[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 89 (Tuesday, May 8, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 27010-27012]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-11059]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2011-0112; 4500030114]
RIN 1018-AX69


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Revised Critical 
Habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; extension of public comment period; announcement 
of public meetings and public hearing.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), recently 
published a proposal to revise the designated critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), and announced the 
opening of a public comment period on the proposed revised rule through 
June 6, 2012. We now extend the public comment period to July 6, 2012. 
We are extending the public comment period to allow all interested 
parties an opportunity to comment simultaneously on the proposed 
revised rule and the soon-to-be-released draft economic analysis and 
draft environmental assessment on the proposed rule. Comments 
previously submitted need not be resubmitted and will be fully 
considered in preparation of the final rule. We also announce a public 
hearing and public information meetings on our proposed revised rule 
and associated documents.

DATES: Written Comments: The public comment period on the proposal to 
revise critical habitat for the northern spotted owl is extended to 
July 6, 2012. Please note 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. If you are 
submitting your comments by hard copy, please mail them by July 6, 
2012, to ensure that we receive them in time to give them full 
consideration.
    Public Information Meetings: We will hold five public information 
meetings at the following locations and times:
     Redding, California, on June 4, 2012, from 3 p.m. to 5 
p.m., and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.;
     Tacoma, Washington, on June 12, 2012, from 3 p.m. to 5 
p.m., and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.;
     Portland, Oregon, on June 20, 2012, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. 
This meeting will precede the public hearing at the same location and 
on the same date.
    Public Hearing: We will hold a public hearing in Portland, Oregon, 
on Wednesday, June 20, 2012, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

ADDRESSES: Written Comments: You may submit comments by one of the 
following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Search for Docket No. FWS-R1-ES-2011-0112, which 
is the docket number for this rulemaking, and follow the directions for 
submitting a comment.
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public 
Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R1-ES-2011-0112; Division of Policy and 
Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax 
Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
    (3) At public information meetings or the public hearing: Written 
comments will be accepted by Service personnel at any of the five 
scheduled public meetings or the public hearing. We will post all 
comments received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means 
that we will post any personal information you provide us (see the 
Public Comments section below for more information).
    Public Hearing: We will hold the public hearing in Room C-120 at 
the Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Blvd., 
Portland, Oregon; 503-235-7575.
    Public Meetings: Public information meetings will be held at:
     University of Washington, Tacoma Campus, 1900 Commerce 
St., Jane Russell Commons, Tacoma, Washington; 253-692-4306;
     Redding Convention Center, 700 Auditorium Drive Redding, 
California 96001; 530-229-0036;
     Oregon Convention Center, Room C-120, 777 NE Martin Luther 
King Blvd., Portland, Oregon; 503-235-7575.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Paul Henson, Field Supervisor, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office, 2600 SE 
98th Ave., Suite 100, Portland, Oregon 97266; telephone 503-231-6179; 
facsimile 503-231-6195. If you use a telecommunications device for the 
deaf (TDD), call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-
877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Publication of Proposal To Revise Critical Habitat

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has proposed to revise 
the designated critical habitat for the northern spotted owl (Strix 
occidentalis caurina) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (Act). The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register 
on March 8, 2012 (77 FR 14062), and is available online at 
www.regulations.gov and at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-03-08/pdf/2012-5042.pdf. Consistent with the best scientific data available, 
the standards of the Act, and our regulations, we have initially 
identified, for public comment, approximately 13,962,449 acres (ac) 
(5,649,660 hectares (ha)) in 11 units and 63 subunits in California, 
Oregon, and Washington that

[[Page 27011]]

meet the definition of critical habitat. In addition, the Act provides 
the Secretary with the discretion to exclude certain areas from the 
final designation after taking into consideration economic impacts, 
impacts on national security, and any other relevant impacts of 
specifying any particular area as critical habitat. We have identified, 
and are considering, a number of specific alternatives in this proposed 
rulemaking based on potential exclusions from the final rule. First, of 
the total area identified, we propose to exclude from the final 
designation approximately 2,631,736 ac (1,065,026 ha) of National Park 
lands, Federal Wilderness Areas, and other Congressionally reserved 
natural areas, as well as 164,776 ac (66,682 ha) of State Park lands. 
Second, we propose to exclude from a final designation approximately 
936,816 ac (379,116 ha) of State and private lands that have a Habitat 
Conservation Plan, Safe Harbor Agreement, conservation easement, or 
similar conservation protection. And third, we are considering 
exclusion of an additional 838,344 ac (339,266 ha) of other non-Federal 
lands from the final designation.
    These specific alternatives will be considered on an individual 
basis or in any combination thereof. In addition, the final designation 
may not be limited to these alternatives, but may also consider other 
exclusions as a result of continuing analysis of relevant 
considerations (scientific, economic, and other relevant factors, as 
required by the Act) and the public comment process. In particular, we 
solicit comments from the public on the physical and biological 
features currently identified in this proposal as being essential for 
the conservation of the species, whether all of the areas identified 
meet the definition of critical habitat, whether other areas would meet 
that definition, whether to make the specific exclusions we have 
proposed, and whether there are other areas that are appropriate for 
exclusion.

