[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 38 (Friday, February 25, 2011)]
[Pages 10621-10623]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-4040]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-R-2011-N011; 1265-0000-10137-S3]

Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Pacific Island 
Territory; Nonnative Rat Eradication Project, Draft Environmental 
Impact Statement

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) 
nonnative rat eradication project draft environmental impact statement 
(DEIS) for public review and comment. In the DEIS we describe a range 
of alternatives for eliminating nonnative rats from the Refuge.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
April 11, 2011.

ADDRESSES: You may send your comments or requests for information by 
any of the following methods. For information on viewing or obtaining 
the documents, see ``Public Availability of Documents'' under 
    E-mail: pacific_reefs@fws.gov. Include ``Palmyra rat project'' in 
subject line.
    Fax: Attn: Dr. Elizabeth Flint, 808-792-9586.
    U.S. Mail: Pacific Reefs National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 300 Ala 
Moana Blvd., Room 5-231, Honolulu, HI 96850.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Elizabeth Flint, Supervisory Wildlife 
Biologist, (808) 792-9553.



    With this notice, we continue the public involvement process for 
our DEIS, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act 
(NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), as amended, and its implementing 
regulations. We started the process through a notice in the Federal 
Register (75 FR 2158) published on January 14, 2010.

Refuge Overview

    Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is located in the Northern 
Line Islands, approximately 1,000 miles south of Honolulu, HI, in the 
central Pacific Ocean. The Refuge encompasses nearly all of the Palmyra 
Atoll (Atoll). The Atoll consists of approximately 54 small, heavily 
vegetated islets surrounding 3 central lagoons. Habitats consist of 680 
acres of land and 15,512 acres of lagoons and shallow reefs. The Nature 
Conservancy (TNC) purchased the Atoll's islands in 2000 from private 
landowners, and later sold most of the islands to the Service. The 
Refuge was established to manage, conserve, protect, and restore fish, 
wildlife, and plant resources and their habitats for future 
    The Nature Conservancy retained ownership of Cooper and Menge 
Islands, and established a small research station on Cooper Island that 
is operational year round. The Nature Conservancy's mission is to 
preserve plants, animals and natural communities that represent the 
biological diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and 
waters they need to survive. The Service and TNC work cooperatively to 
protect, restore, and enhance migratory birds, coral reefs, and 
threatened and endangered species in their natural setting on the 
    The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (Monument) was 
established on January 6, 2009, by Presidential Proclamation by 
President George W. Bush. The Refuge is one of seven refuges in the 
Monument, and is encompassed within the Monument's boundaries. The 
Refuge's boundary extends seaward 12 nautical miles, encompassing 
515,232 acres; the boundary of the Monument extends resource protection 
out to 50 nautical miles. The Refuge's terrestrial habitats support one 
of the largest remaining tropical coastal strand forests in the U.S. 
Pacific Islands, primarily consisting of the Pisonia grandis tree. A 
diverse land crab fauna including the coconut crab, ecologically intact 
predator-dominated fish assemblages, and large seabird populations are 
important Refuge resources. The Refuge is closed to commercial fishing.

[[Page 10622]]


The National Environmental Policy Act and National Wildlife Refuge 
System Administration Act

    We prepared the DEIS in accordance with NEPA, and its implementing 
regulations; the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 
1966 as amended by the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act 
of 1997 (16 U.S.C. 668dd-668ee) (Refuge Administration Act); and 
Service regulations and policies. The Refuge Administration Act 
requires each unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System to be managed 
to achieve its establishing purposes.

Public Outreach

    We conducted public scoping for the DEIS from January 14 to March 
1, 2010 (75 FR 2158). During that time we requested public comments 
through the Federal Register and on our Web site http://www.fws.gov/palmyraatoll/rainforestrestoration.html. The comments we received 
covered topics such as threats to nontarget species, our selection of 
the rodenticide brodifacoum over diphacinone, and effects to other 
Refuge operations. We have considered and evaluated these comments, and 
incorporated them into the various alternatives identified in the DEIS. 
We are now requesting your comments on our draft alternatives.

