[Federal Register: October 13, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 197)]
[Page 59766-59768]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Receipt of an Application for an Incidental Take Permit for Sand 
Skinks and Bluetail Mole Skinks Resulting From the Proposed 
Construction of a Planned Unit Development in Polk County, FL

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: Oakmont Grove Venture, L.L.C. (Applicant) requests an 
incidental take permit (ITP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.). The requested term of the ITP is nine years. The Applicant 
anticipates take of the threatened sand skink (Neoseps reynoldsi) and 
bluetail mole skink (Eumeces egregius lividus) incidental to the 
development of approximately 18.59 acres of sand skink habitat and the 
restoration, enhancement, and management of 71.14 acres of sand skink 
habitat on-site associated with the construction of a planned unit 
development (project). Bluetail mole skinks have not been observed on 
the Oakmont project site, but they are known to share habitats occupied 
by sand skinks. Therefore, incidental take of the bluetail mole skink 
could occur in the same areas that are occupied by the sand skink. The 
proposed project would occur in Sections 3, 9, 10, and 15, Township 26 
South, Range 27 East, Polk County, Florida.
    The Applicant's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) describes the 
mitigation and minimization measures proposed to address the effects of 
the project on the sand skink and bluetail mole skink. These measures 
are also outlined in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section below. We 
announce the availability of the ITP application, HCP, and 
Environmental Assessment (EA). Copies of the application, HCP, and EA 
may be obtained by making a request to the Southeast Regional Office 
(see ADDRESSES). Requests must be in writing to be processed. This 
notice is provided pursuant to section 10 of the Act and National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

DATES: Written comments on the ITP application, EA, and HCP should be 
sent to the Service's Southeast Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and 
should be received on or before December 12, 2005.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the ITP application, EA, and HCP 

[[Page 59767]]

obtain a copy by writing the Service's Southeast Regional Office, at 
the address below. Please reference permit application number TE098035-
0 in such requests. Documents will also be available for public 
inspection by appointment during normal business hours either at the 
Southeast Regional Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century 
Boulevard, Suite 200, Atlanta, Georgia 30345 (Attn: Endangered Species 
Permits), or at the South Florida Ecological Services Office, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, Florida 32960-3559 
(Attn: Field Supervisor).

