[Federal Register: August 21, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 162)]
[Page 43896-43898]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of a Safe Harbor Agreement and Receipt of an 
Application for an Enhancement of Survival Permit Associated With 
Proposed Habitat Management Activities for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker 
on the Avalon Plantation Annex, Jefferson County, FL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


    Turner Endangered Species Fund (Applicant) proposes to enter into a 
Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service) to manage habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker 
(Picoides borealis) (RCW) for a period of 33 years. The Service's Safe 
Harbor Policy provides that landowners may return properties enrolled 
under SHAs to conditions that existed prior to entering into the SHA. 
These existing conditions are hereinafter referred to as baseline 
conditions. Returning enrolled properties to baseline conditions may 
result in the take of federally listed species, but such taking may be 
authorized under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 
1973 (U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), as amended (Act), provided that the actions 
taken pursuant to a signed SHA result in a net conservation benefit to 
the species, as described in the Safe Harbor Policy (64 Federal 
Register 32706). The Applicant has committed to implement such 
conservation benefits for the RCW and requests issuance of an 
enhancement of survival permit (ESP) in order to address the take 
prohibitions of section 9 of the Act should the Applicant choose to 
return the enrolled property to baseline conditions in the future.
    Primary threats to the RCW throughout its range all have the same 
basic cause: lack of suitable habitat. To help address this threat, the 
Service has entered into SHAs that have been successfully used in North 
Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Georgia, and Virginia to encourage 
restoration and management of RCW habitat on private lands. The 
Applicant will actively manage pine forests on the enrolled property 
and will carry out conservation measures intended to attract and retain 
RCWs at the site. Such management will include use of prescribed fire 
to emphasize fire regimes that mimic natural processes, selective 
timber harvest, and installation of artificial cavities in suitable 
pine trees. The Applicant has also expressed a willingness to relocate 
juvenile RCWs to the property under appropriate permits from the 
Service and State of Florida. The enrolled property, known as the 
Avalon Plantation Annex, contains approximately 2,800 acres in Township 
1 South, Range 3 East, Sections 1,2,3,10,11,12, and Township 1 North, 
Range 3 East, Section 35, Jefferson County, Florida. This area is 
approximately 20 miles east of Tallahassee, Florida.
    Future activities of the Applicant could result in a return to the 
baseline condition of the property. However, the Applicant has stated 
that this is not anticipated, and, further, that the Applicant is not 
undertaking this SHA for the purpose of obtaining such regulatory 
assurances, although these assurances will be given if the ESP is 
issued. Instead, the Applicant hopes to demonstrate to landowners in 
the surrounding area, many of whom also manage their southern pine 
forest lands in a manner similar to that of the enrolled property, that 
SHAs are a landowner-friendly tool that can assist landowners in 
meeting land management objectives while also contributing to the 
conservation and recovery of the RCW. Experience with SHAs elsewhere 
has demonstrated the utility of getting one or more initial landowners 
to enroll in Safe Harbor programs in order to spur the interest of 
other landowners.
    A more detailed description of the proposed conservation benefits 
and potential effects of returning the enrolled property to baseline 
conditions is provided in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below.
    The SHA 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 issuance of the ESP will not result in significant 
environmental, economic, social, historical or cultural impacts and is, 
therefore, categorically excluded from review under the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA), pursuant to 516 
Departmental Manual 2, Appendix 1 and 516 Departmental Manual 6, 
Appendix 1. This notice is provided pursuant to section 10 of the Act 
and the Service's Safe Harbor Policy (Federal Register Vol. 64, No. 
116, June 17, 1999, pp. 32717-32726). The Service specifically requests 
information, views, and opinions from the public via this notice. 
Further, the Service is specifically soliciting information regarding 
the adequacy of the SHA as

[[Page 43897]]

measured against the Service's Safe Harbor Policy.

