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Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R9-ES-2010-0030; 92210-1113-0000-C6]

RIN 1018-AV22

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding on a Petition and Proposed Rule To Remove the Morelet's Crocodile From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Proposed rule.
SUMMARY: Under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), we, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 12-month finding on a petition and a proposed rule to remove the Morelet's crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) throughout its range from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife due to recovery. This action is based on a thorough review of the best available scientific and commercial data, including new information that became available after we received the petition, which indicates that the species' status had improved to the point that the Morelet's crocodile is not likely to become threatened within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. If this proposed rule is finalized, the Morelet's crocodile will remain protected under the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. We are seeking information, data, and comments from the public on this proposed rule.
DATES: To ensure that we are able to consider your comments on this proposed rule, they must be received or postmarked on or before June 27, 2011. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in theFOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACTsection below by June 13, 2011.
ADDRESSES: *Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.Search for docket number FWS-R9-ES-2010-0030 and then follow the instructions for submitting comments.

*U.S. mail or hand-delivery:Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R9-ES-2010-0030; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.

We will not accept comments by e-mail or fax. We will post all comments onhttp://www.regulations.gov.This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see the Public Comments section below for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Janine Van Norman, Chief, Branch of Foreign Species, Endangered Species Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 420, Arlington, VA 22203, U.S.A.; telephone 703-358-2171; facsimile 703-358-1735. Individuals who are hearing-impaired or speech-impaired may call the Federal Information Relay Service at 800-877-8339 for TTY assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Public Comments

Any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from other concerned government agencies, the scientific community, industry, or other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. The comments that will be most useful and likely to influence our decisions are those supported by data or peer-reviewed studies and those that include citations to, and analyses of, applicable laws and regulations. Please make your comments as specific as possible and explain the basis for them. In addition, please include sufficient information with your comments to allow us to authenticate any scientific or commercial data you reference or provide. In particular, we seek comments concerning the following:

(1) New biological, trade, or other relevant information and data concerning any threat (or lack thereof) to the Morelet's crocodile.

(2) New information and data on whether or not climate change is a threat to the Morelet's crocodile, what regional climate change models are available, and whether they are reliable and credible to use as step-down models for assessing the effect of climate change on the species and its habitat.

(3) The location of any additional populations of Morelet's crocodile.

(4) New information and data concerning the range, distribution, and population size and population trends of the Morelet's crocodile.

(5) New information and data on the current or planned activities within the geographic range of the Morelet's crocodile that may affect or benefit the species.

(6) New information and data concerning captive breeding operations in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.

(7) New information and data on the Morelet's crocodile in Guatemala that would enhance our analysis of whether this population qualifies as a Distinct Population Segment under the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531et seq.), and whether this population warrants continued protection under the Act.

(8) Information and data concerning the status and results of monitoring actions for the Morelet's crocodile, including those implemented under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Belize-Guatemala-Mexico Tri-national Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Morelet's Crocodile, and the Belizean monitoring plan that are discussed under the Post-Delisting Monitoring section below.

(9) Information pertaining to Belize's efforts to fully enact national legislation and/or their efforts to ensure Belize's compliance with CITES.

Please note that submissions merely stating support for or opposition to the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act; 16 U.S.C. 1531et seq.) directs that a determination as to whether any species is an endangered or threatened species must be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.”

Prior to issuing a final rule on this proposed action, we will take into consideration all comments and any additional information we receive. Such information may lead to a final rule that differs from this proposal. All comments and recommendations, including names and addresses, will become part of the administrative record.

You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in theADDRESSESsection. We will not consider comments sent by e-mail or fax or to an address not listed in theADDRESSESsection. If you submit a comment viahttp://www.regulations.gov,your entire comment—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the Web site. Please note that comments posted to this Web site are not immediately viewable. When you submit a comment, the system receivesit immediately. However, the comment will not be publicly viewable until we post it, which might not occur until several days after submission.

If you mail or hand-deliver a hardcopy comment 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. To ensure that the electronic docket for this rulemaking is complete and all comments we receive are publicly available, we will post all hardcopy submissions onhttp://www.regulations.gov.

In addition, comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection in two ways:

(1) You can view them onhttp://www.regulations.gov.In the Enter Keyword or ID box, enter FWS-R9-ES-2010-0030, which is the docket number for this rulemaking.

(2) You can make an appointment, during normal business hours, to view the comments and materials in person at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Program located in our Headquarters office (seeFOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Public Availability of Comments

Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—might be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

Public Hearing

Section 4(b)(5)(E) of the Act provides for one or more public hearings on this proposed rule, if requested. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in theFOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACTsection by the date shown in theDATESsection of this document. We will schedule public hearings on this proposal, if any are requested, and announce the dates, times, and places of those hearings, as well as how to obtain reasonable accommodations, in theFederal Registerat least 15 days before the first hearing.

Background

Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires the Service to make an initial finding as to whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species has presented substantial information indicating that the requested action may be warranted. To the maximum extent practicable, the finding shall be made within 90 days following receipt of the petition and published promptly in theFederal Register. If the 90-day finding is positive—that is, the petition has presented substantial information indicating that the requested action may be warranted—section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires the Service to commence a status review of the species if one has not already been initiated under the Service's internal candidate assessment process. In addition, section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act requires the Service to make a finding within 12 months following receipt of the petition on whether the requested action is warranted, not warranted, or warranted but precluded by higher-priority listing actions. That finding is referred to as the “12-month finding.”

Previous Federal Actions

The Morelet's crocodile was listed as endangered throughout its entire range under the predecessor of the Act via a rule published in theFederal Registeron June 2, 1970 (35 FR 8491). Import into, export from, or re-export from the United States, as well as other prohibitions, including movement in the course of a commercial activity and sale in interstate or foreign commerce, of endangered species and their parts and products, are prohibited under the Act unless otherwise authorized. Authorizations for endangered species can only be made for scientific purposes or to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. On July 1, 1975, the Morelet's crocodile was listed in Appendix I of CITES. These protections were put in place because the species had suffered substantial population declines throughout its range due to habitat destruction and overexploitation through the commercial crocodilian skin trade. CITES Appendix I includes species that are “threatened with extinction which are or may be affected by trade.”

On May 26, 2005, the Service received a petition from the Government of Mexico's Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO 2005) to remove the Morelet's crocodile from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife at 50 CFR 17.11.

