[Federal Register Volume 63, Number 235 (Tuesday, December 8, 1998)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 67613-67618]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 98-32547]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; New 12-month 
Finding for a Petition to List the Florida Black Bear

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of new 12-month petition finding.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces a new 12-
month finding for a petition to list the Florida black bear (Ursus 
americanus floridanus) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended. After a review of all available scientific and commercial 
information, the Service finds that listing of the Florida black bear 
is not warranted at this time. This finding supersedes the previous 12-
month finding that found listing of the Florida black bear to be 
warranted but precluded by higher priority listing actions. 
Furthermore, because the definition of a candidate species, one for 
which the Service has on file sufficient information on biological 
vulnerability and threats to support issuance of a proposed rule, no 
longer applies to the Florida black bear, we remove this species from 
the candidate species list.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on November 25, 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michael M. Bentzien, Assistant Field 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6620 Southpoint Drive 
South, Jacksonville, Florida 32216 (904/232-2580, ext. 106).


[[Page 67614]]


    The Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) is a 
subspecies of the black bear (Ursus americanus), which ranges from 
northern Alaska and Canada south to northern Mexico. According to Hall 
(1981), historically the Florida black bear was primarily restricted to 
Florida, but also occurred in coastal plain areas of Georgia, Alabama, 
and extreme southeastern Mississippi. Following extensive human 
development, the distribution of the Florida black bear has become 
fragmented and reduced, perhaps occupying 27 percent of its former 
range in Florida (Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission 
(Commission 1993). Population sizes and densities prior to the arrival 
of the first European colonists are not known and probably varied 
throughout the different habitats found in this part of the Southeast. 
The Commission (1993) estimated that possibly 11,500 bears once 
inhabited Florida. The bear is currently State-listed as a threatened 
species by the Commission, except in Baker and Columbia counties and in 
Apalachicola National Forest where it is considered a game species, 
although there is currently no open season. It is considered threatened 
by the Florida Committee on Rare and Endangered Plants and Animals 
(Williams 1978, Maehr and Wooding 1992). The States of Alabama and 
Georgia consider it a game animal, with no hunt allowed in Alabama and 
a limited hunt (6 days on 3 weekends in September and October and a 3-
day hunt on December 3, 4, and 5, which was added this year) of the 
Okefenokee population in Georgia.
    Service involvement with the Florida black bear began with the 
species' inclusion as a category 2 species in notices of review 
published on December 30, 1982 (47 FR 58454), September 18, 1985 (50 FR 
37958), January 6, 1989 (54 FR 554), and November 21, 1991 (56 FR 
58804). At that time, category 2 species were defined as those for 
which information in the possession of the Service indicated that 
listing was possibly appropriate, but for which sufficient data on 
biological vulnerability and threat were not currently available to 
support proposed rules. On May 20, 1990, we received a petition from 
Ms. Inge Hutchison of Lake Geneva, Florida, to list the Florida black 
bear as a threatened species. The petition cited the following threats: 
(1) Illegal hunting by beekeepers; gallbladder poachers, and others; 
(2) loss and fragmentation of critical habitat; (3) hunting pressure; 
and (4) road mortality. The Service made a 90-day petition finding on 
October 18, 1990 (55 FR 42223), that the petition presented substantial 
information. Based on the information received and information in 
Service files, a 12-month finding was made on January 7, 1991 (56 FR 
596), indicating that the Service believed that listing was warranted 
but precluded by higher priority listing actions. At the time of the 
finding, we assigned the species a level 9 priority in our listing 
priority system published on September 21, 1983 (48 FR 43098). That 
level indicated that the species was subject to imminent but moderate-
to-low threats throughout its range. Since we determined that listing 
was warranted, the species was included as a category 1 candidate in 
the November 15, 1994, animal review notice (59 FR 58982). At that 
time, a category 1 candidate (now referred to as a ``candidate'') was 
one for which the Service had on file sufficient information to support 
issuance of a proposed rule. Designation of a category system of 
candidates was discontinued in the February 28, 1996, notice of review 
(61 FR 7956). The Florida black bear was included as a candidate in 
that notice with a listing priority number of 12, indicating a species 
under non-imminent moderate-to-low threat. Since the 12-month finding, 
the Service's Southeast Region has used its listing resources to 
process higher priority listing actions.
    The processing of this finding conforms to the Service's final 
listing priority guidance published in the Federal Register on May 8, 
1998 (63 FR 25502). The guidance clarifies the order in which the 
Service will process rulemakings. The highest priority is given to 
handling emergency situations (Tier 1), second highest priority (Tier 
2) to processing final decisions on proposed listings, resolving the 
conservation status of candidate species, processing administrative 
findings on petitions, and delisting or reclassifying actions, and 
lowest priority (tier 3) to actions involving critical habitat 
determinations. The processing of this final rule falls under tier 2. 
At this time, the Southeast Region has no pending tier 1 actions.
    The Service contracted a taxonomic review of southeastern black 
bears in 1992 (Vaughan et al. 1998), to clarify the relationships of 
the Florida, Louisiana (U. a. luteolus), and American black bears. The 
results indicate that the current taxonomic arrangement remains valid 
(Kasbohm and Bentzien 1998), and the Florida black bear qualifies as a 
``species'' as defined by the Act.
    The Service contracted a population ecology study of the 
Okefenokee-Osceola population with the University of Tennessee in 1994; 
the work is ongoing in 1998. Studies to determine basic information 
such as bear population demographics and movement are also underway in 
southern Alabama, on Eglin Air Force Base, and in the Chassahowitzka 
area of west central Florida.
    On January 21, 1997, the Service entered into a revised settlement 
agreement in the Fund for Animals et al. v. Babbitt case (Civil No. 92-
0800 SS, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia). One of the 
stipulations of the agreement was that we would resolve the 
conservation status of the Florida black bear by December 31, 1998.
    In 1998, we updated the status review of this species (Kasbohm and 
Bentzien 1998) to include additional information concerning the status 
of the Florida black bear that had become available since the 1992 

