[Federal Register Volume 68, Number 166 (Wednesday, August 27, 2003)]
[Notices]
[Pages 51589-51591]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 03-21867]


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service


Availability of Threemile Canyon Farms Multi-Species Candidate 
Conservation Agreement With Assurances, and Related Draft Environmental 
Assessment, Morrow and Gilliam Counties, Oregon

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: Threemile Canyon Farms, LLC (Farm), Portland General Electric 
(PGE), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the Oregon Department of Fish 
and Wildlife (ODFW) have applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service) for Enhancement of Survival Permits pursuant to section 
10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The permit applications include a proposed Multi-
Species Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (MSCCAA) 
between the Farm, PGE, TNC, ODFW, and the Service. The proposed term of 
the permits and MSCCAA is 25 years.
    Under the proposed MSCCAA, the parties would implement habitat 
management, operational modifications, and conservation measures for 
four non-listed species over approximately 93,000 acres (Covered Area) 
in northeast Oregon. The Service has prepared a draft Environmental 
Assessment pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 
(NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and associated regulations (40 CFR 
1500-1508) for approval of the MSCCAA and issuance of the permits.
    We request comments from the public on the permit applications, 
proposed MSCCAA and the draft Environmental Assessment, all of which 
are available for review (see ``Document Availability'' in the 
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section).

DATES: Written comments must be received from interested parties on or 
before October 14, 2003.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by postal mail/commercial delivery, 
facsimile, or by e-mail. If you use postal mail/commercial delivery or 
facsimile, please address your written comments to Kemper McMaster, 
State Supervisor, Fish and Wildlife Service, 2600 S.E. 98th Ave., Suite 
100, Portland, Oregon 97266, facsimile (503) 231-6195. If you use e-
mail, address your comments to threemilemsccaa@r1.fws.gov. Include your 
name and mailing address in your message.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rich Szlemp, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, Oregon State Office at (503) 231-6179.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Document Availability

    You may obtain copies of the documents for review by contacting the 
above named individual (FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT) or by making 
an appointment to view the documents at the above address (see 
ADDRESSES) during normal business hours. You may also view the 
documents on the Internet at http://www.davidevansandassociates.com/
projects/threemile.html.

Background

    Under a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, 
participating landowners voluntarily implement conservation activities 
on their property to benefit nonlisted species that are proposed or 
candidates for listing under the Act, or other sensitive species. 
Landowners may be willing to implement measures that enhance 
populations of sensitive species on their property, but may be 
reluctant to do so because of potential land-use restrictions that 
could occur should the species eventually be listed under the Act. As a 
result of this potential regulatory concern, Candidate Conservation 
Agreements with Assurances encourage private and other non-Federal 
property owners to implement conservation efforts and reduce threats to 
non-listed species by assuring landowners that they will not be 
subjected to increased property use restrictions beyond those 
identified in

[[Page 51590]]

the agreement. Under the Final Policy for Candidate Conservation 
Agreements with Assurances (64 FR 32726), the Service must determine 
that the benefits of the conservation measures implemented by the 
property owner, when combined with those benefits that would be 
achieved if it is assumed that conservation measure were also to be 
implemented on other necessary properties, would preclude or remove any 
need to list the covered species. Application requirements and issuance 
criteria for Enhancement of Survival Permits through Candidate 
Conservation Agreements with Assurances are found in 50 CFR 17.22(d) 
and 17.32(d). These permits allow the incidental take of any covered 
species in accordance with the terms of the permits and accompanying 
agreement, should the species be listed during the term of the permit. 
Section 9 of the Act and its implementing Federal regulations prohibit 
the ``take'' of a species listed as endangered or threatened. Take is 
defined under the Act as including to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, 
shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect listed animal species, or 
to attempt to engage in such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). ``Harm'' is 
further defined by regulation 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).
    In 1963, the State of Oregon leased approximately 93,000 acres of 
property to the Boeing Company. In 1974, the Boeing Company leased the 
property to Boeing Agri-Industrial Company (BAIC), a wholly-owned 
subsidiary of the Boeing Company. In 2000, BAIC was sold to the Farm 
and in 2002, the Farm, by and through its wholly-owned subsidiary BAIC, 
Inc., purchased the property from the State of Oregon. Since 1974, the 
majority of the property has been used for farming purposes. PGE owns 
and controls approximately 3,520 acres within the Farm property 
boundary. The Boeing Company continues to lease approximately 2,700 
acres within the Farm property described as the ``radar range'' in the 
agreement. The Boeing lease is set to expire in 2040.
    In 2000, principal Farm representatives joined with environmental 
organizations to set aside differences and to cooperatively balance 
conservation and sustainable agriculture. A settlement agreement was 
reached in 2000 that set forth terms and conditions under which the 
parties agreed to settle litigation. The purpose of the settlement 
agreement was to allow development and utilization of the agreed-upon 
Development Area and associated water resources in a manner that 
preserved the ecological integrity of the adjacent Conservation Area 
while at the same time protecting Columbia and Snake River salmon and 
steelhead, the Washington ground squirrel (Spermophilus washingtoni), 
and other ecological values.
    In order to address long-term conservation of the ecological values 
of the Covered Area and to implement the terms of the settlement 
agreement and creation of a Conservation Area, Farm representatives 
agreed to develop and implement a conservation plan that prescribes 
management practices for the development portion of the property while 
providing protection within the Conservation Area. As a result of these 
efforts, a draft Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances was 
developed.

