[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 46 (Thursday, March 8, 2012)]
[Notices]
[Pages 14036-14039]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-5139]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-ES-2011-N259;FXES11130100000D2-123-FF01E00000]


Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Experimental Removal of 
Barred Owls to Benefit Threatened Northern Spotted Owls

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

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

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the 
availability of a draft environmental impact statement for experimental 
removal of barred owls to benefit threatened northern spotted owls. The 
barred owl, a species recently established in western North America, is 
displacing the northern spotted owl and threatening its viability. The 
draft environmental impact statement analyzes a no-action alternative 
and seven action alternatives to experimentally determine if removing 
barred owls will benefit northern spotted owl populations and to inform 
decisions on whether to move forward with future management of barred 
owls. The action alternatives vary by the number and location of study 
areas, the type of experimental design, duration of study, and method 
of barred owl removal. We also announce plans for public meetings and 
the opening of a public comment period on the draft environmental 
impact statement. All

[[Page 14037]]

interested parties are invited to provide information, data, comments 
or suggestions.

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive comments before close 
of business (4:30 p.m.) on or before June 6, 2012. We will hold at 
least two public meetings within the range of the northern spotted owl. 
We will announce meeting locations and times in local newspapers and on 
the Internet at: http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo.

ADDRESSES: To request further information, obtain a copy of the draft 
environmental impact statement (EIS), or submit or view written 
comments, please use one of the following methods and clearly indicate 
that your request or comment is in reference to the Barred Owl EIS:
     Email: barredowlEIS@fws.gov.
     U.S. Mail: Paul Henson, State Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 SE 98th Ave., 
Suite 100, Portland, OR 97266.
     In-Person Drop-off of Comments: Comments can be delivered 
in person to the above address during regular business hours (Monday 
through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
     Viewing Comments and Supporting Materials, or Picking Up a 
Copy of the Draft EIS: Call 503-231-6179 to make an appointment to view 
received comments or pick up a copy of the draft EIS at the above 
address.
     Internet: The draft EIS is available for review and 
downloading at http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo.
     Fax: Paul Henson, 503-231-6195, Attn.: Barred Owl EIS.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Paul Henson, State Supervisor, Oregon 
Fish and Wildlife Office, at 503-231-6179. If you use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf, please call the Federal 
Information Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We announce the availability of a draft 
environmental impact statement for experimental removal of barred owls 
to benefit threatened northern spotted owls. We are publishing this 
notice in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 
1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.; NEPA) and its implementing 
regulations at 40 CFR 1506.6. This continues the public involvement 
process for our draft EIS, which was initiated through a notice of 
intent to prepare an EIS in the Federal Register on December 10, 2009 
(74 FR 65546).
    The draft EIS evaluates the impacts of seven action alternatives 
and a no-action alternative related to: (1) Federal involvement in 
barred owl removal experiments, and (2) the possible issuance of one or 
more scientific collecting permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act 
(16 U.S.C. 703-712; MBTA) for lethal and non-lethal take of barred 
owls.
    The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) is listed as 
threatened under the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.; 
Act). Competition from barred owls (Strix varia) was identified as one 
of the main threats to the northern spotted owl in our 2011 Revised 
Northern Spotted Owl Recovery Plan (Recovery Plan) (USFWS 2011, p. III-
62). To address this threat, the Recovery Plan recommended designing 
and implementing large-scale controlled experiments to assess the 
effects of barred owl removal on spotted owl site occupancy, 
reproduction, and survival (USFWS 2011, p. III-65). The draft EIS 
analyzes seven action alternatives and a no-action alternative for 
conducting experimental removal of barred owls and assessing the 
effects on spotted owl populations in specific study areas within the 
range of the northern spotted owl. Action areas may include from one to 
several study areas in western Washington, western Oregon, and 
northwestern California. The action alternatives vary by the number and 
location of study areas, the type of experimental design, duration of 
the study, and the method of barred owl removal.

