[Federal Register: June 1, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 105)]
[Page 30604-30606]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Regional Habitat Conservation Plan, Williamson County, TX

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement 
(EIS); announcement of public scoping meeting; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), advise the public 
that we intend to prepare an EIS to evaluate the impacts of, and 
alternatives to, the proposed issuance of an incidental take permit 
under the Endangered Species Act to Williamson County, Texas, and/or 
the Williamson County Conservation Foundation (Applicant). We also 
announce a public scoping meeting and public comment period.

DATES: We must receive written comments on alternatives and issues to 
be addressed in the EIS by July 14, 2007. We will hold a public scoping 
meeting on June 14, 2007, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Williamson 
County Central Maintenance Facility, 3151 S.E. Inner Loop, Georgetown, 
Texas 78626. The primary purpose of this meeting and public comment 
period is to receive suggestions and information on the scope of issues 
and alternatives to consider when drafting the EIS. We will accept oral 
and written comments at this meeting. You may also submit your comments 
to the address listed below. Once the draft EIS and Williamson County 
Regional Habitat Conservation Plan (RHCP) are completed, additional 
opportunity for public comment on the content of these documents and an 
additional public meeting will be provided.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments by mail to the Field Supervisor, at 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, 
TX 78758, or by fax at 512/490-0974.

Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, TX 
78758; 512/490-0057 (phone); 512/490-0974 (fax); or 
Scott_Rowin@fws.gov (e-mail).

    Williamson County RHCP Information: Ms. Connie Watson, Public 
Information Officer, Williamson County Courthouse, 710 Main Street, 
Georgetown, TX 78626; 512/943-1663 (phone).
    Other Information: You may obtain information on the purpose, 
membership, meeting schedules, and documents associated with the 
Williamson County RHCP on the Internet at http://www.wilco.org/wccf.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We intend to prepare an EIS to evaluate the 
impacts of, and alternatives to, the proposed issuance of an incidental 
take permit under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended 
(16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), to the Applicant. We also announce a public 
scoping meeting and public comment period. The Applicant proposes to 
apply for an incidental take permit through development and 
implementation of the Williamson County RHCP, as required by the Act. 
The Williamson County RHCP will include measures necessary to minimize 
and mitigate the impacts of the proposed taking of federally-listed and 
candidate species, and the habitats upon which they depend. We furnish 
this notice in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 
1969 (NEPA), as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and its implementing 
regulations (40 CFR 1500-1508) in order to: (1) Advise other Federal 
and State agencies, affected tribes, and the public of our intent to 
prepare an EIS; (2) announce the initiation of a public scoping period; 
and (3) obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues and 
alternatives we will consider in our EIS. We intend to gather the 
information necessary to determine impacts and alternatives for an EIS 
regarding our potential issuance of an incidental take permit to the 
Applicant, and the implementation of the Williamson County RHCP. The 
Applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, undertake to 
minimize and mitigate the impacts of such incidental take of federally 
protected species.

Purpose and Need for Action

    Section 9 of the Act prohibits ``taking'' of fish and wildlife 
species listed as endangered or threatened under Section 4, such as the 
Bone Cave harvestman (Texella reyesi), Coffin Cave mold beetle 
(Batrisodes texanus), golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia), 
and black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla). The term ``take'' under the 
Act means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct. 
Regulations define ``harm'' as significant habitat modification or 
degradation that results in death or injury to listed species by 
significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including 
breeding, feeding, or sheltering (50 CFR 17.3). We may however under 
specified circumstances issue permits that allow the take of federally 
listed species incidental to, and not the purpose of, the carrying out 
of otherwise lawful activities. Regulations governing permits for 
endangered and threatened species are at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32, 
    Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act contains provisions for issuing 
incidental take permits to non-Federal entities for the take of 
endangered and threatened species, provided the following criteria are 
met: (1) The taking will be incidental; (2) The applicant will, to the 
maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the impact of such 
taking; (3) The applicant will develop a habitat conservation plan and 
ensure that adequate funding for the plan will be provided; (4) The 
taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and 
recovery of the species in the wild; and

[[Page 30605]]

    (5) The applicant will carry out any other measures that we may 
require as being necessary or appropriate for the purposes of the 
habitat conservation plan.
    We anticipate that the applicant will request permit coverage for a 
period of 30 years. Among other actions, implementation of the 
Williamson County RHCP will result in the establishment of a 
conservation lands system that the Applicant believes will provide for 
the conservation of the covered species and their habitats in 
perpetuity. Research and monitoring described in the Williamson County 
RHCP, in combination with adaptive management, will be used to 
facilitate accomplishment of these goals.