Coordinator, Southeast Regional Office (see ADDRESSES above), at 404-
679-7313, facsimile: 404-679-7081; or Mr. Spencer Simon, Fish and 
Wildlife Biologist, South Florida Ecological Services Office (see 
ADDRESSES above), at 772-562-3909, extension 345.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: If you wish to comment, you may submit 
comments by any one of several methods. Please reference permit 
application number TE098035-0 in such comments. You may mail comments 
to the Service's Southeast 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 e-mail message. If you do not receive a 
confirmation from the Service that we have received your e-mail 
message, contact us directly at either telephone number listed above 
(see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Finally, you may hand-deliver 
comments to either Service office 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 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 
    The sand skink is endemic to the sandy ridges of central Florida, 
occurring in Highlands, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Polk, and Putnam 
counties. Principal populations occur on the Lake Wales and Winter 
Haven Ridges in Highlands, Lake, and Polk counties. The sand skink is 
widespread in xeric uplands with sandy substrates, but appears to be 
most abundant in ecotonal areas, typically between high pine and scrub. 
These areas are exposed to frequent lightning strikes which resulted in 
the evolution of plant and animal species that became dependent on 
frequent fires to persist. Due to the effects of urbanization and 
agricultural development, historic skink habitat has been reduced in 
size and has become fragmented. As a consequence of habitat 
fragmentation, much of the remaining habitat for skinks is poor quality 
due to the lack of periodic fires; fire exclusion has been practiced 
since settlement of the area.
    Except for a few locations where intensive research has been 
conducted, there is very little information about the presence or 
abundance of sand skinks, as well as the status and trends of this 
species in South Florida. Current research indicates that densities of 
sand skinks per acre range from 371 to 419 in habitats consisting of 
sand live oak with open groundcover, from 145 to 194 in habitats 
consisting of improved pasture with a mosaic of open sandy patches, and 
81 in habitats consisting of sand live oak with moderate ground cover.
    Sand skink occupation of all suitable habitats within the project 
site was determined by observation of sign (tracks and disturbance of 
the sand surface) during site evaluations conducted in April 2003. 
Unsuitable areas were also surveyed for sign, and were considered 
habitat for minimization and mitigation purposes if sign was observed. 
Based upon estimates of sand skink densities in various habitats as 
described in scientific literature, the theoretical sand skink 
population on the Oakmont project site is between 17,615 and 20,507 
skinks. The theoretical population loss due to direct impacts of the 
Oakmont project would be between 2,756 and 3,141 skinks.
    The bluetail mole skink occupies xeric upland habitats of the 
Central Ridge in peninsular Florida. It requires open, sandy patches 
interspersed with scrub vegetation. Much of the bluetail mole skink's 
habitat has been destroyed or degraded due to residential, commercial, 
and agricultural development. Very little information is known about 
the dispersal, population densities, and life history characteristics 
of bluetail mole skinks.
    Bluetail mole skinks have not been observed on the Oakmont project 
site, but they are known to share habitats occupied by sand skinks. 
Therefore, it is considered likely that the proposed development, 
restoration, and management activities could result in incidental take 
of the bluetail mole skink. Since the proposed preservation, 
restoration, and management plan for the scrub communities on the 
Oakmont project site supports the recovery goals established by the 
Service for the bluetail mole skink, the project would be anticipated 
to maintain or improve available suitable habitat for this species on-
    The project site is bounded on the north by County Road 54 and on 
the south by Bowen Road, and is west of State Road 547 in Polk County. 
The scrub habitat present on the Oakmont project site consists of 
small, remnants of scrub habitat that have been isolated and fragmented 
by adjacent development and agricultural uses of the site, larger 
tracts of relatively undisturbed and unmanaged habitat (some of which 
have transitioned into closed canopied systems), as well as areas that 
have been incorporated into improved pasture areas for cattle grazing.
    Land clearing in preparation for a planned unit development would 
destroy scrub habitat and would likely result in take of sand skinks 
and bluetail mole skinks, incidental to the carrying out of these 
otherwise lawful activities. Habitat alteration associated with the 
proposed planned unit development would reduce the availability of 
feeding, breeding, and sheltering habitat for these species.
    The Applicant's HCP describe the following minimization and 
mitigation strategy that would be employed by the Applicant to offset 
the impacts of the project to the sand skink and bluetail mole skink:
    (1) The Applicant would enhance and manage 32.50 acres of occupied 
oak scrub sand skink habitat.
    (2) The Applicant would restore and manage 38.64 acres of occupied, 
low quality sand skink habitat.
    (3) The Applicant would monitor the project site for five years to 
evaluate both the vegetative composition and structure, and the 
presence of sand skinks within the preserved and restored scrub 
    The EA considers the environmental consequences of the no action

[[Page 59768]]

alternative (not to issue the ITP) and two action alternatives that 
would require issuance of an ITP. The no action alternative would 
ultimately result in loss of sand skink and bluetail mole skink habitat 
within the project vicinity due to habitat degradation. The no action 
alternative could also expose the Applicant to violations under section 
9 of the Act.
    An action alternative considered in the EA would be the issuance of 
the ITP for the development as approved by local government 
authorities, with off-site mitigation for project impacts to occupied 
sand skink habitat. Under this alternative, the acquisition of up to 
201.0 acres of suitable skink habitat would be required. This 
alternative would also result in the loss of 89.7 acres of occupied 
sand skink habitat at the development site.
    The second action alternative (proposed project) would be issuance 
of the ITP according to the HCP as submitted and described above. This 
alternative, which includes a modification of the Applicant's currently 
approved development plan, would affect about 18.59 acres of occupied 
sand skink habitat in Polk County, Florida. The mitigation measures for 
the proposed action alternative include enhancement and management of 
32.50 acres of suitable habitat, and restoration and management of 
38.64 acres of low quality habitat in Polk County, Florida.
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that the issuance 
of the 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. 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 requirements of section 
10(a)(1)(B) of the Act. If it is determined that those requirements are 
met, the ITP will be issued for incidental take of the sand skink and 
bluetail mole skink. The Service will also evaluate whether issuance of 
the section 10(a)(1)(B) ITP complies with section 7 of the Act by 
conducting an intra-Service section 7 consultation. The results of the 
biological opinion, in combination with the above findings, will be 
used in the final analysis to determine whether or not to issue the 

    Dated: September 27, 2005.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 05-20498 Filed 10-12-05; 8:45 am]