[Federal Register: October 16, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 201)]
[Page 61433-61435]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R2-ES-2008-N0225; 20124-1112-0000-F2]

Regional Habitat Conservation Plan, Comal County, TX

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement;

[[Page 61434]]

announcement of public scoping meeting; request for public comment.


SUMMARY: Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its 
implementing regulations, we, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), 
advise the public that we intend to prepare an environmental impact 
statement to evaluate the impacts of, and alternatives to, the issuance 
of an incidental take permit (ITP), under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), to Comal County, 
Texas. Comal County proposes to apply for an ITP, through development 
and implementation of a Regional Habitat Conservation Plan (RHCP), as 
required by the Act. The RHCP will provide measures to minimize and 
mitigate for the impacts of the proposed taking of federally listed 
species (covered species) and the habitats upon which they depend.

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive written comments on or 
before close of business (4:30 p.m. CST) December 15, 2008. We will 
also accept oral and written comments at a public hearing on December 
4, 2008, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Comal County Commissioners Court, 
199 Main Plaza, New Braunfels, TX 78130.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Mr. Adam Zerrenner, Field 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 
200, Austin, TX 78758. The public scoping meeting will take place at 
the Comal County Commissioners Court, 199 Main Plaza, New Braunfels, TX 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: EIS Information: Mr. Adam Zerrenner, 
Field Supervisor, by U.S. mail at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 
Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758; by phone at (512) 490-0057; 
or by fax at (512) 490-0974.
    Comal County RHCP Information: Tom Hornseth, County Engineer, by 
U.S. mail at 195 David Jonas Drive, New Braunfels, TX 78132, or by 
phone at (830) 608-2090. Additional information is available on the 
Internet at http://www.co.comal.tx.us/comalrhcp.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We intend to prepare an EIS to evaluate the 
impacts of, and alternatives to, the proposed issuance of an ITP under 
the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) to Comal County. We also announce a 
public scoping meeting and public comment period. Comal County proposes 
to apply for an ITP supported by development and implementation of its 
RHCP. The RHCP will include measures necessary to minimize and mitigate 
for the impacts of the proposed taking of covered species to the 
maximum extent practicable. We furnish this notice, in compliance with 
NEPA (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 ITP to Comal County, and the implementation of 
the RHCP.

Public Availability of Comments

    All comments we receive become part of the public record. Requests 
for copies of comments will be handled in accordance with the Freedom 
of Information Act, NEPA, and Service and Department of the Interior 
policies and procedures. 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 to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee we will be able to 
do so.


    Section 9 of the Act and its implementing regulations prohibit the 
take of animal species listed under the Act as endangered or 
threatened. The definition of ``take'' under the Act includes the 
following activities: To harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, 
kill, trap, capture, or collect listed animal species, or attempt to 
engage in any such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). Regulations define 
``harm'' as significant habitat modification or degradation that 
results in actual death or injury to listed species by significantly 
impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, 
or sheltering (50 CFR 17.3).
    Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act requires us to issue 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 (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 under the ITP, Comal County will request permit 
coverage for a period of 30 years from the date of the RHCP approval. 
Implementation of the RHCP would result in the establishment of 
preserves intended to provide for the conservation of the covered 
species occupying those preserves. Research, monitoring, and adaptive 
management would be used to facilitate accomplishment of these goals.

Proposed Action

    Our proposed action is the issuance of an ITP for the covered 
species in Comal County. Comal County would develop and implement the 
RHCP, which must meet the requirements in Section 10(a)(2)(A) of the 
Act by providing measures necessary to minimize and mitigate for the 
impacts of the proposed taking of covered species to the maximum extent 
    Activities proposed for coverage under the ITP include otherwise 
lawful activities that would occur consistent with the RHCP and 
include, but are not limited to, construction and maintenance of public 
projects and infrastructure as well as residential, commercial, and 
industrial development.
    Species Comal County has recommended for inclusion as covered 
species in the RHCP include the golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica 
chrysoparia) and black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla). For these 
covered species, Comal County would seek incidental take authorization. 
The Comal County RHCP would also address 19 ``evaluation species'' (18 
terrestrial or aquatic karst species and the Cagle's map turtle 
(Graptemys caglei)) and 4 ``additional species'' (listed aquatic 
species known from Comal County). Incidental take authorization for the 
evaluation species may become necessary during the lifetime of the ITP; 
however, these species would not initially be included as covered 
species. Evaluation species are currently unlisted, but may become 
listed in the foreseeable future. The RHCP may include conservation 
measures to benefit evaluation species, where practicable, and support 
research to help fill data gaps regarding the biology, habitat, 
distribution, and/or management of these species. The research 
supported by the RHCP may help preclude the need to list these

[[Page 61435]]

species or facilitate obtaining incidental take coverage if these 
species become listed in the future. Comal County would not seek 
incidental take authorization for the four ``additional species,'' 
because these species are not likely to experience take from covered 
    Alternatives: 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 
take of covered species in Comal 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 activities on the covered species 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 
actions, individual Section 10(a)(1)(B) permits would be required. 
Without a coordinated, comprehensive conservation approach for the 
County, listed species may not be adequately addressed by individual 
project-specific mitigation requirements, and mitigation would be 
piecemeal and less cost effective in helping Federal and non-Federal 
agencies work toward recovery of listed species. In addition to the No 
Action/No Project Alternative, a reasonable range of alternatives will 
also be considered, along with the associated impacts of the various 

Scoping Meeting

    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 by 
mail (see ADDRESSES above). Once the draft EIS and draft RHCP are 
completed, additional opportunity for public comment on the content of 
these documents and an additional public meeting will be provided.
    Persons needing reasonable accommodations in order to attend and 
participate in the public scoping meeting should contact the Service 
(see ADDRESSES above) no later than 1 week prior to the public scoping 
meeting. Information regarding this proposed action is available in 
alternative formats upon request.
    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, other appropriate Federal laws, 
regulations, policies, and guidance, and Service procedures for 
compliance with those regulations.

Environmental Review

    The EIS will be prepared in accordance with the requirements of 
NEPA, other applicable regulations, and the Service's procedures for 
compliance with those regulations. The EIS will analyze 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 human environment 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 and alternatives 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, recreation, water use, 
local economy, and environmental justice.
    After a draft EIS is prepared, we will publish a Notice of 
Availability along with a request for comment on the draft EIS and 
Comal County's permit application, which will include the draft RHCP.
    The draft EIS and draft RHCP are expected to be completed and 
available to the public by January 2010.

Thomas L. Bauer,
Acting Regional Director, Southwest Region, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
 [FR Doc. E8-24570 Filed 10-15-08; 8:45 am]