[Federal Register: January 21, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 13)]
[Page 2940-2943]
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 Critical Habitat for the 
Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

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 designate critical habitat for the southwestern 
willow flycatcher (flycatcher) (Empidonax trailli extimus) under 
section 4 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The 
historical range of the flycatcher includes southern California; 
Arizona; New Mexico; southern Nevada, Utah, and Colorado; and west 
Texas. We will hold eight 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, the business community, or 
any other interested parties concerning the scope of the environmental 
analysis, including the alternatives that should be analyzed.

DATES: Comments must be submitted directly to the Service (see 
ADDRESSES section) on or before March 8, 2004, or at any of the eight 
scoping meetings to be held in January and February 2004.
    We will hold public informational sessions followed by scoping 
meetings in a workshop format at the following dates and times:

1. January 26, 2004: Phoenix, AZ.
    Informational session: 6:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.

2. January 27, 2004: Silver City, NM.
    Informational session: 6:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.

3. January 28, 2004: Albuquerque, NM.
    Informational session: 6:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.

4. January 29, 2004: Alamosa, CO.
    Informational session: 6:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.

5. February 2, 2004: Las Vegas, NV.
    Informational session: 6:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.

6. February 3, 2004: Lake Isabella, CA.
    Informational session: 6:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.

7. February 4, 2004: Corona/City of Chino, CA.
    Informational session: 6:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.

8. February 5, 2004: Escondido, CA.
    Informational session: 6:30 p.m.
    Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.



    The public informational sessions and scoping meetings will be held 
at the following locations:

1. Phoenix, AZ: Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 2, 12851 N. 19th 
Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85029-2654.
2. Silver City, NM: Flame Convention Center, 2800 Pinos Altos Road 
(West of 32nd St. & Hwy. 180), Silver City, NM 88061.
3. Albuquerque, NM: Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th Street 
NW., Albuquerque, NM 87104.
4. Alamosa, CO: Alamosa Family Recreation Center, 2222 Old Sanford 
Road, Alamosa, CO 81101.
5. Las Vegas, NV: Bureau of Land Management Building, 4701 N. Torrey 
Pines Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89130.
6. Lake Isabella, CA: Lake Isabella Senior Center, Veteran's Facility, 
Room 1, 6405 Lake Isabella Blvd., Lake Isabella, CA 93240.
7. Corona/City of Chino, CA: El Prado Golf Course, 6555 Pine Avenue 
Chino, CA 91710.
8. Escondido, CA: Escondido Center for the Arts, 340 N. Escondido 
Blvd., Escondido, CA 92025.

    Information, comments, or questions related to preparation of the 

[[Page 2941]]

environmental assessment and the NEPA process should be submitted to 
Steve Spangle, Field Supervisor, Arizona Ecological Services Office, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2321 West Royal Palm Road, Suite 103, 
Phoenix, Arizona 85021. Written comments may also be sent by facsimile 
to (602) 242-2513 or by e-mail to WIFLcomments@fws.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Questions regarding the scoping 
process, preparation of the draft environmental assessment, or the 
development of a proposed rule designating critical habitat, may be 
directed to Greg Beatty at telephone number (602) 242-0210 or by 
electronic mail at greg_beatty@fws.gov.