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act and regulations (50 CFR 424) promulgated to 
implement the listing provisions of the Act set forth the procedures 
for adding species to the Federal Lists. A species may be determined to 
be an endangered species (in danger of extinction throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range) or threatened species (likely to 
become endangered in the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range) due to one or more of the five 
factors described in section 4(a)(1). The factors and their application 
to the Florida black bear are as follows:

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of Its Habitat or Range

    Much of the historical habitat of the Florida black bear has been 
lost to land clearing and alteration by man. Currently, the bear is 
found mainly in seven more-or-less separate populations (Kasbohm and 
Bentzien 1998), some of which are sufficiently isolated by distance or 
unsuitable habitat that there would be little chance of interchange 
between them. These, and other Florida black bear populations, are 
discussed below.
    1. In Alabama, the Florida black bear appears restricted to the 
Mobile River Basin and adjacent areas, including portions of Baldwin, 
Clarke, Choctaw, Mobile, and Washington counties. About 377 square 
kilometers (sq km) (93,000 acres (ac)) support an estimated population 
of less than 50 bears. Bears may also occur occasionally on an 
additional 6,641 sq km (1,640,327 ac) of

[[Page 67615]]

adjacent lands, but not as a resident breeding population. Most of 
these lands are private, and residential development is expected to 
continue, significantly affecting primary bear habitat within the next 
ten years. This population shows morphological indications of excessive 
inbreeding (Kasbohm et al. 1994), including kinked or absent tails, 
prolapsed (slipping outward) rectums, and no external scrotum or 
testes. Because of its low numbers, shrinking habitat, and genetic 
problems, this population could be extirpated in the near future.
    2. Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) and surrounding public lands in the 
western Florida panhandle include about 2,700 sq km (667,000 ac). Eglin 
AFB contains 1,680 sq km (414,960 ac) of usable bear habitat but only 
722 sq km (178,334 ac) are considered of high quality (Cox et al. 
1994). Based on recent studies, it is estimated that 60 to 100 bears 
may occur on Eglin AFB. There are an estimated 6,641 sq km (1,640.327 
ac) of additional land in the area where bears occasionally occur, and 
it is possible that numbers and distribution are greater than currently 
known; Cox et al. (1994) estimated that existing Eglin AFB and adjacent 
conservation lands could support as many as 150 to 210 bears, not 
including conservation lands north of Interstate 10 (such as Blackwater 
State Forest) that appear to be suitable bear habitat but which may be 
severed from the Eglin population by the Interstate and U.S. 90. Cox et 
al. (1994) considered this population to be stable.
    Based on human population growth projections (Floyd et al. 1996), 
development in this area will continue to reduce and fragment bear 
habitat on private lands. Road mortality may be the greatest threat to 
this population; bears on Eglin AFB have large home ranges due to 
limited availability of preferred habitat and, therefore, may have to 
cross roads frequently (Carl Petrick, Natural Resources, Eglin AFB, 
pers. comm.). Dunbar et al. (1996) reported physical signs of 
inbreeding in this population, although recent bear captures have not 
detected such signs (Carl Petrick, Natural Resources, Eglin AFB, pers. 
comm.). We believe the Eglin AFB population is currently stable, but 
based on uneven habitat quality on occupied conservation lands and the 
probability of significant human population growth on adjacent private 
lands, management (e. g., occasional transfers of bears from another 
population) could be necessary in the future to keep the population 
    3. In the central Florida panhandle, bears occur primarily on the 
Apalachicola National Forest (NF) and adjacent conservation and private 
lands. The area includes 10,930 sq km (2,700,000 ac) of potential, 
mostly high quality bear habitat. Existing and projected acquisition of 
public lands will provide about 4,100 sq km (over 1,000,000 ac) of 
secure habitat. While additional research is necessary to determine 
population size throughout this area, we estimate that it exceeds 400 
    Projected land use indicates that habitat alteration and human 
development will occur at slow rates, significant areas of private 
