[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 243 (Wednesday, December 18, 2013)]
[Pages 76639-76641]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-30196]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-ES-2013-N268; FF06E24000-XXX-FRES48010660150]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Enhancement of 
Survival Permit Application; Draft Oil and Gas Candidate Conservation 
Agreement With Assurances for the Lesser Prairie-Chicken; Draft 
Environmental Assessment

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), received an 
application for an enhancement of survival permit (permit) under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA), for take associated 
with implementation of a lesser prairie-chicken Candidate Conservation 
Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) throughout the species' range in 
Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. The intent of the 
CCAA is to provide the oil and gas industry with the opportunity to 
voluntarily conserve the lesser prairie-chicken and its habitat, in a 
manner that would contribute to precluding the need to list the 
species, while carrying out their oil and gas activities. The Western 
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) is the permit 
applicant and proposes to convey incidental take authorization to oil 
and gas companies that enroll in the CCAA through certificates of 
inclusion. Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), we 
have prepared a draft environmental assessment (EA) that analyzes the 
potential impacts of issuance of the permit and implementation of the 
proposed CCAA, as well as two alternatives to the proposed action. The 
permit application, draft CCAA, and draft EA

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are available for public review, and we seek public comment on these 
documents and potential issuance of the permit.

DATES: Written comments must be submitted by January 17, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Field Supervisor, Colorado 
Ecological Services Field Office, 134 Union Blvd., Ste. 670, Lakewood, 
CO 80228; or via email to lesserprairiechicken@fws.gov. The draft CCAA 
and EA are available for review on our Mountain-Prairie Region 
Ecological Services Web site at http://www.fws.gov/coloradoes/.
    You also may review copies of these documents by appointment during 
regular business hours at the following offices: (a) Colorado 
Ecological Services Field Office (ESFO) (see address above), (303) 236-
4773; (b) Kansas ESFO, 2609 Anderson Ave., Manhattan, KS 66502, (785) 
539-3474; (c) Oklahoma ESFO, 9014 East 21 St., Tulsa, OK 74129, (918) 
382-4501; (d) Austin, Texas ESFO, 10711 Burnet Rd., Suite 200, Austin, 
TX 78758, (512) 490-0057; (e) Arlington, Texas ESFO, 2005 NE Green Oaks 
Blvd., Suite 140, Arlington, TX 76006, (817) 277-1100; and (f) New 
Mexico ESFO, 2105 Osuna NE., Albuquerque, NM 87113, (505) 346-2525.
    If you do not have access to the Web site or cannot visit our 
office, you may request copies by telephone at (303) 236-4773 or by 
letter to the Colorado ESFO.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Leslie Ellwood, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, Colorado Ecological Services Field Office, (303) 236-4747; 

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: A CCAA is an agreement in which private and 
other non-Federal landowners voluntarily agree to undertake management 
activities and conservation efforts on their properties to enhance, 
restore, or maintain habitat to benefit species that are proposed for 
listing under the ESA, that are candidates for listing, or that may 
become candidates. If we approve the CCAA, we will issue an associated 
enhancement of survival permit, under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA 
(16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), that authorizes incidental take resulting 
from covered activities should the species addressed in the CCAA become 
listed. Through the CCAA and permit, we also provide assurances to 
participating landowners that we will not impose additional land, 
water, or financial commitments or restrictions on land, water, or 
resource use, as a result of efforts to attract or increase the numbers 
or distribution of a species on their property if that species becomes 
listed under the ESA in the future. Application requirements and 
issuance criteria for enhancement of survival permits through a CCAA 
are found in 50 CFR 17.22(d) and 17.32(d), as well as 50 CFR part 13.
    Under the proposed range-wide CCAA, participating members of the 
oil and gas industry (Participants) would implement conservation 
measures that avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts to the lesser 
prairie-chicken and their habitat from oil and gas activities on 
enrolled lands. The Service would issue the permit to WAFWA, who would 
administer the CCAA and enroll the Participants. The CCAA would be in 
effect for 30 years. The CCAA would cover non-Federal lands within the 
current range of the lesser prairie-chicken, plus a 10-mile buffer 
around the current range. Any non-Federal lands within lesser prairie-
chicken habitat in the covered area may be eligible for enrollment 
under the proposed CCAA.
    The CCAA proposes to implement WAFWA's Lesser Prairie-chicken 
Range-wide Plan (Range-wide Plan), which the Service endorsed and WAFWA 
finalized in October 2013. The Range-wide Plan's conservation framework 
provides for financial incentives to landowners who voluntarily manage 
their lands to benefit the species. It also includes conservation 
measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts specific to current 
and anticipated land-use activities within the species' range, 
including oil and gas development. The Range-wide Plan contains a 
detailed mitigation fee structure that incentivizes locating impact 
activities outside of lesser prairie-chicken habitat or within lower 
quality habitat rather than within medium or high quality habitat. The 
proposed CCAA incorporates the Range-wide Plan's conservation measures 
and mitigation fees pertaining to oil and gas activities. Enrollment of 
lands with habitat impacted by oil and gas activities into the CCAA is 
intended to generate mitigation fees that will significantly help fund 
implementation of conservation actions under the Range-wide Plan for 
the lesser prairie-chicken throughout its range.
    With issuance of the enhancement of survival permit, the Service 
would provide WAFWA and the Participants assurances that, should the 
lesser prairie-chicken be listed, no further commitments or 
restrictions than those they committed to under the CCAA would be 
imposed, as long as the CCAA is properly implemented. Furthermore, if 
the lesser prairie-chicken is listed, the permit would provide WAFWA 
with incidental take authorization. Participants would also receive 
take authorization through their certificates of inclusion under the 
permit. The permit would become effective on the effective date of a 
listing of the lesser prairie-chicken as endangered or threatened and 
would continue through the end of the CCAA term.


