[Federal Register: November 21, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 225)]
[Page 70237-70240]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Reopening of Public Comment Period for the Technical/Agency Draft 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of reopening of public comment period.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, announce that we are 
reopening the comment period for the Technical/Agency Draft Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. We are reopening the 
comment period to enter into the record a revised ``Recovery Units'' 
section that discusses our approach to conducting jeopardy analyses as 
part of interagency consultation under section 7 of the Endangered 
Species Act. We solicit review and written comments from the public on 
this section of the recovery plan.

DATES: We must receive comments by December 23, 2002.

ADDRESSES: You may obtain a copy of the technical/agency draft revised 
recovery plan (July 2000) by downloading or printing a copy from http:/
/rcwrecovery.fws.gov (under the recovery plan link). If you wish to 
comment, you may submit your comments by any one of several methods:
    1. You may submit written comments to the Field Supervisor, Clemson 
Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Clemson University, 
Clemson, South Carolina 29634 (telephone 864/656-2432).
    2. You may fax your comments to the Field Supervisor at 864/656-
    3. You may send comments by electronic mail to the Field Supervisor 
at ralph--costa@fws.gov
    Comments and materials received are available upon request for 
public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
above address.




    Red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCW) are endemic to mature pine woodlands 
of the southeastern United States. Because of habitat loss and 
alteration associated with clearing forests for settlements, 
agriculture, and commercial forestry operations, during the later part 
of the 19th century and early part (through the 1930s) of the 20th 
century, the RCW suffered severe population declines. We officially 
listed the RCW as an endangered species on October 13, 1970 (35 FR 
16047). The original recovery plan for the RCW was approved on August 
24, 1979, and subsequently revised on April 11, 1985. Research has 
greatly increased our understanding of the ecology of the RCW to the 
point where we now have management tools that have proven successful in 
increasing the acres of optimum RCW habitat, and RCW numbers, in the 
past decade. The draft revised recovery plan developed in July 2000 (65 
FR 55269) describes the ecology and management of red-cockaded 
woodpeckers in detail and outlines the management necessary to recover 
the species based on new insight into population viability.
    Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended 
(Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires Federal agencies to consult 
with us to ensure that the actions they authorize, fund, or carry out 
will not jeopardize the continued existence of a federally listed 
species. To jeopardize means to engage in an action that reasonably 
would be expected, directly or indirectly, to reduce appreciably the 
likelihood of both the survival and recovery of a listed species in the 
wild by reducing the reproduction, numbers, or distribution of that 
species (50 CFR 402.02). The majority of Federal actions that we 
consult on are not found to jeopardize listed species. In most 
consultations, the proposed action is not found to jeopardize the 
listed species although some incidental take of the species may occur. 
In those cases, we work with the Federal agency to devise reasonable 
and prudent measures that will minimize the effects of such incidental 
take to the species. In the few cases where we determine that a 
proposed federal project would jeopardize a listed species, we work 
with the Federal agency to determine reasonable and prudent project 
    In analyzing whether or not the proposed project will jeopardize a 
listed species, our general policy, as outlined in our Consultation 
Handbook (Procedures for Conducting

[[Page 70238]]

