[Federal Register: April 6, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 66)]
[Page 17486-17488]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of an Environmental Assessment and Umbrella 
Incidental Take Permit Coverage for Small Lot Developments Throughout 
34 Florida Counties

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has prepared, and proposes 
to make available for use by the public for a term of seven years, a 
combined Habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment (HCP/
EA) that addresses incidental take of the threatened Florida scrub-jay 
(Aphelocoma coerulescens) (scrub-jay) that would result from 
residential, commercial, industrial, and similar development activities 
on properties one acre or smaller in size located in urban areas. The 
Service anticipates that the HCP/EA will act as an ``umbrella'' 
document for qualifying landowners who might need an incidental take 
permit (ITP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species 
Act (Act) on an estimated total of 14,928 acres of scrub-jay foraging, 
sheltering, and nesting habitat throughout 34 counties. The HCP portion 
of this document identifies minimization and mitigation measures that 
will be required of individual landowners wishing to participate under 
the umbrella HCP/EA. A more detailed description of the mitigation and 
minimization measures required pursuant to section 10 of the Act is 
provided in the HCP/EA and in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section 

DATES: Written comments on the HCP/EA should be sent to the Service's 
Regional Office (see ADDRESSES) and received on or before June 5, 2006.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the HCP/EA may obtain a copy by 
writing the Service's Southeast Regional Office, Atlanta, Georgia. 
Requests must

[[Page 17487]]

be in writing to be processed. Please reference permit number TE109021-
0 in such requests. The document 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); Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 6620 Southpoint Drive South, Suite 310, Jacksonville, 
Florida 32216; or Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, Florida, 32960.

