[Federal Register: December 17, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 243)]
[Page 76680-76682]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-ES-2008-N0288; 10120-1112-0000-F2]

Receipt of Application for an Enhancement of Survival Permit for 
the Northern Spotted Owl and the Marbled Murrelet

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.


SUMMARY: Port Blakely Tree Farms (PBTF) has applied to the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service) for an enhancement of survival permit 
(Permit) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act 
of 1973, as amended (Act). The permit application includes a draft Safe 
Harbor Agreement (SHA), draft Implementing Agreement (IA), and a draft 
Environmental Assessment (EA). The proposed term of the Permit and the 
Agreement is 60 years. The Permit would authorize PBTF to carry out 
habitat management measures that are likely to benefit the northern 
spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) and the marbled murrelet 
(Brachyramphus marmoratus), both of which are federally listed as 
threatened, and would allow PBTF to return their properties to agreed 
upon baseline conditions at the end of the Permit term. The covered 
area is approximately 45,306 acres (18,335 hectares) and is located in 
eastern Lewis and Skamania counties, Washington. In accordance with 
Service responsibilities pursuant to the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA), this notice also announces the availability for public 
review of a draft EA developed in conjunction with the proposed SHA. We 
request comments from the public on the permit application, draft SHA, 
draft IA, and the draft EA.

DATES: To be fully considered, written comments from interested parties 
must be received on or before January 16, 2009.

ADDRESSES: Written comments concerning this notice should be addressed 
to Mark Ostwald, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Washington 
Fish and Wildlife Office, 510 Desmond Drive, SE., Suite 102, Lacey, WA 
98503. You may also submit written comments by electronic mail to 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mark Ostwald at (360) 753-9564.


[[Page 76681]]

Availability of Documents

    Copies of the PBTF permit application, draft SHA, draft IA, and the 
draft EA, and other relevant documents addressing the Service's 
proposed issuance of the subject permit may be viewed on the internet 
by accessing: http://www.fws.gov/westwafwo. You may also request copies 
of the documents by contacting the Service's Western Washington Fish 
and Wildlife Office [see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT above]. The 
Service is furnishing this notice to provide the public, and other 
State and Federal agencies, with an opportunity to review and comment 
on the Service's proposed issuance of a permit to PBTF. All comments 
received will become part of the public record. Before including your 
address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying 
information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire 
comment--including your personal identifying information--may be made 
publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to 
withhold your personal information from public review, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so. All comments received from 
organizations, businesses, or individuals representing organizations or 
businesses are available for public inspection in their entirety.


