegal harvest, and nest predation have on the survival of relevant life stages (adults, juveniles, hatchings, nests) in areas where the threat occurs. Given a lack of speciesspecific information in some places, we used this process to inform our analysis. Biology The alligator snapping turtle is found in a variety of habitats across its range. It typically uses fresh waterbodies; however, it can presumably tolerate some salinity and brackish waters, as barnacles have been found on the carapace of some turtles (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 141). The river systems within the species’ range drain into the Gulf of Mexico, where there can be an increase in salinity near the mouths of the rivers. The species is generally found in deeper water of large rivers and their major tributaries; however, it VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 is also found in a wide variety of habitats, including small streams, bayous, canals, swamps, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and oxbows (a lake that forms when a meander of a river is cut off) (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 141). The species is usually bottomdwelling within the waterbodies it uses, but it surfaces periodically to breathe (Thomas 2014, p. 60). Adult females leave the water to nest on land. Beyond the nest, all life stages rely on submerged material (i.e., deadhead logs and vegetation) as important structure for resting, foraging, and cover from predators (Enge et al. 2014, p. 39). Woody debris, undercut banks, and large rocks found throughout the rivers provide important habitat during low water levels (Enge et al. 2014, p. 10). The species selects areas with more aquatic structures (e.g., tree root masses, stumps, submerged trees, etc.) than open water. Riparian canopy cover is also an important habitat feature, as alligator snapping turtles select sites with a high percentage of canopy cover (Howey and Dinkelacker 2009, p. 589). The alligator snapping turtle is primarily carnivorous and forages on small fish and mussels; however, adults are opportunistic feeders and may also consume crayfish, mollusks, smaller turtles, insects, nutria, snakes, birds, and plant material such as acorns or other available vegetation (Elsey 2006, pp. 448–489). They have very fast reflexes and powerful jaws that aid in this type of foraging behavior where they sit and wait, then quickly strike, grasping the prey. Macrochelys turtles have a sublingual (under the tongue) feature that is unique to the genus and contributes to their predatory foraging strategy; it resembles a live, wiggling worm and serves as a lure to attract fish and other unsuspecting prey while the turtle is stationary with an open mouth. Both adults and juveniles use this lure to attract fish in striking range. The lure is white or pale pink in juveniles and mottled or gray in adults (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 147). The presence of this appendage indicates prey species that use visual cues, such as fish and aquatic crustaceans, and has contributed to the evolution of the alligator snapping turtle in developing this unique adaptation of the genus. The general life stages of Macrochelys can be described as egg, hatchling (first year), juvenile (second year until age of sexual maturity), and adult (age of sexual maturity through death). Sexual maturity is achieved in 11 to 21 years for males and 13 to 21 years for females and may be dependent upon growth rate (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 144; Reed et al. 2002, p. 4). The size increases are PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 greater when food resources and other environmental conditions are more favorable. Each life stage has specific requirements in order to contribute to the productivity of the next life stage. Gravid (egg-bearing) females excavate nests in sandy soils or other dry substrate near freshwater sources that are within 8 to 656 feet (ft) (2.5 to 200 meters (m)) from the water’s edge. The period for excavating, laying eggs, and covering the nest may take as long as 4 hours to complete (Ewert 1976, p. 153). The incubation period for alligator snapping turtle nests in Louisiana is between 98 to 121 days (Holcomb and Carr 2011, p. 225). Nests require temperatures of 66 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) (19 to 26.5 degrees Celsius (°C)), increasing to 79 to 98 °F (26.1 to 36.5 °C) as the season progresses. The sex ratio of alligator snapping turtles in the nest is dependent on the temperature of the nest during embryonic development. The offspring’s sex is influenced by the physiological mechanism—temperaturedependent sex determination—where more males are produced at intermediate incubation temperatures, and more females are produced at the two, warmer and cooler, temperature extremes (Ernst and Lovich 2009, pp. 16, 146). Alligator snapping turtles, in general, have a pivotal temperature range between 77 and 80.6 °F (25 and 27 °C) where more male hatchlings are produced than females (Ewert and Jackson 1994, pp. 12–13). Once emerged from the nest, hatchlings need shallow water with riparian vegetative structure that provides canopy cover. Juveniles require small streams with mud and gravel bottoms that have submerged structures, such as tree root masses, stumps, and submerged live and dead trees, that allow for foraging and protection from predators. Juvenile survival rate is estimated at only about 5 percent, with most mortality occurring in the first 2 years of life (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 150). Adult alligator snapping turtles require streams and rivers with submerged logs and undercut banks, clean water, and ample prey. Turtles found in higher quality habitat are more likely to become sexually mature at an earlier age and may also produce larger clutch sizes (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 145). Adult turtles require access to mates to fertilize eggs, with mating occurring underwater (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 144). Mating has been observed in captive alligator snapping turtles from February to October, but geographic variation within the wild E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 population is not well understood (Reed et al. 2002, p. 4). A gravid female will search for suitable nesting habitat on land to construct a nest, avoiding low forested areas with abundant leaf litter and root mats that may cause nesting obstructions. She will excavate a cavity, deposit the eggs, and bury the eggs at a depth of about 9.45 inches (in) (24 centimeters (cm)) in approximately 3.5 to 4 hours (Ewert 1976, p. 153; Powders 1978, p. 155; Thompson et al. 2016, entire). Once the female has completed the nest, she returns to the water, and there is no other parental care of the nest or offspring. Female alligator snapping turtles may produce a single clutch once a year or every other year at most, even if the conditions are good (Reed et al. 2002, p. 4). Clutch size varies as reported from across the species’ range with a mean clutch size of 27 eggs (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 145). Most nesting occurs from May to July (Reed et al. 2002, p. 4), but latitudinal differences are known to occur in turtle species (Moll 1979, entire). Alligator snapping turtles are a longlived species; provided suitable conditions, adults can reach carapace lengths of up to 29 in (74 cm) and 249 pounds (113 kilograms (kg)) for males, while females can reach lengths of 22 inches and 62 pounds. The oldest documented Macrochelys turtle in captivity survived to at least 80 years of age, but in the wild, the species may live longer (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 147). The generation time for the species is around 31 years (range = 28.6–34.0 years, 95 percent confidence interval; Folt et al. 2016, p. 27). Threats We provide information regarding past, present, and future influences, including both positive and negative, on the alligator snapping turtle’s current and future viability including harvest/ collection (Factor B), bycatch (Factor E), habitat degradation and loss (Factor A), nest predation (Factor C), and conservation measures that provide protections for the species. Existing regulatory mechanisms (Factor D) have not been adequate to reduce or ameliorate the identified threats. Additional threats such as historical commercial and recreational harvest targeting the species, disease, nest parasites, and climate change effects are described in the SSA report (Service 2021, pp. 17–27); these additional stressors may negatively affect individuals of the species or may have historically affected the species, particularly when compounded with other ongoing stressors or threats. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 However, based on the best available science, they do not currently pose a threat to the species’ overall viability. Harvest (Commercial, Recreational, and Poaching) Commercial and Recreational Harvest—Past commercial and recreational turtle harvesting practices have resulted in a decline of the alligator snapping turtle across its range (Enge et al. 2014, p. 4; Huntzinger et al. 2019, p. 65). Commercial harvest of alligator snapping turtles reached its peak in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the meat was used for commercial turtle soup products and sold in large quantities for public consumption. In addition, many restaurants served turtle soup and purchased large quantities of alligator snapping turtles from trappers in the southeastern States (Reed et al. 2002, p. 5). In the 1970s, the demand for turtle meat was so high that as much as three to four tons of alligator snapping turtles were harvested from the Flint River in Georgia per day (Pritchard 1989, p. 76). Significant numbers of turtles were taken from the Apalachicola and Ochlocknee Rivers, presumably to be sent to restaurants in New Orleans and other destinations (Pritchard 1989, pp. 74–75). Commercial harvest of alligator snapping turtles is now prohibited in all States within the species’ range, effective from 1975 in Kentucky to as recently as 2012 in Alabama (Service 2021, Appendix B). Despite the prohibitions on commercial harvest for the species, the impacts from historical removal of large turtles continue to affect the species due to its low fecundity, low juvenile survival, long lifespan, and delayed maturity. Commercial harvest is not currently a threat to the alligator snapping turtle, but the effects of historical, large-scale removal of large turtles are ongoing. Recreational harvest includes trapping alligator snapping turtles for personal use. Recreational harvest is prohibited in every State except for Louisiana and Mississippi. In Louisiana, harvest of one alligator snapping turtle per day, per person, per vehicle/vessel is allowed with a fishing license; however, there are no reporting or tagging requirements, so the number of turtles harvested in Louisiana is unknown. In Mississippi, recreational harvest is allowed with size and seasonal limits that include the following: (1) Limited to one turtle per year, (2) prohibited between April 1 and June 30, and (3) limited only to individuals with a straight-line carapace length of 24 in (61 cm) or larger. Illegal Harvest (Poaching)—There is an international and domestic demand PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62439 for turtles for consumption as well as from enthusiasts who collect turtle species for pets (Stanford et al. 2020, entire). The alligator snapping turtle is no exception; hatchling alligator snapping turtles may be sold for up to $100 (U.S.) per turtle (Lejeune et al. 2020, p. 8; MorphMarket 2021, unpaginated). Illegal harvest, or poaching, of alligator snapping turtle may occur anywhere within the species’ range for both the pet trade and turtle meat trade. The best available information regarding potential pressure from poaching comes from a documented report by law enforcement agencies and court cases. In a 2017 case, three men were convicted of collecting 60 large alligator snapping turtles in a single year in Texas and transporting them across State lines, violating the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42; 16 U.S.C. 3371–3378) (Department of Justice 2017, entire). Aside from the local and domestic use of turtles, the global demand for pet turtles and turtle meat continues. Many species of turtles are collected from the wild as well as bred in captivity and are sold domestically and exported internationally. Many species of turtles are regularly exported out of the United States to initiate brood stock for overseas turtle farms and for turtle collectors (Stanford et al. 2020, p. R725. In 2006, Macrochelys temminckii was listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as an Appendix III species to allow for better monitoring of exports. According to the Service’s Law Enforcement Management Information System (LEMIS), which provides reports about the legal international wildlife trade, most shipments of live alligator snapping turtles exported from 2005 to 2018 consisted of small turtles destined mostly for Hong Kong and China (Service 2018, entire). Prior to 2006, up to 23,780 M. temminckii per year were exported from the United States (70 FR 74700; December 16, 2005). Impacts of Harvest—The alligator snapping turtle’s life history, with delayed maturity, long generation times, and relatively low reproductive output, means that the species must maintain relatively high adult survival rates (∼98 percent), especially of adult females, to sustain a stable population (Reed et al. 2002, p. 11). Adult turtles do not reach sexual maturity until 11 to 21 years of age. A mature female typically produces a single clutch per year with a mean size of 27 eggs (range 9 to 61 eggs) (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 145). These turtles are characterized by low survivorship in early life stages, but surviving E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62440 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 individuals may live many decades once they reach maturity. The lifehistory traits of the species (low fecundity, late age of maturity, and low survival of nests and juveniles) contribute to the population’s slow response in rebounding after historical over-exploitation. Therefore, population growth rates are extremely sensitive to the harvest of adult females. Adult female survivorship of less than 98 percent per year is considered unsustainable, and a further reduction of this adult survivorship will generally result in significant local population declines (Reed et al. 2002, p. 9), although dynamics likely vary across the species’ range. These data underscore how influential adult female mortality is on the ability of the species to maintain viable populations. Although regulatory harvest restrictions have reduced the number of alligator snapping turtles taken from wild populations, the populations have not necessarily increased in response. This lag in population response is likely due to the demography of the species— specifically delayed maturity, long generation times, and relatively low reproductive output. Poaching also is an ongoing threat to the alligator snapping turtle because removing reproductively active adult turtles from the population lowers the viability of the species by reducing reproductive potential; in addition, the species is long-lived and slow to mature, and juvenile survival is very low, making it more difficult for the historically over-harvested population to recover. Recreational and Commercial Fishing Bycatch Alligator snapping turtles can be killed or harmed incidentally during fishing and other recreational activities. Some of these threats from recreational and commercial fishing for other species include fishhook ingestion; drowning when hooked on trotlines (a fishing line strung across a stream with multiple hooks set at intervals), limb lines, bush hooks (single hooks hung from branches), or jug lines (line with a hook affixed to a floating jug); and injuries and drowning when entangled in various types of nets and fishing line. Hoop nets are also used to capture catfish and baitfish and are made up of a series of hoops with netting and funnels where fish enter but are unable to escape through the narrow entry point. The baited nets are left submerged and may entrap alligator snapping turtles that enter the mouth of the traps and are unable to escape. Boats and boat propeller strikes may also VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 injure or kill alligator snapping turtles; this effect is not limited to fishing boats. Actively used or discarded fishing line and hooks pose harm to alligator snapping turtles. The turtles can ingest baited fishhooks and the attached fishing line that may cause internal injuries; depending on where ingested hooks and line lodge in the digestive tract, they can cause harm or death (Enge et al. 2014, pp. 40–41). For example, hooks and fishing lines can cause gastrointestinal tract blockages, and the hooks can puncture the digestive organs causing deadly injuries (Enge et al. 2014, pp. 40–41). Fishhooks have been found in the gastrointestinal tracts of many radiographed congener, Suwannee alligator snapping turtles (Enge et al. 2014, entire; Thomas 2014, pp. 42–43). It is reasonable to assume fishhooks also affect alligator snapping turtles because both species only differ with minor skull and shell morphologies. Trotlines also negatively affect alligator snapping turtles. Trotlines are a series of submerged lines with hooks off a longer line. Trotline fishing involves leaving the lines unattended for extended periods, before returning to check them. Limblines and bush hooks are similar to trot lines in that they are typically set and left unattended; however, they only use a single hook. The turtles can become entangled in the lines and drown, as well as ingest the hooks and attached lines, also causing drowning or internal injuries. Bycatch from trotlines that resulted in mortality of alligator snapping turtles has been well documented. Dead turtles have been found on lines that had been abandoned or left without being checked for catches (Huntzinger et al. 2019, p. 73; Moore et al. 2013, p. 145). The lines and hooks may also become dislodged from their place of attachment when left unattended, becoming aquatic debris that remains in the waterway for extended periods of time and may continue to be an entanglement hazard for many species, including alligator snapping turtles. Entanglement in lines can cause injury or death as lines may ensnare limbs or wrap around the body or head restricting movement. Some types of fishing line may remain in the environment for decades and possibly centuries; however, biodegradable lines are now available that break down faster over a period of a few years. The use of biodegradable fishing line will reduce the amount of excess discarded lines remaining in the environment and is an option to further reduce the threat of entanglement in fishing lines. PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Habitat Degradation and Loss Alligator snapping turtle aquatic and nesting habitats have been altered by natural and anthropogenic disturbances. Changes in the riparian or nearshore areas affect the amount of suitable soils for nesting sites because the species constructs nests on land near the water. Riparian cover is important, as it moderates instream water temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels. In addition to affecting the distribution and abundance of alligator snapping turtle prey species, these microhabitat conditions affect the snapping turtles directly. Moderate temperatures and sufficient dissolved oxygen levels allow the turtles to remain stationary on the stream bottom for longer periods, increasing the ambush foraging opportunities. Changes in the riparian structure may affect the microclimate and conditions of the associated water body, directly affecting the foraging success of the turtles. Activities and processes that can alter habitat include dredging, deadhead logging (removal of submerged or partially submerged snags, woody debris, and other large vegetation for wood salvage), removal of riparian cover, channelization, stream bank erosion, siltation, and land use adjacent to rivers (e.g., clearing land for agriculture). These activities negatively influence habitat suitability for alligator snapping turtles. Erosion can change the stream bank structure, affecting the substrate that may be suitable for nesting or accessing nesting sites. Siltation affects water quality and may reduce the health and availability of prey species. Channelization destroys the natural benthic habitat by affecting the water depth and normal flow. Submerged obstacles may be removed during the channelization, which affects the microhabitat dynamics within the waterway and removes important structures for alligator snapping turtles to use for resting, foraging, and cover from predators. Deadhead logs and fallen riparian woody debris, where present, provide refugia during lowwater periods and resting areas for all life stages and support important feeding areas for hatchlings and juveniles (Enge et al. 2014, p. 40; Ewert et al. 2006, p. 62). Alligator snapping turtle habitat is also influenced by water availability, quantity, and quality across the species’ range. Groundwater withdrawals may increase in the future due to human population growth and needs. Water withdrawals may reduce flow in some rivers and streams, effectively isolating some turtles from the rest of the E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 population or making immature turtles more vulnerable to predators. Additionally, reduced water levels may impact prey abundance and distribution through restricting habitat connectivity, reducing dissolved oxygen levels, and increasing water temperatures. The species is not very agile on land as it spends most of its time in water. Moving from an area where water has been depleted may be difficult for some turtles, forcing them to cross roads, resulting in increased encounters with humans or predators. Water quality may also be a factor for alligator snapping turtles as contaminants enter the aquatic systems through runoff. Runoff from agriculture and development degrade the water quality. Agricultural practices are the main source of nitrates, which specifically come from fertilizers and in some cases from manure and other waste products. They introduce nitrates to the river and groundwater (i.e., springs) through surface runoff and groundwater seepage. Groundwater seepage transports nitrates to the aquifer, which then reemerge through springs and other groundwater discharge, especially during low flow periods (Pittman et al. 1997, entire; Katz et al. 1999, entire; Thom et al. 2015, p. 2). Water quality is also affected by runoff from development and urban areas. The increase of impervious surfaces, such as building roofs, roads, parking lots, and sidewalks, results in pulses of contaminants washed into the river systems as stormwater runoff. Some of the pollutants that may flush into the aquatic system include petroleum products, pesticides, heavy metals, organic waste from pets and other animals, along with microorganisms, including viruses and bacteria. The direct effects of water quality and water quantity on alligator snapping turtle have not been quantified; however, as the human population that relies on water systems in the species’ range continues to increase, the indirect effects across the entire range, coupled with other stressors, are likely to further reduce the species’ viability. Also, more development may result in an increase in contaminated runoff and declines in water quality. Nest Predation Nest predation rates for alligator snapping turtles are high. Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are common nest predators, but nine-banded armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus), Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana), bobcats (Lynx rufus), crows (Corvus VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 spp.), coyotes (Canis latrans), river otters (Lontra canadensis), and feral pigs (Sus scrofa) may also depredate nests (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 149; Ewert et al. 2006, p. 67; Holcomb and Carr 2013, p. 482). Additional nonnative species found within the species’ range that may depredate nests include invasive imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta and S. richteri) (Pritchard 1989, p. 69). Fire ants are prevalent in many areas of the southeastern United States, and predation by fire ants was the suspected culprit in the failure of alligator snapping turtle nests in Louisiana (Holcomb 2010, p. 51). Beyond nest failure, some hatchlings endured wounds inflicted by fire ants that led to the loss of a limb or tail, which reduced their mobility and, ultimately, their chance of survival (Holcomb 2010, p. 72). The recovery of the species from historical overharvest depends on successful reproduction and survival of young. The degree of added threat from the newer, introduced nest predators is unknown, but we can conclude that the overall threat from nest predation is greater than it was in the past because of the introduced predators and densities of subsidized (anthropogenically influenced) nest predators increase in areas where resources have been altered by humans. Subsidized nest predators include, but are not limited to, feral hogs, raccoons, and red-imported fire ants; additional nest predators may also include Virginia opossums, crows, coyotes, dogs, and river otters. Many of these predators may also take small turtles once emerged from the nest; this predation influences the survival rate of the hatchling and juvenile life stage. Coupled with other threats, predation will continue to negatively affect the species’ overall viability. Other Stressors Other stressors that may affect alligator snapping turtles include disease, nest parasites, and the effects of climate change, but none of these stressors are having population-level impacts. These stressors may act on individuals or have highly localized impacts. While each is relatively uncommon, these stressors may exacerbate the effects of other ongoing threats. The effects of climate change may have direct and indirect impacts to the species and its habitat. Due to the proximity of the species to the Gulf of Mexico, loss of habitat due to saltwater intrusion from sea level rise may occur for the populations near coastal areas leading to a range contraction in the PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62441 southern extent of the species’ range. Additionally, increasing temperatures may lead to drought conditions and variable water availability, and physiological impacts on sex determination. In the southeastern United States, temperatures are predicted to warm by 4 to 8 °F (2.2 to 4.4 °C) by 2100 (Carter et al. 2014, p. 399). In the southern Great Plains (e.g., Texas and Oklahoma), increased temperatures and longer dry spells are predicted (Shafer et al. 2014, p. 445). In the Midwest, the northernmost portion of the alligator snapping turtle’s range, models predict warming of 5.6 to 8.5 °F (3.1 to 4.7 °C) by 2100, increased spring precipitation, and decreased summer precipitation (Pryor et al. 2014, pp. 420, 424). Alligator snapping turtles exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination, whereby temperature influences sex determination of the developing embryos. Male-biased sex ratios are associated with cool nests, and warmer temperatures produce female-biased sex ratios (Ewert and Jackson 1994, entire). In addition to temperature effects on sex ratio, temperature has been associated with nest viability, with greatest success in nests with intermediate sex ratios (produced at intermediate temperatures) and lowest in nests with female-biased sex ratios (produced at warmer temperatures) (Ewert and Jackson 1994, p. 28–29). Thus, alligator snapping turtle nests with strongly female-biased sex ratios and declining viability may result from warming temperatures in the future. Climate conditions also appear to limit the distribution of alligator snapping turtles. Their distribution appears to be limited by low precipitation on the western edge of the range, and by temperature along the northern edge of the range (Thompson et al. 2016, pp. 431–432). At these northern limits of the range, adult alligator snapping turtles can survive, but they face constraints on reproduction imposed by the influence of temperature on embryonic development (Thompson et al. 2016, pp. 431–432). Warmer conditions may shift the suitable range of the species farther north as northern latitudes become able to meet the incubation temperature ranges for viable nests. Additional information on these stressors acting on the species, including a more detailed discussion of the historical and current threats that have caused and are causing a decline in the species’ viability, is available in the species’ SSA report under ‘‘Factors Influencing Viability’’ (Service 2021, pp. E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62442 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules 17–27). The primary threats currently acting on the species include harvest/ collection, nest predation, habitat loss and degradation, and bycatch (hook ingestion, entanglement, and drowning) due to recreational and commercial fishing. These primary threats are not only affecting the species now but are expected to continue impacting the species and are included in the species’ future condition projections in the SSA (Service 2021, pp. 59–84). jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Regulatory Protections Several local, State, and Federal regulatory mechanisms offer some protections to the alligator snapping turtle and its habitat. Federal Protections Federal Lands—The species’ range encompasses areas of public land. Many Federal lands are protected from future development and degradation. Many sites are managed for species conservation and preservation of habitat. Some of the Federal lands that fall within the species’ range are managed by the Department of Agriculture (U.S. Forest Service), Department of Interior (National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Department of Defense (U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Department of Agriculture—National Forests are managed by the U.S. Forest Service with the mission to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Several National Forest lands are within the range of the alligator snapping turtle. Forestry activities on National Forests within the range of the alligator snapping turtle, including timber harvest and activities that may increase sedimentation or erosion when not following best management practices, could have adverse impacts on the species; however, when conducting any forestry activities, the U.S. Forest Service applies best management practices that reduce impacts to the species’ aquatic and riparian habitats. The U.S. Forest Service also cooperates with State and local governments, forest industries, other private landowners and forest users in the management, protection, and development of forest land in nonFederal ownership. Activities include cooperation in urban interface fire management and urban forestry. Department of Interior (National Park Service)—Alligator snapping turtle habitat extends across many NPS units VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 in the Midwest, Intermountain, and Southeast regions. The species may occur in up to the following 11 units of the NPS or be found adjacent to those areas: Arkansas Post National Memorial, Big Thicket National Preserve, Buffalo National River, Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Hot Springs National Park, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Natchez Trace Parkway, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Shiloh National Military Park, and Vicksburg National Military Park. Under the NPS’ Organic Act (54 U.S.C. 100101 et seq.), the NPS promotes and regulates the use of Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife and to provide for the enjoyment of future generations. The land within the NPS units is protected from future development and provides a level of protection to the species and its habitat. Department of Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)—National Wildlife Refuges are units managed by the Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS). The mission of the NWRS is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans. Each refuge is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose. There may be up to 50 National Wildlife Refuges with alligator snapping turtle occurrences. These lands are managed according to the designated purpose of the refuge and include conservation actions that reduce impacts from habitat loss, invasive species, pesticides and other contaminants, and climate change. These Federal lands are protected from future development and will continue contributing to the support of viable populations of alligator snapping turtles. Department of Defense Lands— Alligator snapping turtles are found on many Department of Defense (DOD) military installations and lands across the species’ range. The Sikes Act (16 U.S.C. 670 et seq.) requires DOD installations to conserve and protect the natural resources within their boundaries. Integrated natural resources management plans (INRMPs) are PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 planning documents that outline how each military installation with significant natural resources will manage those resources, while ensuring no net loss in the capability of an installation to support its military testing and training mission for national security. While most INRMPs do not specifically manage for the alligator snapping turtle, some examples of management that provide for the conservation of the species on installations include INRMPs that incorporate guidance provided by the State wildlife action plan (e.g., Ft. Chaffee Maneuver Training Center (Arkansas) INRMP, p. 12), direction to implement project design considering State-listed species with best management practices for all activities (e.g., Red River Army Depot (Texas) INRMP, p. 48), and identifying alligator snapping turtle as a species of concern, with direction to apply management consistent with maintenance of reference stream conditions or offer direct measures to enhance habitat for this and other rare species (e.g., Ft. Benning (Georgia) INRMP, pp. 28, 209– 210). Federal Laws Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.)—Section 401 of the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) requires that an applicant for a Federal license or permit provide a certification that any discharges from the facility will not degrade water quality or violate waterquality standards, including Stateestablished water quality standard requirements. Section 404 of the CWA establishes programs to regulate the discharge of dredged and fill material into waters of the United States. Permits to fill wetlands; to install, replace, or remove culverts; to install, repair, replace, or remove bridges; or to realign streams or water features that are issued by the State or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under nationwide, regional general permits or individual permits include: • Nationwide permits for ‘‘minor’’ impacts to streams and wetlands that do not require an intense review process. The impacts allowed under nationwide permits usually include projects affecting stream reaches less than 150 ft (45.72 m) in length, and wetland fill projects up to 0.50 acres (ac) (0.2 hectare (ha)). Mitigation is usually provided for the same type of wetland or stream impacted and is usually at a 2:1 ratio to offset losses. • Regional general permits for various specific types of impacts that are common to a particular region. These E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules permits will vary based on location in a certain region/State. • Individual permits for larger, higher impact, and more complex projects. These require a complex permit process with multi-agency input and involvement. Impacts in these types of permits are reviewed individually, and the compensatory mitigation chosen may vary depending on the project and types of impacts. CWA regulations ensure proper mitigation measures are applied to minimize the impact of activities occurring in streams and wetlands where the species occurs. These regulations contribute to the conservation of the species by minimizing or mitigating the effects of certain activities on alligator snapping turtles and their habitat. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)—The alligator snapping turtle is included in the CITES Appendix III species list (70 FR 74700; December 16, 2005). CITES requirements include permits for exports of Appendix III species, as well as annual reporting; annual reports must include the number of exported individuals of listed species. These requirements help control and document legal, international trade. Thus, Appendix-III listings lend additional support to State wildlife agencies in their efforts to regulate and manage these species, improve data gathering to increase knowledge of trade in the species, and strengthen State and Federal wildlife enforcement activities to prevent poaching and illegal trade. While CITES reporting indicates the number of turtles exported with other relevant data, the information required for the export reports does not always accurately identify the source stock of the exported turtle(s). Most alligator snapping turtles that were exported between 2005 and 2018 were identified as ‘‘wild’’ individuals; however, there is uncertainty regarding whether the source of the turtles was farmed parental stock or wild-caught (Service 2018, entire). The discrepancy in reporting the actual source of the internationally exported turtles does not allow us to easily evaluate the impact of export on the alligator snapping turtle. Additionally, there are no reporting requirements to track domestically traded alligator snapping turtles, which are not included in CITES reporting. State Protections The alligator snapping turtle has regulatory protections in all States where the species occurs. The species is listed as a threatened species in Florida, VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas, and as an endangered species in Illinois and Indiana. Alabama identifies the species as a ‘‘species of concern’’; Kansas and Oklahoma list the species as a ‘‘species of greatest conservation need’’; Missouri lists the species as an ‘‘imperiled species’’; Tennessee lists the species as ‘‘rare to very rare and imperiled.’’ Louisiana lists the species as a species of conservation concern and allows legal take of up to one turtle per day, per person, per vehicle/vessel with a fishing license. Arkansas does not have a State list of protected species; however, it provides protections through the State’s aquatic turtle regulations. Mississippi allows legal take; however, it restricts the take to one alligator snapping turtle no smaller than 24 in (61 cm) carapace length in a single year. Despite the likely extirpation of the species in Kansas, the species was originally listed as a threatened species in the State in 1978; then, due to lack of information on the species, the status was changed to ‘‘species of greatest conservation need’’ in 1987, when the species was still found in low numbers (Shipman et al. 1995, pp. 83–84). Although we have no information as to the effectiveness of these State regulations as they pertain to the conservation of the alligator snapping turtle, one benefit of being State-listed is to bring heightened public awareness of the species’ need for protection. Conservation Measures Below, we describe conservation measures in place for the alligator snapping turtle. While many efforts are directed to Macrochelys in general, we describe those that affect only the alligator snapping turtle. Surveys Many State agencies are conducting surveys for alligator snapping turtles to better understand the species’ status. Additionally, other organizations and universities are conducting monitoring and research projects that are ongoing or planned. Captive Rearing and Release/HeadStarting A captive breeding program at Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Oklahoma was initiated in 1999, to produce head-started alligator snapping turtles for reintroduction (Riedle et al. 2008a, p. 25). The program rears and releases small turtles to contribute to the conservation of the species by raising hatchling turtles to an age that increases their chance of survival. This program has successfully released alligator snapping turtles since 2002 to the PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62443 present in areas where populations have been lost or are declining. Many of the turtles are monitored after release to provide information about the life history of the species. From 2008 to 2010, 246 head-started juveniles (3 to 7 years old) were released in the Caney River in northeastern Oklahoma and were monitored until 2012; 59 percent of released turtles survived (Anthony et al. 2015, pp. 44–47). In 2007, 249 adult turtles (confiscated from a turtle farm in violation of its permits) and 16 juveniles (from Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery) were released into seven sites in southern Oklahoma, and follow-up monitoring occurred during May through August in 2007 and 2008 (Moore et al. 2013, p. 141). There were only seven confirmed instances of mortality, all within the first year after release, resulting from drowning on trotlines, a gunshot wound, and other suspicious circumstances (Moore et al. 2013, p. 144). When viable nests were found during follow-up surveys, they were covered with a mesh predator exclusion device. Only one viable nest was found during 2007 or 2008, while 25 depredated nests were found, which nevertheless indicates that released adults survived and were reproducing (Moore et al. 2013, p. 144). Mean annual survivorship post-release was estimated to be 59 percent, 70 percent, and 100 percent for turtles aged 3, 4, and 5 at release, respectively (older turtles were not included in analysis due to low sample sizes) (Anthony et al. 2015, p. 46). Head-starting, reintroduction, and monitoring of alligator snapping turtles were conducted between 2014 and 2016 in Illinois, Louisiana, and Oklahoma (Dreslik et al. 2017, entire). Released turtles included head-started juveniles, confiscations by law enforcement, classroom turtle-rearing programs, and other captive breeding programs (Dreslik et al. 2017, pp. 6, 13). Across three States (one site each in Oklahoma and Illinois, two sites in Louisiana), 548 turtles were released, the majority of which (465) were head-started at the Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, and 372 of these were tracked using radiotelemetry (Dreslik et al. 2017, p. 22). Between 21.7 percent and 28.8 percent of released juveniles were confirmed dead within the first year, primarily from predation by raccoons, while 35.6 percent to 54.2 percent experienced radio transmitter failures and could not successfully be tracked (Dreslik et al. 2017, p. 19). The greatest predictors of survival for released juveniles were size at release, age, and time of year. Larger, older E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62444 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules turtles had higher survival rates than smaller, younger turtles, and survival was lower over winter than other seasons (Dreslik et al. 2017, pp. 22–25). Repatriation Efforts Repatriation of wild turtles serves to return illegally poached turtles to wild populations from the areas of origin. In July 2021, 30 alligator snapping turtles that were confiscated in a law enforcement case were released into their river basins of origin in eastern Texas. The turtles were illegally poached from Texas and transported to Louisiana. Texas Game Wardens and the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement investigated the poaching and seized the turtles in 2016. This release was a collaborative effort including many organizations and agencies including the Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Stephen F. Austin State University, Sabine River Authority, Northeast Texas Municipal Water District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Houston Zoo, and the Turtle Survival Alliance, among others. Repatriation efforts like this one not only provide for the survival of the confiscated turtles, but also contribute to public awareness of the species and its threats. jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Farming Alligator snapping turtles are bred and raised in farming facilities for the purpose of supplying small turtles to collectors in the United States and abroad. The farming operations are permitted and regulated by States. Export of turtles is regulated through CITES Appendix III, requiring information such as the source of the turtles and other relevant information. Farm-raised turtles supplement the demand for domestic pet trade and international trade (i.e., turtle meat for consumption and the pet trade), which may alleviate harvest pressure on wild individuals. State and Federal Stream Protections Structural features within the water are important components of the habitat for alligator snapping turtles. Submerged and partially submerged vegetation provide feeding and sheltering areas for all age classes. The structural diversity and channel stabilization created by instream woody debris provides essential habitat for spawning and rearing aquatic species (Bilby 1984, p. 609; Bisson et al. 1987, p. 143). Snag or woody habitat was reported as the major stable substrate in southeastern Coastal Plain sandy-bottom streams and a site of high invertebrate diversity and productivity (Wallace and VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 Benke 1984, p. 1651). Wood enhances the ability of a river or stream ecosystem to use the nutrient and energy inputs and has a major influence on the hydrodynamic behavior of the river (Wallace and Benke 1984, p. 1643). One component of this woody habitat is deadhead logs, which are sunken timbers from historical logging operations. Deadhead logging is the removal of submerged cut timber from a river or creek bed and banks. However, some State regulations minimize the impact of deadhead logging on alligator snapping turtle; for example, some States regulate deadhead logging and allow it with a permit with variable conditions (e.g., Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana). The removal of submerged logs is costly, complicated, and impacted by the complexity of the permitting process; thus, the rate at which deadhead logging occurs is variable. Buffers and Permits—A buffer such as a strip of trees, plants, or grass along a stream or wetland naturally filters out dirt and pollution from rainwater runoff before it enters rivers, streams, wetlands, and marshes. This vegetation not only serves as a filter for the aquatic system, but the riparian cover influences microhabitat conditions such as instream water temperature and dissolved oxygen levels. These habitat conditions influence the distribution and abundance of alligator snapping turtle prey species and also directly affect alligator snapping turtles. Moderate temperatures and sufficient dissolved oxygen levels allow the turtles to remain stationary on the stream bottom for longer periods, increasing their ambush foraging opportunities. Loss of riparian vegetation and canopy cover result in increased solar radiation, elevation of stream temperatures, loss of allochthonous (organic material originating from outside the channel) food material, and removal of submerged root systems that provide habitat for alligator snapping turtle prey species (Allan 2004, pp. 266–267). Some State regulations provide protections against impacts to the aquatic environment, and additional activities may implement recommended best management practices (BMPs) to reduce impacts. For example, forestry BMPs are effective with a high compliance rate (often 90 percent or better) across many of the States within the species’ range that provide protections for buffer zones and riparian areas (Cristan et al. 2016, p. 4). Another example includes nutrient-reduction strategies to improve water quality (Louisiana Nutrient Reduction and Management Strategy 2020, entire). PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 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 influence 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 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 expected response by the species, and the effects of the threats—in light of those actions and conditions that will ameliorate the threats—on an E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 individual, population, and species level. We evaluate each threat and its expected effects on the species, then analyze the cumulative effect of all the threats acting on the species. We also consider the cumulative effect of the threats as well as 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 Service 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. 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 (Service 2021, entire). The SSA report does not represent a decision by the Service on whether the species should be proposed for listing as an endangered or threatened species under the Act. However, it does provide the scientific basis that informs our regulatory VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 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 Docket FWS–R4–ES–2021– 0115 on https://www.regulations.gov. To assess the alligator snapping turtle’s viability, we use 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. In general, the more resilient populations there are that are spread across the range, the more redundancy it provides to the species. The more representation it has, the more likely it is to sustain populations over time, even under changing environmental conditions. Using these principles, we identify the species’ ecological requirements for survival and reproduction at the individual, population, and species levels, and describe the beneficial and risk factors influencing the species’ viability. The SSA process can be categorized into three sequential stages. During the first stage, we evaluate an individual species’ life-history needs. The next stage involves 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 involves 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 decisions. Current Condition To describe the species’ current condition, we apply the conservation principles of resiliency, redundancy, and representation. Resiliency is measured at the population level to describe the ability to withstand stochastic disturbances. Delineating biological populations of the alligator snapping turtle is not feasible because of PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62445 the large spatial extent of the geographic range and the patchy availability of relevant information across the entire range. In our analysis, we delineate the range of the species into seven individual analysis units as proxies for populations to describe variation in the resiliency component over time across the range for each unit. The seven analysis units are Alabama, Apalachicola, Northern MississippiEast, Northern Mississippi-West, Southern Mississippi-East, Southern Mississippi-West, and Western. The Alabama unit encompasses eastern Mississippi, western Alabama, and small parts of Louisiana and Florida. The main water bodies that currently support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles include, but are not limited to, the Alabama River, Pascagoula River, Pearl River, Jourdan River, Escambia River, and Perdido River. The Apalachicola unit encompasses parts of the Florida panhandle, southeastern Alabama, and Georgia. The main water bodies that currently support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles include the Apalachicola River, Chipola River, Ochlockonee River, Flint River, Chattahoochee River, Choctawhatchee River, and associated permanent freshwater habitats. Northern Mississippi-East unit encompasses parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The main water bodies that currently support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles include the Mississippi River, Ohio River, Illinois River, and Tennessee River. Northern Mississippi-West unit encompasses parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. The main water bodies that currently support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles include the Neosho River and Verdigris River. The Southern Mississippi-East unit encompasses parts of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Missouri. The main water bodies that currently support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles include the Mississippi River, Atchafalaya River, Red River, Ouachita River, Tensas River, Amite River, Tangipahoa River, and their affluents in Louisiana. The Southern Mississippi-West unit encompasses parts of northeastern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and northwestern Louisiana. The main water bodies that currently support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles include the Arkansas River, Red River, Canadian E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62446 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules River, East Fork Cadron Creek, Black Lake Bayou, Cheechee Bay, Saline Bayou, Black Lake, Clear Lake, Saline Lake, Cane River Canal, Black River, Boggy Bayou, Grand Bayou, Crichton Lake, Coushatta Bayou, Smith Island Lake, Loggy Bayou, Bayou Pierre, Wallace Lake, Smithport Lake, and Bayou Lumbra. The Western unit encompasses parts of eastern Texas and western Louisiana. The main water bodies that currently support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles include the Neches River, Red River, Sabine River, San Jacinto River, and Trinity River. In analyzing the alligator snapping turtle’s current condition, we evaluated the current abundance within each analysis unit as a measure for current resilience, along with information about current threats, conservation actions, and distribution serving as auxiliary information about the causes and effects of current versus historical abundances (Service 2021, pp. 32–59). In our efforts to obtain the best available scientific and commercial information for the SSA, we consulted species experts about current abundance, current threats, and a comparison of the current and historical distribution regarding areas for which they have knowledge and expertise. Despite the large amount of expertise in the expert team we queried, the responses indicate a high degree of uncertainty about current abundances in each analysis unit. The methods for collecting the information from the species’ experts is provided in more detail in the SSA report (Service 2021, p. 32 and Appendix C). The abundances, estimated densities, substantial threats, and distribution over time as depicted by range contraction are provided in Table 1, below. TABLE 1—ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLE ANALYSIS UNIT CURRENT RESILIENCY AS DESCRIBED BY ESTIMATED ABUNDANCE, PERCENTAGE OF ESTIMATED ABUNDANCE IN EACH UNIT, DENSITY EXPRESSED AS ESTIMATED ABUNDANCE PER 1,000 HECTARES OF OPEN WATER IN EACH UNIT, THREATS, AND STATES WITH RANGE CONTRACTION Analysis unit Estimated abundance (% total) Density Alabama ............................ 200,000 (55.37) 616.9 Apalachicola ...................... 45,000 (12.46) 281.3 Northern Mississippi-East 212.5 (0.06) 1.0 Northern Mississippi-West 500 (0.14) 4.7 Southern Mississippi-East 50,000 (13.84) 55.3 Southern Mississippi-West 15,000 (4.15) 30.2 Western ............................. 50,500 (13.98) 139.3 Threats 1. 2. 3. 4. 1. 2. 3. 4. 1. 2. 1. 2. 3. 4. 1. 2. 3. 4. 1. 2. 3. 4. 1. 2. 3. 4. Range contraction Adult harvest (legal and illegal) *. Nest predation *. Bycatch: Incidental hooking/hook ingestion *. Habitat alteration. Nest predation *. Bycatch: Incidental hooking. Habitat alteration. Harvest (illegal). Nest predation * ..................................................... Habitat alteration. Bycatch: Incidental hooking/hook ingestion * ........ Nest predation. Habitat fragmentation. Harvest (illegal). Harvest (legal and illegal) * .................................... Nest predation *. Bycatch: incidental hooking and drowning in nets. Habitat fragmentation. Bycatch: incidental hooking/hook ingestion * ........ Nest predation ....................................................... Habitat fragmentation ............................................ Harvest (legal and illegal) * .................................... Nest predation *. Bycatch: incidental hooking. Habitat alteration. Adult harvest (legal and illegal) *. Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri. Kansas. Tennessee. Kansas, possibly Oklahoma. jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 * Denotes ‘‘substantial’’ threats, which refer to those threats estimated to reduce survival rates of an age class by 8 percent or more; legal and illegal harvest reduce adult survival, and nest predation reduces nest survival. To be considered substantial, the threat impacts more than 50 percent of the alligator snapping turtles in the unit. All information in the table was provided by experts with knowledge of the species and the area associated within the unit(s). Our assessment of the current condition for alligator snapping turtle considers the current abundance, current threats, and conservation actions in the context of what is known about the species’ historical range. To determine species-specific population and habitat factors along with threats and conservation actions acting on the species, data were available for some populations, and demographic parameters (e.g., clutch size, survival of specific life stages) and threats from previous studies. Where data were unavailable to inform the model, species VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 experts provided relevant information related to the analysis units for which each is familiar. To describe alligator snapping turtle’s viability, we evaluated the ability of the populations within each unit to respond to stochastic events (resiliency) in each of the seven analysis units and the ability of the species to respond to catastrophic events (redundancy) and the adaptive capacity (representation) of the species as a whole. We describe the species’ resiliency of each analysis unit using the estimated abundances, distribution, and threats PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 acting on the species (see Table 1, above). The abundance estimates presented were obtained from species experts with knowledge of the species in particular geographic areas; due to the wide range of the species and compiling information across the seven analysis units, there is a level of uncertainty with the precision of the estimates provided. Rangewide, the abundance of alligator snapping turtles is estimated to be between 68,154 and 1,436,825 (a range of 1,368,671 individuals). This enormous range in the estimated abundance illustrates the E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules high degree of uncertainty in abundances at local sites and the ability to extrapolate local abundance estimates to a much broader spatial scale. Within these bounds, the most likely estimate of rangewide alligator snapping turtle abundance is 361,213 turtles, with 55 percent of the turtles occurring in the Alabama analysis unit (Service 2021, pp. 47–48). Just as the data to estimate current abundances are scarce, there is little information with which to make rigorous comparisons between current and historical abundances. Dramatic population depletions occurred in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, the Florida panhandle, and elsewhere in the range during the 1960s and 1970s, with information on the magnitude of changes coming from anecdotal observations by trappers (Pritchard 1989, pp. 74, 76, 80, 83). Since that time, commercial and recreational harvest has been banned in a large portion of the species’ range (all States except Louisiana and Mississippi, where recreational harvest still occurs). There are limited data available describing how populations have responded to reduced harvest pressure. Population dynamics in Georgia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma suggest that the population in East Fork Cadron Creek, Arkansas (Howey et al. 2013, entire), and Big Vian Creek, Oklahoma (East et al. 2013, entire), are still in decline. Twenty-two years after commercial harvest ended, surveys conducted during 2014 and 2015 in Georgia’s Flint River reveal no significant change in abundance since 1989 surveys (King et al. 2016, p. 583). A similar study in Missouri and Arkansas detected population declines between the initial survey period in 1993–1994 and repeated surveys in 2009, over a decade after State-level protections were implemented (Lescher et al. 2013, pp. 163–164). At Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, an alligator snapping turtle population declined between 1997–2001 and 2010– 2011 (Ligon et al. 2012, p. 40). However, an additional study in Arkansas spanning 20 years documents an increase in abundance of both adult male and female alligator snapping turtles within Salado Creek (Trauth et al. 2016, p. 242). Because the size and amount of suitable habitat within each unit vary greatly, density is calculated using the estimated abundance and the area of open water within each analysis unit; this calculation results in the estimated number of turtles per 1,000 ha (2,471 ac) of open water in the unit (as delineated by the 2016 National Land Cover VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 Database; Yang et al. 2018, entire) (see Table 1, above). Note that these are rough densities meant only to correct abundances for analysis unit size so that units can be more appropriately compared relative to each other; they are not intended to serve as actual estimates of density in alligator snapping turtle habitat. Because of the variation in analysis unit size and limitations in calculating true densities of alligator snapping turtles within units, we refrained from leaning heavily on comparisons of abundance or density between analysis units to summarize resilience other than to highlight general patterns. Resilience inherently increases with abundance and density; where there are more individuals, populations will have a greater ability to withstand stochastic demographic and environmental changes. Thus, in terms of the density as a demographic factor, resilience is highest in the core of the species’ range, and lowest in the northernmost analysis units at the edge of the range. The southern portion of the species range within the Alabama, Apalachicola, Southern Mississippi- East, and Western units constitute the core areas for the species according to the percentage of the species’ estimated abundance (Table 1). We also consider the threats acting on the species within each unit. The current major threats acting on the alligator snapping turtle include fishing bycatch (including incidental hooking, hook ingestion, and drowning), harvest/ collection, habitat loss and degradation, and nest predation. Other stressors acting on the species include disease, nest parasites, and the effects of climate change. Experts were consulted regarding information about the prevalence of negative and positive influences on viability in each analysis unit and were asked to provide an extent of occupied area in each analysis unit where alligator snapping turtles may be exposed to incidental hooking on trot and limb lines, commercial fishing bycatch, legal collection or harvest, illegal collection or harvest (poaching), and nest predation by subsidized or nonnative predators. Experts also provided the best available information regarding the spatial extent of the different threats. This includes the effects that commercial fishing bycatch, incidental hooking, hook ingestion, legal harvest, illegal harvest, and nest predation have on the survival of relevant life stages (adults, juveniles, hatchings, nests) in areas where the threat occurs. The historical, large-scale removal of large, reproductive turtles from the PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62447 population for commercial harvest continues to affect the species and its ability to rebound. Therefore, due to the historical and current threats, as described above, the species currently has the highest resiliency at the core of the species’ range, where there are higher abundances of turtles. Harvest, both legal and illegal, is estimated to have the highest impact on adult survival rates, with harvest causing reductions in survival of 18 percent (most likely estimate) in some units. Commercial and recreational bycatch and hook ingestion are estimated to have lower impacts on adult survival, with most likely reductions in survival of 7 to 9 percent. The estimated impacts of threats on juvenile survival are lower than impacts to adult survival with most likely impacts of a 6 to 8 percent reduction in survival where commercial bycatch, incidental hooking, and hook ingestion occur, and a 6 to 7 percent reduction in survival from legal and illegal harvest where they occur. Hatchlings are not estimated to be heavily impacted by any of the threats we explored. Nest survival is estimated to be heavily impacted by nest predation by subsidized or nonnative predators (e.g., raccoons, fire ants), with a most likely estimate of 58 percent reduction in survival. Another resiliency factor informing the species’ current condition is the comparison between the historical range and the current range (year 2000 to 2019). We compared the historical and current ranges of alligator snapping turtles by querying State biologists or those with access to the State’s natural heritage program data. For each county or parish in their State, we asked for the current and historical status, and the date of the last confirmed record of alligator snapping turtles. Due to historical overharvest, habitat degradation and loss, and other threats in some areas of the species’ range, the range has contracted in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and possibly in Oklahoma. These States are all on the fringe of the range, where conditions are likely marginal and more dynamic. The units affected include Northern Mississippi-East, Northern Mississippi-West, Southern MississippiEast, and Southern Mississippi-West. Additional information regarding current condition descriptions and methodology used in the analysis are included in the SSA report (Service 2021, pp. 32–59). Redundancy refers to the number and distribution of sufficiently resilient populations across a species’ range, which provides protection for the species against catastrophic events that E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 62448 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules impact entire populations. Due to the wide range of the species, it is unlikely that a catastrophic event would affect the entire species. When considering changes from historical conditions to current conditions, none of the seven analysis units across the species’ range that we identified has been lost. All units remain extant and provide the ability to withstand catastrophic events. Although the number of analysis units has not changed, redundancy for alligator snapping turtles has been reduced in terms of the distribution within analysis units, with range contractions in the northern portions of the species’ range (Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee). Within the core of the species’ range, however, alligator snapping turtles still seem to be widely distributed, although there are many gaps in the spatial extent of surveys. While the distribution of the species encompasses much of its historical range, resilience within that range has decreased, largely from historical harvest pressures. With the range contractions and decreases in abundance, the Northern MississippiEast analysis unit has decreased in resilience such that it is not a robust contributor to redundancy (only 212.5 estimated abundance of turtles, influenced largely by introductions). Representation refers to the breadth of diversity within and among populations of a species, which allow it to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Because of this mismatch in scale between analysis units and biological populations, representation is described in terms of representative units and the resiliency units within each, under the assumption that representative units with higher abundances will be more able to contribute to future adaptation than those with lower abundances. No representative units have been lost compared to the historical distribution. The Northern Mississippi representative unit, which adds diversity in life-history strategies within the species, currently has very low abundance within its two constituent analysis units relative to the other representative units, with an estimated 712.5 alligator snapping turtles total and a shrinking range. However, alligator snapping turtles in Illinois have been introduced from Southern Mississippi breeding stock, diluting the presence of unique genetic characteristics in the Northern Mississippi representative unit. In summary, the overall current condition of the species’ viability is affected by the residual effects of historical overharvest, historical and ongoing impacts from incidental limb VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 line/bush hook and recreational fishing bycatch and/or hook ingestion, harvest, nest predation, and the species’ life history (i.e., low annual recruitment and delayed sexual maturity). Because of these threats, and particularly the legacy effects of historical harvest, the overall current condition of the species is based on the resiliency of each analysis unit, the redundancy of these units across the range, and the representation across the range. Due to the variation in analysis unit size and limitations in calculating true densities of alligator snapping turtles within units, we refrain from leaning heavily on comparisons of abundance or density between analysis units to summarize resilience other than to highlight general patterns. Resilience increases with abundance and density; where there are more individuals, populations will have a greater ability to withstand stochastic demographic and environmental events. Thus, resilience is highest in the core of the species’ range and lowest in the northernmost analysis units at the edge of the range. The trend in resiliency from historical to current conditions is declining because of the loss of reproductive females and the species’ life history (long-lived, late age to sexual maturity, low intrinsic growth rate). With the reduction in available habitat in some areas of the range, redundancy has declined compared to historical conditions as the species has been extirpated in some counties or parishes. However, no representative units have been lost compared to the historical distribution, as the genetic lineages across the representative units are still represented across the species’ range. Future Condition To evaluate the species’ future viability, we constructed a stagestructured matrix population model to project the population dynamics into the future and incorporated information from the literature, as well as information elicited on current abundance and the threats acting on the species (described above). In that model, we apply six plausible scenarios that factor in the estimated abundance and threats acting on the species to project the future resiliency of the species. Three scenarios consider conservation actions to be implemented, while the remaining three scenarios project conditions with no conservation actions. No specific endpoint for modeling was chosen at the outset; rather, the endpoint was selected after trajectories were generated, and it became clear that extending the projection further was unnecessary PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 because the species is extirpated under all scenarios at a certain point. In developing the future conditions scenarios described above, we used the best available information from the literature to parameterize a population matrix and elicited data from species experts to quantify stage-specific initial abundance, the spatial extent of threats, and threat-specific percent reductions to survival. To account for potential uncertainty in the effects of each threat, the six future scenarios are divided along a spectrum: Threat-induced reductions to survival are decreased by 25 percent, are unaltered, or are increased by 25 percent. To simulate conservation actions, the spatial extent of each threat is either left the same or reduced by 25 percent. We used a fully stochastic projection model that accounted for uncertainty in demographic parameters to predict future conditions of the alligator snapping turtle units under the six different scenarios. We derived a series of summary statistics to evaluate population trends and identify potential variation among analysis units and alternative scenarios. We define an extirpation event as the total population (juveniles + adults) declining to zero individuals, whereas a decline to less than 5 percent of the starting population size is considered quasi-extirpation. We applied 5 percent because it accounts for the effects of small population size and it also represents the result of a potential catastrophic population decline (Service 2021, p. 163). Experts provided information regarding the following threat-related quantities: Percent reduction to stagespecific survival rates attributed to each threat and the spatial extent of each threat within their analysis unit(s) of expertise. Thus, reductions in survival rates attributed to each threat are assumed to be the same across all analysis units, although the spatial extent of each threat (i.e., the proportion of the alligator snapping turtles exposed to the threat) varies among analysis units. For example, ingesting a fishing hook would be expected to produce the same percent reduction in survival across the entire range, although the probability that an individual alligator snapping turtle encounters that threat would vary among analysis units. However, we determined that legal collection likely violated this assumption, as regulations for legal alligator snapping turtle collection differ among States (LDWF 2019a, unpaginated; MFWP 2019, unpaginated). Therefore, we decided to model the effects of legal collection as a direct reduction in juvenile and adult E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules abundances (Service 2021, Appendix E) that varied across analysis units, rather than a reduction to demographic parameters. For each analysis unit, we calculated threat-adjusted survival rates, accounting for reductions in stagespecific survival rates resulting from the percent reduction in survival expected from a given threat multiplied by the spatial extent of the threat, for each threat occurring in a given analysis unit. Lastly, to reflect spatial heterogeneity in threat occurrence and overlap within each analysis unit, we calculated a weighted average of each survival parameter, based on the probable occurrence and overlap of all possible threat combinations (Service 2021, Appendix E). We built scenarios around the potential uncertainty regarding: (a) The magnitude of the impact of threats on survival rates, and (b) the presence or absence of conservation actions. To capture the variability in the potential input for each threat, uncertainty is considered and applied directly to the model. First, we define three different ‘‘threat levels’’ by adjusting the demographic effect of each threat (percent reduction in stage-specific survival) up and down 25 percent relative to the compiled expert elicitation responses. In addition to legal collection (as mentioned above), the only exceptions to this structure are subsidized nest predators, in which the percent reduction to nest survival remains the same across all threat levels. These three levels reflect that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the impact that each threat has on survival rates and allows us to explore what the future condition might be if the mean estimates of threat magnitude either underestimate or overestimate the true impacts by 25 percent. Next, we defined conservation action either as absent or present in the future. Where present, conservation action is modeled to reduce the spatial extent of threats (proportion of analysis unit exposed to threat) by 25 percent. This led to six different scenarios of expertelicited threats, decreased threats, or high threats, with conservation action absent or present. The conservation scenarios reduce the spatial extent of threats rather than their magnitude. For example, the ‘‘Decreased Threats +’’ scenario takes into consideration reduced survival rate impacts by 25 percent and also the spatial extent of threats decreasing by 25 percent compared to the conservation-absent scenario of each analysis unit, relative to the mean expert-elicited quantities. Also note that only the means for survival rate impacts and spatial extent VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 of threats, and not the standard deviations, are adjusted across the different scenarios. Conservation actions that could decrease the spatial extent of threats include, but are not limited to, increased enforcement or law enforcement presence to reduce poaching or bycatch on illegally set trot or limb lines, increasing the size of protected areas that prohibit recreational fishing or certain gear (e.g., trotlines, hoopnets), additional harvest restrictions in some areas, and management actions that reduce the densities of nest predators. The actual amount that any of these actions would influence the prevalence of threats will depend on factors like the time, money, personnel, and conservation partners available, but we selected a 25 percent reduction in the spatial extent of threats to explore how much a change of that amount affected future population dynamics. Conservation scenario outcomes show us that conservation actions (if applied) do not alter the basic trajectory of the declines. Note that the threat level scenarios (expert-elicited, decreased, increased) vary in the magnitude of the impact of threats on survival where they occur, reflecting uncertainty in their true values. Conversely, the conservation scenarios (absent or present) vary in the spatial extent (the proportion of the population within the analysis unit exposed to the threat) of threats rather than their magnitude. For example, in either ‘‘Expert-Elicited Threats’’ scenario, the survival rate where recreational bycatch occurs is expected to remain the same whether conservation actions are present or absent, but in the ‘‘Expert-Elicited Threats +’’ scenario, the spatial extent of any given analysis unit exposed to recreational bycatch is reduced by 25 percent compared to the conservationabsent scenario. Also note that only the means for survival rate impacts and spatial extent of threats, and not the standard deviations, are adjusted across the different scenarios. Our modeling framework also incorporates three effects believed to influence alligator snapping turtle demography that are not incorporated into scenarios as described above: Legal collection, head-start and adult releases, and habitat loss. Unlike the threatspecific reductions in survival rates, these effects are consistent across all future condition scenarios, although they are subject to stochastic variation among iterations and time steps. The effects from legal collection and headstart releases are applied directly to the estimated stage-specific abundances at PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62449 the beginning of each time step. Habitat loss is incorporated into the model through the adult fecundity element of the transition matrix where its effect depends on total abundance. Legal Collection Regulations for legal collection differ among States, which do not align with analysis units (LDFW 2019a, unpaginated; MFWP 2019, unpaginated). Therefore, we decided to model the effects of legal collection as an annual reduction in abundance that varies across analysis units, rather than a reduction in survival rates. Collection of alligator snapping turtles is legal only in Mississippi and Louisiana. Legal collection in Mississippi is not incorporated into the model because the harvest restrictions (>24 in (61 cm) carapace length) functionally exclude females, which typically do not exceed 19.7 in (50 cm) in carapace length (Folt et al. 2016, p. 24), and thus would have had no effect on our female-only population model. In Louisiana, current regulations allow for any angler with a freshwater fishing license to take one alligator snapping turtle of any size per day (LDWF 2019b, unpaginated). Within our modeling framework, we restrict the effects of legal collection to the two modeled analysis units that overlap geographically with Louisiana: Southern Mississippi-East and Alabama. The annual reduction in abundance due to legal collection in these analysis units is based on using freshwater fishing license and specialty permit sales for wire traps and hoopnets (often used to catch turtles) from 2012–2017 as an index of take (LDWF 2019b, unpaginated), and the proportion of each analysis unit that overlaps Louisiana (Service 2021, Appendix E). Captive Breeding for Conservation/ Head-Starts and Adult Releases Several States within the alligator snapping turtle’s range have initiated head-start release programs, in which alligator snapping turtles are raised for several years in captivity and then released into the wild population as juveniles (Dreslik et al. 2017, p. 13). Similarly, States also opportunistically release adult alligator snapping turtles confiscated from illegal activities (e.g., poaching) into wild populations. We include juvenile and adult releases within the model, but only for the first 10 time steps within an iteration, to avoid having alligator snapping turtle population persistence be contingent on head-start activities (i.e., conservationdependent). We parameterized the releases in the model based on statistics from Illinois (Dreslik et al. 2017, p. 13): E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62450 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules juvenile females: ∼30 individuals/year; adult females: ∼12 individuals/year. The mean number of releases does not vary among analysis units or scenarios, but because of the uncertainty and variability in the simulations, the specific value drawn for each year in each unit in each iteration varies. Specifically, for the first 10 time steps of each iteration, the number of released juveniles and adults are drawn from Poisson distributions that provide the probability of a certain event occurring over a fixed time or space. Habitat Loss We asked the species expert team to list habitat loss mechanisms within their analysis unit(s) of expertise. After adjusting for linguistic differences among responses (e.g., ‘‘desnagging’’ and ‘‘removal of large woody debris’’ are two answers that reflect the same mechanism), we summarized the number of unique habitat loss mechanisms within each analysis unit and calculated the mean across experts. We imposed a population ceiling (i.e., carrying capacity) that was annually reduced by a habitat loss rate, which equaled the mean number of unique threats in the unit, divided by 100. The initial population ceiling was determined based on the summarized expert elicitation values for the maximum possible number of alligator snapping turtles currently within the analysis unit, after adjusting for sex ratios and presence of hatchlings in the estimate. Thus, the population ceiling for each analysis unit at each time step was calculated deterministically and was not subject to stochastic variation across simulation iterations. To incorporate the effects of habitat loss on alligator snapping turtle demography within the model, we included a function that set adult fecundity to zero if total abundance (juveniles and adults) in any time step exceeded the population ceiling. While this function is included in the model, abundances are so far below population ceilings that the effect of habitat loss does not have an impact on modeling results (Service 2021, Appendix E). Additional Model Descriptions We must keep in mind the limitations of this model when interpreting the results. The precision and accuracy of model outputs depend heavily on the precision and accuracy of the information going into a model. In the case of the alligator snapping turtle, there is a large amount of uncertainty in the information that went into the model, including estimates of current abundance, age class proportions, impact of threats on stage-specific demographic rates, spatial extent of threats, and variability of these metrics across and within analysis units. We relied heavily on expert elicitation to obtain these values. Wherever possible, the uncertainty in these values is incorporated into the model structure itself, but others we were unable to address; for example, the assumptions we had to make that baseline demographic rates are largely uniform across the range of the species. Future modeling efforts would be greatly improved with further study into these aspects of the alligator snapping turtle’s biology, demography, and response to (and prevalence of) threats, as well as how these threats vary across the range of the species. We also acknowledge an ongoing concern raised with regard to the model used is that it does not match the published estimates of the population growth model (Folt et al. 2016, entire) and conflicts with the perceived stability of alligator snapping turtle populations from some catch-per-uniteffort studies for this species. First, Folt et al. (2016) resulted from a population without several of the threats explored in this model. In addition a few errors have been corrected since its publication which resulted in a change in the prediction of a population growing at 3% annually to one that was declining 3% annually. With regard to CPUE data, it is generally used for relative abundance and was not appropriate for use in this modeling effort. In addition, while there were published parameter estimates and data to inform survival, egg production and nest survival, modelers had to use expert elicitation to parameterize the spatial extent of threats and the effect of the threats on population demographics. However, estimates of variance for many elicited parameters are small, suggesting that the experts generally agree with each other, even though the values were elicited independently from each expert. Below, Table 2 presents the six plausible scenarios that factored in the estimated abundance and threats acting on the alligator snapping turtle to project the future resiliency of the species. Tables 3 and 4 present the results of the model depicting the future condition of each of four analysis units; Table 3 shows conservation-absent scenarios, while Table 4 shows conservation-present scenarios. In both Tables 3 and 4, for each scenario, we calculated the probability of extirpation and quasi-extirpation as the proportion of the 500 replicates in which the total population (adults and juveniles) declined to zero or less than 5 percent of the starting population size, respectively. For only those replicates in which the population reached extirpation or quasi-extirpation, we then calculated the mean number of years until those thresholds were reached to represent the time to quasi-extirpation or time to extirpation, respectively. Mean quantities and their standard deviations are listed with the range (minimum and maximum quantity observed across all replicates) given in parentheses. An asterisk (*) indicates only a single simulation crossed the threshold, precluding a standard deviation calculation. TABLE 2—DESCRIPTION OF SIX FUTURE SCENARIOS MODELED FOR THE ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLE’S ANALYSIS UNITS jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 [Scenario names are given in quotation marks] Conservation absent Conservation present Decreased Threat Magnitude .............. ‘‘Decreased Threats’’ Impact of threats: Reduced 25 percent Spatial extent of threats: Expert-elicited. ‘‘Decreased Threats + ’’ Impact of threats: Reduced 25 percent. Spatial extent of threats: Reduced 25 percent. Expert-Elicited Threat Magnitude ......... ‘‘Expert-Elicited Threats’’ Impact of threats: Expertelicited. Spatial extent of threats: Expert-elicited. ‘‘Expert-Elicited Threats + ’’ Impact of threats: Expert-elicited. Spatial extent of threats: Reduced 25 percent. Increased Threat Magnitude ................ ‘‘Increased Threats’’ Impact of threats: Increased 25 percent Spatial extent of threats: Expert-elicited. ‘‘Increased Threats + ’’ Impact of threats: Increased 25 percent. Spatial extent of threats: Reduced 25 percent. VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules 62451 TABLE 3—PROBABILITY AND TIME TO EXTIRPATION AND QUASI-EXTIRPATION FOR ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES FOR CONSERVATION-ABSENT SCENARIOS WITH THREE DIFFERENT THREAT LEVELS (Decreased, expert-elicited, and increased) Probability of quasi-extirpation Threat level Time to quasi-extirpation (years) Probability of extirpation Time to extirpation (years) Conservation Absent Alabama Unit: Decreased ................................ Expert-Elicited ........................... Increased .................................. Apalachicola Unit: Decreased ................................ Expert-Elicited ........................... Increased .................................. Northern Mississippi-East Unit: Decreased ................................ Expert-Elicited ........................... Increased .................................. Southern Mississippi-East Unit: Decreased ................................ Expert-Elicited ........................... Increased .................................. 1 1 1 17.68 ± 2.27 (12, 29) 14.20 ± 1.6 (10, 20) 12.11 ± 1.35 (8, 16) 0.13 0.846 1 48.91 ± 2.09 (43, 51) 45.64 ± 3.36 (36, 51) 40.19 ± 3.47 (30, 51) 0.99 1 1 33.11 ± 6.09 (19, 51) 26.28 ± 4.65 (16, 47) 21.21 ± 3.25 0.004 0.124 0.66 49.5 ± 0.71 (49, 50) 49.02 ± 2.05 (44, 51) 46.82 ± 3.15 0.02 0.016 0.024 45.90 ± 4.01 (38, 51) 48.00 ± 4.11 (39, 51) 45.42 ± 3.42 (41, 51) 0 0 0 1 1 1 17.69 ± 2.40 (11, 29) 14.89 ± 1.75 (10, 22) 12.97 ± 1.39 (9, 18) 0.434 0.95 0.998 49.45 ± 1.92 (43, 51) 47.49 ± 2.84 (39, 51) 44.92 ± 3.87 (33, 51) TABLE 4—PROBABILITY AND TIME TO EXTIRPATION AND QUASI-EXTIRPATION FOR ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES FOR CONSERVATION PRESENT SCENARIOS WITH THREE DIFFERENT THREAT LEVELS [Decreased, expert-elicited, and increased] Probability of quasi-extirpation Threat level Time to quasi-extirpation (years) Probability of extirpation Time to extirpation (years) Conservation Present (+) jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Alabama Unit: Decreased ................................ Expert-Elicited .......................... Increased ................................. Apalachicola Unit: Decreased ................................ Expert-Elicited .......................... Increased ................................. Northern Mississippi-East Unit: Decreased ................................ Expert-Elicited .......................... Increased ................................. Southern Mississippi-East Unit: Decreased ................................ Expert-Elicited .......................... Increased ................................. Alabama Analysis Unit The Alabama analysis unit provides habitat for more than half (55.37 percent) of the entire estimated alligator snapping turtle abundance; however, the total abundance in the Alabama analysis unit is predicted to decline over the next 50 years in all scenarios. Predicted declines are more rapid the higher the threat level and are slightly mediated by conservation actions. Compared to initial abundances, after the first 10 years of the simulation, the mean abundance within the unit is predicted to decline by 75–83 percent under decreased threat scenarios, 83–90 percent under expert-elicited threat scenarios, and 88–93 percent under VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:57 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 1 1 1 22.84 ± 3.20 (14, 33) 17.91 ± 2.27 (13, 26) 15.11 ± 1.72 (12, 23) 0.002 0.114 0.658 * 51 ± (51, 51) 49.14 ± 2.23 (40, 51) 47.21 ± 2.76 (40, 51) 0.98 1 1 32.44 ± 6.1 (20, 51) 32.04 ± 5.79 (18, 51) 26.22 ± 4.75 0 0.006 0.052 50.67 ± 0.58 (50, 51) 48.92 ± 1.94 0.038 0.036 0.02 48.21 ± 2.90 (42, 51) 46.72 ± 3.39 (39, 51) 46.60 ± 2.50 (42, 50) 0 0.002 0 ........................................ * 51.00 ± (51, 51) ........................................ 1 1 1 20.9 ± 3.34 (14, 35) 17.74 ± 2.34 (12, 26) 15.74 ± 1.98 (11, 25) 0.058 0.476 0.856 49.45 ± 1.92 (43, 51) 47.49 ± 2.84 (39, 51) 44.92 ± 3.87 (33, 51) increased threat scenarios (see Tables 3 and 4, above). Halfway through the simulation, after 25 years, the mean abundance is predicted to decline by 97–100 percent compared to the initial abundance across all six scenarios, with declines of 100 percent (extirpation) after 50 years (Service 2021, Appendix E). Although abundance declined in all scenarios, the probability of extirpation within 50 years depends heavily on the threat levels and presence or absence of conservation actions. Without conservation, the species is unlikely to be extirpated in this unit within 50 years under the ‘‘Decreased Threats’’ scenario, likely to be extirpated under PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 the ‘‘Expert-Elicited Threats’’ scenario, and virtually certain to become extirpated under the ‘‘Increased Threats’’ scenario (see Table 3, above). With conservation, the species is exceptionally unlikely to be extirpated under the ‘‘Decreased Threats +’’ scenario, unlikely to be extirpated under the ‘‘Expert-Elicited Threats +’’ scenario, and about as likely as not to be extirpated under the ‘‘Increased Threats +’’ scenario (see Table 4, above). While the likelihood that the species will become extirpated from the Alabama analysis unit varies by scenario, quasi-extirpation where abundances fell below 5 percent of current levels is virtually certain in all E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62452 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 scenarios. In scenarios where the probability of extirpation is about as likely as not, extirpation occurs on average after 40–51 years, with quasiextirpation occurring much sooner in 12–23 years. Predicted time to quasiextirpation averages 18–22 years under the decreased threats scenarios, 14–18 years under the expert-elicited threats scenarios, and 12–15 years under the increased threats scenarios, with the upper bound of each time period range predicted when conservation actions are present. Apalachicola Analysis Unit The Apalachicola analysis unit is included in part of the species’ core area and includes around 12 percent of the entire estimated abundance of the species; however, the total abundance in the Apalachicola analysis unit is predicted to decline over the next 50 years in all scenarios. Predicted declines are more rapid the higher the threat level and are slightly mediated by conservation actions (Service 2021, Appendix E). Compared to initial abundances, after the first 10 years of the simulation, the mean abundance within the unit is predicted to decline by 55–64 percent under decreased threats scenarios, 65–74 percent under expert-elicited threats scenarios, and 72–82 percent under increased threats scenarios. Halfway through the simulation after 25 years, mean abundance is predicted to decline by 90–99 percent compared to initial abundance across all six scenarios and is predicted to decline by 99–100 percent after 50 years in all scenarios (Service 2021, Appendix E). Although abundance declined in all scenarios, the probability of extirpation within 50 years depends heavily on the threat levels and presence or absence of conservation actions. Without conservation, the species is exceptionally unlikely to be extirpated in this unit within 50 years under the ‘‘Decreased Threats’’ scenario, unlikely to be extirpated under the ‘‘ExpertElicited Threats’’ scenario, and likely to become extirpated under the ‘‘Increased Threats’’ scenario (see Table 3, above). With conservation, the species is exceptionally unlikely to be extirpated under the ‘‘Decreased Threats +’’ scenario and the ‘‘Expert-Elicited Threats +’’ scenario, and very unlikely to be extirpated under the ‘‘Increased Threats +’’ scenario (see Table 4, above). In scenarios where the probability of extirpation is about as likely as not, when extirpation does occur, it is on average around the 47-year mark. In the conservation-absent scenarios, quasiextirpation is very likely to occur within VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 26–33 years. While the likelihood that the species will become extirpated in the Apalachicola analysis unit varies by scenario and ranges between likely to exceptionally unlikely, quasiextirpation, where abundances fell below 5 percent of current levels, is very likely to virtually certain to occur with or without conservation actions within 50 years in all scenarios (see Tables 3 and 4, above). Northern Mississippi-East Analysis Unit The Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit currently supports the fewest alligator snapping turtles (0.06 percent) of any other unit across its range. Because of ongoing conservation efforts with turtle releases occurring in the Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit, alligator snapping turtle abundances in this unit are predicted to increase for the next decade because of the population augmentation efforts, but at 50 years in all scenarios, the population is predicted to decline to a mean of fewer than 51 females (Service 2021, pp. 72–74, Appendix E). Predicted declines are consistent across scenarios with and without conservation; however, the rate of decline is lower in the Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit (Service 2021, Appendix E). Compared to initial abundances, after the first 10 years of the simulation, mean abundance is predicted to increase by at least 200 percent across every scenario. By halfway through the simulation after 25 years, mean abundances are predicted to fall but remain over 32 percent higher than initial abundances. By the end of the 50year simulation, however, abundances are predicted to decline by 47–51 percent compared to initial abundances in the scenarios without conservation actions, and 44–48 percent in the scenarios with conservation actions (Service 2021, Appendix E). Although abundance eventually declines in all scenarios after initial increases, the species is exceptionally unlikely to very unlikely to be extirpated in this unit within 50 years under any modeled scenario (Service 2021, p. 74). Quasi-extirpation is similarly very unlikely to occur in any scenario; however, abundance continues to decline beyond 50 years. Southern Mississippi-East Analysis Unit The Southern Mississippi-East analysis unit includes around 14 percent of the total estimated abundance of the species; however, the total abundance in the Southern MississippiEast analysis unit is predicted to decline over the next 50 years in all scenarios (Service 2021, pp. 70–72). Predicted PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 declines are more rapid the higher the threat level and are slightly mediated by conservation actions (Service 2021, Appendix E). Compared to initial abundances, after the first 10 years of the simulation, mean abundance is predicted to decline by 76–82 percent under decreased threats scenarios, 83– 88 percent under expert-elicited threats scenarios, and 87–92 percent under increased threats scenarios (see Tables 3 and 4, above). Halfway through the simulation, after 25 years, mean abundance is predicted to decline by 95–100 percent compared to initial abundance across all six scenarios (Service 2021, Appendix E). Although abundance declines in all scenarios, the probability of extirpation within 50 years depends heavily on the threat levels and presence or absence of conservation actions. Without conservation, the species is unlikely to be extirpated in this unit within 50 years under the ‘‘Decreased Threats’’ scenario, likely to be extirpated under the ‘‘Expert-Elicited Threats’’ scenario, and very likely to become extirpated under the ‘‘Increased Threats’’ scenario (see Table 3, above). With conservation, the species is exceptionally unlikely to be extirpated under the ‘‘Decreased Threats +’’ scenario, very unlikely to be extirpated under the ‘‘Expert-Elicited Threats +’’ scenario, and about as likely as not to be extirpated under the ‘‘Increased Threats +’’ scenario (see Table 4, above). While the likelihood that the species will become completely extirpated within this unit varied by scenario, quasi-extirpation where abundances fell below 5 percent of current levels is virtually certain in all scenarios within the next 13–21 years. Predicted time to quasi-extirpation averages 18–21 years under the decreased threats scenarios, 15–18 years under the expert-elicited threats scenarios, and 13–16 years under the increased threats scenarios, with the lower bound of each range predicted when conservation actions are present. The Western, Southern MississippiWest, and Northern Mississippi-West analysis units are not included in the future simulation modeling because we do not have adequate input data. However, we have no evidence that alligator snapping turtle demographic trends in response to threats in these analysis units would behave dramatically differently from the range of analysis units that we did model. While we do not have precise abundance estimates in the future or probabilities of extirpation or quasiextirpation, it is likely that alligator snapping turtles in these analysis units will decline along similar trajectories as E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules the modeled analysis units, meaning they likely face a high probability of quasi-extirpation within the next 30–50 years. In summary, alligator snapping turtle abundance was shown to decline drastically over the next 30 to 50 years in all analysis units that are included in the model (Alabama, Apalachicola, Northern Mississippi-East, and Southern Mississippi-East) across all scenarios. The model projects out past 50 years; however, the declining abundance trends drop so low within 50 years, there was no need to project beyond that time period. The future conditions projections, which include three conservation-based scenarios, indicate a 95 percent decline in 50 years and quasi-extirpation in approximately 30 years under even the most optimistic scenario. Resilience is expected to drastically decline across all analysis units under all scenarios. We modeled scenarios that reflected uncertainty in the impact of threats on alligator snapping turtle demography, and all threat levels (decreased, expert-elicited, and increased) produced mean growth rates (lambda) indicating population decline. Predicted abundances are likely to very likely to virtually certain to drop below 5 percent of current abundances within 12–50 years under all scenarios in the Southern Mississippi-East, Alabama, and Apalachicola analysis units (Service 2021, pp. 78–82). The only analysis unit for which quasi-extirpation is not consistently likely is the Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit. Although the risk of quasi-extirpation is lower in this analysis unit than the others, this is in part an artifact of the way that quasiextirpation thresholds are defined, as a percentage of the initial abundance. In terms of raw abundance, the Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit is predicted on average to support fewer than 51 female alligator snapping turtles (as we used a female-only demographic model) with or without conservation actions. Thus, even though quasiextirpation risks are lower than other analysis units, the predicted abundances for this unit still indicate that alligator snapping turtles will become very rare or disappear from this analysis unit. Time to quasi-extirpation varies across analysis units and scenarios (conservation absent–conservation present), but in general, the first analysis unit likely to reach the quasiextirpation threshold is the Alabama unit (12–22 years), followed by the Southern Mississippi-East unit (after an average of 14–25 years depending on the scenario), the Apalachicola unit (21–33 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 years), and finally the Northern Mississippi-East unit, where quasiextirpation is not likely to occur within the 50-year time frame. After 50 years, the mean female abundance in any given analysis unit is not predicted to exceed 133 individuals in any scenario. As we did for the current condition, we scaled future predicted abundances (after 25 years and after 50 years of the simulation) to the area of open water in each analysis unit to aid in comparing abundances among units of different sizes. Resilience refers to the ability of populations (or, in our case, analysis units, as we are unable to delineate populations with currently available information) to withstand stochastic disturbances (e.g., demographic, environmental stochasticity). Abundance is central to resilience, as small populations are more vulnerable to perturbations than larger populations. We compiled the best information available about alligator snapping turtles, their demographic rates, and threats, and the resulting simulation model predicts dramatic declines in abundance, and thus resilience, over the next 50 years across all analysis units. Abundances in nearly every analysis unit are predicted to decline by more than 95 percent, resulting in drastically lowered abilities of populations to withstand stochastic events, if alligator snapping turtle populations persist at all. Most of the threats described in the SSA report (Service 2021, pp. 17–21) (hook ingestion, illegal collection, etc.) are factors that affect adult or juvenile survival, and so large changes in population growth and predicted future abundance are expected to occur when those effects are incorporated into the model. For example, experts indicated that hook ingestion is likely to negatively affect adult survival and could cause up to 8 percent decline in survival rate in areas where trotline and other fishing activities are allowed, dropping survival from 95 percent to 87 percent. That one threat alone changes the trajectory of the population from stable or increasing to rapidly declining, as a result of the cumulative threats. Future representation, referring to the ability of the species to adapt to changing environmental conditions over time, is similarly predicted to decline rapidly as alligator snapping turtles in every representative unit decline in abundance to quasi-extirpation or true extirpation. The loss of alligator snapping turtles across all representative units would represent losses in genetic diversity (two broad genetic lineages), life-history diversity PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62453 along a north-south gradient, and finer scale genetic differences among drainages within the larger genetic lineages. Future redundancy, or the ability to withstand catastrophic events, for alligator snapping turtles is expected to decline drastically over the next 50 years. Our future simulation model operates at the scale of the analysis unit and is limited to the units for which data are available, so we cannot provide precise predictions about which States or counties are most likely to lose or retain alligator snapping turtle biological populations in the future. While accounting for uncertainty with the magnitude of threats at the analysis unit scale, all units are predicted to lose resiliency at such a high rate that no analysis unit will remain across the landscape to contribute to redundancy. Where alligator snapping turtles persist in the future, they are predicted to be rare and not found in adequately resilient groupings. Analysis units are predicted to reach quasi-extirpation thresholds in some cases within the next two decades, with more units becoming quasi-extirpated each decade after that. The addition of conservation actions, or different assumptions about the impact of threats on alligator snapping turtle demography, alters the time to quasi-extirpation by about a decade at most, typically less. No scenarios result in stable or increasing redundancy within representative units or rangewide. The future condition analysis for the alligator snapping turtle is described in detail in the SSA report (Service 2021, pp. 59–84). 