[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 26 (Friday, February 7, 2014)]
[Pages 7472-7474]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-02637]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2013-0134: FXES11120200000F2-145-FF02ENEH00]

Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for 
a Habitat Conservation Plan for Commercial Developments, Including 
Energy Developments, and Agricultural and Conservation Activities 
Within Six States

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, as lead agency, intend to 
prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) on a proposed 
application for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP), including a Habitat 
Conservation Plan (HCP), under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (ESA). The potential ITP is directed to the lesser prairie-
chicken, a species currently proposed to be listed as threatened 
pursuant to the ESA. The potential ITP includes activities that cover 
regional construction, operation, and maintenance associated with 
multiple commercial energy facilities and agricultural activities (e.g. 
farming, ranching) and conservation management activities within 
portions of six States (Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, 
Oklahoma, and Texas). We provide this notice to (1) describe the 
proposed action; (2) advise other Federal and state agencies, 
potentially affected tribal interests, and the public of our intent to 
prepare an EIS; (3) announce the initiation of a 30-day public scoping 
period; and (4) obtain suggestions and information on the scope of 
issues and possible alternatives to be included in the EIS.

DATES: Comments: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or 
before March 10, 2014. Comments submitted electronically using the 
Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES section, below) must be 
received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. Any comments 
that we receive after the closing date may not be considered.
    Scoping Meetings: We will hold public meetings within the proposed 
permit area. Written comments will be accepted at each meeting.
    Notice of the exact meeting dates, times, and locations will be 
published at least 2 weeks before the event in local newspapers and on 
the Service's Web site, http://www.fws.gov/southwest/.

ADDRESSES: You may submit written comments by one of the following 
     Electronically: Go to the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: 
http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R2-ES-2013-
0134, which is the docket number for this notice. On the left side of 
the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Notices link 
to locate this document and submit a comment.
     By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to 
Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2013-0134; Division of 
Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 
N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, VA 22203.
    Please note that your comments are in regard to the EIS for the 
Stakeholder Conservation Strategy/American Habitat Center Habitat 
Conservation Plan.
    We request that you send comments only by one of the methods 
described above. We will post all information received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any 
personal information you provide us (see the Public Availability of 
Comments section below for more information).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Allison Arnold, at 512-490-0057, x242 
(telephone), or Allison_Arnold@fws.gov (email). Individuals who are 
hearing impaired or speech impaired may call the Federal Relay Service 
at 800-877-8337 for TTY assistance.



    Under the National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321, et 
seq.; NEPA) of 1969, as amended, we, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service), as lead agency, advise the public that we intend to prepare 
an environmental impact statement (EIS) on a proposed application for 
an incidental take permit (ITP), including a Habitat Conservation Plan 
(HCP) under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.; ESA), and seek public input prior 
to developing a draft EIS for the potential issuance of an ITP.

[[Page 7473]]

    The potential ITP is directed to the lesser prairie-chicken 
(Tympanuchus pallidicintus) a species currently proposed to be listed 
as threatened pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (ESA). The potential ITP would include activities that cover 
regional construction, operation, and maintenance associated with 
multiple commercial energy facilities and agricultural activities (e.g. 
farming, ranching), and conservation management activities within 
portions of six States (Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, 
Oklahoma, and Texas). The lesser prairie-chicken has some likelihood of 
being affected by the applicant's activities within the proposed permit 
    The intended effect of this notice is to gather information from 
the public to develop and analyze the effects of the potential issuance 
of an ITP that would facilitate development and agricultural production 
within the planning area, while minimizing incidental take and 
mitigating the effects of any incidental take to the maximum extent 

Reasonable Accommodations

    Persons needing reasonable accommodations in order to attend and 
participate in the public meetings should contact the Service at the 
address above no later than 1 week before the public meeting. 
Information regarding this proposed action is available in alternative 
formats upon request.


    Section 9 of the ESA and its implementing regulations prohibit take 
of animal species listed 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 such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). 
Section 10 of the ESA, 16 U.S.C. 1539, establishes a program whereby 
persons seeking to pursue activities that are otherwise legal, but 
could give rise to liability for unlawful take of federally protected 
species, may receive an ITP, which provides incidental take 
authorization to the ITP holder. To obtain an ITP, an applicant must 
submit an HCP containing measures that would minimize incidental take, 
including avoidance, and mitigate for the effects of any incidental 
take to the maximum extent practicable, and ensure that the taking is 
incidental to, and not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity (16 
U.S.C. 1539(a)(1)(B) and 1539(a)(2)(A)).