Background

    The Service listed the northern spotted owl as a threatened species 
under the Act in 1990, based primarily on habitat loss and degradation 
(55 FR 26114). As a result, conservation efforts for the northern 
spotted owl have been largely focused on habitat protection. While our 
listing rule noted that the long-term impact of barred owls on the 
spotted owl was of considerable concern, the scope and severity of this 
threat was largely unknown at that time (55 FR 26114, p. 26190). The 
Recovery Plan summarized information available since our listing rule 
and found that competition from barred owls poses a significant and 
immediate threat to the northern spotted owl throughout its range 
(USFWS 2011, pp. B-10 through B-12).
    Historically, the barred owl and northern spotted owl did not co-
occur. In the past century, barred owls have expanded their range 
westward, reaching the range of the northern spotted owl in British 
Columbia by about 1959. Barred owl populations have continued to expand 
southward within the range of the northern spotted owl, and were first 
documented in Washington and Oregon in the early 1970s, and in 
California in 1976 (Livezey et al. 2007, p. 49; Sharp 1989, p. 179). 
The population of barred owls behind the expansion front continues to 
increase, and they now outnumber spotted owls in many portions of the 
northern spotted owl's range (Pearson and Livezey 2003, p. 272).
    There is strong evidence to indicate that barred owls are 
negatively affecting northern spotted owl populations. Barred owls 
displace spotted owls from high-quality habitat (Kelley et al. 2003, p. 
51; Pearson and Livezey 2003, p. 274; Courtney et al., pp. 7-27 through 
7-31; Gremel 2005, pp. 9, 11, 17; Hamer et al. 2007, p. 764; Dugger et 
al. 2011, pp. 2464-1466), reducing their survival and reproduction 
(Olson et al. 2004, p. 1048; Anthony et al. 2006, p. 32; Forsman et al. 
2011, pp. 41-43, 69-70). In addition, barred owls may physically attack 
spotted owls (Gutierrez et al. 2007, p. 187). These effects may help 
explain declines in northern spotted owl territory occupancy associated 
with barred owls in Oregon, and reduced northern spotted owl 
survivorship and sharp population declines in Washington (e.g., in 
northern Washington, spotted owl populations declined by as much as 55 
percent between 1996 and 2006) (Anthony et al. 2006, pp. 21, 30, 32; 
Forsman et al. 2011, pp. 43-47, 65-66)). Without management 
intervention, it is reasonable to expect that competition from barred 
owls may cause extirpation of the northern spotted owl from all or a 
substantial portion of its historical range, reducing its potential for 
recovery.
    We are proposing to conduct experiments to determine if removal of 
barred owls would increase site occupancy, survival, and reproduction, 
and improve population trends of northern spotted owls. Support for 
these experiments has been expressed in the scientific community. For 
example, Gutierrez et al. (2007, p. 191) notes, ``[c]orrectly executed 
removal experiments should provide an unambiguous result regarding the 
effect of barred owls on spotted owl population declines.'' The 
Wildlife Society sent a letter to the Director of the Service stating, 
``experiments to remove and control barred owls * * * [are] 
appropriate'' (The Wildlife Society 2008, p. 11). Buchanan et al. 
(2007, p. 683) state, ``[d]espite the potential for confounding 
effects, appropriately designed removal experiments should provide the 
strongest inference

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regarding the magnitude of the Barred Owl's effect on Spotted Owls.''
    The methods for, and the effects of, removing barred owls from 
northern spotted owl habitat are not fully understood. Three 
publications, Buchanan et al. (2007, entire), Livezey et al. (2007, 
entire), and Johnson et al. (2008, entire), analyze and discuss various 
methods of barred owl control. The Service considered the information 
in these documents as well as the information gathered in the scoping 
process in developing alternatives for barred owl removal.

Purpose and Need for the Action

    The need for the action is that we lack desired information to:
     Determine the response of northern spotted owl occupancy, 
survival, reproduction, and population trend to barred owl removal;
     Evaluate whether barred owls can be effectively removed 
from an area and how much follow-up effort is required to maintain low 
population levels of barred owls;
     Determine the cost of removal in different types of 
forested landscapes to inform future management decisions; and
     Help inform timely decisions on whether to move forward 
with future barred owl management.
    The purpose of the proposed action is to contribute to fulfilling 
the intent of the Act by rapidly implementing experimental research 
necessary for conservation of the northern spotted owl in accordance 
with Recovery Action 29 of the Recovery Plan (USFWS 2011, p. III-65). 
More specifically, the purpose of the proposed action is to:
     Obtain information regarding the effects of barred owls on 
northern spotted owl vital rates of occupancy, survival, reproduction, 
and population trend through experimental removal;
     Determine the feasibility of removing barred owls from an 
area and the amount of effort required to maintain reduced barred owl 
population levels for the study period;
     Estimate the cost of barred owl removal in different 
forested landscapes; and
     Develop the information necessary to make a future 
decision about the management of barred owls as expeditiously as 
possible.

