[Federal Register: January 27, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 17)]
[Page 3889-3892]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Scoping Meetings and Intent To Prepare an Environmental 
Assessment for the Proposed Designation of an Experimental Population 
of Northern Aplomado Falcon

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), are providing 
this notice to advise the public that a draft environmental assessment 
will be prepared, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act 
(NEPA) of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 432 et seq.), in conjunction with 
a proposed rule to establish, under section 10(j) of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), an experimental population of 
northern aplomado falcon (Falco femoralis septentrionalis) in New 
Mexico and Arizona. We will hold five public informational sessions and 
scoping meetings (see DATES and ADDRESSES sections).
    Through this notice and the public scoping meetings, we are seeking 
comments or suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental 
agencies, tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other 
interested parties concerning the scope of the environmental analysis, 
including the alternatives that should be analyzed.

DATES: Comments may be submitted directly to the Service (see ADDRESSES 
section) by February 11, 2003, or at any of the five scoping meetings 
to be held in February 2003. Meetings will include an informational 
session and a subsequent scoping meeting.
    We will hold public informational sessions and scoping meetings at 
the following dates and times:
1. February 3, 2003
Douglas, AZ
    Informational session: 5:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.
2. February 4, 2003
Deming, NM
    Informational session: 5:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.
3. February 5, 2003:
Alamogordo, NM
    Informational session: 5:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.
4. February 6, 2003
Carlsbad, NM
    Informational session: 5:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7:30 p.m.
5. February 11, 2003
Socorro, NM
    Informational session: 5:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.



    The public informational sessions and scoping meetings will be held 
at the following locations:
    1. Douglas, AZ: Cochise College-Little Theatre, 4190 West State 
Highway 80; (520) 417-4143.
    2. Deming, NM: Deming High School Auditorium, 1100 S. Nickel; (505) 
    3. Alamogordo, NM: Alamogordo Civic Center, 800 East 1st Street; 
(505) 439-4142.
    4. Carlsbad, NM: New Mexico State University at Carlsbad-
Instructional Building, Room 153, 1500 University Drive; (505) 234-
    5. Socorro, NM: New Mexico Tech-Main Auditorium, Macey Center, 801 
Leroy Place; (505) 835-5342.
    Information, comments, or questions related to preparation of the 
draft environmental assessment and the NEPA process should be submitted 
to Joy Nicholopoulos, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office, 2105 Osuna NE, 
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87113. Written comments may also be sent by 
facsimile to (505) 346-2542 or by e-mail to R2FWE_AL@fws.gov. All 
comments, including names and addresses, will become part of the 
administrative record and may be released.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Questions regarding the scoping 
process, preparation of the draft environmental assessment, or the 
development of a proposed rule designating an experimental population 
may be directed to Carrie Chalcraft at telephone number (505) 346-2525.



    The aplomado falcon (Falco femoralis) is a widespread but sparsely 
distributed species through the Americas. Ranging from near the Mexican 
border south to Argentina, the aplomado falcon is a fast-flying 
predator that feeds upon medium-sized birds, insects, rodents, bats, 
and reptiles; pairs often hunt cooperatively. The northern subspecies 
(F.f. septentrionalis) was widespread throughout southwestern 
grasslands prior to the 1930s (Hector 1981, 2000). It was regarded as 
fairly common throughout the humid coastal

[[Page 3890]]

