[Federal Register: January 7, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 5)]
[Page 1457-1458]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Environmental Analysis and Notice of Public Scoping Meeting 
Related to the San Luis Valley Regional Habitat Conservation Plan

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent; notice of public scoping meeting.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) advises the public that we 
intend to gather information necessary to prepare a NEPA document and 
determine whether to prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) or 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a proposed habitat 
conservation plan (HCP) that is being prepared by the Rio Grande Water 
Conservation District (District) on behalf of Alamosa, Conejos, 
Costilla, Rio Grande, and Saguache Counties (five counties). The 
proposed HCP is being prepared in support of an application for an 
incidental take permit (ITP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA). The District intends 
to apply for an ITP, through development and implementation of the San 
Luis Valley Regional Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), as required by 
the ESA. The HCP will provide measures to minimize and mitigate the 
impacts of the proposed actions, which might result in take of 
federally listed species.
    We provide this notice to:
    (1) Advise other Federal and State agencies, affected tribes, and 
the public of our intent to prepare a NEPA document;
    (2) Announce the initiation of a public scoping period; and
    (3) Obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues and 
alternatives to be considered in the scoping process.

DATES: Oral and written comments will be accepted at a public scoping 
meeting held on Thursday, January 13, 2005, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. 
Written comments from all interested parties must be postmarked by 
January 28, 2005.

ADDRESSES: The public meeting will be held at the Alamosa County 
Courthouse at 702 4th Street in Alamosa, Colorado. Information, written 
comments, or questions related to the preparation of the EA or EIS and 
the NEPA process should be submitted to Mr. Allan Pfister, Western 
Colorado Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 764 Horizon Drive, 
Building B, Grand Junction, Colorado 81506-3946; or FAX (970) 245-6933.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Terry Ireland at the above Grand 
Junction address, or at (970) 243-2778.


Reasonable Accommodation

    Persons needing reasonable accommodations in order to attend and 
participate in the public meeting should contact Terry Ireland of the 
Grand Junction Field Office at (970) 243-2778 as soon as possible. In 
order to allow sufficient time to process requests, please call no 
later than 1 week before the public meeting. Information regarding this 
proposed action is available in alternative formats upon request.


    Federal agencies are required to conduct NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321, et 
seq.) analyses of their proposed actions to determine if the actions 
may affect the human environment. The Service anticipates that the 
District will request an ITP. Therefore, we are seeking public input on 
the scope of NEPA analysis required, including the range of reasonable 
alternatives and the associated impacts of those alternatives.
    Section 9 of the ESA and its implementing Federal regulations 
prohibit ``take'' of species listed as threatened and endangered. Take 
is defined under the ESA to include actions that harass, harm, pursue, 
hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to 
engage in any such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). Harm includes significant 
habitat modifications or degradation where it actually kills or injures 
wildlife by significantly impairing behavioral patterns such as 
breeding, feeding, or sheltering (50 CFR 17.3(c)). Under limited 
circumstances, the Service may issue permits to take listed species 
incidental to, and not the purpose of, carrying out otherwise lawful 
activities. Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA and regulations at 50 CFR 
17.32 contain provisions for issuing ITPs to non-Federal entities for 
the take of listed species, provided the Service determines the 
following criteria are met:
    1. The taking will be incidental;
    2. The applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize 
and mitigate the impacts of such take;
    3. The applicant will develop an HCP and ensure that adequate 
funding for the HCP will be provided;
    4. The take will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the 

[[Page 1458]]

and recovery of the species in the wild; and
    5. Any other measures that the Service may require as being 
necessary or appropriate for the purposes of the HCP to be met.

The Habitat Conservation Plan

    The District is administering development of a regional HCP on 
behalf of the five counties that comprise the San Luis Valley--Alamosa, 
Conejos, Costilla, Rio Grande, and Saguache Counties. Within the San 
Luis Valley, certain agricultural and other economic activities could 
inadvertently harm the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher 
(Epidonax traillii extimus) (flycatcher) and other listed bird species, 
and would be subject to regulation by the Service if there were a 
Federal nexus or take involved in the activity. These activities 
include operation, maintenance, and construction of diversions, 
ditches, canals, roads, bridges and utility lines; livestock grazing 
and agricultural practices; tamarisk and noxious weed control; and 
floodplain maintenance near towns and cities. Rather than seek ESA 
compliance for these activities on a case-by-case basis, the District 
will prepare a single, regional conservation plan that will be more 
efficient and effective in providing for the long-term protection and 
conservation of the flycatcher and other listed bird species and their 
habitat while allowing for the continuation of agricultural and other 
economic activities in the San Luis Valley.
    The District intends to apply for an incidental take permit for the 
flycatcher, bald eagle (Halieeatus leucocephalus), and yellow-billed 
cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus). The District also may seek to cover other 
rare and/or sensitive species that may be affected by the identified 
activities in the San Luis Valley. The ITP would become effective for 
unlisted species, such as the yellow-billed cuckoo, that are adequately 
covered by the HCP upon listing of such species as threatened or 
endangered by the Service. Other species for which the District is not 
seeking permit coverage also may benefit from the conservation measures 
provided in the HCP.
    After receipt of the District's permit application and draft HCP, 
the Service will publish a notice of availability and request for 
comment. The draft HCP is planned for release in July 2005.

Environmental Review

    The Service and the District are proposing to conduct an 
environmental review of the proposed issuance of an ITP and the 
associated proposed HCP and to prepare an environmental document to 
assess potential impacts related to the ecosystem and the human 
environment. The District will administer development and coordinate 
implementation of the HCP, as required by section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
ESA. The HCP will provide measures to minimize and mitigate the impacts 
of the proposed take of listed species and reduce impacts to the 
habitat upon which they depend.
    The environmental review will consider the proposed action, no 
action (i.e., no permit issuance), a reasonable range of alternatives, 
and the associated impacts of each alternative. A detailed description 
of the proposed action and alternatives (including no action) will be 
included in the environmental document. We anticipate that several 
alternatives will be developed, which may vary by the level of impacts 
caused by the proposed activities, their specific locations, and the 
conservation measures involved.
    The NEPA document will identify potentially significant direct, 
indirect, and cumulative impacts on biological resources, land use, air 
quality, water quality, water resources, economics, and other 
environmental issues that could occur with the implementation of the 
Service's proposed actions and alternatives. For all potentially 
significant impacts, the NEPA document will identify avoidance, 
minimization, and mitigation measures to reduce these impacts where 
feasible, to a level below significance.
    The Service will conduct the proposed environmental review in 
accordance with the requirements of NEPA, its implementing regulations, 
other appropriate Federal laws and regulations, and policies and 
procedures of the Service for compliance with those regulations. We are 
publishing this notice in accordance with section 1501.7 of the NEPA 
regulations to obtain suggestions and information from other agencies 
and the public on the scope of issues and alternatives to be addressed 
in the environmental document. The primary purpose of the scoping 
process is to identify, rather than to debate, significant issues 
related to the proposed action. We invite comments and suggestions from 
all interested parties to ensure that a reasonable range of 
alternatives is addressed and that all potentially significant issues 
are identified. All comments received, including names and addresses, 
will become part of the official administrative record and may be made 
available to the public. We will fully consider all comments received 
during the comment period.

    Dated: December 16, 2004.
Richard A. Coleman,
Acting Deputy Regional Director, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 05-324 Filed 1-6-05; 8:45 am]