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. E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62454 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules Determination of Alligator Snapping Turtle’s Status Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining whether a species meets the definition of 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 a species meets the definition of ‘‘endangered species’’ or ‘‘threatened species’’ because of any of the following factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Status Throughout All of Its Range When evaluating the species to determine if it is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range, we consider the threats acting on the species and the cumulative effects of those threats under the section 4(a)(1) factors. The current threats include harvest and collection (Factor B), nest predation (Factor C), habitat degradation and loss (Factor A), and hook ingestion and entanglement due to bycatch associated with freshwater fishing (Factor E). The current condition of the alligator snapping turtle, as discussed under Current Condition above, describes the species and the threats acting on the species such that it retains sufficient resiliency, redundancy, and representation to ensure the species is currently maintaining viability across its range. The species is currently still relatively widespread, occurring throughout much of its historical range, and remains extant within all analysis units. Although some resiliency has been lost due to past and ongoing threats, sufficient resiliency remains across the seven analysis units, especially in the core of the range in the southern parts of the Alabama, Apalachicola, South Mississippi-East, and Western analysis units. There has been some range contraction in some of the fringe States, including Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee where the VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 species’ resilience is lowest in the northernmost analysis units. Despite the historical, large-scale commercial harvest in some areas and additional ongoing threats, the overall population across the current range is still large with an estimated 360,000 turtles (range of 68,000 to 1.4 million) (Service 2021, pp. 50). However, due to the delayed age of sexual maturity and a generation time of about 30 years, the species has been slow to recover from the historical harvest pressures. An example of the slow response is evident in a study conducted 22 years after alligator snapping turtle commercial harvest ended in Georgia; surveys conducted during 2014 and 2015 in Georgia’s Flint River reveal no significant change in abundance since 1989 (King et al. 2016, entire). Thus, despite the prohibition of legal harvest of alligator snapping turtles in all States except Louisiana and Mississippi, the species has been slow to recover because it is a long-lived species with high nest predation and relatively low fecundity. This past large-scale removal of large, adult turtles continues to affect the current demographics; however, successful reproduction is occurring. While the species is not currently impacted by commercial harvest, resiliency is lower than it was historically as a result of the loss of reproductive females, low juvenile survival, and the species’ life-history traits (long-lived, late age to sexual maturity, low intrinsic growth rate). Regardless, the current estimated population size provides a sufficient contribution to the species’ viability through successful reproduction that is adequate to sustain the populations across all units. Thus, after assessing the best available information, we conclude that the alligator snapping turtle is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all of its range. To determine if the species is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all of its range, we considered the threats that will affect the species in the future and the species’ response to those threats. According to the description above under Future Condition, six scenarios are considered to project the threats acting on the species’ viability over the next 50 years; however, the species will decline into extirpation or quasiextirpation under all six scenarios within the next 30–50 years. We can reasonably predict the threats acting on the species and the species’ response to those threats within the 30- to 50-year timeframe when extirpation within most of the analysis units is projected. Based PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 on this information, we determined the appropriate timeframe for assessing whether this species is likely to become in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future is 30–50 years. While there is inherent uncertainty in the modeling, we have determined we can make reliable predictions as to the status of the alligator snapping turtle within this timeframe. As our framework for determining foreseeable future articulates, ‘‘reliable’’ does not mean ‘‘certain;’’ it means sufficient to provide a reasonable degree of confidence in the prediction. We have a reasonable degree of confidence in our status predictions, particularly because the species declines into extirpation or quasi-extirpation under even the most optimistic scenarios. When evaluating the future viability of the species, we found that the threats currently acting on the species are expected to continue across its range into the future, resulting in greater reduction of the number and distribution of reproductive individuals and continued effects of subsidized nest predators on nest success and juvenile survival. This species is highly dependent upon adult female survival to maintain viability. Existing and ongoing threats affecting adult female survival are projected to reduce recruitment to an extent that the species will continue to decline in the foreseeable future. While there is uncertainty regarding the rate at which population declines will occur, the threats are projected to drive the species towards extinction unless reduced. Additionally, the resiliency of each analysis unit will continue to decline and further reduce the species’ redundancy and representation into the future. The existing regulatory mechanisms are not adequate to protect the species from these threats (Factor D). There are additional stressors including disease, nest parasites, and climate change impacts (elevated nest temperatures, increased flooding, increased water withdrawals, etc.). These secondary environmental stressors will have compounding impacts that further reduce the viability of the species in the foreseeable future. Despite the implementation of the conservation actions described above under Conservation Measures, the delay in the species’ response to historical over-harvesting indicates other factors may be acting on the species or additional conservation actions are needed. This is illustrated by the future conditions projections, which include three conservation-based scenarios and indicate a 95 percent decline in 50 years and quasi-extirpation in approximately E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 30 years under even the most optimistic scenario. The best available information shows that the species’ viability is expected to decline with projected quasi-extirpation of most units to occur within the next 30 years and within the next 50 years for the Northern Mississippi-East unit (Service 2021, pp. 78–79). Based on modeling results, which address uncertainty regarding the extent and severity of threats, resiliency is expected to decline dramatically under all scenarios. Regardless of whether the projected timeframe to quasi-extirpation is fully accurate, the projected loss of resiliency across the range of the species will place the alligator snapping turtle at risk of extinction within the foreseeable future across all of its range due to the inability of this species to effectively reproduce and maintain viability in the coming decades in light of ongoing threats. Thus, after assessing the best available information regarding the threats acting on the species and the species’ response as described in the future condition analysis (Service 2021, pp. 59–85), we conclude that the alligator snapping turtle is likely to become in danger of extinction 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 extirpation or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The court in Center for Biological Diversity v. Everson, 2020 WL 437289 (D.D.C. Jan. 28, 2020) (Center for Biological Diversity), vacated the aspect of the Final Policy on Interpretation of the Phrase ‘‘Significant Portion of Its Range’’ in the Endangered Species Act’s Definitions of ‘‘Endangered Species’’ and ‘‘Threatened Species’’ (79 FR 37578; July 1, 2014) that provided that the Service does not undertake an analysis of significant portions of a species’ range if the species warrants listing as threatened throughout all of its range. Therefore, we proceed to evaluating whether the species is endangered in a significant portion of its range—that is, whether there is any portion of the species’ range for which both (1) the portion is significant; and (2) the species is in danger of extirpation 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 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. Following the court’s holding in Center for Biological Diversity, we now consider whether there are any significant portions of the species’ range where the species is in danger of extirpation now (i.e., endangered). In undertaking this analysis for alligator snapping turtle, 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. The statutory difference between an endangered species and a threatened species is the time frame in which the species becomes in danger of extinction; an endangered species is in danger of extinction now while a threatened species is not in danger of extinction now but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future. Thus, we reviewed the best scientific and commercial data available regarding the time horizon for the threats that are driving the alligator snapping turtle to warrant listing as a threatened species throughout all of its range. We considered whether the threats are geographically concentrated in any portion of the species’ range in a way that would accelerate the time horizon for the species’ exposure or response to the threats. We examined the following threats: Harvest (legal and poaching), fishing bycatch (recreational and commercial), and nest predation. We also considered the cumulative effects acting on the species with additional stressors such as disease, nest parasites, and climate change. After considering the threats acting on the species, we identified a concentration of threats in Mississippi and Louisiana due to legal harvest, albeit more limited in Mississippi. The three analysis units that overlap with these two States include the Alabama, Southern Mississippi-East, and Southern Mississippi-West units. The Alabama unit has the greatest abundance and density estimates of all seven analysis units, indicating this unit at the core of the range may be a stronghold for the species in terms of resiliency and contributing to the species’ overall viability. The Alabama unit currently demonstrates high resiliency in comparison to the other units; however, due to the continued compounding effects of the threats acting on the species in the Alabama unit, resiliency will decline in the future. PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62455 The estimated abundance within the Southern Mississippi-East unit is around 50,000 individuals; the major threats acting on the species in this unit include nest predation and harvest. Legal harvest has been ongoing in the Louisiana and Mississippi portions of this unit; however, the species is not in danger of extinction now due to the high abundance of turtles and augmented populations from conservation efforts of head-start and release programs. The historical and current distribution in this unit has some shifts in county and parish occurrences with some range contraction in western Tennessee and expansion in Mississippi and Louisiana (Service 2021, p. 42). Additionally, the species has been managed through conservation efforts by supplementing the population from a captive breeding program that raises the turtle beyond the first few years and releases them into the wild. Due to the current condition of the population within this unit, it is not currently in danger of extinction; however, the ongoing threats will cause the species to decline in the future. The Southern Mississippi-West unit has an estimated current abundance of 15,000 alligator snapping turtles, but impoundments have fragmented the habitat in this unit. About 9 percent of the unit is the upper northwestern part of Louisiana where legal harvest is still allowed. When considering the historical and current ranges, there has been some range contraction in some counties in Oklahoma; however, occurrence is unknown, meaning there have been no recent surveys or documented records in some of those counties. The species has become virtually extirpated in Kansas. The species is still found in all parishes in Louisiana with no changes in the historical distribution. In Texas, there have been changes from occupied to unknown status and vice versa, but no contractions of the species’ range have been confirmed between historical and current distribution. Because the species is still widely distributed across this unit as described in the species’ current condition, the population within this unit has sufficient resiliency such that the species is not currently in danger of extinction in this unit, but the ongoing threats will cause the species to decline in the future. Although the threat of legal harvest is concentrated in the Mississippi and Louisiana areas of the Alabama, Southern Mississippi-East, and Southern Mississippi-West units, the best scientific and commercial data available do not indicate that the concentration of threats, or the species’ E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62456 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules responses to the concentration of threats, are likely to accelerate the time horizon in which the species becomes in danger of extinction in this portion of its range. As a result, the alligator snapping turtle is not in danger of extinction now in this portion range of the species’ range. We also considered the threat of habitat degradation and loss compounded with historical overharvest that has affected the species along the fringe areas of the range as there has been some range contraction in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and possibly in Oklahoma likely due to changes in the habitat. These areas are all on the fringe of the range, where conditions are likely marginal and more dynamic. The species does not occur in large numbers or densities in these areas because the core areas are associated with the more southern portions of the species’ range. The species’ occurrence within these areas is inherently low because of the variable pressures associated with dynamic conditions. The alligator snapping turtle is not in danger of extinction now in this portion range of the species’ range. After analyzing the portions of the range where threats are concentrated, we found there are no significant portions of the range where the species is at risk of extinction and do not meet the definition of endangered. Therefore, we determine that the species is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future throughout all 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). jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Determination of Status Our review of the best scientific and commercial data available indicates that the alligator snapping turtle meets the Act’s definition of a threatened species. Therefore, we propose to list the alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species in accordance with sections 3(20) and 4(a)(1) of the Act. Available Conservation Measures Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or threatened species under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness and conservation by Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies; private organizations; and individuals. The Act encourages VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 cooperation with the States and other countries and calls for recovery actions to be carried out for listed species. The protection required by Federal agencies and the prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part, below. The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these listed species so that they no longer need the protective measures of the Act. Subsection 4(f) of the Act calls for the Service to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered and threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the species’ decline by addressing the threats to its survival and recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a point where they are secure, selfsustaining, and functioning components of their ecosystems. Recovery planning consists of preparing draft and final recovery plans, beginning with the development of a recovery outline and making it available to the public subsequent to a final listing determination. The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to be used to develop a recovery plan. The plan may be revised to address continuing or new threats to the species as new substantive information becomes available. The recovery plan also identifies recovery criteria for review of when a species may be ready for reclassification from endangered to threatened (‘‘downlisting’’) or removal from protected status (‘‘delisting’’), and methods for monitoring recovery progress. Recovery plans also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of implementing recovery tasks. Recovery teams (composed of species experts, Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. When completed, the recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the final recovery plan for alligator snapping turtle will be available on our website (http://www.fws.gov/ endangered), or from our Louisiana Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal agencies, States, Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 businesses, and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat restoration (e.g., restoration of native vegetation), research, protective regulations, adjustments to fishing techniques to reduce bycatch, captive propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and education. The recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished solely on Federal lands because their range may occur primarily or solely on non-Federal lands. Achieving recovery of these species requires cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, and Tribal lands. If the alligator snapping turtle is listed, funding for recovery actions will be available from a variety of sources, including Federal budgets, State programs, and cost share grants for nonFederal landowners, the academic community, and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, pursuant to section 6 of the Act, the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas would be eligible for Federal funds to implement management actions that promote the protection or recovery of the alligator snapping turtle. Information on our grant programs that are available to aid species recovery can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/grants. Although the alligator snapping turtle is only proposed for listing under the Act at this time, please let us know if you are interested in participating in recovery efforts for the species. Additionally, we invite you to submit any new information on the species whenever it becomes available and any information you may have for recovery planning purposes (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as an endangered or threatened species and with respect to its critical habitat, if any is designated. Regulations implementing this interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR part 402. Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to confer with the Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a species proposed for listing or result in destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a species is listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency must enter into consultation with the Service. Federal agency actions within the species’ habitat that may require conference, consultation, or both, as described in the preceding paragraph, may include, but are not limited to, management and any other landscapealtering activities on Federal lands administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Forest Service; NPS; Department of Transportation (construction and maintenance of roads or highways by the Federal Highway Administration and railroads by the Federal Railroad Administration); National Aeronautics and Space Administration; Department of Defense (DOD), including issuance of section 404 Clean Water Act permits by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (dams that produce hydropower). It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent practicable at the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of a proposed listing on proposed and ongoing activities within the range of the species proposed for listing. The discussion below regarding protective regulations under the Act’s section 4(d) complies with our policy. II. Proposed Rule Issued Under Section 4(d) of the Act jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Background Section 4(d) of the Act contains two sentences. The first sentence states in part that the Secretary shall issue such regulations as she deems necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of species listed as threatened. The U.S. Supreme Court has noted that statutory language like ‘‘necessary and advisable’’ demonstrates a large degree of deference to the agency (see Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 592 (1988)). Conservation is defined in the Act to mean the use of all methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered species or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Additionally, the second sentence of section 4(d) of the Act states in part that the Secretary may by regulation prohibit with respect to any threatened species any act prohibited under section 9(a)(1), in the case of fish or wildlife, or section 9(a)(2), in the case of plants. Thus, the VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 combination of the two sentences of section 4(d) provides the Secretary with wide latitude of discretion to select and promulgate appropriate regulations tailored to the specific conservation needs of the threatened species. The second sentence grants particularly broad discretion to the Service when adopting the prohibitions under section 9. The courts have recognized the extent of the Secretary’s discretion under this standard to develop rules that are appropriate for the conservation of a species. For example, courts have upheld rules developed under section 4(d) as a valid exercise of agency authority where they prohibited take of threatened wildlife or include a limited taking prohibition (see Alsea Valley Alliance v. Lautenbacher, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 60203 (D. Or. 2007); Washington Environmental Council v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 2002 U.S. Dist. Lexis 5432 (W.D. Wash. 2002)). Courts have also upheld 4(d) rules that do not address all of the threats a species faces (see State of Louisiana v. Verity, 853 F.2d 322 (5th Cir. 1988)). As noted in the legislative history when the Act was initially enacted, ‘‘once an animal is on the threatened list, the Secretary has an almost infinite number of options available to [her] with regard to the permitted activities for those species. [She] may, for example, permit taking, but not importation of such species, or [she] may choose to forbid both taking and importation but allow the transportation of such species’’ (H.R. Rep. No. 412, 93rd Cong., 1st Sess. 1973). Exercising this authority under section 4(d), we have developed a proposed rule that is designed to address the alligator snapping turtle’s conservation needs. Although the statute does not require us to make a ‘‘necessary and advisable’’ finding with respect to the adoption of specific prohibitions under section 9, we find that this rule as a whole satisfies the requirement in section 4(d) of the Act to issue regulations deemed necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the alligator snapping turtle. As discussed above under Summary of Biological Status and Threats, we have concluded that the alligator snapping turtle is likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future primarily due to harvest/collection, nest predation, habitat alteration, and bycatch (hook ingestion, entanglement, and drowning) associated with commercial and recreational fishing. PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62457 The provisions of this proposed 4(d) rule would promote conservation of the alligator snapping turtle by prohibiting harvest and encouraging implementation of best management practices for activities in freshwater wetlands and riparian areas to minimize habitat alteration to the maximum extent practicable. The provisions of this proposed rule are one of many tools that we would use to promote the conservation of the alligator snapping turtle. This proposed 4(d) rule would apply only if and when we make final the listing of the alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species. Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies, including the Service, to ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species. In addition, section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to confer with the Service on any agency action which is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any species proposed to be listed under the Act. If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency (action agency) must enter into consultation with us. Examples of actions that are subject to the section 7 consultation process are actions on State, Tribal, local, or private lands that require a Federal permit (such as a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean Water Act or a permit from the Service under section 10 of the Act) or that involve some other Federal action (such as funding from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Federal actions not affecting listed species or critical habitat—and actions on State, Tribal, local, or private lands that are not federally funded, authorized, or carried out by a Federal agency—do not require section 7 consultation. This obligation to confer on species proposed to be listed or engage in consultation with the Service on actions that may affect listed species or their critical habitat does not change in any way for a threatened species with a species-specific 4(d) rule. Actions that result in a determination by a Federal agency of ‘‘not likely to adversely affect’’ continue to require the Service’s written concurrence and actions that are ‘‘likely to adversely affect’’ a species require formal consultation and the formulation of a biological opinion. E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62458 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules Provisions of the Proposed 4(d) Rule This proposed 4(d) rule would provide for the conservation of the alligator snapping turtle by prohibiting the following activities, except as otherwise authorized or permitted: Importing or exporting; take (as set forth at 50 CFR 17.21(c)(1) with exceptions as discussed below); possessing, selling, delivering, carrying, transporting, or shipping of unlawfully taken specimens from any source; delivering, receiving, transporting, or shipping in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity; and selling or offering for sale in interstate or foreign commerce. We also include several exceptions to these prohibitions, which along with the prohibitions are set forth under Proposed Regulation Promulgation, below. Under the Act, ‘‘take’’ means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. Some of these provisions have been further defined in regulation at 50 CFR 17.3. Take can result knowingly or otherwise, by direct and indirect impacts, intentionally or incidentally. This proposed 4(d) rule would provide for the conservation of alligator snapping turtle by prohibiting intentional and incidental take, except as otherwise authorized or permitted. Prohibiting take of the species resulting from activities, including, but not limited to, harvest (legal and poaching), hook ingestions and entanglement due to bycatch associated with commercial and recreational fishing practices for freshwater fish (particularly as a result of unlawful activities and/or abandonment of equipment), and habitat alteration, will provide for the conservation of the species. Regulating take associated with these activities under a 4(d) rule would prevent continued declines in population abundance and decrease synergistic, negative effects from other threats; this regulatory approach will provide for the conservation of the species by improving resiliency within all seven analysis units. jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Prohibitions Due to the life-history characteristics of the alligator snapping turtle, specifically delayed maturity, long generation times, and relatively low reproductive output, this species cannot sustain significant collection from the wild, especially of adult females (Reed et al. 2002, pp. 8–12). An adult female harvest rate of more than 2 percent per year is considered unsustainable, and harvest of this magnitude or greater will VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 result in significant local population declines (Reed et al. 2002, p. 9). Louisiana and Mississippi allow recreational harvest of alligator snapping turtles; all other States within the species’ range prohibit commercial and recreational harvest of the species. Due to the species’ demography, however, the overall population has not recovered from prior extensive loss of individuals from past over-exploitation. While current recruitment is sufficient to maintain viability, continued harvest, combined with other stressors, will eventually result in quasi-extinction. Therefore, this proposed 4(d) rule would prohibit collection and harvest (with some exceptions as described below). Habitat alteration is also a concern for the alligator snapping turtle, as the species is endemic to river systems that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, including tributary waterbodies and associated wetland habitats (e.g., swamps, lakes, reservoirs, etc.), where structure (e.g., tree root masses, stumps, submerged trees, etc.) and a high percentage of canopy cover is more often selected over open water (Howey and Dinkelacker 2009, p. 589). Alligator snapping turtles spend the majority of their time in aquatic habitat; overland movements are generally restricted to nesting females and juveniles moving from the nest to water (Reed at al. 2002, p. 5). The primary causes for habitat alteration include actions that change hydrologic conditions to the extent that dispersal and genetic interchange are impeded. Activities that may alter the habitat include dredging, deadhead logging, clearing and snagging, removal of riparian cover, channelization, instream activities that result in stream bank erosion and siltation (e.g., stream crossings, bridge replacements, flood control structures, etc.), and changes in land use within the riparian zone of waterbodies (e.g., clearing land for agriculture). Deadhead logs and fallen riparian woody debris provide refugia during low-water periods (Enge et al. 2014, p. 40), resting areas for all life stages (Ewert et al. 2006, p. 62), and important feeding areas for hatchlings and juveniles. The species’ habitat needs concentrate around a freshwater ecosystem that supplies both shallower water for hatchlings and juveniles and deeper water for adults, with associated forested habitat that is free from inundation for nesting and provides structure within the waterbody. The species can tolerate some brackish conditions; however, freshwater provides higher quality habitat. PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Exceptions to the Prohibitions The exceptions to the prohibitions set forth in this proposed 4(d) rule include activities conducted as authorized by a permit issued under 50 CFR 17.32 for threatened species, as well as certain actions taken by an employee or agent of the Service, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, or of a State conservation agency that is operating a conservation program in accordance with 50 CFR 17.31(b), as discussed later in this document. In addition, this proposed 4(d) rule includes some of the general exceptions allowed for take of endangered wildlife as set forth at 50 CFR 17.21 (see the rule portion of this document) and certain other specific activities that we propose for exception, as described below. We are proposing to except certain activities involving specimens originating from captive breeding operations, for conservation or commercial purposes, if the captive breeding operations meet the necessary requirements. We are also proposing to except take incidental to construction, operation, and maintenance activities using appropriate BMPs; pesticide and herbicide use; silviculture practices and forestry activities that implement industry and/or State-approved BMPs accordingly; and maintenance dredging that affects previously disturbed portions of the maintained channel. Captive breeding for conservation— The Service recognizes that captive breeding provides for the species’ conservation (i.e., captive rearing, headstarting, and reintroductions) by supplementing depleted populations and reintroducing turtles to areas where the species has been extirpated. This includes head-starting programs, where turtles are bred and raised beyond the hatchling phase to improve survival, then released into the wild. Captive rearing for the purposes of head-starting hatchlings to release back into the wild can help mitigate losses from nest predation and parasitic insects, as well as provide individuals for reintroduction into areas with depleted turtle numbers. Such activities can help bolster population numbers by improving overall juvenile survival and may also increase genetic diversity. When brood stock is legally acquired and permitted, with proper pedigree management and disease surveillance, Federal and State agencies can implement head-start programs without putting undue stress on the wild population. All captive production programs for the purpose of reintroducing alligator snapping turtles to the wild must also E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules develop a controlled propagation plan in accordance with the Service’s Policy Regarding Controlled Propagation of Species Listed under the Endangered Species Act (65 FR 56916; September 20, 2000). In addition, captive breeding for conservation purposes should apply kinship-based pedigree management to avoid consequences of inbreeding or inadvertently introducing turtles with deleterious alleles into the wild population. Thus, incidental take associated with Federal and State captive-breeding programs to support conservation efforts for wild populations (i.e., head-starting) would be excepted from the prohibitions when conducted using permitted brood stock and following approved turtle husbandry practices in accordance with State regulations and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy. State-authorized farming/captive breeding programs—The Service recognizes that turtle farming can alleviate harvest of wild stock and provides a means to serve international markets without affecting wild populations in the future. Therefore, existing State-authorized farming operations using captive brood stock or otherwise legally acquired turtles prior to the listing of the species would be excepted. We will work with States to ensure an appropriate mechanism for identifying, marking, and tracking captive brood stock to differentiate them from wild stock. Without a system to identify alligator snapping turtles that have originated from these operations, we will not be able to finalize such an exception, as there will not be a way to distinguish captive-bred from wildcaught alligator snapping turtles. This 4(d) rule would allow individuals to take; deliver, receive, carry, transport or ship in interstate commerce, in the course of a commercial activity; or sell or offer for sale in interstate commerce alligator snapping turtle specimens that meet the definitions of ‘‘captive-bred’’ or ‘‘bred in captivity’’ in 50 CFR 17.3 and the definitions and requirements in 50 CFR part 23 (see 50 CFR 23.5 and 23.24) if the specimen originated in a Stateapproved facility. It also allows individuals to import; export; deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship in foreign commerce and in the course of a commercial activity; or sell or offer to sell in foreign commerce dead specimens of alligator snapping turtle that are otherwise lawfully taken. We are not currently proposing to allow foreign commerce and foreign trade of live specimens, in an effort to further ensure that wild specimens are not laundered through the black market and VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:57 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 international trade. However, we seek public comment on whether such an exception may be appropriate if a mechanism is developed for identifying captive-bred specimens. Any person wishing to exercise this exception would have to maintain documentation to demonstrate that the specimen was legally acquired and held in captivity prior to the effective date of the final rule listing the alligator snapping turtle. Such documentation may include a bill of sale or other receipts, including the State permit information for the source facility; record of pedigree of pit-tagged or uniquely identified, marked turtles with State permit from the source facility; accession records; CITES documents; or wildlife declaration forms dated prior to the specified dates. Also, the activity must not be prohibited by either the State or Tribe where the taking occurs or by the State or Tribe where the specimen is sold or otherwise transferred. Finally, the specimens held by a person claiming the benefit of this exception would have to be managed in a manner that prevents hybridization of the species or subspecies and in a manner that maintains genetic diversity. Best management practices for implementing actions that occur near or in a stream—Implementing best management practices to avoid and/or minimize the effects of habitat alterations in areas that support alligator snapping turtles would provide additional measures for conserving the species by reducing direct and indirect effects to the species. We considered that certain construction, forestry, and pesticide/herbicide management activities that occur near and in a stream may result in removal of riparian cover or forested habitat, changes in land use within the riparian zone, or stream bank erosion and/or siltation. These actions andactivities may have some minimal leveloftake of the alligator snapping turtle, but any such take isexpected to be rare and insignificant, and is not expected to negatively impact the species’ conservation and recovery efforts. Construction, operation, and maintenance activities, such as installation of stream crossings, replacement of existing instream structures (e.g., bridges, culverts, water control structures, boat launches, etc.), operation and maintenance of existing flood control features (or other existing structures), and directional boring, when implemented with industry and State-approved standard best management practices, will have minimal impacts to alligator snapping turtles and their habitat. In addition, we PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62459 recognize that silvicultural operations are widely implemented in accordance with State-approved BMPs (Cristan et al. 2018, entire), and the adherence to these BMPs broadly preserves water quality standards, particularly related to sedimentation (Cristan et al. 2016, entire; Warrington et al. 2017, entire), to an extent that does not impair the species’ conservation. Lastly, invasive species removal activities, particularly through pesticide and herbicide application, are considered beneficial to the native ecosystem and are likely to improve habitat conditions for the species; therefore, pesticide and herbicide application that follow the chemical label and appropriate application rates would not impair the species’ conservation. These activities should have minimal impacts to alligator snapping turtles if industry and/or State-approved BMPs are implemented. These activities and management practices should be carried out in accordance with any existing regulations, permit and label requirements, and best management practices to avoid or minimize impacts to the species and its habitat. Thus, under this proposed 4(d) rule, incidental take associated with the following best management practiced and activities would be excepted: (1) Construction, operation, and maintenance activities that occur near and in a stream, such as installation of stream crossings, replacement of existing instream structures (e.g., bridges, culverts, water control structures, boat launches, etc.), operation and maintenance of existing flood control features (or other existing structures), and directional boring, when implemented with industry and/ or State-approved BMPs for construction. (2) Pesticide and herbicide application that follows the chemical label and appropriate application rates. (3) Silviculture practices and forest management activities that use Stateapproved BMPs to protect water and sediment quality and stream and riparian habitat. Maintenance dredging of navigable waterways—We considered that maintenance dredging activities generally disturb the same area of the waterbody in each cycle; thus, there is less likelihood that suitable turtle habitat (e.g., submerged logs, cover, etc.) occurs in the maintained portion of the channel. Accordingly, incidental take associated with maintenance dredging activities that occur within the previously disturbed portion of the navigable waterway would be excepted from the prohibitions as long as these E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 62460 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules activities do not encroach upon suitable turtle habitat outside the maintained portion of the channel and provide for the conservation of the species. Tribal employees—Under the exceptions in this proposed 4(d) rule, when acting in the course of their official duties, Tribal employees designated by the Tribe for such purposes, working in the range of the species, would be able to take alligator snapping turtles for the following purposes: (A) Aiding or euthanizing sick or injured alligator snapping turtles; (B) Disposing of a dead specimen; and (C) Salvaging a dead specimen that may be used for scientific study. Such take would have to be reported to the local Service field office within 72 hours, and specimens would have to be retained or disposed of only in accordance with directions from the Service. State-licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities—Under the exceptions in this proposed 4(d) rule, when acting in the course of their official duties, Statelicensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities would be able to take alligator snapping turtles for the purpose of aiding or euthanizing sick or injured alligator snapping turtles. Such take would have to be reported to the local Service field office within 72 hours, and specimens would have to be retained and disposed of only in accordance with directions from the Service. We are also considering an exception for incidental take of the alligator snapping turtle associated with bycatch from otherwise lawful recreational and commercial fishing. We note that alligator snapping turtle bycatch from recreational and commercial fishing with hoop nets and trot lines (and varieties including jug lines, bush hooks, and limb lines) is a concern for the conservation of the species due to its effects on species abundance, particularly in light of the species’ lifehistory traits. However, there is limited information on the magnitude and on the temporal and spatial distribution of this threat across the species’ range. It is important to ensure that fishing activities take into consideration the need to prevent accidental turtle deaths from the use of such fishing gear, and we will work with the States to identify measures and revisions to existing regulations to reduce bycatch of alligator snapping turtle. If we conclude that the measures and/or revisions to existing regulations would provide for the conservation of the species, we may include a provision in the final 4(d) rule excepting incidental take associated with legal recreational or commercial VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 fishing activities for other targeted species, in compliance with State regulations, if such an exception is appropriate in light of comments and new information we receive during the comment period on this proposed rule (see DATES, above). Also, to better understand threats associated with bycatch related to otherwise lawful fishing, we are considering adding a provision to the 4(d) rule that would require reporting within 72 hours of all injured or dead alligator snapping turtles resulting from bycatch from recreational or commercial fishing (for other targeted species) in accordance with State regulations and the relevant information provided to the Service. We specifically request comments on the additional 4(d) rule exception and provision that we are considering. Future conservation efforts may be possible through advances in fishing gear technology that implement effective turtle escape or exclusion devices for hoop nets or modified trot lines (including limb lines and jug lines) that would reduce or eliminate turtle bycatch. Thus, we are requesting information from the public regarding new technology, design of a turtle escape, or exclusion device and modified trot line techniques that would effectively eliminate or significantly reduce bycatch of alligator snapping turtles from recreational fishing. We would particularly appreciate input from the commercial and recreational fishing communities. Our intent is to allow exceptions to incidental take for recreational and commercial fishing bycatch pending new technologies and regulations that may be applied to reduce the threat to the species; we are relying on input during the public comment period to further address bycatch incidental take. We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities, including those described above, involving threatened wildlife under certain circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.32. With regard to threatened wildlife, a permit may be issued for the following purposes: For scientific purposes, to enhance propagation or survival, for economic hardship, for zoological exhibition, for educational purposes, for incidental taking, or for special purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act. The statue also contains certain exemptions from the prohibitions, which are found in sections 9 and 10 of the Act. We recognize the special and unique relationship with our State natural resource agency partners in contributing PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 to conservation of listed species. State agencies often possess scientific data and valuable expertise on the status and distribution of endangered, threatened, and candidate species of wildlife and plants. State agencies, because of their authorities and their close working relationships with local governments and landowners, are in a unique position to assist the Service in implementing all aspects of the Act. In this regard, section 6 of the Act provides that the Service shall cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the States in carrying out programs authorized by the Act. Therefore, any qualified employee or agent of a State conservation agency that is a party to a cooperative agreement with the Service in accordance with section 6(c) of the Act, who is designated by his, her, or their agency for such purposes, would be able to conduct activities designed to conserve alligator snapping turtle that may result in otherwise prohibited take without additional authorization. Nothing in this proposed 4(d) rule would change in any way the recovery planning provisions of section 4(f) of the Act, the consultation requirements under section 7 of the Act, or the ability of the Service to enter into partnerships for the management and protection of the alligator snapping turtle. However, interagency cooperation may be further streamlined through planned programmatic consultations for the species between Federal agencies and the Service, where appropriate. We ask the public, particularly State agencies, Tribes, and other interested stakeholders that may be affected by the proposed 4(d) rule, to provide comments and suggestions regarding additional guidance and methods that the Service could provide or use, respectively, to streamline the implementation of this proposed 4(d) rule (see Information Requested, above). III. Critical Habitat Background Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as: (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found those physical or biological features (a) Essential to the conservation of the species, and (b) Which may require special management considerations or protection; and (2) Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is listed, upon a E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species. Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.02 define the geographical area occupied by the species as an area that may generally be delineated around species’ occurrences, as determined by the Secretary (i.e., range). Such areas may include those areas used throughout all or part of the species’ life cycle, even if not used on a regular basis (e.g., migratory corridors, seasonal habitats, and habitats used periodically, but not solely by vagrant individuals). Conservation, as defined under section 3 of the Act, means to use and the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring an endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Such methods and procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated with scientific resources management such as research, census, law enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise relieved, may include regulated taking. Section 4 of the Act requires that we designate critical habitat on the basis of the best scientific data available. Further, our Policy on Information Standards Under the Endangered Species Act (published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34271)), the Information Quality Act (section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Pub. L. 106–554; H.R. 5658)), and our associated Information Quality Guidelines provide criteria, establish procedures, and provide guidance to ensure that our decisions are based on the best scientific data available. They require our biologists, to the extent consistent with the Act and with the use of the best scientific data available, to use primary and original sources of information as the basis for recommendations to designate critical habitat. Prudency Determination Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.12), require that, to the maximum extent prudent and determinable, the Secretary shall designate critical habitat at the time the species is determined to be an endangered or threatened species. Our regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)) state that the Secretary may, but is not VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 required to, determine that a designation would not be prudent in the following circumstances: (i) The species is threatened by taking or other human activity and identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of such threat to the species; (ii) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of a species’ habitat or range is not a threat to the species, or threats to the species’ habitat stem solely from causes that cannot be addressed through management actions resulting from consultations under section 7(a)(2) of the Act; (iii) Areas within the jurisdiction of the United States provide no more than negligible conservation value, if any, for a species occurring primarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States; (iv) No areas meet the definition of critical habitat; or (v) The Secretary otherwise determines that designation of critical habitat would not be prudent based on the best scientific data available. In our SSA and proposed listing determination for the alligator snapping turtle, we determined that the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range is a threat to the species and that those threats in some way can be addressed by section 7(a)(2) consultation measures. The species occurs wholly in the jurisdiction of the United States, and we are able to identify areas that meet the definition of critical habitat. However, as discussed earlier in this document, collection and/or vandalism has been identified as a threat to this species. The alligator snapping turtle is declining throughout its range as a consequence of factors including collection of live adult turtles from the wild for human consumption and for the pet trade. Adult alligator snapping turtles are harvested for local human consumption and for use in the specialty meat trade both domestically and internationally. It is unclear, however, whether identification and mapping of critical habitat would increase the degree of such threat to the alligator snapping turtle. Accordingly, we seek comment on whether the designation of critical habitat may not be prudent because it would more widely announce the exact locations of alligator snapping turtles and their highly suitable habitat which could facilitate poaching, thereby exacerbating the threat of collection and contributing to further declines of the species’ viability. Therefore, because we are seeking comment on whether the identification PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 62461 of critical habitat can be expected to increase the degree of taking as a result of human activity, but we find that none of the other circumstances enumerated in our regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(1) have been met, we determine that the designation of critical habitat may be prudent for the alligator snapping turtle. Critical Habitat Determinability Having determined that critical habitat may be prudent, under section 4(a)(3) of the Act we consider whether critical habitat for the alligator snapping turtle is determinable. Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(2) state that critical habitat is not determinable when one or both of the following situations exist: (i) Data sufficient to perform required analyses are lacking, or (ii) The biological needs of the species are not sufficiently well known to identify any area that meets the definition of ‘‘critical habitat.’’ For the alligator snapping turtle, the species’ needs are sufficiently well known. However, information sufficient to perform the required analyses are lacking because we have not determined the extent to which critical habitat may be prudent. Therefore, we find designation of critical habitat for the alligator snapping turtle is not determinable at this time. The Act allows the Service an additional year to publish a critical habitat designation that is not determinable at the time of listing (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(6)(C)(ii)). Required Determinations Clarity of the Rule We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain language. This means that each rule we publish must: (1) Be logically organized; (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly; (3) Use clear language rather than jargon; (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible. If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us comments by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. To better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc. E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 62462 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules 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 regulations adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the Endangered Species Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244). This position was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Douglas County v. Babbitt, 48 F.3d 1495 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied 516 U.S. 1042 (1996)). Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes In accordance with the President’s memorandum of April 29, 1994 (Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments; 59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175 (Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments), and the Department of the Interior’s manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Common name * REPTILES * Turtle, alligator snapping * * * * Macrochelys temminckii * Special rules—reptiles. * * * * (o) Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). (1) Prohibitions. The following prohibitions that apply to endangered wildlife also apply to alligator snapping turtle. Except as provided under paragraphs (o)(2) and (3) of this section and §§ 17.4 and 17.5, it is unlawful for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to commit, to attempt 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 * Fmt 4701 Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Transportation. Proposed Regulation Promulgation Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below: PART 17—ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS 1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361–1407; 1531– 1544; and 4201–4245, unless otherwise noted. * * * (h) * * * * T * * * * * [Federal Register CITATION OF THE FINAL RULE]; 50 CFR 17.42(o).4d * Sfmt 4702 * Listing citations and applicable rules * * Wherever found .............. Frm 00030 List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17 § 17.11 Endangered and threatened wildlife. to commit, to solicit another to commit, or cause to be committed, any of the following acts in regard to this species: (i) Import or export, as set forth at § 17.21(b) for endangered wildlife. (ii) Take, as set forth at § 17.21(c)(1) for endangered wildlife. (iii) Possession and other acts with unlawfully taken specimens, as set forth at § 17.21(d)(1) for endangered wildlife. (iv) Interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity, as set forth at § 17.21(e) for endangered wildlife. (v) Sale or offer for sale, as set forth at § 17.21(f) for endangered wildlife. PO 00000 The primary authors of this proposed rule are the staff members of the Service’s Species Assessment Team and the Louisiana Ecological Services Field Office. 2. Amend § 17.11(h) by adding an entry for ‘‘Turtle, alligator snapping’’ to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in alphabetical order under Reptiles to read as follows: Status * * * jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 Where listed Authors ■ A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2021–0115 and by mailed request from the Louisiana Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). * 3. As proposed to be amended at 85 FR 61700 (September 30, 2020) and 86 FR 18014 (April 7, 2021), § 17.42 is further amended by adding paragraph (o) to read as follows: VerDate Sep<11>2014 References Cited Scientific name ■ § 17.42 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. Upon the initiation of the SSA process, we contacted Tribes within the range of the alligator snapping turtle and additional Tribes of interest to inform them of our intent to complete an SSA for the species that would inform the species’ 12-month finding. In addition, as described above under Tribal employees, the proposed 4(d) rule would authorize certain take by Tribes. As we move forward with this listing process, we will continue to consult with Tribes on a government-togovernment basis as necessary. * * (2) General exceptions from prohibitions. In regard to this species, you may: (i) Conduct activities as authorized by a permit under § 17.32. (ii) Take, as set forth at § 17.21(c)(2) through (c)(4) for endangered wildlife. (iii) Take as set forth at § 17.31(b). (iv) Possess and engage in other acts with unlawfully taken wildlife, as set forth at § 17.21(d)(2) for endangered wildlife. (v) Federal and State captive-breeding programs to support conservation efforts for wild populations that use permitted brood stock and approved turtle husbandry practices in accordance with E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS2 State regulations and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy. (vi) Take; export; import; delivery, receipt, carrying, transport, or shipment in interstate or foreign commerce, in the course of a commercial activity; or sale or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce specimens that meet the definition of ‘‘captive-bred’’ or ‘‘bred in captivity’’ at § 17.3 and the definitions and requirements in 50 CFR part 23 for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) source codes ‘‘C’’ (Bredin-captivity) or ‘‘F’’ (Captive-bred) (see 50 CFR 23.5 and 23.24), if they originated in a State-approved captive breeding facility and provided that all of the following requirements are met: (A) Take is authorized in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State or Tribe where the taking occurs. (B) Delivery, receipt, carrying, transport, or shipment in interstate commerce and in the course of a commercial activity, or sale or offer for sale in interstate commerce, is only authorized if the activity is conducted in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State or Tribe in which the taking occurs and the State or Tribe in which the sale or transfer occurs. The activity must not be prohibited by either the State or Tribe where the taking occurs or the State or Tribe where the specimen is sold or otherwise transferred. (C) Import; export; delivery, receipt, carrying, transport, or shipment in foreign commerce and in the course of a commercial activity; or sale or offer for sale in foreign commerce is only authorized with dead specimens taken in accordance with paragraph (o)(2)(vi)(A) of this section, and only if trade in the specimen meets the requirements of parts 13, 14, and 23 of this chapter. This exception does not apply to gametes, eggs, or live alligator snapping turtles. (D) Any specimens that do not qualify as ‘‘captive-bred’’ or ‘‘bred in captivity’’ (e.g., any specimens taken from the wild) may only be used by captive breeding operations as parental stock (or broodstock), and only if the specimens VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:23 Nov 08, 2021 Jkt 256001 were legally acquired and held in captivity prior to the effective date of the final rule. You must maintain documentation to demonstrate that the specimen was legally acquired and held in captivity prior to the effective date of the final rule. Such documentation may include a bill of sale or other receipt that includes the State permit information for the source facility, record of pedigree of pit-tagged or uniquely identified, marked turtles with State permit from the source facility, accession records, CITES documents, or wildlife declaration forms that must be dated prior to the specified dates. (E) All gametes, eggs, and live specimens of the species held by a person claiming the benefit of an exception under this paragraph (o)(2)(vi) of this section must be managed in a manner that prevents hybridization of the species or subspecies and in a manner that maintains genetic diversity. (F) Each person claiming the benefit of an exception under this paragraph (o)(2)(vi) of this section must maintain accurate written records of activities, including of any birth, death, take, possession, transportation, sale, purchase, barter, exportation, importation, and any other transfers of specimens. Any person claiming the benefit of an exception in paragraph (o)(2)(vi)(C) of this section must also maintain accurate written records as are otherwise required to be maintained by all import/export licensees under part 14 of this subchapter. Such records shall be maintained as in the normal course of business, reproducible in the English language, and retained for a minimum of 5 years from the date of each transaction. Subject to applicable limitations of law, duly authorized officers at all reasonable times shall be afforded access to inspect any wildlife or plant held or to inspect, audit, or copy any permits, books, or records required to be kept by regulations of this subchapter B. (vii) When acting in the course of their official duties, Tribal employees designated by the Tribe for such purposes may take alligator snapping turtle for the following purposes: PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 9990 62463 (A) Aiding or euthanizing sick or injured alligator snapping turtles; (B) Disposing of a dead specimen; and (C) Salvaging a dead specimen that may be used for scientific study. (viii) State-licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities, when acting in the course of their official duties, may take alligator snapping turtle for the purpose of aiding or euthanizing sick or injured alligator snapping turtles. (ix) Take carried out under paragraphs (o)(2)(vii) and (viii) of this section must be reported to the local Service field office within 72 hours, and specimens may be retained or disposed of only in accordance with directions from the Service. (3) Exceptions from prohibitions for specific types of incidental take. You may take alligator snapping turtle while carrying out the following legally conducted activities in accordance with this paragraph (o)(3): (i) Construction, operation, and maintenance activities that occur near and in a stream, such as installation of stream crossings, replacement of existing instream structures (e.g., bridges, culverts, water control structures, boat launches, etc.), operation and maintenance of existing flood control features (or other existing structures), and directional boring, when implemented with industry and/ or State-approved best management practices for construction. (ii) Pesticide and herbicide application that follows the chemical label and appropriate application rates. (iii) Silviculture practices and forest management activities that use Stateapproved best management practices to protect water and sediment quality and stream and riparian habitat. (iv) Maintenance dredging activities that remain in the previously disturbed portion of a maintained channel. Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director, Exercising the Delegated Authority of the Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [FR Doc. 2021–23994 Filed 11–8–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4333–15–P E:\FR\FM\09NOP2.SGM 09NOP2

