[Federal Register: July 27, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 143)]
[Page 40616-40618]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of a Draft Environmental Assessment and Preliminary 
Finding of No Significant Impact, and Receipt of Applications for an 
Incidental Take Permit and an Enhancement of Survival Permit for a 
State-wide Conservation Plan for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker on Private 
Lands in the State of Georgia

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior

ACTION: Notice


SUMMARY: The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) (Applicant) 
has applied for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) and an Enhancement of 
Survival Permit (ESP) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) 
pursuant to Section 10(a)(1)(B) and Section 10(a)(1)(A), respectively, 
of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended. The proposed 
action would involve approval of the Applicant's Conservation Plan (CP) 
which will be administered by the Applicant to eligible landowners, 
which is defined in the Applicant's CP, and involves two conservation 
options termed the Mitigated Incidental Take (MIT) and Safe Harbor 
Management Agreement (SHMA) options. The subject permits would 
authorize take of the red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) 
(RCW), a federally listed endangered species, on private lands in 
Georgia that (1) are isolated, remnant groups of RCWs (for ITP 
issuance) or (2) are new RCW groups created above SHMA baselines (for 
ESP issuance). Under the authority of the issued permits from the 
Service, the Applicant would encourage eligible landowners to 
participate in the two RCW conservation options via ``Certificates of 
Inclusion'' (or CI). Eligible landowners can be issued a CI in one or 
both of the CP's options with the goal to provide landowners with land 
management flexibility that balances each landowner's economic 
expectations with RCW conservation and recovery. The proposed taking 
would be incidental to otherwise lawful activities including typical 
forest management actions, land development activities, and other 
actions on private land and other non-federal lands in Georgia. The 
mitigation and minimization measures outlined in the Applicant's CP to 
address the effects of the CP to protected species are described 
further in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below.
    This notice advises the public that the Service has opened the 
comment period on the permit applications, the draft environmental 
assessment (EA), and the preliminary Finding of No Significant Impact 
(FONSI). The permit applications include the Applicant's CP (with 
appendices). This notice is provided pursuant to Section 10(a) of the 
Act and National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) regulations 
(40 CFR 1506.6) and advises the public that the Service has made a 
preliminary determination that issuing the ITP and ESP is not a major 
Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human 
environment within the meaning of Section 102(2)(C) of NEPA. The FONSI 
is based on information contained in the draft EA and CP. The final 
determination on this action will be made no sooner than 30 days from 
the date of this notice.
    The Service will evaluate the application, associated documents, 
and comments submitted thereon to determine whether the application 
meets the requirements of NEPA regulations and Section 10(a) of the 
Act. If it is determined that the requirements are met, the requested 
permits will be issued for the incidental take of RCW groups subject to 
the provisions of the Applicant's CP. The final NEPA and permit 
determinations will not be completed until after the end of a 30-day 
comment period and will fully consider all comments received. The 
Service will also evaluate whether the issuance of the requested 
permits complies with Section 7 of the Act by conducting an intra-
Service Section 7 consultation. The resulting Section 7 biological 
opinion, in combination with the above types of evaluation 
requirements, will be used in the final analysis to determine whether 
or not to issue the requested permits.

DATES: Written comments on the permit applications, CP, and draft EA 
should be sent to the Service's Southeast Regional Office (see 
ADDRESSES) and should be received on or before August 26, 1999.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the permit applications, CP, draft 
EA, and preliminary FONSI may obtain a copy by writing the Service's 
Southeast Regional Office, 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 200, Atlanta, 
Georgia 30345 (Attn: Endangered Species Permits), or Field Supervisor, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 52560, Fort Benning, Georgia 
31995-2560. Documents will also be available for public inspection by 
appointment during normal business hours at the Regional Office. 
Written data or comments concerning the permit

[[Page 40617]]

