[Federal Register: May 18, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 97)]
[Page 31592-31593]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of a Draft Environmental Assessment and Receipt of 
an Application for an Incidental Take Permit for the Atlantic Coast 
Piping Plover in Massachusetts

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has 
applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for an 
incidental take permit pursuant to Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act (Act). The requested permit, which is for a 
period of three years, would authorize the incidental take of the 
threatened piping plover (Charadrius melodus) in Massachusetts. The 
proposed take would occur as a result of specific actions relating to 
the management of recreational use of beaches where breeding piping 
plovers are found.
    The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has prepared a 
draft environmental assessment (EA) for the incidental take 
application. This notice is provided pursuant to Section 10(c) of the 
Act and National Environmental Policy Act regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

DATES: Written comments on the application and draft EA should be 
received on or before June 19, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Written comments regarding the application and requests for 
copies of the draft EA and the conservation plan should be addressed to 
Field Supervisor, New England Field Office, 22 Bridge St., Unit 1, 
Concord, New Hampshire 03301-4986, telephone (603) 225-1411. Please 
refer to permit TE813653 when submitting comments. Comments regarding 
the conservation plan will be forwarded to the Massachusetts Division 
of Fisheries and Wildlife for review and response.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Susanna L. von Oettingen at the above 

    The Atlantic Coast piping plover was listed as a threatened species 
on January 10, 1986. Because of its listing as threatened, the piping 
plover is protected by the Act's prohibitions against ``take''. 
However, the Service may issue permits to carry out otherwise 
prohibited activities involving endangered and threatened wildlife 
under certain circumstances. Regulations governing permits are at 50 
CFR 17.22, 17.23 and 17.32. For threatened species, such permits are 
available for scientific purposes, incidental take, or special purposes 
consistent with the purposes of the Act.
    The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Division) has 
applied to the Service for an incidental take permit pursuant to 
Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act. This permit would authorize the 
incidental take of piping plovers through otherwise lawful activities 
occurring on plover breeding beaches. Included in the application is a 
conservation plan prepared by the Division detailing the activities 
that would result in incidental take and describing measures that 
mitigate, minimize and monitor the amount of take. In 1996, the 
Division was granted a Section 10(a)(1)(B) permit for the incidental 
take of piping plovers. The permit expired in 1998. The conservation 
plan included in the current application under review is an updated 
document and will replace the earlier conservation plan.
    The revised recovery plan for the Atlantic Coast piping plover 
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1996. Piping Plover (Charadrius 
melodus), Atlantic Coast Population, Revised Recovery Plan. Hadley, MA. 
258 pp) identified New England (which includes Massachusetts) as a 
recovery unit. Guidelines in the recovery plan state that permits for 
incidental take that will reduce the productivity of breeding piping 
plovers should only be allowed in recovery units where the 
subpopulation has achieved at least 70% of its portion of the recovery 
goal. The 1999 preliminary estimate of 634 pairs of piping plovers in 
the New England recovery unit indicate that the population has exceeded 
the recovery goal of 627 pairs specified in the recovery plan. 
Furthermore, under an intensive management program, the Massachusetts 
piping plover population has increased more than four-fold over the 
last ten years, from 140 pairs in 1990 to 505 pairs in 1999.
    The purpose of the proposed incidental take permit is to provide 
increased flexibility in managing Massachusetts beaches for use by 
recreationists and homeowners, while assuring continued progress toward 
the recovery of the Massachusetts and Atlantic Coast populations of the 
piping plover. The additional flexibility in managing beaches will 
prevent a disproportionate expenditure of resources directed at the 
protection of a few nests or broods in areas where they may 
significantly disrupt beach access by large numbers of people and be 
highly vulnerable to disturbance and/or mortality. Management 
flexibility also