    The lesser prairie-chicken currently inhabits rangelands dominated 
primarily by shinnery oak-bluestem and sand sagebrush-bluestem 
vegetation. Major factors affecting the status of the lesser prairie-
chicken are habitat fragmentation, overutilization of habitat by 
domestic livestock, oil and gas development, wind energy development, 
loss of native rangelands to cropland conversion, herbicide use, fire 
suppression, and drought. On June 9, 1998, we determined that listing 
of the lesser prairie-chicken under the ESA was warranted but precluded 
by other higher priority actions (63 FR 31400). In the December 10, 
2008, Candidate Notice of Review (73 FR 75176), we elevated the listing 
priority of the lesser prairie-chicken from 8 to 2, because the overall 
magnitude of threats to the lesser prairie-chicken were increasing and 
occurring throughout almost all of its occupied range.
    On December 11, 2012, the Service proposed to list the lesser 
prairie chicken as threatened throughout its range (77 FR 73828). On 
May 6, 2013, the Service proposed a special rule (78 FR 26302), under 
section 4(d) of the ESA, that would allow for take of the lesser 
prairie chicken incidental to activities conducted pursuant to a 
Service-approved comprehensive conservation program developed by or in 
coordination with a State agency. The rule also proposed authorizing 
take incidental to agricultural activities included within a 
conservation plan developed by the Natural Resources Conservation 
Service (NRCS) for private agricultural lands in connection with the 
NRCS's Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative. The Service has published the 
revised proposed 4(d) rule for public comment (78 FR 75306; December 
11, 2013), and intends to issue its final determinations on the 
proposed listing and 4(d) rule no later than March 30, 2014.
    The Service has issued permits under three other approved CCAAs for 
the lesser prairie-chicken. A Statewide umbrella CCAA has been in 
effect in Texas since 2006, to enhance conservation efforts in 
conjunction with ranching, agricultural land use, and oil and gas 
activities. In New Mexico, a

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combined umbrella CCAA and Candidate Conservation Agreement with the 
Bureau of Land Management, approved in 2008, addresses conservation 
efforts for oil and gas impacts. Most recently, a CCAA was finalized in 
2013, for agricultural land use in Oklahoma. An additional CCAA was 
established with a single landowner in southwestern Kansas; however, 
this CCAA has since expired. The proposed rule to list the lesser 
prairie-chicken details several other conservation efforts for the 
species (77 FR 73828).
    WAFWA developed the draft range-wide CCAA for oil and gas 
activities to facilitate implementation of the Range-wide Plan for 
conserving the lesser prairie-chicken and restoring its habitat on non-
Federal lands throughout its range. Implementation of conservation 
measures in the proposed CCAA are expected to benefit the lesser 
prairie-chicken by establishing, augmenting and maintaining 
populations. Conservation measures that minimize new surface 
disturbance would also minimize habitat fragmentation and preserve 
contiguous expanses of habitat. Conservation measures that limit 
activities and operations during lekking, nesting, and brooding seasons 
would minimize impacts to reproduction. Furthermore, the conservation 
offsets implemented with mitigation fees from Participants are expected 
to further enhance lesser prairie-chicken habitat through the removal 
of infrastructure and remediation of impacts to restore habitat. 
Finally, the CCAA's regulatory assurances would act as an incentive for 
participation by oil and gas companies, thereby increasing conservation 
for the species.
    The Secretary of the Interior has delegated to the Service the 
authority to approve or deny a section 10(a)(1)(A) permit in accordance 
with the ESA. To act on WAFWA's permit application, we must determine 
that the CCAA meets the issuance criteria specified in the ESA and at 
50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32, as well as 50 CFR part 13. These criteria 
include a finding that the proposed CCAA complies with the requirements 
of our CCAA Policy (64 FR 32726, June 17, 1999).
    The issuance of a section 10(a)(1)(A) permit is a Federal action 
subject to NEPA compliance, including the Council on Environmental 
Quality Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA 
(40 CFR 1500-1508). WAFWA's draft CCAA and application for the 
enhancement of survival permit are not eligible for categorical 
exclusion under NEPA. We have prepared a draft EA to further analyze 
the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the CCAA on the quality 
of the human environment and other natural resources. In compliance 
with NEPA, we analyzed the impacts of implementing the CCAA, issuance 
of the permit, 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 
permit 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 
Finding of No Significant Impact under NEPA. We now make the draft EA 
available for public inspection online or in person at the Service 
offices listed in ADDRESSES.

Public Availability of Comments

    All comments we receive become part of the public record. Requests 
for copies of comments will be handled in accordance with the Freedom 
of Information Act, NEPA, and Department of the Interior policies and 
procedures. 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 can 
ask us to withhold your personal identifying information from public 
review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.


    We provide this notice under section 10(c) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR 17.22, 17.32), 
and NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and its implementing regulations (40 
CFR 1506.6 and 43 CFR 46.305).

    Dated: December 11, 2013.
Amelia Orton-Palmer,
Acting Assistant Regional Director--Ecological Services, Mountain-
Prairie Region, Denver, CO.
[FR Doc. 2013-30196 Filed 12-17-13; 8:45 am]