[Federal Register: November 23, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 225)]
[Page 70877-70878]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 70877]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Environmental Assessment and Receipt of an Application for a 
Permit To Enhance the Survival of the Fluvial Arctic Grayling in the 
Upper Big Hole River in Southwestern Montana Through an Umbrella 
Candidate Conservation Agreement With Assurances

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.


SUMMARY: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has applied to the Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service) for an Enhancement of Survival Permit 
for the fluvial Arctic grayling (Thymallus arcticus) pursuant to 
section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended 
(ESA). The permit application includes a proposed Umbrella Candidate 
Conservation Agreement with Assurances (Agreement) between the FWP and 
the Service. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and 
Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) also 
are signatories for the proposed Agreement. The Agreement, the permit 
application, and the Environmental Assessment are made available for 
public comment by this notice.
    The purpose of the Agreement is for private landowners and the FWP, 
NRCS, DNRC, and the Service to implement conservation measures for the 
fluvial Arctic grayling in the upper Big Hole River in southwestern 
Montana. The effort is in support of the FWP's ongoing efforts to 
enhance the abundance and distribution of the fluvial Arctic grayling 
throughout its historic range in the upper Missouri River basin. The 
conservation measures would be implemented by FWP, NRCS, DNRC, the 
Service, and by participating landowners. A technical working group 
comprised of FWP, NRCS, DNRC, and the Service developed the 
conservation measures for the proposed Agreement. Consistent with the 
Service's Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances Final Policy 
(CCAA Policy) (64 FR 32726, June 17, 1999), the Agreement is intended 
to facilitate the conservation of fluvial Arctic grayling by giving the 
State of Montana and cooperating private landowners incentives to 
implement conservation measures. Participating Landowners would receive 
regulatory certainty concerning land and water use restrictions that 
might otherwise apply should the fluvial Arctic grayling become listed 
under the ESA. Participating Landowners with eligible property in the 
upper Big Hole River watershed in southwestern Montana could sign up 
under the Agreement and the associated permit through site-specific 
plans for their property and a Certificate of Inclusion. The proposed 
term of the Agreement and the permit is 20 years.
    The Service and FWP have prepared a joint Environmental Assessment 
for execution of the Agreement and issuance of the permit pursuant to 
the National Environmental Policy Act (for the Service) and 
implementation of the Agreement pursuant to the Montana Environmental 
Policy Act (for FWP). 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 
    We request comments from the public on the permit application, 
draft Agreement, and draft 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 January 23, 2006.

ADDRESSES: Written data or comments concerning the permit application, 
the draft Agreement, or the draft Environmental Assessment are to be 
submitted to Arctic Grayling CCAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 100 
North Park Avenue, Suite 320, Helena, Montana 59601. Written comments 
also may be provided electronically to fw6_arcticgrayling@fws.gov, or 
by facsimile to 406-449-5339. Comments must be submitted in writing to 
be considered in the Service's decision-making process.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mark Wilson or Douglas Peterson at the 
above address, or telephone 406-449-5225.


Document Availability

    Persons wishing to review the permit application, Agreement, and 
the Environmental Assessment may obtain a copy by writing the Service's 
Montana 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/fish/grayling/grayling.htm


    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, candidate 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 CCAAs are 
found in 50 CFR 17.22(d) and 17.32(d).
    On July 25, 1994, the Service found that listing the fluvial Arctic 
grayling of the upper Missouri River Distinct Population Segment (DPS) 
was warranted but precluded by higher priority listing actions, and it 
has remained on the Service's candidate species list since that time. 
Fluvial Arctic grayling currently occupy only about 5 percent of their 
historic range in the Missouri River basin above the Great Falls, and 
the remaining population is found in an approximately 129-kilometer 
(80-mile) segment of the upper Big Hole River in southwestern Montana. 
The fluvial Arctic grayling population in the Big Hole River has 
declined in abundance and distribution in recent years, and ongoing 
efforts by FWP to re-establish additional fluvial Arctic grayling in 
other rivers within its historic range have not yet produced any self-
sustaining populations. This DPS remains at risk, and FWP and the 
Service carefully monitor the status of the species.
    The Montana Fluvial Arctic Grayling Workgroup's 1995 Montana 
Fluvial Arctic Grayling Restoration 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 caused by hydrologic alterations 
and stream dewatering from irrigation withdrawals, thermal loading, 
loss of riparian habitat, and cross-channel irrigation diversion 
structures; drought; entrainment in irrigation ditches; and 
encroachment by nonnative

[[Page 70878]]

trout species. Most of the current and historic fluvial Arctic grayling 
habitat in the Big Hole River watershed is on or adjacent to private 
lands. The decline of fluvial Arctic grayling in the system has been 
attributed in part to agricultural activities on these lands, so the 
active involvement of private landowners in conservation efforts is 
viewed as critical to the preservation of the species.
    Consequently, FWP has developed an Agreement for the fluvial Arctic 
grayling in cooperation with the NRCS, DNRC, and the Service; and has 
applied to the Service for a permit under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the 
ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), which would authorize future take of the 
fluvial Arctic grayling by FWP and cooperating landowners if and when 
the species is listed. The FWP and the Service believe approval of the 
Agreement is necessary to promote implementation of conservation 
measures on non-Federal lands.
    The FWP and the Service believe implementation of the Agreement 
will increase the distribution and abundance of fluvial Arctic grayling 
in the Big Hole River, and will make a significant contribution to the 
long-term viability of the species. Without the Agreement, FWP and the 
Service are concerned that the population of fluvial Arctic grayling in 
the Big Hole River may continue to decline. Further decline of the 
species will increase the risk of its extirpation. The FWP and the 
Service believe that implementing proactive conservation measures in 
cooperation with private landowners prior to any potential ESA listing 
will realize greater conservation benefits for the species than post-
listing actions.
    Under the Agreement and permit, Participating Landowners would 
provide certain fluvial Arctic grayling habitat protection and/or 
enhancement measures on their lands. Protection and enhancement 
measures will be directed at improving habitat conditions for all age 
classes of fluvial Arctic grayling primarily by increasing instream 
flows, conserving or restoring riparian habitats, removing or 
mitigating for any man-made barriers to migration, and reducing threats 
from entrainment in irrigation ditches. If the fluvial Arctic grayling 
upper Missouri River DPS is listed under the ESA, and a Participating 
Landowner is properly implementing the agreed-to conservation measures, 
the permit would authorize take of fluvial Arctic grayling that may 
result from the non-Federal landowner's agricultural or ranching 
related activities (e.g., surface-water diversion and irrigation, hay 
cultivation and harvesting, livestock grazing, farm equipment 
operation) so long as they were being conducted according to the 
Agreement and the landowner's site-specific plan.
    We are providing this notice pursuant to section 10(c) of the ESA 
and implementing regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act 
(40 CFR Sec.  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)(1)(A) of the ESA, the Service's CCAA Policy and the National 
Environmental Policy Act. The Service also will evaluate whether the 
issuance of the permit and execution of the Agreement by the Service 
complies with section 7 of the ESA by conducting an intra-Service 
section 7 consultation on the issuance of the permit and execution 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 the ESA to the FWP for take of fluvial Arctic grayling 
incidental to otherwise lawful activities in accordance with the terms 
of the Agreement and the permit. We will not make our final decision 
until after the end of the 60-day comment period and after 
consideration of 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. 1531 et seq.) and the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 
4321 et seq.).

    Dated: October 18, 2005.
Sharon R. Rose,
Acting Regional Director, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 05-23151 Filed 11-22-05; 8:45 am]