    Under a SHA, participating landowners voluntarily undertake 
management activities on their property to enhance, restore, or 
maintain habitat benefiting species listed under the Act (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.). SHAs, and the subsequent enhancement of survival permits 
that are issued pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act, encourage 
private and other non-Federal property owners to implement conservation 
efforts for listed species by assuring the landowners that they will 
not be subjected to increased property use restrictions as a result of 
their efforts to attract listed species to their property, or to 
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. 
These permits allow for any necessary future incidental take of any 
covered species above the mutually agreed upon baseline conditions for 
those species in accordance with the terms of the permit and any 
accompanying IA. In addition to this Federal planning and permitting 
process, PBTF is concurrently applying to the Washington Department of 
Natural Resources for a Landowner Option Plan and a Cooperative Habitat 
Enhancement Agreement as allowed under Washington Administrative Code 
222-16-100 and 222-16-105.
    PBTF has submitted a draft SHA for the northern spotted owl and the 
marbled murrelet covering 45,306 acres (18,335 hectares) of managed 
forest lands within the western Cascades in Lewis and Skamania 
counties, Washington. The covered lands have been intensively managed 
and are not currently known to be occupied by either the spotted owl or 
the marbled murrelet. The environmental baseline will be measured in 
terms of dispersal habitat for spotted owls and potential nesting 
habitat for marbled murrelets.
    Approximately 59 percent of the proposed SHA occurs within the 
Mineral Conservation Support Area (CSA) for spotted owls, as described 
in the Service's Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl (2008). The 
primary role of the Mineral CSA in this area is to provide dispersal 
support for spotted owls. Although the remaining 41 percent of SHA 
lands are not within the CSA, PBTF intends to manage all SHA lands for 
the purpose of providing dispersal habitat for spotted owls .
    There are no known spotted owls nesting on Port Blakely lands. 
However, spotted owls have historically nested on adjacent Federal 
lands and the 1.8-mile (2.9-kilometer) radius circles around those 
sites that are used for evaluating potential habitat availability for 
spotted owls extend onto PBTF lands. Because of this, PBTF conducted 
habitat evaluations of their properties to determine the amount of 
suitable spotted owl habitat present. Habitat surveys determined that 
there is not any high quality habitat, as defined in the Service's 
Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl. Because 59 percent of PBTF 
lands fall within a CSA intended to provide for spotted owl dispersal, 
the baseline for the SHA is defined in terms of spotted owl dispersal 
habitat. The baseline estimate for the SHA is 8,360 acres (3,383 
hectares) of spotted owl dispersal habitat, of which 4,083 acres (1,652 
hectares) occurs within the CSA and 4,277 acres (1,731 hectares) occurs 
outside of the CSA on PBTF land.
    The Service's Recovery Plan for the Marbled Murrelet (1997) divides 
the range of the marbled murrelet within the continental United States 
into six Conservation Zones. The zone delineations assist the Service 
in the design of management actions and evaluation of impacts to the 
species at different scales. Approximately 50 percent of the proposed 
SHA lands occur within Puget Sound Conservation Zone 1, which extends 
inland 50 miles from eastern Puget Sound . The PBTF lands covered under 
the proposed SHA do not contain large patches of old forest with which 
nesting marbled murrelets are most commonly associated. A previous 
landowner surveyed a portion of the areas proposed for coverage under 
the SHA for marbled murrelet occupancy from 1998 to 2003 and did not 
locate any occupied sites. The most relevant metric to describe marbled 
murrelet nesting habitat is the abundance of nesting platforms, 
however, PBTF does not have this information in their existing forest 
inventory. For that reason, PBTF opted to identify stands greater than 
7 acres (3 hectares) in size and greater than 81 years old as potential 
marbled murrelet nesting habitat for purposes of establishing the SHA 
baseline for this species. Using this habitat definition, there are 498 
acres (202 hectares) of potential nesting habitat for the marbled 
murrelet on covered lands under the proposed SHA.
    PBTF has worked closely with the Service to develop their proposed 
SHA and the voluntary conservation measures that are expected to 
provide a net conservation benefit to the northern spotted owl and the 
marbled murrelet. The Service anticipates the SHA would result in 
benefits to these species by committing PBTF to: (1) An average harvest 
rotation of 60 years versus the industry standard of 45 years; (2) a 
wildlife tree and snag management program; (3) marking a sample of 
snags and defective trees to be used in studies for effectiveness of 
snag creation methods; (4) identification and long-term retention of 
special management areas; and, (5) identification and long-term 
retention of special set-aside areas to provide a greater amount of 
older forest habitat within the covered area than would occur under 
current forest practices rules. By not operating within these special 
set-aside areas for the term of the SHA, stands will mature to an age 
of 136 to 173 years and will have the potential to provide foraging and 
nesting areas for spotted owls and nesting areas for murrelets.
    The snag management program, through both protection of existing 
snags and creation of snags, and the extended average rotation age of 
60 years, are intended to improve spotted owl dispersal habitat by 
providing more habitat for prey species and, ultimately, dispersing 
spotted owls. These young forests are often deficient in snags that 
provide habitat for small mammals that are the owl's prey. It is 
anticipated that protecting existing snags, and creating

[[Page 76682]]

snags in combination with the extended rotation age of 60 years, will 
improve spotted owl dispersal habitat in this CSA and outside of the 
CSA. Marbled murrelets are expected to receive benefits through the 
identification of Special Management Areas and Special Set Asides as 
these areas will be allowed to develop into more structurally diverse 
forest with an increased chance of containing suitable nesting 
platforms over the life of the Permit. Spotted owls will also benefit 
from improved habitat conditions in these areas.
    While SHAs are often categorically excluded under NEPA, for this 
situation an EA was determined to best integrate Federal and State 
public review processes. As described above, PBTF is applying to the 
Washington Department of Natural Resources for a Landowner Option Plan 
and a Cooperative Habitat Enhancement Agreement for both the spotted 
owl and the marbled murrelet. The draft EA evaluates the potential 
impacts to the environment from the no-action alternative and the 
proposed SHA.
    This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(c) of the Act and 
NEPA regulations (40 CFR 1506.6). The Service will evaluate the Permit 
application, associated documents, and comments submitted thereon to 
determine whether the draft EA, and the proposed SHA and Permit 
application meet the requirements of NEPA regulations and section 10(a) 
of the Act, respectively. If it is determined that the requirements are 
met, the SHA will be finalized and signed, and the Permit will be 
issued to the Applicant for incidental take of the covered species. The 
final NEPA and permit determinations will not be completed until after 
the end of the 30-day comment period, and will fully consider all 
public comments received during the comment period.

    Dated: October 17, 2008.
David J. Wesley,
Deputy Regional Director, Region 1, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Portland, Oregon.
 [FR Doc. E8-29899 Filed 12-16-08; 8:45 am]