Public Comments Solicited

    Our NEPA document (e.g., environmental assessment or impact 
statement) will consider reasonable alternatives for the designation of 
critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher. At this time, 
the complexity and geographic range of a potential critical habitat 
designation preclude us from knowing what the preferred alternative 
(proposed action) or other alternatives will be. However, we intend to 
utilize those areas identified as important stream reaches in the 
Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Recovery Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service 2002) as a starting point in the process of identifying areas 
that may meet the definition of critical habitat. We also intend to 
consider the history of consultations under section 7 of the Act for 
the species in determining potential beneficial or adverse 
environmental impacts which may result from the proposed designation. 
Past consultations have included an evaluation of impacts on the 
species or its critical habitat from grazing, road development, housing 
development, water management, stream habitat renovation or 
restoration, Federal agency land resource management plans, fire 
abatement activities, electrical transmission structures, and 
protection of other endangered or threatened species in the riparian 
area. We wish to ensure that any proposed rule-making to designate 
critical habitat for the flycatcher and the draft environmental 
document on the proposed action effectively evaluates all potential 
issues, including the possible environmental impacts associated with 
past and future consultations for the species and its habitat.
    Therefore, we are seeking comments and suggestions on the following 
issues for consideration in the preparation of the draft environmental 
assessment (EA) and the proposed critical habitat designation for the 
flycatcher. This list is not intended to be all inclusive, and comments 
on any other pertinent issues are welcome.
    Issues related to the scope of the designation:
    (1) Published or unpublished information establishing the physical 
and biological features essential to the conservation of the 
    (2) Historically or currently occupied areas that may contain the 
physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the 
flycatcher and may require special management considerations or 
protections (i.e., specific stream reaches), and the nature of the 
special management considerations or protections which may be required.
    (3) A detailed description of essential or nonessential flycatcher 
areas, including maps and distinct beginning and ending points such as 
roads, tributaries, and so forth.
    (4) Published or unpublished information on why identified areas 
are important (or are no longer important) for flycatcher conservation 
and whether or not the areas are currently occupied by the species. 
Specifically, please tell us what these areas provide (or no longer 
provide) in the way of important flycatcher breeding, feeding, 
dispersal, and migratory habitat. Please provide us copies of the 
sources of this information.
    (5) Any draft or final management plans, Habitat Conservation 
Plans, or other agreements that provide a conservation benefit to the 
flycatcher. Please provide us copies of this information.
    (6) What the lateral extent of critical habitat should be from a 
stream or other water source. We recognize, due to the dynamic nature 
of riparian habitat, that designating the 100-year floodplain may be 
appropriate, and, since we would like to take this into consideration 
we seek your comments.
    (7) The existence of flycatcher-specific land management plans.
    Issues related to evaluation of the environmental impacts:
    The general question on which we are seeking comments is the 
identification of direct, indirect, beneficial, and adverse effects 
caused by the prior or new designation of critical habitat for the 
flycatcher. In addressing this question, you may wish to consider the 
following issues:
    (a) Impacts on floodplains, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, or 
ecologically sensitive areas;
    (b) Impacts on park lands, cultural or historic resources;
    (c) Impacts on human health and safety;
    (d) Impacts on air, soil, and water;
    (e) Impacts on prime agricultural lands;
    (f) Impacts to other endangered or threatened species;
    (g) Any of the impacts identified in prior section 7 consultations 
as discussed above;
    (h) Disproportionately high and adverse impacts on minority and 
low-income populations;
    (i) Any other potential or socioeconomic effects; and
    (j) Any potential conflicts with other Federal, State, local, or 
Tribal environmental laws or requirements.
    We seek comment from Federal, State, local, or Tribal government 
agencies, the scientific or business community, or any other interested 
party. To promulgate a proposed rule 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 received. All comments, including names and 
addresses, will become part of the supporting record.
    If you wish to provide comments and/or information, you may submit 
your comments and materials by any one of several methods (see 
ADDRESSES). Comments submitted electronically should be in the body of 
the e-mail message itself or attached as a text file (ASCII), and 
should not use special characters or encryption. Please also include 
``Attn: Flycatcher NEPA Scoping,'' your full name, and your return 
address in your e-mail message. 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 addresses, 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 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. Comments and materials received will

[[Page 2942]]

be available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal 
business hours at Arizona Ecological Services Office in Phoenix, 
Arizona (see ADDRESSES).
    We will give separate notice of the availability of the draft NEPA 
compliance document, when completed, so that interested and affected 
people may comment on the draft and have input into the final decision.


    The southwestern willow flycatcher (flycatcher) is a small grayish-
green passerine bird (Family Tyrannidae) measuring approximately 5.75 
inches. It is one of four currently recognized willow flycatcher 
subspecies (Phillips 1948; Unitt 1987; Browning 1993). The flycatcher 
is a neotropical migrant that breeds in the southwestern U.S. during 
the spring and summer and migrates to Mexico, Central America, and 
possibly northern South America for the nonbreeding season (Phillips 
1948; Stiles and Skutch 1989; Peterson 1990; Ridgely and Tudor 1994; 
Howell and Webb 1995). The historical breeding range of the flycatcher 
included riparian areas in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, 
western Texas, southwestern Colorado, southern Utah, extreme southern 
Nevada, and extreme northwestern Mexico (Sonora and Baja) (Unitt 1987).
    The flycatcher breeds in dense riparian habitats across the 
southwestern United States from sea level in California to 
approximately 8,500 feet (2591 meters) in east-central Arizona and 
southwestern Colorado (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2002). 
Flycatchers are known to primarily use Geyer willow (Salix geyeriana), 
Coyote willow (Salix exigua), Goodding's willow (Salix gooddingii), 
boxelder (Acer negundo), saltcedar (Tamarix sp.), and Russian olive 
(Elaeagnus angustifolio) for nesting. Other plant species less commonly 
used for nesting include buttonbush (Cephalanthus sp.), black twinberry 
(Lonicera involucrata), cottonwood (Populus spp.), white alder (Alnus 
rhombifolia), blackberry (Rubus ursinus), stinging nettle (Urtica 
spp.), and live oak (Quercus agrifolia).
    Open water, cienegas (marshy seeps), or saturated soil are 
typically found in the vicinity of flycatcher territories and nests; 
flycatchers sometimes nest in areas where nesting substrates were in 
standing water (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2002). However, 
hydrological conditions at a particular site can vary remarkably in the 
arid Southwest within a season and among years. At some locations, 
particularly during drier years, water or saturated soil is only 
present early in the breeding season (i.e., May and part of June). 
However, the total absence of water or visibly saturated soil has been 
documented at several nesting sites where the river channel has been 
modified (e.g., creation of pilot channels), where modification of 
subsurface flows has occurred (e.g., agricultural runoff), or as a 
result of changes in river channel configuration after flood events 
(Spencer et al. 1996).
    The flycatcher's nesting habitat is dynamic in that it varies in 
suitability, location, and occupancy over time (Finch and Stoleson 
2000). For example, willows which form part of the nesting habitat can 
develop from seeds to suitability in 5 years, or heavy runoff can 
remove/reduce habitat suitability in a day. Because river channels, 
river flow, and floodplains are varied and can change over time, the 
location and quality of nesting habitat and associated bird 
reproductive performance may also change over time. The development of 
flycatcher habitat is a constantly changing process involving 
maintenance, recycling, and regeneration of habitat.
    Declining flycatcher numbers have been attributed to loss, 
modification, and fragmentation of riparian breeding habitat; loss of 
wintering habitat; and loss of young by the brown-headed cowbird 
(Molothrus ater) (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1995, 2002). Willow 
flycatcher nests are invaded by brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their 
eggs in the host's nest. Habitat loss and degradation are caused by a 
variety of factors, including, but not limited to: urban, recreational, 
and agricultural development; water diversion and groundwater pumping; 
river channelization; dams and dam operations; and livestock grazing. 
Fire is an increasing threat to willow flycatcher habitat (U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service 2002), especially when saltcedar vegetation 
(DeLoach 1991) is the predominant vegetation type and where water 
diversions and/or groundwater pumping dry out riparian vegetation areas 
(Sogge et al. 1997).
    At the time of the release of the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher 
Recovery Plan in 2003 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2002), at least 
986 flycatcher territories were known across its current range in 
California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. Although 
previously documented, no recent flycatcher breeding territories have 
been detected in Texas.