Applicant's Proposed Habitat Conservation Plan

    A diverse group of stakeholders representing energy, agricultural, 
and conservation industries and organizations (Stakeholders) across 
five States within the occupied range of the lesser prairie-chicken, as 
well as Nebraska, have come together to develop a range-wide 
conservation plan: The Stakeholder Conservation Strategy for the lesser 
prairie-chicken. The Strategy contains three primary components: The 
Habitat Exchange (``Exchange'') for the lesser prairie-chicken, the 
Habitat Quantification Tool (HQT) and the Regional Habitat Conservation 
Plan for the lesser prairie-chicken (HCP). The HCP will reference the 
HQT as the means for determining debits and will identify the Exchange 
as the primary means of meeting mitigation obligations.
    The HCP and associated permit, if approved, would have sufficient 
``take'' authorization to allow agriculture, energy industry 
development, and other activities to continue should the lesser 
prairie-chicken become listed. The ITP is being sought by a group of 
energy industry companies and agricultural and conservation 
organizations formed in 2013 to develop the Stakeholder Conservation 
Strategy (SCS) for the lesser prairie-chicken. Member entities include: 
Colorado Cattlemen's Association, Kansas Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Farm 
Bureau, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Farm 
Bureau, Plains Cotton Growers, Texas Wheat Growers Association, Texas 
Watershed Management Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature 
Conservancy, Oklahoma State University, United States Department of 
Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, 
British Petroleum, Chesapeake, Chevron, SandRidge, and, XTO Energy/
ExxonMobil. Additional companies or organizations may become involved 
as the planning process proceeds. Entities wishing to gain regulatory 
assurances and coverage under an incidental take permit may enroll in 
the HCP.
    The HCP will contain a multifaceted approach, including but not 
limited to take avoidance, minimization of take (e.g., through proven 
and defined best management practices), and mitigation of the impacts 
of take through habitat preservation, restoration, and enhancement 
measures. The applicant must also ensure that adequate funding for 
implementation, including biological and compliance monitoring, is 
    Currently, the HCP contemplates effects from covered activities to 
the lesser prairie-chicken, currently proposed for listing as a 
threatened species. The final list of covered species may include 
additional species based on the outcome of this planning process.
    The proposed planning area is defined as the occupied range of the 
lesser prairie-chicken, including portions of New Mexico, Colorado, 
Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. In addition, the planning area includes 
areas outside of the occupied range where populations could expand with 
appropriate conservation initiatives attempting to accomplish 
population expansion. This would extend the planning area beyond the 
five States listed above to include portions of Nebraska.

Environmental Impact Statement

    The Service will be the lead Federal agency in the preparation of 
the EIS to satisfy the requirements of NEPA. With this notice of intent 
(NOI), we ask other Federal, State, tribal, and local agencies with 
jurisdiction and/or special expertise with respect to environmental 
issues to formally cooperate with us in the preparation of the EIS. 
Agencies that would like to request cooperating agency status on the 
EIS should follow the instructions for filing comments provided under 
the ADDRESSES section, above.
    The EIS will consider the proposed action (the issuance of a 
section 10(a)(1)(B) ITP, as supported by an HCP), no action (no HCP/no 
ITP), and a reasonable range of alternatives that accomplish the 
Service's purpose and need in reviewing this proposal. A detailed 
description of the proposed action and alternatives will be included in 
the EIS. The alternatives currently considered for analysis in the EIS 
may include, but are not limited to, modified lists of covered species, 
differing land-coverage areas, activities that may be covered, and a 
variety of permit structures under consideration for the conservation 
program, described below in the Public Comment section. The EIS will 
also identify potentially significant impacts on biological resources, 
land use, air quality, water quality, water resources, economics, and 
other environmental/historical resources that may occur from issuance 
of the ITP; indirect impacts as a result of implementing a proposed 
HCP, including any of the alternatives; and cumulative impacts. Various 
strategies for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating the impacts of 
incidental take will also be considered.

[[Page 7474]]

    Environmental review of the EIS will be conducted in accordance 
with the requirements of NEPA, its implementing regulations (40 CFR 
1500-1508), other applicable regulations, and our procedures for 
compliance with those regulations. We furnish this notice in accordance 
with 40 CFR 1501.7 and 1508.22 to obtain suggestions and information 
from other agencies and the public on the scope of issues and 
alternatives they believe need to be addressed in the EIS. We invite 
comments from interested parties to ensure that the full range of 
issues related to the proposed permit application is identified.

Public Comments

    We are requesting information from other interested government 
agencies, Native American Tribes, the scientific community, industry, 
or other interested parties concerning the following areas of analysis: 
Vegetation, Wildlife and Aquatic Resources, Special Status Species, 
U.S. Wetlands and Waters, Archeology, Architectural History, Sites of 
Religious and Cultural Significance to Tribes, Noise and Vibration, 
Visual Resources and Aesthetics, Economics and Socioeconomics, 
Environmental Justice, Air Quality (including greenhouse gas emissions 
and climate change), Geology and Soil, Land Use, Transportation, 
Infrastructure and Utilities, Hazardous Materials and Solid Waste 
Management, and Human Health and Safety.
    Please note that submissions merely stating support for, or 
opposition to, the action under consideration without providing 
supporting information, although noted, will not provide information 
useful in determining the issues and the impacts to the human 
environment in the draft EIS. The public will also have a chance to 
review and comment on the draft EIS when it is available (a notice of 
availability will be published in the Federal Register).
    You may submit your comments and materials by one of the methods 
described above under the ADDRESSES section at the beginning of this 
notice. Written comments will also be accepted at the public meetings, 
although these public meetings are primarily intended to provide 
additional information and provide a chance for the public to ask 
specific questions concerning the proposed HCP and EIS.

Public Availability of Comments

    Written comments we receive become part of the public record 
associated with this action. Before including your address, phone 
number, email 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. We will not consider anonymous 
comments. All submissions from organizations or businesses, and from 
individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials of 
organizations or businesses, will be made available for public 
disclosure in their entirety.


    We provide this notice under section 10(c) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR 17.22) and the 
National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4721 et seq.) and its 
implementing regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

Joy E. Nicholopoulos,
Acting Regional Director, Southwest Region, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
[FR Doc. 2014-02637 Filed 2-6-14; 8:45 am]