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 86, Number 214 (Tuesday, November 9, 2021)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 62434-62463]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2021-23994]



[[Page 62433]]

Vol. 86

Tuesday,

No. 214

November 9, 2021

Part III





Department of the Interior





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





Fish and Wildlife Service





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





50 CFR Part 17





Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species 
Status With Section 4(d) Rule for Alligator Snapping Turtle; Proposed 
Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 86 , No. 214 / Tuesday, November 9, 2021 / 
Proposed Rules

[[Page 62434]]


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

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2021-0115; FF09E21000 FXES1111090FEDR 223]
RIN 1018-BG00


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Threatened Species 
Status With Section 4(d) Rule for Alligator Snapping Turtle

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce our 
12-month finding on a petition to list the alligator snapping turtle 
(Macrochelys temminckii), North America's largest freshwater turtle 
species, as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). After a review of the best 
available scientific and commercial information, we find that listing 
the species is warranted. Accordingly, we propose to list the alligator 
snapping turtle as a threatened species with a rule issued under 
section 4(d) of the Act (``4(d) rule''). If we finalize this rule as 
proposed, it will add the species to the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife and extend the Act's protections to the species.

DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before 
January 10, 2022. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal 
eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below) must be received by 11:59 
p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for 
public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT by December 27, 2021.
    Public informational meeting and public hearing: We will hold a 
public informational meeting on December 7, 2021, from 6:00 p.m. to 
7:30 p.m. Central Time, followed by a public hearing from 7:30 p.m. to 
8:30 p.m. Central Time.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter the docket number or RIN 
for this rulemaking (presented above in the document headings). For 
best results, do not copy and paste either number; instead, type the 
docket number or RIN into the Search box using hyphens. Then, click on 
the Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the 
left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, check the 
Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by 
clicking on ``Comment.''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail to: Public Comments 
Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2021-0115, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described 
above. We will post all comments on https://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see Information Requested, below, for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brigette Firmin, Deputy Field 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Ecological 
Services Field Office, 200 Dulles Drive, Lafayette, LA 70506; telephone 
337-291-3108. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf 
(TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Executive Summary

    Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, if we determine that 
a species warrants listing, we are required to promptly publish a 
proposal in the Federal Register, unless doing so is precluded by 
higher-priority actions and expeditious progress is being made to add 
and remove qualified species to or from the List of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife and Plants. The Service will make a determination 
on our proposal within 1 year. If there is substantial disagreement 
regarding the sufficiency and accuracy of the available data relevant 
to the proposed listing, we may extend the final determination for not 
more than six months. To the maximum extent prudent and determinable, 
we must designate critical habitat for any species that we determine to 
be an endangered or threatened species under the Act. Listing a species 
as an endangered or threatened species and designating critical habitat 
can be completed only by issuing a rule.
    What this document does. We propose to list the alligator snapping 
turtle as a threatened species with a rule issued under section 4(d) of 
the Act.
    The basis for our action. Under the Act, we may determine that a 
species is an endangered or threatened species because of any of five 
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. We have determined that the primary threats acting 
on the alligator snapping turtle include habitat loss or modification 
(Factor A), harvest and collection (Factor B), nest predation (Factor 
C), and hook ingestion, entanglement, and drowning due to bycatch 
associated with freshwater fishing (Factor E). Existing regulatory 
mechanisms (Factor D) are not adequate to address these threats. 
Disease (Factor C), nest parasites (Factor C), and the effects of 
climate change (Factor E) may negatively influence the species, but the 
impacts of these threats on the species are uncertain based on current 
information.
    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act requires the Secretary of the Interior 
(Secretary) to designate critical habitat concurrent with listing to 
the maximum extent prudent and determinable. Section 3(5)(A) of the Act 
defines critical habitat as (i) the specific areas within the 
geographical area occupied by the species, at the time it is listed, on 
which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to 
the conservation of the species and (II) which may require special 
management considerations or protections; and (ii) specific areas 
outside the geographical area occupied by the species at the time it is 
listed, upon a determination by the Secretary that such areas are 
essential for the conservation of the species. Section 4(b)(2) of the 
Act states that the Secretary must make the designation on the basis of 
the best scientific data available and after taking into consideration 
the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other 
relevant impacts of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. 
We have determined that designation of critical habitat is not 
determinable at this time.

Information Requested

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request 
comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies, 
Native American Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any 
other interested parties concerning this proposed rule.

[[Page 62435]]

    We particularly seek comments concerning:
    (1) The species' biology, range, and population trends, including:
    (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the species, including 
habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering;
    (b) Genetics, taxonomy, and population structure;
    (c) Historical and current range, including distribution patterns;
    (d) Survival rates for adults, juveniles, hatchlings, or eggs;
    (e) Historical and current population levels, and current and 
projected trends;
    (f) Past and ongoing conservation measures for the species; and
    (g) Tribal use or cultural significance of the species, including 
use of parts for ceremonial or traditional crafts.
    (2) Information on threats to the species, particularly information 
on:
    (a) Frequency of hook ingestion and entanglement associated with 
recreational or commercial fishing, effects on individual survival, and 
any population impacts;
    (b) Magnitude of poaching and any population impacts from poaching; 
and
    (c) Nest and hatchling predation rates and effects on recruitment 
and any population impacts.
    (3) The spatial distribution and extent of threats to this species. 
Notably, we seek any information on areas within the species' range 
where these threats may overlap and potentially act synergistically or 
antagonistically as well as where there may be a complete absence of 
threats.
    (4) The spatial variation in demographic rates related to 
reproduction, recruitment, and survival.
    (5) Information regarding personal or commercial trade, not limited 
to the pet trade or breeding for personal collections.
    (6) Information regarding habitat loss or degradation impacts to 
the species at the analysis unit level.
    (7) Information, especially from the commercial and recreational 
fishing communities, about the design of a turtle escape or exclusion 
device, modified trot line techniques, or any other practices that 
would effectively eliminate or significantly reduce bycatch of 
alligator snapping turtles from recreational or commercial fishing.
    (8) Information to address uncertainties regarding the future 
conditions analyses that informed the listing determination, including:
    (a) Model input variables;
    (b) Scientific or commercial information that would inform the 
model; and
    (c) Treatment of uncertainty within the model.
    (9) Information on regulations that are necessary and advisable to 
provide for the conservation of the alligator snapping turtle and that 
the Service can consider in developing a 4(d) rule for the species. In 
particular, we seek information concerning the extent to which we 
should include any of the Act's section 9 prohibitions in the 4(d) rule 
or whether we should consider any additional exceptions from the 
prohibitions in the 4(d) rule.
    (10) Whether the measures outlined in the proposed 4(d) rule are 
necessary and advisable for the conservation and management of the 
alligator snapping turtle. We particularly seek comments concerning:
    (a) Whether we should include a provision excepting incidental take 
resulting from legal recreational or commercial fishing activities for 
other targeted species, in compliance with State regulations. In 
addition, if we include such a provision, whether we should also 
include a requirement to report to the Service injured or dead turtles 
resulting from such legal fishing activities and how such reporting 
should be conducted;
    (b) Whether the provision excepting activities such as take and 
interstate commerce for captive-bred specimens from State-approved 
captive breeding operations-should be revised or clarified regarding 
additional restrictions or requirements, or best management practices, 
or whether the Service should also except from the prohibited 
activities the foreign trade of live specimens from captive breeding 
operations;
    (c) Whether the provisions excepting incidental take resulting from 
construction, operation, and maintenance activities; pesticide and 
herbicide application; and silviculture practices and forestry 
activities that follow best management practices should be revised or 
clarified to remove or add information, including spatial or temporal 
restrictions or deferments, or additional best management practices;
    (d) Whether there are additional provisions the Service may wish to 
consider for the final 4(d) rule in order to conserve, recover, and 
manage the alligator snapping turtle, such as allowing take associated 
with certain infrastructure and other construction activities, riparian 
management activities, or wetland management activities;
    (e) Methods for identifying, marking, and tracking captive brood-
stock to differentiate them from wild-stock; and
    (f) Whether there are any additional management activities not 
described within this proposed rule that contribute to the conservation 
of the alligator snapping turtle.
    (11) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as 
``critical habitat'' under section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.), including information to inform the following factors that the 
regulations identify as reasons why designation of critical habitat may 
be not prudent:
    (a) The species is threatened by taking or other human activity and 
identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the 
degree of such threat to the species;
    (b) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of a species' habitat or range is not a threat to the 
species, or threats to the species' habitat stem solely from causes 
that cannot be addressed through management actions resulting from 
consultations under section 7(a)(2) of the Act;
    (c) Areas within the jurisdiction of the United States provide no 
more than negligible conservation value, if any, for a species 
occurring primarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States; or
    (d) No areas meet the definition of critical habitat.
    (12) Whether the designation of critical habitat is not prudent 
because it would more widely announce the exact locations of alligator 
snapping turtles and their highly suitable habitat which could 
facilitate poaching, exacerbating the existing threat of collection and 
contributing to further declines of the species' viability.
    (13) Specific information on the possible risks or benefits of 
designating critical habitat, including risks associated with 
publication of maps designating any area on which this species may be 
located, now or in the future, as critical habitat. We specifically 
request information on the threats of taking or other human activity on 
the alligator snapping turtle and its habitat, and the extent to which 
designation might increase those threats, as well as the possible 
benefits of critical habitat designation to the species.
    Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as 
scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to 
verify any scientific or commercial information you include.
    Please note that submissions merely stating support for, or 
opposition to, the actions under consideration without providing 
supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in 
making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that 
determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or a 
threatened

[[Page 62436]]

species must be made ``solely on the basis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available.''
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you 
send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES.
    If you submit information via https://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the website. If your submission is made via a hardcopy 
that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the 
top of your document that we withhold this information from public 
review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We 
will post all hardcopy submissions on https://www.regulations.gov.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be 
available for public inspection on https://www.regulations.gov.
    Because we will consider all comments and information we receive 
during the comment period, our final determinations may differ from 
this proposal. Based on the new information we receive (and any 
comments on that new information), we may conclude that the species is 
endangered instead of threatened, or we may conclude that the species 
does not warrant listing as either an endangered species or a 
threatened species. In addition, we may change the parameters of the 
prohibitions or the exceptions to those prohibitions in the 4(d) rule 
if we conclude it is appropriate in light of comments and new 
information we receive. For example, we may expand the prohibitions to 
include prohibiting additional activities if we conclude that those 
additional activities are not compatible with conservation of the 
species. Conversely, we may establish additional exceptions to the 
prohibitions in the final rule if we conclude that the activities would 
facilitate or are compatible with the conservation and recovery of the 
species.

Public Hearing

    We are holding a public informational meeting followed by a public 
hearing on the date and at the time listed in DATES. We are holding the 
public informational meeting and public hearing via the Zoom online 
video platform and via teleconference so that participants can attend 
remotely. For security purposes, registration is required. All 
participants must register in order to listen and view the meeting and 
hearing via Zoom, listen to the meeting and hearing by telephone, or 
provide oral public comments at the public hearing by Zoom or 
telephone. For information on how to register, or if technical problems 
occur joining Zoom the day of the meeting, visit https://www.fws.gov/southeast/lafayette/news/. Registrants will receive the Zoom link and 
the telephone number for the public informational meeting and public 
hearing. If applicable, interested members of the public not familiar 
with the Zoom platform should view the Zoom video tutorials (https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206618765-Zoom-video-tutorials) prior 
to the public informational meeting and public hearing.
    We are holding the public informational meeting to present 
information about the proposed rule to list the alligator snapping 
turtle as a threatened species and to provide interested parties an 
opportunity to ask questions about the proposed 4(d) rule. The public 
hearing will provide interested parties an opportunity to present 
verbal testimony (formal, oral comments) regarding the proposed rule to 
list the alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species and the 
proposed 4(d) rule. While the public informational meeting will be an 
opportunity for dialogue with the Service, the public hearing is not. 
The public hearing portion is a forum for accepting formal verbal 
testimony. In the event there is a large attendance, the time allotted 
for oral statements may be limited. Therefore, anyone wishing to make 
an oral statement at the public hearing for the record is encouraged to 
provide a prepared written copy of their statement to us through the 
Federal eRulemaking Portal, or U.S. mail (see ADDRESSES, above). There 
are no limits on the length of written comments submitted to us. Anyone 
wishing to make an oral statement at the public hearing must register 
before the hearing (https://www.fws.gov/southeast/lafayette/news/). The 
use of a virtual public hearing is consistent with our regulations at 
50 CFR 424.16(c)(3).
Reasonable Accommodation
    The Service is committed to providing access to the public 
informational meeting and public hearing for all participants. Closed 
captioning will be available during the public informational meeting 
and public hearing. Further, a full audio and video recording and 
transcript of the public hearing will be posted online at https://www.fws.gov/southeast/lafayette/news/after the hearing. Participants 
will also have access to live audio during the public informational 
meeting and public hearing via their telephone or computer speakers. 
Persons with disabilities requiring reasonable accommodations to 
participate in the meeting and/or hearing should contact the person 
listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT at least 5 business days 
prior to the date of the meeting and hearing to help ensure 
accessibility. An accessible version of the Service's public 
informational meeting presentation will also be posted online at 
https://www.fws.gov/southeast/lafayette/news/ prior to the meeting and 
hearing (see DATES, above). See https://www.fws.gov/southeast/lafayette/news/ for more information about reasonable accommodation.

Previous Federal Actions

    On July 11, 2012, the Service received a petition to list 53 
amphibians and reptiles across the United States, including the 
alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii), as endangered or 
threatened species. On July 1, 2015, we published a 90-day finding (80 
FR 37568) that the petition contained substantial information 
indicating the alligator snapping turtle may warrant listing. On 
September 1, 2015, the petitioner submitted supplemental information to 
add to the petition that described new studies that could lead to 
taxonomic differentiation of the single Macrochelys species into 
multiple entities (Center for Biological Diversity 2015, entire). This 
information was considered and is described in further detail below in 
the Background discussion under I. Proposed Listing Determination in 
this document. New information since the time of the original petition, 
including that submitted to supplement the petition, provided 
sufficient evidence to support splitting the alligator snapping turtle 
(M. temminckii) into two separate species based on genetic and 
morphological differences as well as geographic isolation, resulting in 
alligator snapping turtle (M. temminckii) and Suwannee alligator 
snapping turtle (M. suwanniensis). This proposed rule serves as the 12-
month finding for the alligator snapping turtle (M. temminckii).

Supporting Documents

    A species status assessment (SSA) team prepared an SSA report for 
the alligator snapping turtle (Service 2021, entire). The SSA team was 
composed of Service biologists, in consultation with other species 
experts. The SSA report represents a compilation of the best scientific 
and commercial data available concerning the status of the species, 
including the impacts of factors (both

[[Page 62437]]

negative and beneficial) affecting the species in the past, present, 
and future. In accordance with our joint policy on peer review 
published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), and 
our August 22, 2016, memorandum updating and clarifying the role of 
peer review of listing actions under the Act, we sought the expert 
opinions of eight appropriate specialists regarding the SSA report and 
received three responses. We also requested review of the model that 
was used in the SSA analysis; we sent it to three reviewers and 
received two responses. We received review from 14 partners, most of 
which are State agencies. The SSA report and other materials relating 
to this proposal can be found at https://www.regulations.gov under 
Docket No. FWS.

I. Proposed Listing Determination

Background

    A thorough review of the taxonomy, distribution, life history, and 
ecology of the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is 
presented in the SSA report (Service 2021, pp. 3-16); however, much of 
this information is based on the Macrochelys genus as a whole and is 
not specific to the alligator snapping turtle. Turtles in the genus 
Macrochelys are the largest species of freshwater turtle in North 
America, are highly aquatic, and are somewhat secretive. Macrochelys 
turtles are characterized as having a large head, a long tail, and an 
upper jaw with a strongly hooked beak. They have three raised keels 
with posterior elevations on the scutes of the carapace (upper shell), 
which is dark brown and often has algal growth that adds to their 
camouflage. The eyes are positioned on the side of the head and are 
surrounded by small, fleshy, pointed projections that are unique to the 
genus. The common name for M. temminckii is alligator snapping turtle, 
or occasionally, western alligator snapping turtle to differentiate 
between this species and Suwannee alligator snapping turtle.
    Alligator snapping turtles are primarily freshwater turtles in 
freshwater bodies centralized in the southeastern United States and are 
confined to river systems that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, extending 
from the Apalachicola River in Florida to the San Jacinto and Trinity 
rivers in Texas. In the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, the species is 
widely distributed from the Gulf to as far north as Indiana, Illinois, 
southeastern Kansas, and eastern Oklahoma. In the Gulf Coastal Plain, 
the species' range extends from eastern Texas to southern Georgia and 
northern Florida. Historically, the alligator snapping turtle occurred 
over eastern Oklahoma, but today it is believed to be restricted to the 
east-central and southeastern portion of the State (Ernst and Lovich 
2009, p. 139).
    The historical range of alligator snapping turtles included 14 
States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, 
Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and 
Texas. Currently, the species is known to occur in 12 States: Alabama, 
Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, 
Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. This list includes all 
historically occupied States except for Indiana and Kansas, where 
occurrence is unknown. The range of the species has contracted in many 
areas of the historical distribution. The species once occupied eastern 
Oklahoma, but today it is believed to be restricted to the east-central 
and southeastern portion of the State (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 139). 
In Indiana, alligator snapping turtle eDNA (genetic material found 
within the environment) has been collected in the water, but presence 
has not been confirmed with trapping. In Kansas, the species has not 
been detected since a 1991 record in Montgomery County. Range 
contractions or declines in the species' abundance have occurred in 
several States along the northern extent of the species' distribution, 
including Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee. The physiography of the 
coastal plain, particularly in the States of Alabama, Mississippi, and 
Louisiana, provides good habitat conditions for the species and 
supports greater number of alligator snapping turtles than the northern 
fringe of the range. The estimated abundance of the species is around 
360,000 individuals (Service 2021, p. 55).
    The alligator snapping turtle is a member of the Family 
Chelydridae, Order Testudinata, Class Reptilia. The species was first 
described in 1789 as Testudo planitia, but it was placed in the genus 
Macrochelys in 1856 (Gray 1856, entire). Although subsequent authors 
referred to the genus as Macrochelys, this placement was refuted, and 
it was believed the alligator snapping turtle should be included in the 
genus Macroclemys (Smith 1955, p. 16). In 1995, Webb demonstrated that 
the genus Macrochelys has precedence over Macroclemys, and the Society 
for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles adopted this revision in 2000 
(Crother et al. 2000, p. 79). Accordingly, for the purpose of this 
proposed rule, we will use the taxonomic nomenclature, Macrochelys, as 
the genus for the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii).
    The alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) was 
considered a single, wide-ranging species until a recent analysis of 
variation in morphology and genetic structure among M. temminckii 
specimens resulted in differentiation of three species of alligator 
snapping turtles: alligator snapping turtle (M. temminckii), 
Apalachicola alligator snapping turtle (M. apalachicolae), and Suwannee 
alligator snapping turtle (M. suwanniensis) (Thomas et al. 2014, 
entire). Subsequent morphological and genetic comparisons did not 
support distinguishing M. apalachicolae from M. temminckii (Folt and 
Guyer 2015, entire). The herpetology community, including the Society 
for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, recognizes two species of 
Macrochelys: (1) M. temminckii and (2) M. suwanniensis (Crother 2017, 
p. 88). The Turtle Taxonomy Working Group also concurs with the 
recognition of two species and provides evidence to support the 
distinction of M. temminckii (Rhodin et al. 2017, p. 26). According to 
the best available science, we consider M. temminckii and M. 
suwanniensis as the only two distinct species within the genus.
    Throughout this document, we provide descriptions of alligator 
snapping turtle where the information is available specific to the 
species. We reference Macrochelys when describing the genus and M. 
temminckii when referring to the species, alligator snapping turtle. 
Since the taxonomic distinction of the two Macrochelys spp. is 
relatively recent, we may refer to the genus, or alligator snapping 
turtles in general, to describe life-history traits.