lands are expected to remain forested habitat through the foreseeable 
future. Considering the large contiguous area of conservation lands, 
the estimated number of bears present, the slow rate of human 
development, and the lack of substantial mortality, we believe the 
Apalachicola NF population is secure for the foreseeable future and may 
be able to expand into 6,000 sq km (1,482,000 ac) of apparently 
unoccupied habitat in the Big Bend area of Florida.
    4. A small bear population occurs in Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco 
Counties on the middle Gulf Coast of Florida, and is often referred to 
as the Chassahowitzka population. There are an estimated 850 sq km 
(209,950 ac) of potential habitat in the area, but only 250 sq km 
(61,750 ac) are in public ownership. Less than 20 bears are believed to 
reside in this area. There are an additional 200 sq km (49,400 ac) of 
conservation lands along the Withlacoochee River, 100 sq km (24,700 ac) 
in Pasco County, and 526 sq km (129,922 ac) in the Green Swamp area 
(another 626 sq km (154,622 ac) are proposed for acquisition there). 
While bear sightings are known from these areas, they are unlikely to 
maintain linkages with the Chassahowitzka area and none of these lands 
in the area are large enough to support a long-term bear population 
without management. The Chassahowitzka area is likely to have continued 
rapid human development with the consequent loss of forested lands and 
the expansion of roads. This indicates that the Chassahowitzka 
population is unlikely to persist into the foreseeable future. However, 
Cox et al. (1994) believed the Green Swamp area was capable of 
supporting 24 to 48 bears, and that such a population would have a fair 
chance of survival for very long periods (under favorable management 
conditions, possibly greater than 80 percent chance of survival for 200 
years). The Commission intends to investigate the status of bears in 
the Green Swamp, and with management, a small population could likely 
be maintained on these public lands. A self-sustaining bear population, 
however, does not appear likely in the Chassahowitzka area.
    5. The Ocala NF and the northeastern peninsula of Florida support 
populations of bears that were (and still are) connected, but the 
conservation situation is different for each area. The Ocala area 
includes about 8,935 sq km (2,207,000 ac) of high quality bear habitat, 
2,223 sq km (549,000 ac) of which are nearly contiguous public 
conservation lands. Proposed acquisition projects would increase public 
lands in the Ocala NF area to 2,600 sq km (642,000 ac). Wooding et al. 
(1994) estimated a minimum density of 0.08 bears per sq km (0.2 bears 
per square mile (sq mi)) in the forest, and extrapolated this to a 
possible population size of 125 for the entire forest. Roof and Wooding 
(1996) studied bears in the vicinity of the wildlife underpass on State 
Route 46 south of Ocala NF and estimated a density of 0.53 bears sq km 
(0.28 bears per sq mi). The latter density observation leads us to 
believe that the estimate of 125 bears (Cox et al. (1994) for the Ocala 
NF is too low, and that several hundred bears occur on the forest and 
adjacent public conservation lands. Based on the fact that 2,600 sq km 
(642,000 ac) of protected habitat are projected to be available to 
bears in the future (2,223 sq km is already protected), and the high 
productivity of the area, the Service believes the Ocala black bear 
population will remain viable into the foreseeable future.
    Most bear habitat in the St. Johns area is on private commercial 
timber lands. Several public land holdings provide corridors for the 
Ocala population to reach private lands to the east, and the continued 
existence of bears in the St. Johns area probably depends on continued 
connection to the Ocala NF area. In the southern St. Johns area, the 
Tosohatchee State Reserve and adjacent conservation lands total about 
356 sq km (87,932 ac) and are believed to support a small bear 
population. Persistence of this population is also dependent on 
maintaining interchange with the rest of the St. Johns and Ocala areas. 
The northern St. Johns population extends into Duval County, nearly to 
Jacksonville. The metropolitan area is expanding rapidly from southern 
Duval County through St. Johns County and southward, making it unlikely 
that bears will persist in this area, particularly east of Interstate 
95. The St. Johns area is most likely to retain bears if corridors are 
maintained with the Ocala population. Given the increased density of 
humans in this area, it is unlikely that effective connections can be 