Based on the information provided, the Service's 90-day finding on the petition, which was published in theFederal Registeron June 28, 2006 (71 FR 36743), stated that the petition provided substantial information to indicate that the requested action may be warranted. In that finding, we announced that we had initiated a status review of the species as required under section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act, and that we were seeking comments on the petition, as well as information on the status of the species, particularly in Belize and Guatemala. The Service also solicited comments or additional information from counterparts in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

This proposed rule to delist the Morelet's crocodile throughout its range also constitutes our 12-month finding that the petitioned action is warranted.

Species Information

Three species of crocodilians occur in Mexico and Central America. The Morelet's crocodile and the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) co-occur in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala (Schmidt 1924, pp. 79 and 85; Stuart 1948, p. 45). While their ranges overlap, the American crocodile has a much larger range than the Morelet's crocodile, and is found in the United States in the State of Florida, as well as in the Caribbean, on Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Central America and northern South America in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and northern Peru. A third species, the common or spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) occurs in Mexico and Guatemala, but is absent from Belize. The distribution of the common caiman also extends into northern South America (Ross 1998, pp. 14-17; Thorbjarnarson 1992, pp. 82-85). The Morelet's crocodile was named after a French naturalist, P.M.A. Morelet (1809-1892), who discovered this species in Mexico in 1850 (Britton 2008, p. 1). The type locality of the species was later restricted to “Guatemala, El Peten, Laguna de Peten” when the species was scientifically described. In Mexico, the Morelet's crocodile is known as “lagarto” or “swamp crocodile” (Rodriguez-Quivedo et al, 2008).

The Morelet's crocodile is a “relatively small species” that usually attains a maximum length of approximately 9.8-11.5 ft (3-3.5 m (Sánchez (2005, p. 4); Britton (2008, p. 1)), with most wild adults ranging in length 6.6-8.2 ft (2-2.5 m). Hurley (2005, p. 2), however, reported specimens attaining 15.4 ft (4.7 m). Platt and Rainwater (2005, p. 25) stated that size estimates where shorter lengths were documented were probably based on populations that had been heavily impacted by hunting and which now contained few large adults. The Morelet's crocodile is distinguishedfrom other crocodiles, particularly the partially sympatric (having the same or overlapping distribution) and somewhat larger American crocodile, by the number of dorsal scales in each transverse row on its back, the number and arrangement of nuchal scales (located at the nape of the neck), and irregular scales on the ventrolateral (lower side) surface of the tail (Meerman 1994, p. 110; Navarro Serment 2004, pp. 55-56; Platt and Rainwater 2005, p. 27; Hernández Hurtadoet al.2006, p. 376; Plattet al.2008b, p. 294). The Morelet's crocodile has six nuchal scales of similar size compared to other crocodile species, which have either four nuchal scales or four large nuchal scales and two small ones (CITES 2010a, p.11). Unlike most other species of crocodilians, the Morelet's crocodile lacks bony plates beneath the skin (osteoderms), making their skin more valuable as leather (Hurley 2005, p. 9). Adults have a yellowish-olive black skin, usually showing big black spots at the tail and at the back area, which in some adults can be entirely black. The ventral (underside) area is light in color, with a creamy yellowish tone. A thick and soft skin has made the Morelet's crocodile desirable for commercialization (CITES 2010a, p. 3).

Opportunistic carnivores, juvenile Morelet's crocodiles feed on small invertebrates, especially insects and arachnids, while subadults eat a more diverse diet including mollusks, crustaceans, fish, amphibians, and small reptiles. Adult crocodiles consume reptiles, birds, and mammals (Platt et al. 2002, p. 82; Sánchez 2005, p. 7; Plattet al.2006, pp. 283-285; CITES 2008, p. 9, CITES 2010a, p. 3). This species is also known to exhibit necrophagy (consumption of dead animal carcasses over an extended period (several days)) and interspecific kleptoparasitism (stealing of food from an individual by another individual) (Plattet al.2007, p. 310).

Morelet's crocodiles attain sexual maturity at about 4.9 ft (1.5 m) in length, at approximately 7-8 years of age. A growth rate of 0.63 inches (in) per month (1.6 centimeters (cm) per month) was observed in Morelet's crocodiles during the first 3 years of life under protected conditions in Mexico, while a rate of 0.94-1.18 in per month (2.4-3.0 cm per month) was achieved under farming conditions (Pérez-Higaredaet al.1995, p. 173). Adult females build nests and lay 20-40 eggs per clutch (Hurley 2005, p. 3; Sánchez 2005, p. 6), with an average of 35 eggs per clutch (CITES 2008, p. 9, CITES 2010a, p. 3). Nests, usually constructed of leaf mounds at the beginning of the wet season (April-June), are located on the shores of freshwater wetlands, as well as in coastal lagoons and mangrove patches (Plattet al.2008a, pp. 179-182).

An analysis based on DNA microsatellite data from hatchlings collected at 10 Morelet's crocodile nests in Belize showed that progeny from five of the 10 nests were sired by at least two males (McVayet al.2008, p. 643). These data suggested that multiple paternity was a mating strategy for the Morelet's crocodile and was not an isolated event. In addition, this information may be useful in the application of conservation and management techniques for the species.

The eggs of Morelet's crocodiles hatch in September-October, 65-90 days after they are laid. Females attend the nest during incubation, and can assist the newborns to leave the nest. Both parents protect juveniles against predators and other adult crocodiles (CITES 2010a, p. 3). Nest failures due to flooding and predation, both avian and mammalian, are common (Plattet al.2008a, p. 184). Expected lifespan in the wild is 50-65 years (Hurley 2005, p. 4.) The Morelet's crocodile exhibits and shares with other crocodilians many acoustic and visual signals that convey reproductive, territorial, and other types of information (Senter 2008, p. 354).

The Morelet's crocodile occurs primarily in freshwater environments such as lakes, swamps, and slow-moving rivers, but can temporarily inhabit intermittent freshwater bodies, such as flooded savannahs, and occasionally observed in brackish coastal lagoons (Villegas 2006, p. 8). Floating and emergent vegetation provide cover to protect young crocodiles from predators, including cannibalism by adult crocodiles (Sánchez 2005, p. 7). In contrast to the Morelet's crocodile, the American crocodile feeds mainly on fish and occurs primarily in coastal or brackish environments, such as coastal mangrove swamps, brackish and salt water bays, lagoons, marshes, tidal rivers, and brackish creeks. American crocodiles can also be found in abandoned coastal canals and borrow pits and may range inland into freshwater environments preferred by the Morelet's crocodile such as lakes and lower reaches of large rivers. American and Morelet's crocodiles have been known to lay eggs within the same nest mound as conspecifics, suggesting a more gregarious and tolerant demeanor (Brienet al.2007, pp. 17-18).

