[Federal Register: April 7, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 66)]
[Page 16993-16994]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

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Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of an Environmental Assessment and Finding of No 
Significant Impact, and Receipt of an Application for an Incidental 
Take Permit for a Proposed Residential Development Called Palm Haven 
Subdivision, Unit 12, Highlands County, FL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


    Mr. Norbert Walz (Applicant) requests an incidental take permit 
(ITP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 
1973 (U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), as amended (Act). The Applicant anticipates 
taking up to two families of the threatened Florida scrub-jay 
(Aphelocoma coerulescens coerulescens), one eastern indigo snake 
(Drymarchon corais couperi), and eight acres of sand skink (Neoseps 
reynoldsi) and blue-tailed mole skink (Eumeces egregius lividus) 
habitat, (collectively known as the ``covered species'') incidental to 
the improvement of an existing road and clearing of 22 single-family 
residential lots. The proposed residential development will occur in 
section 2, Township 35 South, Range 28 East, Highlands County, near 
Sebring and is a component of Unit 12 of the Palm Haven Subdivision.
    The widening and paving of an existing dirt road and the clearing 
of 22 residential lots will destroy suitable habitat for the four 
species identified above. A more detailed description of the mitigation 
and minimization measures to address the effects of the Project to the 
protected species are outlined in the Applicant's Habitat Conservation 
Plan (HCP), the Service's Environmental Assessment (EA), and in the 
Supplementary Information section below.
    The Service also announces the availability of an EA and HCP for 
the incidental take application. Copies of the EA and/or HCP may be 
obtained by making a request to the Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). 
Requests must be in writing to be processed. This notice also advises 
the public that the Service has made a preliminary determination that 
issuing the ITP is not a major Federal action significantly affecting 
the quality of the human environment within the meaning of Section 
102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended 
(NEPA). The Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) is based on 
information contained in the EA and HCP. The final determination will 
be made no sooner than 30 days from the date of this notice. This 
notice is provided pursuant to Section 10 of the Act and NEPA 
regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).
    The Service specifically requests information, views, and opinions 
from the public via this Notice on the federal action, including the 
identification of any other aspects of the human environment not 
already identified in the Service's EA. Further, the Service is 
specifically soliciting information regarding the adequacy of the HCP 
as measured against the Service's ITP issuance criteria found in 50 CFR 
Parts 13 and 17.

DATES: Written comments on the ITP application, EA, and HCP should be 
sent to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be 
received on or before May 7, 1999.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, HCP, and EA 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, Post Office Box 2676, Vero Beach, Florida 32961-2676. 
Written data or comments concerning the application, EA, or HCP 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 adequately considered in the Service's decision-making 
process. Please reference permit number TE009033-0 in such comments, or 
in requests of the documents discussed herein.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7110, facsimile: 
404/679-7081; or Mr. Mike Jennings, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, South 
Florida Ecosystem Office, Vero Beach, Florida (see ADDRESSES above), 
telephone: 561/562-3909.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Florida scrub-jay (scrub-jay) occurs in 
xeric uplands (predominately oak scrub) of peninsular Florida. Sand 
skinks and blue-tailed mole skinks are restricted to xeric uplands in 
central Florida. The eastern indigo snake ranges throughout the 
southeastern United States, but is most commonly associated with xeric 
habitats. Increasing urban and agricultural development have resulted 
in habitat loss and fragmentation which has adversely affected the 
distribution and numbers of individuals of each of these species.
    The scrub-jay is geographically isolated from other subspecies of 
scrub-jays found in Mexico and the Western United States. The scrub-jay 
is found exclusively in peninsular Florida and is restricted to scrub 
habitat. The total estimated population is between 7,000 and 11,000 
individuals. Due to habitat loss and degradation throughout the State 
of Florida, it has been estimated that the scrub-jay has been reduced 
by at least half in the last 100 years.
    The number and distribution of scrub-jays in southcentral Florida 
has been greatly reduced. Based on existing soils data, much of the 
historic and current scrub-jay habitat of interior Florida occurs along 
a 100-mile stretch of ancient dunes that are situated on a north-south 
axis from Osceola to Highlands counties. Much of this area of Florida 
was settled early because few wetlands restricted urban and 
agricultural development. Due to the effects of urban and agricultural 
development over the past 100 years, much of the remaining scrub-jay 
habitat is now relatively small and isolated. What remains is largely 
degraded due to lack of adequate land management.
    Scrub-jays using the Project site and adjacent lands are considered 
part of a larger complex of scrub-jays that occupy xeric uplands of 
southcentral Florida. This complex of scrub-jay families is considered 
one of five remaining areas where relatively large numbers of birds 
remain demographically linked. The continued survival of scrub-jay in 
this subregion may be dependent on the maintenance of suitable habitat 
and the restoration of unsuitable habitat in Highlands County.
    Scrub-jay use of the Project site and adjacent lands has been 
assessed on one occasion. In 1998, field investigations determined that 
two scrub-jay families used portions of the Project site as well as 
adjacent lands. Though no systematic surveys were conducted to 
delineate territorial boundaries, suitability of habitat within the 
Project site indicate that about three acres of suitable habitat exist. 
The close proximity of areas known to be used by scrub-jays and the 
fact that this species is territorial, suggests the suitable habitat 
within the Project site is used by one or both of the scrub-jay 
families known from the vicinity. Nesting, foraging, and security 
habitat exists within the Project site.
    The Project site is part of a partially built-out, platted, 
subdivision that is bisected by many unimproved dirt roads. The Project 
site is bounded on

