[Federal Register: September 15, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 179)]
[Page 54515-54517]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Intent To Conduct Public Scoping and Prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement Related to an Amendment of the 1997 
Washington Department of Natural Resources Habitat Conservation Plan 
for Forested State Trust Lands

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice; scoping meetings; request for comments.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) advises 
interested parties of our intent to conduct public scoping under the 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to gather information to 
prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), related to an 
anticipated application for a permit amendment from the Washington 
Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) for its 1997 Habitat 
Conservation Plan (HCP) for forested State trust lands. The HCP 
excludes those lands designated as urban or leased for commercial, 
industrial, or residential purposes and those lands designated as 
agricultural (HCP p. I.2). The application would be associated with the 
proposed replacement of the marbled murrelet (murrelet) interim 
conservation strategy (ICS), which is currently being implemented, with 
a proposed long-term conservation strategy (LTCS) for murrelets in 
Southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula.

DATES: Public scoping meetings are scheduled as follows:
    1. September 26, 2006, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Forks, WA.
    2. September 28, 2006, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Mount Vernon, WA.
    3. October 4, 2006, 6:30-8:30 p.m.. South Bend, WA.
    4. October 5, 2006, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Lacey, WA.
    Written comments should be received on or before October 30, 2006.

ADDRESSES: The public scoping meetings will be at:
    1. Olympic Natural Resources Center, 1455 South Forks Avenue, 
Forks, WA 98331.
    2. Cotton Tree Inn, 2300 Market Street, Mount Vernon, WA 98273.
    3. Willapa Harbor Community Center, 916 First Street, South Bend, 
WA 98586.
    4. Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Avenue SE., Lacey, WA 
    All comments concerning the preparation of the draft EIS, proposed 
draft HCP amendment, and NEPA

[[Page 54516]]

process should be addressed to: Washington Department of Natural 
Resources, SEPA Center, Attn: Marbled Murrelet Long-term Conservation 
Strategy, c/o Mark Ostwald, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 
47015, Olympia, WA 98504-7015; facsimile: (360) 902-1789.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mark Ostwald; telephone (360) 753-


Statutory Authority

    Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (16 U.S.C. 1538) and 
implementing regulations prohibit the taking of animal species listed 
as endangered or threatened. The term ``take'' is defined under the ESA 
(16 U.S.C. 1532(19)) as to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, 
kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such 
conduct. ``Harm'' is defined by the Service to include significant 
habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures 
wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, 
including breeding, feeding, and sheltering (50 CFR 17.3). ``Harass'' 
is defined as actions that create the likelihood of injury to listed 
species to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavior 
patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering (50 CFR 17.3).
    Section 10 of the ESA and implementing regulations specify 
requirements for the issuance of incidental take permits (ITPs) to non-
Federal landowners for the take of endangered and threatened species. 
Any proposed take must be incidental to otherwise lawful activities, 
not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of 
the species in the wild, and minimize and mitigate the impacts of such 
take to the maximum extent practicable. In addition, the applicant must 
prepare a HCP describing the impact that will likely result from such 
taking, the strategy for minimizing and mitigating the take, the 
funding available to implement such steps, alternatives to such taking, 
and the reason such alternatives are not being implemented.
    NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) requires that Federal agencies 
conduct an environmental analysis of their proposed actions to 
determine if the actions may significantly affect the human 
environment. Under NEPA, a reasonable range of alternatives to proposed 
projects is developed and considered in the Service's environmental 
review. Alternatives considered for analysis in the EIS may include: 
Variations in the scope of covered activities; variations in the 
location, amount, and type of conservation; variations in permit 
duration; a combination of these elements; and no action. In addition, 
the EIS will identify potentially significant direct, indirect, and 
cumulative impacts on biological resources, land use, air quality, 
water quality, water resources, and socioeconomics, as well as other 
environmental issues that could occur with the implementation of the 
applicant's proposed actions and alternatives. For potentially 
significant impacts, the EIS may identify avoidance, minimization, or 
mitigation measures to reduce these impacts, where feasible, to a level 
below significance. The WDNR also anticipates submitting the LTCS for 
the murrelet through the State Environmental Policy Act review process.


