[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 72 (Monday, April 15, 2013)]
[Pages 22278-22280]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-08766]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-ES-2013-N085; FXES11120100000-134-FF01E00000]

Proposed Amendment of Habitat Conservation Plan and Associated 
Documents; Green Diamond Resource Company; Mason, Grays Harbor, Lewis, 
Pacific, and Thurston Counties, WA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), have received an 
application, under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as 
amended, from Green Diamond Resource Company (GDRCo) for a proposed 
low-effect amendment to their Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) and 
Implementation Agreement (IA). If approved, the GDRCo incidental take 
permit (ITP), as well as the HCP and IA, would be amended to increase 
the amount of lands covered under the ITP and HCP; some of the HCP 
management prescriptions would change, including those associated with 
marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) habitat protection; and the 
IA would be amended to include a new clause and a new marbled murrelet 
habitat map. The amendment would change the management of GDRCo's added 
lands from prescriptions currently required under the standard 
Washington State Forest Practices Rules (FP Rules) and Forest Practices 
HCP (FP HCP) to those of the GDRCo HCP. We invite public comment on the 
proposed amendment of the ITP, HCP, IA, and associated documents.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
May 15, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may download a copy of the permit application, HCP, and 
associated documents on the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/wafwo/. The 
proposed amendment to the HCP and IA and the Draft Environmental Action 
Statement are available for review and comment. The original HCP, IA, 
and Final Environmental Impact Statement are available for review.
    Please specify permit number TE032463-0 on all correspondence. You 
may submit comments or requests for hard copies or a CD-ROM of the 
documents by one of the following methods:
     Email: Louellyn_Jones@fws.gov. Include ``Permit Number 
TE032463-0'' in the subject line of the message.
     Facsimile: Ken Berg, Manager, 360-753-9405; Attn.: Lou 
Ellyn Jones, Permit number TE032463-0.
     U.S. Mail: Please address written comments to Ken Berg, 
Manager; Attention: Lou Ellyn Jones; Washington Fish and Wildlife 
Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 510 Desmond Drive SE., Lacey, 
WA 98503.
     In-Person: Written comments can be dropped off during 
regular business hours (8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) at the above address. Call 
Lou Ellyn Jones, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, at (360) 753-5822 to make 
an appointment to view or pick up draft documents.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lou Ellyn Jones, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, at address under ADDRESSES, above; by email at Louellyn_Jones@fws.gov; or by telephone at (360) 753-5822.



    Section 9 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and our implementing 
Federal regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 50 CFR 
17 prohibit the ``take'' of fish or wildlife species listed as 
endangered or threatened. Take of listed fish or wildlife is defined 
under the Act as ``to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, 
trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such 
conduct'' (16 U.S.C. 1532). However, under section 10 of the Act, for 
limited circumstances, we issue permits to authorize incidental take of 
threatened or endangered species--i.e., take that is incidental to, and 
not the purpose of, the carrying out of otherwise lawful activities. A 
permit to take bald eagles can also be issued under the Act when 
associated with a conservation plan such as an HCP, as long as the Bald 
and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668-668c) standards are met.
    Regulations governing incidental take permits for threatened and 
endangered species are at 50 CFR 17.32 and 17.22, respectively. 
Regulations governing take of bald eagles are at 50 CFR 22. In addition 
to meeting other criteria, an incidental take permit must not 
jeopardize the continued existence of federally listed threatened or 
endangered species, and authorized take of bald eagles must be 
consistent with the goal of maintaining stable or increasing breeding 
populations of this species.


    The GDRCo has requested an amendment to the HCP, IA, and ITP 
originally issued on October 13, 2000, with a term of 50 years. The 
species covered under the existing and amended ITP would remain the 
same; however, for some species, listing status has changed since the 
permit was issued. Covered species under the amended HCP include the 
bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), which was listed as threatened on 
June 10, 1998 (63 FR 31693); the marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus 
marmoratus), which was listed as threatened on October 1, 1992 (57 FR 
45328); and the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), which was listed 
as threatened in Washington on February 14, 1978 (43 FR 6230), and 
delisted throughout the United States on July 9, 2007 (72 FR 37346). 
Also covered are 5 anadromous fish species under the jurisdiction of 
the National Marine Fisheries Service, 2 of which are listed, and 43 
additional non-listed species associated with western forests, streams, 
and wetlands.
     The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), which was 
listed as threatened on June 26, 1990 (55 FR 26114), is not covered in 
the existing or proposed amendment to the HCP. Management of northern 
spotted owls and their habitat on GDRCo lands would continue to be 
guided by applicable FP Rules, as well as by the take prohibitions 
under the Act.