The historical distribution of the Morelet's crocodile comprised the eastern coastal plain of Mexico, most of the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, and northern Guatemala (Hurley 2005, p. 1), with an estimated historical distribution covering 173,746 mi2(450,000 km2) (Sigler and Domínguez Laso 2008, pp. 11-12). Based on the analyses conducted for the petition, approximately 51 percent of the original geographic distribution in Mexico remains undisturbed, while approximately 49 percent is disturbed or altered. In linear terms, the amount of undisturbed shoreline habitat available in Mexico to the Morelet's crocodile is about 15,534 mi (25,000 km) of shoreline, which is approximately 72 percent of the total undisturbed shoreline habitat available throughout the species' range. According to CONABIO, the amount of undisturbed shoreline habitat available to the Morelet's crocodile in Belize and Guatemala is estimated to be 2,050 mi (3,300 km) and 4,163 mi (6,700 km), respectively, or 9 and 19 percent of the total undisturbed shoreline habitat available throughout the species' range (CONABIO 2005, pp. 16-19).

Historical estimates of total population sizes in the three range countries are unavailable or imprecise, and we were not able to find any additional data on historical, range-wide population estimates for the species. While not quantifiable or documented by field surveys, Lee (1996, p. 134) characterized the historical distribution and abundance of the Morelet's crocodile in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico as follows: “Throughout its range, nearly every local aguada (flood) has (or had) its lagarto, which generally proves to beC. moreletii.” The same probably could be said about Belize and Guatemala.

It has been widely reported, however, that by the middle of the 20th Century, populations of Morelet's crocodiles were widely depleted due primarily to overharvest for commercial purposes during the 1940s-1950s. In “Crocodiles: An action plan for their conservation,” Thorbjarnarson (1992, p. 68 and the references cited therein) characterized the Mexican populations of Morelet's crocodiles in the early 1990s as very depleted in the Mexican States of Tamaulipas and Veracruz, recovering to some degree and viable in northeastern Mexico, and severely threatened in Tabasco State and Campeche State. However, populations of Morelet's crocodiles were not depleted in southern Chiapas State and eastern Quintana Roo State (Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve).

Few historical estimates for the Morelet's crocodile in Belize are available, but based on surveys during 1978 and 1979, Abercrombieet al. (1980, p. 103) reported that very few adults were observed in areas where they had previously been relatively abundant. This condition was attributed to overexploitation (i.e.,commercial trade in hides). Thorbjarnarson (1992, p. 55) characterized the Morelet's crocodile populations in the early 1990s as generally depleted in the northern part of Belize, but relatively abundant in several other areas. Abercrombieet al.estimated the total population of Morelet's crocodiles older than 9 months of age in Belize at 2,200-2,500 individuals (Abercrombieet al.1982, p. 16). Nothing was known in the scientific literature at that time about populations in the southern part of Belize. The only available countrywide estimates for the Morelet's crocodile in Belize suggested a total population size of 25,000-30,000 individuals that was declining in number in 1945, was near depletion between 1970 and 1980, and, in response to several protective measures, had undergone a slow recovery by 2000 to about 20,000 individuals (Fingeret al.2002, p. 199).

Thorbjarnarson (1992, p. 64) characterized the Guatemalan populations in the early 1990s as depleted, but capable of recovery. He indicated that 75 individuals had been reported at three lakes in the Petén Region, in the northern portion of the country, and that Morelet's crocodiles were known to be common in other parts of that region.

By the late 1990s, little had changed with regard to our knowledge of the distribution and abundance of the Morelet's crocodile. In “Crocodiles: Status survey and conservation action plan (second edition),” Ross (1998, pp. 46-47) characterized several populations of Morelet's crocodiles in all three countries as depleted. In some areas, however, including the Lacandón Forest (Chiapas State, Mexico) and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (Quintana Roo State, Mexico), healthy populations of the Morelet's crocodile existed. These findings were based on anecdotal reports and incidental records; numerical data were not readily available.

Based on extrapolations of habitat relationships (e.g.,vegetation type, size of wetland/riverine feature, and disturbance factors; described in more detail in CONABIO 2005, pp. 16-19) and frequency of encounter rates (derived from country-specific field research), the potential global population of free-ranging Morelet's crocodiles in 2004 was estimated to be 102,432 individuals (all age classes; 79,718 individuals in Mexico, 8,803 in Belize, and 13,911 in Guatemala), including approximately 19,400 adults (CONABIO 2005, pp. 17-19).

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

Section 4 of the Act and its implementing regulations, 50 CFR part 424, set forth the procedures for listing, reclassifying, or removing species from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. “Species” is defined by the Act as including any species or subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct vertebrate population segment of fish or wildlife that interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). Once the “species” is determined, we then evaluate whether that species may be endangered or threatened because of one or more of the five factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act. We must consider these same five factors in reclassifying or delisting a species. For species that are already listed as endangered or threatened, the analysis of threats must include an evaluation of both the threats currently facing the species, and the threats that are reasonably likely to affect the species in the foreseeable future following the delisting or downlisting and the removal or reduction of the Act's protections. We may delist a species according to 50 CFR 424.11(d) if the best available scientific and commercial data indicate that the species is neither endangered nor threatened for the following reasons: (1) The species is extinct; (2) the species has recovered and is no longer endangered or threatened; and/or (3) the original scientific data used at the time the species was classified were in error.

Factor A. Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment of the Species' Habitat or Range

The overharvest for commercial purposes, rather than habitat destruction or modification, was the primary reason for the Morelet's crocodile being listed under the Act and its inclusion in CITES. However, the Five Factor Analysis under the Act requires an analysis of current and future potential impacts to the species based on modification or destruction of habitat.

The petition (CONABIO 2005) highlights habitat degradation as a potential threat, especially if it involves lack of prey and eventual contamination of water bodies. Currently, the extent of habitat degradation is estimated to be moderate in Mexico and Belize, and slightly higher in northern Petén, Guatemala (CONABIO 2005, Annex 1, p. 10). However, as stated previously, historical estimates of range-wide habitat destruction for the Morelet's crocodile are unavailable or imprecise. We found that the data on habitat destruction was primarily presented separately for each individual country. Therefore, the following analysis of the potential threats to the species from habitat destruction or modification first presents the specific information available for the Morelet's crocodile in each country, and then presents the general information that was available for the species as a whole.

