[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 143 (Wednesday, July 25, 2012)]
[Pages 43609-43611]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-18137]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-ES-2012-N113; FF06E24000-123-FXES11130600000D2]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Incidental Take 
Permit Application; Draft Environmental Assessment and Draft San Luis 
Valley Regional Habitat Conservation Plan, Colorado

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have received 
applications from the Rio Grande Water Conservation District; Alamosa, 
Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande, and Saguache Counties; the 
municipalities of Alamosa, Monte Vista, Del Norte, and South Fork; and 
the State of Colorado Department of Natural Resources (hereafter 
collectively referred to as ``the applicants'') for incidental take 
permits under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA). We 
are considering issuing the permits in association with implementation 
of a regional habitat conservation plan (HCP) in the San Luis Valley, 
Colorado. Pursuant to the ESA and the National Environmental Policy 
Act, we announce the availability of the draft HCP and draft 
environmental assessment for review and comment by the public and 
Federal, Tribal, State, and local governments.

DATES: Written comments must be submitted by September 24, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments by mail to Patty Gelatt, Western 
Colorado Supervisor, Ecological Services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 764 Horizon Drive, Building B, Grand Junction, CO 81506, or 
via email to sanluisvalleyhcp@fws.gov. You also may send comments by 
facsimile to (970) 245-6933. The draft HCP and EA are available on our 
Colorado Ecological Services Web site at http://www.fws.gov/coloradoES/SLV-HCP.html. You also may review copies of these documents during 
regular business hours at the Western Colorado Ecological Services 
Office (WCESO) (see ADDRESSES above). If you do not have access to the 
Web site or cannot visit our office, you may request copies by 
telephone at (970) 243-2778 or by letter to WCESO.

Wildlife Service (see ADDRESSES above), (970) 243-2778 extension 16.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The applicants have submitted permit 
applications to us for incidental take of the federally endangered 
southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) 
(flycatcher) and western U.S. distinct population segment of the 
yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) (cuckoo), a candidate for 
listing under the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et al.). The permits would cover 
routine activities concerning agriculture, small community 
infrastructure, and riparian conservation and restoration in the San 
Luis Valley. The HCP provides a regional conservation strategy to 
minimize and mitigate the impacts of the potential incidental take.
    This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(c) of the ESA and 

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Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations (40 CFR 1506.6; 43 CFR part 
46). We are requesting comments on the proposed HCP and our 
consideration as to whether the draft HCP meets the permit issuance 
criteria under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). 
We also have prepared a draft EA to comply with NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et 
seq.), and will evaluate whether the proposed action, issuance of 
permits to the Applicants, and other alternatives in the draft EA will 
cause significant impacts to the quality of the human environment and 
whether the EA is adequate to support a Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI), or whether an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is 


