[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 81 (Wednesday, April 27, 2011)]
[Pages 23619-23621]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-10143]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R2-ES-2010-N282; 20124-1112-0000-F2]

Intent To Prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and 
Associated Documents for Development in Bexar County and the City of 
San Antonio, TX

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent; announcement of public scoping meetings; 
request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), advise the 
public that we intend to prepare a draft Environmental Impact Statement 
(EIS) to evaluate the impacts of, and alternatives to, the proposed 
issuance of an incidental take permit (ITP)under the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973, as amended (Act), to Bexar County, Texas, and the City of 
San Antonio, Texas (applicants). The ITP would authorize incidental 
take of five Federally listed species resulting from residential, 
commercial, and other development activities associated with the 
proposed Southern Edwards Plateau (SEP) Regional Habitat Conservation 
Plan (RHCP), which includes Bexar and surrounding counties. We also 
announce plans for a series of public scoping meetings throughout the 
proposed plan area and the opening of a public comment period.

DATES: Written comments on alternatives and issues to be addressed in 
the draft EIS must be received by July 26, 2011. Public scoping 
meetings will be held at various locations throughout the proposed 
seven-county plan area. Public scoping meetings will be held between 
May1, 2011 and June 15, 2011. Exact meeting locations and times will be 
announced in local newspapers and on the Service's Austin Ecological 
Services Office Web site, http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/AustinTexas/, 
at least 2 weeks prior to each meeting.

ADDRESSES: To request further information or submit written comments, 
use one of the following methods, and note that your information 
request or comment is in reference to the SEP RHCP/EIS:
     E-mail: Allison Arnold@fws.gov;
     U.S. Mail: Field Supervisor, Austin Ecological Services 
Field Office, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758-4460;
     Telephone: 512/490-0057; or
     Fax: 512/490-0974.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This notice is published in compliance with 
the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended (42 
U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and its implementing regulations (40 CFR 1506.6), 
and section 10(c) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The Service 
intends to gather the information necessary to determine impacts and 
alternatives to support a decision regarding the potential issuance of 
an ITPto the applicants under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act, and the 
implementation of the supporting draft RHCP.
    The applicants propose to develop an RHCP as part of their 
application for an ITP. The proposed RHCP will include measures 
necessary to minimize and mitigate the impacts, to the maximum extent 
practicable, of potential proposed taking of Federally listed species 
and the habitats upon which they depend, resulting from residential, 
commercial, and other development activities within the proposed plan 
area, to include Bexar and surrounding counties.


    Section 9 of the Act prohibits taking of fish and wildlife species 
listed as endangered or threatened under section 4 of the Act. Under 
the Act, the term ``take'' means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, 
wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any 
such conduct. The term ``harm'' is defined in the regulations 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). The term ``harass'' is defined in the regulations as to carry 
out actions that create the likelihood of injury to listed species to 
such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns, 
which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering 
(50 CFR 17.3). However, the Service may, under specified circumstances, 
issue permits that allow the take of Federally listed species, provided 
that the take that occurs is incidental to, but not as the purpose of,

[[Page 23620]]

an otherwise lawful activity. 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 such 
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 applicants will, to the 
maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the impact of such 
taking; (3) the applicants will develop a draft RHCP 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 applicants will carry out any other 
measures that the Service may require as being necessary or appropriate 
for the purposes of the RHCP.
    Thus, the purpose of issuing a programmatic ITP is to allow the 
applicants, under their respective City or County authority, to 
authorize development while conserving the covered species and their 
habitats. Implementation of a programmatic multispecies habitat 
conservation plan, rather than a species-by-species/project-by-project 
approach, will maximize the benefits of conservation measures for 
covered species and eliminate expensive and time-consuming efforts 
associated with processing individual ITPs for each project within the 
applicants' proposed seven-county plan area. The Service expects that 
the applicants will request ITP coverage for a period of 30 years.

Scoping Meetings

    The purpose of scoping meetings is to provide the public with a 
general understanding of the background of the proposed RHCP and 
activities that would be covered by the draft 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 the draft RHCP.
    The meeting format will consist of a 1-hour open house prior to the 
formal scoping meeting. The open house format will provide an 
opportunity to learn about the proposed action, permit area, and 
species covered. The open house will be followed by a formal 
presentation of the proposed action, summary of the NEPA process, and 
presentation of oral comments from the public. A court reporter will be 
present at each meeting, and an interpreter will be present when deemed 
necessary. The primary purpose of these meetings and public comment 
period is to solicit suggestions and information on the scope of issues 
and alternatives for the Service to consider when drafting the EIS. 
Oral and written comments will be accepted at the meetings. Comments 
can also be submitted to persons listed in the ADDRESSES section. Once 
the draft EIS and draft RHCP are completed and made available for 
review, there will be additional opportunity for public comment on the 
content of these documents through an additional public hearing and 
comment period.


    The proposed action presented in the draft EIS will be compared to 
the No-Action alternative. The No-Action alternative represents 
estimated future conditions to which the proposed action's estimated 
future conditions can be compared. Other alternatives considered, 
including impacts associated with each alternative evaluated, will also 
be addressed in the draft EIS.