Mexico

The Morelet's crocodile is known historically from 10 states in Mexico (from east to west): Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, San Luis Potosí, and Tamaulipas (Águilar 2005, p. 2). Based on available information and interviews during a 1995 site visit to Mexico by the IUCN Crocodile Specialist Group, Ross (1998, p. 13) suggested “with some confidence” that the Morelet's crocodile was widely distributed throughout most of its original range. At the request of the petitioner, these states were resurveyed to assess current Morelet's crocodile populations in those areas.

Surveys conducted between 2000 and 2004 documented the widespread distribution and relative abundance of wild populations of the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico (Domínguez-Lasoet al.2005, pp. 21-30; also summarized in Sánchez Herrera 2000, pp. 17-19; CONABIO 2005, pp. 11-13 and Annex 5; Sánchez Herrera and Álvarez-Romero 2008, page 415; Garcíaet al.2007, pp. 31-32; Sigler and Domínguez Laso 2008, pp. 11-13). Surveys found Morelet's crocodiles at 63 sites across all 10 Mexican states comprising the species' entire historic range in Mexico (CONABIO 2005, p. 12). Habitat evaluations based on five environmental components rated habitat quality as excellent at 10 sites (24 percent), or as favorable or suitable at 24 sites (57 percent). Furthermore, evidence of the presence of the Morelet's crocodile was found in cultivated areas and at sites with “intermediate” quality habitats (CONABIO 2005, p. 13). This suggested that the Morelet's crocodile does not require undisturbed habitat in order to occupy a site. Habitat mapping resulted in an estimated minimum of 15,675 mi (25,227 km) of shoreline as suitable Morelet's crocodile habitat in Mexico, which is 72 percent of the estimated suitable shoreline habitat available throughout the species range (CONABIO 2005, pp. 14-16).

Population characteristics of the Morelet's crocodiles in Mexico were also determined during the 2000-2004 field surveys. All age classes were well represented (34 percent juveniles; 47 percent subadults; and 19 percent adults), indicating good recruitment (Domínguez-Lasoet al.2005, p. 31). A higher proportion of males to females (1.55 to 1 overall versus about 1 male per female) was observed in all age classes, except older subadults (Domínguez-Lasoet al.2005, pp. 33-34). Mean frequency of encounter, based on 62 localities surveyed—excluding one outlier site with an atypically large crocodile population—was 5.76 individuals per 0.62 mi (= 1 kilometer (km)) of shoreline (mode = 3.16 individuals per km); Domínguez-Lasoet al.2005, pp. 30, 40). These frequency of encounter rates were similar to those reported for other sites, for example: (1) Sigleret al.(2002, p. 222) reported rates of 8.33-18.5 individuals per km at various sites throughout Mexico and commented that these were the highest rates ever reported for that country; (2) Cedeño-Vázquez (2002, p. 353) reported rates of 1-2 individuals per km, when present (22 of 40 surveys; 711 individuals counted; all age classes represented; hatchlings in September), at Bahia de Chetumal and Río Hondo, Mexico (n = 17 sites) and commented on the recovery of the species; (3) Cedeño-Vázquezet al.(2006, p. 15) reported rates of 7.6 and 5.3 individuals per km at La Arrigueña, Campeche State, and commented that this suggested a healthy population. A population estimate—based on (a) extrapolations of 3.16 individuals per km, (b) 19 percent adults, and (c) a cautious estimate of occupied habitat (15,675 mi (25,227 km) of river habitat)—produced a result of approximately 79,718 wild individuals (all ages) in Mexico comprising 78 percent of the total wild population, including approximately 15,146 adults in Mexico (Domínguez-Laso 2005, p. 40).

New information now available to the Service documents updates in the geographic distribution of the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico. Because of several unauthorized introductions or escapes from captive-breeding facilities in areas outside of the reported range of the species, the Morelet's crocodile has become established in the wild at three sites: Chacahua, Oaxaca State; Villa Flores, Chiapas State; and Laguna de Alcuzahue, Colima State (Álvarez Romeroet al.2008, p. 415). Several captive-breeding facilities along the Pacific coast in western Mexico contain Morelet's crocodiles. These facilities are located in areas outside of the reported range of the species, but potentially with appropriate habitat for this species. Concerns have been raised about these introductions and the potential negative impacts of this “exotic” or “invasive” species on the local biota (Álvarez Romeroet al.2008, pp. 415 and 417). The Government of Mexico is making efforts to diagnose potential threats to the native American crocodile caused by hybridization with the introduced Morelet's crocodile on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The goal of these efforts is to generate morphological and molecular identification materials and study the population dynamics of the American crocodile. It will include monitoring and harvest of Morelet's crocodiles and hybrids for scientific research (CITES 2010a, p. 6).

According to the information presented in CONABIO 2005, the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico occupies at least 12 protected areas (CONABIO 2005, p. 30 and Annex 6). Part of the Sistema Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (SINANP or National System of Protected Natural Areas, described more fully in the Factor D section, Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms), encompasses 13 percent of the species' range and include the following areas: Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, Pantanos de Centla Biosphere Reserve, Laguna de Términos Biosphere Reserve, Hampolol Wildlife Conservation and Research Center, El Palmar State Preserve, Ría Lagartos Biosphere Reserve, Yum Balam Biosphere Reserve, Laguna Nichupte, Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Bahia Chetumal (Bay) and Río Hondo (River).

The Government of Mexico's 2010 CITES proposal to transfer the Morelet's crocodile from CITES Appendix I to CITES Appendix II provided updated information on the number of protected areas for the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico. About 77 Federal and certified protected areas in Mexico provide shelter and legal protection to the Morelet's crocodile in its potential range. Of these, 11 have records of the species covering 7,763,147 acres (ac) (3,141,634 hectares (ha)) (CITES 2010a, pp. 11, 17-20). The Government of Mexico designated eight of the eleven protected areas containing Morelet's crocodiles as Biosphere Reserves, and the three remaining protected areas containing Morelet's crocodiles as Flora and Fauna Protection Areas. As stated above, these protected areas are part of SINANP (described more fully in the Factor D section, Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms).

