[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 220 (Friday, November 14, 2014)]
[Pages 68289-68291]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-27021]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-ES-2014-N131; FXES11120100000-145-FF01E00000]

Draft Multi-Species General Conservation Plan and Draft 
Environmental Assessment; Douglas County, Washington

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft multi-species general conservation plan (MSGCP) 
for Douglas County, Washington. The Service and the Foster Creek 
Conservation District (FCCD) developed the draft MSGCP as a 
programmatic approach to streamline the development of individual farm 
plans by non-Federal agricultural landowners and operators to 
facilitate their applying for incidental take permits (ITPs) under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The ITPs would 
authorize take of the federally endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit 
and three other nonlisted species, should they become listed, resulting 
from otherwise lawful activities on non-

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Federal agricultural lands within Douglas County. The Service also 
announces the availability of a draft environmental assessment (EA) for 
public review and comment.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
January 13, 2015.

ADDRESSES: To request further information or submit written comments, 
please use one of the following methods, and note that your information 
request or comments are in reference to the Douglas County MSGCP:
     Internet: Documents may be viewed on the Internet at 
     In-Person Viewing or Pickup: Documents will be available 
for public inspection by appointment during normal business hours at 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Eastern Washington Field Office, 
11103 E. Montgomery Dr., Spokane Valley, WA 99206; and at the Foster 
Creek Conservation District Office, Douglas County Courthouse-3rd 
Floor, 203 Rainier, Waterville, WA 98858.
     Email: FW1DouglasCountyGCP@fws.gov. Include ``Douglas 
County MSGCP'' in the subject line of the message.
     U.S. Mail: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Eastern 
Washington Field Office, 11103 E. Montgomery Dr., Spokane Valley, WA 
     Fax: Eastern Washington Field Office, 509-891-6748, Attn.: 
Douglas County MSGCP.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michelle Eames, Project Manager, 
Eastern Washington Field Office (see ADDRESSES), telephone: 509-893-
8010. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf, please call 
the Federal Information Relay Service at 800-877-8339.



    Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act; 
16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) prohibits take 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 (16 U.S.C. 1532(19)). The term ``harm,'' as defined in our 
regulations, includes 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 our 
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, under specified circumstances, the Service may issue 
permits that allow take of federally listed species, provided that the 
take that occurs is incidental to, but not the purpose of, an otherwise 
lawful activity. Regulations governing permits for endangered and 
threatened species are at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32, respectively. 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 applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize 
and mitigate the impact of such taking;
    (3) The applicant will 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 the 
Service may require as being necessary or appropriate for the purposes 
of the plan.

Proposed Action

    The Service and the FCCD developed the proposed MSGCP for Douglas 
County, Washington, as a programmatic approach to streamline the 
development of individual farm plans to support ITP applications under 
section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act. The MSGCP would expedite Service review 
of such permit applications. The MSGCP is a type of programmatic 
conservation plan, under which multiple section 10 permits can be 
issued. The proposed MSGCP provides land management guidance for 
protecting the federally endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit 
(Brachylagus idahoensis) and three nonlisted wildlife species, over 
approximately 879,000 acres of private agricultural lands in Douglas 
County, Washington, for the next 50 years. The three nonlisted species 
include the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), Washington 
ground squirrel (Urocitellus washingtoni), and the sharp-tailed grouse 
(Tympanuchus phasianellus). Collectively these four species are 
hereafter referred to as the ``covered species.'' The MSGCP does not 
cover private, nonagricultural land uses within Douglas County, and it 
does not cover activities on Federal land. It also does not cover 
State-owned land, unless those lands are leased for agricultural 
production to private operators, as can occur with lands managed by the 
Washington Department of Natural Resources.
    The Douglas County MSGCP will streamline the development of future 
ITP applications, which, if approved, would authorize the incidental 
take of federally endangered or threatened species resulting from 
otherwise lawful activities on non-Federal agricultural lands within 
Douglas County. Should any of the nonlisted covered species become 
federally listed as endangered or threatened under the Act during the 
term of an ITP, take authorization for those species would become 
effective upon listing, as long as the permittee is in compliance with 
the terms of the MSGCP and ITP. Agricultural landowners and operators 
participating in the Douglas County MSGCP under an ITP would be 
provided with legal authority to conduct covered agricultural 
activities that cause incidental take of listed species. The MSGCP 
covers numerous activities associated with dryland farming, ranching, 
and some irrigated farming in Douglas County. Farmers and ranchers in 
Douglas County may voluntarily apply for ITPs under the MSGCP. The 
Service will publish notice of the receipt of applications in the 
Federal Register and request public comments. If an application is 
consistent with expectations of the MSGCP, the EA and related documents 
and all other applicable Federal laws and regulations, the USFWS will 
issue the ITP. An ITP is needed to authorize the incidental take of 
federally endangered and threatened species that may occur as a result 
of covered agricultural activities.
    The proposed Douglas County MSGCP includes measures to minimize and 
mitigate, to the maximum extent practicable, the impacts of farming and 
ranching activities that may incidentally take the covered species. 
Avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures in the MSGCP include 
development of farm plans, implementation of best management practices, 
and an adaptive management and monitoring plan. The draft MSGCP and 
draft EA address and analyze the impacts of incidental take of the 
covered species resulting from agricultural activities.
    The purpose of developing a MSGCP is to allow potential applicants 
for an ITP to use the provisions in the MSGCP instead of developing 
their own individual habitat conservation plans. Under this scenario, 
the MSGCP allows multiple applicants to conduct similar

