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Comment Period Re-opened for Uplisting Delta Smelt: Technical error triggers additional 60 days for public to submit information

December 9, 2008 -- Due to a technical error, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today provided an additional 60 days for submittal of relevant information about the delta smelt, as part of a process to consider changing its listing category from “threatened” to “endangered.”

The additional comment period, which closes Feb. 9, 2009, is due to an
unintentional error by the federal website that receives comments. The
Service opened a public comment period on July 10, 2008, asking for
information to be submitted on the http://www.regulations.gov website. But
the website was unable to receive electronic information during that
comment period. To assure that all interested parties have had an
opportunity to submit comments, the Service now has re-opened the comment period.

Parties who submitted comments can visit the website
http://www.regulations.gov to verify that their comments were received.

The activity was triggered by a 90-day finding that a petition to upgrade
the smelt’s status contains substantial information that current threats
may be greater than in 1993 when the smelt received protection as a
threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The
90-day finding is the first step in the process of providing or changing
protection for a species under ESA.

In its July 10, 2008 90-day review, the Service concluded that threats may
be of higher magnitude or imminence than was thought at the time of
listing. The Service cited substantial information about habitat loss and
water diversions, inadequate regulatory mechanisms and low population size
as factors in the decision to proceed with the next step. Delta surveys
show a substantial decline in smelt abundance from 2002 through 2007,
indicating that the threats may be of higher magnitude or imminence than
was thought at the time of listing.

“Endangered” is the term in the ESA for a species which is in danger of
extinction, while “threatened” means a species that is likely to become
endangered within the foreseeable future.

A change in listing category for the delta smelt would not by itself
trigger any immediate actions on behalf of the species. While both
categories protect species from unauthorized destruction (take), endangered status also prohibits issuing permits for incidental take that can be allowed for threatened species in some situations.

The public is encouraged to submit any scientific or commercial information
that will help it conduct a complete evaluation and determine the correct
classification of the species. Information may be submitted in two ways,
either through http://www.regulations.gov or by mail to: Public Comments
Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-2008-0067; Division of Policy and Directives
Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, suite
222; Arlington, VA 22203.

In an entirely separate process, under a federal court order the Service
also is developing a new biological opinion (BO), in effect a permit, for
protective actions to help reduce the destruction of delta smelt at two
major water export pumps in the South Delta. The BO must be completed by
Dec. 15.

Contacts: Al Donner, 916-414-6566,
al_donner@fws.gov or Steve Martarano, 916-414-6571, steve_martarano@fws.gov
December 9, 2008