Applicant's Proposal

    The proposed amendment would add to the permit approximately 53,000 
acres and 854 stream miles of covered lands, for a total of 
approximately 319,000 acres and 2,575 stream miles on GDRCo lands, to 
be managed in accordance with their HCP. Any additional lands that may 
be acquired by GDRCo within the Chehalis and Willapa Basins during the 
term of the permit may also be added to the HCP,

[[Page 22279]]

according to the process outlined in the amended IA. The area of the 
Chehalis (about 1.7 million acres) and Willapa (166,000 acres) Basins 
totals about 2,920 mi\2\ (about 1.87 million acres), which includes 
part of the original HCP boundary and the proposed expansion area. The 
new HCP boundary would include lands in Mason, Grays Harbor, Lewis, 
Pacific, and Thurston Counties in the State of Washington. The 
amendment would change the management of GDRCo's added lands from 
prescriptions currently required under FP Rules and the FP HCP to those 
of the GDRCo HCP. The amendment also changes some of the original GDRCo 
HCP prescriptions.
    Under the amendment, suitable marbled murrelet habitat on the added 
lands and any future additions to the HCP would be determined based on 
the most recent (2011) Pacific Seabird Group criteria, which are more 
stringent than those of both FP Rules (WAC 222-16-010) and the original 
GDRCo HCP. For example, under the new criteria, only one nesting 
platform, at least 10 cm (4 inches) wide, is required per acre to meet 
the definition of suitable marbled murrelet habitat. In contrast, under 
FP Rules, two nesting platforms, at least 18 cm (7 inches) wide, are 
required per acre.
    Most of the lands covered under the amended HCP are within the 
marbled murrelet special landscape (WAC 222-16-087). FP Rules protect 
stands of occupied murrelet habitat and unsurveyed suitable habitat 
patches that are 5 acres or larger within the marbled murrelet special 
landscape and marbled murrelet detection areas. Elsewhere, occupied and 
unsurveyed suitable habitat patches 7 acres or larger are protected. 
Under the amended GDRCo HCP, suitable stands on the added lands that 
are 5 acres or larger would be protected, regardless of whether or not 
they are occupied or within the marbled murrelet special landscape or a 
detection area. The original HCP Area will continue to focus on 
protection of occupied murrelet habitat, per the original HCP 
    The proposed amendment includes an update to HCP prescriptions 
based on the most recent Pacific Region guidelines to avoid disturbance 
and take at communal bald eagle roosts and important foraging areas. It 
also addresses protection of newly discovered bald eagle nests, roosts, 
and important foraging areas, and a yearly monitoring and reporting 
requirement. The Service may review yearly reports to evaluate whether 
prescriptions need to be updated to remain compliant with the Bald and 
Golden Eagle Protection Act.
    The proposed amendment would change the forest cover prescriptions 
for rain-on-snow zones within the Chehalis Watershed to reflect a 
watershed analysis conducted for that watershed and consistent with FP 
Rules (WAC 222-20-100). Conservation measures that are part of the 
original HCP will continue to be applied in the added lands and lands 
acquired in the future. These include the implementation of the 
Riparian Conservation Reserve (RCR), wetland, and steep slope 
management programs. Established RCRs will be thinned to promote late 
seral stand characteristics, and they may develop into marbled murrelet 
and spotted owl habitat over time. No additional buffer areas will be 
established for murrelet habitat that lies within the RCRs, given the 
large extent of contiguous forest (17 percent of the plan area) within 
these areas.
    Text and exhibits in the IA would be amended to reflect the 
expanded HCP boundary around lands eligible for inclusion under the 
HCP, a new marbled murrelet habitat map, and the addition of a 
severability and savings clause.

Anticipated Effects of Implementing the Amended HCP

    Bull trout are only occasionally found within the covered area for 
the amended HCP. The FP HCP and the GDRCo HCP contain similar 
conservation measures for the bull trout and other aquatic species. 
Given the low occurrence of bull trout within the covered area for the 
amended HCP and the similarity of the two sets of HCP conservation 
measures, the anticipated effects to the bull trout of changing from 
the FP HCP prescriptions to the GDRCo HCP prescriptions are negligible. 
All private timberlands in Washington State, including those under 
GDRCo ownership, are excluded from the area designated as bull trout 
critical habitat (75 FR 63898); therefore, the amendment would have no 
effect on designated bull trout critical habitat.
    Both beneficial and adverse impacts to marbled murrelet are 
anticipated. Under the amended HCP, it is anticipated that more acres 
of suitable marbled murrelet habitat would be protected than under 
standard FP Rules, due to the use of the more current and stringent 
suitable habitat criteria and due to protection of suitable habitat 
patches that are 5 acres or larger on the added lands regardless of 
their occupancy status or location relative to the marbled murrelet 
special emphasis area.
    Adverse effects to the marbled murrelet likely to be caused by the 
amended HCP are associated with removal of suitable habitat patches 
that are less than 5 acres. Very few suitable habitat patches less than 
5 acres are anticipated because most of them would have already been 
removed under FP Rules unless they are within regulatory buffers or 
difficult-to-harvest locations. Thus, the area where these adverse 
effects could occur is very small. In addition, suitable murrelet 
habitat within GDRCo RCRs, wetland or steep slope buffers, or on 
adjacent ownerships could be degraded by windthrow or exposure to wind 
if harvest occurs within 300 feet of murrelet habitat. The probability 
of this is low, because suitable habitat is not likely to develop in 
the RCRs and other buffers for another 35-40 years. The same potential 
for adverse effects to the murrelet also exists under the original 
GDRCo HCP and FP rules. Although the Service considers this habitat 
degradation likely to occur, the area where this could occur is 
limited; moreover, due to the current declining population status of 
marbled murrelet, the Service is not reasonably certain that murrelet 
would occupy these small or marginal habitat areas. Therefore, we do 
not believe that take of marbled murrelet is likely to increase under 
the amended HCP. Despite the small possibility of adverse effects, the 
overall result of the modified marbled murrelet prescriptions is 
beneficial, because the modifications protect habitat that would not 
otherwise be protected under the FP Rules.
    Marbled murrelet critical habitat has not been designated on 
private lands in Washington State. A portion of designated critical 
habitat exists in the extreme eastern corner and on State-owned lands 
within the covered area under the amended HCP. It is unlikely GDRCo 
would purchase land in the immediate area of marbled murrelet critical 
habitat, because access to many of these areas is difficult or they are 
within the Mineral Spotted Owl Special Emphasis Area, which has 
encumbrances on private lands. Therefore, the potential for affecting 
marbled murrelet critical habitat is very low.
    There are no anticipated effects to spotted owls in association 
with the amendment, because they are not a covered species under the 
original or amended GDRCo HCP, and management of their habitat would 
continue to comply with the requirements of FP Rules and the Federal 
ESA. Spotted owl critical habitat has been designated (77 FR 71875) in 
a small portion of the amended assessment area, but is not