savannas of Texas and Tamaulipas and the drier interior grasslands. 
Numerous egg sets were collected in southern Texas between 1888 and 
1915 (Hector 1981).
    Populations of the northern aplomado falcon began to decline during 
the first half of the twentieth century. Prior to reintroduction 
efforts in Texas, the last known breeding of this species within the 
United States occurred near Deming, New Mexico, in 1952. Breeding pairs 
became established in Texas once again in 1995, as a result of 
reintroduction efforts. There have been no verified sightings of 
northern aplomado falcons in Arizona since 1940 (Philips et al. 1964). 
Sightings of northern aplomado falcons have continued in New Mexico 
since the 1950s, but with only a handful of unconfirmed sightings per 
decade from the 1970s and 1980s despite many searches by 
ornithologists. The frequency of sightings ranged from 1 to 6 confirmed 
sightings per year throughout the 1990s. These sightings were followed 
by an unsuccessful nesting attempt in New Mexico in 2001, and the 
successful fledging of 3 nestlings from a nest in 2002.
    There remains some debate concerning the exact cause of the decline 
of the northern aplomado falcon. Hypotheses implicating habitat loss, 
pesticide use, climatic change, egg and skin collecting, disease, and 
others have been advanced. We may therefore never fully understand the 
chain of events that led to the virtual extirpation of this species 
throughout the northernmost portion of its range (Cade et al. 1991). 
Unquestionably, grassland savannas in the southwestern United States 
underwent a substantial physical change during the decline of the 
northern aplomado falcon. Naturally occurring range fires maintained 
the humid grasslands of coastal Texas and Tamaulipas, once known as the 
``Wild Horse Prairie.'' By World War II much of that prairie had been 
tilled into crops, and, with the control of range fires, what prairie 
remained soon became overgrown with brush species such as Honey 
Mesquite (Prospis glandulosa), Blackbrush Acacia (Acacia rigidula), 
Huisache (Acacia smallii), and Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) (Bogusch 
1952). Brush encroachment may have increased the density of the great-
horned owl (Bubo virginianus), a principal predator of falcons. Already 
greatly reduced in number and isolated through habitat loss, the 
remaining falcons may have been eliminated by the widespread use of 
organochlorines in agriculture (Kiff et al. 1980).
    The decline of the northern aplomado falcon in the drier grasslands 
of west Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona may have resulted from different 
causes. Grasslands then were substantially altered both by farming and 
by intense overgrazing that reached its peak during 1870-1890 (Hastings 
and Turner 1965). The latter is believed to have reduced the diversity 
of the native short grass prairie. In time, these grasslands likely 
became less productive for the bird species upon which falcons preyed.
    We listed the northern aplomado falcon as an endangered species in 
1986 and published a Recovery Plan in 1990. As of September 2002, at 
least 37 pairs of falcons have become established in Texas as a result 
of release efforts. Monitoring efforts in northern Mexico indicate a 
population of 30-35 naturally occurring pairs currently exists in 
northern Chihuahua.
    An active release effort is currently ongoing in both south and 
west Texas. The Peregrine Fund, a nonprofit, nongovernmental 
conservation organization, began recovery efforts during 1978-1988 when 
25 young falcons were collected from nests in Mexico to establish a 
captive breeding program. The Peregrine Fund conducted a pilot release 
project during 1985-1989, and restoration began on a larger scale in 
1993 with modified hacking procedures developed from Peregrine Falcon 
reintroduction. Although captive propagation of this species has been 
challenging, The Peregrine Fund has released 813 captive-bred falcons 
into Texas by the ``hacking method.'' As of spring 2002, 37 established 
pairs have successfully fledged more than 92 young in a region where 
this species had been absent for over 50 years. Releases are being 
conducted on private property under a Safe Harbor Agreement enrolling 
1.4 million acres in south and west Texas.

