Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
We intend that any final action resulting from this proposal will be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or suggestions on this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments concerning:
(1) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning any threats (or lack thereof) to this species and regulations that may be addressing those threats.
(2) Additional information concerning the range, distribution, and population size of this species, including the locations of any additional populations of this species.
(3) Any information on the biological or ecological requirements of the species.
(4) Current or planned activities in the areas occupied by the species and possible impacts of these activities on this species.
You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in the
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Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection on
Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires us to make a finding (known as a “90-day finding”) on whether a petition to add a species to, remove a species from, or reclassify a species on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants has presented substantial information indicating that the requested action may be warranted. To the maximum extent practicable, the finding must be made within 90 days following receipt of the petition and published promptly in the
On May 6, 1991, we received a petition (hereafter referred to as the 1991 petition) from the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP) to add 53 species of foreign birds to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (50 CFR 17.11(h)), including the medium tree finch, which is the subject of this proposed rule. In response to the 1991 petition, we published a positive 90-day finding on December 16, 1991 (56 FR 65207), for all 53 species, and announced the initiation of a status review. On March 28, 1994 (59 FR 14496), we published a 12-month finding on the 1991 petition, along with a proposed rule to list 30 African birds under the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531
On May 21, 2004 (69 FR 29354) and April 23, 2007 (72 FR 20184), we published in the
Per the Service's listing priority guidelines (September 21, 1983; 48 FR 43098), our 2007 annual notice of review (ANOR) (April 23, 2007; 72 FR 20184) identified the listing priority numbers (LPNs) (ranging from 1 to 12) for all outstanding foreign species, including the medium tree finch, which was designated with an LPN of 11. The medium tree finch does not represent a monotypic genus. As reported in the 2007 ANOR, the magnitude of threat to the species was moderate, as the species was common in the forested highlands and its habitat had not been highly degraded. The immediacy of threat was not imminent because the species' habitat is protected by the area's National Park and World Heritage Site status.
On January 23, 2008, the United States District Court ordered the Service to propose listing rules for five foreign bird species, actions which had been previously determined to be warranted but precluded: Andean flamingo (
On July 29, 2008 (73 FR 44062), we published in the
The medium tree finch (
Floreana, one of the 19 principal islands that make up the Galapagos archipelago (McEwen 1988, p. 234), is 173 square kilometers (km
The medium tree finch mainly occurs in the moist highland forests (
On Floreana, the
A large amount of the
According to Stotz
The peak breeding season for the medium tree finch is February-April (O'Connor
According to BirdLife International (2008), the current range of the medium tree finch is estimated to be 23 km
Population numbers of this species are poorly known, with an indirect estimation at 1,000 to 2,499 birds in the year 2000 (BirdLife International 2008). Fessl
The medium tree finch is identified as a “critically endangered” species under Ecuadorian law, Decree No. 3,516—Unified Text of the Secondary Legislation of the Ministry of Environment (ECOLEX 2003b). This poorly known species is considered “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because it has a very small range and is restricted to a single island where introduced species are considered a potential threat to the species and its habitat (BirdLife International 2008).
Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424, set forth the procedures for adding species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. A species may be determined to be an endangered or threatened species due to one or more of the five factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act. The five factors are: (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; and (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.
Floreana has the longest history of human habitation of any of the Galapagos Islands (Fitter
The medium tree finch prefers to nest and forage in the tree
Birds, such as the medium tree finch, are currently facing problems in the highlands of inhabited islands like Floreana, due to the extensive destruction and degradation of habitat resulting from agriculture (BirdLife International 2008; Castro and Phillips 1996, pp. 22-23; Fitter
Introduced species are currently considered a major threat to the native species of the Galapagos Islands (Causton
When settlers arrived on the Galapagos Islands, they brought with them domestic animals, some of which escaped and started feral populations (Jackson 1985, p. 233). On Floreana, introduced animals include goats (
Introduced animals magnify the detrimental effects of clearing large areas of native vegetation on Floreana for agriculture and ranching (Grant 1986, p. 30), by further degrading and destroying the habitat (Grant
Goats adapt to varying conditions extremely well, and they thrive at all elevations on the Galapagos Islands (Schofield 1989, p. 229), from the arid lowlands to the moist highlands (Fitter
Goats destroy native vegetation by eating plants down to the ground (Smith 2005, p. 304), converting forests into barren grasslands and causing erosion (Charles Darwin Research Station 2006a). Their ability to eat almost anything has allowed goats to quickly eat their way across an island (Smith 2005, p. 304). A study of goats on Santiago Island in the Galapagos showed that at higher elevations, grazing by goats had eliminated young trees of
As a result of the success of Project Isabela, the Charles Darwin Foundation is planning several projects, in partnership with the Galapagos National Park Service, including eradication of goats and donkeys from Floreana (Charles Darwin Foundation n.d.(c)). In December 2006, the Galapagos National Park started a project with the goal of restoring the ecology of Floreana (Galapagos Conservation Trust News 2007). The first phase of “Project Floreana” is to eradicate some of the introduced animals, such as goats and donkeys, in order to stop the continuing degradation of the vegetation of the island and allow some of the native and endemic plant species to recover (Galapagos Conservation Trust News 2007).
