During the last week of its fiscal year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) made several findings under section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) to meet its obligations under the 2011 listing settlement workplan.  Below is a brief summary of these findings.

On September 29, 2015, the Service published a proposed rule to list four plant species from South Florida (specifically Miami-Dade and Monroe counties).  These include the Big Pine partridge pea (Chamaecrista lineata var. keyensis), the wedge spurge (Chamaesyce deltoidea ssp. Serpyllum) the sand flax (Linum arenicola), and Blodgett’s silverbush (Argythamnia blodgettii).  The proposed rule designates the Big Pine partridge pea, the wedge spurge, and the sand flax as endangered species, and the Blodgett’s silverbush as a threatened species.   The proposed rule identifies several threats to these four species, including habitat loss and modification through urban and agricultural development, lack of adequate fire management, the proliferation of nonnative invasive plants, stochastic events (hurricanes and storm surge), maintenance practices on roadsides and disturbed sites, and sea level rise.  The Service has indicated that the public comment period for this proposed rule ends November 30, 2015.

On September 30, 2015, the Service published a proposed rule to list the eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) as a threatened species.  The rattlesnake’s range includes portions of New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, and Ontario, Canada.  Its habitat during its active season is typically higher, drier, habitats, open canopy wetlands, and adjacent upland areas, but can be found widely, including in oil fields.  During inactive periods or hibernation, the rattlesnake will move to lower, wet areas.  The Service identified the primary risk to the rattlesnake as habitat loss and fragmentation, particularly through development and vegetative succession, road mortality, hydrologic alteration, persecution, collection , and mortality of individuals as a result of prescribed fire and mowing.  The Service has indicated that the public comment period for this proposed rule ends November 30, 2015.

On October 1, 2015, the Service published its final rule designating critical habitat for the Dakota Skipper (Hesperia dacotae) and the Poweshiek Skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek), two butterflies occurring in the Upper Plains and Midwest.   The proposed critical habitat includes approximately 19, 903 acres in North and South Dakota for the Dakota Skipper and approximately 25,888 acres in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin for the Poweshiek skipperling.  Dakota skippers are obligate residents of undisturbed, high-quality prairie.   Poweshiek skipperlings have a wider array of habitat types, including high-quality prairie fens, grassy lake and stream margins, undisturbed moist meadows, and wet-mesic to dry tallgrass undisturbed prairies.  The Service includes unoccupied areas in both species’ proposed critical habitat designations, positing that existing occupied areas are insufficient for conservation of these two species.  The final rule becomes effective November 2, 2015.