Proposed Action

    Our proposed action is the issuance of an incidental take permit 
for the covered species in Williamson County. The Applicant would 
develop and implement the Williamson County RHCP, which must meet the 
requirements in section 10(a)(2)(A) of the Act by providing measures to 
minimize and mitigate the impacts of the actions on the proposed taking 
of covered species and the habitats upon which they depend.
    Activities we propose for coverage under the incidental take permit 
include lawful activities that would occur consistent with the 
Williamson County RHCP conservation guidelines and include, but are not 
limited to, construction and maintenance of county operations and other 
public capital improvement projects, as well as residential, 
commercial, and/or industrial development.
    We expect the applicant to apply for an incidental take permit for 
four species listed as endangered or threatened within the county. 
These species include the following federally-listed species: Bone Cave 
harvestman, Coffin Cave mold beetle, golden-cheeked warbler, and black-
capped vireo.
    The Williamson County RHCP will also address 24 additional species 
that will not be covered by the proposed incidental take permit nor 
would be covered if the species should be listed as endangered or 
threatened in the future. The purpose of addressing the additional 
species in the RHCP is to encourage efforts to minimize and mitigate 
impacts of permitted actions on these species, primarily to reduce the 
likelihood that any of them will need to be listed in the future. One 
currently listed species, the Tooth Cave ground beetle (Rhadine 
persephone), is included as an additional species because it may 
benefit from the conservation measures proposed in the RHCP. The 
additional species also include the following 19 non-listed karst 
invertebrate species: Aphrastochthonius sps, Arrhopalites texensis, 
Batrisodes cryptotexanus, Batrisodes reyesi, Cicurina browni, Cicurina 
buwata, Cicurina n.sp., Cicurina travisae, Cicurina vibora, 
Neoleptoneta anopica, Oncopodura fenestra, Rhadine n.sp., Rhadine 
noctivaga, Rhadine russelli, Rhadine subterranea mitchellii, Rhadine 
subterranea subterranea, Speodesmus bicornourus, and Tartarocreagris 
infernalis. Four salamander species are included as well: the 
Georgetown salamander (Eurycea naufragia) and Salado Springs salamander 
(Eurycea chisholmensis), both candidate species; the Jollyville Plateau 
salamander (Eurycea tonkawae), a species recently petitioned to be 
listed; and the Buttercup Creek salamander (Eurycea n.sp.), a 
salamander restricted to the Buttercup Creek drainage in Williamson 
County that has yet to be given a scientific name. The Applicant 
expects that numerous other non-listed species, for which the Applicant 
is not seeking permit coverage, may also benefit from the conservation 
measures provided in the Williamson County RHCP.


    The proposed action and alternatives that will be developed in the 
EIS will be assessed against the No Action/No Project alternative, 
which assumes that some or all of the current and future projects 
proposed in Williamson County would be implemented individually, one at 
a time, and be in compliance with the Act. The No Action/No Project 
alternative implies that the impacts from these potential projects on 
the permitted species and their habitats would be evaluated and 
mitigated on a project-by-project basis, as is currently the case. For 
any activities involving take of listed species due to non-Federal 
projects/actions, individual Section 10(a)(1)(B) permits would be 
required. Without a coordinated, comprehensive ecosystem-based 
conservation approach for the region, listed species may not be 
adequately addressed by individual project-specific mitigation 
requirements, unlisted candidate and other rare species would not 
receive proactive action intended to preclude the need to list them in 
the future, and project-specific mitigation would be piecemeal and less 
cost effective in helping Federal and non-Federal agencies work toward 
recovery of listed species. Current independent conservation actions 
would continue, although some of these are not yet funded. A reasonable 
range of alternatives will also be considered, along with the 
associated impacts of the various alternatives.

Scoping Meeting

    The purpose of the scoping meeting is to brief the public on the 
background of the Williamson County RHCP, alternative proposals under 
consideration for the draft EIS, and the Service's role and steps to be 
taken to develop the draft EIS for this regional habitat conservation 
planning effort. At the scoping meeting, there will be an opportunity 
for the public to ask questions, provide oral comments, and also 
provide written comments. The public may also send written comments to 
us by mail (see ADDRESSES above).
    A primary purpose of the scoping process is to identify, rather 
than debate, significant issues related to the proposed action. In 
order to ensure that we identify a range of issues and alternatives 
related to the proposed action, we invite comments and suggestions from 
all interested parties. We will conduct a review of this project 
according to the requirements of NEPA, NEPA regulations, other 
appropriate Federal laws, regulations, policies, and guidance, and 
Service procedures for compliance with those regulations.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment, including your personal identifying 
information, may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.

Environmental Review

    We will conduct an environmental review that analyzes the proposed 
action, as well as a range of reasonable alternatives and the 
associated impacts of each. The EIS will be the basis for our 
evaluation of impacts to the covered species and the range of 
alternatives to be addressed. We expect the EIS to provide biological 
descriptions of the affected species and habitats, as well as the 
effects of the proposed action on resources such as: vegetation, 
wetlands, wildlife, threatened or endangered species and rare species, 
geology and soils, air quality, water resources, flood control, water 
quality, cultural resources (prehistoric, historic, and traditional 
cultural properties), land use,

[[Page 30606]]

recreation, water use, local economy, and environmental justice.
    After the environmental review is complete, we will publish a 
notice of availability and a request for comment on the draft EIS and 
the applicant's permit application, which will include the Williamson 
County RHCP.
    The draft EIS and RHCP are expected to be completed and available 
to the public by October 2007.

Christopher T. Jones,
Acting Regional Director, Southwest Region, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
[FR Doc. E7-10576 Filed 5-31-07; 8:45 am]