[Federal Register: June 1, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 106)]
[Page 35118-35120]
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 an Application for an 
Incidental Take Permit for Residential, Commercial, and School Board 
Development in Northern Indian River County, FL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


    Indian River County Board of County Commissioners and City of 
Sebastian City Council (Applicants) request an incidental take permit 
(ITP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 
1973 (U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), as amended (Act). The Applicants anticipate 
taking up to seven families of the threatened Florida scrub-jay 
(Aphelocoma coerulescens) (scrub-jay), over the next 30 years 
incidental to the clearing of land associated with residential 
construction in northern Indian River County, including infill in the 
existing Sebastian Highlands subdivision located within the city limits 
of Sebastian. Take is also requested for commercial development on 
about 88 acres of property owned by the City of Sebastian. Indian River 
County School Board anticipates that take of scrub-jays may also occur 
in the future due to expansion of school facilities on about four 
acres. The anticipated take and measures to minimize and mitigate these 
takings will occur in sections 18, 19, 20, 29, and 30, Township 31 
South, Range 39 East and sections 13, 14, 23, 24, 25, and 26, Township 
31 South, Range 38 East, northern Indian River County, Florida.
    The issuance of land clearing permits by the City of Sebastian will 
destroy about 79 acres of habitat occupied by the scrub-jay in 
residential areas. Another 88 acres of habitat within commercial 
property owned by the City of Sebastian and about 4 acres of property 
owned by the School Board is currently unoccupied by scrub-jays, but 
may become occupied due to proposed habitat management activities. 
Future development within these parcels may also result in take of 
scrub-jays. Measures to mitigate for taking of scrub-jays are proposed 
by the Applicants. A more detailed description of the mitigation and 
minimization measures to address the effects of the Project to the 
scrub-jay are outlined in the Applicant's Habitat Conservation Plan 
(HCP), the Service's draft Environmental Assessment (EA), and in the 
    The Service also announces the availability of a draft EA and HCP 
for the incidental take application. Copies of the draft EA and/or HCP 
may be obtained by making a request to the Regional Office (see 
ADDRESSES). Requests must be in writing to be processed. This notice 
also advises the public that the Service has made a preliminary 
determination that issuing the ITP is not a major Federal action 
significantly affecting the quality of the human environment within the 
meaning of Section 102(2)(C) of the National Environmental Policy Act 
of 1969, as amended (NEPA). The preliminary Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI) is based on information contained in the draft EA and 
HCP. The final determination will be made no sooner than 30 days from 
the date of this notice. This notice is provided pursuant to Section 10 
of the Act and NEPA regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).
    The Service specifically requests information, views, and opinions 
from the public via this Notice on the federal action, including the 
identification of any other aspects of the human environment not 
already identified in the Service's draft EA. Further, the Service is 
specifically soliciting information regarding the adequacy of the HCP 
as measured against the Service's ITP issuance criteria found in 50 CFR 
parts 13 and 17.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit comments by any one of 
several methods. You may mail comments to the Service's Regional Office 
(see ADDRESSES). You may also comment via the internet to 
``david_dell@fws.gov''. Please submit comments over the internet as an 
ASCII file avoiding the use of special characters and any form of 
encryption. Please also include your name and return address in your 
internet message. If you do not receive a confirmation from the Service 
that we have received your internet message, contact us directly at 
either telephone number listed below (see FURTHER INFORMATION). 
Finally, you may hand deliver comments to either Service office listed 
below (see ADDRESSES). Our practice is to make comments, including 
names and home addresses of respondents, available for public review

[[Page 35119]]

during regular business hours. Individual respondents may request that 
we withhold their home address from the administrative record. We will 
honor such requests to the extent allowable by law. There may also be 
other circumstances in which we would withhold from the administrative 
record a respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you wish us to 
withhold your name and address, you must state this prominently at the 
beginning of your comments. We will not; however, consider anonymous 
comments. We will make all submissions from organizations or 
businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as 
representatives or officials of organizations or businesses, available 
for public inspection in their entirety.

