[Federal Register: May 7, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 89)]
[Page 25600-25601]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Southern Idaho Ground Squirrel Programmatic Candidate 
Conservation Agreement With Assurances and Related Draft Environmental 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.


SUMMARY: The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (Department) has applied 
to the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for an enhancement of 
survival permit pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973 (ESA), as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The 
permit application includes a proposed Programmatic Southern Idaho 
Ground Squirrel Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances 
(Agreement) between the Service, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, 
and the Idaho Governor's Office of Species Conservation.
    Under the proposed Agreement, the parties would implement 
conservation measures for southern Idaho ground squirrels (Spermophilus 
brunneus endemicus) over approximately 1,046,569 acres in Adams, 
Washington, Payette, and Gem counties, Idaho. The intent of the 
Agreement is to conserve southern Idaho ground squirrels (SIGS) by 
protecting and enhancing SIGS habitat and populations, and 
reintroducing SIGS into currently unoccupied suitable habitat, in a 
manner that is consistent with the non-Federal landowner's land use 
activities and the Agreement. The proposed term of the Agreement and 
the permit is 20 years. The Service has prepared a draft Environmental 
Assessment for approval of the Agreement and issuance of the permit. We 
request comments from the public on the permit application, the 
Agreement, and the draft Environmental Assessment.

DATES: Written comments should be received on or before June 7, 2004.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by postal mail/commercial delivery 
or facsimile. Please address your written comments to Carmen Thomas, 
Project Biologist, Fish and Wildlife Service, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Room 
368, Boise, Idaho 83709 (facsimile: (208) 378-5262).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Carmen Thomas at the above address or 
telephone (208) 378-5243.


[[Page 25601]]

Document Availability

    You may obtain copies of the documents for review by contacting the 
individual named above or by making an appointment to view the 
documents at the above address during normal business hours.
    All comments we receive, including names and addresses, will become 
part of the administrative record and may be released to the public. If 
you wish us to withhold your name and/or address, you must state this 
prominently at the beginning of your comment. All submissions from 
organizations or companies, or from individuals representing 
organizations or companies, are available for public inspection in 
their entirety.


    Under a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), 
participating landowners voluntarily implement conservation activities 
on their property to benefit species that are proposed or candidates 
for listing, or for which listing under the ESA is warranted but 
precluded, or other sensitive species. CCAAs encourage private and 
other non-Federal property owners to implement conservation efforts and 
reduce threats to unlisted species by assuring them they would not be 
subjected to increased property use restrictions, beyond those 
identified in the agreement, if species are listed in the future under 
the ESA.
    Under the Final Policy for CCAAs (64 FR 32726), the Service must 
determine that the benefits of the conservation measures implemented by 
the property owner, when combined with those benefits that would be 
achieved if it is assumed that the conservation measures would also be 
implemented on other necessary properties, would preclude or remove the 
need to list the covered species. Application requirements and issuance 
criteria for enhancement of survival permits through CCAAs are found in 
50 CFR 17.22(d) and 17.32(d).
    On October 30, 2001, the Service formally identified the southern 
Idaho ground squirrel as a candidate for listing under the ESA (66 FR 
54808). SIGS are currently found within an approximately 1,046,569-acre 
area comprised of lower elevation shrub/steppe habitat in the Weiser 
and Payette river basins in southwest Idaho. The species appears to 
have undergone a substantial population decline throughout its range 
since 1985. SIGS are largely dependent on private lands: 85 percent of 
the occupied ground squirrel sites are located on private lands, mostly 
ranches and farms; 12 percent are under federal management by the 
Bureau of Land Management; and 3 percent of the sites are on lands 
managed by the Idaho Department of Lands. Conservation measures 
implemented on private lands are important for the long-term survival 
of the species.
    Landowners may be willing to implement measures that enhance 
populations of sensitive species on their property, but reluctant to do 
so because of potential land-use restrictions that could occur should 
the species eventually be listed under the ESA. As a result of this 
potential regulatory concern, the Department developed the Agreement, 
in cooperation with the Service, and is applying to the Service for a 
permit under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA to enhance the propagation 
or survival of the species and to authorize incidental take of SIGS 
should the species be listed during the term of the permit.

Description of Proposed Action

    Under the Agreement and permit, the Department, the Service, and 
participating non-Federal landowners would implement various 
conservation measures over the range of the SIGS, depending on present 
and future occupancy of sites by SIGS. The conservation measures under 
the Agreement are intended to reduce all threats to the SIGS that are 
controllable by participating landowners within the project area. 
Within the project area, enrolled lands must be specifically identified 
in each participating landowner's site-specific plan. Each site-
specific plan would identify in detail how the applicable conservation 
measures would be implemented on an individual landowner's property 
considering baseline SIGS populations and habitat conditions, and the 
landowner's planned use activities. For a participating landowner's 
site-specific plan to be approved, the site-specific plan must contain 
all conservation measures identified in the Agreement that are within 
the participating landowner's control, and result in a net improvement 
in SIGS habitat or populations on the enrolled lands.
    Conservation measures that may be implemented on private lands 
within the project area that are enrolled in the Agreement include: (1) 
Implement habitat maintenance or enhancement measures such as seeding 
native vegetation species, fertilizing vegetation, prescribed burning, 
and providing escape cover; (2) prohibit shooting, trapping, or 
poisoning of SIGS; (3) minimize direct mortality from ground disturbing 
activities; (4) allow translocation of SIGS into unoccupied, suitable 
habitat; (5) control Columbian ground squirrels and badgers to reduce 
competition and predation; (6) monitor ground squirrel populations and 
habitat characteristics to monitor effectiveness and compliance with 
the Agreement; (7) actively pursue funding to implement the site-
specific plan; and (8) coordinate/cooperate with non-federal third 
parties that hold conservation easements on or adjacent to enrolled 
lands, and that wish to participate in the Agreement. Should the 
species be listed under the ESA during the 20-year term of the permit, 
the permit would authorize incidental take of SIGS as a result of 
participating landowners' covered land-use activities, which include 
crop cultivation and harvesting, livestock grazing and production, farm 
equipment operation, and recreational activities.
    A draft Environmental Assessment has been prepared to address the 
impacts of permit issuance. The draft Environmental Assessment 
evaluates the environmental impacts that may result from implementation 
of the conservation measures described in the Agreement. The draft 
Environmental Assessment describes alternatives to the proposed action 
including the no action alternative.
    We provide this notice pursuant to section 10(c) of the ESA and 
implementing regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act (40 
CFR 1506.6). We will evaluate the permit application, associated 
documents, and comments submitted thereon to determine whether the 
permit application meets the requirements of section 10(a) of the ESA 
and National Environmental Policy Act regulations. If we determine that 
the requirements are met, we will sign the Agreement and issue an 
enhancement of survival permit under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA to 
the Department for take of SIGS, should it become listed during the 
term of the permit, incidental to otherwise lawful activities in 
accordance with the terms of the Agreement. The Service will not make a 
final decision until after the end of the 30-day comment period and 
will fully consider all comments received during the comment period.

    Dated: May 4, 2004.
David J. Wesley,
Deputy Regional Director, Region 1, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 04-10426 Filed 5-6-04; 8:45 am]