[Federal Register: July 6, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 128)]
[Page 38977-38978]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 38977]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Environmental Assessment and Receipt of an Application for a 
Permit To Enhance the Survival of the Gunnison Sage-Grouse in 
Southwestern Colorado Through a Candidate Conservation Agreement With 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.


SUMMARY: Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) has applied to the Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service) for an Enhancement of Survival Permit 
for the Gunnison Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus minimus) pursuant to section 
10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA). 
The permit application includes a proposed Candidate Conservation 
Agreement with Assurances (Agreement) between the CDOW and the Service. 
The Agreement, the permit application, and the Environmental Assessment 
are available for public comment.
    The purpose of the Agreement is for the CDOW and the Service to 
implement conservation measures for the Gunnison sage-grouse in 15 
counties in southwestern Colorado. The effort is in support of the 
CDOW's ongoing efforts to enhance the abundance and distribution of the 
Gunnison sage-grouse throughout its historic range in Colorado. The 
conservation measures would be implemented by the CDOW and by 
participating landowners. The selected conservation measures would 
primarily come from the Gunnison Sage-Grouse Rangewide Conservation 
Plan, which was completed in April 2005 by numerous cooperating 
agencies and nongovernmental organizations. Consistent with the 
Service's Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances Final Policy 
(64 FR 32726, June 17,1999), the Agreement is intended to facilitate 
the conservation of Gunnison sage-grouse by giving the State of 
Colorado and cooperating private landowners incentives to implement 
conservation measures. Participating Landowners would receive 
regulatory certainty concerning land use restrictions that might 
otherwise apply should the Gunnison sage-grouse become listed under the 
ESA. Participating Landowners with eligible property in southwestern 
Colorado could sign up under the Agreement and the associated permit 
through a Certificate of Inclusion. The proposed term of the Agreement 
and the permit is 20 years. The Service has prepared an Environmental 
Assessment for approval of the Agreement and issuance of the permit.
    The environmental assessment considers the biological, 
environmental, and socioeconomic effects of the proposed Agreement and 
permit. The assessment also evaluates two alternatives to the Agreement 
and permit, and their potential impacts on the environment.
    We request comments from the public on the permit application, 
Agreement, and Environmental Assessment. All comments we receive, 
including names and addresses, will become part of the administrative 
record and may be released to the public.

DATES: Written comments on the permit application must be received on 
or before September 6, 2005.

ADDRESSES: Written data or comments concerning the permit application, 
the Agreement, or the Environmental Assessment should be submitted to 
Allan R. Pfister, Western Colorado Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 764 Horizon Drive, Building B, Grand Junction, 
Colorado 81506-3946. Written comments also may be provided 
electronically to al_pfister@fws.gov, or by facsimile to 970-245-6933. 
Comments must be submitted in writing to be adequately considered in 
the Service's decision-making process.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Allan R. Pfister or Terry Ireland at 
the above address, or telephone 970-243-2778


Document Availability

    Persons wishing to review the permit application, Agreement, and 
the Environmental Assessment may obtain a copy by writing the Service's 
Grand Junction Ecological Services office at the above address, or 
contacting the above office by telephone, electronic mail, or 
facsimile. You also may make an appointment to view the documents at 
the above address during normal business hours. The documents also are 
available electronically on the World Wide Web at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/species/birds/gunnisonsagegrouse/