Description of Proposed Action

    The Farm, PGE, TNC, and ODFW have applied to the Service for 25-
year Enhancement of Survival Permits pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(A) of 
the Act. The permits would cover habitat management, operational 
modifications, and conservation measures on approximately 93,000 acres 
in northeast Oregon (Covered Area). The Covered Area is primarily in 
Morrow County, with western portions in Gilliam County. The city of 
Boardman is approximately 6 miles to the northeast and the city of 
Heppner is approximately 25 miles to the south. Interstate 84 runs 
through the north portion of the Covered Area. The MSCCAA proposes to 
cover four nonlisted species facing steadily declining populations: the 
Washington ground squirrel; ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis); 
loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus gambeli); and sage sparrow 
(Amphispiza belli) (Covered Species).
    On October 25, 1999, the Service formally identified the Washington 
ground squirrel as a candidate for listing under the Act with a 
priority number of 5 (64 FR 57534). Since this initial candidate 
listing, the Service raised the listing priority to 2 based on 
additional information on the overall decline of the species throughout 
its range and an increased threat from agricultural conversion (66 FR 
1296). Washington ground squirrels are also listed as endangered under 
Oregon law. The Washington ground squirrel is endemic to the Deschutes-
Columbia Plateau Province south of the Columbia River and east of the 
John Day River. Its range was probably contiguous when the region was 
first settled, but now consists of three distinct sub-populations, two 
in Washington and one in Oregon. The MSCCAA addresses the Oregon 
population of the squirrel, which occurs in lower elevation (generally 
up to 800 feet) native grasslands and shrub-steppe, south of the 
Columbia River, east of the John Day River, and west of Pendleton.
    The ferruginous hawk is a species of concern and is identified by 
the State of Oregon as a sensitive species. This species is included 
within this MSCCAA due to its sensitive status within the region, its 
strong association with the native grassland and shrub-steppe habitats 
in the Covered Area, and the fact that a conserved portion of the 
Covered Area contains the largest remaining piece of shrub-steppe 
habitat in the Columbia Basin.
    The loggerhead shrike is an Oregon State sensitive species 
(vulnerable) in the Columbia Basin but has no current Federal listing 
status. Breeding Bird Surveys documented an annual decline of 2.7 
percent nationally between 1968 and 1994. The population decline has 
been attributed to many factors, including pesticides, loss of nesting 
habitat, high winter mortality, and intensive farming practices. This 
species is included in this MSCCAA because the population appears to be 
declining across its range (thereby increasing its likelihood of 
becoming proposed for Federal listing) and because of recent data 
showing poor nesting success and high fledgling mortality on the 
adjacent Naval Facility.
    The sage sparrow is Oregon State-listed as sensitive (critical) in 
the Columbia Basin but has no current Federal listing status. The sage 
sparrow is included in this MSCCAA due to its apparent declining range 
and strong positive correlation with the sagebrush habitats in the 
Covered Area.
    Covered Species are largely dependent on private lands in the 
project area. Primary factors for their declining populations include 
loss, degradation, or fragmentation of suitable habitat within the 
Columbia Basin Ecosystem, largely due to the conversion of shrub-steppe 
to agricultural use. Conservation measures that preserve or enhance 
suitable habitat on private lands are critically important for the 
long-term survival of these species.
    Pursuant to the proposed MSCCAA, the Farm (including its leased 
properties, affiliates, and tenants), TNC, and PGE have already begun 
implementing or will implement the following measures within the 
Covered Area:

[[Page 51591]]

    (1) Dedicate a combined total of approximately 23,480 acres to 
Conservation Areas. TNC, or a comparable third-party conservation 
organization, will manage in perpetuity the 22,600 acres of 
Conservation Areas dedicated by the Farm and protected under a 
permanent conservation easement with the intent of maintaining and 
improving the imperiled native shrub-steppe and grassland habitats for 
the Covered Species and other associated wildlife. The PGE Conservation 
Area, approximately 880 acres, would also be protected from development 
and managed by PGE for conservation purposes for the life of the 
MSCCAA.
    (2) Provide a 250-foot buffer around all of the Farm Conservation 
Areas to further restrict land use activities that otherwise could 
affect the outer edges of the Farm Conservation Area.
    (3) Provide funds for the preservation, management, and improvement 
of the Conservation Areas, including intensive noxious weed control.
    (4) Provide funds for conducting extensive monitoring, surveying, 
notification, and reporting.
    (5) Provide restrictions on grazing, ground-disturbing activities, 
hunting and shooting to avoid or minimize harmful impacts to the 
Covered Species.
    (6) Develop and implement coordinated fire response plans and 
detailed conservation management plans for the Conservation Areas.
    (7) Provide for adaptive management within the Conservation Areas 
to address changing habitat conditions.
    A draft EA has been prepared to address the impacts of issuing ESA 
assurances through the MSCCAA for the four covered species. The draft 
EA evaluates the environmental impacts that may result from 
implementation of the conservation measures described in the MSCCAA. 
The draft EA describes five alternatives to the proposed action 
including the ``no action'' alternative.
    This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(c) of the Act, the 
Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances standard precluding 
the need to list, and NEPA regulations (40 CFR 1506.6). The Service 
will evaluate the permit applications, associated documents, and 
comments submitted thereon to determine whether the permit applications 
meet the requirements of section 10(a) of the Act and NEPA regulations. 
All comments received, including names and addresses, will become part 
of the administrative record and will be available for review pursuant 
to section 10(c) of the Act. If we determine that all requirements are 
met, we will sign the MSCCAA and issue separate permits to the Farm, 
PGE, TNC, and ODFW for the take of the Covered Species (should they be 
listed during the term of the permits), incidental to otherwise lawful 
activities in accordance with the terms of the MSCCAA. The final permit 
decisions will be made no sooner than 45 days after the date of this 
notice.

    Dated: July 28, 2003.
Carolyn Bohan,
Acting Deputy Regional Director, Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 1, 
Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 03-21867 Filed 8-26-03; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-5-P