[Federal Register: May 23, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 98)]
[Page 29532-29533]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Receipt of an Application for an Incidental Take Permit for the 
Key Deer, Lower Keys Marsh Rabbit, and Eastern Indigo Snake Resulting 
from Limited Additional Development Activities on Big Pine Key and No 
Name Key, Monroe County, FL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Monroe 
County, Florida, and the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) 
(Applicants) request an incidental take permit (ITP) pursuant to 
section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (U.S.C. 1531 
et seq.), as amended (Act). The Applicants anticipate taking no more 
than 168 acres of occupied Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium), 
breeding, foraging, and sheltering habitat. This same area is potential 
habitat for the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi). 
Proposed activities on this acreage may also indirectly affect adjacent 
habitat occupied by the Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris 
hefneri). Take of these species would be incidental to development 
activities on Big Pine Key and No Name Key (Project Area) in Monroe 
County, Florida.
    The Applicants' Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) describes the 
mitigation and minimization measures proposed to address the effects of 
the Project on the affected species. These measures are outlined in the 
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below. The Service announces the 
availability of the HCP and the Environmental Assessment for the 
incidental take application. Copies of the HCP and Environmental 
Assessment may be obtained by making a request to the Regional Office 
(see ADDRESSES). Requests must be in writing to be processed. This 
notice is provided pursuant to section 10 of the Endangered Species Act 
and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations (40 CFR 

DATES: Written comments on the ITP application and HCP should be sent 
to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be received 
on or before July 22, 2005.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, HCP, and EA may 
obtain copies by writing the Service's Southeast Regional Office, 
Atlanta, Georgia. Documents will also be available for public 
inspection by appointment during normal business hours at the Regional 
Office, 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 30345 
(Attn: Endangered Species Permits), or Field Supervisor, South Florida 
Ecological Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1339 
20th Street, Vero Beach, Florida, 32960-3559. Written data or comments 
concerning the application, supporting documentation, EA, or HCP should 
be submitted to the Regional Office. Requests for the documentation 
must be in writing to be processed. Comments must be submitted in 
writing to be adequately considered in the Service's decision-making 
process. Please reference permit number TE083411-0 in such comments, or 
in requests for the documents discussed herein.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313, facsimile: 
404/679-7081; or Mr. George Dennis, Fish and Wildlife Ecologist, South 
Florida Ecological Services Office, Vero Beach, Florida (see ADDRESSES 
above), telephone: 772/562-3909, ext. 309.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: If you wish to comment, you may submit 
comments by any one of several methods. Please reference permit number 
TE083411-0 in such comments. You may mail comments to the Service's 
Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). You may also comment via the internet 
to ``david_dell@fws.gov''. Please submit comments over the internet as 
an ASCII file avoiding the use of special characters and any form of 
encryption. Please also include your name and return address in your 
internet message. If you do not receive a confirmation from the Service 
that we have received your internet message, contact us directly at 
either of the telephone numbers listed below (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT). Finally, you may hand deliver comments to either 
of the Service offices listed above (see ADDRESSES). 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 from the 
administrative record. We will honor such requests to the extent 
allowable by law. There may also be other circumstances in which we 
would withhold from the administrative record a respondent's identity, 
as allowable by law. If you wish us to withhold your name and address, 
you must state this prominently at the beginning of your comments. We 
will not, however, consider anonymous comments. 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.
    The Florida Key deer is the smallest race of North American white-
tailed deer. Key deer are found only in the lower Florida Keys from 
Sugarloaf to Big Pine Key. More than two-thirds of the population is 
supported on Big Pine Key and No Name Key. The Key deer population was 
estimated to be 25 to 80