[[Page 67616]]

in much of the area. Failing such connections, bear habitat will become 
increasingly fragmented, with bears being extirpated in the St. Johns 
    6. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Osceola National 
Forest, and nearby lands support a large bear population. The area has 
about 5,872 sq km (about 1,500,000 ac) of occupied habitat and 4,395 sq 
km (about 1,100,000 ac) of potentially occupied or suitable habitat 
(Commission 1993). About 2,532 sq km (625,404 ac) of primary bear range 
is protected in State and Federal ownership. Many timber lands 
surrounding the Okefenokee NWR provide important upland habitat for 
bears. Many of these areas are leased to local hunt clubs; the hunt 
clubs and landowners view the bears as an asset because of the interest 
in the Georgia hunt. Most of these lands are projected to remain in 
commercial timber production in the future. In Florida, losses of 
forested area are anticipated around the Jacksonville and Lake City 
areas, but these are on the periphery of the range and are not expected 
to affect the core population.
    Population density estimates range from 0.1 to 0.4 bears per sq km 
(0.259 to 1.0 bears per sq mi) (Clark et al. unpublished data, Abler 
1983). Population extrapolation, assuming a density of 0.25 bears per 
sq km (derived from the low range of Abler and mid-range of Clark), 
yields a conservative estimate of 630 bears for currently protected 
lands, and over 1,200 bears for all occupied habitat in the area.
    Based on the low human population in this area, the slow 
anticipated rate of development, and the large core of protected lands, 
this population is secure and should remain viable into the foreseeable 
    7. In south Florida, bears are found on private and public lands in 
four counties in and near the Big Cypress Swamp, and in the vicinity of 
Highlands County to the north. There are an estimated 3,257 sq km 
(804,479 ac) of potential habitat (both public and private) in the Big 
Cypress area (Cox et al. 1994); about 3,393 sq km (838,071 ac) of land 
in this area is included in Federal and State conservation lands, but 
only 2,700 sq km (666,900 ac) of this protected habitat is believed to 
be bear habitat. Projected conservation land acquisitions would bring 
the total protected land area to over 3,850 sq km (950,950 ac). This 
would encompass 94 percent of the 3,257 km sq of bear habitat 
identified by Cox et al. (1994); 83 percent (2,700 sq km) is currently 
in Federal and State conservation lands. Based on a density estimate of 
0.12 bears per sq km (.31 per sq mi) (Maehr 1997), the Big Cypress area 
may support 390 bears. The Highlands County area contains about 704 sq 
km (173,888 ac) of suitable habitat and only 44.5 sq km (10,992 ac) of 
protected lands, in three scattered areas, and could contain 85 bears.
    Projected land use in this region includes urban development and 
citrus conversion. Based on past rates of forest conversion, most of 
the forested land in private ownership may be lost to development in 
the foreseeable future, both in the Highlands and Big Cypress areas. 
While the Highlands County population will lack sufficient area and 
connectivity to support a population, the Big Cypress population should 
remain secure and viable on public conservation lands into the 
foreseeable future.
    We believe that there are four viable Florida black bear 
populations, Apalachicola NF, Ocala NF, Okefenokee NWR-Osceola NF, and 
Big Cypress National Preserve, which are secure on public conservation 
lands, and will be maintained on those lands into the foreseeable 
future. These populations are distributed over most of the historical 
range of the species. Therefore, we conclude that habitat loss and 
fragmentation are not likely to cause the Florida black bear to become 
endangered in the foreseeable future over all or a significant portion 
of its range.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    The Florida black bear is a game species in Alabama, Georgia, and 
in the Apalachicola National Forest and Baker and Columbia counties in 
Florida. Bears in the remaining range in Florida are State-listed as 
threatened. There is currently no open season in Alabama and Florida.
    Georgia allows a 6-day hunt of the Florida black bear around the 
Okefenokee Swamp for three consecutive weekends in September and 
October and this year added a 3-day hunt in the Dixon Memorial Forest 
(part of the Okefenokee population) on December 3, 4, and 5. From 1988 
to 1997, 392 bears were legally killed, with a mean annual kill of 39 
bears. Mean ages of males (4.7 years) and females (6.1 years) taken 
throughout the history of the hunt indicate a relatively old age 
distribution, and a sustainable hunt (Bunnell and Tait 1985, Garshelis 
1990). Preliminary estimates indicate annual harvest rates of 10 to 13 
percent, a level that should not cause a population decrease (J. Clark 
et al. University of Tennessee, unpublished data). Continued State 
monitoring of the hunt should ensure that excessive proportions of 
females are not taken and that excessive kills do not occur in years 
when failures of natural foods cause bears to leave Okefenokee NWR in 
unusually large numbers. Beginning in 1992, the Georgia Department of 
Natural Resources implemented and continues to conduct annual bait 
station surveys to monitor the population.
    We do not consider the current legal hunt a threat to the continued 
existence of the Florida black bear, and conclude that this factor is 
not likely to cause the species to become endangered throughout all or 
a significant part of its range in the foreseeable future.

