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Critical Habitat Proposed for Gulf Sturgeon

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service finally proposed critical habitat in several areas throughout the Gulf region that should protect the Gulf sturgeon. The Gulf sturgeon is a very large-and extremely rare-inhabitant of the slow-moving rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

"If the proposals are enacted, this can mean only good things for Florida's endangered and threatened species," said David Guest, Earthjustice attorney in Tallahassee. "We had to whack Fish and Wildlife on the head to get them to do the right thing, but now that they are proposing to do just that, there is hope for Gulf sturgeon."

FWS previously had refused to formally designate critical habitat for Gulf sturgeon even though the agency conceded that doing so would be necessary for the recovery of the species. The US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2001 that a finding by the agency refusing to protect sturgeon habitat was invalid, thereby clearing the path for listing in the Federal Register. The areas proposed for critical habitat designation include: the Pearl River system in Louisiana and Mississippi; the Pascagoula River system in Mississippi; the Escambia River system in Florida and Alabama; the Yellow River system in Florida and Alabama; the Choctawhatchee River system in Florida and Alabama; the Apalachicola River system in Florida; and the Suwannee River system in Florida. Several estuarine and marine areas in Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi are also included in the proposal.