    In 1996, the WDNR released its draft HCP (dated March 1996) for 
forest conservation and management activities over 1.6 million acres of 
forested State trust lands within the range of the northern spotted owl 
(Strix occidentalis caurina) in Washington State. A draft EIS (dated 
March 1996) jointly developed by the Service, National Marine Fisheries 
Service, and the WDNR was announced in the Federal Register (61 FR 
15297, April 5, 1996). The draft EIS analyzed reasonable management 
alternatives, including the HCP. Through this process the WDNR 
requested incidental take coverage for the following listed species: 
Northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus mamoratus), 
Oregon silverspot butterfly (Speyeria zerene hippolyta), Aleutian 
Canada goose (Branta canadensis leucopareia), peregrine falcon (Falco 
peregrinus), grizzly bear (Ursos arctos), bald eagle (Haliaeetus 
leucocephalus), gray wolf (Canis lupus), and Columbian white-tailed 
deer (Odocoileus virginianus leucurus), and several unlisted species 
should they become listed under the ESA in the future. A Notice of 
Availability for the Final EIS (FEIS) was published in the Federal 
Register (61 FR 56563, November 1, 1996). On January 30, 1997, the 
Service issued the Incidental Take Permit (PRT 812521). A notice of 
decision and availability of decision documents was announced in the 
Federal Register on February 27, 1997 (62 FR 8970).
    In the final HCP, the WDNR committed to developing a LTCS for the 
murrelet (HCP IV. 39). However, during development of the HCP it was 
determined that there was not enough scientific information to credibly 
develop a LTCS for the murrelet on WDNR lands. As such, the WDNR 
developed an ICS (HCP IV. 39). The principal intent of the ICS was to 
locate occupied sites and not foreclose future options for long-term 
conservation of the murrelet on WDNR lands. The WDNR has subsequently 
surveyed approximately 97,000 acres for murrelet occupancy that will 
help inform the LTCS.
    Briefly, the ICS includes: (1) Identification and harvest deferral 
of any part of a block of suitable habitat for the murrelet; (2) 
completion of habitat relationship studies to determine the relative 
importance, based on murrelet occupancy, of the various habitats; (3) 
following completion of the habitat relationship studies, the lowest 
quality habitats would be available for timber harvest, which were 
expected to contain 5 percent of the occupied sites (these sites were 
in the poorest quality habitats); (4) the higher quality habitat 
acreages identified from the habitat relationships study would be 
surveyed for murrelet occupancy. Certain unoccupied habitats would then 
become available for timber harvest, and occupied habitat and certain 
unoccupied habitat would be protected; and (5) development of the LTCS 
for murrelets on WDNR lands, which is the subject of this action.
    For southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula, the WDNR has 
completed steps 1 through 4 above and anticipates submitting a proposed 
LTCS for these areas. For the remainder of the State within the 
potential range of the murrelet (i.e., central and north Cascades), the 
WDNR continues to conduct murrelet surveys and anticipates completion 
of these surveys within several years. Once surveys are completed, the 
WDNR will develop detailed LTCSs for those areas. Many of the 
conservation approaches used in the southwest Washington and the 
Olympic Peninsula strategy may be relevant for the central and north 
Cascades. However, the present scoping process will focus on the LTCS 
for Southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula.
    Currently, the WDNR has an existing ITP for specific levels and 
types of incidental take of murrelets. The current ITP was principally 
structured to meet the needs of the ICS, which the WDNR now desires to 
replace with the LTCS. It is expected that the LTCS may necessitate a 
revised ITP because of new areas for murrelet conservation and 
potentially new levels of incidental take not previously authorized.

[[Page 54517]]

    To obtain the amended ITP, WDNR must develop a LTCS that meets the 
ITP issuance criteria established by the ESA and Service regulations 
(50 CFR 17.22(b)(2), 17.22(b)(2)). If the permit were to be amended, it 
would replace the ICS. We anticipate that all other terms and 
conditions of the 1997 permit would remain in full force and effect 
should the amendment be authorized.
    The proposed LTCS may have levels and areas of incidental take of 
murrelets that were not previously analyzed by the Service. 
Accordingly, the level of take, general locations where incidental take 
is likely to occur, the timing of incidental take, minimization and 
mitigation strategies, enhancement activities, and research and 
monitoring plans will be described in the LTCS and the EIS.
    In order to evaluate a permit amendment, the WDNR must submit the 
proposed LTCS to the Service for analysis. The Service will ultimately 
determine whether the LTCS satisfies the ESA section 10 permit issuance 
criteria and other applicable laws and/or regulations. The LTCS must 
also be consistent with the WDNR HCP. Should the permit be amended to 
authorize the LTCS, it may include assurances under the Service's ``No 
Surprises'' regulations.

Request for Comments

    The primary purpose of the scoping process is for the public to 
assist the Service in developing the EIS by identifying important 
issues and alternatives related to the applicant's proposed action. The 
scoping workshops will allocate time for presentations by the Service 
and the applicant, followed by informal questions and discussions.
    Written comments from interested parties are encouraged to ensure 
that the full range of issues related to the anticipated permit 
amendment is identified. All comments and materials received, including 
names and addresses, will become part of the administrative record and 
may be released to the public. Comments and materials received will be 
available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business 
hours at the office listed in the ADDRESSES section of this notice.
    The Service requests that comments be specific. In particular, we 
request information regarding: Direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts 
that implementation of the proposed amendment or other alternatives 
could have on murrelets and other endangered and threatened species, 
and their habitats; other possible alternatives that meet the purpose 
and need; information on murrelet ecology in Southwest Washington and 
the Olympic Peninsula; potential adaptive management and/or monitoring 
provisions; funding issues; existing environmental conditions in the 
plan area; other plans or projects that might be relevant to this 
proposed project; minimization and mitigation efforts; and baseline 
environmental conditions. WDNR is also requesting comments on murrelet 
ecology in the central and north cascades for their consideration, 
which will assist in developing the LTCS in those areas.
    The environmental review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the NEPA of 1969, as amended (42 
U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), Council on Environmental Quality Regulations (40 
CFR 1500-1508), other applicable Federal laws and regulations, and 
policies and procedures of the Service. This notice is being furnished 
in accordance with 40 CFR 1501.7 of NEPA to obtain suggestions and 
information from other agencies and the public on the scope of issues 
and alternatives to be addressed in the EIS. The Service and WDNR 
intend to jointly develop a single document that will comply with all 
requirements of the ESA, the State Environmental Policy Act and NEPA.

Reasonable Accommodation

    Persons needing reasonable accommodations in order to attend and 
participate in public meetings should contact Mark Ostwald (see the FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section of this notice). In order to allow 
sufficient time to process requests, please call no later than one week 
before the public meeting. Information regarding this proposed action 
is available in alternative formats upon request.

    Dated: September 8, 2006.
David J. Wesley,
Deputy Regional Director, Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 1, 
Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. E6-15238 Filed 9-14-06; 8:45 am]