[Federal Register: February 11, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 28)]
[Page 6683-6685]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Environmental Assessment Regarding Proposed Issuance of an 
Incidental Take Permit to the Burlington Northern and Sante Fe Railway 
Company on Lands in the Middle Fork Flathead River Corridor

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Assessment; notice 
of public scoping meetings.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 
1969, as amended, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) intends to 
prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA). The EA will address the 
proposed issuance of a Permit to allow take of grizzly bears incidental 
to rail operations between Browning (milepost 1123.9) and Conkelley 
(milepost 1208.7), Montana.
    The proposed Permit will authorize take of grizzly bear, a 
federally listed threatened species, in accordance with the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended, and other species of concern should 
they become listed in the future.
    The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) is 
preparing a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) as part of an application 
for the Permit. The HCP will address the effects to grizzly bears of 
BNSF's railroad operations on approximately 137 kilometers (85 miles) 
of railroad right-of-way. The Service is furnishing this Notice to 
advise other agencies and the public of our intentions and to announce 
the initiation of a 45-day scoping period during which other agencies 
and the public are invited to provide written comments on the scope of 
the issues and potential alternatives to be included in the EA.
    Pursuant to the NEPA, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., and its implementing 
regulations, 40 CFR 1500.0, et seq., BNSF and the Service jointly 
announce their intent to prepare an EA for the proposed action of 
reviewing and approving the proposed HCP and issuing an incidental take 
permit. The BNSF and the Service also jointly announce their intent to 
hold scoping meetings, the date, time, and place of which are provided 
in this notice below. This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(c) 
of the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq., and NEPA 
implementing regulations, 40 CFR 1506.6.

DATES: Scoping will commence as of February 11, 2004. Written comments 
on the scope of the proposed action, the approval of a HCP and the 
concomitant issuance of the Permit should be received on or before 
March 29, 2004. Three scoping meetings will be held, on the following 
dates--February 10, 11, and 12, 2004. Each meeting will run from 4 p.m. 
until 8 p.m. The BNSF and the Service will use an open-house format for 
the meetings, allowing interested members of the public to attend at 
any point during the meetings to gather information and/or provide 

ADDRESSES: Meeting locations are scheduled as follows--February 10, 
2004, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 490 N. Meridian Road, 
Kalispell, Montana; February 11, 2004, Middlefork Quick Response 
Building, Highway 2, Essex, Montana; February 12, 2004, Blackfeet 
Tribal Complex, Government Square, Tribal Conference Room, Browning, 
Montana. Written comments

[[Page 6684]]

regarding the proposed action and the proposed EA should be addressed 
to Tim Bodurtha, Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 780 
Creston Hatchery Road, Kalispell, Montana 59901.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tim Bodurtha, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 780 Creston Hatchery Road, Kalispell, Montana 59901, (406) 
758-6882, facsimile (406) 758-6877, e-mail FW6--BNSF--
ScopingHCP@fws.gov, or Michael Perrodin, BNSF Environmental Operations 
Manager, 235 Main Street, Havre, Montana 59501, (406) 265-0483, 
facsimile (406) 265-0356.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Endangered Species Act and its 
implementing regulations prohibit the taking of threatened and 
endangered species. The term ``take'' is defined under the Endangered 
Species Act to mean to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, 
trap, capture, collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. 
Harm is defined by the Service to include significant habitat 
modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures fish or 
wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, 
including breeding, feeding, sheltering, spawning, rearing, and 
    The Service, under certain circumstances, may issue permits to take 
listed animal species if such taking is incidental to, and not the 
purpose of, otherwise lawful activities. Regulations governing permits 
for threatened or endangered species are found at 50 CFR 17.22 and 50 
CFR 17.32.