Forthcoming Publication of the Draft Economic Analysis and Draft 
Environmental Assessment

    We are preparing an economic analysis to assess the economic 
impacts of the proposed critical habitat and related factors, as 
required in section 4(b)(2) of the Act. In addition, we are preparing, 
at our discretion, an environmental assessment under the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq. We anticipate 
announcing the availability of both of these documents in the Federal 
Register and on our Web site (http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/--click on 
the link ``Spotted Owl Main Information Site'') on or about May 24, 
2012. At that time we will seek public review and comment. Copies of 
the draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment will be 
available for downloading from our Web site (http://www.fws.gov/oregonfwo/--click on the link ``Spotted Owl Main Information Site'') or 
by contacting the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office directly (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section). In addition, the draft economic 
analysis and draft environmental assessment will be available for 
downloading from the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov (see 
ADDRESSES, above). During the development of a final designation, we 
will consider economic and other relevant impacts, public comments, and 
other new information, as well as areas that may be excluded from the 
final critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of the Act and 
our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.19.

Public Comment

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed 
revised rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data 
available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, 
we request comments or information from other concerned government 
agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested 
party concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments 
concerning:
    (1) Specific information regarding:
    (a) The amount and distribution of northern spotted owl habitat;
    (b) What areas were occupied at the time of listing and contain 
features essential to the conservation of the species such that they 
should be included in the designation and why;
    (c) Whether these essential features may require special management 
considerations or protection and what special management considerations 
or protection may be needed in critical habitat areas we are proposing;
    (d) What areas not occupied at the time of listing are essential 
for the conservation of the species and why;
    (e) Whether we have identified any areas occupied at the time of 
listing, but that do not contain features essential to the conservation 
of the species, and that therefore should not be included in the 
designation; and
    (f) Whether we have identified any areas that may not have been 
occupied at the time of listing and that are not essential to the 
conservation of the species, such that they should not be included in 
the designation.
    (2) Land-use designations and current or planned activities in the 
subject areas and their possible impacts on proposed critical habitat.
    (3) Our proposed approach to effects determinations for the 
purposes of conducting consultation under section 7(a)(2) of the Act, 
in particular the application of a 500-ac (200-ha) scale as a screen 
for a determination of not likely to adversely affect, as described in 
the section ``Determinations of Adverse Effects and Application of the 
`Adverse Modification' Standard.''
    (4) Assistance in the identification of any private lands that are 
not expressly identified as intended for inclusion within critical 
habitat and that may have inadvertently been included within the 
designation, due to mapping and modeling limitations, as described in 
the section ``Proposed Revised Critical Habitat Designation.''
    (5) Information on the potential impacts of climate change on the 
northern spotted owl and proposed critical habitat, and whether special 
management needs or protections may be needed to address this issue in 
the critical habitat areas we are proposing.
    (6) Any probable economic, national security, or other relevant 
impacts of designating any area as critical habitat, and in particular, 
any impacts on small entities, and the benefits of including or 
excluding areas that exhibit these impacts. We particularly request 
information and comments on what activities may occur and the effects 
to those activities in the proposed revised critical habitat areas. 
Such information could include:
    (a) The extent of possible activities, including temporal and 
spatial scale, relative to the critical habitat area within which they 
occur.
    (b) The impact of possible activities on the habitat's likelihood 
of serving its intended conservation function or purpose.
    (c) The consistency of possible activities with the intent of the 
Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl or other landscape-
level conservation plans.
    (7) Whether the benefits of excluding the private and State lands 
with active conservation agreements (HCPs, SHAs, and other formal 
agreements) and Congressionally reserved natural areas (e.g., 
wilderness areas, national scenic areas, national parks) that are 
proposed for exclusion outweigh the benefits of including them in 
critical habitat.
    (8) Whether the benefits of excluding any other particular area 
from critical habitat outweigh the benefits of including that area in 
critical habitat under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, after