From the experience gained during Project Isabela, the program was able to eradicate 98 percent of the donkeys and goats on Floreana in 22 days (Galapagos Conservation Trust News 2007). Currently, goats have been unofficially eradicated from Floreana; however, the elimination of donkeys is still in progress (Gardener 2008, in litt.). A follow-up census and control effort will be conducted next year to determine the results of this eradication program (Gardener 2008, in litt.). Due to the removal of these invasive species, it is expected that within the next few years the benefits to the ecosystem on Floreana will be seen (Galapagos Conservation Trust News 2007). This is expected to result in an increase in native flora and fauna, and the repopulation by native flora and fauna of areas previously destroyed on Floreana by herbivore degradation (Galapagos Conservation Trust News 2007). However, at this time, we believe that introduced species still pose a threat to the medium tree finch and its habitat.
Introduced plants outcompete native vegetation for sunlight, water, and nutrients (Smith 2005, p. 304). Since agriculture is concentrated at higher elevations because of the rich soil and moisture available in these areas, introduced plants are more frequently found in the humid highland forests and often escape from cultivated areas into native vegetation (Schofield 1989, p. 233). Schofield (1989) found that accidental escape of introduced plant species, as well as the purposeful introduction of these species, had altered the highland habitat where tree finches occur (pp. 233-235).
Christensen and Kleindorfer (2008, in preparation) found that the medium tree finch frequently forages on introduced fruit species. They report that this observation may suggest that the species is able to adapt to and potentially benefit from this change in their environment (Christensen and Kleindorfer 2008, in preparation). However, they did not observe any species of tree finch, including the medium tree finch, nesting in an introduced plant species (Christensen and Kleindorfer 2008, in preparation). A further study by O'Connor
On Floreana, small populations of
The dispersal of guava is aided by introduced cattle, which eat the fruits, and then wander from the farm into the National Park and excrete the seeds in their dung (De Vries and Black 1983, p. 19; Tuoc 1983, p. 25). In addition, as cattle graze, they trample other vegetation, providing the open spaces and abundant light needed for the germination of guava seeds (Van der Werff 1979, as cited in Schofield 1989, p. 233). Once guava becomes established in an open habitat, they grow quickly and shade seedlings of native species like
One obvious step to take in order to minimize the further spread of guava is to fence cattle (De Vries and Black, p. 19; Tuoc 1983, p. 25). Although some residents have already done this, herds of free-ranging cattle are unable to be restricted in this manner (Schofield 1989, pp. 233-234). In 1971, a campaign was started to cut down guava trees on Santa Cruz Island (Schofield 1989, p. 234). One report indicated that more than 95,000 guava trees were eliminated between 1980 and 1981 (Tuoc 1983, p. 25). Schofield (1989) believes that this program should be expanded to other islands with large populations of guava (p. 234). Currently, we have no information to indicate that a program to eliminate guava has occurred on Floreana.
The medium tree finch is found primarily in the moist highland forests (
We are not aware of any scientific or commercial information that indicates overutilization of the medium tree finch for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes poses a threat to this species. As a result, we are not considering overutilization to be a contributing factor to the continued existence of the medium tree finch.