[[Page 29533]]

animals in 1955. It was federally listed as endangered in 1967 because 
of loss of habitat due to residential and commercial construction and 
high human-related mortality. The current Key deer population on Big 
Pine Key and No Name Key is 453 to 517 animals. Key deer utilize all 
local habitat types including pine rocklands, hardwood hammocks, 
buttonwood salt marshes, mangrove wetlands, freshwater wetlands, and 
disturbed and developed areas. Pine rocklands are especially important 
to Key deer conservation because they hold year-round freshwater.
    The Lower Keys marsh rabbit is a subspecies of the marsh rabbit and 
occurs in many of the larger Lower Keys, including Sugarloaf, 
Saddlebunch, Boca Chica, and Big Pine Keys, as well as in the small 
islands near these keys. Lower Keys marsh rabbits inhabit saltmarsh and 
buttonwood transition areas, freshwater wetlands, and coastal beach 
berms. Suitable habitat for this species is highly fragmented across 
all of the Lower Keys. In the last few decades, development for 
residential, commercial, or military-related purposes has reduced the 
total area of Lower Keys marsh rabbit habitat in the Florida Keys. 
Habitat loss is the main cause of the marsh rabbit's endangered status. 
Currently, the Lower Keys marsh rabbit occurs in small, relatively 
disjunct populations and has a low population density because of 
predation by domestic cats. Although predation by domestic cats is the 
principal cause of mortality, some road mortality occurs as rabbits 
attempt to move among increasingly isolated Lower Keys marshes.
    The eastern indigo snake is a large, non-poisonous snake that grows 
to a maximum length of eight feet. Historically, the species ranged 
throughout Florida, except in the Marquesas and Dry Tortugas. The 
indigo snake can occur in most types of hammock in Florida, often near 
wetlands. It is also known to occur in mangrove swamps, seepage swamp, 
flowing water swamp, pond swamp, wet prairie, xeric pinelands and 
scrub, flatwoods, dry glades, tropical hardwood hammocks, beach dune/
coastal strand, pine rockland, and muckland fields in southern Florida. 
Gopher tortoise burrows, tree stumps, piles of debris, land crab 
burrows, and other subterranean cavities are commonly used as dens and 
for egg laying. The species has declined throughout its range and has 
been extirpated from some areas due to habitat fragmentation, decline 
in the gopher tortoise populations, and other factors. Indigo snakes 
have not been documented in the Project Area for several years, despite 
the presence of suitable habitat throughout Big Pine and No Name Keys.
    There has been a building moratorium on Big Pine Key since 1995 due 
to direct and indirect impacts to the Key deer. The HCP describes a 
plan for limited development activities that is intended to satisfy 
safety, functional, and recreational needs of the community, while 
maintaining the long-term viability of Key deer and its habitat. 
Activities covered under this HCP include residential and commercial 
development, as well as transportation improvements to meet the 
community needs of the Project area. The proposed activities will 
result in harm to Key deer, incidental to the carrying out of these 
otherwise lawful activities. Habitat alteration associated with the 
proposed development activities will impact no more than 168 acres and 
reduce the availability of breeding, foraging, and sheltering habitat 
for Key deer. The Applicants propose to minimize take of Key deer by 
classifying all lands within the Project area and directing development 
activities to the lowest quality habitat. The impacts to Lower Keys 
rabbit and eastern indigo snake will be minimized by buffering occupied 
habitat from development and implementation of standard construction 
practices, respectively. Impacts to Key deer will be mitigated by 
acquiring lands for conservation within the Project area at a ratio of 
three to one based on habitat quality and area. These same conservation 
lands will also provide protection for the Lower Keys rabbit and 
eastern indigo snake.
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that issuance of 
the ITP is not a major Federal action significantly affecting the 
quality of the human environment within the meaning of section 
102(2)(C) of NEPA. This preliminary information may be revised due to 
public comment received in response to this notice and is based on 
information contained in the EA and HCP.
    The Service will evaluate the HCP and comments submitted thereon to 
determine whether the application meets the issuance criteria 
requirements of section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act. By conducting an intra-
Service section 7 consultation, the Service will also evaluate whether 
issuance of the section 10(a)(1)(B) ITP would comply with section 7 of 
the Act. The results of this consultation, in combination with the 
above findings, will be used in the final analysis to determine whether 
or not to issue the ITP for the Key deer, Lower Keys marsh rabbit, and 
eastern indigo snake.

    Dated: May 5, 2005.
Jacquelyn B. Parrish,
Acting Regional Director, Southeast Region.
[FR Doc. 05-10205 Filed 5-20-05; 8:45 am]