[Federal Register: March 17, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 51)]
[Page 13227-13228]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Receipt of an Application for an Incidental Take Permit for 
construction of Oak Grove High School, in Lamar County, Mississippi.

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: The Lamar County School Board District (Applicant), is seeking 
an incidental take permit (ITP) from the Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service), pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973 (Act), as amended. The ITP would authorize the take of the 
threatened Gopher tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus, for a fifty (50) year 
period. The proposed taking is incidental to land clearing and other 
activities associated with the construction and use of Oak Grove High 
School, a public education facility for grades nine through twelve, 
occupying a 39-acre site in Lamar County, Mississippi (Project). 
Surveys on the Project site indicate that at least one adult Gopher 
tortoise inhabits the Project. A description of the mitigation and 
minimization measures outlined the Applicant's Habitat Conservation 
Plan (HCP or Plan) to address the effects of the Project to the 
protected species is as described further in the SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION section below.
    Further, the Service has determined that the Applicant's Plan 
qualifies as a ``low-effect'' Plan as defined by the Service's Habitat 
Conservation Planning Handbook (November 1996). The Service has further 
determined that approval of the Plan qualifies as a categorical 
exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as 
provided by the Department of Interior Manual (516 DM 2, Appendix 1 and 
516 DM 6, Appendix 1).
    Copies of the Applicant's Plan may be obtained by making a request 
to the Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). Requests must be in writing to 
be processed. This notice is provided pursuant to Section 10 of the Act 
and NEPA regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).
    The Service specifically requests information, views, opinions from 
the public via this Notice, including information regarding the 
adequacy of the Plan as measured against the Service's ITP issuance 
criteria found in 50 CFR Parts 13 and 17.

DATES: Written comments on the application and Plan should be sent to 
the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be received on 
or before April 17, 1999.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the Plan may obtain a copy by 
writing the Service's Southeast Regional Office, Atlanta, Georgia. 
Documents will also be available for public inspection by appointment 
during normal business hours at the Regional Office, 1875 Century 
Boulevard, Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 30345 (Attn: Endangered Species 
Permits), or Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6578 
Dogwood View Parkway, Suite A, Jackson, Mississippi 39213. Written data 
or comments should be submitted to the Regional Office.
    Requests for the documentation must be in writing to be processed. 
Comments must be submitted in writing to be processed. Please reference 
permit number TE-007399-0 in such comments, or in requests of the 
documents discussed herein.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Rick G. Gooch, Regional Permit 
Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7110, facsimile: 

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), 
is listed as a threatened species in the western part of its range, 
from the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers in Alabama west to southeastern 
Louisiana. As a native burrowing species of the fire-maintained 
longleaf pine ecosystem, typical gopher tortoise habitat consists of 
frequently burned longleaf pine or longleaf pine/scrub oak uplands on 
moderately well drained to xeric soils. About 80 percent of the 
original habitat for gopher tortoises has been lost due to urbanization 
and agriculture. Certain forest management practices in remaining 
upland pine habitats have also adversely affected the gopher tortoise. 
Silvicultural systems using intensive site preparation, dense 
plantations and stands of loblolly pine or slash pine, and infrequent 
fire have reduced or eliminated the open forest and sunny forest floor 
of grasses and forbs where gopher tortoises burrow, nest, and feed. 
Though gopher tortoises are widely distributed in south Mississippi, 
most populations are fragmented, small in size, and functionally non-
    Section 9 of the Act, and implementing regulations, prohibits 
taking the gopher tortoise. Taking, in part, is defined as an activity 
that kills, injures, harms, or harasses a listed endangered or 
threatened species. Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act provides an 
exemption, under certain circumstances, to the Section 9

[[Page 13228]]

prohibition if the taking is incidental to, and not the purpose of 
otherwise lawful activities.
    Gopher tortoise surveys conducted by the Applicant have identified 
at least one adult gopher tortoise within the Project. Land clearing, 
construction and heavy equipment operations can directly kill or injure 
tortoises as a result of their becoming crushed or entombed in burrows.
    The Plan describes measures the Applicant will take to avoid and 
mitigate such taking, including: (1) Translocation of all resident 
tortoises from the Project to a suitable 25-acre recipient site which 
already contains a colony of the species; (2) management of the 
recipient site for the long term benefit of the relocated tortoise(s) 
and the resident population; and, (3) monitoring and reporting on the 
effectiveness of the chosen mitigation and minimization strategy.
    As earlier stated, the Service has determined that the Plan 
qualifies as a ``low-effect'' Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) as 
defined by the Service's Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook 
(November 1996). Low-effect HCPs are those involving: (1) Minor or 
negligible effects on federally listed and candidate species and their 
habitats, and (2) minor or negligible effects on other environmental 
values or resources. The Applicant's Plan qualifies for the following 
    1. Approval of the Plan would result in minor or negligible effects 
on the Gopher tortoise and its habitat. The Service does not anticipate 
significant direct or cumulative effects to the Gopher tortoise 
resulting from construction of the Project.
    2. Approval of the Plan would not have adverse effects on known 
unique geographic, historic or cultural sites, or involve unique or 
unknown environmental risks.
    3. Approval of the Plan would not result in any significant adverse 
effects on public health or safety.
    4. The project does not require compliance with Executive Order 
11988 (Floodplain Management), Executive Order 11990 (Protection of 
Wetlands), or the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, nor does it 
threaten to violate a Federal, State, local or tribal law or 
requirement imposed for the protection of the environment.
    5. Approval of the Plan would not establish a precedent for future 
action or represent a decision in principle about future actions with 
potentially significant environmental effects.
    The Service has therefore determined that approval of the Plan 
qualifies as a categorical exclusion under the NEPA, as provided by the 
Department of the Interior Manual (516 DM 2, Appendix 1 and 516 DM 6, 
Appendix 1). No further NEPA documentation will therefore be prepared. 
In the Service's continuing efforts to ensure compliance with section 
106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Service's Regional 
Archaeologist will determine, after further investigations which are 
currently underway, the effect of the proposed construction on cultural 
resources that may be present within the project area. Results of these 
investigations will be considered and incorporated into the Service's 
final determinations on this Plan.
    The Service will evaluate the Plan and comments submitted thereon 
to determine whether the application meets the requirements of section 
10(a) of the Act. If it is determined that those requirements are met, 
an ITP will be issued for the incidental take of the Gopher Tortoise. 
The Service will also evaluate whether the issuance of a Section 
10(a)(1)(B) ITP complies with Section 7 of the Act by conducting an 
intra-Service Section 7 consultation. The results of the consultation, 
in combination with the above findings, will be used in the final 
analysis to determine whether or not to issue the ITP; the final 
decision will be made no sooner than 30 days from the date of this 

    Dated: March 11, 1999.
H. Dale Hall,
Deputy Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 99-6437 Filed 3-16-99; 8:45 am]