DATES: Written comments on the ITP application, draft EA, and HCP 
should be sent to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and 
should be received on or before July 3, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, HCP, and EA may 
obtain a copy by writing the Service's Southeast Regional Office, 
Atlanta, Georgia. Documents will also be available for public 
inspection by appointment during normal business hours at the Regional 
Office, 1875 Century Boulevard, Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 30345 
(Attn: Endangered Species Permits), or Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Post Office Box 2676, Vero Beach, Florida 32961-2676. 
Written data or comments concerning the application, or HCP should be 
submitted to the Regional Office. Requests for the documentation must 
be in writing to be processed. Please reference permit number TE026007-
0 in such comments, or in requests of the documents discussed herein.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313, facsimile: 
404/679-7081; or Mr. Mike Jennings, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, South 
Florida Field Office, Vero Beach, Florida (see ADDRESSES above), 
telephone: 561/562-3909.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The scrub-jay is geographically isolated 
from other species of scrub-jays found in Mexico and the Western United 
States. The scrub-jay is found exclusively in peninsular Florida and is 
restricted to xeric uplands (predominately in oak dominated scrub). 
Increasing urban and agricultural development have resulted in habitat 
loss and fragmentation which has adversely affected the distribution 
and numbers of scrub-jays. The total estimated population is between 
7,000 and 11,000 individuals.
    The decline in the number and distribution of scrub-jays in eastern 
Florida has likely been greater than in most regions of the State. 
Eastern coastal Florida has experienced tremendous urban growth in the 
past 50 years and much of this commercial and residential development 
has occurred on the dry soils which historically supported scrub-jay 
habitat. Based on existing soils data, much of the historic and current 
scrub-jay habitat of coastal east Florida occurs along a narrow stretch 
of historic sand dunes that are situated on a north-south axis from 
Dade to Flagler County. Much of this area of Florida was settled early 
because few wetlands restricted urban and agricultural development. Due 
to the effects of urban and agricultural development over the past 100 
years, much of the remaining scrub-jay habitat is now relatively small 
and isolated. What remains is largely degraded due to the exclusion of 
fire which is needed to maintain xeric uplands in conditions suitable 
for scrub-jays.
    Remnant patches of suitable scrub-jay habitat remain in northern 
Indian River County, particularly within the large residential 
subdivision of Sebastian Highlands. Seven families of scrub-jay are 
known to persist in 317 single-family residential lots. Scrub-jays 
within Sebastian Highlands are part of a larger complex of scrub-jays 
that occupy xeric uplands of eastern coastal Florida. This complex of 
scrub-jay families (metapopulation) ranges from central Brevard County 
south to northern Indian River County and represents one of the largest 
metapopulations of scrub-jays remaining in the State. Scrub-jays within 
Sebastian Highlands represent the southern-most distribution of this 
metapopulation. The continued survival of scrub-jays in this 
metapopulation will depend on the maintenance of suitable habitat and 
the restoration of unsuitable habitat in key locations.
    Scrub-jay use of Sebastian Highlands has been reported periodically 
since 1991. Early surveys documented the presence of about 26 families 
of scrub-jays in and near Sebastian Highlands. Since that time there 
has been a steady decline in the numbers and distribution of scrub-jays 
in northern Indian River County. Habitat degradation and continued 
habitat fragmentation are believed responsible for this decline. Scrub-
jays currently occupy about 79 acres within Sebastian Highlands 
    The Applicants recognize that the conservation of scrub-jays and 
fulfillment of existing land-use plans which call for residential 
infill within Sebastian Highlands cannot reasonably be achieved on a 
lot-by-lot basis through existing regulatory mechanisms. As a result, 
the Applicants jointly agreed to address the conservation needs of this 
species through preparation of an HCP for northern Indian River County.
    Land clearing permits issued by the City of Sebastian in 
preparation for residential, commercial, or School Board construction 
will destroy habitat and result in death of, or injury to, scrub-jays, 
incidental to the carrying out of these otherwise lawful activities. 
Habitat alteration associated with the proposed residential development 
will reduce the availability of feeding, nesting, sheltering habitat 
for scrub-jays. About 79 acres of habitat currently occupied by scrub-
jays is expected to be destroyed incrementally as residential build-out 
occurs in Sebastian Highlands over the next 30 years. Another 92 acres 
encompassing city-owned commercial property and School Board property 
may also result in the take of scrub-jays. However, these sites are not 
currently occupied by scrub-jays and would only become so due to 
conservation measures proposed in the HCP. These interim conservation 
measures could provide habitat for scrub-jays until such time that 
demand for commercial facilities or school expansion are necessary. If 
these sites are managed well in the interim and scrub-jay subsequently 
recolonize them, future take may occur during construction activities.
    The Applicant's HCP and the Service's EA describe the following 
minimization and mitigation strategy to be employed by the Applicants 
to offset the impacts of the Project to the scrub-jay:
    <bullet> The Applicants agree to perpetually preserve and manage 
about 324 acres of scrub-jay habitat in northern Indian River County in 
a manner that will create a mosaic of habitats suitable for this 
    <bullet> The Applicants agree to perpetually preserve and manage 
about 253 acres of unsuitable scrub-jay habitat for use as buffers 
areas and dispersal corridors for the scrub-jay.
    <bullet> The Applicants agree to restore and manage 92 acres of 
potentially suitable scrub-jay habitat on an interim basis, until such 
time that demand for commercial facilities and/or school expansion 
require construction within these areas.
    The EA considers the environmental consequences of two action 
alternatives which would require issuance of an ITP. The no action 
alternative (not issue the ITP) will ultimately result in loss of

[[Page 35120]]

scrub-jay habitat within the Project site due to habitat degradation. 
The no action alternative may also expose the Applicants under Section 
9 of the Act. The preferred alternative would affect about 79 acres of 
occupied scrub-jay habitat and possibly 92 acres of currently 
unoccupied but restorable habitat, while protecting and enhancing 324 
acres of occupied habitat and unoccupied but restorable habitat in 
northern Indian River County. With management of habitat, existing 
conditions are expected to improve over the long-term for scrub-jays in 
northern Indian River County.
    As stated above, the Service has made a preliminary determination 
that the issuance of the ITP is not a major Federal action 
significantly affecting the quality of the human environment within the 
meaning of section 102(2)(C) of NEPA. This preliminary information may 
be revised due to public comment received in response to this notice 
and is based on information contained in the draft EA and HCP.
    The Service will also evaluate whether the issuance of a section 
10(a)(1)(B) ITP complies with section 7 of the Act by conducting an 
intra-Service section 7 consultation. The results of the biological 
opinion, in combination with the above findings, will be used in the 
final analysis to determine whether or not to issue the ITP.

    Dated: May 25, 2000.
H. Dale Hall,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 00-13655 Filed 5-31-00; 8:45 am]