The recent discovery of an introduced parasitic fly (
A study by Fessl and Tebbich (2002) on Santa Cruz Island found that 97 percent of finch nests were infected with the
In an experimental study conducted on Santa Cruz Island, Fessl
The fitness impacts to nestlings of lower hemoglobin levels are likely to be significant (Dudaniec
In 2006, nesting success in the medium tree finch was examined for the first time (Fessl
A study by Wiedenfeld
It is believed that finches do not suffer from any type of endemic, haematophagous ectoparasite (a bloodsucking parasite that lives on the outside of its host, and not within the host's body) (Fessl
As many of these studies show, finches have a slim chance of reproducing without avoiding effects of
It is best to eliminate invasive species before they are able to adapt to the local environment in which they have colonized (Frankham 2005, p. 385). However, for
Programs to eradicate
The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) has begun an effort to develop biological control approaches for
Floreana has a suite of introduced predators including black rats (
The CDF's long-term plan is to successfully eradicate introduced rats on all islands, a necessary measure in order to restore the Galapagos Islands and its endemic species (Charles Darwin Research Station 2006b). Currently, a control program is ongoing in the highlands of Floreana to control rats in the nesting area of the Galapagos petrel (
A study of tree finches in the highlands of Floreana by O'Connor
Both feral and domestic cats prey upon and impact the survival of Darwin's finches, and are a threat to endemic species on Floreana (Charles Darwin Research Station 2006c). In the 19th century, cats may have caused significant declines in the populations of large ground finches, sharp-beaked ground finches, and mockingbirds, pushing them toward extinction on Floreana (Grant
The Galapagos National Park Service and the CDF are working to control and eradicate domestic and feral cats on all of the islands (Charles Darwin Research Station 2006c). This plan includes working with communities to gain acceptance of and compliance with the sterilization or removal of domestic cats, and the development of an eradication program to eliminate feral cats from natural areas on all populated islands, such as Floreana (Charles Darwin Research Station 2006c).
Introduced predators on Floreana, such as black rats and cats, feed on eggs and nestlings of birds, causing dramatic reductions in native populations. One study found that 33 percent of medium tree finch nests experienced nestling predation, while egg depredation was observed in 22 percent of the nests. Although nest predation was not observed directly, rats are most likely responsible for much of the predation. In an effort to help restore endemic species on the Galapagos Islands, one goal of CDF was to develop programs to eradicate introduced rats and cats on all islands. Even though an effort to eliminate rats from the Galapagos petrel nesting area in the highlands of Floreana has begun, it has not yet been completed. Furthermore, we do not have any information to indicate that an eradication program for cats has begun on the island of Floreana. Therefore, we find that predation is a threat to the continued existence of the medium tree finch.
The medium tree finch is identified as a “critically endangered” species under Ecuadorian law and Decree No. 3,516—Unified Text of the Secondary Legislation of the Ministry of Environment of 2002 (ECOLEX 2003b). Decree No. 3,516 of 2002 summarizes the law governing environmental policy in Ecuador and provides that the country's biodiversity be protected and used primarily in a sustainable manner (ECOLEX 2003b). Appendix 1 of Decree No. 3,516 lists the Ecuadorian fauna and flora that are considered threatened or in danger of extinction. Species are categorized as critically endangered (En peligro crítico), endangered (En peligro), or vulnerable (Vulnerable).
Resolution No. 105—Regulatory Control of Hunting Seasons and Wildlife Species in the Country and Agreement No. 143—Standards for the Control of Hunting Seasons and Licenses for Hunting of Wildlife, regulate and prohibit commercial and sport hunting of all wild bird species, except those specifically identified by the Ministry of the Environment or otherwise permitted (ECOLEX 2000; ECOLEX 2003a). The Ministry of the Environment does not permit commercial or sport hunting of the medium tree finch because of its status as a “critically endangered” species (ECOLEX 2003b). However, we do not consider hunting (Factor B) to be a threat to the medium tree finch, so this law does not address any of the threats to the species.
The first legislation to specifically protect the Galapagos Islands and its
In March 1998, the National Congress and the Ecuadorian President enacted the Law of the Special Regimen for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of the Province of the Galapogos, which has given the islands some legislative support to establish regulations related to the transport of introduced species and implement a quarantine and inspection system (Causton
As a result, in 1999, the Inspection and Quarantine System for Galapagos (SICGAL) was implemented (Causton