    The railroad, which traverses the Middle Fork Flathead River 
corridor, is a portion of the original Great Northern Railway that 
began operations in 1878. The mainline, from Minneapolis to Seattle, 
was completed in 1893. Through subsequent mergers, the Great Northern 
became part of the Burlington Northern Railroad and eventually part of 
the BNSF. Today, BNSF operates a modern railroad through the corridor. 
The track is continuous welded rail, traffic is centrally controlled, 
and operations are computerized. Current rail traffic through the 
corridor is about 30 freight trains and 2 passenger trains (operated by 
Amtrak) per day. Depending on market conditions, daily traffic may be 
as high as 50 freight trains.
    The grizzly bear was listed as a threatened species, pursuant to 
the Endangered Species Act, in 1975. The original Grizzly Bear Recovery 
Plan was approved in 1982, and a revised plan was approved in 1993. The 
Middle Fork Flathead River corridor lies within the Northern 
Continental Divide Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone. Among other objectives, 
the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan includes objectives to reduce accidental 
deaths of bears and minimize activities that result in attraction of 
bears to sites of conflict.
    Railroad operation is one cause of accidental grizzly bear deaths 
in the Middle Fork Flathead River corridor. Mortalities have occurred 
because the railroad right-of-way crosses several natural bear movement 
corridors. Section 10(a)(2)(B) of the Endangered Species Act contains 
provisions for the issuance of incidental take permits to non-Federal 
landowners for the take of endangered and threatened species, provided 
the take is incidental to otherwise lawful activities and will not 
appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the 
species in the wild. An applicant for a Permit under section 10 of the 
Endangered Species Act must prepare and submit to the Service for 
approval, a Conservation Plan (commonly known as HCP) containing a 
strategy for minimizing and mitigating the impacts of the take on 
listed species associated with the proposed activities to the maximum 
extent practicable. The applicant also must ensure that adequate 
funding for the Conservation Plan will be provided.
    The BNSF initiated discussions with the Service regarding the 
development of a HCP and obtaining a Permit. During this process, BNSF 
intends to employ the Service's technical assistance and assistance of 
local wildlife biologists.
    The BNSF proposes to develop the HCP to achieve conservation of the 
grizzly bear by minimizing the potential for grizzly bear-train 
collisions and mitigating for the consequences of unavoidable grizzly 
bear-train collisions.
    As currently envisioned, the HCP would involve a multi-year Permit 
covering approximately 137 kilometers (85 miles) of railroad right-of-
way through the Middle Fork Flathead River Corridor, from Conkelley 
east to Browning, Montana. The BNSF is currently considering a term of 
25 years. The Service specifically requests comment on the term of a 
    In 1991, the BNSF entered into an agreement with the State and 
Federal agencies that have relevant jurisdiction in the Middle Fork 
Flathead River Corridor to form the Great Northern Environmental 
Stewardship Area (GNESA). The GNESA fosters a positive working 
relationship among industry, government, and conservation interests. 
The cooperators recognize that the Middle Fork Flathead River corridor 
is an area with unique natural values. They also recognize that 
commerce has an important place in the area. Accordingly, they seek to 
promote proper stewardship so that these two aspects are compatible. In 
addition to BNSF, the GNESA cooperators include the Flathead National 
Forest; Lewis and Clark National Forest; Glacier National Park; U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service; Blackfeet Indian Nation; Montana Fish, 
Wildlife and Parks; Montana Department of Natural Resources and 
Conservation; Montana Department of Transportation; Flathead County; 
Glacier County; the Great Bear Foundation; the Flathead Land Trust; The 
Nature Conservancy; and, two citizen members.
    The BNSF has indicated that the HCP will emphasize conservation of 
grizzly bears. The BNSF also has indicated that they will develop and 
implement the HCP in close cooperation with GNESA and its member 
agencies. This approach will ensure that the HCP is well coordinated 
with other conservation programs that are currently in place in the 
Middle Fork Flathead River Corridor.
    For the proposed HCP, the BNSF will develop specific conservation 
measures to be implemented within the framework of existing railroad 
operations and/or in cooperation with conservation programs for which 
another GNESA member agency has primary responsibility.
    In cooperation with GNESA, the BNSF has implemented an operating 
protocol that includes several railroad operation and maintenance 
procedures intended to minimize train-bear incidents and ensure a rapid 
response and removal of attractants from the railroad right-of-way. In 
addition to the protocol, the GNESA agreement includes the provision 
for developing a $1 million conservation trust fund for the purpose of 
assisting the GNESA cooperators to implement a variety of grizzly bear 
conservation activities in the Middle Fork Flathead River corridor. The 
BNSF anticipates that the HCP will update and build upon this existing 
    As currently envisioned, the HCP will incorporate active adaptive 
management features, with an emphasis on documenting all human-caused 
grizzly bear mortality in the corridor, evaluating factors that 
contribute to each mortality, and evaluating methods to reduce the 
potential for human-caused mortality. Applied research and monitoring 
will help determine the effectiveness of the HCP, validate models used 
to develop the HCP, and

[[Page 6685]]

provide the basic information used to implement ``mid-course 
corrections'' if necessary.
    The Service will conduct an Environmental Review of the proposed 
HCP and prepare an EA. The Environmental Review will analyze the 
proposal as well as a full range of reasonable alternatives and the 
associated impacts of each. The Service and BNSF are currently in the 
process of developing alternatives for analysis. The scoping process 
will be used to identify reasonable alternatives in addition to the No 
Action alternative.
    The Environmental Review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), 
Council of Environmental Quality regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508), 
other appropriate Federal laws and regulations, and policies and 
procedures of the Service for compliance with all of the above-
mentioned regulations. It is estimated that the draft EA will be 
available for public review during the third quarter of calendar year 
    Comments and suggestions are invited from all interested parties to 
ensure that all significant issues are identified and the full range of 
issues related to the proposed action are addressed. Comments or 
questions concerning this proposed action and the Environmental Review 
should be directed to the Service (see ADDRESSES).

    Dated: January 27, 2004.
John A. Blankenship,
Deputy Regional Director, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 04-2952 Filed 2-10-04; 8:45 am]