applications, CP, or EA should be submitted to the Regional Office. 
Comments or requests for the documentation must be in writing to be 
processed. Please reference permit number TE014977-0 in such comments, 
or in requests for the documents discussed herein. All comments 
received, including names and addresses, will become part of the 
official administrative record and may be made available to the public, 
subject to the requirements of the Privacy Act and Freedom of 
Information Act.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Lee Andrews, Supervisory Fish and 
Wildlife Biologist, at either address listed above (see ADDRESSES) or 
telephone (706) 544-6428.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Georgia state-wide RCW CP is intended to 
establish mechanisms to allow incidental take of: (1) MIT option RCW 
groups that will minimize and mitigate loss of isolated RCW groups and 
(2) SHMA option RCW groups that represent population expansions 
resulting from voluntary RCW habitat development and maintenance. The 
Applicant's CP estimates that there are approximately 11 private 
landowners and 19 groups of RCWs occupying the habitat of those 
landowners that will be initially eligible for incidental take under 
the MIT option. However, it is important to note that all incidental 
take proposed under the Applicant's CP may or may not ever occur. While 
landowners will be permitted to carry out activities under this plan 
that could result in the incidental taking of RCWs, they may choose not 
to do so or not to do so for many decades. The Applicant and the 
Service believe that the implementation of this program will result in 
maintenance of the RCW population levels on private lands in Georgia 
and an increase in the amount of available and potentially-suitable RCW 
habitat. Further, all translocation of RCW groups will be to other 
suitable private or state lands.
    The geographic scope of the Applicant's CP is the entire State of 
Georgia but would only authorize incidental take on specific lands 
enrolled in the CP for which a respective CI has been signed. Lands 
potentially eligible for inclusion in the CP include (1) all privately-
owned lands and public lands owned by cities, counties, and 
municipalities where isolated, remnant groups of RCWs exist and (2) 
lands covered under the SHMA option of the CP. Priority will be placed 
on developing CIs with landowners where loss of RCW groups is likely 
due to isolation from other RCW populations and where development of 
SHMA CIs would enroll land that has potential to benefit RCWs, 
particularly land with abandoned or inactive clusters or land that is 
near existing RCW populations.
    Landowners with RCWs on their property will apply to GDNR for 
inclusion under the permit. If a RCW group meets the criteria of 
isolation and non-viability described in the Applicant's CP, the 
landowner will be eligible to participate under the MIT option ITP. 
These landowners will select from several mitigation alternatives to 
minimize and mitigate the effects of incidental take, and, once all 
mitigation criteria have been met, the landowner will be allowed to 
commence with RCW habitat alterations. Any landowner with potentially 
suitable RCW habitat can participate in SHMA option.
    The duration of the ITP is 30 years and it would allow incidental 
take of up to 19 RCW groups; the ESP will be valid for 99 years and 
would allow incidental take of up to 38 RCW groups. This CP may be 
amended in the future to cover a higher level of incidental take if 
additional RCW groups are located that are eligible for coverage in the 
CP, although it is unlikely that additional landowners will 
significantly add to the number of those already identified as 
eligible. Landowners who are identified as having RCWs in the future 
will have the option, if eligible under the CP, to be included through 
CP modification with Service approval, or landowners may elect to 
pursue the development of landowner-specific conservation plans.
    The proposed RCW conservation options complement the ongoing 
development of an overall conservation strategy for RCW populations in 
Georgia by representatives from the Service, U.S. Forest Service, GDNR, 
and private industry. Implementation of this plan should alleviate many 
of the concerns about endangered species conservation efforts on 
private lands by providing private landowners with relief from 
potential regulatory burdens while promoting voluntary enhancement and 
restoration of RCW habitat. RCW groups determined to be isolated from 
other RCW populations will be used for augmentation of or translocation 
to non-federal mitigation sites. Among the minimization measures 
proposed by the Applicant are no take of RCWs during the breeding 
season, consolidation of small, isolated RCW populations at identified 
sites capable of supporting a viable RCW population, and measures to 
improve current and potential habitat for the species.
    Several alternatives to the proposed action were evaluated by 
Service. The alternative of the Service paying landowners for desired 
management practices was evaluated and could be accomplished without 
incidental take occurring. However, such a program would be expensive, 
and funding is not currently available. An alternative where RCW 
mitigation would occur on federal lands was investigated but determined 
to be inappropriate, because federal lands are already mandated to 
recover the species. A no action alternative was also explored, but 
this alternative would not increase the probability of isolated RCW 
group survival nor would it alleviate landowner conflicts. Instead, the 
incentive proposed here, although it authorizes future incidental take, 
is expected to attract sufficient interest among Georgia landowners to 
generate significant benefits for the RCW. The Applicant's CP was 
developed in an adaptive management framework to allow changes in the 
program based on new scientific information including, but not limited 
to, biological needs and management actions proven to benefit the 
species or its habitat.
    The CP was prepared by GDNR and sent to the Service for 
authorization of the CP's ITP and ESP as per Section 10(a)(1)(B) and 
Section 10(a)(1)(A), respectively, of the Act. Section 10(a)(1)(B), a 
1982 Act amendment, was created to help resolve land use conflicts 
resulting from the presence of listed species on private land by 
issuance of a permit authorizing take for those species. As specified 
by the ESA, permitted take must be ``incidental to, and not the purpose 
of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful activity.'' In order to 
obtain an ITP, the applicant must submit, in part, a conservation plan 
specifying ``the impact which will likely result from such taking; what 
steps the applicant will take to minimize and mitigate such impacts; 
and the funding that will be available to implement such steps; what 
alternative actions to such taking the applicant considered and the 
reasons why such alternatives are not being utilized; and such other 
measures the Secretary {of the U.S. Department of the Interior} may 
require as being necessary or appropriate for purposes of the plan.'' 
These requirements are addressed in this document. Section 10(a)(1)(A) 
authorizes ESPs related to the Service's recently-implemented Safe 
Harbor policy (Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 116, 32717-32726).
    The Service continues to critically evaluate any potential or real 
biological costs and conservation benefits of current RCW management 
and research programs. This ensures continuation of

[[Page 40618]]

activities proven to directly benefit or contribute to species 
conservation and recovery. Currently acceptable management activities 
may be modified or eliminated based upon research findings and/or 
evaluation of the biological costs versus the conservation benefits. 
The 1985 Red-cockaded Woodpecker Recovery plan is currently undergoing 
revision to reflect advances in red-cockaded woodpecker management in 
the last 12 years. All interested agencies, organizations, and 
individuals are urged to provide comments on the permit applications 
and NEPA documents. All comments received by the closing date will be 
considered in finalizing NEPA compliance and permit issuance or denial. 
The Service will publish a record on its final action in the Federal 

    Dated: July 21, 1999.
H. Dale Hall,
Deputy Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 99-19087 Filed 7-26-99; 8:45 am]