The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a clarification of its public information request originally made in its Sept. 9, 2009, gopher tortoise 90-day finding notice, and its extension of the official public comment period.
According to service officials, the clarification is intended to insure all interested parties understand they have a continuing opportunity to submit all relevant scientific and commercial data for service consideration.
"Following the close of the original comment period, it became apparent to us that there were lingering misperceptions regarding when and how we would or could accept information and data," said Dave Hankla, the service field supervisor in Jacksonville. "We decided that it was important for everyone to have a clear understanding of that process, as well as some additional time to get information to us for the current review."
The announcement also corrects contact information errors in the previous notice and provides instructions on how to submit relevant data to the agency after the close of the official comment period.
The service made an initial substantial finding Sept. 9, 2009, and initiated a range-wide status review to determine if listing this species is warranted in response to the petition. The original 60-day public comment announced in that finding closed on Nov. 9, 2009.
To allow biologists adequate time to consider and incorporate submitted data into the current status review, the service requests information be provided on or before March 13.
Service managers caution biologists may not be able to address or incorporate information into this status review that is received after the above requested date.
"We are obligated by law to use the best available scientific and commercial information in our decision making processes," Hankla said. "But we are also required to make our decisions within a reasonable, and sometime statutory, time line. Thus, at some point we will have to conclude this particular status review and reach a finding. If information is received prior to that time but after the formal close of official comment period and it is substantial, we will not ignore it."
Information previously submitted need not be resubmitted as it has already been incorporated into the public record and will be fully considered in the 12-month finding.
To ensure this status review is comprehensive, the service is soliciting scientific and commercial data and other information regarding listing the gopher tortoise throughout all of its range.
Anyone who wants to submit information regarding the gopher tortoise throughout may do so via one of the following methods:
• Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments.
• U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4- ES-2009-0029; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.
We will post all information received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us.
For more information about the gopher tortoise and this finding, go to the service’s Web site: www.fws.gov/northflorida.