Summary of Biological Status and Threats

    In this discussion, we review the biological condition of alligator 
snapping turtle and its resources, and the threats that influence the 
species' current and future conditions, in order to assess the species' 
overall viability and the risks to that viability. We provide the best 
available information on the species' life history and the threats 
acting on the species as provided in the SSA report (Service 2021, 
entire).
    To assess the current condition and abundance levels to inform the 
current and future conditions, we compared the historical and current 
ranges of alligator snapping turtles by querying State biologists or 
those with access to the State's natural heritage program data. We 
sought expert estimates, using a 4-point elicitation procedure in a 
written

[[Page 62438]]

questionnaire (Speirs-Bridge et al. 2010, p. 515). Experts were asked 
to respond only for those analysis units for which they have experience 
or expertise. Experts were asked to provide what they estimated to be 
the lowest likely number, the highest likely number, and the most 
likely number of alligator snapping turtles in each analysis unit. They 
were then asked to report how confident they were that their interval 
(lowest estimate to highest estimate) captured the actual number of 
alligator snapping turtles (akin to a confidence interval). Finally, 
the experts were asked to describe how they generated their estimates 
(Service 2021, p. 51).
    We also elicited information about the prevalence of negative and 
positive influences on alligator snapping turtles in each analysis 
unit. Using the same 4-point elicitation format, we asked the species 
experts to estimate the extent of occupied area in each analysis unit 
where alligator snapping turtles are exposed to each of the following 
threats: incidental hooking on trot and limb lines, commercial fishing 
bycatch, legal collection or harvest, illegal collection or harvest 
(poaching), and nest predation by subsidized or nonnative predators. In 
addition, we asked experts to describe and estimate the spatial extent 
of any other threats known to occur in their analysis units, as well as 
any conservation actions that are being implemented (Service 2021, pp. 
51-52). In addition to soliciting information from the expert team 
about the spatial extent of different threats in each analysis unit, we 
also asked about the demographic impact of different threats rangewide. 
We used the 4-point elicitation to receive information regarding the 
effects that commercial bycatch, incidental hooking, hook ingestion, 
legal harvest, illegal harvest, and nest predation have on the survival 
of relevant life stages (adults, juveniles, hatchings, nests) in areas 
where the threat occurs. Given a lack of species-specific information 
in some places, we used this process to inform our analysis.

Biology

    The alligator snapping turtle is found in a variety of habitats 
across its range. It typically uses fresh waterbodies; however, it can 
presumably tolerate some salinity and brackish waters, as barnacles 
have been found on the carapace of some turtles (Ernst and Lovich 2009, 
p. 141). The river systems within the species' range drain into the 
Gulf of Mexico, where there can be an increase in salinity near the 
mouths of the rivers. The species is generally found in deeper water of 
large rivers and their major tributaries; however, it is also found in 
a wide variety of habitats, including small streams, bayous, canals, 
swamps, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and oxbows (a lake that forms when a 
meander of a river is cut off) (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 141).
    The species is usually bottom-dwelling within the waterbodies it 
uses, but it surfaces periodically to breathe (Thomas 2014, p. 60). 
Adult females leave the water to nest on land. Beyond the nest, all 
life stages rely on submerged material (i.e., deadhead logs and 
vegetation) as important structure for resting, foraging, and cover 
from predators (Enge et al. 2014, p. 39). Woody debris, undercut banks, 
and large rocks found throughout the rivers provide important habitat 
during low water levels (Enge et al. 2014, p. 10). The species selects 
areas with more aquatic structures (e.g., tree root masses, stumps, 
submerged trees, etc.) than open water. Riparian canopy cover is also 
an important habitat feature, as alligator snapping turtles select 
sites with a high percentage of canopy cover (Howey and Dinkelacker 
2009, p. 589).
    The alligator snapping turtle is primarily carnivorous and forages 
on small fish and mussels; however, adults are opportunistic feeders 
and may also consume crayfish, mollusks, smaller turtles, insects, 
nutria, snakes, birds, and plant material such as acorns or other 
available vegetation (Elsey 2006, pp. 448-489). They have very fast 
reflexes and powerful jaws that aid in this type of foraging behavior 
where they sit and wait, then quickly strike, grasping the prey. 
Macrochelys turtles have a sublingual (under the tongue) feature that 
is unique to the genus and contributes to their predatory foraging 
strategy; it resembles a live, wiggling worm and serves as a lure to 
attract fish and other unsuspecting prey while the turtle is stationary 
with an open mouth. Both adults and juveniles use this lure to attract 
fish in striking range. The lure is white or pale pink in juveniles and 
mottled or gray in adults (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 147). The presence 
of this appendage indicates prey species that use visual cues, such as 
fish and aquatic crustaceans, and has contributed to the evolution of 
the alligator snapping turtle in developing this unique adaptation of 
the genus.
    The general life stages of Macrochelys can be described as egg, 
hatchling (first year), juvenile (second year until age of sexual 
maturity), and adult (age of sexual maturity through death). Sexual 
maturity is achieved in 11 to 21 years for males and 13 to 21 years for 
females and may be dependent upon growth rate (Ernst and Lovich 2009, 
p. 144; Reed et al. 2002, p. 4). The size increases are greater when 
food resources and other environmental conditions are more favorable.
    Each life stage has specific requirements in order to contribute to 
the productivity of the next life stage. Gravid (egg-bearing) females 
excavate nests in sandy soils or other dry substrate near freshwater 
sources that are within 8 to 656 feet (ft) (2.5 to 200 meters (m)) from 
the water's edge. The period for excavating, laying eggs, and covering 
the nest may take as long as 4 hours to complete (Ewert 1976, p. 153). 
The incubation period for alligator snapping turtle nests in Louisiana 
is between 98 to 121 days (Holcomb and Carr 2011, p. 225).
    Nests require temperatures of 66 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit ([deg]F) 
(19 to 26.5 degrees Celsius ([deg]C)), increasing to 79 to 98 [deg]F 
(26.1 to 36.5 [deg]C) as the season progresses. The sex ratio of 
alligator snapping turtles in the nest is dependent on the temperature 
of the nest during embryonic development. The offspring's sex is 
influenced by the physiological mechanism--temperature-dependent sex 
determination--where more males are produced at intermediate incubation 
temperatures, and more females are produced at the two, warmer and 
cooler, temperature extremes (Ernst and Lovich 2009, pp. 16, 146). 
Alligator snapping turtles, in general, have a pivotal temperature 
range between 77 and 80.6 [deg]F (25 and 27 [deg]C) where more male 
hatchlings are produced than females (Ewert and Jackson 1994, pp. 12-
13).
    Once emerged from the nest, hatchlings need shallow water with 
riparian vegetative structure that provides canopy cover. Juveniles 
require small streams with mud and gravel bottoms that have submerged 
structures, such as tree root masses, stumps, and submerged live and 
dead trees, that allow for foraging and protection from predators. 
Juvenile survival rate is estimated at only about 5 percent, with most 
mortality occurring in the first 2 years of life (Ernst and Lovich 
2009, p. 150).
    Adult alligator snapping turtles require streams and rivers with 
submerged logs and undercut banks, clean water, and ample prey. Turtles 
found in higher quality habitat are more likely to become sexually 
mature at an earlier age and may also produce larger clutch sizes 
(Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 145). Adult turtles require access to mates 
to fertilize eggs, with mating occurring underwater (Ernst and Lovich 
2009, p. 144). Mating has been observed in captive alligator snapping 
turtles from February to October, but geographic variation within the 
wild

[[Page 62439]]

population is not well understood (Reed et al. 2002, p. 4). A gravid 
female will search for suitable nesting habitat on land to construct a 
nest, avoiding low forested areas with abundant leaf litter and root 
mats that may cause nesting obstructions. She will excavate a cavity, 
deposit the eggs, and bury the eggs at a depth of about 9.45 inches 
(in) (24 centimeters (cm)) in approximately 3.5 to 4 hours (Ewert 1976, 
p. 153; Powders 1978, p. 155; Thompson et al. 2016, entire). Once the 
female has completed the nest, she returns to the water, and there is 
no other parental care of the nest or offspring.
    Female alligator snapping turtles may produce a single clutch once 
a year or every other year at most, even if the conditions are good 
(Reed et al. 2002, p. 4). Clutch size varies as reported from across 
the species' range with a mean clutch size of 27 eggs (Ernst and Lovich 
2009, p. 145). Most nesting occurs from May to July (Reed et al. 2002, 
p. 4), but latitudinal differences are known to occur in turtle species 
(Moll 1979, entire).
    Alligator snapping turtles are a long-lived species; provided 
suitable conditions, adults can reach carapace lengths of up to 29 in 
(74 cm) and 249 pounds (113 kilograms (kg)) for males, while females 
can reach lengths of 22 inches and 62 pounds. The oldest documented 
Macrochelys turtle in captivity survived to at least 80 years of age, 
but in the wild, the species may live longer (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 
147). The generation time for the species is around 31 years (range = 
28.6-34.0 years, 95 percent confidence interval; Folt et al. 2016, p. 
27).

Threats

    We provide information regarding past, present, and future 
influences, including both positive and negative, on the alligator 
snapping turtle's current and future viability including harvest/
collection (Factor B), bycatch (Factor E), habitat degradation and loss 
(Factor A), nest predation (Factor C), and conservation measures that 
provide protections for the species. Existing regulatory mechanisms 
(Factor D) have not been adequate to reduce or ameliorate the 
identified threats. Additional threats such as historical commercial 
and recreational harvest targeting the species, disease, nest 
parasites, and climate change effects are described in the SSA report 
(Service 2021, pp. 17-27); these additional stressors may negatively 
affect individuals of the species or may have historically affected the 
species, particularly when compounded with other ongoing stressors or 
threats. However, based on the best available science, they do not 
currently pose a threat to the species' overall viability.
Harvest (Commercial, Recreational, and Poaching)
    Commercial and Recreational Harvest--Past commercial and 
recreational turtle harvesting practices have resulted in a decline of 
the alligator snapping turtle across its range (Enge et al. 2014, p. 4; 
Huntzinger et al. 2019, p. 65). Commercial harvest of alligator 
snapping turtles reached its peak in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the 
meat was used for commercial turtle soup products and sold in large 
quantities for public consumption. In addition, many restaurants served 
turtle soup and purchased large quantities of alligator snapping 
turtles from trappers in the southeastern States (Reed et al. 2002, p. 
5). In the 1970s, the demand for turtle meat was so high that as much 
as three to four tons of alligator snapping turtles were harvested from 
the Flint River in Georgia per day (Pritchard 1989, p. 76). Significant 
numbers of turtles were taken from the Apalachicola and Ochlocknee 
Rivers, presumably to be sent to restaurants in New Orleans and other 
destinations (Pritchard 1989, pp. 74-75). Commercial harvest of 
alligator snapping turtles is now prohibited in all States within the 
species' range, effective from 1975 in Kentucky to as recently as 2012 
in Alabama (Service 2021, Appendix B). Despite the prohibitions on 
commercial harvest for the species, the impacts from historical removal 
of large turtles continue to affect the species due to its low 
fecundity, low juvenile survival, long lifespan, and delayed maturity. 
Commercial harvest is not currently a threat to the alligator snapping 
turtle, but the effects of historical, large-scale removal of large 
turtles are ongoing.
    Recreational harvest includes trapping alligator snapping turtles 
for personal use. Recreational harvest is prohibited in every State 
except for Louisiana and Mississippi. In Louisiana, harvest of one 
alligator snapping turtle per day, per person, per vehicle/vessel is 
allowed with a fishing license; however, there are no reporting or 
tagging requirements, so the number of turtles harvested in Louisiana 
is unknown. In Mississippi, recreational harvest is allowed with size 
and seasonal limits that include the following: (1) Limited to one 
turtle per year, (2) prohibited between April 1 and June 30, and (3) 
limited only to individuals with a straight-line carapace length of 24 
in (61 cm) or larger.
    Illegal Harvest (Poaching)--There is an international and domestic 
demand for turtles for consumption as well as from enthusiasts who 
collect turtle species for pets (Stanford et al. 2020, entire). The 
alligator snapping turtle is no exception; hatchling alligator snapping 
turtles may be sold for up to $100 (U.S.) per turtle (Lejeune et al. 
2020, p. 8; MorphMarket 2021, unpaginated). Illegal harvest, or 
poaching, of alligator snapping turtle may occur anywhere within the 
species' range for both the pet trade and turtle meat trade. The best 
available information regarding potential pressure from poaching comes 
from a documented report by law enforcement agencies and court cases. 
In a 2017 case, three men were convicted of collecting 60 large 
alligator snapping turtles in a single year in Texas and transporting 
them across State lines, violating the Lacey Act (18 U.S.C. 42; 16 
U.S.C. 3371-3378) (Department of Justice 2017, entire).
    Aside from the local and domestic use of turtles, the global demand 
for pet turtles and turtle meat continues. Many species of turtles are 
collected from the wild as well as bred in captivity and are sold 
domestically and exported internationally. Many species of turtles are 
regularly exported out of the United States to initiate brood stock for 
overseas turtle farms and for turtle collectors (Stanford et al. 2020, 
p. R725. In 2006, Macrochelys temminckii was listed under the 
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna 
and Flora (CITES) as an Appendix III species to allow for better 
monitoring of exports. According to the Service's Law Enforcement 
Management Information System (LEMIS), which provides reports about the 
legal international wildlife trade, most shipments of live alligator 
snapping turtles exported from 2005 to 2018 consisted of small turtles 
destined mostly for Hong Kong and China (Service 2018, entire). Prior 
to 2006, up to 23,780 M. temminckii per year were exported from the 
United States (70 FR 74700; December 16, 2005).
    Impacts of Harvest--The alligator snapping turtle's life history, 
with delayed maturity, long generation times, and relatively low 
reproductive output, means that the species must maintain relatively 
high adult survival rates (~98 percent), especially of adult females, 
to sustain a stable population (Reed et al. 2002, p. 11). Adult turtles 
do not reach sexual maturity until 11 to 21 years of age. A mature 
female typically produces a single clutch per year with a mean size of 
27 eggs (range 9 to 61 eggs) (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 145). These 
turtles are characterized by low survivorship in early life stages, but 
surviving

[[Page 62440]]

individuals may live many decades once they reach maturity. The life-
history traits of the species (low fecundity, late age of maturity, and 
low survival of nests and juveniles) contribute to the population's 
slow response in rebounding after historical over-exploitation. 
Therefore, population growth rates are extremely sensitive to the 
harvest of adult females. Adult female survivorship of less than 98 
percent per year is considered unsustainable, and a further reduction 
of this adult survivorship will generally result in significant local 
population declines (Reed et al. 2002, p. 9), although dynamics likely 
vary across the species' range. These data underscore how influential 
adult female mortality is on the ability of the species to maintain 
viable populations.
    Although regulatory harvest restrictions have reduced the number of 
alligator snapping turtles taken from wild populations, the populations 
have not necessarily increased in response. This lag in population 
response is likely due to the demography of the species--specifically 
delayed maturity, long generation times, and relatively low 
reproductive output.
    Poaching also is an ongoing threat to the alligator snapping turtle 
because removing reproductively active adult turtles from the 
population lowers the viability of the species by reducing reproductive 
potential; in addition, the species is long-lived and slow to mature, 
and juvenile survival is very low, making it more difficult for the 
historically over-harvested population to recover.
Recreational and Commercial Fishing Bycatch
    Alligator snapping turtles can be killed or harmed incidentally 
during fishing and other recreational activities. Some of these threats 
from recreational and commercial fishing for other species include 
fishhook ingestion; drowning when hooked on trotlines (a fishing line 
strung across a stream with multiple hooks set at intervals), limb 
lines, bush hooks (single hooks hung from branches), or jug lines (line 
with a hook affixed to a floating jug); and injuries and drowning when 
entangled in various types of nets and fishing line. Hoop nets are also 
used to capture catfish and baitfish and are made up of a series of 
hoops with netting and funnels where fish enter but are unable to 
escape through the narrow entry point. The baited nets are left 
submerged and may entrap alligator snapping turtles that enter the 
mouth of the traps and are unable to escape. Boats and boat propeller 
strikes may also injure or kill alligator snapping turtles; this effect 
is not limited to fishing boats.
    Actively used or discarded fishing line and hooks pose harm to 
alligator snapping turtles. The turtles can ingest baited fishhooks and 
the attached fishing line that may cause internal injuries; depending 
on where ingested hooks and line lodge in the digestive tract, they can 
cause harm or death (Enge et al. 2014, pp. 40-41). For example, hooks 
and fishing lines can cause gastrointestinal tract blockages, and the 
hooks can puncture the digestive organs causing deadly injuries (Enge 
et al. 2014, pp. 40-41). Fishhooks have been found in the 
gastrointestinal tracts of many radiographed congener, Suwannee 
alligator snapping turtles (Enge et al. 2014, entire; Thomas 2014, pp. 
42-43). It is reasonable to assume fishhooks also affect alligator 
snapping turtles because both species only differ with minor skull and 
shell morphologies.
    Trotlines also negatively affect alligator snapping turtles. 
Trotlines are a series of submerged lines with hooks off a longer line. 
Trotline fishing involves leaving the lines unattended for extended 
periods, before returning to check them. Limblines and bush hooks are 
similar to trot lines in that they are typically set and left 
unattended; however, they only use a single hook. The turtles can 
become entangled in the lines and drown, as well as ingest the hooks 
and attached lines, also causing drowning or internal injuries.
    Bycatch from trotlines that resulted in mortality of alligator 
snapping turtles has been well documented. Dead turtles have been found 
on lines that had been abandoned or left without being checked for 
catches (Huntzinger et al. 2019, p. 73; Moore et al. 2013, p. 145). The 
lines and hooks may also become dislodged from their place of 
attachment when left unattended, becoming aquatic debris that remains 
in the waterway for extended periods of time and may continue to be an 
entanglement hazard for many species, including alligator snapping 
turtles. Entanglement in lines can cause injury or death as lines may 
ensnare limbs or wrap around the body or head restricting movement. 
Some types of fishing line may remain in the environment for decades 
and possibly centuries; however, biodegradable lines are now available 
that break down faster over a period of a few years. The use of 
biodegradable fishing line will reduce the amount of excess discarded 
lines remaining in the environment and is an option to further reduce 
the threat of entanglement in fishing lines.
Habitat Degradation and Loss
    Alligator snapping turtle aquatic and nesting habitats have been 
altered by natural and anthropogenic disturbances. Changes in the 
riparian or nearshore areas affect the amount of suitable soils for 
nesting sites because the species constructs nests on land near the 
water. Riparian cover is important, as it moderates instream water 
temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels. In addition to affecting the 
distribution and abundance of alligator snapping turtle prey species, 
these microhabitat conditions affect the snapping turtles directly. 
Moderate temperatures and sufficient dissolved oxygen levels allow the 
turtles to remain stationary on the stream bottom for longer periods, 
increasing the ambush foraging opportunities. Changes in the riparian 
structure may affect the microclimate and conditions of the associated 
water body, directly affecting the foraging success of the turtles.
    Activities and processes that can alter habitat include dredging, 
deadhead logging (removal of submerged or partially submerged snags, 
woody debris, and other large vegetation for wood salvage), removal of 
riparian cover, channelization, stream bank erosion, siltation, and 
land use adjacent to rivers (e.g., clearing land for agriculture). 
These activities negatively influence habitat suitability for alligator 
snapping turtles. Erosion can change the stream bank structure, 
affecting the substrate that may be suitable for nesting or accessing 
nesting sites. Siltation affects water quality and may reduce the 
health and availability of prey species. Channelization destroys the 
natural benthic habitat by affecting the water depth and normal flow. 
Submerged obstacles may be removed during the channelization, which 
affects the microhabitat dynamics within the waterway and removes 
important structures for alligator snapping turtles to use for resting, 
foraging, and cover from predators. Deadhead logs and fallen riparian 
woody debris, where present, provide refugia during low-water periods 
and resting areas for all life stages and support important feeding 
areas for hatchlings and juveniles (Enge et al. 2014, p. 40; Ewert et 
al. 2006, p. 62).
    Alligator snapping turtle habitat is also influenced by water 
availability, quantity, and quality across the species' range. 
Groundwater withdrawals may increase in the future due to human 
population growth and needs. Water withdrawals may reduce flow in some 
rivers and streams, effectively isolating some turtles from the rest of 
the

[[Page 62441]]

population or making immature turtles more vulnerable to predators. 
Additionally, reduced water levels may impact prey abundance and 
distribution through restricting habitat connectivity, reducing 
dissolved oxygen levels, and increasing water temperatures. The species 
is not very agile on land as it spends most of its time in water. 
Moving from an area where water has been depleted may be difficult for 
some turtles, forcing them to cross roads, resulting in increased 
encounters with humans or predators.
    Water quality may also be a factor for alligator snapping turtles 
as contaminants enter the aquatic systems through runoff. Runoff from 
agriculture and development degrade the water quality. Agricultural 
practices are the main source of nitrates, which specifically come from 
fertilizers and in some cases from manure and other waste products. 
They introduce nitrates to the river and groundwater (i.e., springs) 
through surface runoff and groundwater seepage. Groundwater seepage 
transports nitrates to the aquifer, which then reemerge through springs 
and other groundwater discharge, especially during low flow periods 
(Pittman et al. 1997, entire; Katz et al. 1999, entire; Thom et al. 
2015, p. 2).
    Water quality is also affected by runoff from development and urban 
areas. The increase of impervious surfaces, such as building roofs, 
roads, parking lots, and sidewalks, results in pulses of contaminants 
washed into the river systems as stormwater runoff. Some of the 
pollutants that may flush into the aquatic system include petroleum 
products, pesticides, heavy metals, organic waste from pets and other 
animals, along with microorganisms, including viruses and bacteria.
    The direct effects of water quality and water quantity on alligator 
snapping turtle have not been quantified; however, as the human 
population that relies on water systems in the species' range continues 
to increase, the indirect effects across the entire range, coupled with 
other stressors, are likely to further reduce the species' viability. 
Also, more development may result in an increase in contaminated runoff 
and declines in water quality.
Nest Predation
    Nest predation rates for alligator snapping turtles are high. 
Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are common nest predators, but nine-banded 
armadillos (Dasypus novemcinctus), Virginia opossums (Didelphis 
virginiana), bobcats (Lynx rufus), crows (Corvus spp.), coyotes (Canis 
latrans), river otters (Lontra canadensis), and feral pigs (Sus scrofa) 
may also depredate nests (Ernst and Lovich 2009, p. 149; Ewert et al. 
2006, p. 67; Holcomb and Carr 2013, p. 482). Additional nonnative 
species found within the species' range that may depredate nests 
include invasive imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta and S. 
richteri) (Pritchard 1989, p. 69). Fire ants are prevalent in many 
areas of the southeastern United States, and predation by fire ants was 
the suspected culprit in the failure of alligator snapping turtle nests 
in Louisiana (Holcomb 2010, p. 51). Beyond nest failure, some 
hatchlings endured wounds inflicted by fire ants that led to the loss 
of a limb or tail, which reduced their mobility and, ultimately, their 
chance of survival (Holcomb 2010, p. 72).
    The recovery of the species from historical overharvest depends on 
successful reproduction and survival of young. The degree of added 
threat from the newer, introduced nest predators is unknown, but we can 
conclude that the overall threat from nest predation is greater than it 
was in the past because of the introduced predators and densities of 
subsidized (anthropogenically influenced) nest predators increase in 
areas where resources have been altered by humans. Subsidized nest 
predators include, but are not limited to, feral hogs, raccoons, and 
red-imported fire ants; additional nest predators may also include 
Virginia opossums, crows, coyotes, dogs, and river otters. Many of 
these predators may also take small turtles once emerged from the nest; 
this predation influences the survival rate of the hatchling and 
juvenile life stage. Coupled with other threats, predation will 
continue to negatively affect the species' overall viability.
Other Stressors
    Other stressors that may affect alligator snapping turtles include 
disease, nest parasites, and the effects of climate change, but none of 
these stressors are having population-level impacts. These stressors 
may act on individuals or have highly localized impacts. While each is 
relatively uncommon, these stressors may exacerbate the effects of 
other ongoing threats.
    The effects of climate change may have direct and indirect impacts 
to the species and its habitat. Due to the proximity of the species to 
the Gulf of Mexico, loss of habitat due to saltwater intrusion from sea 
level rise may occur for the populations near coastal areas leading to 
a range contraction in the southern extent of the species' range. 
Additionally, increasing temperatures may lead to drought conditions 
and variable water availability, and physiological impacts on sex 
determination. In the southeastern United States, temperatures are 
predicted to warm by 4 to 8 [deg]F (2.2 to 4.4 [deg]C) by 2100 (Carter 
et al. 2014, p. 399). In the southern Great Plains (e.g., Texas and 
Oklahoma), increased temperatures and longer dry spells are predicted 
(Shafer et al. 2014, p. 445). In the Midwest, the northernmost portion 
of the alligator snapping turtle's range, models predict warming of 5.6 
to 8.5 [deg]F (3.1 to 4.7 [deg]C) by 2100, increased spring 
precipitation, and decreased summer precipitation (Pryor et al. 2014, 
pp. 420, 424).
    Alligator snapping turtles exhibit temperature-dependent sex 
determination, whereby temperature influences sex determination of the 
developing embryos. Male-biased sex ratios are associated with cool 
nests, and warmer temperatures produce female-biased sex ratios (Ewert 
and Jackson 1994, entire). In addition to temperature effects on sex 
ratio, temperature has been associated with nest viability, with 
greatest success in nests with intermediate sex ratios (produced at 
intermediate temperatures) and lowest in nests with female-biased sex 
ratios (produced at warmer temperatures) (Ewert and Jackson 1994, p. 
28-29). Thus, alligator snapping turtle nests with strongly female-
biased sex ratios and declining viability may result from warming 
temperatures in the future.
    Climate conditions also appear to limit the distribution of 
alligator snapping turtles. Their distribution appears to be limited by 
low precipitation on the western edge of the range, and by temperature 
along the northern edge of the range (Thompson et al. 2016, pp. 431-
432). At these northern limits of the range, adult alligator snapping 
turtles can survive, but they face constraints on reproduction imposed 
by the influence of temperature on embryonic development (Thompson et 
al. 2016, pp. 431-432). Warmer conditions may shift the suitable range 
of the species farther north as northern latitudes become able to meet 
the incubation temperature ranges for viable nests.
    Additional information on these stressors acting on the species, 
including a more detailed discussion of the historical and current 
threats that have caused and are causing a decline in the species' 
viability, is available in the species' SSA report under ``Factors 
Influencing Viability'' (Service 2021, pp.

[[Page 62442]]

17-27). The primary threats currently acting on the species include 
harvest/collection, nest predation, habitat loss and degradation, and 
bycatch (hook ingestion, entanglement, and drowning) due to 
recreational and commercial fishing. These primary threats are not only 
affecting the species now but are expected to continue impacting the 
species and are included in the species' future condition projections 
in the SSA (Service 2021, pp. 59-84).

Regulatory Protections

    Several local, State, and Federal regulatory mechanisms offer some 
protections to the alligator snapping turtle and its habitat.
Federal Protections
    Federal Lands--The species' range encompasses areas of public land. 
Many Federal lands are protected from future development and 
degradation. Many sites are managed for species conservation and 
preservation of habitat. Some of the Federal lands that fall within the 
species' range are managed by the Department of Agriculture (U.S. 
Forest Service), Department of Interior (National Park Service (NPS) 
and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Department of Defense (U.S. Army, 
U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), and 
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
    Department of Agriculture--National Forests are managed by the U.S. 
Forest Service with the mission to sustain the health, diversity, and 
productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs 
of present and future generations. Several National Forest lands are 
within the range of the alligator snapping turtle. Forestry activities 
on National Forests within the range of the alligator snapping turtle, 
including timber harvest and activities that may increase sedimentation 
or erosion when not following best management practices, could have 
adverse impacts on the species; however, when conducting any forestry 
activities, the U.S. Forest Service applies best management practices 
that reduce impacts to the species' aquatic and riparian habitats. The 
U.S. Forest Service also cooperates with State and local governments, 
forest industries, other private landowners and forest users in the 
management, protection, and development of forest land in non-Federal 
ownership. Activities include cooperation in urban interface fire 
management and urban forestry.
    Department of Interior (National Park Service)--Alligator snapping 
turtle habitat extends across many NPS units in the Midwest, 
Intermountain, and Southeast regions. The species may occur in up to 
the following 11 units of the NPS or be found adjacent to those areas: 
Arkansas Post National Memorial, Big Thicket National Preserve, Buffalo 
National River, Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Gulf 
Islands National Seashore, Hot Springs National Park, Jean Lafitte 
National Historical Park and Preserve, Natchez Trace Parkway, Ozark 
National Scenic Riverways, Shiloh National Military Park, and Vicksburg 
National Military Park. Under the NPS' Organic Act (54 U.S.C. 100101 et 
seq.), the NPS promotes and regulates the use of Federal areas known as 
national parks, monuments, and reservations to conserve the scenery and 
the natural and historic objects and the wildlife and to provide for 
the enjoyment of future generations. The land within the NPS units is 
protected from future development and provides a level of protection to 
the species and its habitat.
    Department of Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)--National 
Wildlife Refuges are units managed by the Service's National Wildlife 
Refuge System (NWRS). The mission of the NWRS is to administer a 
national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management 
and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant 
resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit 
of present and future generations of Americans. Each refuge is 
established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation 
of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on 
those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose.
    There may be up to 50 National Wildlife Refuges with alligator 
snapping turtle occurrences. These lands are managed according to the 
designated purpose of the refuge and include conservation actions that 
reduce impacts from habitat loss, invasive species, pesticides and 
other contaminants, and climate change. These Federal lands are 
protected from future development and will continue contributing to the 
support of viable populations of alligator snapping turtles.
    Department of Defense Lands--Alligator snapping turtles are found 
on many Department of Defense (DOD) military installations and lands 
across the species' range. The Sikes Act (16 U.S.C. 670 et seq.) 
requires DOD installations to conserve and protect the natural 
resources within their boundaries. Integrated natural resources 
management plans (INRMPs) are planning documents that outline how each 
military installation with significant natural resources will manage 
those resources, while ensuring no net loss in the capability of an 
installation to support its military testing and training mission for 
national security. While most INRMPs do not specifically manage for the 
alligator snapping turtle, some examples of management that provide for 
the conservation of the species on installations include INRMPs that 
incorporate guidance provided by the State wildlife action plan (e.g., 
Ft. Chaffee Maneuver Training Center (Arkansas) INRMP, p. 12), 
direction to implement project design considering State-listed species 
with best management practices for all activities (e.g., Red River Army 
Depot (Texas) INRMP, p. 48), and identifying alligator snapping turtle 
as a species of concern, with direction to apply management consistent 
with maintenance of reference stream conditions or offer direct 
measures to enhance habitat for this and other rare species (e.g., Ft. 
Benning (Georgia) INRMP, pp. 28, 209-210).
Federal Laws
    Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.)--Section 401 of the 
Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) requires that an applicant for a Federal 
license or permit provide a certification that any discharges from the 
facility will not degrade water quality or violate water-quality 
standards, including State-established water quality standard 
requirements. Section 404 of the CWA establishes programs to regulate 
the discharge of dredged and fill material into waters of the United 
States.
    Permits to fill wetlands; to install, replace, or remove culverts; 
to install, repair, replace, or remove bridges; or to realign streams 
or water features that are issued by the State or U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers under nationwide, regional general permits or individual 
permits include:
     Nationwide permits for ``minor'' impacts to streams and 
wetlands that do not require an intense review process. The impacts 
allowed under nationwide permits usually include projects affecting 
stream reaches less than 150 ft (45.72 m) in length, and wetland fill 
projects up to 0.50 acres (ac) (0.2 hectare (ha)). Mitigation is 
usually provided for the same type of wetland or stream impacted and is 
usually at a 2:1 ratio to offset losses.
     Regional general permits for various specific types of 
impacts that are common to a particular region. These

[[Page 62443]]

permits will vary based on location in a certain region/State.
     Individual permits for larger, higher impact, and more 
complex projects. These require a complex permit process with multi-
agency input and involvement. Impacts in these types of permits are 
reviewed individually, and the compensatory mitigation chosen may vary 
depending on the project and types of impacts.
    CWA regulations ensure proper mitigation measures are applied to 
minimize the impact of activities occurring in streams and wetlands 
where the species occurs. These regulations contribute to the 
conservation of the species by minimizing or mitigating the effects of 
certain activities on alligator snapping turtles and their habitat.
    Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild 
Fauna and Flora (CITES)--The alligator snapping turtle is included in 
the CITES Appendix III species list (70 FR 74700; December 16, 2005). 
CITES requirements include permits for exports of Appendix III species, 
as well as annual reporting; annual reports must include the number of 
exported individuals of listed species. These requirements help control 
and document legal, international trade. Thus, Appendix-III listings 
lend additional support to State wildlife agencies in their efforts to 
regulate and manage these species, improve data gathering to increase 
knowledge of trade in the species, and strengthen State and Federal 
wildlife enforcement activities to prevent poaching and illegal trade.
    While CITES reporting indicates the number of turtles exported with 
other relevant data, the information required for the export reports 
does not always accurately identify the source stock of the exported 
turtle(s). Most alligator snapping turtles that were exported between 
2005 and 2018 were identified as ``wild'' individuals; however, there 
is uncertainty regarding whether the source of the turtles was farmed 
parental stock or wild-caught (Service 2018, entire). The discrepancy 
in reporting the actual source of the internationally exported turtles 
does not allow us to easily evaluate the impact of export on the 
alligator snapping turtle. Additionally, there are no reporting 
requirements to track domestically traded alligator snapping turtles, 
which are not included in CITES reporting.
State Protections
    The alligator snapping turtle has regulatory protections in all 
States where the species occurs. The species is listed as a threatened 
species in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas, and as an endangered 
species in Illinois and Indiana. Alabama identifies the species as a 
``species of concern''; Kansas and Oklahoma list the species as a 
``species of greatest conservation need''; Missouri lists the species 
as an ``imperiled species''; Tennessee lists the species as ``rare to 
very rare and imperiled.'' Louisiana lists the species as a species of 
conservation concern and allows legal take of up to one turtle per day, 
per person, per vehicle/vessel with a fishing license. Arkansas does 
not have a State list of protected species; however, it provides 
protections through the State's aquatic turtle regulations. Mississippi 
allows legal take; however, it restricts the take to one alligator 
snapping turtle no smaller than 24 in (61 cm) carapace length in a 
single year. Despite the likely extirpation of the species in Kansas, 
the species was originally listed as a threatened species in the State 
in 1978; then, due to lack of information on the species, the status 
was changed to ``species of greatest conservation need'' in 1987, when 
the species was still found in low numbers (Shipman et al. 1995, pp. 
83-84). Although we have no information as to the effectiveness of 
these State regulations as they pertain to the conservation of the 
alligator snapping turtle, one benefit of being State-listed is to 
bring heightened public awareness of the species' need for protection.