The Government of Mexico's 2010 CITES proposal used both a narrative description (CITES 2010a, p. 11) and a list (CITES 2010a, pp. 17-20) to indicate that there are 11 federally protected areas in Mexico containing Morelet's crocodile. CONABIO 2005 used a narrative description (CONABIO 2005, p. 30) to indicate that there are at least 12 federally protected areas in Mexico containing Morelet's crocodile (CONABIO 2005, p. 30), but did not include a list of the federally protected areas. Based on the information available to the Service, we were unable to find any additional data to explain the difference between in the numbers of federally protected areas cited in these two documents. The Government of Mexico's 2010 CITES proposal is the more recent document, and we consider it to contain the best available scientific and commercial data on the number of federally protected areas in Mexico.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (also known as the Ramsar Convention) is an intergovernmental treaty that provides a framework for international cooperation for the conservation of wetland habitats. CONABIO 2005 did not provide information on whether the Ramsar Convention protects any Morelet's crocodile habitat in Mexico. However, this information was included in the Government of Mexico's 2010 CITES proposal. According to their 2010 CITES proposal, there are 41 Ramsar sites in the potential range of the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico, 13 of which have records of the species covering 6,779,875 ac (2,743,718 ha) (CITES 2010a, pp. 11, 17-20).

According to the information presented in CONABIO 2005, one of the main potential threats to the Morelet's crocodile is habitat destruction and fragmentation due to residential and infrastructure development, such as dams, roads, residential areas, and irrigated fields (CONABIO 2005, Annex 2, pp. 4-5). The information presented in CONABIO 2005 indicated that land reform and the ensuing colonization of undeveloped areas is a potential threat to the Morelet's crocodile, but the Government of Mexico has no such actions planned at this time (CONABIO 2005, p. 33). This threat of habitat degradation is ameliorated in Mexico by the Ley General de Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente (LGEEPA; General Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection Law). This 1988 law has strict restrictions against land use changes in Mexico, especially for undisturbed habitat such as those areas used by the Morelet's crocodile (CONABIO 2005, p. 25). This law is supported by several others in Mexicothat ensure the conservation of native flora and fauna in Mexico (see discussion in the Factor D section, Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms; also see CONABIO 2005, Annex 3).

According to the information presented by CONABIO, even in the historic context of prolonged habitat alteration, wild populations of Morelet's crocodiles remained abundant; so much so that large, commercial exploitation of the species was occurring up until Federal and international protections were put in place 40 years ago. Alteration of Morelet's crocodile habitat occurring since then may have produced some additional reductions in local populations, but these reductions are not comparable to those of the past. In addition, even in areas where changes to the original environment are not reversible, evidence points to a certain degree of tolerance by Morelet's crocodiles, especially when the habitat alterations are a result of agriculture or low technology livestock production (CONABIO 2005, p. 25).

Based on surveys, it appears that the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico occurs in all 10 states from where it traditionally has been reported (CONABIO 2005, pp. 11-19). Although approximately 49 percent of the original range in Mexico has been altered, much of the altered habitat is still occupied by the Morelet's crocodile. Approximately 77,220 mi2(200,000 km2) of undisturbed habitat remains in Mexico, which is equivalent to approximately 15,534 mi (25,000 km) of shoreline. The Government of Mexico protects habitat occupied by the Morelet's crocodile in 11 areas designated by the Government of Mexico as either Biosphere Reserves or Flora and Fauna Protection Areas covering a total of 7,763,147 ac (3,141,634 ha). In addition, the Ramsar Convention protects Morelet's crocodile habitat at 13 sites in Mexico covering 6,779,875 ac (2,743,718 ha). We do not have any information or data on the amount of geographic overlap, if any, between the areas of habitat protected by the Government of Mexico versus that protected by the Ramsar Convention. Therefore, we considered these two protection mechanisms as providing separate, but complimentary, habitat protection as part of our analysis of habitat protection under this proposed rule.

We find that the information presented in the petition, as well as the additional information available to the Service, represents the best available scientific and commercial data on habitat destruction or modification for Morelet's crocodiles in Mexico. Although moderate habitat destruction or modification is currently affecting local populations of Morelet's crocodiles in Mexico, and this is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, these activities would not have a significant impact on the species because they would be subject to conservation measures under the Government of Mexico's regulatory framework. This framework will continue to provide adequate protection to the Morelet's crocodile and its habitat in the foreseeable future. Surveys conducted found Morelet's crocodiles at 63 sites across all 10 Mexican states comprising the species' entire historic range in Mexico (CONABIO 2005, p. 12). Given that Mexico contains more than 85 percent of the species' natural range, an estimated 78 percent of all wild individuals, that 7,763,147 ac (3,141,634 ha) of habitat are protected by the Government of Mexico, and that 6,779,875 ac (2,743,718 ha) of habitat are protected by the Ramsar Convention, we conclude that habitat destruction or modification is neither a threat, nor is it anticipated to significantly impact the Morelet's crocodile in Mexico in the foreseeable future.

Belize

The Morelet's crocodile was historically known from all six states in Belize (from north to south): Corozal, Orange Walk, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo (Anonymous 1998). According to information provided by CONABIO, virtually all of the country contained suitable habitat for the species. The style of economic development in Belize has not required massive alteration of the natural environment. Thus, in general, no extensive and drastic alteration of Morelet's crocodile habitat has occurred in Belize (CONABIO 2005, p. 26). The current amount of altered versus unaltered current habitat for the Morelet's crocodile in Belize is unknown, but the petitioners estimated the current amount of potentially suitable habitat to be approximately 2,050 mi (3,300 km) of shoreline (CONABIO 2005, pp.14-19).

While the species is widespread in the northern portion of the country, it is naturally limited to a narrow region of lowlands along the coast in the southern part of Belize, which is otherwise mountainous (Schmidt 1924, p. 80; Abercrombieet al.1982, pp. 12-16; Plattet al.1999, p. 395; Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000a, pp. 25-26). Although the Government of Belize was not a party to the petition, teams not associated with the Mexican effort to delist the species recently surveyed these states, in part, to assess Morelet's crocodile populations in those areas. Based on recent surveys, all six districts historically known to contain Morelet's crocodiles were surveyed in a general characterization of the biodiversity of Belize (Boles 2005, p. 4; Belize Forest Department 2006, p. 22; Biological-Diversity.info website 2009). At Spanish Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, in the north-central part of the country, Meermanet al.(2004, pp. 23-24 and 30-32) determined that the Morelet's crocodile was fairly common at the site (frequency of encounter rate = 1.4-2.4 individuals per km). At Mayflower Bocawina National Park, near the coast in the southeastern part of the country, Meermanet al.(2003b, p. 30) unexpectedly located the Morelet's crocodile at fast-flowing streams such as Silk Grass Creek. While this specimen could have been introduced at the site, its occurrence could also be natural. Along the Macal River, in west-central Belize, Staffordet al.(2003, pp. 18 and 20) located a breeding population of the Morelet's crocodile (frequency of encounter rate = 1.48 individuals per km) (2001) and 1.25 individuals per km (2002) at a mountainous site at 1,476 ft (450 m) elevation (higher than expected). A total population size at the Macal River site was calculated to be, at minimum, about 94 individuals (Staffordet al.2003, p. 19).