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activities within a predetermined area, while jointly conserving the 
covered species and their habitats. Implementation of the Douglas 
County MSGCP, rather than a species-by-species or plan-by-plan 
approach, will maximize the benefits of conservation measures for 
covered species at a larger landscape scale and facilitate future 
review of multiple individual ITPs.

National Environmental Policy Act Compliance

    The development of the draft MSGCP for Douglas County and the 
proposed issuance of ITPs under this plan 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). We have 
prepared a draft EA to analyze the environmental impacts of three 
alternatives related to the issuance of ITPs and implementation of the 
conservation program under the proposed MSGCP. The three alternatives 
include the proposed action, a no-action alternative, and an expanded 
conservation lands alternative.
    The proposed action alternative is the implementation of the MSGCP 
and issuance of ITPs to participating agricultural landowners and 
operators in Douglas County.
    Under the no-action alternative, the proposed MSGCP would not be 
implemented and no ITPs would be issued to agricultural landowners and 
operators in Douglas County to cover the incidental take of covered 
species resulting from farming and ranching activities. The no-action 
alternative would not give agricultural landowners and operators 
regulatory certainty, and actions that could result in take of listed 
species on non-Federal lands would be prohibited under section 9 of the 
    The expanded conservation lands alternative would include many of 
the same features as described for the proposed action alternative, 
including the same covered activities, covered species, and monitoring 
and adaptive management. The key difference would be in the approach to 
managing conservation lands. In recent years, the conservation of all 
wildlife species in Douglas County has been considerably improved by 
implementation of the Natural Resources Conservation Service's 
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Prior to 2009, about 33 percent of 
the ``eligible lands'' in Douglas County (186,144 acres) were enrolled 
in the CRP. This expanded conservation lands alternative involves an 
increase in the extent of lands enrolled in the CRP or similar 
protected lands by 100,000 acres above the 2009 benchmark of 186,144 
acres over the next 10 years, to a level of about 50 percent of the 
eligible lands in Douglas County. This would be a voluntary commitment 
on the part of landowners.

Public Comments

    You may submit your comments and materials by one of the methods 
listed in the ADDRESSES section. We specifically request information, 
views, and opinions from the public on our proposed Federal action, 
including identification of any other aspects of the human environment 
not already identified in the draft EA pursuant to NEPA regulations in 
the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 40 CFR 1506.6. Further, we 
specifically solicit information regarding the adequacy of the MSGCP 
pursuant to the requirements for ITPs at 50 CFR parts 13 and 17.

Public Availability of Comments

    All comments and materials we receive become part of the public 
record associated with this action. Before including your address, 
phone number, email address, or other personally identifiable 
information (PII) in your comments, you should be aware that your 
entire comment--including your PII--may be made publicly available at 
any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your PII 
from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. 
Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation 
we use in preparing the EA, will be available for public inspection by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at our Eastern Washington 
Field Office (see ADDRESSES).

Next Steps

    After completion of the EA, we will determine whether adoption of 
the Douglas County MSGCP warrants a finding of no significant impact or 
whether an environmental impact statement should be prepared. We will 
evaluate the Douglas County MSGCP and its potential use by future ITP 
applicants, as well as any comments we receive, to determine whether 
the MSGCP, when used by ITP applicants, would meet the requirements for 
issuance of ITPs under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act. We will also 
evaluate whether issuance of section 10(a)(1)(B) ITPs under the MSGCP 
would comply with section 7 of the Act by conducting an intra-Service 
section 7 consultation on anticipated ITP actions.


    We provide this notice in accordance with the requirements of 
section 10 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and NEPA regulations (40 
CFR 1501.7, 1506.6, and 1508.22).

     Dated: October 21, 2014.
Richard Hannan,
Deputy Regional Director, Pacific Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 2014-27021 Filed 11-13-14; 8:45 am]