Conservation Measures

    Below, we describe conservation measures in place for the alligator 
snapping turtle. While many efforts are directed to Macrochelys in 
general, we describe those that affect only the alligator snapping 
turtle.

Surveys

    Many State agencies are conducting surveys for alligator snapping 
turtles to better understand the species' status. Additionally, other 
organizations and universities are conducting monitoring and research 
projects that are ongoing or planned.

Captive Rearing and Release/Head-Starting

    A captive breeding program at Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery in 
Oklahoma was initiated in 1999, to produce head-started alligator 
snapping turtles for reintroduction (Riedle et al. 2008a, p. 25). The 
program rears and releases small turtles to contribute to the 
conservation of the species by raising hatchling turtles to an age that 
increases their chance of survival. This program has successfully 
released alligator snapping turtles since 2002 to the present in areas 
where populations have been lost or are declining. Many of the turtles 
are monitored after release to provide information about the life 
history of the species. From 2008 to 2010, 246 head-started juveniles 
(3 to 7 years old) were released in the Caney River in northeastern 
Oklahoma and were monitored until 2012; 59 percent of released turtles 
survived (Anthony et al. 2015, pp. 44-47).
    In 2007, 249 adult turtles (confiscated from a turtle farm in 
violation of its permits) and 16 juveniles (from Tishomingo National 
Fish Hatchery) were released into seven sites in southern Oklahoma, and 
follow-up monitoring occurred during May through August in 2007 and 
2008 (Moore et al. 2013, p. 141). There were only seven confirmed 
instances of mortality, all within the first year after release, 
resulting from drowning on trotlines, a gunshot wound, and other 
suspicious circumstances (Moore et al. 2013, p. 144). When viable nests 
were found during follow-up surveys, they were covered with a mesh 
predator exclusion device. Only one viable nest was found during 2007 
or 2008, while 25 depredated nests were found, which nevertheless 
indicates that released adults survived and were reproducing (Moore et 
al. 2013, p. 144). Mean annual survivorship post-release was estimated 
to be 59 percent, 70 percent, and 100 percent for turtles aged 3, 4, 
and 5 at release, respectively (older turtles were not included in 
analysis due to low sample sizes) (Anthony et al. 2015, p. 46).
    Head-starting, reintroduction, and monitoring of alligator snapping 
turtles were conducted between 2014 and 2016 in Illinois, Louisiana, 
and Oklahoma (Dreslik et al. 2017, entire). Released turtles included 
head-started juveniles, confiscations by law enforcement, classroom 
turtle-rearing programs, and other captive breeding programs (Dreslik 
et al. 2017, pp. 6, 13). Across three States (one site each in Oklahoma 
and Illinois, two sites in Louisiana), 548 turtles were released, the 
majority of which (465) were head-started at the Tishomingo National 
Fish Hatchery in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, and 372 of these were tracked 
using radiotelemetry (Dreslik et al. 2017, p. 22). Between 21.7 percent 
and 28.8 percent of released juveniles were confirmed dead within the 
first year, primarily from predation by raccoons, while 35.6 percent to 
54.2 percent experienced radio transmitter failures and could not 
successfully be tracked (Dreslik et al. 2017, p. 19). The greatest 
predictors of survival for released juveniles were size at release, 
age, and time of year. Larger, older

[[Page 62444]]

turtles had higher survival rates than smaller, younger turtles, and 
survival was lower over winter than other seasons (Dreslik et al. 2017, 
pp. 22-25).
Repatriation Efforts
    Repatriation of wild turtles serves to return illegally poached 
turtles to wild populations from the areas of origin. In July 2021, 30 
alligator snapping turtles that were confiscated in a law enforcement 
case were released into their river basins of origin in eastern Texas. 
The turtles were illegally poached from Texas and transported to 
Louisiana. Texas Game Wardens and the Service's Office of Law 
Enforcement investigated the poaching and seized the turtles in 2016. 
This release was a collaborative effort including many organizations 
and agencies including the Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife 
Department, Stephen F. Austin State University, Sabine River Authority, 
Northeast Texas Municipal Water District, the U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers, Houston Zoo, and the Turtle Survival Alliance, among others. 
Repatriation efforts like this one not only provide for the survival of 
the confiscated turtles, but also contribute to public awareness of the 
species and its threats.
Farming
    Alligator snapping turtles are bred and raised in farming 
facilities for the purpose of supplying small turtles to collectors in 
the United States and abroad. The farming operations are permitted and 
regulated by States. Export of turtles is regulated through CITES 
Appendix III, requiring information such as the source of the turtles 
and other relevant information. Farm-raised turtles supplement the 
demand for domestic pet trade and international trade (i.e., turtle 
meat for consumption and the pet trade), which may alleviate harvest 
pressure on wild individuals.
State and Federal Stream Protections
    Structural features within the water are important components of 
the habitat for alligator snapping turtles. Submerged and partially 
submerged vegetation provide feeding and sheltering areas for all age 
classes. The structural diversity and channel stabilization created by 
instream woody debris provides essential habitat for spawning and 
rearing aquatic species (Bilby 1984, p. 609; Bisson et al. 1987, p. 
143). Snag or woody habitat was reported as the major stable substrate 
in southeastern Coastal Plain sandy-bottom streams and a site of high 
invertebrate diversity and productivity (Wallace and Benke 1984, p. 
1651). Wood enhances the ability of a river or stream ecosystem to use 
the nutrient and energy inputs and has a major influence on the 
hydrodynamic behavior of the river (Wallace and Benke 1984, p. 1643). 
One component of this woody habitat is deadhead logs, which are sunken 
timbers from historical logging operations. Deadhead logging is the 
removal of submerged cut timber from a river or creek bed and banks. 
However, some State regulations minimize the impact of deadhead logging 
on alligator snapping turtle; for example, some States regulate 
deadhead logging and allow it with a permit with variable conditions 
(e.g., Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana). The removal of submerged logs 
is costly, complicated, and impacted by the complexity of the 
permitting process; thus, the rate at which deadhead logging occurs is 
variable.
    Buffers and Permits--A buffer such as a strip of trees, plants, or 
grass along a stream or wetland naturally filters out dirt and 
pollution from rainwater runoff before it enters rivers, streams, 
wetlands, and marshes. This vegetation not only serves as a filter for 
the aquatic system, but the riparian cover influences microhabitat 
conditions such as instream water temperature and dissolved oxygen 
levels. These habitat conditions influence the distribution and 
abundance of alligator snapping turtle prey species and also directly 
affect alligator snapping turtles. Moderate temperatures and sufficient 
dissolved oxygen levels allow the turtles to remain stationary on the 
stream bottom for longer periods, increasing their ambush foraging 
opportunities. Loss of riparian vegetation and canopy cover result in 
increased solar radiation, elevation of stream temperatures, loss of 
allochthonous (organic material originating from outside the channel) 
food material, and removal of submerged root systems that provide 
habitat for alligator snapping turtle prey species (Allan 2004, pp. 
266-267).
    Some State regulations provide protections against impacts to the 
aquatic environment, and additional activities may implement 
recommended best management practices (BMPs) to reduce impacts. For 
example, forestry BMPs are effective with a high compliance rate (often 
90 percent or better) across many of the States within the species' 
range that provide protections for buffer zones and riparian areas 
(Cristan et al. 2016, p. 4). Another example includes nutrient-
reduction strategies to improve water quality (Louisiana Nutrient 
Reduction and Management Strategy 2020, entire).

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 influence 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 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 expected response by the species, 
and the effects of the threats--in light of those actions and 
conditions that will ameliorate the threats--on an

[[Page 62445]]

individual, population, and species level. We evaluate each threat and 
its expected effects on the species, then analyze the cumulative effect 
of all the threats acting on the species. We also consider the 
cumulative effect of the threats as well as 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 Service 
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.

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 (Service 2021, entire). The SSA report does not 
represent a decision by the Service on whether the species should be 
proposed for listing as an endangered or threatened species under the 
Act. However, it does 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 Docket FWS-R4-ES-2021-
0115 on https://www.regulations.gov.
    To assess the alligator snapping turtle's viability, we use 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. In general, 
the more resilient populations there are that are spread across the 
range, the more redundancy it provides to the species. The more 
representation it has, the more likely it is to sustain populations 
over time, even under changing environmental conditions. Using these 
principles, we identify the species' ecological requirements for 
survival and reproduction at the individual, population, and species 
levels, and describe the beneficial and risk factors influencing the 
species' viability.
    The SSA process can be categorized into three sequential stages. 
During the first stage, we evaluate an individual species' life-history 
needs. The next stage involves 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 involves 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 
decisions.

Current Condition

    To describe the species' current condition, we apply the 
conservation principles of resiliency, redundancy, and representation. 
Resiliency is measured at the population level to describe the ability 
to withstand stochastic disturbances. Delineating biological 
populations of the alligator snapping turtle is not feasible because of 
the large spatial extent of the geographic range and the patchy 
availability of relevant information across the entire range. In our 
analysis, we delineate the range of the species into seven individual 
analysis units as proxies for populations to describe variation in the 
resiliency component over time across the range for each unit. The 
seven analysis units are Alabama, Apalachicola, Northern Mississippi-
East, Northern Mississippi-West, Southern Mississippi-East, Southern 
Mississippi-West, and Western.
    The Alabama unit encompasses eastern Mississippi, western Alabama, 
and small parts of Louisiana and Florida. The main water bodies that 
currently support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles 
include, but are not limited to, the Alabama River, Pascagoula River, 
Pearl River, Jourdan River, Escambia River, and Perdido River.
    The Apalachicola unit encompasses parts of the Florida panhandle, 
southeastern Alabama, and Georgia. The main water bodies that currently 
support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles include 
the Apalachicola River, Chipola River, Ochlockonee River, Flint River, 
Chattahoochee River, Choctawhatchee River, and associated permanent 
freshwater habitats.
    Northern Mississippi-East unit encompasses parts of Missouri, 
Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The main water bodies that 
currently support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles 
include the Mississippi River, Ohio River, Illinois River, and 
Tennessee River.
    Northern Mississippi-West unit encompasses parts of Kansas, 
Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. The main water bodies that currently 
support or historically supported alligator snapping turtles include 
the Neosho River and Verdigris River.
    The Southern Mississippi-East unit encompasses parts of Louisiana, 
Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Missouri. The main water 
bodies that currently support or historically supported alligator 
snapping turtles include the Mississippi River, Atchafalaya River, Red 
River, Ouachita River, Tensas River, Amite River, Tangipahoa River, and 
their affluents in Louisiana.
    The Southern Mississippi-West unit encompasses parts of 
northeastern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and 
northwestern Louisiana. The main water bodies that currently support or 
historically supported alligator snapping turtles include the Arkansas 
River, Red River, Canadian

[[Page 62446]]

River, East Fork Cadron Creek, Black Lake Bayou, Cheechee Bay, Saline 
Bayou, Black Lake, Clear Lake, Saline Lake, Cane River Canal, Black 
River, Boggy Bayou, Grand Bayou, Crichton Lake, Coushatta Bayou, Smith 
Island Lake, Loggy Bayou, Bayou Pierre, Wallace Lake, Smithport Lake, 
and Bayou Lumbra.
    The Western unit encompasses parts of eastern Texas and western 
Louisiana. The main water bodies that currently support or historically 
supported alligator snapping turtles include the Neches River, Red 
River, Sabine River, San Jacinto River, and Trinity River.
    In analyzing the alligator snapping turtle's current condition, we 
evaluated the current abundance within each analysis unit as a measure 
for current resilience, along with information about current threats, 
conservation actions, and distribution serving as auxiliary information 
about the causes and effects of current versus historical abundances 
(Service 2021, pp. 32-59). In our efforts to obtain the best available 
scientific and commercial information for the SSA, we consulted species 
experts about current abundance, current threats, and a comparison of 
the current and historical distribution regarding areas for which they 
have knowledge and expertise. Despite the large amount of expertise in 
the expert team we queried, the responses indicate a high degree of 
uncertainty about current abundances in each analysis unit. The methods 
for collecting the information from the species' experts is provided in 
more detail in the SSA report (Service 2021, p. 32 and Appendix C).
    The abundances, estimated densities, substantial threats, and 
distribution over time as depicted by range contraction are provided in 
Table 1, below.

    Table 1--Alligator Snapping Turtle Analysis Unit Current Resiliency as Described by Estimated Abundance,
 Percentage of Estimated Abundance in Each Unit, Density Expressed as Estimated Abundance per 1,000 Hectares of
                       Open Water in Each Unit, Threats, and States With Range Contraction
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                       Estimated
          Analysis unit              abundance  (%     Density             Threats            Range contraction
                                        total)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Alabama..........................   200,000 (55.37)        616.9  1. Adult harvest (legal
                                                                   and illegal) *.
                                                                  2. Nest predation *......
                                                                  3. Bycatch: Incidental
                                                                   hooking/hook ingestion *.
                                                                  4. Habitat alteration....
Apalachicola.....................    45,000 (12.46)        281.3  1. Nest predation *......
                                                                  2. Bycatch: Incidental
                                                                   hooking.
                                                                  3. Habitat alteration....
                                                                  4. Harvest (illegal).....
Northern Mississippi-East........      212.5 (0.06)          1.0  1. Nest predation *......  Illinois,
                                                                  2. Habitat alteration....   Tennessee,
                                                                                              Kentucky,
                                                                                              Missouri.
Northern Mississippi-West........        500 (0.14)          4.7  1. Bycatch: Incidental     Kansas.
                                                                   hooking/hook ingestion *.
                                                                  2. Nest predation........
                                                                  3. Habitat fragmentation.
                                                                  4. Harvest (illegal).....
Southern Mississippi-East........    50,000 (13.84)         55.3  1. Harvest (legal and      Tennessee.
                                                                   illegal) *.
                                                                  2. Nest predation *......
                                                                  3. Bycatch: incidental
                                                                   hooking and drowning in
                                                                   nets.
                                                                  4. Habitat fragmentation.
Southern Mississippi-West........     15,000 (4.15)         30.2  1. Bycatch: incidental     Kansas, possibly
                                                                   hooking/hook ingestion *.  Oklahoma.
                                                                  2. Nest predation........
                                                                  3. Habitat fragmentation.
                                                                  4. Harvest (legal and
                                                                   illegal) *.
Western..........................    50,500 (13.98)        139.3  1. Nest predation *......
                                                                  2. Bycatch: incidental
                                                                   hooking.
                                                                  3. Habitat alteration....
                                                                  4. Adult harvest (legal
                                                                   and illegal) *.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Denotes ``substantial'' threats, which refer to those threats estimated to reduce survival rates of an age
  class by 8 percent or more; legal and illegal harvest reduce adult survival, and nest predation reduces nest
  survival. To be considered substantial, the threat impacts more than 50 percent of the alligator snapping
  turtles in the unit. All information in the table was provided by experts with knowledge of the species and
  the area associated within the unit(s).

    Our assessment of the current condition for alligator snapping 
turtle considers the current abundance, current threats, and 
conservation actions in the context of what is known about the species' 
historical range. To determine species-specific population and habitat 
factors along with threats and conservation actions acting on the 
species, data were available for some populations, and demographic 
parameters (e.g., clutch size, survival of specific life stages) and 
threats from previous studies. Where data were unavailable to inform 
the model, species experts provided relevant information related to the 
analysis units for which each is familiar. To describe alligator 
snapping turtle's viability, we evaluated the ability of the 
populations within each unit to respond to stochastic events 
(resiliency) in each of the seven analysis units and the ability of the 
species to respond to catastrophic events (redundancy) and the adaptive 
capacity (representation) of the species as a whole.
    We describe the species' resiliency of each analysis unit using the 
estimated abundances, distribution, and threats acting on the species 
(see Table 1, above). The abundance estimates presented were obtained 
from species experts with knowledge of the species in particular 
geographic areas; due to the wide range of the species and compiling 
information across the seven analysis units, there is a level of 
uncertainty with the precision of the estimates provided. Rangewide, 
the abundance of alligator snapping turtles is estimated to be between 
68,154 and 1,436,825 (a range of 1,368,671 individuals). This enormous 
range in the estimated abundance illustrates the

[[Page 62447]]

high degree of uncertainty in abundances at local sites and the ability 
to extrapolate local abundance estimates to a much broader spatial 
scale. Within these bounds, the most likely estimate of rangewide 
alligator snapping turtle abundance is 361,213 turtles, with 55 percent 
of the turtles occurring in the Alabama analysis unit (Service 2021, 
pp. 47-48).
    Just as the data to estimate current abundances are scarce, there 
is little information with which to make rigorous comparisons between 
current and historical abundances. Dramatic population depletions 
occurred in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, the Florida panhandle, and 
elsewhere in the range during the 1960s and 1970s, with information on 
the magnitude of changes coming from anecdotal observations by trappers 
(Pritchard 1989, pp. 74, 76, 80, 83). Since that time, commercial and 
recreational harvest has been banned in a large portion of the species' 
range (all States except Louisiana and Mississippi, where recreational 
harvest still occurs). There are limited data available describing how 
populations have responded to reduced harvest pressure. Population 
dynamics in Georgia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma suggest that the population 
in East Fork Cadron Creek, Arkansas (Howey et al. 2013, entire), and 
Big Vian Creek, Oklahoma (East et al. 2013, entire), are still in 
decline. Twenty-two years after commercial harvest ended, surveys 
conducted during 2014 and 2015 in Georgia's Flint River reveal no 
significant change in abundance since 1989 surveys (King et al. 2016, 
p. 583). A similar study in Missouri and Arkansas detected population 
declines between the initial survey period in 1993-1994 and repeated 
surveys in 2009, over a decade after State-level protections were 
implemented (Lescher et al. 2013, pp. 163-164). At Sequoyah National 
Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, an alligator snapping turtle population 
declined between 1997-2001 and 2010-2011 (Ligon et al. 2012, p. 40). 
However, an additional study in Arkansas spanning 20 years documents an 
increase in abundance of both adult male and female alligator snapping 
turtles within Salado Creek (Trauth et al. 2016, p. 242).
    Because the size and amount of suitable habitat within each unit 
vary greatly, density is calculated using the estimated abundance and 
the area of open water within each analysis unit; this calculation 
results in the estimated number of turtles per 1,000 ha (2,471 ac) of 
open water in the unit (as delineated by the 2016 National Land Cover 
Database; Yang et al. 2018, entire) (see Table 1, above).
    Note that these are rough densities meant only to correct 
abundances for analysis unit size so that units can be more 
appropriately compared relative to each other; they are not intended to 
serve as actual estimates of density in alligator snapping turtle 
habitat. Because of the variation in analysis unit size and limitations 
in calculating true densities of alligator snapping turtles within 
units, we refrained from leaning heavily on comparisons of abundance or 
density between analysis units to summarize resilience other than to 
highlight general patterns. Resilience inherently increases with 
abundance and density; where there are more individuals, populations 
will have a greater ability to withstand stochastic demographic and 
environmental changes. Thus, in terms of the density as a demographic 
factor, resilience is highest in the core of the species' range, and 
lowest in the northernmost analysis units at the edge of the range. The 
southern portion of the species range within the Alabama, Apalachicola, 
Southern Mississippi- East, and Western units constitute the core areas 
for the species according to the percentage of the species' estimated 
abundance (Table 1).
    We also consider the threats acting on the species within each 
unit. The current major threats acting on the alligator snapping turtle 
include fishing bycatch (including incidental hooking, hook ingestion, 
and drowning), harvest/collection, habitat loss and degradation, and 
nest predation. Other stressors acting on the species include disease, 
nest parasites, and the effects of climate change. Experts were 
consulted regarding information about the prevalence of negative and 
positive influences on viability in each analysis unit and were asked 
to provide an extent of occupied area in each analysis unit where 
alligator snapping turtles may be exposed to incidental hooking on trot 
and limb lines, commercial fishing bycatch, legal collection or 
harvest, illegal collection or harvest (poaching), and nest predation 
by subsidized or nonnative predators. Experts also provided the best 
available information regarding the spatial extent of the different 
threats. This includes the effects that commercial fishing bycatch, 
incidental hooking, hook ingestion, legal harvest, illegal harvest, and 
nest predation have on the survival of relevant life stages (adults, 
juveniles, hatchings, nests) in areas where the threat occurs.
    The historical, large-scale removal of large, reproductive turtles 
from the population for commercial harvest continues to affect the 
species and its ability to rebound. Therefore, due to the historical 
and current threats, as described above, the species currently has the 
highest resiliency at the core of the species' range, where there are 
higher abundances of turtles. Harvest, both legal and illegal, is 
estimated to have the highest impact on adult survival rates, with 
harvest causing reductions in survival of 18 percent (most likely 
estimate) in some units. Commercial and recreational bycatch and hook 
ingestion are estimated to have lower impacts on adult survival, with 
most likely reductions in survival of 7 to 9 percent. The estimated 
impacts of threats on juvenile survival are lower than impacts to adult 
survival with most likely impacts of a 6 to 8 percent reduction in 
survival where commercial bycatch, incidental hooking, and hook 
ingestion occur, and a 6 to 7 percent reduction in survival from legal 
and illegal harvest where they occur. Hatchlings are not estimated to 
be heavily impacted by any of the threats we explored. Nest survival is 
estimated to be heavily impacted by nest predation by subsidized or 
nonnative predators (e.g., raccoons, fire ants), with a most likely 
estimate of 58 percent reduction in survival.
    Another resiliency factor informing the species' current condition 
is the comparison between the historical range and the current range 
(year 2000 to 2019). We compared the historical and current ranges of 
alligator snapping turtles by querying State biologists or those with 
access to the State's natural heritage program data. For each county or 
parish in their State, we asked for the current and historical status, 
and the date of the last confirmed record of alligator snapping 
turtles. Due to historical overharvest, habitat degradation and loss, 
and other threats in some areas of the species' range, the range has 
contracted in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and 
possibly in Oklahoma. These States are all on the fringe of the range, 
where conditions are likely marginal and more dynamic. The units 
affected include Northern Mississippi-East, Northern Mississippi-West, 
Southern Mississippi-East, and Southern Mississippi-West. Additional 
information regarding current condition descriptions and methodology 
used in the analysis are included in the SSA report (Service 2021, pp. 
32-59).
    Redundancy refers to the number and distribution of sufficiently 
resilient populations across a species' range, which provides 
protection for the species against catastrophic events that

[[Page 62448]]

impact entire populations. Due to the wide range of the species, it is 
unlikely that a catastrophic event would affect the entire species. 
When considering changes from historical conditions to current 
conditions, none of the seven analysis units across the species' range 
that we identified has been lost. All units remain extant and provide 
the ability to withstand catastrophic events.
    Although the number of analysis units has not changed, redundancy 
for alligator snapping turtles has been reduced in terms of the 
distribution within analysis units, with range contractions in the 
northern portions of the species' range (Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, 
Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee). Within the core of the species' 
range, however, alligator snapping turtles still seem to be widely 
distributed, although there are many gaps in the spatial extent of 
surveys. While the distribution of the species encompasses much of its 
historical range, resilience within that range has decreased, largely 
from historical harvest pressures. With the range contractions and 
decreases in abundance, the Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit has 
decreased in resilience such that it is not a robust contributor to 
redundancy (only 212.5 estimated abundance of turtles, influenced 
largely by introductions).
    Representation refers to the breadth of diversity within and among 
populations of a species, which allow it to adapt to changing 
environmental conditions. Because of this mismatch in scale between 
analysis units and biological populations, representation is described 
in terms of representative units and the resiliency units within each, 
under the assumption that representative units with higher abundances 
will be more able to contribute to future adaptation than those with 
lower abundances.
    No representative units have been lost compared to the historical 
distribution. The Northern Mississippi representative unit, which adds 
diversity in life-history strategies within the species, currently has 
very low abundance within its two constituent analysis units relative 
to the other representative units, with an estimated 712.5 alligator 
snapping turtles total and a shrinking range. However, alligator 
snapping turtles in Illinois have been introduced from Southern 
Mississippi breeding stock, diluting the presence of unique genetic 
characteristics in the Northern Mississippi representative unit.
    In summary, the overall current condition of the species' viability 
is affected by the residual effects of historical overharvest, 
historical and ongoing impacts from incidental limb line/bush hook and 
recreational fishing bycatch and/or hook ingestion, harvest, nest 
predation, and the species' life history (i.e., low annual recruitment 
and delayed sexual maturity). Because of these threats, and 
particularly the legacy effects of historical harvest, the overall 
current condition of the species is based on the resiliency of each 
analysis unit, the redundancy of these units across the range, and the 
representation across the range. Due to the variation in analysis unit 
size and limitations in calculating true densities of alligator 
snapping turtles within units, we refrain from leaning heavily on 
comparisons of abundance or density between analysis units to summarize 
resilience other than to highlight general patterns. Resilience 
increases with abundance and density; where there are more individuals, 
populations will have a greater ability to withstand stochastic 
demographic and environmental events. Thus, resilience is highest in 
the core of the species' range and lowest in the northernmost analysis 
units at the edge of the range. The trend in resiliency from historical 
to current conditions is declining because of the loss of reproductive 
females and the species' life history (long-lived, late age to sexual 
maturity, low intrinsic growth rate). With the reduction in available 
habitat in some areas of the range, redundancy has declined compared to 
historical conditions as the species has been extirpated in some 
counties or parishes. However, no representative units have been lost 
compared to the historical distribution, as the genetic lineages across 
the representative units are still represented across the species' 
range.

Future Condition

    To evaluate the species' future viability, we constructed a stage-
structured matrix population model to project the population dynamics 
into the future and incorporated information from the literature, as 
well as information elicited on current abundance and the threats 
acting on the species (described above). In that model, we apply six 
plausible scenarios that factor in the estimated abundance and threats 
acting on the species to project the future resiliency of the species. 
Three scenarios consider conservation actions to be implemented, while 
the remaining three scenarios project conditions with no conservation 
actions. No specific endpoint for modeling was chosen at the outset; 
rather, the endpoint was selected after trajectories were generated, 
and it became clear that extending the projection further was 
unnecessary because the species is extirpated under all scenarios at a 
certain point.
    In developing the future conditions scenarios described above, we 
used the best available information from the literature to parameterize 
a population matrix and elicited data from species experts to quantify 
stage-specific initial abundance, the spatial extent of threats, and 
threat-specific percent reductions to survival. To account for 
potential uncertainty in the effects of each threat, the six future 
scenarios are divided along a spectrum: Threat-induced reductions to 
survival are decreased by 25 percent, are unaltered, or are increased 
by 25 percent. To simulate conservation actions, the spatial extent of 
each threat is either left the same or reduced by 25 percent. We used a 
fully stochastic projection model that accounted for uncertainty in 
demographic parameters to predict future conditions of the alligator 
snapping turtle units under the six different scenarios. We derived a 
series of summary statistics to evaluate population trends and identify 
potential variation among analysis units and alternative scenarios. We 
define an extirpation event as the total population (juveniles + 
adults) declining to zero individuals, whereas a decline to less than 5 
percent of the starting population size is considered quasi-
extirpation. We applied 5 percent because it accounts for the effects 
of small population size and it also represents the result of a 
potential catastrophic population decline (Service 2021, p. 163).
    Experts provided information regarding the following threat-related 
quantities: Percent reduction to stage-specific survival rates 
attributed to each threat and the spatial extent of each threat within 
their analysis unit(s) of expertise. Thus, reductions in survival rates 
attributed to each threat are assumed to be the same across all 
analysis units, although the spatial extent of each threat (i.e., the 
proportion of the alligator snapping turtles exposed to the threat) 
varies among analysis units. For example, ingesting a fishing hook 
would be expected to produce the same percent reduction in survival 
across the entire range, although the probability that an individual 
alligator snapping turtle encounters that threat would vary among 
analysis units. However, we determined that legal collection likely 
violated this assumption, as regulations for legal alligator snapping 
turtle collection differ among States (LDWF 2019a, unpaginated; MFWP 
2019, unpaginated). Therefore, we decided to model the effects of legal 
collection as a direct reduction in juvenile and adult

[[Page 62449]]

abundances (Service 2021, Appendix E) that varied across analysis 
units, rather than a reduction to demographic parameters. For each 
analysis unit, we calculated threat-adjusted survival rates, accounting 
for reductions in stage-specific survival rates resulting from the 
percent reduction in survival expected from a given threat multiplied 
by the spatial extent of the threat, for each threat occurring in a 
given analysis unit. Lastly, to reflect spatial heterogeneity in threat 
occurrence and overlap within each analysis unit, we calculated a 
weighted average of each survival parameter, based on the probable 
occurrence and overlap of all possible threat combinations (Service 
2021, Appendix E).
    We built scenarios around the potential uncertainty regarding: (a) 
The magnitude of the impact of threats on survival rates, and (b) the 
presence or absence of conservation actions. To capture the variability 
in the potential input for each threat, uncertainty is considered and 
applied directly to the model. First, we define three different 
``threat levels'' by adjusting the demographic effect of each threat 
(percent reduction in stage-specific survival) up and down 25 percent 
relative to the compiled expert elicitation responses. In addition to 
legal collection (as mentioned above), the only exceptions to this 
structure are subsidized nest predators, in which the percent reduction 
to nest survival remains the same across all threat levels. These three 
levels reflect that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the impact 
that each threat has on survival rates and allows us to explore what 
the future condition might be if the mean estimates of threat magnitude 
either underestimate or overestimate the true impacts by 25 percent.
    Next, we defined conservation action either as absent or present in 
the future. Where present, conservation action is modeled to reduce the 
spatial extent of threats (proportion of analysis unit exposed to 
threat) by 25 percent. This led to six different scenarios of expert-
elicited threats, decreased threats, or high threats, with conservation 
action absent or present. The conservation scenarios reduce the spatial 
extent of threats rather than their magnitude. For example, the 
``Decreased Threats +'' scenario takes into consideration reduced 
survival rate impacts by 25 percent and also the spatial extent of 
threats decreasing by 25 percent compared to the conservation-absent 
scenario of each analysis unit, relative to the mean expert-elicited 
quantities. Also note that only the means for survival rate impacts and 
spatial extent of threats, and not the standard deviations, are 
adjusted across the different scenarios.
    Conservation actions that could decrease the spatial extent of 
threats include, but are not limited to, increased enforcement or law 
enforcement presence to reduce poaching or bycatch on illegally set 
trot or limb lines, increasing the size of protected areas that 
prohibit recreational fishing or certain gear (e.g., trotlines, 
hoopnets), additional harvest restrictions in some areas, and 
management actions that reduce the densities of nest predators. The 
actual amount that any of these actions would influence the prevalence 
of threats will depend on factors like the time, money, personnel, and 
conservation partners available, but we selected a 25 percent reduction 
in the spatial extent of threats to explore how much a change of that 
amount affected future population dynamics. Conservation scenario 
outcomes show us that conservation actions (if applied) do not alter 
the basic trajectory of the declines.
    Note that the threat level scenarios (expert-elicited, decreased, 
increased) vary in the magnitude of the impact of threats on survival 
where they occur, reflecting uncertainty in their true values. 
Conversely, the conservation scenarios (absent or present) vary in the 
spatial extent (the proportion of the population within the analysis 
unit exposed to the threat) of threats rather than their magnitude. For 
example, in either ``Expert-Elicited Threats'' scenario, the survival 
rate where recreational bycatch occurs is expected to remain the same 
whether conservation actions are present or absent, but in the 
``Expert-Elicited Threats +'' scenario, the spatial extent of any given 
analysis unit exposed to recreational bycatch is reduced by 25 percent 
compared to the conservation-absent scenario. Also note that only the 
means for survival rate impacts and spatial extent of threats, and not 
the standard deviations, are adjusted across the different scenarios.
    Our modeling framework also incorporates three effects believed to 
influence alligator snapping turtle demography that are not 
incorporated into scenarios as described above: Legal collection, head-
start and adult releases, and habitat loss. Unlike the threat-specific 
reductions in survival rates, these effects are consistent across all 
future condition scenarios, although they are subject to stochastic 
variation among iterations and time steps. The effects from legal 
collection and head-start releases are applied directly to the 
estimated stage-specific abundances at the beginning of each time step. 
Habitat loss is incorporated into the model through the adult fecundity 
element of the transition matrix where its effect depends on total 
abundance.

Legal Collection

    Regulations for legal collection differ among States, which do not 
align with analysis units (LDFW 2019a, unpaginated; MFWP 2019, 
unpaginated). Therefore, we decided to model the effects of legal 
collection as an annual reduction in abundance that varies across 
analysis units, rather than a reduction in survival rates. Collection 
of alligator snapping turtles is legal only in Mississippi and 
Louisiana. Legal collection in Mississippi is not incorporated into the 
model because the harvest restrictions (>24 in (61 cm) carapace length) 
functionally exclude females, which typically do not exceed 19.7 in (50 
cm) in carapace length (Folt et al. 2016, p. 24), and thus would have 
had no effect on our female-only population model. In Louisiana, 
current regulations allow for any angler with a freshwater fishing 
license to take one alligator snapping turtle of any size per day (LDWF 
2019b, unpaginated). Within our modeling framework, we restrict the 
effects of legal collection to the two modeled analysis units that 
overlap geographically with Louisiana: Southern Mississippi-East and 
Alabama. The annual reduction in abundance due to legal collection in 
these analysis units is based on using freshwater fishing license and 
specialty permit sales for wire traps and hoopnets (often used to catch 
turtles) from 2012-2017 as an index of take (LDWF 2019b, unpaginated), 
and the proportion of each analysis unit that overlaps Louisiana 
(Service 2021, Appendix E).

Captive Breeding for Conservation/Head-Starts and Adult Releases

    Several States within the alligator snapping turtle's range have 
initiated head-start release programs, in which alligator snapping 
turtles are raised for several years in captivity and then released 
into the wild population as juveniles (Dreslik et al. 2017, p. 13). 
Similarly, States also opportunistically release adult alligator 
snapping turtles confiscated from illegal activities (e.g., poaching) 
into wild populations. We include juvenile and adult releases within 
the model, but only for the first 10 time steps within an iteration, to 
avoid having alligator snapping turtle population persistence be 
contingent on head-start activities (i.e., conservation-dependent). We 
parameterized the releases in the model based on statistics from 
Illinois (Dreslik et al. 2017, p. 13):

[[Page 62450]]

juvenile females: ~30 individuals/year; adult females: ~12 individuals/
year. The mean number of releases does not vary among analysis units or 
scenarios, but because of the uncertainty and variability in the 
simulations, the specific value drawn for each year in each unit in 
each iteration varies. Specifically, for the first 10 time steps of 
each iteration, the number of released juveniles and adults are drawn 
from Poisson distributions that provide the probability of a certain 
event occurring over a fixed time or space.

Habitat Loss

    We asked the species expert team to list habitat loss mechanisms 
within their analysis unit(s) of expertise. After adjusting for 
linguistic differences among responses (e.g., ``desnagging'' and 
``removal of large woody debris'' are two answers that reflect the same 
mechanism), we summarized the number of unique habitat loss mechanisms 
within each analysis unit and calculated the mean across experts. We 
imposed a population ceiling (i.e., carrying capacity) that was 
annually reduced by a habitat loss rate, which equaled the mean number 
of unique threats in the unit, divided by 100. The initial population 
ceiling was determined based on the summarized expert elicitation 
values for the maximum possible number of alligator snapping turtles 
currently within the analysis unit, after adjusting for sex ratios and 
presence of hatchlings in the estimate. Thus, the population ceiling 
for each analysis unit at each time step was calculated 
deterministically and was not subject to stochastic variation across 
simulation iterations. To incorporate the effects of habitat loss on 
alligator snapping turtle demography within the model, we included a 
function that set adult fecundity to zero if total abundance (juveniles 
and adults) in any time step exceeded the population ceiling. While 
this function is included in the model, abundances are so far below 
population ceilings that the effect of habitat loss does not have an 
impact on modeling results (Service 2021, Appendix E).