C. Disease or Predation

    Southeastern black bears are known to host a variety of disease 
organisms; none of these seem to represent a serious problem (Davidson 
and Nettles 1988). Disease in not known to be a factor in the decline 
of the Florida black bear. This species has few natural enemies; 
predation is not a threat. These factors are not a threat to the 
Florida black bear now or in the foreseeable future.

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 
(Division of Game and Fish), Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish 
Commission, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (Wildlife 
Resources Division) have authority and responsibility for the 
management of the Florida black bear in their respective States. Their 
capabilities include the regulation of hunting and take (illegal 
killing), management of State wildlife management areas, law 
enforcement, research, and conservation and educational activities 
relating to the Florida black bear. We believe the authority and 
interest of these agencies are sufficient to monitor the status of the 
Florida black bear on the four major populations on public lands. The 
Federal and State protection afforded on the four primary public land 
areas will be adequate to ensure the continued existence of bears. The 
agencies are able to move bears if necessary, and, in the case of 
Florida, may help maintain the bear on one or possibly two additional 
areas of public lands (Eglin Air Force Base and possibly the Green 
Swamp) where occasional translocations may be necessary.
    We believe there are currently adequate levels of protection and 
management authority to ensure the survival of the Florida black bear 
on the

[[Page 67617]]

four major public land areas through the foreseeable future, through 
the existing authority of the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park 
Service, the Service's National Wildlife Refuge System, and State and 
other conservation land managers.
    Federal protection against illegal trade in bears or bear parts 
(e.g., gall bladders and claws) that crosses State lines is available 
through the Lacey Act. Such take is not currently known to be a 
significant problem (see discussion below).

