[Federal Register: March 26, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 59)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 15777-15778]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AT52

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of 
Critical Habitat for the Mexican Spotted Owl

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; reopening of public comment period, notice of 
availability of draft economic analysis and draft environmental 
assessment, and notice of a public meeting.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of the draft economic analysis and draft environmental 
assessment for the proposal to designate critical habitat for Mexican 
spotted owl (owl) (Strix occidentalis lucida) under the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended. We are also reopening the public 
comment period for the proposal to designate critical habitat for this 
species to allow all interested parties to comment on and request 
changes to the proposed critical habitat designation, as well as the 
associated draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment. 
Over a 10-year time period, the future efficiency impacts associated 
with owl conservation are forecast to range from $8.7 to $30.4 million 
(or $0.9 to $3.0 million per year). Comments previously submitted on 
the July 21, 2000, proposed rule (65 FR 45336) or the November 18, 
2003, notice (68 FR 65020) need not be resubmitted as they have been 
incorporated into the public record as part of this reopening of the 
comment period and will be fully considered in preparation of the final 

DATES: Comments must be submitted directly to the Service (see 
ADDRESSES section) on or before April 26, 2004, or at the public 
meeting to be held in April 2004.
    We will hold a public informational session on April 20, 2004, in 
Las Cruces, New Mexico, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

ADDRESSES: Meeting: The public informational session will be held at 
the Corbett Center, New Mexico State University Campus, Jordan and 
University Streets, Las Cruces, New Mexico.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
by any one of several methods:
    1. You may submit written comments and information to the Field 
Supervisor, New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office, 2105 Osuna 
Road, NE., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87113.
    2. You may hand-deliver written comments and information to our New 
Mexico Ecological Services Field Office, at the above address, or fax 
your comments to 505-346-2542.
    You may obtain copies of the draft economic analysis and draft 
environmental assessment by mail, review comments and materials 
received, and review supporting documentation used in preparation of 
this proposed rule, by appointment, during normal business hours, at 
the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joy Nicholopoulos, New Mexico State 
Administrator, New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office (telephone 
505-761-4706, facsimile 505-346-2542).



    The Mexican spotted owl (owl) inhabits canyon and montane forest 
habitats across a range that extends from southern Utah and Colorado, 
through Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas, to the mountains of 
central Mexico. On November 18, 2003 (68 FR 65020), we reopened the 
public comment period on our July 21, 2000, proposed rule to designate 
critical habitat for the owl (65 FR 45336). The proposal included 
approximately 5.5 million hectares (ha) (13.5 million acres (ac)) in 
Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah, mostly on Federal lands. On 
November 12, 2003, the United States District Court for the District of 
Arizona, (Center for Biological Diversity v. Norton, Civ. No. 01-409 
TUC DCB), ordered the Service to submit a final rule for designation of 
critical habitat for the owl to the Federal Register by August 20, 
2004. Additional background information is available in the November 
18, 2003, notice reopening the public comment period.
    Critical habitat identifies specific areas, both occupied and 
unoccupied, that are essential to the conservation of a listed species 
and that may require special management considerations or protection. 
If the proposed rule is made final, section 7 of the Act will prohibit 
adverse modification of critical habitat by any activity funded, 
authorized, or carried out by any Federal agency. Federal agencies 
proposing actions affecting areas designated as critical habitat must 
consult with us on the effects of their proposed actions, pursuant to 
section 7(a)(2) of the Act.
    Section 4 of the Act requires that we consider economic and other 
relevant impacts prior to making a final decision on what areas to 
designate as critical habitat. We have developed a draft economic 
analysis and draft environmental assessment for the proposal to 
designate certain areas as critical habitat for the owl. We solicit 
data and comments from the public on these draft documents, as well as 
on all aspects of the proposal. We may revise the proposal, or its 
supporting documents, to incorporate or address new information 
received during the comment period. In particular, we may exclude an 
area from critical habitat if we determine that the benefits of 
excluding the area outweigh the benefits of including the area as 
critical habitat,

[[Page 15778]]

provided such exclusion will not result in the extinction of the 

Public Comments Solicited

    We intend any final action resulting from this proposal to be as 
accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we solicit comments 
or suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, 
the scientific community, industry, or any other interested party 
concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments 
    (1) The reasons why any habitat should or should not be determined 
to be critical habitat as provided by section 4 of the Act, including 
whether the benefits of designation will outweigh any threats to the 
species resulting from designation;
    (2) Specific information on the amount and distribution of the owl 
and its habitat, and which habitat is essential to the conservation of 
the species and why;
    (3) Land use designations and current or planned activities in the 
subject area and their possible impacts on proposed critical habitat;
    (4) Whether our approach to critical habitat designation could be 
improved or modified in any way to provide for greater public 
participation and understanding, or to assist us in accommodating 
public concerns and comments;
    (5) Any foreseeable economic, environmental, or other impacts 
resulting from the proposed designation of critical habitat, in 
particular, any impacts on small entities or families;
    (6) Whether the economic analysis identifies all State and local 
costs. If not, what other costs are overlooked;
    (7) Whether the economic analysis makes appropriate assumptions 
regarding current practices and likely regulatory changes imposed as a 
result of the designation of critical habitat;
    (8) Whether the economic analysis correctly assesses the effect on 
regional costs associated with land use controls that derive from the 
    (9) Whether the designation will result in disproportionate 
economic impacts to specific areas that should be evaluated for 
possible exclusion from the final designation; and
    (10) Whether the economic analysis appropriately identifies all 
costs that could result from the designation.
    We also are continuing to accept comments on the proposed critical 
habitat designation. If you wish to comment, you may submit your 
comments and materials concerning this proposal by any one of several 
methods (see ADDRESSES).
    Comments previously submitted on the July 21, 2000, proposed rule 
(65 FR 45336) or the November 18, 2003, notice (68 FR 65020) need not 
be resubmitted as they have been incorporated into the public record as 
part of this reopening of the comment period and will be fully 
considered in preparation of the final rule. Comments submitted during 
this comment period also will be incorporated into the public record 
and will be fully considered in the final rule. We are required by 
court order to complete the final designation of critical habitat for 
the owl by August 20, 2004. To meet this date, all comments or proposed 
revisions to the proposed rule, associated draft economic analysis, and 
draft environmental assessment need to be submitted to us during the 
comment period reopened by this document (see DATES).
    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 
their home address, which we will honor to the extent allowable by law. 
If you wish us to withhold your name or address, you must state this 
request prominently at the beginning of your comments. 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, as well as supporting 
documentation used in preparation of the proposal to designate critical 
habitat, will be available for public inspection, by appointment, 
during normal business hours at the New Mexico Field Office (see 


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

    Dated: March 22, 2004.
David P. Smith,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 04-6764 Filed 3-25-04; 8:45 am]