Coordinator, (see ADDRESSES above), telephone: 404/679-7313, facsimile: 
404/679-7081; Mr. Michael Jennings, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, 
Jacksonville Field Office, Jacksonville, Florida (see ADDRESSES above), 
telephone: 904/232-2580, ext. 113.; or Ms. Trish Adams, Fish and 
Wildlife Biologist, South Florida Ecological Services Office, Vero 
Beach, Florida (see ADDRESSES above).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: If you wish to comment, you may submit 
written comments by any one of several methods. Please reference permit 
number TE109021-0 in such comments. You may mail comments to the 
Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). You may also request 
documents or comment via the Internet to ``david_dell@fws.gov''. 
Please include your name and return address in your Internet message. 
If you do not receive a confirmation from us that we have received your 
Internet message, contact us directly at either telephone number listed 
below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Finally, you may hand 
deliver comments to any 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 entirety.
    The Florida scrub-jay (scrub-jay) is geographically isolated from 
other species of scrub-jays found in Mexico and the western United 
States. The scrub-jay is found exclusively in peninsular Florida and is 
restricted to xeric uplands (predominately in oak-dominated scrub). 
Increasing urban and agricultural development, and subsequent fire 
suppression, has resulted in habitat degradation, loss and 
fragmentation which have adversely affected the distribution and 
numbers of scrub-jays. The total estimated population is between 7,000 
and 11,000 individuals (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1990. Recovery 
plan for the Florida scrub-jay, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Atlanta, Georgia).
    Since the listing of the scrub-jay in 1987 (52 FR 42661), owners of 
property in urban areas that are occupied by scrub-jays have been 
challenged with the difficulty of complying with section 9 of the 
Endangered Species of 1973, as amended (Act), which prohibits the take 
of scrub-jays. The majority of land owners with property in urban areas 
that is occupied by scrub-jays have been faced with the choice of 
complying with the Act by not clearing or constructing in occupied 
scrub-jay habitat, complying with the Act by obtaining a section 
10(a)(1)(B) incidental take permit (ITP) prior to land clearing, or 
potentially violating the take prohibitions under section 9 of the Act 
by clearing lots without coverage from an ITP. Each of these 
alternatives has limitations; land owners may incur costs associated 
with ongoing property tax burdens and local government assessments for 
infrastructure improvements while not developing property they own, or 
they may incur costs and time constraints associated with obtaining an 
ITP. Lot owners who choose not to pursue an ITP for land clearing, may 
be faced with violating section 9 of the Act, which can result in fines 
and/or imprisonment.
    The cost and complexity of complying with the Act is thought to 
have precluded many individual lot owners from seeking ITPs for 
otherwise lawful activities, such as land clearing and construction. 
Additionally, most local governments have not embraced large-scale 
scrub-jay conservation planning efforts and have not encouraged their 
residents to comply with the Act because of perceived legal and fiscal 
constraints the Act may impose on them. The failure of individual lot 
owners to seek regulatory relief from the prohibitions of take has also 
resulted in the continued degradation of scrub-jay habitat because 
their properties remain unmanaged and impacts are not mitigated.
    Indian River County and the City of Sebastian successfully 
completed an ITP application and received authorization, TE026007-0, to 
take scrub-jays resulting from residential and commercial development. 
This planning effort resulted in the only area-wide HCP that is 
currently available to land owners whose property is occupied by scrub-
jays. However, the plan area for this HCP and area covered by the 
incidental take authorization is restricted to the city limits of the 
City of Sebastian and, therefore, offers no regulatory or financial 
relief to landowners in other areas of the state.
    Recognizing the limitations that the above-mentioned alternatives 
place on owners of property in urban areas, the Service considered 
methods to streamline the section 10(a)(1)(B) permitting process, while 
still providing conservation benefits to the Florida scrub-jay. This 
umbrella HCP/EA is the culmination of our review of streamlining 
options. Although the focus of this HCP/EA is on modifications to 
existing permitting processes, the premise for these modifications is 
based on available biological information indicating that Florida 
scrub-jays in some urban areas will not persist long-term and are 
unlikely to substantially contribute to the recovery of the species.
    The umbrella HCP/EA is intended to result in conservation benefits 
to the scrub-jay through minimization and mitigation of impacts. To 
minimize take of the scrub-jay, land clearing activities would not take 
place during the scrub-jay nesting season (March 1 through June 30). To 
mitigate for the loss of up to 14,928 acres of scrub-jay habitat, 
participating landowners would have the option of providing funding to 
acquire and perpetually manage two acres of habitat for every one acre 
of habitat that will be impacted, or of acquiring scrub-jay habitat in 
a Service-approved conservation bank. Funds provided by participating 
landowners would be used to purchase or otherwise encumber scrub-jay 
habitat, manage and restore scrub-jay habitat, monitor scrub-jays or 
their habitat, or conduct applied research for the benefit of scrub-
jays. Landowners would provide funding to a dedicated account managed 
by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The TNC would subsequently use these 
mitigation funds to purchase scrub-jay habitat based on priority areas 
identified by the Service, fund habitat management or restoration 

[[Page 17488]]

    At this time, no scrub-jay conservation banks have been approved by 
the Service. We include conservation banks as a mitigation option in 
the umbrella HCP/EA in order to maintain incentives for private 
interests that may want to develop a scrub-jay conservation bank in the 
future. Conservation banks have been established for a few other listed 
species throughout the Southeast, as well as in other regions of the 
country. A conservation bank typically comprises a tract of land 
managed to restore, enhance, and protect a listed species' habitat with 
the purpose of making units of habitat value available for sale to 
third-party project applicants who need to compensate for impacts to 
listed species that would result from their projects. Ideally, a 
conservation bank would make listed species mitigation practicable for 
project proponents who otherwise would find it difficult to develop 
their own mitigation plan.
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that issuance of 
incidental take permits in accordance with the proposed HCP/EA is not a 
major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human 
environment within the meaning of section 102(2)(C) of the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This preliminary determination is 
based on information contained in the HCP/EA and may be revised, 
however, due to public comment received in response to this notice.
    The Service will also evaluate whether issuance of section 
10(a)(1)(B) ITPs in accordance with the proposed HCP/EA complies with 
section 7 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) by conducting an intra-
Service section 7 consultation. The results of the biological opinion, 
in combination with the above findings, will be used in our final 
analysis to determine whether or not to make the HCP/EA available for 
use by qualifying landowners and to issue ITPs. This notice is provided 
pursuant to section 10 of the Endangered Species Act and NEPA 
regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

    Dated: March 21, 2006.
Cynthia K. Dohner,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. E6-5036 Filed 4-5-06; 8:45 am]