[Federal Register: May 22, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 98)]
[Page 29350-29351]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Programmatic Statewide Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Safe 
Harbor Agreement, North Carolina

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: This notice advises the public that the North Carolina 
Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC, or Applicant) has applied to the 
Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for an enhancement of survival 
permit (ESP) under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (Act). The ESP application includes a proposed Safe 
Harbor Agreement (SHA) for the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker 
(Picoides borealis) (RCW) for a period of 99 years, along with a 
supporting Environmental Assessment (EA). We announce the opening of a 
30-day comment period and request comments from the public on the 
proposed SHA and the supporting EA.

DATES: Written comments should be sent to the Service's Regional Office 
(see ADDRESSES) and must be received on or before June 21, 2006.

ADDRESSES: To obtain copies of the proposed SHA and the supporting EA 
for review, write to the Service's Southeast Regional Office, 1875 
Century Boulevard, Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 30345 (Attn: Endangered 
Species Permits). Send your comments to this address as well. For 
commenting guidelines, see ``Public Comments'' under SUPPLEMENTARY 
    Documents will also be available for public inspection by 
appointment during normal business hours at the Regional Office in 
Atlanta, or at the Field Office at 551-F Pylon Drive, Raleigh, North 
Carolina, 27636. Do not write to this address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Rick Gooch, Regional Safe Harbor 
Coordinator, at the Atlanta address above, 404-679-7124 (phone), or 
404-679-7081 (facsimile), or John Hammond, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 
at the Raleigh address above or 919-856-4556 (phone).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Applicant has applied to the Service for 
an ESP under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The application includes a 
proposed SHA for the endangered RCW for a period of 99 years, along 
with a supporting EA. We announce the opening of a 30-day comment 
period and request comments from the public on the proposed SHA and the 
supporting EA. If approved, the SHA would allow the Applicant to issue 
certificates of inclusion throughout certain areas of North Carolina to 
eligible non-Federal landowners that complete an approved Safe Harbor 
Management Agreement (SHMA).


    The EA identifies and describes several alternatives. All comments 
received, including names and addresses, will become part of the 
official administrative record and may be made available to the public, 
subject to the requirements of the Privacy Act and Freedom of 
Information Act. For further information and instructions on reviewing 
and commenting on this application, see ADDRESSES and, in this section, 
``Public Comments.''
    Under a SHA, participating property owners voluntarily undertake 
management activities on their property to enhance, restore, or 
maintain habitat benefiting species listed under the Act. SHAs 
encourage private and other non-Federal property owners to implement 
conservation efforts for listed species by assuring property owners 
they will not be subjected to increased property use restrictions if 
their efforts attract listed species to their property or increase the 
numbers or distribution of listed species already on their property. 
Application requirements and issuance criteria for enhancement of 
survival permits through SHAs are found in 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32.
    NCWRC's proposed Statewide SHA is designed to encourage voluntary 
RCW habitat restoration or enhancement activities by relieving a 
landowner who enters into a landowner-specific agreement (i.e., the 
SHMA) from any additional responsibility under the Act beyond that 
which exists at the time he or she enters into the program. The SHMA 
will identify any existing RCWs and any associated habitat (the 
baseline) and will describe the actions that the landowner commits to 
take (e.g., hardwood midstory removal, cavity provisioning) or allows 
to be taken to improve RCW habitat on the property, and the time period 
within which those actions are to be taken and maintained. A 
participating landowner must maintain the baseline on his/her property 
(i.e., any existing RCW groups and/or associated habitat), but may be 
allowed the opportunity to incidentally take RCWs at some point in the 
future if above-baseline numbers of RCWs are attracted to that site by 
the proactive management measures undertaken by the landowner. It is 
important to note that the SHA does not envision, nor will it 
authorize, incidental take of existing RCW groups, with one exception. 
This exception is incidental take related to a baseline shift; in this 
circumstance, the baseline will be maintained but redrawn or shifted on 
that landowner's property. Among the minimization measures proposed by 
the Applicant are no incidental taking of RCWs during the breeding 
season, consolidation of small, isolated RCW populations at sites 
capable of supporting a viable RCW population, and measures to improve 
current and potential habitat for the species. Further details on the 
topics described above are found in the aforementioned documents 
available for review under this notice.
    The geographic scope of the Applicant's SHA is the State of North 
Carolina, with the exception of six counties (Cumberland, Harnett, 
Hoke, Moore, Richmond, and Scotland) located in the Sandhills Region 
that are already covered in an existing SHA (U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service Permit Number TE798839-12)). Lands potentially eligible for 
inclusion include all privately owned lands, State lands, and public 
lands owned by cities, counties, and municipalities with potentially 
suitable RCW habitat.
    We have evaluated several alternatives to the proposed action, and 
these are described at length in the accompanying EA. The alternative 
of our paying landowners for desired

[[Page 29351]]

management practices is not being pursued because we are presently 
unable to fund such a program. An alternative by which interested 
private or non-Federal property owners would prepare an individual 
permit application/Agreement with us also was evaluated. Under that 
alternative, we would process each permit application/Agreement 
individually. This would increase the effort, cost, and amount of time 
it would take to provide safe harbor assurances to participating 
landowners and also cause such benefits to be applied on a piecemeal, 
individual basis. We have determined the previously identified 
alternatives, which would result in delays and lack of a coordinated 
effort, would likely result in a continued decline of the RCWs on 
private lands due to habitat fragmentation, lack of beneficial habitat 
management, and the effects of demographic isolation.
    A no-action alternative was also explored, but this alternative is 
not likely to increase the number of RCW groups or RCW habitat, nor 
would it alleviate landowner conflicts. Instead, the action proposed 
here, although it authorizes future incidental take, is expected to 
attract sufficient interest among North Carolina landowners to generate 
substantial net conservation benefits to the RCW on a landscape level. 
The proposed SHA was developed in an adaptive management framework to 
allow changes in the program based on new scientific information, 
including but not limited to biological needs and management actions 
proven to benefit the species or its habitat.

Public Comments

    Written data or comments should be submitted to the Regional Office 
at the address listed under ADDRESSES and must be submitted in writing 
to be adequately considered our in the Service's decision-making 
process. Please reference the ``Proposed Programmatic North Carolina 
Statewide Red-cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Agreement'' in your 
comments, or in requests for the documents discussed in this notice.


    We will not make our final determination until after the end of the 
30-day comment period, and we will fully consider all comments received 
during the comment period. If the final analysis shows the SHA to be 
consistent with the Service's policies and applicable regulations, the 
Service will sign the SHA and issue the ESP.


    We are providing this notice under section 10(c) of the Endangered 
Species Act and implementing regulations for the National Environmental 
Policy Act (40 CFR part 1506).

    Dated: May 16, 2006.
Jackie Parrish,
Acting Regional Director, Southeast Region.
 [FR Doc. E6-7731 Filed 5-19-06; 8:45 am]