[[Page 27012]]

considering both the potential impacts and benefits of the proposed 
revised critical habitat designation. We are considering the possible 
exclusion of non-Federal lands, especially areas in private ownership, 
in particular, and whether the benefits of exclusion may outweigh the 
benefits of inclusion of those areas. We, therefore, request specific 
information on:
    (a) The benefits of including any specific areas in the final 
designation and supporting rationale.
    (b) The benefits of excluding any specific areas from the final 
designation and supporting rationale.
    (c) Whether any specific exclusions may result in the extinction of 
the species and why.
    (d) For private lands in particular, we are interested in 
information regarding the potential benefits of including private lands 
in critical habitat versus the benefits of excluding such lands from 
critical habitat. This information does not need to include a detailed 
technical analysis of the potential effects of designated critical 
habitat on private property. In weighing the potential benefits of 
exclusion versus inclusion of private lands, the Service may consider 
whether existing partnership agreements provide for the management of 
spotted owl habitat. We may consider, for example, the status of 
conservation efforts, the effectiveness of any conservation agreements 
to conserve the species, and the likelihood of the conservation 
agreement's future implementation. There may be broad public benefits 
of encouraging collaborative efforts and encouraging local and private 
conservation efforts, and these broad benefits are important 
considerations in our evaluation.
    (9) Our process used for identifying those areas that meet the 
definition of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl, including 
the assumptions incorporated into the habitat modeling process, as 
described more fully in the section ``Criteria Used to Identify 
Critical Habitat'' and also in our supporting documentation (Dunk et 
al. 2012).
    (10) Whether we could improve or modify our approach to designating 
critical habitat in any way to provide for greater public participation 
and understanding, or to better accommodate public concerns and 
comments.
    (11) Specific information on ways to improve the clarity of this 
rule as it pertains to completion of consultations under section 7 of 
the Act.
    Our final determination concerning revised critical habitat for the 
northern spotted owl will take into consideration all written comments 
we receive during all comment periods, comments from peer reviewers, 
comments received during the public meetings, comments and public 
testimony received during the public hearing, and any additional 
information we receive in response to the forthcoming notice of 
availability of the draft economic analysis and draft environmental 
assessment. The comments will be included in the public record for this 
rulemaking, and we will fully consider them in the preparation of our 
final determination. On the basis of peer reviewer and public comments, 
as well as any new information we may receive, we may, during the 
development of our final determination, find that areas within the 
proposed designation do not meet the definition of critical habitat, 
that some modifications to the described boundaries are appropriate, or 
that areas may or may not be appropriate for exclusion under section 
4(b)(2) of the Act.
    If you previously submitted comments or information on this 
proposed rule, please do not resubmit them. We will incorporate them 
into the public record as part of this comment period, and will fully 
consider them in the preparation of our final determination.
    You may submit your written comments and materials concerning this 
proposed rule by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. 
Verbal testimony may also be presented during the public hearing (see 
DATES and ADDRESSES sections). We will post your entire comment--
including your personal identifying information--on http://www.regulations.gov. If you submit your comment via U.S. mail, you may 
request at the top of your document that we withhold personal 
information such as your street address, phone number, or email address 
from public review; however, we cannot guarantee that we will be able 
to do so.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be 
available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT).

Public Information Meetings and Public Hearing

    We are holding five public information meetings and one public 
hearing on the dates listed in the DATES section at the locations 
listed in the ADDRESSES section. We are holding the public hearing to 
provide interested parties an opportunity to present verbal testimony 
(formal, oral comments) or written comments regarding the proposed 
critical habitat designation and the soon-to-be-released associated 
draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment. A formal 
public hearing is not, however, an opportunity for dialogue with the 
Service or its contractors; it is only a forum for accepting formal 
verbal testimony. In contrast to the hearing, the public information 
meetings allow the public the opportunity to interact with Service 
staff and contractors, who will be available to provide information and 
address questions on the proposed rule and its associated assessments. 
We cannot accept verbal testimony at any of the public information 
meetings; verbal testimony can only be accepted at the public hearing. 
Anyone wishing to make an oral statement at the public hearing for the 
record is encouraged to provide a written copy of their statement to us 
at the hearing. In the event there is a large attendance, the time 
allotted for oral statements may be limited. Speakers can sign up at 
the hearing if they desire to make an oral statement. Oral and written 
statements receive equal consideration. There are no limits on the 
length of written comments submitted to us.
    Persons with disabilities needing reasonable accommodations to 
participate in the public hearing or public meetings should contact 
Paul Henson, Field Supervisor, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Reasonable accommodation requests should 
be received at least 3 business days prior to the meeting or hearing to 
help ensure availability; at least 2 weeks prior notice is requested 
for American sign language or English as a second language interpreter 
needs.

Authors

    The primary authors of this notice are the staff of the Oregon Fish 
and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Authority

    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: May 1, 2012.
Rachel Jacobson,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 2012-11059 Filed 5-7-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P