Earlier comparisons between spotlight surveys conducted in northern Belize in 1979-1980 and 1992-1997 also showed that Morelet's crocodiles were widely distributed and relatively abundant across several habitat types and levels of human accessibility (Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000b, p. 23). In addition to an extensive system of nature reserves including significant areas of crocodile habitat, these researchers noted relatively high Morelet's crocodile encounter rates in wetlands surrounding sugarcane fields in this area. Morelet's crocodiles were observed in canals and ditches within the municipal limits of Belize City and Orange Walk, as well as in wetlands easily accessible from many villages (Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000b, p. 23).

Population characteristics of Morelet's crocodiles in Belize were also determined during these surveys. Size class distribution—25.4 percent adults in the 1990s, compared with 5-10 percent in an earlier study—was consistent with population recovery from past overexploitation (Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000b, p. 24). Platt and Thorbjarnarson (2000b, pp. 23, 26) reported an overall frequency of encounter of 1.56 individuals per km; encounter rates were much higher innonalluvial (8.20 individuals per km) and alluvial (6.11 individuals per km) lagoons than in rivers and creeks (0.95 individuals per km) or in mangrove habitats (0.24 individuals per km). While a significant, male-biased sex ratio (5.3 males per 1 female versus about 1 male per female) was identified, the reasons were unclear (Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000a, pp. 23, 27). Based on extrapolations of habitat relationships in Mexico (which results in an estimated 2,080 mi (3,347 km) of potential habitat in Belize) and an average frequency of encounter of 2.63 individuals per km, CONABIO stated that these results suggested a total Belize population estimate for the Morelet's crocodile of about 8,803 individuals in the wild (all age classes), comprising 9 percent of the total wild population, including about 1,673 adults (CONABIO 2005, p. 18). Although this is not a typically constructed population estimate, this estimate constitutes the best available scientific and commercial data for the nationwide abundance of Morelet's crocodiles in Belize. Although Platt suggested that these overall values for Belize may be somewhat inflated because habitat in southern Belize is less suitable for Morelet's crocodiles than areas in the north (Platt 2008, pers. comm.), frequency of encounter values for Morelet's crocodile populations and total population sizes in Belize may have further increased due to continued protection for over a decade since these surveys in the 1990s. Boles (2005, p. 4) and Belize Forest Department (2006, p. 22), based on countrywide analyses, both suggested that the Morelet's crocodile had “recovered” in Belize and could be categorized as “healthy.”

CONABIO did not present information about the distribution and abundance of the Morelet's crocodile in protected areas in Belize. Other information obtained by the Service, however, suggests that the species is present in many protected areas in Belize, including: Sarstoon Temash National Park (Meermanet al.2003a, p. 45), Mayflower Bocawina National Park (Meerman,et al.2003b, p. 30), and Spanish Creek Wildlife Sanctuary (Meermanet al.2004, pp. 30-31). Overall, about 18-26 percent of the national territory of Belize is under some form of protection (BERDS 2005b, p. 1; Young 2008, p. 29). In several of these protected areas, natural resource extraction is permitted from the site, thus potentially limiting their contribution to the conservation status of the Morelet's crocodile. However, we have no evidence that resource extraction in these Belizean protected areas is currently or anticipated to affect significantly the Morelet's crocodile.

We find that the data presented by CONABIO, and additional data available to the Service, represents the best available scientific and commercial data on habitat destruction or modification for Morelet's crocodiles in Belize. Although habitat destruction or modification is currently affecting some local populations of Morelet's crocodiles in Belize, and this is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, we do not have any evidence that habitat destruction or modification is currently or anticipated to be a threat to the Morelet's crocodile in Belize.

Guatemala

The Morelet's crocodile was historically known from the northern portion of Guatemala (States of Petén and Alta Verapaz; Schmidt 1924, pp. 79-84). According to information provided by CONABIO, the Petén region of Guatemala was scarcely populated by humans before 1960 (an estimated 15,000 to 21,000 inhabitants in approximately 12,960 square miles (33,566 km²) or about one third of Guatemala's area) (CONABIO 2005). In 1961, the Government of Guatemala started an official program to foster colonization in the region, and this caused environmental alteration, as well as increased human conflicts with crocodiles. Slightly more than 50 percent of the potential habitat for the Morelet's crocodile has been altered in Guatemala (CONABIO 2005, p. 26). While the current amount of altered versus unaltered habitat for the Morelet's crocodile in Guatemala is unknown, the petitioners estimated the current amount of potentially suitable habitat to be approximately 4,163 mi (6,700 km) of shoreline (CONABIO 2005, pp.14-19). According to information provided by CONABIO, studies on the status of Morelet's crocodile habitat and population in Guatemala are underway, and the potential threats to the species are under assessment (CONABIO 2005, p. 26).

Recent nationwide survey results are not available for Guatemala, but populations appear to remain in their historical range in the northern part of the country, especially the central portion of the State of Petén, Laguna del Tigre National Park (northwestern portion of the State of Petén) (Castañeda Moyaet al.2000, p.63) and the El Mirador-Río Azul National Park (ParksWatch, 2002, page 3). The Laguna del Tigre National Park, the largest national park in Guatemala and the largest protected wetland in Central America, is home to the largest numbers of Morelet's crocodiles in Guatemala (ParksWatch 2003, p. 1).