Consultation and Conference Activities Under Section 7 of the 
Endangered Species Act, March 1998) is to analyze the total impacts of 
the proposed project on the entire species (or the entire subspecies or 
vertebrate population if the listed entity is a subspecies or 
vertebrate population). However, for some wide-ranging species, or 
those with disjunct or fragmented distributions, we may perform this 
analysis by recovery units. Recovery units are geographic or otherwise 
identifiable subunits of the listed entity that individually are 
necessary to conserve genetic robustness, demographic robustness, 
important life stages, or some other feature necessary for long-term 
sustainability of the overall listed entity. Therefore, an action that 
would jeopardize a recovery unit would jeopardize the species. Defining 
the value of each recovery unit to the whole in the recovery plan, 
therefore, simplifies the analysis of whether the action jeopardizes 
the species. In these species, we may base our jeopardy analyses on 
assessment of impacts to an individual recovery unit determined as 
necessary to both the survival and recovery of the species in a final 
recovery plan. The red-cockaded woodpecker is a wide-ranging species 
with a fragmented distribution and as such, we have determined that the 
establishment of recovery units would facilitate jeopardy analyses 
under section 7.
    In the draft revised Recovery Plan, we have defined primary and 
secondary core populations and essential, significant, and important 
support populations. Some or all of these types of populations may 
occur within a recovery unit. A primary core population is one that 
will harbor at least 350 potential breeding groups at the time of 
delisting. Populations of this size are above minimum estimates 
necessary to withstand threats of extirpation from demographic 
stochasticity, environmental stochasticity, and inbreeding depression. 
However, even a population of less than 350 breeding groups is not 
considered capable of retaining sufficient genetic variability for 
long-term viability in the absence of immigration. Secondary core 
populations are those that will harbor at least 250 potential breeding 
groups at the time of delisting. A population of 250 breeding groups is 
the minimum estimate considered necessary to withstand threats of 
extirpation from environmental stochasticity, and is considered highly 
robust to threats from demographic stochasticity and inbreeding 
depression. These populations are not large enough to withstand threats 
to long-term viability from the process of genetic drift unless 
immigration is maintained (naturally or via translocation).
    All populations not designated a primary or secondary core are 
designated support populations. There are three classifications of 
support populations--essential, significant, and important. Essential 
support populations are those populations, identified in downlisting 
and delisting recovery criteria, that represent unique habitat types 
and/or geographic locations within the historic range that cannot 
support a larger, core population. These populations will harbor 15 to 
100 potential breeding groups at the time of delisting. Significant 
support populations are populations, not identified in recovery 
criteria, that contain or have a population goal of 10 or more 
potential breeding groups. A population size of 10 potential breeding 
groups, if highly aggregated in space, has a good probability of 
persistence over a 20-year time period. Important support populations 
are populations, not identified in recovery criteria, that contain and/
or have a population goal of less than 10 potential breeding groups.
    Support populations are important reservoirs of genetic resources. 
They help represent natural variation in habitats occupied by RCWs. 
Support populations are an important source of immigrants for core 
populations to increase retention of genetic variation and could 
potentially provide a buffer against stochastic loss of core 
populations. These functions are especially critical now, because many 
core populations are currently well below the population sizes 
necessary to withstand threats of environmental, demographic, and 
genetic uncertainty.
    The 13 primary core populations, 12 secondary core populations, and 
numerous support populations of RCWs are well distributed throughout 
the species' range, within the 11 recovery units. This widespread 
distribution serves several critical ecological objectives. First, such 
a distribution conserves RCWs in varied habitats and geographic regions 
in which they currently exist. Second, the wide distribution and 
relatively high number of populations reduces the threat of species 
extinction from catastrophic events such as hurricanes. Finally, core 
populations, along with support populations, together create a network 
which, when population goals are reached, will facilitate the natural 
dispersal among populations and recovery units that is necessary and 
critical to long-term genetic viability.
    The following text is the portion of the Recovery Plan that we have 
revised to clarify how we will analyze whether a proposed action will 
jeopardize the continued existence of the species.

Recovery Units

    Recovery Units are geographic or otherwise identifiable subunits of 
the listed entity that individually are necessary to conserve genetic 
robustness, demographic robustness, important life history stages, or 
some other feature necessary for long-term sustainability of the 
overall listed entity. The Recovery units established for red cockaded-
woodpeckers are a surrogate for likely genetic variation and adaptation 
to local environments, because they are based on changing environmental 
conditions, i.e., they are geographic areas delineated according to 
ecoregions. Substantial genetic variation has been documented in red-
cockaded woodpeckers across their range, although distinct boundaries 
for this variation have not been identified. Red-cockaded woodpeckers 
exhibit a correlation between genetic variation and geographic 
distance, meaning the farther apart populations are geographically, the 
larger the genetic variation. This has been documented using both 
randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (used as a genetic marker) and 
allozyme data. As molecular markers gain resolution, we may be able to 
identify more distinct genetic boundaries, but the correlation between 
genetic variation and geographic distance is a classic sign of species 
that were once distributed primarily as a continuous population.
    The names of red-cockaded woodpecker recovery units are the same as 
their respective ecoregion, with one exception (South/Central Florida). 
There are eleven designated recovery units for red-cockaded 
woodpeckers. All but two recovery units contain one or more core 
recovery populations and one or multiple support populations. The 
remaining two recovery units contain support populations only.
    Maintaining viable populations within each recovery unit is 
essential to the survival and recovery of the red-cockaded woodpecker 
across its range. Conservation of populations in all habitats, forest 
types, and ecoregions, represented within and by recovery units is 
critical to the species survival and recovery primarily because these 
varied populations have crucial ecological and genetic values. The 
loss, or reduction of the likelihood of survival and recovery, of core 

[[Page 70239]]