    Section 9 of the ESA and its implementing Federal regulations 
prohibit ``take'' of species listed as threatened and endangered. Take 
is defined under the ESA to include actions that harass, harm, pursue, 
hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to 
engage in any such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). Harm includes significant 
habitat modifications or degradation where it actually kills or injures 
wildlife by significantly impairing behavioral patterns, such as 
breeding, feeding, or sheltering (50 CFR 17.3). Under specified 
circumstances, the Service may issue permits to take listed species 
incidental to, and not the purpose of, carrying out otherwise lawful 
activities. Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA and regulations at 50 CFR 
17.22 and 17.32 contain provisions for issuing permits to non-Federal 
entities for incidental take of listed species, provided that an HCP is 
prepared and the Service determines the following criteria are met:
     The taking will be incidental;
     The applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, 
minimize and mitigate the impacts of such take;
     The applicant will develop an HCP and ensure that adequate 
funding for the HCP will be provided;
     The take will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the 
survival and recovery of the species in the wild; and
     The applicant will implement any other measures that the 
Service may require as being necessary or appropriate for the purposes 
of the HCP.
    As part of the applications for permits to authorize incidental 
take, the District has submitted a draft HCP on its own behalf and on 
behalf of the other applicants. The proposed activities covered by the 
draft HCP include operation, maintenance, and construction of 
diversions, ditches, canals, roads, bridges, and utility lines; 
livestock grazing and agricultural practices; tamarisk and noxious weed 
control; and floodplain maintenance near towns and cities. Rather than 
individual landowners seeking their own permits for these activities on 
a case-by-case basis to avoid liability for take under the ESA, the 
draft HCP is designed as a regional conservation plan that proposes to 
cover landowners for the suite of activities throughout the San Luis 
Valley for a 30-year permit term. The District proposes to coordinate 
implementation of the HCP's comprehensive conservation strategy for the 
plan area, and individual permits would be issued to each of the 
applicants. Each of the counties would pass HCP-enabling land-use 
ordinances that would address implementation of the HCP's conservation 
measures and authorization of take for landowners. The counties would 
ensure compliance with HCP covered activities through these ordinances. 
The HCP includes measures to mitigate the habitat impacts of the 
covered activities through riparian habitat conservation, enhancement, 
and management measures. As the HCP administrator, the District would 
be responsible for implementation of the mitigation measures. Habitat 
monitoring is proposed to ensure that the habitat quality of mitigation 
lands is sufficient to offset impacts and would track long-term trends. 
This regional conservation approach is intended to provide increased 
efficiency and effectiveness in the long-term protection and 
conservation of the flycatcher and cuckoo and their habitat while 
streamlining ESA compliance for the continuation of agricultural and 
other economic activities in the San Luis Valley.
    The draft HCP's area comprises the entire San Luis Valley within 
Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Mineral, Rio Grande, and Saguache Counties. 
The plan area boundary follows the lower edge of U.S. Forest Service 
lands in most places or county lines. The size of the plan area is 
about 2.9 million acres and includes about 250 miles of streams in the 
Rio Grande watershed.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We published a notice of intent to prepare an EA or EIS for the 
proposed San Luis Valley HCP in the Federal Register on January 7, 2005 
(70 FR 1457), seeking comment on the scope of issues and alternatives 
for an EA or EIS. We also conducted a public scoping meeting in 
Alamosa, Colorado, on January 13, 2005. We considered public input from 
this process during development of the draft HCP and draft EA. We 
received four comment letters during the public scoping period: One 
each from the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Alamosa 
Mosquito Control District, the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy 
District, and the Alamosa River Restoration Project. Commenters 
provided information on their activities for consideration to be 
covered by the HCP. The letters were in support of developing the HCP 
or were neutral. Comments made during the scoping meeting addressed the 
HCP process and implications for property owners. We determined that 
preparing a draft EA was appropriate because we do not anticipate 
significant impacts to the human environment that would require an EIS.
    In compliance with the NEPA, we analyzed the impacts of 
implementing the HCP, issuance of the permits, and a reasonable range 
of alternatives in the draft EA. Based on these analyses and any new 
information resulting from public comment on the proposed action, we 
will determine if issuance of the permits would cause any significant 
impacts to the human environment. After reviewing public comments, we 
will evaluate whether the proposed action and alternatives in the draft 
EA are adequate to support a FONSI under the NEPA. We now make the 
draft EA available for public inspection online or in person at the 
Service's WCESO (see ADDRESSES).
    The NEPA requires that a range of reasonable alternatives to the 
proposed action be described. The draft EA analyzes three alternatives 
that were derived from discussions with the District during the 
development of the HCP. We analyzed the following three alternatives in 
the draft EA:
     No Action. In this alternative, we would not issue permits 
to the applicants. Rather, the status quo for ESA compliance would 
remain, whereby landowners would choose to apply for individual permits 
for specific projects and ongoing activities in the San Luis Valley on 
a case-by-case basis.
     Public Land Mitigation HCP. This alternative is similar to 
the proposed alternative in that it would provide a single regional HCP 
covering the same activities and providing the same permitting 
structure. However, this alternative shifts emphasis of habitat 
restoration and enhancement to public lands, coupled with voluntary 
measures to minimize impacts on private lands.
     San Luis Valley Regional HCP. This is currently identified 
as the proposed alternative and is described in Background.

[[Page 43611]]

Next Steps

    We will evaluate the submitted comments and revise the HCP and EA, 
as appropriate. In compliance with section 7(a)(2) of the ESA, we will 
analyze whether issuance of the permits would jeopardize listed, 
proposed, or candidate species or adversely modify any designated or 
proposed critical habitat. We will then determine whether the permit 
applications meet the requirements of section 10(a) of the ESA. We will 
use the results of all these analyses in a final findings document to 
determine whether to issue the permits. Pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(b) 
of the ESA, we will issue the permits to the applicants if the 
requirements are met.

Public Comments

    We invite the public to comment on the proposed HCP and draft EA 
during a 60-day public comment period ending on the date specified 
above in DATES. Comments can be submitted to the WCESO (see ADDRESSES). 
All comments received, including names and addresses, will become part 
of the administrative record and may be made available to the public. 
Before including your address, phone number, email 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 may 
request at the top of your document that we withhold your personal 
identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we 
will be able to do so.

    Dated: July 3, 2012.
Bridget F. Fahey,
Acting Assistant Regional Director--Ecological Services, Mountain-
Prairie Region, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 2012-18137 Filed 7-24-12; 8:45 am]