No-Action Alternative

    Because the proposed covered activities (development activities) 
are vital in providing services to accommodate future population 
growth, energy, and infrastructure demand, these activities would 
continue regardless of whether a 10(a)(1)(B) permit is requested or 
issued. The applicants would continue to avoid and minimize impacts to 
protected species' habitat. Where potential impacts to Federally 
protected species within the proposed permit area could not be avoided, 
they would be minimized and mitigated through individual formal or 
informal consultation with the Service, when applicable, or applicants 
would potentially seek an individual section 10(a)(1)(B) ITP on a 
project-by-project basis. Although future activities by the applicants 
would be similar to those covered by the RHCP, not all activities would 
necessitate an incidental take permit or consultation with the Service. 
Thus, under this alternative, numerous individual section 10(a)(1)(B) 
permit applications would likely be filed over the 30-year project 
period. This project-by-project approach would be more time-consuming 
and less efficient; and could result in an isolated independent 
mitigation approach.

Proposed Alternative

    The proposed action is the issuance of an ITP for the covered 
species for development activities within the proposed permit area for 
a period of 30 years. The proposed RHCP, which must meet the 
requirements of section 10(a)(2)(A) of the Act by providing measures to 
minimize and mitigate the effects of the potential incidental take of 
covered species to the maximum extent practicable, would be developed 
and implemented by the applicants. This alternative could allow for a 
comprehensive mitigation approach for unavoidable impacts and reduce 
the permit processing effort for the Service.
    Activities proposed for coverage under the proposed permit will be 
otherwise lawful activities that would occur consistent with the RHCP 
and include, but are not limited to: (1) Construction, use, and/or 
maintenance of public or private land development projects, (e.g., 
single- and multi-family homes, residential subdivisions, farm and 
ranch improvements, commercial or industrial projects, government 
offices, and park infrastructure); (2) construction, maintenance, and/
or improvement of roads, bridges, and other transportation 
infrastructure; (3) installation and/or maintenance of utility 
infrastructure (e.g. transmission or distribution lines and facilities 
related to electric, telecommunication, water, wastewater, petroleum or 
natural gas, and other utility products or services); (4) the 
construction, use, maintenance, and/or expansion of schools, hospitals, 
corrections or justice facilities, and community service development or 
improvement projects; (5) construction, use, or maintenance of other 
public infrastructure and improvement projects (e.g., projects by 
municipalities, counties, school districts); (6) any management 
activities that are necessary to manage potential habitat for the 
covered species within the RHCP system that could temporarily result in 
incidental take; and (7) the construction, use, maintenance and/or 
expansion of quarries, gravel mining, or other similar extraction 
    It is anticipated that the following species will be included as 
covered species in the RHCP: The golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica 
chrysoparia), black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla), Madla Cave 
meshweaver (Cicurina madla), and two ground beetle species, each of 
which has no common name (Rhadine exilis and Rhadine infernalis). For 
these covered species, the applicants would seek incidental take 
authorization. Six Federally listed endangered species have been 
recommended for inclusion as covered species: Robber Baron Cave 
meshweaver (Cicurina baronia), Bracken Bat Cave meshweaver (Cicurina 
venii), Government Canyon Bat Cavemeshweaver (Cicurina vespera), 
Government Canyon Bat Cave spider (Neoleptoneta microps), Cokendolpher 
Cave harvestman (Texella

[[Page 23621]]

cokendolpheri), and Helotes mold beetle (Batrisodes venyivi). Seven 
additional species have been identified as potentially affected by the 
proposed covered activities and maybe considered for inclusion in the 
RHCP: Whooping crane (Grus americana), big red sage (Salvia 
penstemonoides), to busch fishhook cactus (Sclerocactus brevihamatus 
ssp tobuschii), bracted twistflower (Streptanthus bracteatus), golden 
orb (Quadrula aurea), Texas pimpleback (Quadrula petrina), and Texas 
fatmucket (Lampsilis bracteata). Incidental take authorization for 
these additional species may be necessary during the term of the ITP. 
Inclusion of these species will be determined during the RHCP planning 
and development process. The RHCP may include conservation measures to 
benefit these species, where practicable, and support research to help 
fill data gaps regarding the biology, habitat, distribution, and/or 
management of these species, even if incidental take coverage is not 
requested under the ITP.
    Candidate and Federally listed species not likely to be taken by 
the covered activities, and therefore not covered by the proposed ITP, 
may also be addressed in the draft RHCP to explain why the applicants 
believe these species will not be taken.
    Counties included in the proposed permit area are Bexar, Medina, 
Bandera, Kerr, Kendall, Blanco, and Comal Counties.

Public Availability of Comments

    Written comments we receive become part of the public record 
associated with this action. Before including your address, phone 
number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in 
your comment, you should be aware that the 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

    The Service will conduct an environmental review to analyze the 
proposed action, as well as other alternatives evaluated and the 
associated impacts of each. The draft EIS will be the basis for the 
impact evaluation for each species covered and the range of 
alternatives to be addressed. The draft EIS is expected to provide 
biological descriptions of the affected species and habitats, as well 
as the effects of the alternatives on other resources, such as 
vegetation, wetlands, wildlife, geology and soils, air quality, water 
resources, water quality, cultural resources, land use, recreation, 
water use, local economy, and environmental justice.
    Following completion of the environmental review, the Service will 
publish a notice of availability and a request for comment on the draft 
EIS and the applicants' permit application, which will include the 
draft RHCP. The draft EIS and draft RHCP are expected to be completed 
and available to the public in late 2011.

Joy E. Nicholopoulos,
Acting Regional Director, Region 2, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
[FR Doc. 2011-10143 Filed 4-26-11; 8:45 am]