[Federal Register: April 28, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 81)]
[Page 22412-22414]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 22412]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement 
Regarding Proposed Issuance of an Incidental Take Permit to the Montana 
Department of Natural Resources and Conservation on Forested State 
Trust Lands in the State of Montana

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, 
Notice of Public Scoping Meetings.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as 
amended (NEPA), the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) intends to 
prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS will address 
the proposed issuance of an incidental take permit (Permit) to allow 
take of species on State Trust lands administered by the Montana 
Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) for activities 
primarily related to forest management.
    The proposed Permit would authorize take of federally listed 
threatened and endangered species in accordance with the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA), and other species of concern 
should they become listed in the future. The DNRC intends to request a 
Permit that includes the following species:
    Listed as threatened--gray wolf (Canis lupus), grizzly bear (Ursus 
arctos horribilis), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Canada lynx 
(Lynx canadensis), bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus). Species of 
concern--wolverine (Gulo gulo), fisher (Martes pennanti), northern 
goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), black-backed woodpecker (Picoides 
arcticus), pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), flammulated owl 
(Otus flammeolus), westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki 
    As required by the ESA, the DNRC is preparing a Habitat 
Conservation Plan (HCP) as part of an application for the Permit. The 
HCP would address the effects to species of DNRC's forest management 
activities on approximately 283,280 hectares (700,000 acres) of 
forested state school trust lands. The Service is furnishing this 
notice to advise other agencies and the public of our intentions and to 
announce the initiation of a 60-day scoping period during which other 
agencies and the public are invited to provide written comments on the 
scope of the issues and potential alternatives to be included in the 
    In compliance with their responsibilities pursuant to the NEPA and 
its implementing regulations, 40 CFR 1500.0 et seq., and the Montana 
Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), Mont. Code Ann. 75-1-101 through 75-1-
324, and its DNRC implementing regulations, ARM 36.2.501 through 
36.2.611, the DNRC and the Service jointly announce their intent to 
prepare an EIS for the proposed action of reviewing and approving the 
proposed HCP and issuing an incidental take permit. The DNRC and the 
Service also jointly announce their intent to hold scoping meetings, 
the date, time, and place of which are provided in this notice below. 
This notice is provided pursuant to section10(c) of the ESA and NEPA 
implementing regulations, 40 CFR 1506.6.

DATES: Scoping will commence as of the date of publication of this 
Notice in the Federal Register. Written comments on the scope of the 
proposed action, the approval of a HCP, and the concomitant issuance of 
the Permit should be received on or before June 27, 2003. Four scoping 
meetings will be held, on the following dates--April 28, 29, and May 
12, 13, 2003. Each meeting will run from 6:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. The 
DNRC and the Service will use an open-house format for the meetings, 
allowing interested members of the public to attend at any point during 
the meetings to gather information and/or provide comments.

ADDRESSES: Meeting locations are scheduled as follows--April 28, 2003, 
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 1420 East Sixth Avenue, Helena, 
Montana; April 29, 2003, Bozeman Public Library, 220 East Lamme, 
Bozeman, Montana; May 12, 2003, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Region 
1 Headquarters, 490 North Meridian Road, Kalispell, Montana; and May 
13, 2003, City Fire Station Number Four, 3011 Latimer Street, Missoula, 
Montana. Written comments regarding the proposed action and the 
proposed EIS should be addressed to Tim Bodurtha, Supervisor, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service Ecological Services, 780 Creston Hatchery Road, 
Kalispell, Montana 59901, or Pete VanSickle, DNRC Forest Management 
Bureau Chief, 2705 Spurgin Road, Missoula, Montana 59804.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tim Bodurtha, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Ecological Services Field Office, 780 Creston Hatchery Road, 
Kalispell, Montana 59901, telephone (406) 758-6882, facsimile (406) 
758-6877, e-mail: tim_bodurtha@fws.gov; Mike O'Herron, DNRC EIS 
Planner, 2705 Spurgin Road, Missoula, Montana 59804, telephone (406) 
542-4300, facsimile (406) 542-4217, e-mail: moherron@state.mt.; 
Lowell Whitney, DNRC/FWS Cooperative Project Coordinator, 2705 Spurgin 
Road, Missoula, Montana 59804, telephone (406) 542-4300, facsimile 
(406) 542-4217, e-mail: lwhitney@state.mt.us.    Reasonable Accommodation: Persons needing reasonable accommodations 
in order to attend and participate in the public meetings should 
contact Tim Bodurtha, Mike O'Herron, or Lowell Whitney. In order to 
allow sufficient time to process requests, please call no later than 1 
week before the hearing. Information regarding the proposed action is 
available in alternative formats upon request.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Pursuant to section 9 of the ESA and its 
implementing regulations, ``take'' of threatened and endangered species 
is prohibited. The term ``take'' is defined under the ESA to mean to 
harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, 
or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. Harm is defined by the 
Service to include significant habitat modification or degradation 
where it actually kills or injures fish or wildlife by significantly 
impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, 
and sheltering.
    The Service, under certain circumstances, may issue permits to take 
listed animal species if such taking is incidental to, and not the 
purpose of, otherwise lawful activities. Regulations governing permits 
for threatened or endangered species are found at 50 CFR 17.22, and 50 
CFR 17.32.