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued Existence

    Poaching is a potential threat to the Florida black bear, including 
kills of nuisance bears, hunting out of season, and killing of bears 
for commercially valuable parts such as claws and gall bladders. 
Currently, directed poaching of Florida black bears for parts appears 
to be absent or undetectable. Ongoing work in the Okefenokee NWR-
Osceola NF area, for example, has not identified a significant level of 
poaching or illegal killing of black bears (Kasbohm and Bentzien 1998). 
Further, poaching and illegal kill are not known to be significant 
mortality factors for other Florida black bear populations.
    Road-kills are a mortality factor for the Florida black bear 
throughout its range. Following the cessation of the legal hunt in 
Florida after the 1993-1994 season, the main mortality factor in the 
Apalachicola NF area may be road-kills. At least 81 bears were killed 
in vehicle collisions from 1976 to 1995 in and near to Apalachicola NF. 
However, road-kill mortality at current levels seems unlikely to 
negatively affect the overall Apalachicola bear population due to the 
slow rate of human population growth in the area and large areas of 
forested lands that are expected to remain intact. In the Ocala 
population, 187 road-killed bears were recorded from 1976 to 1995. As 
in other parts of the State, this mortality rate has increased in the 
last few years, with 35 percent of all the road-kills occurring from 
1993 to 1995. Expansion of State Routes 40, 44, and 46 may lead to 
higher mortality, reduce the number of bears in the vicinity of these 
roads, and tend to isolate black bears to fragments of the Ocala NF. 
Although road-kills represent a significant mortality factor for this 
population, annual mortality rates calculated for this population, 
based on radiotelemetry studies (Wooding and Hardisky 1994, Roof and 
Wooding 1996), were less than those for most bear populations examined 
in the eastern United States (Bunnell and Tait 1985). A wildlife 
underpass was installed on State Route 46 in 1994 and appears to have 
been effective in reducing road-kills (Roof and Wooding 1996). 
According to Lande and Barrowclough (1987), a subdivided population can 
be considered approximately panmictic (random mating occurring 
throughout the population) if separate colonies exchange on the order 
of one or more migrants (bears in this case) per generation. The 
abundance and movements of bears in and near Ocala NF (Roof and Wooding 
1996) make it unlikely that this level of migration would be prevented 
in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it appears unlikely that the 
Ocala population would become genetically isolated due to road 
    Road-kills in the Big Cypress and Highlands County areas totaled 76 
and 27 bears, respectively, from 1976 to 1995 with 80 percent occurring 
before 1993. This mortality rate may have been alleviated by the 
establishment of 24 wildlife underpasses on Interstate 75 and two on 
State Route 29 in Collier County (Gilbert and Wooding 1996).
    We conclude that neither illegal killing of black bears nor road 
mortality is likely to cause the Florida black bear to become 
endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the 
foreseeable future.
    A basic question in assessing the conservation status of these 
populations is the likelihood of their persisting into the foreseeable 
future. Many factors affecting population dynamics and the chance of 
extinction are uncertain, i.e., due to chance or random events. 
Demographic uncertainty, environmental variability, and genetic 
uncertainty are primary threats to vertebrate populations. Demographic 
uncertainty results from random events in the survival and reproduction 
of individuals. Environmental uncertainty is due to random or 
unpredictable changes in weather, food supply, and the populations of 
competitors, predators, and parasites, etc.; and natural catastrophes 
occurring at random intervals. Genetic uncertainty or random changes in 
genetic make-up may occur due to the founder effect (the principle that 
the founders of a new population carry only a random fraction of the 
genetic diversity of the parent population), genetic drift (random gene 
frequency changes in a small population due to chance), or inbreeding 
(Shaffer 1987).
    Minimum viable population modeling (Soule 1987) is a predictive 
tool to assess the potential fate of a population by predicting the 
probability of its persistence for a specific time, based on 
demographic characteristics of the species and incorporating 
environmental variability as described above. Cox et al. (1994) used 
such simulations to predict the probability of persistence of the 
Florida black bear, under varying environmental conditions (favorable, 
moderate, and unfavorable), for 200 years. The model assumed that a 
catastrophic event lowering reproduction by 40 percent would occur, on 
average, every 25 years. Simulations indicated that a population of 
about 60 bears under favorable conditions would have a 95 percent 
chance of persistence for 200 years. This probability of persistence 
would require 100 bears under moderate environmental conditions and 130 
bears under unfavorable conditions.
    Based on data from stock breeders, Franklin (1980) recommended a 
minimum effective population size of 50 individuals as a threshold 
above which the population would maintain acceptably low levels of 
inbreeding for many generations, but that 500 might be required to 
maintain typical levels of heritable variation. Effective population 
size (the size of an ideal population that would undergo the same 
amount of random genetic drift as the actual population) is always less 
than the size of a breeding population. Cox et al. (1994) estimated 
that an effective population size of 50 for the Florida black bear 
would require a total population of 75 to 130. They recommended a 
general goal of ten secure populations of at least 200 individuals for 
rare vertebrates, with conservation areas of 2,000 to 4,000 sq km 
recommended for bears. Given the large amount of relatively undeveloped 
land required to support such populations, it appears unlikely that 
this goal can be achieved within the historical range of the Florida 
black bear. There are currently four populations on public conservation 
lands, distributed widely over the historical range, that meet the 
above criteria for population size and size of conservation area. Cox 
et al. (1994) indicated that habitat persistence of wildlife 
populations was more dependent on appropriate management than 
population size. Natural resource management of significant 
conservation lands supporting Florida black bears is discussed below.
    Current natural resource management on Eglin AFB includes the 
maintenance of habitat diversity and includes prescribed burning to 
maintain natural ecological conditions, uneven aged stands, replacement 
of sand pine when it has invaded longleaf pine communities, and 
maintenance of riparian and forested wetlands on which

