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Fish and Wildlife Service to Consider Uplisting Delta Smelt; Service seeks useful information for analysis during 60-day comment period

July 9, 2008. As the first step in a process that could change the listing category of the delta smelt from ?threatened? to ?endangered,? the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today asked for submittal of all relevant information about the delta smelt.

The request is contained in a Service 90-day finding that a petition to upgrade the listing contains substantial information that current threats to the delta smelt may be greater than in 1993 when the smelt received protection as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The notice opens a 60-day comment period, which ends Sept.8. During that period, as specified by the ESA, the Service encourages all parties to submit relevant scientific or commercial information about the species to help the Service complete the best analysis possible of the small fish.

The 90-day finding, the first step in the process of providing protection for a species under ESA, is based on information in the petition about habitat loss, water diversions, inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms and low population size. Recent surveys have shown a substantial decline in delta 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.

The finding comes at a particularly busy time in the regulatory effort to assist the small species, but is unrelated to those other activities. One is a federal court order last December for protective actions to help reduce the killing of delta smelt at two major water export pumps in the South Delta. The court also ordered the Service to complete a new biological opinion, in effect a permit, for the pumps by Sept. 15. Other efforts under way to improve the Delta ecosystem include the Delta Vision Plan, the Ecosystem Restoration Plan, CalFed, a Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), proposals for hatcheries to breed more delta smelt, and a research effort into the causes of the decline in delta smelt and other species.

?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 in some situations that can be allowed for threatened species.

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.govor 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. General statements of support or opposition may be submitted, but are not part of the informational analysis.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.