Experimental Populations

    We are committed to the long-term recovery of the northern aplomado 
falcon (Falco femoralis septentrionalis) in accordance with the 
recommendations of the 1990 recovery plan for this species. One of the 
primary goals of the Northern Aplomado Falcon Recovery Plan is to 
``Reestablish the northern aplomado falcon in the U.S. and Mexico.'' 
Use of our authorities under section 10(j) of the Act (described below) 
may be a useful tool to achieve this recovery goal in Arizona and New 
Mexico. The purpose of this scoping process is to aid the development 
of an environmental assessment by collecting comments on this 
alternative as well as developing other alternatives that are 
consistent with the species' Recovery Plan.
    Congress made significant changes to the Act in 1982 with addition 
of section 10(j), which provides for the designation of specific 
reintroduced populations of listed species as ``experimental 
populations.'' Previously, we had authority to reintroduce populations 
into unoccupied portions of a listed species' historical range when 
doing so would foster the conservation and recovery of the species. 
However, local citizens often opposed these reintroductions because 
they were concerned about placement of restrictions and prohibitions on 
Federal and private activities. Under section 10(j), the Secretary of 
the Department of the Interior can designate reintroduced populations 
established outside the species' current range, but within its 
historical range, as ``experimental.'' On the basis of the best 
available information, we must determine whether an experimental 
population is ``essential'' or ``nonessential'' to the continued 
existence of the species. Regulatory restrictions are considerably 
reduced under a Nonessential Experimental Population (NEP) designation.
    Under the Act, species listed as endangered or threatened are 
afforded protection primarily through the prohibitions of section 9 and 
the requirements of section 7. Section 9 of the Act prohibits the take 
of endangered wildlife. ``Take'' is defined by the Act as to harass, 
harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt 
to engage in any such conduct. Service regulations (50 CFR 17.31) 
generally extend the prohibition of take to threatened wildlife. 
Section 7 of the Act outlines the procedures for Federal interagency 
cooperation to conserve federally listed species and protect designated 
critical habitats. It mandates all Federal agencies to determine how to 
use their existing authorities to further the purposes of the Act to 
aid in recovering listed species. It also states that Federal agencies 
will, in consultation with the Service, ensure that any action they 
authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of a listed species or result in the destruction or adverse 
modification of designated critical habitat. Section 7 of the Act does 
not affect activities undertaken on private lands unless they are 
authorized, funded, or carried out by a Federal agency.
    For purposes of section 9 of the Act, a population designated as 
experimental is treated as threatened regardless of the species' 
designation elsewhere in its range. Through section 4(d) of the Act, 
threatened designation allows us greater

[[Page 3891]]

discretion in devising management programs and special regulations for 
such a population. Section 4(d) of the Act allows us to adopt whatever 
regulations are necessary to provide for the conservation of a 
threatened species. In these situations, the general regulations that 
extend most section 9 prohibitions to threatened species do not apply 
to that species, and the special 4(d) rule contains the prohibitions 
and exemptions necessary and appropriate to conserve that species. 
Regulations issued under section 4(d) for NEPs are usually more 
compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area.
    For the purposes of section 7 of the Act, we treat NEPs as 
threatened species when the NEP is located within a National Wildlife 
Refuge or National Park, and section 7(a)(1) and the consultation 
requirements of section 7(a)(2) of the Act apply. Section 7(a)(1) 
requires all Federal agencies to use their authorities to conserve 
listed species. Section 7(a)(2) requires that Federal agencies, in 
consultation with the Service, ensure any actions they authorize, fund, 
or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a 
listed species or adversely modify its critical habitat. When NEPs are 
located outside a National Wildlife Refuge or National Park, we treat 
the population as proposed for listing and only two provisions of 
section 7 would apply--section 7(a)(1) and section 7(a)(4). In these 
instances, NEPs provide additional flexibility because Federal agencies 
are not required to consult with us under section 7(a)(2). Section 
7(a)(4) requires Federal agencies to confer with the Service on actions 
that are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a proposed 
species. The results of a conference are advisory in nature and do not 
restrict agencies from carrying out, funding, or authorizing 
    Individuals used to establish an experimental population may come 
from a donor population, provided their removal will not create adverse 
impacts upon the parent population, and provided appropriate permits 
are issued in accordance with our regulations (50 CFR 17.22) prior to 
their removal.
    In order to establish an experimental population, we must issue a 
proposed regulation and consider public comments on the proposed rule 
prior to publishing a final regulation. In addition, we must comply 
with NEPA. Also, our regulations require that, to the extent 
practicable, a regulation issued under section 10(j) of the Act 
represents an agreement between the Service, the affected State and 
Federal agencies, and persons holding any interest in land that may be 
affected by the establishment of the experimental population (see 50 
CFR Sec.  17.81(d)).
    We have not yet identified possible alternatives for accomplishing 
our recovery goals in Arizona and New Mexico and we do not know what 
the preferred alternative (the proposed action) or other alternatives 
might entail. Once identified, the alternatives will be carried forward 
into detailed analyses pursuant to NEPA.
    Any process to release falcons as ``experimental'' will require 
that we: (1) Compile and analyze all new biological information on the 
species; (2) review and update the administrative record; (3) review 
the overall approach to the conservation and recovery of the falcon in 
the United States; (4) review available information that pertains to 
the habitat requirements of this species, including material received 
during the public comment period from this notice and comments on the 
listing; (5) review actions identified in the northern aplomado falcon 
recovery plan (Service 1990); (6) determine what areas, if any, might 
require special management or areas that should be excluded from the 
experimental population area; (7) write a draft environmental 
assessment and present alternatives to the public for review and 
comment; (8) incorporate public input and use current knowledge of 
falcon habitat use and availability to precisely map a proposed 
experimental population area; (9) present this proposal in a proposed 
rule for publication in the Federal Register and solicit comments from 
the public; and (10) finalize the environmental assessment and the rule 
designating an experimental population and identifying an experimental 
population area, and authorizing the release of falcons as experimental 
in New Mexico and Arizona, or adopt the no action alternative and not 
permit the release of northern aplomado falcons as experimental in 
these areas.
    We are the lead Federal agency for compliance with NEPA for this 
action. The draft environmental assessment will incorporate public 
concerns in the analysis of impacts associated with the proposed action 
and associated project alternatives. The draft environmental assessment 
will be sent out for a minimum 30-day public review period, during 
which time comments will be solicited on the adequacy of the document. 
The final environmental document (e.g., environmental assessment or 
environmental impact statement) will address the comments we receive 
during public review and will be furnished to all who commented on the 
draft environmental assessment, and made available to anyone who 
requests a copy. This notice is provided pursuant to regulations for 
implementing NEPA.

