[Federal Register: October 20, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 203)]
[Page 62305-62307]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-R-2008-N0268; 61411-0000-1115-F4]

Proposed Candidate Conservation Agreement With Assurances for the 
Black-Tailed Prairie Dog, Mountain Plover, Burrowing Owl, and 
Ferruginous Hawk for the 4W Ranch in Niobrara and Weston Counties, WY

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; receipt of application.


SUMMARY: This notice advises the public that the 4W Ranch, FLP 
(Applicant) has applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) 
for an enhancement of survival permit (permit) pursuant to section 
10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). 
This permit application includes a Candidate Conservation Agreement 
with Assurances (Agreement) between the Applicant and the Service. The 
Service requests information, views, and opinions from the public via 
this notice. Further, the Service is soliciting information regarding 
the adequacy of the Agreement as measured against the Service's 
Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances policy and the 
regulations that implement it.

DATES: Written comments on the permit application must be received on 
or before November 19, 2008.

ADDRESSES: Persons wishing to review the Agreement and permit 
application may obtain copies by writing to the Wyoming Ecological 
Services Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 5353 Yellowstone 
Road, Suite 308A, Cheyenne, Wyoming 82001. Documents also will be 
available for public inspection during normal business hours at this 
office. Documents also may be viewed on the following Web site:

[[Page 62306]]

http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/wyoming/index.htm. Written data 
or comments concerning the Agreement or permit application should be 
addressed to Brian T. Kelly, Field Supervisor, at the above address, to 
be adequately considered in the Service's decision-making process. 
Written comments also may be sent by facsimile to (307) 772-2358. 
Please reference permit number TE184530 in your comments, or in the 
request of the documents discussed herein.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brian T. Kelly, Field Supervisor, 
Wyoming Ecological Services Field Office, at the above address; 
telephone (307) 772-2374. People who use a telecommunications device 
for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service at 
(800) 877-8339.



    Under a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, 
participating landowners voluntarily undertake management activities on 
their property to enhance, restore, or maintain habitat benefiting 
species that are proposed for listing under the Act, candidates for 
listing, or may become candidates. Candidate Conservation Agreements 
with Assurances, and the subsequent permits that are issued pursuant to 
section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), encourage 
private and other non-Federal property owners to implement conservation 
efforts for species by assuring property owners that they will not be 
subjected to increased land use restrictions as a result of efforts to 
attract or increase the numbers or distribution of a listed species on 
their property, if that species becomes listed under the Act in the 
future. Application requirements and issuance criteria for permits 
through the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances are found 
in 50 CFR 17.22(d) and 17.32(d).
    We have worked with the Applicant to develop this proposed 
Agreement for the conservation of the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys 
ludovicianus), mountain plover (Charadrius montanus), burrowing owl 
(Athene cunicularia), and ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis) (covered 
species) on the 4W Ranch, which lies in Niobrara and Weston Counties, 
Wyoming. Within the 29,000 acres of 4W Ranch owned or leased lands, the 
landowners have identified 3,370 acres of their privately owned 
property on which habitat for the covered species will be restored, 
enhanced, and managed pursuant to the Agreement. The proposed duration 
of the Agreement and permit is 10 years. The Agreement fully describes 
the proposed management activities to be undertaken by the Applicant 
and the conservation benefits expected to be gained for the covered 
species. We have made a preliminary determination that the Agreement 
qualifies as a low-effect plan, since it has minor to negligible 
effects on federally listed, proposed or candidate species and their 
habitats, and qualifies for a categorical exclusion under the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
    Upon approval of this Agreement, and consistent with the Service's 
Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances' policy published in 
the Federal Register on June 17, 1999 (64 FR 32726), the Service would 
issue a permit to the applicant authorizing take of the covered species 
by the Applicant associated with the implementation of the management 
activities specified in the Agreement. To benefit the covered species, 
the Applicant agrees to undertake site-specific management activities, 
which are specified in their Agreement.
    The black-tailed prairie dog is considered a keystone species, 
because the effects of its foraging and burrowing behaviors maintain 
habitat features important to a variety of other species and it serves 
as a food source for predators. Prairie dog activities result in mixing 
subsoil with topsoil, which redistributes nutrients and increases water 
infiltration rates. The resulting soil and moisture conditions 
consequently increase plant diversity, which in turns attracts a 
variety of animals to prairie dog colonies. However, prairie dogs can 
also have significant adverse effects on vegetation communities in 
localized areas in and near their colonies. Prairie dogs can denude 
areas of vegetation under prolonged drought and heat conditions. As a 
result, prairie dogs have often been viewed by landowners as directly 
competing with livestock for forage resources.
    The black-tailed prairie dog was eliminated from much of its 
historic range as a result of control efforts by both public and 
private landowners. Control efforts no longer appear to be 
significantly reducing the range-wide distribution of the species, but 
continued control efforts by some landowners can have localized effects 
to prairie dog populations. Due to the perceived conflict of prairie 
dogs with other land uses, landowners are more inclined to maintain or 
increase habitat as viable and productive for prairie dog, if doing so 
can be balanced with other land uses. Because most of the black-tailed 
prairie dog habitat in the eastern range occurs on private lands, 
private landowners willing to manage for suitable habitat can play an 
important role in the long-term conservation of the black-tailed 
prairie dog. Accordingly, the 4W Ranch agrees to undertake management 
activities to enhance habitat and protect the ranch's populations of 
black-tailed prairie dogs, mountain plovers, burrowing owls, and 
ferruginous hawks. However, the willingness for participation by the 
property owner depends on the ability to manage these species to allow 
maintenance of the ranch's economic viability and protection of high-
value forage areas for livestock.
    Management activities described in the Agreement provide for the 
restoration, enhancement, and management of native habitats of the 
covered species on 3,370 acres of the 4W Ranch. The objective of such 
activities is to enhance populations of the covered species by 
increasing the amount and quality of suitable habitat on the enrolled 
properties. Management of black-tailed prairie dogs, outlined in the 
Agreement, will focus on maintaining colonies within a 3,000-acre core 
management area. Conservation measures to be implemented by the 4W 
Ranch under the Agreement include control of prickly pear cactus, range 
soil aeration, reseeding grasses, and livestock grazing rotation. These 
measures also would benefit the other covered species, which depend on 
the prairie dog for suitable habitat and prey. The implementation of 
these measures, as well as some routine ranching activities, may result 
in the incidental take of the covered species. Such take would be 
authorized by the issuance to the property owner of a section 
10(a)(1)(A) permit under the authority of 50 CFR 17.22(d) for species 
federally listed as endangered or 50 CFR 17.32 (d) for species 
federally listed as threatened.
    An incentive for long-term conservation of the black-tailed prairie 
dog on the 4W Ranch is the assurance that the property owner will be 
able to maintain economic viability of the ranch by preventing 
encroachment of prairie dogs onto important ranch production areas 
(e.g., hay meadows). The property owner would be authorized to use 
primarily regulated recreational shooting and other measures as 
necessary to control prairie dogs when populations on the 4W Ranch are 
above established thresholds. Such regulated take would be authorized 
by the section 10(a)(1)(A) permit issued to the property owner under 
the authority of 50 CFR 17.22(a)