While information regarding the distribution and abundance of Morelet's crocodile in Guatemala is sparse, investigations conducted in Laguna del Tigre National Park (date unspecified, reported in 1998) estimated 4.35 individuals per km in the Sacluc River and 2.1 individuals per km in the San Pedro River, with a population structure typical of stable populations (Castañeda Moya 1998a, p. 13). Castañeda Moya (1997, p. 1; 1998a, p. 521) characterized Morelet's crocodile distribution in the northern State of Petén, Guatemala, as fragmented, with the healthiest populations in the northern region of Petén, where human impact was lower. In a follow-up study at Laguna del Tigre National Park Castañeda Moyaet al.(2000, pp. 62-63) reported a mean frequency of encounter rate for the entire park of 4.3 individuals per km, with maximum values of 12.28 individuals per km at Flor de Luna and 11.00 individuals per km at Laguna La Pista. The Morelet's crocodile was more frequently encountered in closed aquatic systems than in open aquatic systems. Juveniles were more frequently observed than were adults.

Based on extrapolations of habitat relationships in Mexico (which resulted in an estimated 4,159.8 mi (6,694.5 km) of potential habitat in Guatemala) and an average frequency of encounter of 2.078 individuals per km, CONABIO stated that there is an estimated total Guatemalan population of Morelet's crocodile of about 13,911 individuals in the wild (all age classes) comprising 13 percent of the total wild population, including about 2,643 adults (CONABIO 2005, p. 18). Although this is not a typically constructed population estimate, this population estimate constitutes the best available scientific and commercial data for the nationwide abundance of Morelet's crocodiles in Guatemala.

While Guatemala has regulatory mechanisms in place to protect these habitats, it appears that the Government of Guatemala, until recently, was not able to enforce them adequately. Resource extraction, drug trade, a lack of enforcement, and financial issues limited protected areas' potential contribution to the conservation status of the Morelet's crocodile (IARNA URL IIA 2006, pp. 88-92). For example, the Laguna del Tigre National Park, together with the Laguna del Tigre Protected Biotope, was considered critically threatened by drug trade, land grabs, the presence of human settlements, expanding agriculture and cattleranching, poaching, forest fires, the oil industry, and the almost complete lack of institutional control over the area (ParksWatch 2003, p. 11.) ParksWatch also deemed this national park, and its surrounding area, would not meet its biological diversity objectives in the immediate future unless urgent steps were taken (ParksWatch 2003, p. 11.) However, the following year ParksWatch noted major improvements at Laguna del Tigre since their 2003 report. We have obtained information on the specific protections recently provided to Morelet's crocodiles in the conservation areas of Guatemala, and events that reveal a commitment by the Guatemalan government to curtail illegal activities harmful to Laguna del Tigre National Park. We will go into detail in the Factor D section,Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms.

Castañeda Moyaet al.(2000, p. 61), based on historical references, cited increased destruction of habitat due to human encroachment as having an adverse affect on the species. Based on the research at Laguna del Tigre National Park, Castañeda Moyaet al.(2000, pp. 61 and 65) indicated that sibal (sawgrass) (Cladium jamaicense) was extensively burned each year. This burning constituted a major impact to the Morelet's crocodile habitat, as sibal habitat offered suitable insulation, food availability, nesting cover, and protection from predators. Furthermore, the fires facilitated the expansion of savannahs consisting almost exclusively of jimbal (Bambusa longifolia). Studies on the Morelet's crocodile in Petén suggest fires in jimbal groves prevent Morelet's crocodiles from reproducing since fire affects nesting sites (ParksWatch 2003, p. 13). In a more general sense, USAID (2002, pp. 19-23) and Ruiz Ordoñez (2005, pp. 2-8) indicated several conservation threats at the national level in Guatemala, including habitat loss, habitat degradation, habitat fragmentation, overutilization of resources, environmental contamination, and degradation, and the introduction of exotic species.

For the past ten years, USAID and WCS having been working with other NGOs and the Guatemalan government to combat these issues. In their “Maya Biosphere Landscape Conservation Area, Guatemala, Implementation Plan FY 2008” (WCS 2009, page 3) the WCS highlighted their central goals for ensuring the conservation of wide-ranging target species, including the Morelet's crocodile, was to contain the advance of the Laguna del Tigre agro-pastoral frontier and maintain the comparatively intact eastern bloc of the Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR) forest. Strategies to reduce impacts to wildlife in the MBR landscape include involving people in local communities, forest concessions, governments, and NGOs in local conservation efforts; developing adaptive management strategies to address tactically threats across the landscape; and educating local communities on best management practices across the MBR and beyond. Since 2003, however, efforts by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have reduced areas burned in the MBR in Guatemala. Through educating locals on best management practices, conducting aerial flights, utilizing remote sensing to monitor changes in forest cover and fire, and establishing and patrolling a 47-kilometer fire break, along with regularly reporting to the Guatemalan and provincial governments and national media, WCS's efforts have resulted in a 90% reduction in areas burned in the Laguna del Tigre portion of the MBR (WCS 2009).

In addition, the president of Guatemala recently deployed 250 specially trained soldiers to recover fully all the protected zones of El Peten in Laguna del Tigre National Park. The contingent, called the “green battalion” will work jointly with the Guatemalan Attorney General's Office. This effort is aimed at combating drug trafficking and removal or destruction of natural and archeological resources in Laguna del Tigre, El Peten region of the MBR (Latin American Herald Tribune, 2010).

El Mirador-Río Azul National Park in northeastern Guatemala is located in the department of Petén maintains a population of Morelet's crocodiles (ParksWatch 2002, page 3). The park is composed of two sections, which are divided by the Dos Lagunas Biotope. The western section is known as El Mirador and the eastern part is known as Río Azul. This area is considered by World Resources Institute to be the last pristine Guatemalan rainforest. It is also one of the few protected areas that have experienced little deforestation over the years. No permanent human residents live within the park borders or in its immediate surrounding areas. El Mirador-Río Azul National Park is consideredvulnerable,by ParksWatch, meaning that immediate conservation measures are not needed at this time, but monitoring is necessary to ensure the protection and maintenance of its biological diversity in the near future (ParksWatch, 2002, page 3). NGO's such as Asociación Balam, WCS-Guatemala, the Asociatión of Forest Communities of Petén (ACOFOP), the Guatemalan National Park Service (CONAP), the Guatemalan Archeological Institute (IDAEH), and the office of the Executive Secretary of the President of Guatemala formed an alliance called the “Mesa Multisectorial para el Area Natural y Cultural de Mirador-Rio Azule”. This alliance was formed to develop consensus among its team members regarding the long-term protection of the park and provide sustained economic contribution to the people of the MBR and of Guatemala.