    The DNRC manages approximately 283,280 hectares (700,000 acres) of 
forested State school trust lands in Montana. These lands are currently 
managed under the State Forest Land Management Rules (hereafter 
``Rules'') formally adopted on March 13, 2003. The Rules provide the 
guiding framework for proposing, developing and analyzing site-specific 
projects. The management direction of the Rules is based on the 
following criteria--(1) monetary return to the school trusts, (2) 
maintenance of biodiversity and long term health of the forest 
resource, and (3) effects on the biological and physical environment. 
Included in the Rules are management standards that promote an 
appropriate mix of forest stand structures and compositions to support 
diverse wildlife habitats on a landscape scale, as well as an approach 
for threatened, endangered, and sensitive species through management of 

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species' (fine filter) habitat requirements.
    Some of DNRC's forest management activities have the potential to 
impact species subject to protection under the ESA. Section 10(a)(2)(B) 
of the ESA contains provisions for the issuance of incidental take 
permits to non-Federal landowners for the take of endangered and 
threatened species, provided the take is incidental to otherwise lawful 
activities and will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the 
survival and recovery of the species in the wild. An applicant for a 
Permit under section 10(a)(2)(B) of the ESA must prepare and submit to 
the Service for approval a Conservation Plan (commonly known as a HCP) 
containing a strategy for minimizing and mitigating, to the maximum 
extent practicable, the impacts of the take on listed species 
associated with the proposed activities. The applicant also must ensure 
that adequate funding for the Conservation Plan will be provided.
    The DNRC initiated discussions with the Service regarding the 
development of a HCP and permit issuance for their forest management 
activities. During this process DNRC intends to employ the Service's 
technical assistance. The goals of DNRC's HCP are:
    (1) To the maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the 
impacts of DNRC's forest management activities on all species covered 
by the HCP.
    (2) Provide habitat conditions that are necessary and advisable to 
conserve and enhance species populations, and allow for the long-term 
survival of species covered by the HCP, in a manner consistent with 
DNRC's Trust mandate. To the extent unlisted species are covered by the 
HCP, DNRC's goal is to address the listing factors under its control 
such that the listing of such species would be unnecessary, assuming 
the measures in the HCP were implemented by similarly situated 
landowners throughout a species' range.
    (3) Provide DNRC with predictability and flexibility to manage its 
forest lands economically, consistent with its statutory mandate to 
generate revenue for Trust beneficiaries.
    As currently envisioned, the HCP would involve a multi-year 
agreement covering approximately 283,280 hectares (700,000 acres) of 
blocked and scattered school trust lands across the State of Montana. 
In addition, the HCP might include an additional approximate of 121,406 
hectares (300,000 acres) of non-forested parcels that could involve 
access associated with timber management activities on forested lands. 
The DNRC is currently considering an agreement term of 50 years. The 
Service specifically requests comment on the term of a permit.
    The DNRC has indicated that the HCP will adopt a multi-species 
approach for several listed and non-listed terrestrial and aquatic 
species. The HCP would be integrated into an existing biodiversity 
management approach for State school trust lands. The approach would 
apply to all lands identified in the planning area.
    The intent of employing a multi-species habitat-based approach 
would be to address biological concerns associated with listed and 
sensitive terrestrial and aquatic species in the planning area and 
minimize threats to their habitat associated with forest management 
activities. The intent of the approach would be to address habitat 
concerns for the species of interest through incorporation of 
overlapping mitigation strategies that may collectively provide greater 
conservation benefits and management flexibility. Species initially 
considered for inclusion in the HCP include listed species--(1) grizzly 
bear (Ursus arctos horribilis); (2) gray wolf (Canis lupus); (3) bald 
eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus); (4) Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis); 
(5) bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus); and unlisted species--(6) 
wolverine (Gulo gulo); (7) fisher (Martes pennanti); (8) northern 
goshawk (Accipiter gentilis); (9) black-backed woodpecker (Picoides 
arcticus); (10) pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus); (11) 
flammulated owl (Otus flammeolus); and (12) westslope cutthroat trout 
(Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi). Species may be added to or removed from 
the initial list of covered species as a result of the analysis. The 
Service specifically requests comment on the multi-species habitat-
based approach to plan development, and the possibility of inclusion of 
these and other species in the plan and permit.
    A key assumption for species protection in the HCP is that actions 
taken to address the biological needs of listed wide-ranging 
terrestrial and aquatic species would be beneficial to other non-listed 
species dependent on associated habitats. The conservation needs of all 
species to be included in the HCP would be fully and independently 
identified and analyzed, and any additional actions necessary for their 
conservation would be included in the HCP. The Service will evaluate 
the conservation needs of the identified listed and non-listed species 
throughout their ranges to ensure that conservation measures agreed to 
in this planning process are adequate to contribute meaningfully to 
their protection overall.
    As a component of this planning process, the Service seeks to 
identify habitat conditions and land management actions on lands 
adjacent to those owned by the State of Montana that are administered 
by DNRC. In many cases, nearby or adjacent lands may be managed by the 
Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and Department of Interior 
Bureau of Land Management. In such cases, the Service will work with 
the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management under existing 
authorities to develop and implement management actions that are 
complementary to those developed for lands administered by DNRC. This 
approach to habitat conservation planning will help ensure that 
adequate conservation of habitat for target species is achieved in the 
planning area.
    Management activities undertaken by DNRC that might impact species 
covered under the HCP include activities associated with forest 
management such as, but not limited, to timber harvest, salvage 
harvest, thinning, control and disposal of slash, prescribed burning, 
site preparation, reforestation, weed control, road construction, road 
maintenance, forest inventory, monitoring, grazing of classified forest 
lands, gravel quarrying for the purposes of logging and road 
construction, pesticide/herbicide application, fertilization, forest 
fire suppression, electronic facility sites, and other activities 
common to commercial forest management.
    For the proposed HCP, the DNRC would develop specific conservation 
measures to be implemented under Rules following the Montana 
Administrative Procedure Act and Montana Environmental Policy Act as 
appropriate. Measures would likely be developed under the following 
general categories:
    1. Biodiversity and Silviculture. Alteration of forest vegetation 
is recognized as having the potential to impact terrestrial and aquatic 
species in various ways. Conservation measures would be developed to 
maintain biological diversity and species conservation, while 
maintaining the ability to generate reasonable and legitimate returns 
for school trust beneficiaries. To accomplish this the following 
considerations would be among those incorporated into developing 
conservation strategies for species included in the HCP--stand 
structures, compositions, stand age diversity, salvage, snags, downed 
wood, patch conditions, fragmentation, thinning, cover needs, and 
natural disturbance processes.

