The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) just informed SCI that it will be reopening the comment period on its recent 90-day finding on the listing status of African leopards. The FWS is opening this new comment period in response to a letter sent by SCI, informing the FWS of an error in the FWS’s original 90-day finding. SCI pointed out that FWS had incorrectly described the range of the leopards currently listed as threatened. FWS acknowledged the error and informed SCI that the FWS would be republishing a corrected version of the 90-day finding in May 2017.
The FWS explained that it would be giving the public an additional 60-days to submit information on whether an uplisting of African leopards from threatened to endangered status is warranted. While FWS prefers the public submit information during the comment period, it explained that the FWS will continue to receive information about African leopards at any time until it completes its “status review” on the species. The FWS informed SCI that it does not intend to publish its decision on the African leopard status review during the 2017 fiscal year, which will end on September 30, 2017.
The letter did not specify how soon after September 30th the FWS will complete the status review. When the FWS finishes its status review, it will either make a finding that uplisting from threatened to endangered is not warranted, or will propose a rule to uplist African leopards to endangered status. Proposing a rule will require FWS to open another public comment opportunity and take the time to consider those comments before making a final decision.
The FWS’s letter confirms that it will not change the listing status of the African leopard between now and September 30, 2017, and likely not for several months after that, if at all. During this period SCI, working with the SCI Foundation, will continue to help range countries and experts in African leopard biology provide FWS with information to show that the uplisting of African leopards is not necessary.