[Federal Register: October 9, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 196)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Page 58298-58299]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 402

[ID 092603B]
RIN 1018-AJ02; RIN 0648-AR05

National Marine Fisheries Service; Joint Counterpart Endangered
Species Act Section 7 Consultation Regulations

AGENCIES: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior; Bureau of Land
Management, Interior; National Park Service, Interior; Bureau of Indian
Affairs, Interior; Forest Service, Agriculture; National Marine
Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

ACTION: Proposed rule; reopening of comment period and notice of
availability of Environmental Assessment.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine
Fisheries Service, (Services) announce the reopening of the comment
period for the proposed joint counterpart regulations and the
availability of the Environmental Assessment for the Healthy Forests
Initiative Counterpart Regulations. The Services are evaluating the
environmental effects of establishing counterpart regulations pursuant
to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) (ESA). These counterpart regulations are being
proposed in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest
Service (FS) and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian
Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and National Park
Service (NPS) (jointly, Action Agencies). The proposal supports the
President's Healthy Forests initiative and is intended to streamline
ESA section 7 consultations on proposed projects that support the
National Fire Plan (NFP).
We are reopening the comment period to allow all interested parties
to comment simultaneously on the proposed rule and the associated
Environmental Assessment. Comments previously submitted on the proposed
rule that was published in the Federal Register on June 5, 2003 (68 FR
33805), need not be resubmitted as they will be incorporated into the
public record as part of this reopened comment period and will be fully
considered in the final rule.

DATES: Comments on this environmental assessment or the associated
proposed rule must be received by November 10, 2003 to be considered in
the final decision.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of this Environmental Assessment or the
associated proposed rule may be obtained from the USFWS World Wide Web
Consultation Home Page at: http://endangered.fws.gov/consultations/forestplan.html.
Written copies of this Environmental Assessment or the
associated proposed rule may be obtained from the Chief of the Division
of Consultation, Habitat Conservation Planning, Recovery, and State
Grants, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax
Drive, Room 420, Arlington, Virginia 22203, or the Chief of the
Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected Resources, National
Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring,
Maryland 20910.
Comments or materials concerning the Environmental Assessment or
the associated proposed rule should be sent to the Chief, Division of
Consultation, Habitat Conservation Planning, Recovery and State Grants,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 420,
Arlington, Virginia 22203. Comments can also be accepted if submitted via e-mail to healthyforests@fws.gov. Comments and materials received
in conjunction with this rulemaking will be available for inspection,
by appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Patrick Leonard, Chief, Division of
Consultation, Habitat Conservation Planning, Recovery and State Grants,
at the above address (Telephone 703/358-2171, Facsimile 703/358-1735)
or Phil Williams, Chief, Endangered Species Division, NMFS, 1315 East-
West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 (301/713-1401; facsimile 301/713-



In response to several years of catastrophic wildland fires
throughout the United States culminating in the particularly severe
fire season of 2000, when over 6.5 million acres of wildland areas
burned, President Clinton directed the Departments of the Interior and
Agriculture to develop a report outlining a new approach to managing
wildland fires and restoring fire-adapted ecosystems. The report,
entitled Managing the Impact of Wildfires on Communities and the
Environment, was issued September 8, 2000. This report set forth ways
to reduce the impacts of fires on rural communities, a short-term plan
for rehabilitation of fire-damaged ecosystems, and ways to limit the
introduction of invasive species and address natural restoration
processes. The report, and the accompanying budget requests,
strategies, plans, and direction, have become known as the NFP. The NFP
is intended to reduce risk to communities and natural resources from
wildland fires through rehabilitation, restoration and maintenance of
fire-adapted ecosystems, and by the reduction of accumulated fuels or
highly combustible fuels on forests, woodlands, grasslands, and
In August 2002, during another severe wildland fire season in which
over 7.1 million acres of wildlands burned, President Bush announced
the Healthy Forests Initiative. The initiative was intended to
accelerate implementation of the fuels reduction and ecosystem
restoration goals of the NFP in order to minimize the damage caused by
catastrophic wildfires by reducing unnecessary regulatory obstacles

[[Page 58299]]

have at times delayed and frustrated active land management activities.
As part of the initiative, the agencies were tasked with streamlining
the section 7 consultation process for projects implementing the NFP.
The Action Agencies published a proposed rule to establish Joint
Counterpart Endangered Species Act section 7 regulations on June 5,
2003 (68 FR 33805). The proposed counterpart regulations, authorized in
general at 50 CFR 402.04, will provide an optional alternative to the
existing section 7 consultation process described in 50 CFR part 402,
subparts A and B. The counterpart regulations complement the general
consultation regulations in part 402 by providing an alternative
process for completing section 7 consultation for agency projects that
authorize, fund, or carry out actions that support the NFP.
In the Environmental Assessment, we considered three alternatives
that would streamline the consultation process. The Memorandum of
Understanding/Programmatic consultation alternative was eliminated from
further consideration. The no action alternative would keep the current
section 7 consultation process in place. The preferred alternative is
to finalize the proposed counterpart regulation. The proposed action is
to establish an alternative consultation process that would eliminate
the need to conduct informal consultation and eliminate the requirement
to obtain written concurrence from the applicable Service for those NFP
actions that the Action Agency determines are ``not likely to adversely
affect'' (NLAA) any listed species or designated critical habitat.

Authority: The authority for this action is the Endangered
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

Dated: October 3, 2003.
Julie MacDonald,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
Dated: October 3, 2003.
William T. Hogarth,
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries
[FR Doc. 03-25621 Filed 10-8-03; 8:45 am]