essential support populations within one or more of the designated 
recovery units could not only jeopardize the recovery goals for the 
individual recovery unit(s), but also jeopardize the recovery of the 
entire species in several ways.
    First, without immigration, no red-cockaded woodpecker population 
will be large enough to avoid loss of genetic variability through 
genetic drift. Genetic drift results in loss of genetic variation, 
which may reduce a species' ability to adapt and persist in a changing 
environment (ecoregion), and thereby reduce its viability over long 
time periods. One practical way to reduce the threat of genetic drift 
is to promote immigration, both natural (dispersal) and artificial (via 
translocation). Multiple recovery units, harboring all of the habitat 
types and representing all ecoregions where the red-cockaded currently 
exists, provide the means to ensure that natural and artificial 
immigration can occur and be managed, respectively.
    Second, the vast majority of red-cockaded woodpecker populations 
are threatened today by demographic stochasticity and will remain so 
for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the short-term survival of many 
individual populations in most recovery units is dependent upon 
translocated birds from other recovery units. Because donor populations 
for many small (less than 30 potential breeding groups), at-risk 
populations are in adjacent recovery units, actions adversely affecting 
donor populations in one recovery unit can jeopardize the survival and 
recovery of populations in other recovery units, thereby jeopardizing 
the entire species.
    A third and significant threat to red-cockaded woodpecker 
populations are catastrophes, including hurricanes and outbreaks of 
southern pine beetles, which point to several reasons for identifying 
and conserving multiple recovery units. First, red-cockaded woodpecker 
populations in similar habitats/forest types and with more closely 
related genetic makeup may occur in recovery units adjacent to those 
impacted by the catastrophic event, thus helping ensure that the 
ability of the species to adapt to these ecological conditions of 
habitat and forest type would be protected. Second, by maintaining a 
number of recovery units, with their associated populations, that are 
broadly spaced geographically, and including as many inland populations 
as possible, the threat from catastrophic loss is significantly 
reduced. Additionally, when losses do occur in one recovery unit, other 
recovery units can be relied upon to supply birds for population 
restoration programs, thereby ensuring the continued likelihood of 
survival and recovery of the species.
    To achieve and maintain species viability, we must maintain a 
network of interacting populations within and between recovery units. 
This strategy will promote natural immigration from support and core 
populations, over the long-term, within and between recovery units, 
thereby reducing the species susceptibility to loss of genetic 
viability through genetic drift. If, in the future, natural immigration 
rates are determined to be inadequate to reach or maintain genetic 
variability, artificial immigration (via translocation) within and 
between recovery units will be necessary to ensure the survival and 
recovery of the red-cockaded woodpecker. Similarly, the recovery unit 
system provides the means today and into the future to overcome the 
threats of demographic stochasticity via translocation of birds. 
Additionally, the recovery unit system provides the opportunity to 
respond aggressively to stabilize and restore recovery units and 
populations impacted by catastrophic events. Thus, the system of 
recovery units, with respective primary core, secondary core, and 
support populations, provides the foundation of the strategy to recover 
the red-cockaded woodpecker.

Recovery Units as the Basis for Jeopardy Analysis in Interagency 

    In the past, exceptions from applying the jeopardy standard (see 
``Background'' section) to an entire species were granted by a 
Director's memorandum, dated March 3, 1986, for specific populations of 
a species. Since the mid-1980's, in compliance with the Director's 1986 
memorandum, we conducted jeopardy analyses for the red-cockaded 
woodpecker at the ``population'' level.
    Our guidance on this topic changed with the release of our 
Consultation Handbook in 1998. The Handbook states that when 
determining whether the action jeopardizes the continued existence of 
the species, we are to analyze the total impacts of the proposed 
project on the entire species. However, the Handbook acknowledges that 
for some wide-ranging species, this analysis can be facilitated by the 
establishment of recovery units in a final recovery plan. The 
Consultation Handbook notes that species' recovery plans provide the 
best available scientific information relative to the areas and 
environmental elements needed for the species to recover, and may even 
describe recovery units essential to recovering the species. Given that 
actions that appreciably impair or preclude the capability of such a 
recovery unit from providing the survival and recovery functions 
identified for it in a recovery plan may therefore represent jeopardy 
to the species, the Consultation Handbook indicates the jeopardy 
standard may be applied to individual recovery units identified as 
necessary for survival and recovery of the species in an approved final 
recovery plan. Thus, the designation of recovery units in recovery 
plans facilitates recovery both by focusing the species' recovery 
program on the need to conserve the geographic, demographic, and 
genetic features of the recovery unit for its contribution to the whole 
species, and by facilitating the evaluation of potential jeopardy to 
the species when the survival and recovery of an individual recovery 
unit is in question.

Previous Federal Action

    On September 13, 2000, we published in the Federal Register a 
notice of availability of the Technical/Agency Draft Revised Recovery 
Plan for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) for review and 
comment (65 FR 55269). On October 17, 2000, we published a notice to 
extend the public comment period for the Technical/Agency Draft Revised 
Recovery Plan for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis) (65 
FR 61355). The public review and comment period ended on December 13, 
2000. We subsequently have revised the ``Recovery Units'' section to 
discuss our approach to conducting jeopardy analyses as part of 
interagency consultation under section 7 of the Act.

Public Comments Solicited

    We solicit written comments on the ``Recovery Unit'' section of the 
recovery plan as discussed above. We will consider all comments 
regarding recovery units received by the date specified in the DATES 
section, prior to approval of the plan.
    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Respondents may request that we withhold their home 
address, which we will honor to the extent allowable by law. There also 
may be circumstances in which we would withhold a respondent's 
identity, as allowable by law. If you wish for us to withhold your name 
and/or address, you must state this request prominently at the 
beginning of your comment. However, we will not consider anonymous

[[Page 70240]]

comments. To the extent consistent with applicable law, 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.


    The primary author of this notice is Ralph Costa (see ADDRESSES 


    The authority for this action is section 4(f) of the Endangered 
Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1533 (f).

    Dated: October 22, 2002.
J. Mitch King,
Acting Regional Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 02-29565 Filed 11-20-02; 8:45 am]