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    2. Road Management. Roads are recognized as having the potential to 
impact some terrestrial and aquatic species in various ways. 
Conservation measures would be developed considering (but not limited 
to) the following factors--human disturbance associated with road 
access, seasonal security, road construction requirements, road 
maintenance, road amounts, road locations, sedimentation/erosion 
potential, legacy management, and fish passage.
    3. Watershed/Riparian Area Management. Alteration of forest 
vegetation associated with watershed function and riparian habitat is 
recognized as having the potential to impact some terrestrial and 
aquatic species in various ways. Conservation measures would be 
developed to regulation activities that could potentially impact 
watersheds and riparian areas. Such measures would include 
consideration of the following--water quality, stream shade, structure, 
woody debris recruitment, and riparian vegetation management.
    4. Grazing on Classified Forest Lands. Livestock grazing in 
forested landscapes is recognized as having the potential to impact 
some terrestrial and aquatic species in various ways. Conservation 
measures would be developed to address impacts associated with riparian 
and upland rangelands on classified forest lands resulting from 
grazing. Such measures would include consideration of the following--
condition of riparian vegetation, range condition, stream bank 
disturbance, season of use, browse utilization, plant species 
composition, and erosion.
    5. Weed Management. Herbaceous weed species are recognized as 
having the potential to impact some terrestrial species in various 
ways. Conservation measures would be developed to address impacts 
associated with weed spread and control. Such measures would include 
consideration of the following--integrated weed management, education, 
biological controls, herbicide application, re-vegetation, minimization 
of disturbance, and prevention strategies.
    6. Land Use Planning. The DNRC administers property in the planning 
area that may ultimately have long-term uses other than forestry. The 
DNRC also may buy, sell, or trade land in the planning area. Land use 
planning measures would be developed to mitigate the impacts of future 
development or adjustment of land ownership.
    7. Administration and Implementation. The DNRC would initiate a 
program to track significant elements of the HCP and develop a program 
to inform and educate contractors and employees on standards and 
practices to be implemented.
    As currently envisioned, the HCP would incorporate active adaptive 
management features, including terrestrial and watershed analysis. 
Research and monitoring would help determine the effectiveness of the 
HCP, validate models used to develop the HCP, and provide the basic 
information used to implement ``mid-course corrections'' if necessary.
    The Service will conduct an environmental review of the proposed 
HCP and prepare an EIS. The environmental review will analyze the 
proposal as well as a full range of reasonable alternatives and the 
associated impacts of each. The Service and the DNRC are currently in 
the process of developing alternatives for analysis. The scoping 
process will be used to identify reasonable alternatives in addition to 
the No Action alternative.
    The environmental review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), 
Council of Environmental Quality regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508), 
other appropriate Federal laws and regulations, and policies and 
procedures of the Service for compliance with those regulations. It is 
estimated that the draft EIS will be available for public review during 
the second quarter of calendar year 2004.
    Comments and suggestions are invited from all interested parties to 
ensure that the full range of issues related to the proposed action are 
addressed and that all significant issues are identified. Comments or 
questions concerning this proposed action and the environmental review 
should be directed to the Service (see ADDRESSES).

    Dated: April 4, 2003.
Ralph O. Morgenweck,
Regional Director, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 03-10333 Filed 4-25-03; 8:45 am]