[Federal Register: September 7, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 172)]
[Page 53245-53247]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of an Environmental Assessment and Receipt of an 
Application for an Incidental Take Permit for Beach Driving and Related 
Activities in St. Johns County, FL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: St. Johns County (Applicant) is seeking an incidental take 
permit (ITP) from the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) pursuant to 
Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as 
amended. The Applicant anticipates that authorization of beach driving 
and related activities, over a requested permit term of 20 years, will 
result in the incidental taking of the endangered Anastasia Island 
beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus phasma), leatherback sea turtle 
(Dermochelys coriacea), green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Kemp's 
ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempi), and hawksbill sea turtle 
(Eretmochelys imbricata), as well as the threatened loggerhead sea 
turtle (Caretta caretta). The anticipated taking of these federally 
listed species is incidental to otherwise legal vehicle operation on 
the beaches of St. Johns County, pursuant to the Beach and Shore 
Preservation Act of 1998, section 161.36, Florida Statutes.
    A description of the mitigation and minimization measures outlined 
in the Applicant's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to address the 
effects of the beach access and beach access-related activities on 
federally listed species is described further in the SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION section below. The Service has made a preliminary 
determination that the issuance of the Permit 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 
Environmental Assessment (EA) and HCP. Copies of the HCP and EA may be 
obtained by making a request to the Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). 
Requests must be in writing to be processed. This Notice is provided 
pursuant to section 10 of the Endangered Species Act and NEPA 
regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

DATES: Written comments on the permit application, supporting 
documentation, EA and HCP should be sent to the Service's Regional 
Office (see ADDRESSES) and should be received on or before November 7, 

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the application, HCP, and EA may 
obtain a copy by writing the Service's Southeast Regional Office, 
Atlanta, Georgia. Please reference permit number TE091980-0 in such 
requests. 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, 
6620 Southpoint Drive South, Suite 310, Jacksonville, Florida 32216-

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7110; or Mr. 
Michael Jennings, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Jacksonville Field 
Office, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 904/232-2580, extension 113.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: If you wish to comment, you may submit 
comments by any one of several methods. Please reference permit number 
TE091980-0 in such comments. 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 of the telephone numbers listed below (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT). Finally, you may hand deliver comments to either 
of the Service offices listed above (see ADDRESSES). Our practice is to 
make comments, including names and home addresses of respondents, 
available for public review 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

[[Page 53246]]

