[Federal Register: April 20, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 77)]
[Page 21204-21206]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of a Draft Environmental Assessment, Preliminary 
Finding of No Significant Impact, and Notice of Receipt of an 
Application for an Enhancement of Survival Permit by The Nature 
Conservancy, Virginia Chapter, To Administer a ``Safe Harbor'' Program 
in Southeast Virginia

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Chapter, (Applicant) has 
applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for an 
enhancement of survival permit (ESP) pursuant to Section 10(a)(1)(A) of 
the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The proposed ESP 
would authorize the incidental take of a federally endangered species, 
the red-cockaded woodpecker, Picoides borealis (RCW). The permit would 
authorize incidental take only on land that is enrolled in the proposed 
Safe Harbor program. (See the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below.)
    The Service also announces the availability of a draft 
environmental assessment (EA) and safe harbor plan for the ESP 
application. Copies of the EA and/or safe harbor plan may be obtained 
by making a request to the Northeast 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 ESP is not a major Federal action significantly effecting 
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 the safe harbor plan. The final 
determination will be made no sooner than 30 days from the date of this 
notice. An excerpt of the FONSI appears in the SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION section of this notice. This notice is provided pursuant to 
Section 10(c) of the Act and NEPA Regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

DATES: Written comments on the permit application, EA/FONSI, and safe 
harbor plan should be sent to the Service's Northeast Regional Office 
(see ADDRESSES) and should be received on or before May 22, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, safe harbor plan, 