Public Comments Solicited

    The Service wishes to ensure that any proposed rulemaking to 
designate an experimental population for the aplomado falcon we might 
issue and the draft environmental assessment on the proposed action 
effectively evaluate all potential issues associated with this action. 
Therefore, we request comments or recommendations concerning reasons 
why any particular area should or should not be included in an 
experimental population designation, information on the distribution 
and quality of habitat for the northern aplomado falcons, land or water 
use practices and current or planned activities in areas that may be 
affected by a designation of an experimental population, and any other 
pertinent issues of concern. We seek comment from the public, as well 
as Tribal, local, State, and Federal government agencies, the 
scientific community, industry, or any other interested party. To 
promulgate a proposed rule to establish an experimental population for 
the aplomado falcon and to determine whether to prepare a finding of no 
significant impact or an environmental impact statement, we will take 
into consideration all comments and any additional information 
    We will give separate notice of the availability of the draft 
environmental assessment, when completed, so that interested and 
affected people may comment on the draft and have input into the final 
decision. The draft environmental assessment will undergo a minimum 30-
day public comment period.


Bogusch, E.R. 1952. Brush invasion in the Rio Grande plain of Texas. 
Texas J. Science. Pp. 85-91.
Cade, T.J., J.P. Jenny, and B.J. Walton. 1991. Efforts to restore the 
Northern Aplomado Falcon Falco femoralis septentrionalis by captive 
breeding and reintroduction. Dodo, J. Jersey Wildl. Preserv. Trust 
Hastings, J.R., and R.M. Turner. 1965. The changing mile: An ecological 
study of vegetation change with time in the lower mile of an arid and 
semiarid region. Univ. of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona. 317pp.
Hector, D.P. 1981. The habitat, diet, and foraging behavior of the 
aplomado flacon, (Falcon femoralis)(Temminck). M.S. Thesis, Oklahoma 

[[Page 3892]]

University, Stillwater, Oklahoma. 189 pp.
Keddy-Hector, D.P. 2000. Aplomado Falcon (Falcon femoralis). In The 
Birds of North America, No. 549 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds 
of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Kiff, L.F., D.B. Peakall, and D.P. Hector. 1980. Eggshell thinning and 
organchloride residues in the bat and aplomado falcons in Mexico. 
Proceedings International Ornithological Congress. 17:949-952.
Phillips, A., J. Marshall, and G. Monson. 1964. The birds of Arizona. 
Univ. Arizona Press, Tucson.

    Dated: January 15, 2003.
Craig Manson,
Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 03-1943 Filed 1-23-03; 4:07 pm]