Alternatives

    The draft EIS describes and analyzes seven action alternatives and 
a no-action alternative. The action alternatives were developed to meet 
the purposes and need for the proposed action, with consideration given 
to comments received during public scoping. We received 54 written 
comments from 29 different organizations (including environmental, 
conservation, animal welfare, and industry groups; Tribes; professional 
societies; government agencies; and zoological parks) and 25 
individuals.
    The potential impacts of the alternatives are assessed in the draft 
EIS. The alternatives vary by the number and location of study areas, 
the method of barred owl removal (lethal, or a combination of lethal 
and non-lethal), and the type of study (demography vs. occupancy).
    All action alternatives are based on a simple treatment and control 
study design. Under this approach, study areas are divided into two 
comparable segments. Barred owls are removed from the treatment area 
but not from the control area. Spotted owl populations are measured 
using the same methodology on both areas, and the population measures 
(occupancy, survival, reproduction, and population trend) are compared 
between the control and treatment areas.
    Experiments would occur over a period of 3-10 years, varying by 
alternative. The area affected by the action alternatives ranges from 
approximately 126,000 to 2,906,800 acres (51,000 to 1,176,000 
hectares), or from 0.2 to 5.1 percent of the northern spotted owl's 
range. A brief description of each alternative follows.
    Under the No-action Alternative, the Service would not conduct 
experimental removal of barred owls, thus not implementing one of the 
Recovery Actions designated in the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
northern spotted owl (USFWS 2001, p. III-65). Data that would inform 
future barred owl management strategies would not be gathered.
    Alternative 1 would consist of a demography study in a single study 
area. The study area would be located within an existing spotted owl 
demography study area where long-term monitoring of northern spotted 
owl populations has occurred (Lint et al. 1999, p. 17; Lint 2005, p. 
7). Only lethal removal would be applied in this alternative.
    Alternative 2 would consist of a demography study in three study 
areas, which would be located within existing spotted owl demography 
study areas and distributed across the range of the northern spotted 
owl. Removal would include a combination of lethal and non-lethal 
methods.
    Alternative 3 entails a demography study in two study areas. Barred 
owl removal would occur outside of existing spotted owl demography 
study areas, but within areas that have adequate data to conduct pre-
removal demography analyses. A combination of lethal and non-lethal 
removal methods would be used.
    Alternative 4 includes two subalternatives, 4a and 4b. Both 
subalternatives entail a demography study in two study areas outside 
existing spotted owl demography study areas. Both subalternatives use a 
combination of lethal and non-lethal methods. Subalternatives 4a and 4b 
differ in that 4a delays barred owl removal to collect pre-treatment 
data for comparison with treatment data, whereas 4b starts removal 
immediately and foregoes pre-treatment data collection.
    Alternative 5 employs an occupancy study approach in three study 
areas. The portion of the study areas where barred owls would be 
removed is outside existing spotted owl demography study areas. Only 
lethal removal would be applied in this alternative.
    Alternative 6 includes two subalternatives, 6a and 6b. Both 
subalternatives entail an occupancy study in three study areas. The 
portion of these study areas where barred owls would be removed is 
outside existing spotted owl demography study areas. Both 
subalternatives use a combination of lethal and non-lethal methods. 
Subalternatives 6a and 6b differ in that 6a delays removal to collect 
pre-treatment data for comparison with treatment data, whereas 6b 
starts removal immediately and foregoes pre-treatment data collection.
    Alternative 7 includes a combination of demography and occupancy 
analyses across 11 study areas, some of which have current data while 
others do not. Three existing spotted owl demographic study areas would 
be included within these study areas. A combination of lethal and non-
lethal methods would be used.

Public Availability of the Draft EIS

    The draft EIS is available for viewing and downloading on our web 
site at http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo. Unbound paper copies and digital 
copies on compact disk are available upon request. Copies of the draft 
EIS may also be picked up in person, by appointment, during regular 
business hours (9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) (see ADDRESSES section to request 
a copy or schedule a document pick-up time).

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Next Steps

    After this comment period ends, we will analyze comments and 
address them in a final EIS.

Public Comments

    We request data, comments, new information, or suggestions from all 
interested parties. We will consider these comments in developing the 
final EIS. We particularly seek comments on the following:
     The barred owl and its population status and trend;
     The northern spotted owl and its population status and 
trend;
     Ongoing northern spotted owl demography studies;
     Effects of the proposed removal experiment on other 
wildlife species;
     Social and human value/ethics, including the intrinsic 
value of spotted and barred owls and human culpability in the presence 
of barred owls in the West;
     Economic effects of the alternatives;
     Cultural resources that may be affected by the 
alternatives;
     Effects of the alternatives on visitor use and recreation, 
and visitor experience, especially in National Parks and Recreation 
Areas and other recreation sites; and
     Effects of the alternatives on Wilderness Areas and 
wilderness attributes.
    You may submit your comments and materials by one of the methods 
listed in the ADDRESSES section.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing the draft EIS, will be available for 
public inspection by appointment, during normal business hours, at our 
office (see ADDRESSES section).

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 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.

Public Meetings

    We will hold at least two public meetings at locations within the 
range of the northern spotted owl (western Washington, western Oregon, 
and northwestern California). We will announce exact meeting locations 
and times in local newspapers and on the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this notice is available 
upon request from our Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authority

    We provide this notice under the National Environmental Policy Act 
of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and its implementing 
regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 40 CFR 1506.6. 
We also publish this notice under authority of the Migratory Bird 
Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712) and its specific implementing 
regulations at 50 CFR 10.13 and 50 CFR 21.23.

    Dated: January 11, 2012.
Theresa E. Rabot,
Acting Regional Director, Region 1, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-5139 Filed 3-7-12; 8:45 am]
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