DATES: Written comments on the SHA and ESP application should be sent 
to the Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be received 
on or before September 20, 2001.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the SHA and ESP application 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, 1612 June Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32405. Written 
data or comments concerning the SHA or ESP application should be 
submitted to the Regional Office. Requests for the documentation must 
be in writing to be processed, and comments must be written to be 
considered in the Service's decision-making process. Please reference 
permit number TE039728-0 in comments or document requests.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Lee Andrews, Safe Harbor Program 
Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7217, facsimile: 
404/679-7081; or Mr. Stan Simpkins, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Panama 
City Field Office, Panama City, Florida, (see ADDRESSES above), 
telephone: 850/769-0552.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: RCWs are black and white with a ladder back 
and large white check patches. The common name is in reference to the 
several red feathers (known as a ``cockade'') located between the black 
crown and check patch on males that are briefly displayed when the male 
is excited. The cockade is a poor field mark because it is rarely seen, 
but does identify the sexes of adult birds in the hand. The RCW was 
once a common inhabitant of pine forests from southern Maryland south 
throughout Florida, west to eastern Texas and Oklahoma, and as far 
north as Missouri and Kentucky. Currently there are an estimated 12,500 
RCWs living in roughly 5,000 family groups across 12 states. This is 
less than 3 percent of estimated abundance at the time of European 
settlement. This decline was caused by an almost complete loss of 
habitat. Fire maintained old growth pine savannahs and woodlands that 
once dominated the southeast, on which RCWs depend, no longer exist 
except in a relative few disjunct areas. Longleaf pine ecosystems, of 
primary importance to the species, are now among the most endangered on 
earth. The RCW was federally listed in 1968 because of its rarity, 
documented declines in local populations, and reductions in available 
nesting habitat.
    The RCW is a territorial, non-migratory, cooperative breeding 
species. It is unique in that it is the only North American woodpecker 
that exclusively excavates its roost and nest cavities in living pines. 
Usually, the trees chosen for cavity excavation are infected with a 
heartwood-decaying fungus. The heartwood associated with this fungus, 
and typically required for cavity excavation, is not generally present 
in longleaf pine and loblolly pine until 90-100 and 75-90 years of age, 
respectively. Excavation of cavities in living pines is a difficult 
process that may take 10 months to several years to complete. Trees 
suitable for cavity excavation are scarce and cavity construction 
represents a significant investment of time and energy.
    RCWs live in social family groups. A group usually consists of a 
breeding pair, the current year's offspring, and 0-4 helpers, normally 
the male offspring of the breeding pair from previous years. A group 
usually contains from 1-5 birds, but never more than one breeding pair. 
Groups maintain year-round territories near their roost and nest trees. 
Juvenile females from the current year's breeding season normally 
disperse prior to the next breeding season to locate solitary male 
territories. Each RCW has its own cavity, although multiple cavities 
may exist in a cavity tree. The aggregate of cavity trees, surrounded 
by a 200 foot forested buffer, is called a cluster.
    RCWs forage almost exclusively on pine trees. Although in some 
habitat types they will use smaller pine trees as foraging substrate, 
they prefer pines greater than 10 inch diameter at breast height. 
Determining the number of pines required to provide the arthropod 
biomass needed to meet a RCW's year-round dietary requirements 
continues to be a challenging research problem.
    Many complex and interrelated factors undoubtedly contribute to the 
answer, including condition of the understory plant community, annual 
weather fluctuations, forest type, soils, physiographic province, 
season-of-year, and fire frequency and intensity. The number of acres 
required to supply adequate foraging habitat depends on the quantity 
and quality of pine tree stems available.
    The objective of management activities proposed by the Applicant is 
to create and maintain mature, open pine forest containing very little 
hardwood encroachment and a diverse herbaceous understory. This type of 
habitat is usually considered the preferred habitat of the RCW. 
Specific management actions would include:
    1. Regular prescribed burning under the direction of state-
certified burn managers to suppress hardwood growth and facilitate pine 
    2. Limited timber harvest accomplished through single-tree 
selection (rather than clear cutting or similar means) to retain most, 
if not all, of the structure and character of undisturbed forest and 
potentially maintain a healthy population of RCW;
    3. Protection of trees with the earliest potential to become cavity 
trees so as to hasten the establishment of breeding groups of RCWs on 
the property;
    4. Installation of artificial cavities in suitably sized trees to 
attract and hold dispersing RCWs from nearby areas;
    5. Translocation of juvenile RCWs to the enrolled property, if 
juveniles are available and if approved by the Service and permitted by 
the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in order to 
accelerate the use and occupancy of the property by RCWs. Loss of the 
conservation benefits proposed by the Applicant could occur with 
alterations of property's land use. However, since the Applicant has 
indicated that the proposed management activities will be carried out 
as long as the property remains in the Applicant's ownership, which is 
expected to be greater than the duration of the ESP, no take or return 
to baseline conditions is anticipated. During the term of the SHA, 
incidental take could occur as a result of a variety of activities, 
including, but not limited to, emergency silvicultural operations to 
stem pine beetle infestations, and accidents, including prescribed 
fires that consume cavity trees. Notwithstanding these potential 
negative effects, the Service proposes to enter into the SHA with the 
Applicant and proposes to issue the requested ESP to cover the 
incidental take of RCWs by the Applicant during the duration of the 
ESP. The Service has established the baseline conditions for the 
enrolled property as zero (0) RCWs, zero (0) RCW groups, and no 
occupied RCW habitat.
    The Service will also evaluate whether the issuance of the ESP 
complies with section 7 of the Act by conducting an intra-Service 
section 7 consultation. The results of the section 7 consultation, in 
combination with the above-referenced findings and any public comments, 
will be used in the final analysis to determine whether or not we will 
issue the requested ESP.

[[Page 43898]]

    Dated: August 9, 2001.
Sam D. Hamilton,
Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 01-21007 Filed 8-20-01; 8:45 am]