Agency Draft Recovery Plan for Alabama Sturgeon

The Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the availability of the technical/agency draft recovery plan for the endangered Alabama Sturgeon. The draft recovery plan includes specific recovery objectives and criteria that would have to be met in order for us to downlist the species to be threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We request review and comment on this draft recovery plan from local, State, and Federal agencies, and the public.

DATES: In order to be considered, comments on the draft recovery plan must be received on or before June 11, 2012.

ADDRESSES: If you wish to review this technical/agency draft recovery
plan, you may obtain a copy by contacting Jeff Powell, U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, Alabama Field Office, 1208-B Main Street, Daphne, AL
36532; tel. (251) 441-6630, or by visiting either the Service's
recovery plan Web site at http://endangered.fws.gov/recovery/index.html#plans or the Daphne Field Office Web site at http://www.fws.gov/daphne/.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments by one of the
following methods:
     You may submit written comments and materials to Jeff
Powell, at the above address.
     You may hand-deliver written comments to our Alabama Field
Office, at the above address, or fax them to (251) 441-6222.
     You may send comments by email to jeff_powell@fws.gov.
    For additional information about submitting comments, see the
``Request for Public Comments'' section below.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeff Powell, at the above addresses or
by telephone: (251) 441-5858.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The Alabama sturgeon (Scaphirhyncus suttkusi) was listed as
an endangered species under the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) on May 5,
2000 (65 FR 26438). Its historic range encompassed all major rivers in
the Mobile Basin, including the Alabama, Tombigbee, and Cahaba River
systems, below the fall lines for each river. (Fall lines are changes
in elevation (i.e., falls) that block navigation upstream by fish.)
Recent collections of Alabama sturgeon have been restricted to the
lower Alabama River, from below R.F. Henry Lock and Dam to the
confluence of the Tombigbee River, and the lower Cahaba River near its
confluence with the Alabama River; however, records are extremely rare.
The last capture of an Alabama sturgeon was on April 3, 2007, by
biologists at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural
Resources (ADCNR). Critical habitat was designated for the species on
June 2, 2009 (74 FR 26488). The Alabama sturgeon is one of the rarest
fish in the nation and may be close to extinction.


    Restoring an endangered or threatened animal or plant to the point
where it is again a secure, self-sustaining member of its ecosystem is
a primary goal of our endangered species program. To help guide the
recovery effort, we prepare recovery plans for most listed species.
Recovery plans describe actions considered necessary for conservation
of the species, establish criteria for downlisting or delisting, and
estimate time and cost for implementing recovery measures.


    The Act requires the development of recovery plans for listed
species, unless such a plan would not promote the conservation of a
particular species. Section 4(f) of the Act requires us to provide a
public notice and an opportunity for public review and comment during
recovery plan development. We will consider all information we receive
during a public comment period prior to approval of each new or revised
recovery plan. We and other Federal agencies will take these comments
into account in the course of implementing approved recovery plans.

Recovery Plan Components

    The objective of this plan is to provide a framework for the
recovery of the Alabama sturgeon, so that protection under the Act is
no longer necessary. Delisting is not currently foreseeable, due to
extreme curtailment of range and extensive modification to the riverine
habitats. Therefore, if finalized, this draft recovery plan would
establish downlisting criteria for the Alabama sturgeon so that it may
be reclassified as threatened.


    Downlisting of the Alabama sturgeon from endangered to threatened
will be considered when: (1) A population consisting of approximately
500 sexually mature Alabama sturgeon is shown to be surviving and
naturally reproducing in the Alabama/Cahaba Rivers; (2) population
studies show that the Alabama sturgeon population is naturally
recruiting (consisting of multiple age classes) and sustainable over a
period of 20 years (2-3 generations), and no longer requires hatchery
augmentation; and (3) an agreement is in place that ensures adequate
flows are being delivered down the Alabama River to allow for
successful development of sturgeon larvae, and that fish are able to
move successfully both upstream and downstream at dams on the Alabama
River.

Request for Public Comments

    We request written comments on the draft recovery plan. We will
consider all comments we receive by the date specified in DATES prior
to final approval of the plan.