Additional Model Descriptions

    We must keep in mind the limitations of this model when 
interpreting the results. The precision and accuracy of model outputs 
depend heavily on the precision and accuracy of the information going 
into a model. In the case of the alligator snapping turtle, there is a 
large amount of uncertainty in the information that went into the 
model, including estimates of current abundance, age class proportions, 
impact of threats on stage-specific demographic rates, spatial extent 
of threats, and variability of these metrics across and within analysis 
units. We relied heavily on expert elicitation to obtain these values. 
Wherever possible, the uncertainty in these values is incorporated into 
the model structure itself, but others we were unable to address; for 
example, the assumptions we had to make that baseline demographic rates 
are largely uniform across the range of the species. Future modeling 
efforts would be greatly improved with further study into these aspects 
of the alligator snapping turtle's biology, demography, and response to 
(and prevalence of) threats, as well as how these threats vary across 
the range of the species.
    We also acknowledge an ongoing concern raised with regard to the 
model used is that it does not match the published estimates of the 
population growth model (Folt et al. 2016, entire) and conflicts with 
the perceived stability of alligator snapping turtle populations from 
some catch-per-unit-effort studies for this species. First, Folt et al. 
(2016) resulted from a population without several of the threats 
explored in this model. In addition a few errors have been corrected 
since its publication which resulted in a change in the prediction of a 
population growing at 3% annually to one that was declining 3% 
annually. With regard to CPUE data, it is generally used for relative 
abundance and was not appropriate for use in this modeling effort. In 
addition, while there were published parameter estimates and data to 
inform survival, egg production and nest survival, modelers had to use 
expert elicitation to parameterize the spatial extent of threats and 
the effect of the threats on population demographics. However, 
estimates of variance for many elicited parameters are small, 
suggesting that the experts generally agree with each other, even 
though the values were elicited independently from each expert.
    Below, Table 2 presents the six plausible scenarios that factored 
in the estimated abundance and threats acting on the alligator snapping 
turtle to project the future resiliency of the species. Tables 3 and 4 
present the results of the model depicting the future condition of each 
of four analysis units; Table 3 shows conservation-absent scenarios, 
while Table 4 shows conservation-present scenarios. In both Tables 3 
and 4, for each scenario, we calculated the probability of extirpation 
and quasi-extirpation as the proportion of the 500 replicates in which 
the total population (adults and juveniles) declined to zero or less 
than 5 percent of the starting population size, respectively. For only 
those replicates in which the population reached extirpation or quasi-
extirpation, we then calculated the mean number of years until those 
thresholds were reached to represent the time to quasi-extirpation or 
time to extirpation, respectively. Mean quantities and their standard 
deviations are listed with the range (minimum and maximum quantity 
observed across all replicates) given in parentheses. An asterisk (*) 
indicates only a single simulation crossed the threshold, precluding a 
standard deviation calculation.

 Table 2--Description of Six Future Scenarios Modeled for the Alligator
                    Snapping Turtle's Analysis Units
              [Scenario names are given in quotation marks]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                               Conservation absent  Conservation present
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Decreased Threat Magnitude..  ``Decreased           ``Decreased Threats
                               Threats'' Impact of   + '' Impact of
                               threats: Reduced 25   threats: Reduced 25
                               percent Spatial       percent. Spatial
                               extent of threats:    extent of threats:
                               Expert-elicited.      Reduced 25 percent.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Expert-Elicited Threat        ``Expert-Elicited     ``Expert-Elicited
 Magnitude.                    Threats'' Impact of   Threats + '' Impact
                               threats: Expert-      of threats: Expert-
                               elicited. Spatial     elicited. Spatial
                               extent of threats:    extent of threats:
                               Expert-elicited.      Reduced 25 percent.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Increased Threat Magnitude..  ``Increased           ``Increased Threats
                               Threats'' Impact of   + '' Impact of
                               threats: Increased    threats: Increased
                               25 percent Spatial    25 percent. Spatial
                               extent of threats:    extent of threats:
                               Expert-elicited.      Reduced 25 percent.
------------------------------------------------------------------------


[[Page 62451]]


Table 3--Probability and Time to Extirpation and Quasi-Extirpation for Alligator Snapping Turtles for Conservation-Absent Scenarios With Three Different
                                                                      Threat Levels
                                                       (Decreased, expert-elicited, and increased)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       Probability of  quasi-       Time to quasi-           Probability of        Time to extirpation
                    Threat level                            extirpation          extirpation  (years)         extirpation                (years)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                   Conservation Absent
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Alabama Unit:
    Decreased.......................................                        1  17.68  2.27                     0.13  48.91  2.09
                                                                                              (12, 29)                                          (43, 51)
    Expert-Elicited.................................                        1   14.20  1.6                    0.846  45.64  3.36
                                                                                              (10, 20)                                          (36, 51)
    Increased.......................................                        1  12.11  1.35                        1  40.19  3.47
                                                                                               (8, 16)                                          (30, 51)
Apalachicola Unit:
    Decreased.......................................                     0.99  33.11  6.09                    0.004   49.5  0.71
                                                                                              (19, 51)                                          (49, 50)
    Expert-Elicited.................................                        1  26.28  4.65                    0.124  49.02  2.05
                                                                                              (16, 47)                                          (44, 51)
    Increased.......................................                        1  21.21  3.25                     0.66  46.82  3.15
Northern Mississippi-East Unit:
    Decreased.......................................                     0.02  45.90  4.01                        0
                                                                                              (38, 51)
    Expert-Elicited.................................                    0.016  48.00  4.11                        0
                                                                                              (39, 51)
    Increased.......................................                    0.024  45.42  3.42                        0
                                                                                              (41, 51)
Southern Mississippi-East Unit:
    Decreased.......................................                        1  17.69  2.40                    0.434  49.45  1.92
                                                                                              (11, 29)                                          (43, 51)
    Expert-Elicited.................................                        1  14.89  1.75                     0.95  47.49  2.84
                                                                                              (10, 22)                                          (39, 51)
    Increased.......................................                        1  12.97  1.39                    0.998  44.92  3.87
                                                                                               (9, 18)                                          (33, 51)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


     Table 4--Probability and Time to Extirpation and Quasi-Extirpation for Alligator Snapping Turtles for Conservation Present Scenarios With Three
                                                                 Different Threat Levels
                                                       [Decreased, expert-elicited, and increased]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                      Probability of  quasi-       Time to quasi-            Probability of        Time to extirpation
                    Threat level                           extirpation          extirpation  (years)          extirpation                (years)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                Conservation Present (+)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Alabama Unit:
    Decreased......................................                        1                  22.84  3.20     0.002   * 51  (51,
                                                                                             (14, 33)                                                51)
    Expert-Elicited................................                        1                  17.91  2.27     0.114  49.14  2.23
                                                                                             (13, 26)                                           (40, 51)
    Increased......................................                        1                  15.11  1.72     0.658  47.21  2.76
                                                                                             (12, 23)                                           (40, 51)
Apalachicola Unit:
    Decreased......................................                     0.98                  32.44  6.1          0
                                                                                             (20, 51)
    Expert-Elicited................................                        1                  32.04  5.79     0.006  50.67  0.58
                                                                                             (18, 51)                                           (50, 51)
    Increased......................................                        1                  26.22  4.75     0.052  48.92  1.94
Northern Mississippi-East Unit:
    Decreased......................................                    0.038                  48.21  2.90         0  .......................
                                                                                             (42, 51)
    Expert-Elicited................................                    0.036                  46.72  3.39     0.002     * 51.00 
                                                                                             (39, 51)                                           (51, 51)
    Increased......................................                     0.02                  46.60  2.50         0  .......................
                                                                                             (42, 50)
Southern Mississippi-East Unit:
    Decreased......................................                        1                   20.9  3.34     0.058  49.45  1.92
                                                                                             (14, 35)                                           (43, 51)
    Expert-Elicited................................                        1                  17.74  2.34     0.476  47.49  2.84
                                                                                             (12, 26)                                           (39, 51)
    Increased......................................                        1                  15.74  1.98     0.856  44.92  3.87
                                                                                             (11, 25)                                           (33, 51)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Alabama Analysis Unit
    The Alabama analysis unit provides habitat for more than half 
(55.37 percent) of the entire estimated alligator snapping turtle 
abundance; however, the total abundance in the Alabama analysis unit is 
predicted to decline over the next 50 years in all scenarios. Predicted 
declines are more rapid the higher the threat level and are slightly 
mediated by conservation actions. Compared to initial abundances, after 
the first 10 years of the simulation, the mean abundance within the 
unit is predicted to decline by 75-83 percent under decreased threat 
scenarios, 83-90 percent under expert-elicited threat scenarios, and 
88-93 percent under increased threat scenarios (see Tables 3 and 4, 
above). Halfway through the simulation, after 25 years, the mean 
abundance is predicted to decline by 97-100 percent compared to the 
initial abundance across all six scenarios, with declines of 100 
percent (extirpation) after 50 years (Service 2021, Appendix E).
    Although abundance declined in all scenarios, the probability of 
extirpation within 50 years depends heavily on the threat levels and 
presence or absence of conservation actions. Without conservation, the 
species is unlikely to be extirpated in this unit within 50 years under 
the ``Decreased Threats'' scenario, likely to be extirpated under the 
``Expert-Elicited Threats'' scenario, and virtually certain to become 
extirpated under the ``Increased Threats'' scenario (see Table 3, 
above). With conservation, the species is exceptionally unlikely to be 
extirpated under the ``Decreased Threats +'' scenario, unlikely to be 
extirpated under the ``Expert-Elicited Threats +'' scenario, and about 
as likely as not to be extirpated under the ``Increased Threats +'' 
scenario (see Table 4, above). While the likelihood that the species 
will become extirpated from the Alabama analysis unit varies by 
scenario, quasi-extirpation where abundances fell below 5 percent of 
current levels is virtually certain in all

[[Page 62452]]

scenarios. In scenarios where the probability of extirpation is about 
as likely as not, extirpation occurs on average after 40-51 years, with 
quasi-extirpation occurring much sooner in 12-23 years. Predicted time 
to quasi-extirpation averages 18-22 years under the decreased threats 
scenarios, 14-18 years under the expert-elicited threats scenarios, and 
12-15 years under the increased threats scenarios, with the upper bound 
of each time period range predicted when conservation actions are 
present.
Apalachicola Analysis Unit
    The Apalachicola analysis unit is included in part of the species' 
core area and includes around 12 percent of the entire estimated 
abundance of the species; however, the total abundance in the 
Apalachicola analysis unit is predicted to decline over the next 50 
years in all scenarios. Predicted declines are more rapid the higher 
the threat level and are slightly mediated by conservation actions 
(Service 2021, Appendix E). Compared to initial abundances, after the 
first 10 years of the simulation, the mean abundance within the unit is 
predicted to decline by 55-64 percent under decreased threats 
scenarios, 65-74 percent under expert-elicited threats scenarios, and 
72-82 percent under increased threats scenarios. Halfway through the 
simulation after 25 years, mean abundance is predicted to decline by 
90-99 percent compared to initial abundance across all six scenarios 
and is predicted to decline by 99-100 percent after 50 years in all 
scenarios (Service 2021, Appendix E).
    Although abundance declined in all scenarios, the probability of 
extirpation within 50 years depends heavily on the threat levels and 
presence or absence of conservation actions. Without conservation, the 
species is exceptionally unlikely to be extirpated in this unit within 
50 years under the ``Decreased Threats'' scenario, unlikely to be 
extirpated under the ``Expert-Elicited Threats'' scenario, and likely 
to become extirpated under the ``Increased Threats'' scenario (see 
Table 3, above). With conservation, the species is exceptionally 
unlikely to be extirpated under the ``Decreased Threats +'' scenario 
and the ``Expert-Elicited Threats +'' scenario, and very unlikely to be 
extirpated under the ``Increased Threats +'' scenario (see Table 4, 
above). In scenarios where the probability of extirpation is about as 
likely as not, when extirpation does occur, it is on average around the 
47-year mark. In the conservation-absent scenarios, quasi-extirpation 
is very likely to occur within 26-33 years. While the likelihood that 
the species will become extirpated in the Apalachicola analysis unit 
varies by scenario and ranges between likely to exceptionally unlikely, 
quasi-extirpation, where abundances fell below 5 percent of current 
levels, is very likely to virtually certain to occur with or without 
conservation actions within 50 years in all scenarios (see Tables 3 and 
4, above).
Northern Mississippi-East Analysis Unit
    The Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit currently supports the 
fewest alligator snapping turtles (0.06 percent) of any other unit 
across its range. Because of ongoing conservation efforts with turtle 
releases occurring in the Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit, 
alligator snapping turtle abundances in this unit are predicted to 
increase for the next decade because of the population augmentation 
efforts, but at 50 years in all scenarios, the population is predicted 
to decline to a mean of fewer than 51 females (Service 2021, pp. 72-74, 
Appendix E). Predicted declines are consistent across scenarios with 
and without conservation; however, the rate of decline is lower in the 
Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit (Service 2021, Appendix E). 
Compared to initial abundances, after the first 10 years of the 
simulation, mean abundance is predicted to increase by at least 200 
percent across every scenario. By halfway through the simulation after 
25 years, mean abundances are predicted to fall but remain over 32 
percent higher than initial abundances. By the end of the 50-year 
simulation, however, abundances are predicted to decline by 47-51 
percent compared to initial abundances in the scenarios without 
conservation actions, and 44-48 percent in the scenarios with 
conservation actions (Service 2021, Appendix E).
    Although abundance eventually declines in all scenarios after 
initial increases, the species is exceptionally unlikely to very 
unlikely to be extirpated in this unit within 50 years under any 
modeled scenario (Service 2021, p. 74). Quasi-extirpation is similarly 
very unlikely to occur in any scenario; however, abundance continues to 
decline beyond 50 years.
Southern Mississippi-East Analysis Unit
    The Southern Mississippi-East analysis unit includes around 14 
percent of the total estimated abundance of the species; however, the 
total abundance in the Southern Mississippi-East analysis unit is 
predicted to decline over the next 50 years in all scenarios (Service 
2021, pp. 70-72). Predicted declines are more rapid the higher the 
threat level and are slightly mediated by conservation actions (Service 
2021, Appendix E). Compared to initial abundances, after the first 10 
years of the simulation, mean abundance is predicted to decline by 76-
82 percent under decreased threats scenarios, 83-88 percent under 
expert-elicited threats scenarios, and 87-92 percent under increased 
threats scenarios (see Tables 3 and 4, above). Halfway through the 
simulation, after 25 years, mean abundance is predicted to decline by 
95-100 percent compared to initial abundance across all six scenarios 
(Service 2021, Appendix E).
    Although abundance declines in all scenarios, the probability of 
extirpation within 50 years depends heavily on the threat levels and 
presence or absence of conservation actions. Without conservation, the 
species is unlikely to be extirpated in this unit within 50 years under 
the ``Decreased Threats'' scenario, likely to be extirpated under the 
``Expert-Elicited Threats'' scenario, and very likely to become 
extirpated under the ``Increased Threats'' scenario (see Table 3, 
above). With conservation, the species is exceptionally unlikely to be 
extirpated under the ``Decreased Threats +'' scenario, very unlikely to 
be extirpated under the ``Expert-Elicited Threats +'' scenario, and 
about as likely as not to be extirpated under the ``Increased Threats 
+'' scenario (see Table 4, above). While the likelihood that the 
species will become completely extirpated within this unit varied by 
scenario, quasi-extirpation where abundances fell below 5 percent of 
current levels is virtually certain in all scenarios within the next 
13-21 years. Predicted time to quasi-extirpation averages 18-21 years 
under the decreased threats scenarios, 15-18 years under the expert-
elicited threats scenarios, and 13-16 years under the increased threats 
scenarios, with the lower bound of each range predicted when 
conservation actions are present.
    The Western, Southern Mississippi-West, and Northern Mississippi-
West analysis units are not included in the future simulation modeling 
because we do not have adequate input data. However, we have no 
evidence that alligator snapping turtle demographic trends in response 
to threats in these analysis units would behave dramatically 
differently from the range of analysis units that we did model. While 
we do not have precise abundance estimates in the future or 
probabilities of extirpation or quasi-extirpation, it is likely that 
alligator snapping turtles in these analysis units will decline along 
similar trajectories as

[[Page 62453]]

the modeled analysis units, meaning they likely face a high probability 
of quasi-extirpation within the next 30-50 years.
    In summary, alligator snapping turtle abundance was shown to 
decline drastically over the next 30 to 50 years in all analysis units 
that are included in the model (Alabama, Apalachicola, Northern 
Mississippi-East, and Southern Mississippi-East) across all scenarios. 
The model projects out past 50 years; however, the declining abundance 
trends drop so low within 50 years, there was no need to project beyond 
that time period. The future conditions projections, which include 
three conservation-based scenarios, indicate a 95 percent decline in 50 
years and quasi-extirpation in approximately 30 years under even the 
most optimistic scenario.
    Resilience is expected to drastically decline across all analysis 
units under all scenarios. We modeled scenarios that reflected 
uncertainty in the impact of threats on alligator snapping turtle 
demography, and all threat levels (decreased, expert-elicited, and 
increased) produced mean growth rates (lambda) indicating population 
decline. Predicted abundances are likely to very likely to virtually 
certain to drop below 5 percent of current abundances within 12-50 
years under all scenarios in the Southern Mississippi-East, Alabama, 
and Apalachicola analysis units (Service 2021, pp. 78-82). The only 
analysis unit for which quasi-extirpation is not consistently likely is 
the Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit. Although the risk of 
quasi-extirpation is lower in this analysis unit than the others, this 
is in part an artifact of the way that quasi-extirpation thresholds are 
defined, as a percentage of the initial abundance. In terms of raw 
abundance, the Northern Mississippi-East analysis unit is predicted on 
average to support fewer than 51 female alligator snapping turtles (as 
we used a female-only demographic model) with or without conservation 
actions. Thus, even though quasi-extirpation risks are lower than other 
analysis units, the predicted abundances for this unit still indicate 
that alligator snapping turtles will become very rare or disappear from 
this analysis unit.
    Time to quasi-extirpation varies across analysis units and 
scenarios (conservation absent-conservation present), but in general, 
the first analysis unit likely to reach the quasi-extirpation threshold 
is the Alabama unit (12-22 years), followed by the Southern 
Mississippi-East unit (after an average of 14-25 years depending on the 
scenario), the Apalachicola unit (21-33 years), and finally the 
Northern Mississippi-East unit, where quasi-extirpation is not likely 
to occur within the 50-year time frame.
    After 50 years, the mean female abundance in any given analysis 
unit is not predicted to exceed 133 individuals in any scenario. As we 
did for the current condition, we scaled future predicted abundances 
(after 25 years and after 50 years of the simulation) to the area of 
open water in each analysis unit to aid in comparing abundances among 
units of different sizes.
    Resilience refers to the ability of populations (or, in our case, 
analysis units, as we are unable to delineate populations with 
currently available information) to withstand stochastic disturbances 
(e.g., demographic, environmental stochasticity). Abundance is central 
to resilience, as small populations are more vulnerable to 
perturbations than larger populations. We compiled the best information 
available about alligator snapping turtles, their demographic rates, 
and threats, and the resulting simulation model predicts dramatic 
declines in abundance, and thus resilience, over the next 50 years 
across all analysis units. Abundances in nearly every analysis unit are 
predicted to decline by more than 95 percent, resulting in drastically 
lowered abilities of populations to withstand stochastic events, if 
alligator snapping turtle populations persist at all.
    Most of the threats described in the SSA report (Service 2021, pp. 
17-21) (hook ingestion, illegal collection, etc.) are factors that 
affect adult or juvenile survival, and so large changes in population 
growth and predicted future abundance are expected to occur when those 
effects are incorporated into the model. For example, experts indicated 
that hook ingestion is likely to negatively affect adult survival and 
could cause up to 8 percent decline in survival rate in areas where 
trotline and other fishing activities are allowed, dropping survival 
from 95 percent to 87 percent. That one threat alone changes the 
trajectory of the population from stable or increasing to rapidly 
declining, as a result of the cumulative threats.
    Future representation, referring to the ability of the species to 
adapt to changing environmental conditions over time, is similarly 
predicted to decline rapidly as alligator snapping turtles in every 
representative unit decline in abundance to quasi-extirpation or true 
extirpation. The loss of alligator snapping turtles across all 
representative units would represent losses in genetic diversity (two 
broad genetic lineages), life-history diversity along a north-south 
gradient, and finer scale genetic differences among drainages within 
the larger genetic lineages.
    Future redundancy, or the ability to withstand catastrophic events, 
for alligator snapping turtles is expected to decline drastically over 
the next 50 years. Our future simulation model operates at the scale of 
the analysis unit and is limited to the units for which data are 
available, so we cannot provide precise predictions about which States 
or counties are most likely to lose or retain alligator snapping turtle 
biological populations in the future. While accounting for uncertainty 
with the magnitude of threats at the analysis unit scale, all units are 
predicted to lose resiliency at such a high rate that no analysis unit 
will remain across the landscape to contribute to redundancy. Where 
alligator snapping turtles persist in the future, they are predicted to 
be rare and not found in adequately resilient groupings. Analysis units 
are predicted to reach quasi-extirpation thresholds in some cases 
within the next two decades, with more units becoming quasi-extirpated 
each decade after that. The addition of conservation actions, or 
different assumptions about the impact of threats on alligator snapping 
turtle demography, alters the time to quasi-extirpation by about a 
decade at most, typically less. No scenarios result in stable or 
increasing redundancy within representative units or rangewide. The 
future condition analysis for the alligator snapping turtle is 
described in detail in the SSA report (Service 2021, pp. 59-84).
    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.

[[Page 62454]]

Determination of Alligator Snapping Turtle's Status

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining 
whether a species meets the definition of 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 a species meets the 
definition of ``endangered species'' or ``threatened species'' because 
of any of the following factors: (A) The present or threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence.

Status Throughout All of Its Range

    When evaluating the species to determine if it is in danger of 
extinction throughout all of its range, we consider the threats acting 
on the species and the cumulative effects of those threats under the 
section 4(a)(1) factors. The current threats include harvest and 
collection (Factor B), nest predation (Factor C), habitat degradation 
and loss (Factor A), and hook ingestion and entanglement due to bycatch 
associated with freshwater fishing (Factor E). The current condition of 
the alligator snapping turtle, as discussed under Current Condition 
above, describes the species and the threats acting on the species such 
that it retains sufficient resiliency, redundancy, and representation 
to ensure the species is currently maintaining viability across its 
range.
    The species is currently still relatively widespread, occurring 
throughout much of its historical range, and remains extant within all 
analysis units. Although some resiliency has been lost due to past and 
ongoing threats, sufficient resiliency remains across the seven 
analysis units, especially in the core of the range in the southern 
parts of the Alabama, Apalachicola, South Mississippi-East, and Western 
analysis units. There has been some range contraction in some of the 
fringe States, including Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and 
Tennessee where the species' resilience is lowest in the northernmost 
analysis units.
    Despite the historical, large-scale commercial harvest in some 
areas and additional ongoing threats, the overall population across the 
current range is still large with an estimated 360,000 turtles (range 
of 68,000 to 1.4 million) (Service 2021, pp. 50). However, due to the 
delayed age of sexual maturity and a generation time of about 30 years, 
the species has been slow to recover from the historical harvest 
pressures. An example of the slow response is evident in a study 
conducted 22 years after alligator snapping turtle commercial harvest 
ended in Georgia; surveys conducted during 2014 and 2015 in Georgia's 
Flint River reveal no significant change in abundance since 1989 (King 
et al. 2016, entire). Thus, despite the prohibition of legal harvest of 
alligator snapping turtles in all States except Louisiana and 
Mississippi, the species has been slow to recover because it is a long-
lived species with high nest predation and relatively low fecundity.
    This past large-scale removal of large, adult turtles continues to 
affect the current demographics; however, successful reproduction is 
occurring. While the species is not currently impacted by commercial 
harvest, resiliency is lower than it was historically as a result of 
the loss of reproductive females, low juvenile survival, and the 
species' life-history traits (long-lived, late age to sexual maturity, 
low intrinsic growth rate). Regardless, the current estimated 
population size provides a sufficient contribution to the species' 
viability through successful reproduction that is adequate to sustain 
the populations across all units. Thus, after assessing the best 
available information, we conclude that the alligator snapping turtle 
is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all of its range.
    To determine if the species is likely to become an endangered 
species within the foreseeable future throughout all of its range, we 
considered the threats that will affect the species in the future and 
the species' response to those threats. According to the description 
above under Future Condition, six scenarios are considered to project 
the threats acting on the species' viability over the next 50 years; 
however, the species will decline into extirpation or quasi-extirpation 
under all six scenarios within the next 30-50 years. We can reasonably 
predict the threats acting on the species and the species' response to 
those threats within the 30- to 50-year timeframe when extirpation 
within most of the analysis units is projected. Based on this 
information, we determined the appropriate timeframe for assessing 
whether this species is likely to become in danger of extinction in the 
foreseeable future is 30-50 years. While there is inherent uncertainty 
in the modeling, we have determined we can make reliable predictions as 
to the status of the alligator snapping turtle within this timeframe. 
As our framework for determining foreseeable future articulates, 
``reliable'' does not mean ``certain;'' it means sufficient to provide 
a reasonable degree of confidence in the prediction. We have a 
reasonable degree of confidence in our status predictions, particularly 
because the species declines into extirpation or quasi-extirpation 
under even the most optimistic scenarios.
    When evaluating the future viability of the species, we found that 
the threats currently acting on the species are expected to continue 
across its range into the future, resulting in greater reduction of the 
number and distribution of reproductive individuals and continued 
effects of subsidized nest predators on nest success and juvenile 
survival. This species is highly dependent upon adult female survival 
to maintain viability. Existing and ongoing threats affecting adult 
female survival are projected to reduce recruitment to an extent that 
the species will continue to decline in the foreseeable future. While 
there is uncertainty regarding the rate at which population declines 
will occur, the threats are projected to drive the species towards 
extinction unless reduced. Additionally, the resiliency of each 
analysis unit will continue to decline and further reduce the species' 
redundancy and representation into the future. The existing regulatory 
mechanisms are not adequate to protect the species from these threats 
(Factor D).
    There are additional stressors including disease, nest parasites, 
and climate change impacts (elevated nest temperatures, increased 
flooding, increased water withdrawals, etc.). These secondary 
environmental stressors will have compounding impacts that further 
reduce the viability of the species in the foreseeable future.
    Despite the implementation of the conservation actions described 
above under Conservation Measures, the delay in the species' response 
to historical over-harvesting indicates other factors may be acting on 
the species or additional conservation actions are needed. This is 
illustrated by the future conditions projections, which include three 
conservation-based scenarios and indicate a 95 percent decline in 50 
years and quasi-extirpation in approximately

[[Page 62455]]

30 years under even the most optimistic scenario.
    The best available information shows that the species' viability is 
expected to decline with projected quasi-extirpation of most units to 
occur within the next 30 years and within the next 50 years for the 
Northern Mississippi-East unit (Service 2021, pp. 78-79). Based on 
modeling results, which address uncertainty regarding the extent and 
severity of threats, resiliency is expected to decline dramatically 
under all scenarios. Regardless of whether the projected timeframe to 
quasi-extirpation is fully accurate, the projected loss of resiliency 
across the range of the species will place the alligator snapping 
turtle at risk of extinction within the foreseeable future across all 
of its range due to the inability of this species to effectively 
reproduce and maintain viability in the coming decades in light of 
ongoing threats.
    Thus, after assessing the best available information regarding the 
threats acting on the species and the species' response as described in 
the future condition analysis (Service 2021, pp. 59-85), we conclude 
that the alligator snapping turtle is likely to become in danger of 
extinction 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 extirpation or likely to become 
so in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of 
its range. The court in Center for Biological Diversity v. Everson, 
2020 WL 437289 (D.D.C. Jan. 28, 2020) (Center for Biological 
Diversity), vacated the aspect of the Final Policy on Interpretation of 
the Phrase ``Significant Portion of Its Range'' in the Endangered 
Species Act's Definitions of ``Endangered Species'' and ``Threatened 
Species'' (79 FR 37578; July 1, 2014) that provided that the Service 
does not undertake an analysis of significant portions of a species' 
range if the species warrants listing as threatened throughout all of 
its range. Therefore, we proceed to evaluating whether the species is 
endangered in a significant portion of its range--that is, whether 
there is any portion of the species' range for which both (1) the 
portion is significant; and (2) the species is in danger of extirpation 
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.
    Following the court's holding in Center for Biological Diversity, 
we now consider whether there are any significant portions of the 
species' range where the species is in danger of extirpation now (i.e., 
endangered). In undertaking this analysis for alligator snapping 
turtle, 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.
    The statutory difference between an endangered species and a 
threatened species is the time frame in which the species becomes in 
danger of extinction; an endangered species is in danger of extinction 
now while a threatened species is not in danger of extinction now but 
is likely to become so in the foreseeable future. Thus, we reviewed the 
best scientific and commercial data available regarding the time 
horizon for the threats that are driving the alligator snapping turtle 
to warrant listing as a threatened species throughout all of its range. 
We considered whether the threats are geographically concentrated in 
any portion of the species' range in a way that would accelerate the 
time horizon for the species' exposure or response to the threats. We 
examined the following threats: Harvest (legal and poaching), fishing 
bycatch (recreational and commercial), and nest predation. We also 
considered the cumulative effects acting on the species with additional 
stressors such as disease, nest parasites, and climate change.
    After considering the threats acting on the species, we identified 
a concentration of threats in Mississippi and Louisiana due to legal 
harvest, albeit more limited in Mississippi. The three analysis units 
that overlap with these two States include the Alabama, Southern 
Mississippi-East, and Southern Mississippi-West units. The Alabama unit 
has the greatest abundance and density estimates of all seven analysis 
units, indicating this unit at the core of the range may be a 
stronghold for the species in terms of resiliency and contributing to 
the species' overall viability. The Alabama unit currently demonstrates 
high resiliency in comparison to the other units; however, due to the 
continued compounding effects of the threats acting on the species in 
the Alabama unit, resiliency will decline in the future.
    The estimated abundance within the Southern Mississippi-East unit 
is around 50,000 individuals; the major threats acting on the species 
in this unit include nest predation and harvest. Legal harvest has been 
ongoing in the Louisiana and Mississippi portions of this unit; 
however, the species is not in danger of extinction now due to the high 
abundance of turtles and augmented populations from conservation 
efforts of head-start and release programs. The historical and current 
distribution in this unit has some shifts in county and parish 
occurrences with some range contraction in western Tennessee and 
expansion in Mississippi and Louisiana (Service 2021, p. 42). 
Additionally, the species has been managed through conservation efforts 
by supplementing the population from a captive breeding program that 
raises the turtle beyond the first few years and releases them into the 
wild. Due to the current condition of the population within this unit, 
it is not currently in danger of extinction; however, the ongoing 
threats will cause the species to decline in the future.
    The Southern Mississippi-West unit has an estimated current 
abundance of 15,000 alligator snapping turtles, but impoundments have 
fragmented the habitat in this unit. About 9 percent of the unit is the 
upper northwestern part of Louisiana where legal harvest is still 
allowed. When considering the historical and current ranges, there has 
been some range contraction in some counties in Oklahoma; however, 
occurrence is unknown, meaning there have been no recent surveys or 
documented records in some of those counties. The species has become 
virtually extirpated in Kansas. The species is still found in all 
parishes in Louisiana with no changes in the historical distribution. 
In Texas, there have been changes from occupied to unknown status and 
vice versa, but no contractions of the species' range have been 
confirmed between historical and current distribution. Because the 
species is still widely distributed across this unit as described in 
the species' current condition, the population within this unit has 
sufficient resiliency such that the species is not currently in danger 
of extinction in this unit, but the ongoing threats will cause the 
species to decline in the future.
    Although the threat of legal harvest is concentrated in the 
Mississippi and Louisiana areas of the Alabama, Southern Mississippi-
East, and Southern Mississippi-West units, the best scientific and 
commercial data available do not indicate that the concentration of 
threats, or the species'

[[Page 62456]]

responses to the concentration of threats, are likely to accelerate the 
time horizon in which the species becomes in danger of extinction in 
this portion of its range. As a result, the alligator snapping turtle 
is not in danger of extinction now in this portion range of the 
species' range.
    We also considered the threat of habitat degradation and loss 
compounded with historical overharvest that has affected the species 
along the fringe areas of the range as there has been some range 
contraction in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and 
possibly in Oklahoma likely due to changes in the habitat. These areas 
are all on the fringe of the range, where conditions are likely 
marginal and more dynamic. The species does not occur in large numbers 
or densities in these areas because the core areas are associated with 
the more southern portions of the species' range. The species' 
occurrence within these areas is inherently low because of the variable 
pressures associated with dynamic conditions. The alligator snapping 
turtle is not in danger of extinction now in this portion range of the 
species' range.
    After analyzing the portions of the range where threats are 
concentrated, we found there are no significant portions of the range 
where the species is at risk of extinction and do not meet the 
definition of endangered. Therefore, we determine that the species is 
likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future 
throughout all 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 scientific and commercial data available 
indicates that the alligator snapping turtle meets the Act's definition 
of a threatened species. Therefore, we propose to list the alligator 
snapping turtle as a threatened species in accordance with sections 
3(20) and 4(a)(1) of the Act.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened species under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness and 
conservation by Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies; private 
organizations; and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the 
States and other countries and calls for recovery actions to be carried 
out for listed species. The protection required by Federal agencies and 
the prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part, 
below.
    The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered 
and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The 
goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these listed 
species so that they no longer need the protective measures of the Act. 
Subsection 4(f) of the Act calls for the Service to develop and 
implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered and 
threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the 
identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the 
species' decline by addressing the threats to its survival and 
recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a 
point where they are secure, self-sustaining, and functioning 
components of their ecosystems.
    Recovery planning consists of preparing draft and final recovery 
plans, beginning with the development of a recovery outline and making 
it available to the public subsequent to a final listing determination. 
The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation of urgent 
recovery actions and describes the process to be used to develop a 
recovery plan. The plan may be revised to address continuing or new 
threats to the species as new substantive information becomes 
available. The recovery plan also identifies recovery criteria for 
review of when a species may be ready for reclassification from 
endangered to threatened (``downlisting'') or removal from protected 
status (``delisting''), and methods for monitoring recovery progress. 
Recovery plans also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate 
their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of 
implementing recovery tasks. Recovery teams (composed of species 
experts, Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and 
stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. When 
completed, the recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the final 
recovery plan for alligator snapping turtle will be available on our 
website (http://www.fws.gov/endangered), or from our Louisiana 
Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the 
participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal 
agencies, States, Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, 
and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat 
restoration (e.g., restoration of native vegetation), research, 
protective regulations, adjustments to fishing techniques to reduce 
bycatch, captive propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and 
education. The recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished 
solely on Federal lands because their range may occur primarily or 
solely on non-Federal lands. Achieving recovery of these species 
requires cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, and Tribal 
lands.
    If the alligator snapping turtle is listed, funding for recovery 
actions will be available from a variety of sources, including Federal 
budgets, State programs, and cost share grants for non-Federal 
landowners, the academic community, and nongovernmental organizations. 
In addition, pursuant to section 6 of the Act, the States of Alabama, 
Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, 
Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas would 
be eligible for Federal funds to implement management actions that 
promote the protection or recovery of the alligator snapping turtle. 
Information on our grant programs that are available to aid species 
recovery can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/grants.
    Although the alligator snapping turtle is only proposed for listing 
under the Act at this time, please let us know if you are interested in 
participating in recovery efforts for the species. Additionally, we 
invite you to submit any new information on the species whenever it 
becomes available and any information you may have for recovery 
planning purposes (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their 
actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as an 
endangered or threatened species and with respect to its critical 
habitat, if any is designated. Regulations implementing this 
interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR 
part 402. Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with the Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of a species proposed for listing or result in 
destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a 
species is listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires 
Federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or 
carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the 
species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a 
Federal

[[Page 62457]]

action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the 
responsible Federal agency must enter into consultation with the 
Service.
    Federal agency actions within the species' habitat that may require 
conference, consultation, or both, as described in the preceding 
paragraph, may include, but are not limited to, management and any 
other landscape-altering activities on Federal lands administered by 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Forest Service; NPS; 
Department of Transportation (construction and maintenance of roads or 
highways by the Federal Highway Administration and railroads by the 
Federal Railroad Administration); National Aeronautics and Space 
Administration; Department of Defense (DOD), including issuance of 
section 404 Clean Water Act permits by the U.S. Army Corps of 
Engineers; and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (dams that produce 
hydropower).
    It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 1, 
1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent practicable at 
the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not 
constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this 
policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of a proposed 
listing on proposed and ongoing activities within the range of the 
species proposed for listing. The discussion below regarding protective 
regulations under the Act's section 4(d) complies with our policy.

