[Federal Register: March 26, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 57)]
[Page 14134-14135]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 14134]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability for the Lost Pines Habitat Conservation 
Plan and Draft Environmental Assessment in Support of the County of 
Bastrop's Permit Application for Incidental Take of the Houston Toad 
Resulting From a Variety of Development and Other Land Use Activities 
in a 124,000-Acre Plan Area in Bastrop County, TX

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and 90-day public comment period.


SUMMARY: The County of Bastrop (County) has applied to the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service) for an incidental take permit pursuant 
to Section 10(a) of the Endangered Species Act (Act). The applicant has 
been assigned permit number TE-113500-0. The requested permit, which is 
for a period of 30 years, would authorize the incidental take of the 
endangered Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis). The proposed take would 
occur as a result of new residential, commercial, and multi-family 
development; expansion of existing residential, commercial, and multi-
family development; ongoing uses of previously developed lands; Bastrop 
County infrastructure maintenance and improvement; emergency services; 
conservation subdivision development; wildlife management activities; 
forestry management activities; and agricultural management activities 
in an approximately 124,000-acre Plan Area in Bastrop County, Texas.

DATES: To ensure consideration, written comments must be received on or 
before June 25, 2007.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application may obtain a copy 
by writing to the Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
P.O. Box 1306, Room 4102, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87103. Persons 
wishing to review Bastrop County's Lost Pines Habitat Conservation Plan 
(LPHCP) or the draft Environmental Assessment (EA) may obtain a copy by 
contacting Clayton Napier, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet 
Road, Suite 200, Austin, Texas 78758 (512/490-0057). Documents will be 
available for public inspection by written request, by appointment 
only, during normal business hours (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, Texas. 
Written data or comments concerning the application, LPHCP, or draft EA 
should be submitted to the Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Austin, Texas, at the above address. Please refer to permit number TE-
113500-0 when submitting comments.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Clayton Napier at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, Texas 78758 

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 9 of the Act prohibits the 
``taking'' of endangered species such as the Houston toad. However, the 
Service, under limited circumstances, may issue permits to take 
endangered wildlife species incidental to, and not the purpose of, 
otherwise lawful activities. Regulations governing permits for 
endangered species are at 50 CFR 17.22.
    A determination of jeopardy or non-jeopardy to the species and a 
decision pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will 
not be made until at least 90 days from the date of publication of this 
notice. This notice is provided pursuant to Section 10(c) of the Act 
and National Environmental Policy Act regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).
    Applicant: The Lost Pines Habitat Conservation Plan (LPHCP) was 
developed by the County of Bastrop for an approximately 124,000-acre 
Plan Area which encompasses the entire currently known habitat for the 
Houston toad in Bastrop County, Texas.
    The LPHCP supports the application for the issuance of an 
incidental take permit for the Houston toad within the Plan Area for 
specific land use and development activities over the next 30 years. 
Participation by landowners in the plan would be voluntary. Landowners 
that choose to participate in the LPHCP could receive incidental take 
authorization through the LPHCP's streamlined process, rather than seek 
individual authorization directly from the Service. The LPHCP proposes 
to implement measures to minimize and mitigate for adverse impacts to 
the toad and its habitat, and would apply an area-wide, habitat-based 
conservation approach, including financial incentives for voluntary 
conservation and public outreach, education, and research programs.
    Landowners, developers, and other local interests could participate 
in the LPHCP and receive authorization for incidental take resulting 
from certain types of construction activities, conservation subdivision 
development, low-impact land management practices, and public 
infrastructure activities. High-density or large-scale land 
developments would not be eligible for participation in this plan, nor 
would the plan cover the implementation of high-impact land management 
activities (e.g., the conversion of pastured woodland to improved 
pasture and clear-cutting timber). The following specific activities 
would be eligible for incidental take coverage under the LPHCP: single 
family residential construction and use on legal, non-platted lots, 
single family residential construction within existing platted lots, 
commercial and multi-family construction and use on up to one acre, 
conservation subdivision development, agricultural management, forest 
management, wildlife management; Bastrop County infrastructure 
maintenance and improvement, emergency services; and, ongoing use of 
previously developed land.
    Single family residential, commercial, and multi-family development 
activities on existing lots and existing unplatted lots would require 
potential LPHCP participants to obtain a Certificate of Participation 
from the County to receive incidental take authorization for these 
types of covered activities. Construction activities could receive 
incidental take coverage on up to one acre per project. Mitigation 
would be in the form of a fee paid to the LPHCP to fund the operation 
of conservation programs, or landowners with sufficient acreage could 
permanently protect acreage on-site to offset negative impacts from 
construction activities.
    Conservation subdivision developers would be required to obtain a 
Subdivision Certificate from the County that certifies that their 
proposed project meets the Conservation Subdivision Development 
Guidelines of the LPHCP. The subdivision guidelines require an 
evaluation of existing habitat resources on the property, limit the 
density of residential lots or dwelling units, and require the 
designation of at least 70 percent of the subdivision for the permanent 
protection and management of the Houston toad. The two options 
available to subdivision applicants who wish to be eligible for 
incidental take coverage under the LPHCP are the low-density, large-lot 
design and higher density, clustered design. The guidelines address 
management and use standards for conservation areas within the 
subdivision and specify restrictive covenants for other areas that 
limit further subdivision of lots, encourage environmentally sensitive 
pesticide use, and encourage the use of native plants for landscaping. 
Efforts to minimize the impact of subdivision infrastructure would also 
be required under the guidelines. Mitigation for subdivision 
development impacts would be the preservation and management of