Invasive Species on the Atoll

    The Atoll was significantly modified by the U.S. Navy during World 
War II. A network of roadways connecting the major islets and the 
construction of a north-south causeway altered natural water 
circulation. The impacts from invasive species on the Atoll's native 
forests, fauna, and habitats are associated with World War II era 
restructuring and invasive species introductions that included plants 
(coconut palm), insects (several ant species, mosquitoes, and scale 
insects), and mammals (black rats).
    Black rats cause degradation of nearly all aspects of the Atoll's 
ecosystem, from breeding seabird populations to the native Pisonia 
forest ecotype. Rats prey on native seabirds, their eggs, and their 
young, and are likely preventing the recolonization of six additional 
seabird species indigenous to the area. The rats prey on native land 
crabs as well, and directly compete with them for limited food 
    Black rats provide habitat for other invasive species. The spread 
of coconut palm, an invasive tree species, is likely aided by rat-
related recruitment and limitation of other tree species. Rats foraging 
on coconuts create habitat for invasive mosquitoes, and spread the 
seeds of invasive flora throughout the Atoll. The rats are modifying 
the terrestrial ecosystem of this important Atoll by limiting the 
reproduction, recruitment, and establishment of several native tree 
species. Coconut palms already dominate 45 percent of the Refuge's 
forests. Left unchecked, the combined effects of rats and coconut palms 
could drastically alter forest structure. All of these impacts in turn 
affect the relationship between land and marine resources, and 
compromise our ability to achieve Refuge purposes.
    Palmyra Atoll also functions as a natural laboratory, where 
scientists study ocean acidification and other effects of anthropogenic 
global climate change, including the movements of endangered species in 
the absence of other significant human-induced effects, and other 
issues. Removing rats and restoring the ecological integrity of the 
ecosystem are essential for facilitating this research.

Palmyra Atoll Restoration

    Removing rats from Palmyra Atoll is the first step in a series of 
restoration efforts designed to restore the Atoll to its pre World War 
II status. Rat eradication is the first step in the process, because 
eradicating the rats is feasible and relatively fast. Removing the rats 
will enhance the ecological integrity of the Atoll by slowing the 
spread of coconut palms and allowing extirpated breeding seabird 
species to recolonize. The next stage of restoration, eradicating the 
coconut palms, becomes feasible after the removal of the rats.
    Eradicating rats from Palmyra is expected to result in biodiversity 
benefits for seabirds, plants, terrestrial invertebrates, and other 
components of the Atoll's terrestrial ecosystem. Removing the threat of 
rats will give Palmyra's remnant native forest and the extant and 
likely extirpated seabird species the opportunity to recover. The 
benefit of this conservation action is significant from a regional 
perspective because Palmyra is the only moist tropical atoll ecosystem 
in the Central Pacific with strong Federal protections that is not 
experiencing exploitation of both marine and terrestrial natural 
resources by burgeoning human populations. Removing rats from Palmyra 
will help prevent the extinction of the Central Pacific moist tropical 
island ecotype.


    We developed four alternatives, including Alternative A, our no 
action alternative. The action alternatives--Alternatives B, C, and D--
were developed to focus on the primary issues we identified internally 
and in comments we received during public scoping from the public, 
national and international experts in island rodent eradication, and 
government regulatory agencies.
    The potential impacts of the alternatives are assessed in the DEIS, 
and where appropriate, mitigation measures are applied to reduce the 
intensity of or avoid the potential effects. A brief description of 
each alternative follows.
    Under Alternative A, our no-action alternative, no new actions to 
eradicate the black rat population from Palmyra Atoll would be 
implemented, and the black rat would continue to multiply and harm the 
Atoll's environment.
    Under Alternative B, we would apply a brodifacoum pesticide where 
appropriate using hand baiting, aerial application, and bait stations, 
to eliminate black rats from Palmyra Atoll.
    Under Alternative C, we would apply a brodifacoum pesticide where 
appropriate using hand baiting, aerial application, and bait stations, 
to eliminate black rats from Palmyra Atoll. We would also proactively 
mitigate potential risks to vulnerable shorebirds.
    Under Alternative D, we would establish brodifacoum bait stations 
and conduct canopy baiting to eliminate black rats from Palmyra Atoll.

Public Availability of the DEIS

    The DEIS is available for viewing and downloading on our Web site 
at  http://www.fws.gov/palmyraatoll/. Printed copies of the DEIS may be 
reviewed at the Pacific Reefs National Wildlife Refuge Complex Office, 
300 Ala Moana Blvd., Room 5-211, Honolulu, HI 96850; phone (808) 792-

Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze the comments and 
address them in the form of a final environmental impact statement.

Public Availability of Comments

    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 identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.

[[Page 10623]]

    Dated: February 4, 2011.
Robyn Thorson,
Regional Director, Region 1, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 2011-4040 Filed 2-24-11; 8:45 am]