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.
    Anastasia Island beach mice are restricted to 14 linear miles along 
the Atlantic Ocean coast of Anastasia Island, St. Johns County, 
Florida. They are found primarily at the southern (Fort Matanzas 
National Monument) and northern (Anastasia State Recreation Area) ends 
of the island, although low densities of beach mice probably remain 
along the entire length of the island where residential construction 
has reduced and fragmented coastal dunes. Physically, Anastasia Island 
beach mice are relatively large compared to other subspecies of beach 
mice. However, like most other subspecies, they prefer primary and 
secondary dune habitats composed of a variety of dune-colonizing 
vegetation. Beach mice typically live in burrows constructed in coastal 
sand dunes. They eat a variety of seeds, but appear to prefer sea oats 
(Uniola paniculata) and dune panic grass (Panicum amarum) along with 
small invertebrates.
    Three species of sea turtles nest on the beaches of St. Johns 
County. On average 268 loggerhead, eight green, and one leatherback sea 
turtles annually nest along St. Johns County's 42 miles of coastline. 
Neither hawksbill or Kemp's ridley turtles have been documented to nest 
in St. Johns County.
    While the mechanism remains largely unknown, nesting sea turtles 
return to their natal beaches when they are reproductively mature. Once 
a gravid female reaches her selected nesting beach, she hauls herself 
from the sea, crawls to an area above the mean high water line (in St. 
Johns County this is usually at the toe of the primary dune), excavates 
an egg chamber, deposits 80 to135 eggs (the number depends on the 
species), covers the egg chamber, and returns to the sea. This process 
typically takes about one and a half hours and, except for the Kemp's 
ridley, usually occurs at night. Loggerhead turtles nest from late 
April to mid September, green turtles from late May to mid September, 
and leatherback turtles from late February to July. Artificial lights, 
obstructions (e.g., groins, escarpments, beach furniture, and armoring 
structures), night-time human activity on nesting beaches, and 
predation are known or suspected to deter turtles from nesting.
    Sea turtle eggs incubate within the warm, moist egg chamber for 50 
to 75 days (depending on the species). Incubating eggs are vulnerable 
to crushing, drowning, or washout. Along St. Johns County's coastline, 
trampling by humans and vehicles can crush sea turtle nests. Sea turtle 
eggs can withstand occasional inundation associated with spring tides, 
but repeated or long-duration inundation typically associated with 
storm events can drown eggs. During storm events, sea turtle nests are 
often washed out. Nests deposited between an armoring structure and the 
sea are more vulnerable to washout.
    After hatching, young sea turtles dig upward to the beach surface 
and immediately crawl toward the sea. Hatchling emergence typically 
occurs at night. Factors affecting the survival of hatchling sea 
turtles include compaction of sand on top of the egg chamber, 
predation, and disorientation due to artificial lighting. Pedestrian 
traffic and heavy equipment use may cause compaction of sand and create 
an impenetrable substrate for hatchling turtles that ultimately results 
in their death. Following successful emergence at the beach surface, 
hatchlings are vulnerable to terrestrial and aerial predators. 
Raccoons, domestic cats, ghost crabs, and a variety of sea birds often 
take hatchling sea turtles. Because hatchling sea turtles orient to 
ambient light reflected by the sea surface, artificial light sources 
can interfere with the ability of hatchlings to correctly orient 
towards the sea. Often, disoriented hatchlings are attracted towards 
the source of the artificial light and away from the sea. Disoriented 
hatchlings typically die from dessication, predation, or exhaustion.
    The Applicant authorizes beach driving for a variety of purposes, 
all of which are otherwise legal activities. Local public safety and/or 
operations staff, law enforcement and emergency response vehicles may 
operate on about 41.1 linear miles of beach within St. Johns County, 
but the amount of vehicle traffic on county beaches resulting from 
these entities is relatively small compared with recreational traffic 
resulting from use by the general public. Vehicle traffic from the 
general public is limited to about 16.3 linear miles of beach.
    Authorized beach driving and beach driving-related activities may 
result in the incidental taking of the Anastasia Island beach mouse and 
the species of sea turtles described above. The Applicant anticipates 
harm or harassment of species covered by the HCP due to the following 
beach driving and beach driving related activities: (1) Public safety 
operations, such as those that are provided by lifeguards, emergency 
vehicles, and law enforcement vehicles; (2) public vehicular access; 
(3) routine beach maintenance and sanitation; (4) access ramp 
maintenance; (5) actions necessary to implement the terms and 
conditions of the ITP; (6) planned coastal construction projects 
properly permitted by local, State, and/or Federal regulatory agencies, 
such as seawall repairs, beach nourishment, dune restoration, and 
removal of windblown sand, where no reasonable upland alternative 
exists; (7) scientific monitoring and studies not covered under the 
original ITP; (8) emergency shoreline protection projects properly 
permitted by local, State, and/or Federal regulatory agencies; and (9) 
non-routine beach maintenance and sanitation, such as removal of 
hazardous materials, removal of storm-generated debris and/or obstacles 
that pose a public health or safety risk and other atypical 
circumstances requiring beach access (e.g., boat groundings, downed 
aircraft, etc.).
    To minimize and mitigate the anticipated incidental take of species 
covered by the HCP, the Applicant proposes to implement a number of 
protective measures that will spatially and temporally reduce 
interactions between vehicles and sea turtles and their nests. The 
following actions are proposed by the Applicant: (1) Limit most public 
vehicle access to the beach from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily from May 
1 through October 31; (2) develop and implement a rut removal program; 
(3) develop and implement a public awareness program; (4) elevate trash 
receptacles; (5) expand existing no-driving conservation zones; (6) 
reduce public access along portions of the beach; (7) develop and 
implement a consistent county-wide beach lighting management program; 
(8) develop and implement a beach horseback riding registration and 
education program; (9) undertake dune restoration programs; (10) 
monitor and mark sea turtle nests within the area covered by the HCP; 
and (11) increase local law enforcement staff to enforce existing 
ordinances and the terms of the incidental take permit.
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that issuance of 
the requested 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.

[[Page 53247]]

This preliminary information may be revised due to public comment 
received in response to this notice and is based on information 
contained in the EA and HCP.
    The Service will evaluate the HCP and comments submitted thereon to 
determine whether the application meets the issuance criteria 
requirements of section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act. By conducting an intra-
Service section 7 consultation the Service will also evaluate whether 
issuance of the section 10(a)(1)(B) ITP would comply with section 7 of 
the Act. The results of this consultation, in combination with the 
above findings, will be used in the final analysis to determine whether 
or not to issue the ITP for the five species of sea turtle and the 
Anastasia Island beach mouse.

    Dated: August 6, 2005.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director, Southeast Region.
[FR Doc. 05-17677 Filed 9-6-05; 8:45 am]