[Federal Register: March 21, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 55)]
[Page 13187-13189]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Receipt of Application for an Incidental Take Permit for 
Residential Development in Collier County, Florida

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: Vestcor Fund XV, Limited (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 red-cockaded woodpeckers (Picoides 
borealis) (RCWs) associated with the clearing of 18.3 acres of foraging 
habitat incidental to the construction of a multi-family housing 
development in Collier County, Florida.
    The Applicants' Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) describes the 
mitigation measures proposed to address the effects of the Project to 
the protected species. These measures are outlined in the SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION section below. The Service has determined that the 
Applicant's proposal, including the proposed mitigation measures, will 
individually and cumulatively have a minor or negligible effect on 
these 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 Endangered Species Act and NEPA regulations (40 CFR 
    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 ITP 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 TE042708-0 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).
    Due to Court order, the Department of Interior has temporarily lost 
access to the internet and may not regain it by the time this notice is 
published. Commentors are encouraged to submit comments by mail or 
express courier, or to call (see FURTHER INFORMATION) to confirm 
whether our internet capability has been restored.
    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, Determination of Low 
Effect and HCP should be sent to the Service's Regional Office (see 
ADDRESSES) and should be received on or before April 22, 2002.

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 Field 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1339 20th Street, Vero 
Beach, Florida 32960-3559. 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 TE042708-0 in such 
comments, or in requests of the documents discussed herein.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313, facsimile: 
404/679-7081; or Mr. Michael Jennings, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 
South Florida Ecological Services Field Office (see ADDRESSES above), 
telephone: 561/562-3909 extension 225.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The RCW is a territorial, non-migratory 
cooperative 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 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 mature fire-maintained ecosystem. The 
RCW has declined primarily due to the conversion of mature pine forests 
to young pine plantations, agricultural fields, and

[[Page 13188]]

residential and commercial developments, and to hardwood and exotic 
species encroachment in existing pine forests due to fire suppression 
and hydrological alteration. 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 southwest Florida, there are an estimated 85 active RCW 
clusters; 51 percent are on Federal lands, 35 percent are on State 
lands, and 14 percent are on private lands. The known RCW populations 
on public lands are periodically monitored and the status of birds on 
these lands range from increasing to decreasing. Effective land 
management actions are currently ongoing in the Florida Fish and 
Wildlife Conservation Commission's Cecil Webb Wildlife Management Area 
where 27 known active RCW clusters occur. This population is about 40 
miles north of the project area and the RCW population is considered 
stable. Big Cypress National Preserve is about 25 miles southeast of 
the project area and contains 43 clusters that are actively managed and 
this population is increasing. In relation to the project site, the 
closest public land (within two miles) that supports RCWs is the 
Picayune Strand State Forest where three active clusters exist. This 
population has been in decline for several decades, but much of the 
decline resulted from lack of habitat management prior to acquisition 
by the State of Florida. Recent implementation of aggressive land 
management actions within the State forest is likely to stabilize this 
population in the near future and result in long-term increases in the 
number of active clusters.
    The Applicant's project lies within the urban boundary of Naples. 
Areas surrounding the project site are represented by a mosaic of urban 
uses and undeveloped property. The location of RCWs on private lands in 
the Naples area has never been well documented because of a lack of 
access for survey purposes. Based largely on anecdotal information, 
observations from roadsides, and limited information gathered from 
onsite observations in the 1980s and early 1990s, about 12 active 
clusters are thought to exist on private lands west of the Picayune 
Strand State Forest and dense urban areas further to the west.
    Of the 12 RCW clusters on private lands, two historic localities 
are known from private lands near the project site. Application of a 
one-half mile radius circle around these cluster sites indicates that 
the project site may be within the home range of one, and possibly both 
of these clusters. However, due to construction time constraints, and 
lack of access to neighboring properties, adequate RCW foraging habitat 
surveys could not be conducted on the project site to determine 
definitively whether RCWs forage in the area. Preliminary habitat 
assessments looked for, but did not find, active or inactive nest 
trees. Much of the project area consists of hydric pine flat woods that 
are relatively undisturbed. Lacking sufficient time to conduct foraging 
surveys, and the apparent suitability of the project site as foraging 
habitat and the proximity of RCW clusters, the Applicant opted to 
consider the entire project area to be RCW foraging habitat.
    The Service worked with the Applicant in the design of the 
mitigation measures. To mitigate for loss of RCW foraging habitat, the 
Applicant will purchase a minimum of 18.3 acres of suitable RCW 
foraging habitat within (e.g., inholdings) or adjacent to the Belle 
Meade tract of the Picayune Strand State Forest. The Applicant will, in 
cooperation with the Florida Division of Forestry, develop a habitat 
management plan for the mitigation parcel(s), conduct any initial 
management actions required to restore acquired mitigation parcels, and 
contribute sufficient funds into a management endowment to ensure 
future management of the mitigation parcels. Except for avoidance of 
RCWs observed during construction, no project minimization measures 
were proposed by the Applicant because the property was acquired prior 
to the realization that RCWs may forage on the site. Accordingly, the 
smallest acreage necessary to construct the proposed multi-family units 
was acquired. Thus, the existing 18.3 acres will accommodate the 
proposed development, but does not provide sufficient area to create 
buffers or to otherwise minimize impacts to foraging habitat. The 
Applicant has indicated that downsizing the proposed development will 
not be economically viable. From a biological perspective, onsite 
preservation is not likely to result in conservation benefits to RCWs 
in this increasingly urban landscape. On-site preserves established for 
RCWs during previous section 7 consultations in this area have proven 
ineffective because they have become surrounded by urban development. 
The concept of on-site preserves for RCWs may be appropriate for large-
scale developments that provide ample open space and sufficient 
residual habitat, particularly when the preserves are adjacent to 
actively managed public lands. However, habitat preserves set aside 
within relatively small development projects of southwest Florida tend 
to result in small, fragmented parcels of habitat that become 
increasingly hostile to RCWs as urban development encroaches. In such 
cases, RCWs often abandoned these small, isolated preserves because 
sufficient habitat is not available.
    As stated above, we have determined that the HCP is a low-effect 
plan that is categorically excluded from further NEPA analysis, which 
does not require the preparation of an EA or EIS. Low-effect HCPs are 
those involving: (1) Minor or negligible effects on federally listed or 
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 red-cockaded woodpecker 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 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 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, 
the ITP will be issued for the incidental take of RCWs on the 
Applicant's project site. The Service will also evaluate whether the 
issuance of a section 10(a)(1)(B) permit 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 

[[Page 13189]]

    Dated: February 27, 2002.
Kemper M. McMaster,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 02-6812 Filed 3-20-02; 8:45 am]