    Under a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, 
participating landowners voluntarily implement conservation activities 
on their properties to benefit species that are proposed for listing 
under the ESA, candidates species, or other sensitive species. 
Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances encourage private and 
other non-Federal property owners to implement conservation efforts and 
reduce threats to unlisted species by assuring them they will not be 
subjected to increased property-use restrictions if the species is 
listed in the future under the ESA. Application requirements and 
issuance criteria for enhancement of survival permits through Candidate 
Conservation Agreements with Assurances are found in 50 CFR 17.22(d) 
and 17.32(d).
    On March 15, 2000, the Service found that listing the Gunnison 
sage-grouse under the ESA may be warranted, and initiated a review of 
the species' status. The Gunnison sage-grouse currently occupies about 
8.5 percent of its historic range in southwestern Colorado and 
southeastern Utah. The species now persists in seven fragmented 
populations in Colorado and one population in Utah. The largest 
remaining population is located in Gunnison County, Colorado, which is 
currently estimated at 2,443 individuals (about 76 percent of the 
entire population). The total population in Colorado is currently 
estimated at 3,046 individuals. With the additional 152 individuals in 
Utah, the best information currently available suggests a total 
population of 3,198 individuals.
    The 2005 Gunnison Sage-Grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan and the 
Service's 2004 Candidate Notice of Review have identified threats that 
contribute to the current and future status of the species. These 
include--habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation; disease (e.g., 
West Nile virus); predation; lack of existing regulatory protection; 
drought; disturbance to adults; juveniles (e.g., off-highway-vehicles, 
construction projects, dogs, noise); low genetic diversity; and 
competition for habitat from other species. The 2005 Gunnison Sage-
Grouse Rangewide Conservation Plan also estimates that about 46 percent 
of the currently occupied habitat in Colorado and Utah is in non-
Federal ownership. The CDOW and Service do not believe a viable 
population of Gunnison sage-grouse can be assured in the long term by 
implementing conservation efforts on Federal lands only. The fact that 
nearly one-half of the currently occupied habitat is privately owned, 
combined with the low potential for the long-term species viability on 
Federal lands alone, emphasizes the need to encourage and actively 
promote conservation efforts by private landowners.
    Consequently, the CDOW has developed an Agreement for the

[[Page 38978]]

Gunnison sage-grouse in cooperation with the Service, and has applied 
to the Service for a permit under section 10(a) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.), which would authorize future incidental take of the 
Gunnison sage-grouse by the CDOW and cooperating landowners. The CDOW 
and the Service believe approval of the Agreement is necessary to 
promote implementation of conservation measures on non-Federal lands. 
The CDOW and the Service believe implementation of the Agreement will 
make a significant contribution to the long-term viability of the 
species, which may help defend that Federal listing is not warranted. 
Without the Agreement, the CDOW and the Service are concerned that the 
population of the Gunnison sage-grouse in Colorado may continue to 
decline. Further decline of the species could trigger listing under the 
ESA, which could provide a disincentive to private landowners for 
conservation of the species on private lands. The lack of conservation 
efforts on private lands could reduce the potential for successfully 
achieving long-term viability for the species.
    Under the Agreement and permit, Participating Landowners would 
provide certain Gunnison sage-grouse habitat protection of enhancement 
measures on their lands. These measures would be primarily those 
identified in the 2005 Gunnison sage-grouse Rangewide Conservation 
Plan, but additional conservation practices could be determined 
throughout the 20-year period of the Agreement. Protection and 
enhancement measures will be directed towards Gunnison sage-grouse lek, 
nest, roost, and/or winter habitat. If the Gunnison sage-grouse is 
listed under the ESA, and after a Participating Landowner has provided 
the agreed-upon habitat conditions for the specified period of time, 
the permit would authorize incidental take of Gunnison sage-grouse as a 
result of the non-Federal landowner's agricultural or industrial 
related activities (e.g., crop cultivation, crop harvesting livestock 
grazing, farm equipment operation, commercial/residential development).
    We are providing this notice pursuant to section 10(c) of the ESA 
and implementing regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act 
(40 CFR 1506.6). We will evaluate the permit application, associated 
documents, and comments submitted thereon to determine whether the 
permit application meets the requirements of section 10(a) of the ESA 
and National Environmental Policy Act regulations. The Service also 
will evaluate whether the issuance of the Agreement complies with 
section 7 of the ESA by conducting an intra-Service section 7 
consultation on the issuance of the permit. If we determine that all 
requirements are met, we will sign the Agreement and issue an 
enhancement of survival permit under section 10(a)(1)(A) of ESA to the 
CDOW for take of Gunnison sage-grouse incidental to otherwise lawful 
activities in accordance with the terms of the Agreement. We will not 
make our final decision until after the end of the 60-day comment 
period and we will fully consider all comments received during the 
comment period.

    Authority: The authority for this action is the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1521 et seq.) and the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 
4321 et seq.).

    Dated: June 10, 2005.
Ralph O. Morgenweck,
Regional Director, Denver Colorado.
[FR Doc. 05-13247 Filed 7-5-05; 8:45 am]