On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) reopened the public comment period on its proposed rule (pdf) designating critical habitat for the Zuni bluehead sucker (Catostomus discobolus), a fish species that lives in certain water bodies in New Mexico. In January 2013, the Service proposed to designate 291.3 miles of critical habitat for the species. Due to information received during the public comment period, the Service now proposes to reduce the amount of critical habitat designated for the species to 141.9 miles, of which approximately 70% is currently occupied by the species.
Previously, the Service had proposed critical habitat for the Zuni bluehead sucker in three distinct units – the San Juan River Unit, the Zuni River Unit, and the Kinlichee Creek Unit. However, the Service has determined that, according to the best scientific data available, Zuni bluehead sucker does not occur in the San Juan River Unit, and the Zuni River Unit does not meet the definition of critical habitat.
Pursuant to Section 4(b)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, the Service examined the possible economic impacts and “any other relevant impact” that designating critical habitat may have. Specifically, the Service looked at the possible impacts of designating critical habitat on land owned by the Zuni Pueblo and the Navajo Nation. The Service is considering excluding tribal land from designation in part because the Navajo Nation has a fisheries management plan – which is currently being amended to prioritize native fishes in stream fisheries management – and because the Zuni Pueblo are working with the Service to develop a management plan for their lands. The Service also stated that it is considering excluding tribal land “based on the working relationship” it has with the Tribes and the Tribes’ “sovereign abilities to manage natural resources in accordance with their own policies, customs, and laws.”
The Service also released a draft economic analysis and a draft environmental assessment along with the proposed rule. Comments will be accepted until May 14, 2015.