[[Page 14135]]

conservation areas within the subdivision for the Houston toad. The 
application fees generated by the issuance of Subdivision Certificates 
would be used to fund the LPHCP and its conservation programs.
    The LPHCP includes guidelines for agricultural management, forest 
management, and wildlife management. Participation in the LPHCP and 
adherence to the guidelines would be voluntary; however, incidental 
take authorization under the LPHCP would be restricted to those 
activities that are in compliance with the guidelines. The purpose of 
the guidelines is to allow for reasonable land use practices while 
avoiding or minimizing negative or long-term impacts to the Houston 
toad. The agricultural management guidelines cover practices related to 
cultivated land, improved pasture or hayland, and rangeland/native 
grazing lands/grazable woodland/native pasture. The forest management 
guidelines would provide a framework for forest management activities 
such as management planning, road construction and maintenance, site 
preparation and planting, chemical applications, timber harvesting, and 
prescribed burning. The wildlife management guidelines describe the 
framework for activities such as management planning, brush management, 
reforestation, prescribed burning, providing supplemental food sources, 
restoring native grassland, constructing Houston toad breeding ponds, 
and controlling fire ants. The agriculture, wildlife and forestry 
guidelines are intended to be ``self-mitigating.'' This means that 
although there could be some short-term impacts to the toad or its 
habitat as a result of conducting activities included under the various 
guidelines, the applicant anticipates that there will be an overall net 
improvement in the quality or quantity of the toad habitat over the 
    Public infrastructure activities, emergency services, and ongoing 
use of previously developed land would be offered automatic coverage 
under the County's incidental take permit by following the guidelines 
outlined in the LPHCP. Low-impact land uses would be covered upon 
Bastrop County issuing a Notice of Receipt. No mitigation fees would be 
required for landowners seeking authorization for low-impact land uses. 
However, any incidental take that may occur as a result of land 
management practices that are not consistent with the applicable 
guidelines in the LPHCP are not covered.
    The LPHCP conservation program and administration would be funded 
by a combination of fees collected from Plan participants and general 
revenue from the County. Collected fees would be used primarily to fund 
the biological monitoring, landowner incentive, and community outreach 
and education programs of the LPHCP. The County would provide funds 
sufficient to hire a LPHCP administrator, whose duties would include 
much of the actual operation of the LPHCP. Part of the job description 
for the LPHCP administrator would be to regularly apply for outside 
grants to increase funding for the Plan. Grants could be used to 
purchase land, easements, or development rights on Houston toad habitat 
from willing partners.
    Rather than provide for the purchase and management of a publicly-
owned, interconnected, habitat preserve system for the Houston toad, 
the LPHCP proposes to focus resources on strategic land protection and 
encourage voluntary conservation efforts by private landowners. This 
conservation program would use mitigation fees from participants 
seeking incidental take permits to help fund conservation and 
management activities that have broad community support. Using this 
method, a large portion of the active management for the Plan Area 
would be through the voluntary efforts of private landowners.
    A key to maintaining quality toad habitat between designated 
conservation areas is the participation of private landowners in 
conservation efforts. The LPHCP would seek the help of private 
landowners by encouraging use of new and existing landowner incentive 
programs and by forming partnerships with community organizations to 
manage habitat. These initiatives would include: management of open 
space in existing residential subdivisions, supporting wildlife 
management associations, supporting the conversion of agricultural use 
land to a wildlife management use, private landowner partnerships and 
grant funding; and, expanding access to existing assistance programs.
    In addition to encouraging and supporting the voluntary management 
of private lands for the Houston toad, the LPHCP would also support the 
acquisition of development rights, conservation easements, or land from 
willing partners, if sufficient funds become available. Because funds 
are limited, the LPHCP would prioritize the use of funds for acquiring 
development rights, easements, and land. A set of minimum and preferred 
criteria to evaluate tracts in the Plan Area that may be available to 
benefit the Houston toad have been established. These criteria would 
ensure that funds would be used on the properties that provide the most 
desirable characteristics for Houston toad conservation.
    The LPHCP would also offer mitigation in the form of community 
education and public outreach. Activities would include: distribution 
of LPHCP guidelines; distribution of a fact sheet about the ESA and 
LPHCP to septic permit applicants in Bastrop County; conducting an 
annual Houston toad community education workshop; and, developing a 
county-wide Integrated Pest Management Plan.
    Support for Houston toad monitoring and research programs would 
also be included in the LPHCP. The LPHCP administrator would maintain a 
database of Houston toad surveys and known locations, distribute 
spatial data for use in conservation planning, and help researchers 
team with private landowners willing to provide access to Houston toad 
habitat on their property.
    The County expects that by creating a fair, simple, and certain 
process for obtaining incidental take authorization, the burden on 
individual landowners is reduced and it facilitates desired economic 
development in the Plan Area while preserving Houston toad habitat and 
supporting conservation research.

Larry G. Bell,
Acting Regional Director, Region 2, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
[FR Doc. E7-5464 Filed 3-23-07; 8:45 am]