[[Page 62307]]

for species federally listed as endangered or 50 CFR 17.32 (a) for 
species federally listed as threatened.
    A single section 10(a)(1)(A) permit would be issued with separate 
authorizations, as cited above, for the incidental take of the covered 
species and for the intentional take of the black-tailed prairie dog. 
The permit also would contain separate sets of special terms and 
conditions for each of the two types of take. The permit would become 
effective upon Federal listing of any of the covered species.
    Annual monitoring, required by the Agreement, will be conducted to 
determine active burrow densities, which can be used as an index of 
population levels. Recreational shooting will not occur unless 
monitoring indicates the population threshold has been exceeded. For 
example, when plague epizootics have reduced the population below 
established thresholds, all recreational shooting will be suspended, 
pending the recovery of the population back to threshold levels. 
Additionally, ongoing monitoring and adaptive management will allow 
adjustment of management goals and thresholds should new information 
indicate populations are decreasing or increasing outside the threshold 
    Baseline population and habitat conditions for the covered species 
are described in the Agreement. Annual monitoring is a key component of 
the Agreement and is one of the requirements for receiving assurances 
that no further measures would be required of the property owner and 
that take of any of the covered species, if federally listed, under the 
permit would continue to be authorized. Adaptive management provides 
the plan flexibility, if monitoring indicates changes in management are 
necessary (e.g., threshold levels need to be raised to meet the 
conservation goals, as fully described in the Agreement).

Public Review and Comments

    The Service has made a preliminary determination that the proposed 
Agreement and permit issuance are eligible for categorical exclusion 
under NEPA. We explain the basis for this determination in an 
Environmental Action Statement, which also is available for public 
review at the office listed in the ADDRESSES section above.
    If you wish to comment on the permit application or the Agreement, 
you may submit your comments to the address listed in the ADDRESSES 
section of this document. 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.
    We will evaluate this permit application, associated documents, and 
comments submitted thereon to determine whether the permit application 
meets the requirements of section 10(a) of the Act and NEPA regulations 
at 40 CFR 1506.6. If we determine that the requirements are met, we 
will sign the proposed Agreement and issue a permit under section 
10(a)(1)(A) of the Act to the Applicants for take of the covered 
species in accordance with the terms of the Agreement. We will not make 
our final decision until after the end of the 30-day comment period and 
will fully consider all comments received during the comment period.
    The Service provides this notice under section 10(c) of the Act and 
implementing regulations for NEPA (40 CFR 1506.6).

    Dated: May 20, 2008.
Scott Hicks,
Deputy Field Supervisor, Cheyenne, Wyoming.
[FR Doc. E8-24884 Filed 10-17-08; 8:45 am]