Previous Federal Actions

    We listed the flycatcher as endangered, without critical habitat, 
on February 27, 1995 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1995). Critical 
habitat was later designated on July 22 and clarified on August 20, 
1997 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1997a, 1997b). On May 11, 2001, 
the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals set aside designated critical habitat 
in those states under the 10th circuit's jurisdiction (New Mexico) and 
the Service decided to set aside critical habitat designated for the 
flycatcher in all other states (California and Arizona). The Court 
instructed that we issue a new critical habitat designation in 
compliance with the Court's ruling. On May 2, 2002, we sent a scoping 
letter to over 800 interested parties requesting information in order 
to develop a new critical habitat proposal. On September 30, 2003, the 
10th Circuit Court established a deadline for issuance of the 
flycatcher critical habitat designation. The Court ordered the Service 
to have a proposed critical habitat designation completed by September 
30, 2004, and final designation by September 30, 2005. The previous 
flycatcher critical habitat designation and other related documents can 
be viewed on the Arizona Ecological Services' southwestern willow 
flycatcher web page. To reach our flycatcher site, type in our Web 
address (http://arizonaes.fws.gov), click on ``document library'', then 

``documents by species'', and then the words, ``southwestern willow 
    A final Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Recovery Plan (Recovery 
Plan) was signed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Region 2 
Director on August 30, 2002, and released to the public in March 2003. 
The Plan can also be found at the Arizona Ecological Services' 
southwestern willow flycatcher web page. The Plan describes the reasons 
for endangerment and the current status of the flycatcher, addresses 
important recovery actions, includes detailed issue papers on 
management issues, and provides recovery goals.

Identification of Environmental Issues and Critical Habitat

    The purpose of this scoping process is to aid in the development of 
(1) a critical habitat proposal and (2) an environmental assessment by 
collecting pertinent information as described above.
    We are the lead Federal agency for compliance with NEPA for this 
action. The draft environmental assessment

[[Page 2943]]

will incorporate public concerns in the analysis of impacts associated 
with the proposed action and associated project alternatives. The draft 
environmental assessment will be made available for a minimum 30-day 
public review period, during which comments will be solicited on the 
adequacy of the document. After scoping, it may be determined that an 
environmental impact statement is required. If so, a Notice of Intent 
will be published in the Federal Register. The final NEPA 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 document, and 
made available to anyone who requests a copy. This notice is provided 
pursuant to regulations for implementing the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969 (40 CFR 1506.6).
    A new proposal to designate critical habitat for the southwestern 
willow flycatcher may be substantially different from the previously 
designated critical habitat (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1997a, 
1997b). The process to designate critical habitat will include at least 
the following elements: (1) Compilation and analysis of all new 
biological information on the species; (2) review and update of the 
administrative record; (3) review of the overall approach to the 
conservation of the southwestern willow flycatcher by Federal, State, 
local, or Tribal agencies in the bird's current range and other areas 
where the species historically occurred; (4) review of 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 and previous designation; (5) review 
of actions identified in the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Recovery 
Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2002); (6) development of a 
precise definition of the primary constituent elements, including a 
discussion of the specific biological and physical features essential 
to the survival of the southwestern willow flycatcher; (7) maps of 
critical habitat within river reaches; (8) analysis of the potential 
economic and other relevant impacts of designating critical habitat; 
and (9) analysis of the potential consequences of the preferred 
alternatives through NEPA.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this notice is 
available, upon request, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Arizona Ecological Services Field Office (see ADDRESSES section).

    Authority: The authority for this action is the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: January 14, 2004.
Craig Manson,
Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 04-1298 Filed 1-20-04; 8:45 am]