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three sides by urban development and the site itself is negatively 
influenced by adjacent residents (e.g., trash dumping, off-road vehicle 
use, etc.). Due to the proximity of the Project site to existing 
residential development, fire has been actively excluded because of 
human safety concerns. As a result, the condition of the xeric habitat 
within and adjacent to the Project site is degraded; periodic fire is 
required to maintain habitat conditions suitable for the scrub-jay.
    Many of the factors discussed above for the scrub-jay are also 
affecting the eastern indigo snake, sand skink, and blue-tailed mole 
skink within the Project site and vicinity. The eastern indigo snake is 
a wide-ranging species that is found in most upland communities, 
however, it is typically found in more xeric areas. This species has a 
relatively large territory size (100 to 200 acres) that may cover 
several vegetative community types. Indigo snakes are difficult to 
survey, so positive identification of occupied habitat is often 
problematic. Habitat loss and fragmentation are currently thought to be 
the primary threat to this species.
    The sand skink and blue-tailed mole skink inhabit xeric uplands of 
central Florida. The sand skink is semi-fossorial while the blue-tailed 
mole skink is exclusively fossorial. These species spend much of their 
time buried in or on top of the dry, loose sandy soils of xeric 
uplands. As mentioned above, agricultural development over the past 100 
years has resulted in the loss or degradation of up to 50 percent of 
the xeric uplands of central Florida. Accordingly, these species have 
declined in numbers and distribution.
    Construction of the Project's infrastructure and subsequent 
construction of the individual homesites will likely result in death 
of, or injury to, scrub-jays, indigo snakes, sand skinks, and blue-
tailed mole skinks, incidental to the carrying out of these otherwise 
lawful activities. Habitat alteration associated with the proposed 
residential development will reduce the availability of feeding, 
nesting, and sheltering habitat for these species.
    The Applicant's HCP and the Service's EA describes the following 
minimization and mitigation strategy to be employed by the Applicant to 
offset the impacts of the Project to the scrub-jay:
    <bullet> During lot preparation, the Applicant agrees to minimize 
loss of xeric vegetation, by restricting vegetation clearing to that 
necessary for construction.
    <bullet> The Applicant shall use native xeric plants for ornamental 
purposes, and encourage such use by future homeowners.
    <bullet> Compensate for the destruction of 3.04 acres of suitable 
scrub-jay habitat by acquiring and providing a management endowment for 
6.08 acres of xeric upland habitat at a location specified by the 
Service, or
    <bullet> Provide $13,406 in funding to be used for the acquisition 
and management of xeric uplands, public education, and/or research, as 
specified by the Service.
    The EA considers the environmental consequences of two action 
alternatives, both of which would require issuance of an ITP. The 
preferred alternative would affect about eight acres of xeric uplands 
and a larger scale residential development plan would affect about 30 
acres of xeric uplands. The no action alternative (not issue the ITP) 
may result in loss of habitat for federally listed species described 
above and exposure of the Applicant under Section 9 of the Act. The 
proposed action alternative is issuance of the ITP according to the HCP 
as submitted and described above. Under the proposed alternative, the 
effect of the minimization and mitigation strategy will be that the 
affected scrub-jay habitat within the Project site will be mitigated 
through a financial contribution or through fee simple acquisition of 
off-project suitable habitat areas. Funding for habitat acquisition or 
fee simple acquisition of habitat by the Applicant is expected to 
adequately compensate for the effect of the anticipated incidental take 
of eastern indigo snakes, sand skinks, and blue-tailed mole skinks, as 
described in the Service's EA. On-site minimization measures will 
provide short-term protection of some habitat for the covered species; 
however, the influences of urbanization will eventually erode the value 
of any xeric vegetation retained within the Project site.
    As stated above, the Service has made a preliminary determination 
that the issuance of the ITP is not a major Federal action 
significantly effecting the quality of the human environment within the 
meaning of Section 102(2)(C) of NEPA. This preliminary information may 
be revised due to public comment received in response to this notice 
and is based on information contained in the EA and HCP. Similarly, the 
Service will evaluate the HCP 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 incidental take of the covered species. 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: April 1, 1999.
H. Dale Hall,
Deputy Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 99-8563 Filed 4-6-99; 8:45 am]