[[Page 22280]]

adjacent to any GDRCo lands. It is unlikely that GDRCo would purchase 
land adjacent to spotted owl critical habitat in the future. Thus, the 
effect of the amendment will be negligible on northern spotted owls and 
their designated critical habitat.
    Over the decades-long term of the amended HCP, it is estimated that 
there may be two occurrences of disturbance to a nesting pair of bald 
eagles. This low level of impact is expected to be consistent with 
maintaining stable or increasing numbers of bald eagles in the area 
covered by the amended HCP. Monitoring reports and Service reviews will 
ensure that implementation of the HCP will remain consistent with the 
requirements of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
    There are 43 other non-listed covered species. Effects caused by 
the amended HCP are anticipated to be negligible for those non-listed 
covered species associated with mainstem streams and rivers as well as 
tributaries, because riparian buffer requirements are very similar 
under the amended GDRCo HCP compared to those of the FP Rules and FP 
HCP. Effects are anticipated to be beneficial for species associated 
with forested wetlands and headwater areas, because the GDRCo HCP 
prescriptions protect forested wetlands and riparian buffers on 
headwater streams, while the FP Rules do not. Effects are also 
anticipated to be beneficial for snag-dependent species, due to the 
higher number of conserved wildlife trees required under the GDRCo HCP.

Our Preliminary Determination

    The proposed amendment of the ITP is a Federal action that triggers 
the need for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 
1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) (NEPA). The Service has made 
a preliminary determination that the permit application, the proposed 
amendment of the HCP, and the pending issuance of an amended ITP are 
eligible for categorical exclusion under NEPA as provided by the 
Department of the Interior Manual (516 DM 2 Appendix 2 and 516 DM 8), 
based on the following criteria: (1) Implementation of the amended HCP 
would result in minor or negligible adverse effects on federally 
listed, proposed, and candidate species and their habitats; (2) 
implementation of the amended HCP would result in minor or negligible 
adverse effects on other environmental values or resources; and (3) 
impacts of the amended HCP, considered together with the impacts of 
other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable similarly-situated 
projects, would not result, over time, in cumulative adverse effects to 
environmental values or resources which would be considered 
significant. We explain the basis for this preliminary determination 
above under Anticipated Effects of Implementing the Amended HCP, and in 
more detail in a draft Environmental Action Statement that is also 
available for public review. Based upon our review of public comments 
that we receive in response to this notice, this preliminary 
determination may be revised.

Next Steps

    The public process for the proposed Federal permit action will be 
completed after the public comment period, at which time we will 
evaluate the permit amendment application and comments submitted 
thereon to determine whether the application meets the requirements of 
section 10(a) of the Act, applicable regulations, and NEPA 
requirements. If we determine that those requirements are met, we will 
amend the ITP to reflect the revised HCP and IA.

Public Comments

    We invite public comment on the proposed amendments of the ITP, 
HCP, and IA. If you wish to comment on the proposed amendment of the 
ITP, HCP, and associated documents, you may submit comments by any one 
of the methods discussed above under ADDRESSES.

Public Availability of Comments

    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we use in preparing the EIS under NEPA, will become part 
of the public record and will be available for public inspection by 
appointment, during regular business hours, at the Service's Washington 
Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES). Before including your 
address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying 
information in your comments, 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.


    This notice is provided in accordance with section 10 of the Act 
(16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and NEPA regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

    Dated: April 5, 2013.
Richard R. Hannan,
Deputy Regional Director, Pacific Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 2013-08766 Filed 4-12-13; 8:45 am]