[Federal Register: October 2, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 191)]
[Page 58786-58788]
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 Road 
Improvement in Perry County, Mississippi

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: The Perry County Board of Supervisors (Applicant) has made an 
application for 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 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), as amended. 
The proposed permit would allow take of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus 
polyphemus), a federally listed threatened species, incidental to 
surfacing a 0.25-mile section of dirt road with gravel. The permit 
would authorize take of up to two gopher tortoises. As described in the 
Applicant's habitat conservation plan (HCP), impacts will be minimized 
and mitigated by relocating the tortoises from their burrows along the 
edge of the road to adjacent burrows within the tortoise colony. The 
habitat conservation plan is further described in the SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION section below. The Service has determined that the 
Applicant's proposal, including the proposed mitigation and 
minimization measures, will individually and cumulatively have a minor 
or negligible effect on the species covered in the HCP. Therefore, the 
ITP is a ``low effect'' project and would qualify as a categorical 
exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as 
provided by the Department of Interior Manual (516 DM2, Appendix 1 and 
516 DM 6, Appendix 1).
    The Service announces the availability of the HCP for the 
incidental take application. Copies of the HCP 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

[[Page 58787]]

Endangered Species 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. Further, the 
Service specifically solicits information regarding the adequacy of the 
HCP as measured against the Service's Permit issuance criteria found in 
50 CFR Parts 13 and 17.
    We specifically request information, views, and opinions from the 
public via this Notice on the Federal action. Further, we specifically 
solicit information regarding the adequacy of the Plan as measured 
against the Service's Permit issuance criteria found in 50 CFR Parts 13 
and 17.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit comments by any one of 
several methods. Please reference permit number TE026748-0 in such 
comments. You may mail comments to the Service's Regional Office (see 
ADDRESSES). You may also comment via the internet to 
``david_dell@fws.gov''. Please submit comments over the internet as an 
ASCII file avoiding the use of special characters and any form of 
encryption. Please also include your name and return address in your 
internet message. If you do not receive a confirmation from the Service 
that we have received your internet message, contact us directly at 
either telephone number listed below (see FURTHER INFORMATION). 
Finally, you may hand deliver comments to either Service office listed 
below (see ADDRESSES). Our practice is to make comments, including 
names and home addresses of respondents, available for public review 
during regular business hours. Individual respondents may request that 
we withhold their home address from the administrative record. We will 
honor such requests to the extent allowable by law. There may also be 
other circumstances in which we would withhold from the administrative 
record a respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you wish us to 
withhold your name and address, you must state this prominently at the 
beginning of your comments. We will not; however, consider anonymous 
comments. We will make all submissions from organizations or 
businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as 
representatives or officials of organizations or businesses, available 
for public inspection in their entirety.

DATES: Written comments on the permit application and HCP should be 
sent to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be 
received on or before November 1, 2000

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, HCP, and 
supporting documentation 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 Jackson 
Field Office, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Jackson, Mississippi, 39213 
(Attn: Will McDearman). Written data or comments concerning the 
application, HCP, or supporting documents should be submitted to the 
Regional Office. Requests for the documentation must be in writing to 
be processed. Please reference permit number TE026748-0 in requests for 
the documents discussed herein.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313; or Mr. 
Will McDearman, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Jackson Field Office, (see 
ADDRESSES above), telephone 601/321-1124.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The gopher tortoise was listed in 1987 as a 
threatened species in the western part of its geographic range, west of 
the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. 
The gopher tortoise is a burrowing animal that historically inhabited 
fire-maintained longleaf pine communities on moderately well drained to 
xeric soils in the Coastal Plain. These longleaf pine communities 
consisted of relatively open forests, without a closed overstory, with 
a well developed herbaceous plant layer of grasses and forbs. About 80% 
of the original habitat for gopher tortoises was lost at the time the 
species was listed due to the conversion to urban and agricultural land 
use. On remaining forests, management practices converting longleaf 
pine to densely planted pine stands for pulpwood production, fire 
exclusion, and infrequently prescribed fire further reduced the open 
forest with grasses and forbs tortoises need for burrowing, nesting, 
and feeding. Over 22,000 gopher tortoises have been estimated to occur 
in the listed range. The tortoise, however, is a long-lived animal with 
low reproductive rates. Remaining populations, though relatively 
widespread, are individually small, fragmented, and usually in poor 
habitat without adequate reproduction for a self-sustaining viable 
    Under section 9 of the Act and its implementing regulations, 
``taking'' of endangered and threatened wildlife is prohibited. 
However, the Service, under limited circumstances, may issue permits to 
take such wildlife if the taking is incidental to and not the purpose 
of otherwise lawful activities. The Applicant has prepared an HCP as 
required for the incidental take permit application. The Applicant 
intends to open a dead-end road by extending it about 0.25 mile to 
another intersection. The extension is over an existing dirt road that 
will be surfaced with gravel. Two gopher tortoise burrows are located 
on the edge of the dirt road. Surveys by the Applicant and Service 
found that one of these burrows was inhabited by a tortoise. The 
operation of heavy equipment for surfacing the road can collapse these 
burrows, entombing and killing or injuring tortoises. The biological 
goal of the plan is to avoid such harm or injury to these tortoises and 
to retaining them within the existing the gopher tortoise colony. To 
avoid, minimize and mitigate impacts, the Applicant will capture and 
relocate up to two tortoises in these two burrows to adjacent 
unoccupied but suitable burrows located about 200 feet from the road. 
The tortoises at the edge of the road are part of a small colony of 
five tortoises inhabiting privately owned property adjoining the west 
side of the road. Thus, tortoises will be moved to other burrows within 
their existing colony and population. The permit will authorize 
incidental take associated with the capture and relocation of two 
tortoises. Upon relocation, the burrows on the road edge will be 
collapsed or blocked to prevent habitation from any tortoises. To 
monitor the biological effect of the HCP, the Applicant will track 
relocated tortoises using radio-telemetry until the over-wintering 
period of 2000.
    As earlier stated, the Service has determined that the HCP 
qualifies as a Categorically-Excluded, ``low-effect'' HCP as defined by 
the Service's Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook. 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 HCP qualifies for the following reasons:
    1. Approval of the HCP would result in minor or negligible effects 
on the gopher tortoise and its habitat. We do not anticipate 
significant direct or cumulative effects on this species as a result of 
this project.
    2. Approval of the HCP would not have adverse effects on known 
geographic, historic or cultural sites, or

[[Page 58788]]

involve unique or unknown environmental risks.
    3. Approval of the HCP 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 protection of the environment.
    5. Approval of the HCP 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 HCP 
qualifies as a categorical exclusion under NEPA, as provided by the 
Department of the Interior Manual (516 DM 2, Appendix 1 and 516 DM 6, 
Appendix 1). No further NEPA determination will therefore be prepared.
    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 the incidental take of one family of Florida 
scrub-jay. 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.

    Dated: September 25, 2000.
H. Dale Hall,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 00-25146 Filed 9-29-00; 8:45 am]