[[Page 31593]]

will create incentives for the continued participation by beach 
management agencies and organizations involved in protecting piping 
    The two alternatives presented by the Division in the conservation 
plan and the draft EA are limited to the proposed action and the no-
action alternative (continuation of current management recommendations 
without increased flexibility for limited take).
    The proposed action establishes strict statewide and site-specific 
eligibility criteria that must be met prior to the implementation of 
the proposed Section 10 incidental take permit. Statewide eligiblity 
requirements determine the level of take that will be allowed for each 
breeding season. Site-specific eligibility requirements determine 
whether a landowner may participate in permitted activities, and 
requires that these landowners make additional plover protection 
commitments, including the use of predator exclosures, prohibition of 
dogs, implementation of public outreach programs (for heavily-used 
public recreational beaches), and plover monitoring and reporting. The 
proposed permit would be effective during the 2000, 2001 and 2002 
plover breeding seasons. Authorized take would only affect piping 
plovers; take of other federally-listed species is specifically 
excluded from the proposed action.
    Incidental take likely to occur on eligible sites may result from 
several management activities outlined in the conservation plan. 
Certain activities will be automatically authorized statewide and at 
particular sites. Statewide activities automatically proposed to be 
authorized include the taking of chicks on paved or improved roads and 
in parking lots and take caused by fireworks located within one-half 
mile or more from plover nests or chicks. Additional proposed take 
automatically permitted at three sites includes: (1) Take from 
fireworks at Crane Beach, Ipswich; (2) take from unescorted essential 
vehicles on a specified portion of Crane's Beach; (3) take from 
unescorted vehicles on a specified portion of Plymouth Beach, Plymouth; 
and (4) take of chicks by unescorted vehicles on a specified portion of 
Sandy Neck, Barnstable.
    Additional discretionary take may also be authorized at a limited 
number of sites that meet specific eligibility requirements. Landowners 
that choose to undertake such actions may apply to be included under 
the Division's proposed permit that will authorize the incidental take. 
Proposed authorized activities are: (1) Reduction of symbolically-
fenced buffer areas around plover nests, applicable to one plover nest 
per site per year; (2) moving eggs from heavily-used pedestrian or 
vehicle access points; (3) limited use of escorted off-road vehicle 
caravans for recreational access during periods when unfledged chicks 
are present on the beach; and (4) limited use of vehicles for homeowner 
access after dark through areas with unfledged chicks.
    Take of piping plovers primarily will occur either through direct 
mortality of chicks, harassment of chicks or adults, or mortality of 
eggs that occurs as the result of nest abandonment or inadequate 
incubation or nest defense. As a result of these takings, overall 
reproductive success will be reduced at individual sites, and adverse 
effects may occur to immediate habitats of individuals pairs or broods. 
However, the level of incidental take likely to occur will not reduce 
productivity enough to substantially slow progress toward recovery. 
Take that occurs as a result of a permit issued to the Division will 
not include mortality of adults, nor will actions undertaken within the 
scope of such a permit permanently degrade otherwise suitable habitat.
    The Division has proposed to minimize and monitor the level of 
incidental take through a number of measures. Continued population 
growth over the duration of the permit should be ensured by 
conditioning the authorization of discretionary incidental take on 
maintaining average productivity of 1.5 chicks fledged per pair for the 
entire state, individual Management Units and individual sites. If 
statewide productivity falls below 1.5 chicks fledged per pair, 
incidental take authorized for the following year will be limited. The 
conservation plan encompasses a sufficiently large geographic area that 
should some sites experience adverse effects from environmental or 
demographic stochasticity, unsuccessful management, or larger 
incidental take than predicted, those set-backs may be balanced by more 
favorable conditions or results of management elsewhere in the planning 
unit. Finally, the proposed permit duration of three years will allow 
for a relatively rapid evaluation of the conservation plan in light of 
management results and changes in the overall status of the 
Massachusetts and New England plover populations that may occur in 
2000, 2001 and 2002.
    The 1996 Section 19(a)(1)(B) incidental take permit granted to the 
Division outlined eligibility requirements similar to those proposed in 
the current application. Due to a decrease in piping plover 
productivity in 1996, permit activities were not allowed to occur the 
following year in order to ensure the continued recovery of piping 
plovers in Massachusetts. Piping plover productivity also fell below 
the established eligibility criteria in 1997, again precluding the 
implementation of measures permitted in the 1996 Section 10 permit. The 
eligibility criteria proposed in the current Section 10(a)(1)(B) permit 
application provide a greater range of options than the previous 
permit. These options will allow greater flexibility to implement the 
portions of the proposed permit that will have the least impact on the 
recovery of the Massachusetts population of the piping plover.

    Dated: May 11, 2000.
Mamie Parker,
Deputy Regional Director, Region 5.
[FR Doc. 00-12492 Filed 5-17-00; 8:45 am]