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EA may obtain a copy by writing the Service's Northeast Regional 
Office, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, Massachusetts 01035. 
Documents will also be available for public inspection by appointment 
during normal business hours at the Regional Office, (Attn: Endangered 
Species Permits), or at the following Field Offices: Field Supervisor, 
Virginia Field Office, 6669 Short Lane, Gloucester, Virginia 23061; or 
Red-cockaded Woodpecker Recovery Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, College of Forest and Recreational Resources, 261 Lehotsky 
Hall, Box 341003, Clemson, South Carolina 29634-1003 (telephone 864/
656-2432). Written data or comments concerning the application, EA, or 
safe harbor plan should be submitted to the Regional Office. Requests 
for the documents must be in writing to be processed. Please reference 
permit number TE-0015147 in such comments, or in requests of the 
documents discussed herein.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Diane Lynch, Regional Permit 
Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 413-253-8628; or Karen 
Mayne, Supervisor, Virginia Field Office, (see ADDRESSES above), 
telephone 804-693-6694 extension 103.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The RCW is a territorial, nonmigratory 
breeding bird species. RCWs live in social units called groups which 
generally consist of a breeding pair, the current year's offspring, and 
one or more helpers (normally adult male offspring of the breeding pair 
from previous years). Groups maintain year-round territories near their 
roost and nest trees. The RCW is unique among the North American 
woodpeckers in that it is the only woodpecker that excavates its roost 
and nest cavities in living pine trees. Each group member has its own 
cavity, although there may be multiple cavities in a single pine tree. 
The aggregate of cavity trees is called a cluster. RCWs forage for 
insects almost exclusively on pine trees and they generally prefer 
pines greater than 10 inches diameter at breast height. Foraging 
habitat is contiguous with the cluster. The number of acres required to 
supply adequate foraging habitat depends on the quantity and quality of 
the pine stems available.
    The RCW is endemic to the pine forests of the Southeastern United 
States and was once widely distributed across 16 states. The species 
evolved in a fire-maintained mature pine forest ecosystem. The RCW has 
declined primarily due to the conversion of old stand pine forests to 
young pine plantations, agricultural fields, and residential and 
commercial developments, and to hardwood encroachment in existing pine 
forests due to fire suppression. The species is still widely 
distributed (presently occurs in 13 southeastern States), but remaining 
populations are highly fragmented and isolated. Presently, the largest 
known populations occur on federally owned lands such as military 
installations and national forests.
    In Virginia, the majority of the known remaining RCWs (16 birds as 
of December, 1999), including all of the known breeding pairs, occur on 
The Nature Conservancy's Piney Grove Preserve in Sussex County. This is 
the northern most population of RCWs remaining. The Virginia Department 
of Game and Inland Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and 
The Nature Conservancy concur that the future of the RCW in Virginia 
rests on management of the Piney Grove Preserve and the surrounding 
private lands.
    The Service and several other agencies/organizations are working 
cooperatively to further develop an overall conservation strategy for 
the RCW population and the ecosystem upon which it depends. One 
component of this strategy is to expand the safe harbor program to 
other states and regions within the RCW's historic range. The Service 
recognizes that landowners presently have no legal or economic 
incentive to undertake proactive management actions, such as hardwood 
midstory removal, prescribed burning, or protecting future cavity 
trees, that will benefit and help recover the RCW. Indeed, landowners 
actually have a disincentive to undertake these actions because of land 
use limitations that could result if their management activities 
attract RCWs. However, some Virginia private landowners near the Piney 
Grove Preserve may be willing to take or permit actions that would 
benefit the RCW on their property if the possibility of future land use 
limitations could be reduced or eliminated.
    Thus, the Applicant is proposing this Safe Harbor program, which is 
designed to encourage voluntary RCW habitat restoration or enhancement 
activities by relieving a landowner who enters into a cooperative 
agreement with the Service from any additional responsibility under the 
Act beyond that which exists at the time he or she enters into the 
agreement; i.e., to provide a ``safe harbor.'' The cooperative 
agreement will identify any existing RCW clusters and will describe the 
actions that the landowner commits to take or allows to be taken to 
improve RCW habitat on the property (e.g., hardwood midstory removal, 
establishment of cavities etc.), and the time period within which those 
actions are to be taken and maintained. Participating landowners who 
enter into cooperative agreements with the applicant will be included 
within the scope of the ESP by Certificates of Inclusion administered 
by The Nature Conservancy in coordination with the Virginia Department 
of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Service. A participating landowner 
must maintain the baseline habitat requirements on his/her property 
(i.e., any existing RCW groups and associated habitat), but will be 
allowed to incidentally take RCWs at some point in the future on other 
habitat on the property if RCWs are attracted to the site by the 
proactive management measures undertaken by the landowner. No 
incidental taking of any existing RCW group is permitted under this 
program. Further details about this program are found in the safe 
harbor plan.
    The EA considers the environmental consequences of two 
alternatives, including the preferred alternative--to implement the 
Safe Harbor program. The likely effects of the no-action alternative 
are the continued lack of management to benefit the RCW in many of the 
natural pine stands that remain near the Piney Grove Preserve, and the 
continued absence of RCWs on those lands. The proposed action 
alternative is the issuance of an enhancement of survival permit and 
implementation of the Safe Harbor program. The Service believes that 
the Safe Harbor will benefit the RCW in Virginia by providing 
additional habitat for future growth of the population.
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that the issuance 
of the ESP 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 safe harbor plan. An appropriate 
excerpt from the FONSI reflecting the Service's finding on the 
application is provided below:
    Based on the analysis conducted by the Service, it has been 
determined that:
    1. Issuance of an ESP would not have significant effects on the 
human environment in the project area.
    2. Implementation of the safe harbor plan will result in a net 
conservation benefit for the RCW.
    3. The proposed take will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of

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survival and recovery of the species in the wild.
    4. The indirect impacts that may result from issuance of the ESP 
are addressed by other regulations and statutes under the jurisdiction 
of other government entities. The validity of the Service's ESP is 
contingent upon the Applicant's compliance with the terms of the permit 
and all other laws and regulations under the control of State, local, 
and other Federal governmental entities.
    The Service will also evaluate whether the issuance of a Section 
10(a)(1)(A) ESP complies with Section 7 of the Act by conducting an 
intra-Service Section 7 consultation. The results of the biological 
opinion, in combination with the above findings, will be used in the 
final analysis to determine whether or not to issue the ESP.

    Dated: April 12, 2000.
Mamie Parker,
Deputy Regional Director, Region 5.
[FR Doc. 00-9888 Filed 4-19-00; 8:45 am]