While CONABIO estimated that slightly more than 50 percent of the potential habitat for the Morelet's crocodile has been altered in Guatemala, they gave no information indicating to what extent (CONABIO 2005, p. 26). Very little information has been collected about the consequences of forest fires, hunting, and habitat fragmentation to the Morelet's crocodile. However, Mexico saw the presence of the Morelet's crocodile in cultivated areas and at sites with “intermediate” quality habitats (CONABIO 2005, p. 13) and Belize noted relatively high Morelet's crocodile encounter rates in wetlands surrounding sugarcane fields, canals and ditches within the municipal limits of Belize (Platt and Thorbjarnarson 2000b, p. 23). This information suggests that the Morelet's crocodile does not require undisturbed habitat in order to occupy a site. The current amount of altered versus unaltered habitat for the Morelet's crocodile in Guatemala is unknown, but the petitioners estimated the current amount of potentially suitable habitat to be approximately 4,163 mi (6,700 km) of shoreline (CONABIO 2005, pp.14-19).

Other Threats to the Species' Habitat Recreational and Educational Activities

Nonconsumptive recreational or educational uses in the form of ecotourism are ongoing and may grow in magnitude in the future. While CONABIO did not present precise information about the number of companies or sites visited by tourists, an informal Internet search suggested that large numbers of ecotourism companies and nature sites in all three range countries were involved in this activity. At Tikal National Park in Guatemala, for example, the number of visitors has increased from 14,594 visitors in 1981 to 141,899 visitors in 2002 (IARNA URL IIA 2006, p. 103). Many of these visitors potentially visited Morelet's crocodile areas in the Petén Region that are in the immediate vicinity of the park as part of their ecotourism experience.

While we cannot completely rule out the potential for adverse effects to the Morelet's crocodile due to disturbancefrom ecotourism activity in Tikal National Park, we have found no evidence of such effects. Furthermore, we do not have any information to indicate that ecotourism is likely to become a serious problem in the future. Successful ecotourism, by its very nature, relies on the continued conservation and protection of the natural resources it uses. Although the number of visitors to protected areas is increasing and the demand for ecotourism may grow in the future, the ecotourism industry has a significant incentive to ensure that their activities do not become a serious problem to the Morelet's crocodile and its habitat in the future.

Mazzottiet al.(2005, p. 984), however, did identify the following negative impacts associated with tourism development at Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (Mexico):

(1) Habitat loss;

(2) Alteration of surface and underground water flow;

(3) Ground water pollution;

(4) Extraction of resources;

(5) Erosion and sedimentation;

(6) Decrease in biodiversity; and

(7) Reduced traditional and recreational use for local communities.

Visual pollution, including trash, as well as “jeep safaris” (caravans of small convertible sports utility vehicles being driven through the reserve) and boat traffic, is also increasing at Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (Mazzottiet al.2005, p. 992). While none of these factors was specifically linked to the Morelet's crocodile, all could apply were the situation to deteriorate. However, we do not have any information to indicate that the situation will deteriorate in the future. Biosphere Reserves in Mexico are part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) “Man and the Biosphere” program and are legally protected under Mexican federal laws. Key features of biosphere reserves are core zones of complete protection of key resources surrounded by mixed-use buffer zones. These buffer zones are particularly important given the pressures on the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve from tourism, and its culturally and archeologically significant areas (Mazzottiet al.2005, p. 982). Recognizing these potential negative factors, geographically dispersed ecotourism involving limited numbers of visitors under controlled conditions to observe and photograph specimens from canoes, photographic blinds, or hiking trails can provide relatively benign opportunities to local residents for economic benefits that can serve as an alternative or disincentive to harvest the Morelet's crocodile (CONABIO 2005, p. 28).

There is also evidence that ecotourism, as well as scientific research and wildlife conservation, are compatible activities with respect to the Morelet's crocodile. In Mexico, for example, ecotourists accompany biologists associated with the Amigos de Sian Ka'an group as they conduct surveys of the Morelet's crocodile at Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, along the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Quintana Roo State (EcoColors Tours 2010, pp. 1). At another site, the La Ventanilla Eco-tourism Project in Oaxaca State, Mexico, international volunteers assist local residents and biologists to conserve the Morelet's crocodile, turtles, iguanas, and other species of wildlife (Volunteers for International Partnership—Mexico 2010, 1-4). In Belize, tourists, as well as wildlife researchers from the United States and their Belizean counterparts, are implementing an ecological field study of the Morelet's crocodile at Lamanai Outpost Lodge and Research Station that eventually will lead to the development of a national management plan for the species (The Croc Docs 2010, pp. 1-6). If the biological data, in part collected by the ecotourists, support harvest, and effective enforcement regulations can be developed and implemented, this plan may include commercial exploitation of the Morelet's crocodile. In Guatemala, scientists and ecotourists are working cooperatively with the ProPetén group to undertake conservation work at the Scarlet Macaw Biological Station in the Maya Biosphere Reserve (ProPeten 2009, p. 1). While these activities differ with regard to specific details, in general they provide positive conservation benefits to the Morelet's crocodile and demonstrate that ecotourism, as well as scientific research and wildlife conservation, can be compatible with respect to the species.

Agriculture, Grazing, and Infrastructure Development

Agriculture, grazing, and infrastructure development (such as dams, roads, residential areas, and irrigated fields) generally are indirect impacts in that the purpose of the action is not focused on the crocodile. These activities can be either consumptive (for example, destruction of nests and eggs by machinery) or nonconsumptive (for example, loss of access to traditional nesting or feeding sites), and are generally manifested through habitat loss or fragmentation. Depending on the nature and extent of these activities, they may have a substantial negative impact on local Morelet's crocodile populations. Although agriculture, grazing, and infrastructure development are currently affecting local populations of Morelet's crocodiles, and this is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, we do not have any evidence that these activities are currently or anticipated to be a range-wide threat to the Morelet's crocodile.

Summary of Factor A

Although some habitat degradation has occurred in Mexico, this threat is ameliorated by the LGEEPA. This law has strict restrictions against land use changes in Mexico, especially for undisturbed habitat such as those areas used by the Morelet's crocodile (CONABIO 2005, p. 25). The Sistema Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (SINANP) also provides significant habitat protection in Mexico. The SINANP created designated protected areas because these areas contain key or representative ecosystems or species, or ecosystems or species that are at risk and require strict control. In Mexico, at least 11 protected areas contain populations of the Morelet's crocodile (CITES 2010a, pp. 17-20). In Belize, at least three protected areas contai