II. Proposed Rule Issued Under Section 4(d) of the Act

Background

    Section 4(d) of the Act contains two sentences. The first sentence 
states in part that the Secretary shall issue such regulations as she 
deems necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of 
species listed as threatened. The U.S. Supreme Court has noted that 
statutory language like ``necessary and advisable'' demonstrates a 
large degree of deference to the agency (see Webster v. Doe, 486 U.S. 
592 (1988)). Conservation is defined in the Act to mean the use of all 
methods and procedures which are necessary to bring any endangered 
species or threatened species to the point at which the measures 
provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Additionally, the 
second sentence of section 4(d) of the Act states in part that the 
Secretary may by regulation prohibit with respect to any threatened 
species any act prohibited under section 9(a)(1), in the case of fish 
or wildlife, or section 9(a)(2), in the case of plants. Thus, the 
combination of the two sentences of section 4(d) provides the Secretary 
with wide latitude of discretion to select and promulgate appropriate 
regulations tailored to the specific conservation needs of the 
threatened species. The second sentence grants particularly broad 
discretion to the Service when adopting the prohibitions under section 
9.
    The courts have recognized the extent of the Secretary's discretion 
under this standard to develop rules that are appropriate for the 
conservation of a species. For example, courts have upheld rules 
developed under section 4(d) as a valid exercise of agency authority 
where they prohibited take of threatened wildlife or include a limited 
taking prohibition (see Alsea Valley Alliance v. Lautenbacher, 2007 
U.S. Dist. Lexis 60203 (D. Or. 2007); Washington Environmental Council 
v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 2002 U.S. Dist. Lexis 5432 (W.D. 
Wash. 2002)). Courts have also upheld 4(d) rules that do not address 
all of the threats a species faces (see State of Louisiana v. Verity, 
853 F.2d 322 (5th Cir. 1988)). As noted in the legislative history when 
the Act was initially enacted, ``once an animal is on the threatened 
list, the Secretary has an almost infinite number of options available 
to [her] with regard to the permitted activities for those species. 
[She] may, for example, permit taking, but not importation of such 
species, or [she] may choose to forbid both taking and importation but 
allow the transportation of such species'' (H.R. Rep. No. 412, 93rd 
Cong., 1st Sess. 1973).
    Exercising this authority under section 4(d), we have developed a 
proposed rule that is designed to address the alligator snapping 
turtle's conservation needs. Although the statute does not require us 
to make a ``necessary and advisable'' finding with respect to the 
adoption of specific prohibitions under section 9, we find that this 
rule as a whole satisfies the requirement in section 4(d) of the Act to 
issue regulations deemed necessary and advisable to provide for the 
conservation of the alligator snapping turtle. As discussed above under 
Summary of Biological Status and Threats, we have concluded that the 
alligator snapping turtle is likely to become in danger of extinction 
within the foreseeable future primarily due to harvest/collection, nest 
predation, habitat alteration, and bycatch (hook ingestion, 
entanglement, and drowning) associated with commercial and recreational 
fishing.
    The provisions of this proposed 4(d) rule would promote 
conservation of the alligator snapping turtle by prohibiting harvest 
and encouraging implementation of best management practices for 
activities in freshwater wetlands and riparian areas to minimize 
habitat alteration to the maximum extent practicable. The provisions of 
this proposed rule are one of many tools that we would use to promote 
the conservation of the alligator snapping turtle. This proposed 4(d) 
rule would apply only if and when we make final the listing of the 
alligator snapping turtle as a threatened species.
    Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies, including the 
Service, to ensure that any action they fund, authorize, or carry out 
is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered 
species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse 
modification of designated critical habitat of such species. In 
addition, section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with the Service on any agency action which is likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of any species proposed to be listed 
under the Act.
    If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical 
habitat, the responsible Federal agency (action agency) must enter into 
consultation with us. Examples of actions that are subject to the 
section 7 consultation process are actions on State, Tribal, local, or 
private lands that require a Federal permit (such as a permit from the 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean Water Act 
or a permit from the Service under section 10 of the Act) or that 
involve some other Federal action (such as funding from the Federal 
Highway Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, or the Federal 
Emergency Management Agency). Federal actions not affecting listed 
species or critical habitat--and actions on State, Tribal, local, or 
private lands that are not federally funded, authorized, or carried out 
by a Federal agency--do not require section 7 consultation.
    This obligation to confer on species proposed to be listed or 
engage in consultation with the Service on actions that may affect 
listed species or their critical habitat does not change in any way for 
a threatened species with a species-specific 4(d) rule. Actions that 
result in a determination by a Federal agency of ``not likely to 
adversely affect'' continue to require the Service's written 
concurrence and actions that are ``likely to adversely affect'' a 
species require formal consultation and the formulation of a biological 
opinion.

[[Page 62458]]

Provisions of the Proposed 4(d) Rule

    This proposed 4(d) rule would provide for the conservation of the 
alligator snapping turtle by prohibiting the following activities, 
except as otherwise authorized or permitted: Importing or exporting; 
take (as set forth at 50 CFR 17.21(c)(1) with exceptions as discussed 
below); possessing, selling, delivering, carrying, transporting, or 
shipping of unlawfully taken specimens from any source; delivering, 
receiving, transporting, or shipping in interstate or foreign commerce 
in the course of commercial activity; and selling or offering for sale 
in interstate or foreign commerce. We also include several exceptions 
to these prohibitions, which along with the prohibitions are set forth 
under Proposed Regulation Promulgation, below.
    Under the Act, ``take'' means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, 
wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any 
such conduct. Some of these provisions have been further defined in 
regulation at 50 CFR 17.3. Take can result knowingly or otherwise, by 
direct and indirect impacts, intentionally or incidentally. This 
proposed 4(d) rule would provide for the conservation of alligator 
snapping turtle by prohibiting intentional and incidental take, except 
as otherwise authorized or permitted. Prohibiting take of the species 
resulting from activities, including, but not limited to, harvest 
(legal and poaching), hook ingestions and entanglement due to bycatch 
associated with commercial and recreational fishing practices for 
freshwater fish (particularly as a result of unlawful activities and/or 
abandonment of equipment), and habitat alteration, will provide for the 
conservation of the species. Regulating take associated with these 
activities under a 4(d) rule would prevent continued declines in 
population abundance and decrease synergistic, negative effects from 
other threats; this regulatory approach will provide for the 
conservation of the species by improving resiliency within all seven 
analysis units.

Prohibitions

    Due to the life-history characteristics of the alligator snapping 
turtle, specifically delayed maturity, long generation times, and 
relatively low reproductive output, this species cannot sustain 
significant collection from the wild, especially of adult females (Reed 
et al. 2002, pp. 8-12). An adult female harvest rate of more than 2 
percent per year is considered unsustainable, and harvest of this 
magnitude or greater will result in significant local population 
declines (Reed et al. 2002, p. 9). Louisiana and Mississippi allow 
recreational harvest of alligator snapping turtles; all other States 
within the species' range prohibit commercial and recreational harvest 
of the species. Due to the species' demography, however, the overall 
population has not recovered from prior extensive loss of individuals 
from past over-exploitation. While current recruitment is sufficient to 
maintain viability, continued harvest, combined with other stressors, 
will eventually result in quasi-extinction. Therefore, this proposed 
4(d) rule would prohibit collection and harvest (with some exceptions 
as described below).
    Habitat alteration is also a concern for the alligator snapping 
turtle, as the species is endemic to river systems that drain into the 
Gulf of Mexico, including tributary waterbodies and associated wetland 
habitats (e.g., swamps, lakes, reservoirs, etc.), where structure 
(e.g., tree root masses, stumps, submerged trees, etc.) and a high 
percentage of canopy cover is more often selected over open water 
(Howey and Dinkelacker 2009, p. 589). Alligator snapping turtles spend 
the majority of their time in aquatic habitat; overland movements are 
generally restricted to nesting females and juveniles moving from the 
nest to water (Reed at al. 2002, p. 5). The primary causes for habitat 
alteration include actions that change hydrologic conditions to the 
extent that dispersal and genetic interchange are impeded.
    Activities that may alter the habitat include dredging, deadhead 
logging, clearing and snagging, removal of riparian cover, 
channelization, instream activities that result in stream bank erosion 
and siltation (e.g., stream crossings, bridge replacements, flood 
control structures, etc.), and changes in land use within the riparian 
zone of waterbodies (e.g., clearing land for agriculture). Deadhead 
logs and fallen riparian woody debris provide refugia during low-water 
periods (Enge et al. 2014, p. 40), resting areas for all life stages 
(Ewert et al. 2006, p. 62), and important feeding areas for hatchlings 
and juveniles. The species' habitat needs concentrate around a 
freshwater ecosystem that supplies both shallower water for hatchlings 
and juveniles and deeper water for adults, with associated forested 
habitat that is free from inundation for nesting and provides structure 
within the waterbody. The species can tolerate some brackish 
conditions; however, freshwater provides higher quality habitat.

Exceptions to the Prohibitions

    The exceptions to the prohibitions set forth in this proposed 4(d) 
rule include activities conducted as authorized by a permit issued 
under 50 CFR 17.32 for threatened species, as well as certain actions 
taken by an employee or agent of the Service, of the National Marine 
Fisheries Service, or of a State conservation agency that is operating 
a conservation program in accordance with 50 CFR 17.31(b), as discussed 
later in this document. In addition, this proposed 4(d) rule includes 
some of the general exceptions allowed for take of endangered wildlife 
as set forth at 50 CFR 17.21 (see the rule portion of this document) 
and certain other specific activities that we propose for exception, as 
described below.
    We are proposing to except certain activities involving specimens 
originating from captive breeding operations, for conservation or 
commercial purposes, if the captive breeding operations meet the 
necessary requirements. We are also proposing to except take incidental 
to construction, operation, and maintenance activities using 
appropriate BMPs; pesticide and herbicide use; silviculture practices 
and forestry activities that implement industry and/or State-approved 
BMPs accordingly; and maintenance dredging that affects previously 
disturbed portions of the maintained channel.
    Captive breeding for conservation--The Service recognizes that 
captive breeding provides for the species' conservation (i.e., captive 
rearing, head-starting, and reintroductions) by supplementing depleted 
populations and reintroducing turtles to areas where the species has 
been extirpated. This includes head-starting programs, where turtles 
are bred and raised beyond the hatchling phase to improve survival, 
then released into the wild. Captive rearing for the purposes of head-
starting hatchlings to release back into the wild can help mitigate 
losses from nest predation and parasitic insects, as well as provide 
individuals for reintroduction into areas with depleted turtle numbers. 
Such activities can help bolster population numbers by improving 
overall juvenile survival and may also increase genetic diversity. When 
brood stock is legally acquired and permitted, with proper pedigree 
management and disease surveillance, Federal and State agencies can 
implement head-start programs without putting undue stress on the wild 
population.
    All captive production programs for the purpose of reintroducing 
alligator snapping turtles to the wild must also

[[Page 62459]]

develop a controlled propagation plan in accordance with the Service's 
Policy Regarding Controlled Propagation of Species Listed under the 
Endangered Species Act (65 FR 56916; September 20, 2000). In addition, 
captive breeding for conservation purposes should apply kinship-based 
pedigree management to avoid consequences of inbreeding or 
inadvertently introducing turtles with deleterious alleles into the 
wild population. Thus, incidental take associated with Federal and 
State captive-breeding programs to support conservation efforts for 
wild populations (i.e., head-starting) would be excepted from the 
prohibitions when conducted using permitted brood stock and following 
approved turtle husbandry practices in accordance with State 
regulations and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy.
    State-authorized farming/captive breeding programs--The Service 
recognizes that turtle farming can alleviate harvest of wild stock and 
provides a means to serve international markets without affecting wild 
populations in the future. Therefore, existing State-authorized farming 
operations using captive brood stock or otherwise legally acquired 
turtles prior to the listing of the species would be excepted. We will 
work with States to ensure an appropriate mechanism for identifying, 
marking, and tracking captive brood stock to differentiate them from 
wild stock. Without a system to identify alligator snapping turtles 
that have originated from these operations, we will not be able to 
finalize such an exception, as there will not be a way to distinguish 
captive-bred from wild-caught alligator snapping turtles.
    This 4(d) rule would allow individuals to take; deliver, receive, 
carry, transport or ship in interstate commerce, in the course of a 
commercial activity; or sell or offer for sale in interstate commerce 
alligator snapping turtle specimens that meet the definitions of 
``captive-bred'' or ``bred in captivity'' in 50 CFR 17.3 and the 
definitions and requirements in 50 CFR part 23 (see 50 CFR 23.5 and 
23.24) if the specimen originated in a State-approved facility. It also 
allows individuals to import; export; deliver, receive, carry, 
transport, or ship in foreign commerce and in the course of a 
commercial activity; or sell or offer to sell in foreign commerce dead 
specimens of alligator snapping turtle that are otherwise lawfully 
taken. We are not currently proposing to allow foreign commerce and 
foreign trade of live specimens, in an effort to further ensure that 
wild specimens are not laundered through the black market and 
international trade. However, we seek public comment on whether such an 
exception may be appropriate if a mechanism is developed for 
identifying captive-bred specimens.
    Any person wishing to exercise this exception would have to 
maintain documentation to demonstrate that the specimen was legally 
acquired and held in captivity prior to the effective date of the final 
rule listing the alligator snapping turtle. Such documentation may 
include a bill of sale or other receipts, including the State permit 
information for the source facility; record of pedigree of pit-tagged 
or uniquely identified, marked turtles with State permit from the 
source facility; accession records; CITES documents; or wildlife 
declaration forms dated prior to the specified dates. Also, the 
activity must not be prohibited by either the State or Tribe where the 
taking occurs or by the State or Tribe where the specimen is sold or 
otherwise transferred. Finally, the specimens held by a person claiming 
the benefit of this exception would have to be managed in a manner that 
prevents hybridization of the species or subspecies and in a manner 
that maintains genetic diversity.
    Best management practices for implementing actions that occur near 
or in a stream--Implementing best management practices to avoid and/or 
minimize the effects of habitat alterations in areas that support 
alligator snapping turtles would provide additional measures for 
conserving the species by reducing direct and indirect effects to the 
species. We considered that certain construction, forestry, and 
pesticide/herbicide management activities that occur near and in a 
stream may result in removal of riparian cover or forested habitat, 
changes in land use within the riparian zone, or stream bank erosion 
and/or siltation. These actions andactivities may have some minimal 
leveloftake of the alligator snapping turtle, but any such take 
isexpected to be rare and insignificant, and is not expected to 
negatively impact the species' conservation and recovery efforts.
    Construction, operation, and maintenance activities, such as 
installation of stream crossings, replacement of existing instream 
structures (e.g., bridges, culverts, water control structures, boat 
launches, etc.), operation and maintenance of existing flood control 
features (or other existing structures), and directional boring, when 
implemented with industry and State-approved standard best management 
practices, will have minimal impacts to alligator snapping turtles and 
their habitat. In addition, we recognize that silvicultural operations 
are widely implemented in accordance with State-approved BMPs (Cristan 
et al. 2018, entire), and the adherence to these BMPs broadly preserves 
water quality standards, particularly related to sedimentation (Cristan 
et al. 2016, entire; Warrington et al. 2017, entire), to an extent that 
does not impair the species' conservation. Lastly, invasive species 
removal activities, particularly through pesticide and herbicide 
application, are considered beneficial to the native ecosystem and are 
likely to improve habitat conditions for the species; therefore, 
pesticide and herbicide application that follow the chemical label and 
appropriate application rates would not impair the species' 
conservation. These activities should have minimal impacts to alligator 
snapping turtles if industry and/or State-approved BMPs are 
implemented. These activities and management practices should be 
carried out in accordance with any existing regulations, permit and 
label requirements, and best management practices to avoid or minimize 
impacts to the species and its habitat.
    Thus, under this proposed 4(d) rule, incidental take associated 
with the following best management practiced and activities would be 
excepted:
    (1) Construction, operation, and maintenance activities that occur 
near and in a stream, such as installation of stream crossings, 
replacement of existing instream structures (e.g., bridges, culverts, 
water control structures, boat launches, etc.), operation and 
maintenance of existing flood control features (or other existing 
structures), and directional boring, when implemented with industry 
and/or State-approved BMPs for construction.
    (2) Pesticide and herbicide application that follows the chemical 
label and appropriate application rates.
    (3) Silviculture practices and forest management activities that 
use State-approved BMPs to protect water and sediment quality and 
stream and riparian habitat.
    Maintenance dredging of navigable waterways--We considered that 
maintenance dredging activities generally disturb the same area of the 
waterbody in each cycle; thus, there is less likelihood that suitable 
turtle habitat (e.g., submerged logs, cover, etc.) occurs in the 
maintained portion of the channel. Accordingly, incidental take 
associated with maintenance dredging activities that occur within the 
previously disturbed portion of the navigable waterway would be 
excepted from the prohibitions as long as these

[[Page 62460]]

activities do not encroach upon suitable turtle habitat outside the 
maintained portion of the channel and provide for the conservation of 
the species.
    Tribal employees--Under the exceptions in this proposed 4(d) rule, 
when acting in the course of their official duties, Tribal employees 
designated by the Tribe for such purposes, working in the range of the 
species, would be able to take alligator snapping turtles for the 
following purposes:
    (A) Aiding or euthanizing sick or injured alligator snapping 
turtles;
    (B) Disposing of a dead specimen; and
    (C) Salvaging a dead specimen that may be used for scientific 
study.
    Such take would have to be reported to the local Service field 
office within 72 hours, and specimens would have to be retained or 
disposed of only in accordance with directions from the Service.
    State-licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities--Under the 
exceptions in this proposed 4(d) rule, when acting in the course of 
their official duties, State-licensed wildlife rehabilitation 
facilities would be able to take alligator snapping turtles for the 
purpose of aiding or euthanizing sick or injured alligator snapping 
turtles. Such take would have to be reported to the local Service field 
office within 72 hours, and specimens would have to be retained and 
disposed of only in accordance with directions from the Service.
    We are also considering an exception for incidental take of the 
alligator snapping turtle associated with bycatch from otherwise lawful 
recreational and commercial fishing. We note that alligator snapping 
turtle bycatch from recreational and commercial fishing with hoop nets 
and trot lines (and varieties including jug lines, bush hooks, and limb 
lines) is a concern for the conservation of the species due to its 
effects on species abundance, particularly in light of the species' 
life-history traits. However, there is limited information on the 
magnitude and on the temporal and spatial distribution of this threat 
across the species' range. It is important to ensure that fishing 
activities take into consideration the need to prevent accidental 
turtle deaths from the use of such fishing gear, and we will work with 
the States to identify measures and revisions to existing regulations 
to reduce bycatch of alligator snapping turtle. If we conclude that the 
measures and/or revisions to existing regulations would provide for the 
conservation of the species, we may include a provision in the final 
4(d) rule excepting incidental take associated with legal recreational 
or commercial fishing activities for other targeted species, in 
compliance with State regulations, if such an exception is appropriate 
in light of comments and new information we receive during the comment 
period on this proposed rule (see DATES, above).
    Also, to better understand threats associated with bycatch related 
to otherwise lawful fishing, we are considering adding a provision to 
the 4(d) rule that would require reporting within 72 hours of all 
injured or dead alligator snapping turtles resulting from bycatch from 
recreational or commercial fishing (for other targeted species) in 
accordance with State regulations and the relevant information provided 
to the Service. We specifically request comments on the additional 4(d) 
rule exception and provision that we are considering.
    Future conservation efforts may be possible through advances in 
fishing gear technology that implement effective turtle escape or 
exclusion devices for hoop nets or modified trot lines (including limb 
lines and jug lines) that would reduce or eliminate turtle bycatch. 
Thus, we are requesting information from the public regarding new 
technology, design of a turtle escape, or exclusion device and modified 
trot line techniques that would effectively eliminate or significantly 
reduce bycatch of alligator snapping turtles from recreational fishing. 
We would particularly appreciate input from the commercial and 
recreational fishing communities. Our intent is to allow exceptions to 
incidental take for recreational and commercial fishing bycatch pending 
new technologies and regulations that may be applied to reduce the 
threat to the species; we are relying on input during the public 
comment period to further address bycatch incidental take.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities, 
including those described above, involving threatened wildlife under 
certain circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 
CFR 17.32. With regard to threatened wildlife, a permit may be issued 
for the following purposes: For scientific purposes, to enhance 
propagation or survival, for economic hardship, for zoological 
exhibition, for educational purposes, for incidental taking, or for 
special purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act. The statue 
also contains certain exemptions from the prohibitions, which are found 
in sections 9 and 10 of the Act.
    We recognize the special and unique relationship with our State 
natural resource agency partners in contributing to conservation of 
listed species. State agencies often possess scientific data and 
valuable expertise on the status and distribution of endangered, 
threatened, and candidate species of wildlife and plants. State 
agencies, because of their authorities and their close working 
relationships with local governments and landowners, are in a unique 
position to assist the Service in implementing all aspects of the Act. 
In this regard, section 6 of the Act provides that the Service shall 
cooperate to the maximum extent practicable with the States in carrying 
out programs authorized by the Act. Therefore, any qualified employee 
or agent of a State conservation agency that is a party to a 
cooperative agreement with the Service in accordance with section 6(c) 
of the Act, who is designated by his, her, or their agency for such 
purposes, would be able to conduct activities designed to conserve 
alligator snapping turtle that may result in otherwise prohibited take 
without additional authorization.
    Nothing in this proposed 4(d) rule would change in any way the 
recovery planning provisions of section 4(f) of the Act, the 
consultation requirements under section 7 of the Act, or the ability of 
the Service to enter into partnerships for the management and 
protection of the alligator snapping turtle. However, interagency 
cooperation may be further streamlined through planned programmatic 
consultations for the species between Federal agencies and the Service, 
where appropriate. We ask the public, particularly State agencies, 
Tribes, and other interested stakeholders that may be affected by the 
proposed 4(d) rule, to provide comments and suggestions regarding 
additional guidance and methods that the Service could provide or use, 
respectively, to streamline the implementation of this proposed 4(d) 
rule (see Information Requested, above).

III. Critical Habitat

Background

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

[[Page 62461]]

determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the 
species.
    Our regulations at 50 CFR 424.02 define the geographical area 
occupied by the species as an area that may generally be delineated 
around species' occurrences, as determined by the Secretary (i.e., 
range). Such areas may include those areas used throughout all or part 
of the species' life cycle, even if not used on a regular basis (e.g., 
migratory corridors, seasonal habitats, and habitats used periodically, 
but not solely by vagrant individuals).
    Conservation, as defined under section 3 of the Act, means to use 
and the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring 
an endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures 
provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Such methods and 
procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated 
with scientific resources management such as research, census, law 
enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live 
trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where 
population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise 
relieved, may include regulated taking.
    Section 4 of the Act requires that we designate critical habitat on 
the basis of the best scientific data available. Further, our Policy on 
Information Standards Under the Endangered Species Act (published in 
the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34271)), the Information 
Quality Act (section 515 of the Treasury and General Government 
Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Pub. L. 106-554; H.R. 5658)), 
and our associated Information Quality Guidelines provide criteria, 
establish procedures, and provide guidance to ensure that our decisions 
are based on the best scientific data available. They require our 
biologists, to the extent consistent with the Act and with the use of 
the best scientific data available, to use primary and original sources 
of information as the basis for recommendations to designate critical 
habitat.

Prudency Determination

    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12), require that, to the maximum extent 
prudent and determinable, the Secretary shall designate critical 
habitat at the time the species is determined to be an endangered or 
threatened species. Our regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)) state that 
the Secretary may, but is not required to, determine that a designation 
would not be prudent in the following circumstances:
    (i) The species is threatened by taking or other human activity and 
identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the 
degree of such threat to the species;
    (ii) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of a species' habitat or range is not a threat to the 
species, or threats to the species' habitat stem solely from causes 
that cannot be addressed through management actions resulting from 
consultations under section 7(a)(2) of the Act;
    (iii) Areas within the jurisdiction of the United States provide no 
more than negligible conservation value, if any, for a species 
occurring primarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States;
    (iv) No areas meet the definition of critical habitat; or
    (v) The Secretary otherwise determines that designation of critical 
habitat would not be prudent based on the best scientific data 
available.
    In our SSA and proposed listing determination for the alligator 
snapping turtle, we determined that the present or threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range is a 
threat to the species and that those threats in some way can be 
addressed by section 7(a)(2) consultation measures. The species occurs 
wholly in the jurisdiction of the United States, and we are able to 
identify areas that meet the definition of critical habitat.
    However, as discussed earlier in this document, collection and/or 
vandalism has been identified as a threat to this species. The 
alligator snapping turtle is declining throughout its range as a 
consequence of factors including collection of live adult turtles from 
the wild for human consumption and for the pet trade. Adult alligator 
snapping turtles are harvested for local human consumption and for use 
in the specialty meat trade both domestically and internationally.
    It is unclear, however, whether identification and mapping of 
critical habitat would increase the degree of such threat to the 
alligator snapping turtle. Accordingly, we seek comment on whether the 
designation of critical habitat may not be prudent because it would 
more widely announce the exact locations of alligator snapping turtles 
and their highly suitable habitat which could facilitate poaching, 
thereby exacerbating the threat of collection and contributing to 
further declines of the species' viability.
    Therefore, because we are seeking comment on whether the 
identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the 
degree of taking as a result of human activity, but we find that none 
of the other circumstances enumerated in our regulations at 50 CFR 
424.12(a)(1) have been met, we determine that the designation of 
critical habitat may be prudent for the alligator snapping turtle.

Critical Habitat Determinability

    Having determined that critical habitat may be prudent, under 
section 4(a)(3) of the Act we consider whether critical habitat for the 
alligator snapping turtle is determinable. Our regulations at 50 CFR 
424.12(a)(2) state that critical habitat is not determinable when one 
or both of the following situations exist:
    (i) Data sufficient to perform required analyses are lacking, or
    (ii) The biological needs of the species are not sufficiently well 
known to identify any area that meets the definition of ``critical 
habitat.''
    For the alligator snapping turtle, the species' needs are 
sufficiently well known. However, information sufficient to perform the 
required analyses are lacking because we have not determined the extent 
to which critical habitat may be prudent. Therefore, we find 
designation of critical habitat for the alligator snapping turtle is 
not determinable at this time. The Act allows the Service an additional 
year to publish a critical habitat designation that is not determinable 
at the time of listing (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(6)(C)(ii)).

Required Determinations

Clarity of the Rule

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

[[Page 62462]]

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 regulations adopted pursuant to section 
4(a) of the Endangered Species Act. We published a notice outlining our 
reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 
1983 (48 FR 49244). This position was upheld by the U.S. Court of 
Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Douglas County v. Babbitt, 48 F.3d 1495 
(9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied 516 U.S. 1042 (1996)).

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994 
(Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments; 59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175 (Consultation and 
Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments), and the Department of the 
Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our 
responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal 
Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with 
Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, 
Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), 
we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with 
Tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge 
that Tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal 
public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make 
information available to Tribes.
    Upon the initiation of the SSA process, we contacted Tribes within 
the range of the alligator snapping turtle and additional Tribes of 
interest to inform them of our intent to complete an SSA for the 
species that would inform the species' 12-month finding. In addition, 
as described above under Tribal employees, the proposed 4(d) rule would 
authorize certain take by Tribes. As we move forward with this listing 
process, we will continue to consult with Tribes on a government-to-
government basis as necessary.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available 
on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-
2021-0115 and by mailed request from the Louisiana Ecological Services 
Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authors

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

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

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

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

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

PART 17--ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS

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

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

0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by adding an entry for ``Turtle, alligator 
snapping'' to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 
alphabetical order under Reptiles to read as follows:


Sec.  17.11   Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                          Listing citations and
           Common name               Scientific name        Where listed       Status       applicable rules
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
             Reptiles
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
Turtle, alligator snapping.......  Macrochelys          Wherever found.....         T   [Federal Register
                                    temminckii.                                          CITATION OF THE FINAL
                                                                                         RULE]; 50 CFR
                                                                                         17.42(o).\4d\
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
3. As proposed to be amended at 85 FR 61700 (September 30, 2020) and 86 
FR 18014 (April 7, 2021), Sec.  17.42 is further amended by adding 
paragraph (o) to read as follows:


Sec.  17.42   Special rules--reptiles.

* * * * *
    (o) Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii).
    (1) Prohibitions. The following prohibitions that apply to 
endangered wildlife also apply to alligator snapping turtle. Except as 
provided under paragraphs (o)(2) and (3) of this section and Sec. Sec.  
17.4 and 17.5, it is unlawful for any person subject to the 
jurisdiction of the United States to commit, to attempt to commit, to 
solicit another to commit, or cause to be committed, any of the 
following acts in regard to this species:
    (i) Import or export, as set forth at Sec.  17.21(b) for endangered 
wildlife.
    (ii) Take, as set forth at Sec.  17.21(c)(1) for endangered 
wildlife.
    (iii) Possession and other acts with unlawfully taken specimens, as 
set forth at Sec.  17.21(d)(1) for endangered wildlife.
    (iv) Interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial 
activity, as set forth at Sec.  17.21(e) for endangered wildlife.
    (v) Sale or offer for sale, as set forth at Sec.  17.21(f) for 
endangered wildlife.
    (2) General exceptions from prohibitions. In regard to this 
species, you may:
    (i) Conduct activities as authorized by a permit under Sec.  17.32.
    (ii) Take, as set forth at Sec.  17.21(c)(2) through (c)(4) for 
endangered wildlife.
    (iii) Take as set forth at Sec.  17.31(b).
    (iv) Possess and engage in other acts with unlawfully taken 
wildlife, as set forth at Sec.  17.21(d)(2) for endangered wildlife.
    (v) Federal and State captive-breeding programs to support 
conservation efforts for wild populations that use permitted brood 
stock and approved turtle husbandry practices in accordance with

[[Page 62463]]

State regulations and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy.
    (vi) Take; export; import; delivery, receipt, carrying, transport, 
or shipment in interstate or foreign commerce, in the course of a 
commercial activity; or sale or offer for sale in interstate or foreign 
commerce specimens that meet the definition of ``captive-bred'' or 
``bred in captivity'' at Sec.  17.3 and the definitions and 
requirements in 50 CFR part 23 for Convention on International Trade in 
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) source codes ``C'' 
(Bred-in-captivity) or ``F'' (Captive-bred) (see 50 CFR 23.5 and 
23.24), if they originated in a State-approved captive breeding 
facility and provided that all of the following requirements are met:
    (A) Take is authorized in accordance with the laws and regulations 
of the State or Tribe where the taking occurs.
    (B) Delivery, receipt, carrying, transport, or shipment in 
interstate commerce and in the course of a commercial activity, or sale 
or offer for sale in interstate commerce, is only authorized if the 
activity is conducted in accordance with the laws and regulations of 
the State or Tribe in which the taking occurs and the State or Tribe in 
which the sale or transfer occurs. The activity must not be prohibited 
by either the State or Tribe where the taking occurs or the State or 
Tribe where the specimen is sold or otherwise transferred.
    (C) Import; export; delivery, receipt, carrying, transport, or 
shipment in foreign commerce and in the course of a commercial 
activity; or sale or offer for sale in foreign commerce is only 
authorized with dead specimens taken in accordance with paragraph 
(o)(2)(vi)(A) of this section, and only if trade in the specimen meets 
the requirements of parts 13, 14, and 23 of this chapter. This 
exception does not apply to gametes, eggs, or live alligator snapping 
turtles.
    (D) Any specimens that do not qualify as ``captive-bred'' or ``bred 
in captivity'' (e.g., any specimens taken from the wild) may only be 
used by captive breeding operations as parental stock (or broodstock), 
and only if the specimens were legally acquired and held in captivity 
prior to the effective date of the final rule. You must maintain 
documentation to demonstrate that the specimen was legally acquired and 
held in captivity prior to the effective date of the final rule. Such 
documentation may include a bill of sale or other receipt that includes 
the State permit information for the source facility, record of 
pedigree of pit-tagged or uniquely identified, marked turtles with 
State permit from the source facility, accession records, CITES 
documents, or wildlife declaration forms that must be dated prior to 
the specified dates.
    (E) All gametes, eggs, and live specimens of the species held by a 
person claiming the benefit of an exception under this paragraph 
(o)(2)(vi) of this section must be managed in a manner that prevents 
hybridization of the species or subspecies and in a manner that 
maintains genetic diversity.
    (F) Each person claiming the benefit of an exception under this 
paragraph (o)(2)(vi) of this section must maintain accurate written 
records of activities, including of any birth, death, take, possession, 
transportation, sale, purchase, barter, exportation, importation, and 
any other transfers of specimens. Any person claiming the benefit of an 
exception in paragraph (o)(2)(vi)(C) of this section must also maintain 
accurate written records as are otherwise required to be maintained by 
all import/export licensees under part 14 of this subchapter. Such 
records shall be maintained as in the normal course of business, 
reproducible in the English language, and retained for a minimum of 5 
years from the date of each transaction. Subject to applicable 
limitations of law, duly authorized officers at all reasonable times 
shall be afforded access to inspect any wildlife or plant held or to 
inspect, audit, or copy any permits, books, or records required to be 
kept by regulations of this subchapter B.
    (vii) When acting in the course of their official duties, Tribal 
employees designated by the Tribe for such purposes may take alligator 
snapping turtle for the following purposes:
    (A) Aiding or euthanizing sick or injured alligator snapping 
turtles;
    (B) Disposing of a dead specimen; and
    (C) Salvaging a dead specimen that may be used for scientific 
study.
    (viii) State-licensed wildlife rehabilitation facilities, when 
acting in the course of their official duties, may take alligator 
snapping turtle for the purpose of aiding or euthanizing sick or 
injured alligator snapping turtles.
    (ix) Take carried out under paragraphs (o)(2)(vii) and (viii) of 
this section must be reported to the local Service field office within 
72 hours, and specimens may be retained or disposed of only in 
accordance with directions from the Service.
    (3) Exceptions from prohibitions for specific types of incidental 
take. You may take alligator snapping turtle while carrying out the 
following legally conducted activities in accordance with this 
paragraph (o)(3):
    (i) Construction, operation, and maintenance activities that occur 
near and in a stream, such as installation of stream crossings, 
replacement of existing instream structures (e.g., bridges, culverts, 
water control structures, boat launches, etc.), operation and 
maintenance of existing flood control features (or other existing 
structures), and directional boring, when implemented with industry 
and/or State-approved best management practices for construction.
    (ii) Pesticide and herbicide application that follows the chemical 
label and appropriate application rates.
    (iii) Silviculture practices and forest management activities that 
use State-approved best management practices to protect water and 
sediment quality and stream and riparian habitat.
    (iv) Maintenance dredging activities that remain in the previously 
disturbed portion of a maintained channel.

Martha Williams,
Principal Deputy Director, Exercising the Delegated Authority of the 
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2021-23994 Filed 11-8-21; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4333-15-P