[[Page 67618]]

bears depend (Department of the Air Force 1993). This management is 
expected to be compatible with the continued existence of bears, 
although the limited bear population size may require augmentation in 
the future.
    The USDA Forest Service Land and Resource Management Plan (Plan) 
for National Forests in Florida, covering lands which make up most core 
bear conservation lands, is expected to be compatible with the 
continued maintenance of bears at current levels (U.S. Forest Service 
1998). The main land management practices in the Plan are prescribed 
burning and timber management. One of the Plan's goals is to maintain 
or restore ecosystem composition, structure, and function within the 
natural range of variability. Meeting this goal should ensure that 
silvicultural practices are compatible with maintaining bears on the 
National Forests. Specific management activities include thinning of 
young pine plantations, initiation of uneven-aged management, and sand 
pine clearcuts. Hardwoods will be left to supply mast (nuts and fruits 
of forest trees). Prescribed fire will emphasize growing-season burns. 
These measures are predicted to increase forage and acorn availability 
for bears. Most road activity is expected to be maintenance and 
reconstruction of existing Forest Service roads. Cross-country travel 
will be limited to pedestrians and horse riders.
    The Big Cypress National Preserve management goals are to preserve 
the watershed and its natural flora and fauna, through prescribed 
burning, the control of exotic plants, and the restoration of hydrology 
(National Park Service 1991). This management is expected to be 
compatible with the continued existence of the bear.
    On National Wildlife Refuges, management goals include ecosystem 
management for the maintenance of diverse natural habitats for a 
variety of wildlife. The forestry and burning practices plans of 
Okefenokee and Florida Panther NWRs are expected to continue providing 
good bear habitat into the foreseeable future.
    Based on projected compatible habitat management for bears on core 
habitat areas, these lands are predicted to continue providing secure 
bear habitat into the foreseeable future.
    The Florida black bear, in comparison to bears not federally 
protected in other parts of the southeast, is similar in population 
size and total secure habitat. The recovery criteria for the federally 
threatened Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) (U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service 1995) calls for two viable subpopulations linked 
by a corridor, with long-term protection of the habitat. In contrast, 
the Florida black bear currently has four stable populations on 
conservation lands that have long-term protection.


    We have reviewed the petition, 1998 status review, available 
literature, and other information. After reviewing the best scientific 
and commercial information available, we conclude that the continued 
existence of the Florida black bear is not threatened by any of the 
five factors alone or in combination. We find, therefore, that the 
Florida black bear is not endangered nor likely to become endangered 
within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion 
of its range and that listing as threatened or endangered is not 

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available from 
the Jacksonville Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION section).
    Author: The primary author of this notice is Dr. Michael M. 
Bentzien (for address and phone number, see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: November 25, 1998.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 98-32547 Filed 12-7-98; 8:45 am]