[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 13 (Friday, January 18, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 4108-4119]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-00692]



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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R7-ES-2012-0033; 70120-1113-0000-C3]
RIN 1018-AW57


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed 
Establishment of a Nonessential Experimental Population of Wood Bison 
in Alaska

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; availability of draft environmental assessment.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), in 
cooperation with the State of Alaska, propose to establish a 
nonessential experimental population of wood bison in central Alaska, 
in accordance with section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended. This proposal, if made final, would also establish 
provisions under which wood bison in Alaska would be managed. We are 
seeking comments on this proposal and on our draft environmental 
assessment, prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act 
of 1969, as amended, which analyzes the potential environmental impacts 
associated with the proposed reintroduction.

DATES: To ensure that we are able to consider your comments on this 
proposed rule, they must be received or postmarked on or before March 
19, 2013. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at 
the address shown in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section by 
March 4, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Comments: You may submit written comments and other 
information on this proposed rule or on the draft Environmental 
Assessment (EA) by either one of the following methods:
    Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Search for 
docket FWS-R7-ES-2012-0033 and then follow the instructions for 
submitting comments. We request that comments be submitted though 
http://www.regulations.gov whenever possible.
    U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-
R7-ES-2012-0033; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; 
Arlington, VA 22203. We will post all comments 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).
    Copies of Documents: This proposed rule and the draft EA are 
available at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R7-ES-2012-
0033. In addition, the supporting file for this proposed rule will be 
available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business 
hours, at the Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Office, Fisheries and 
Ecological Services, at 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503. 
Additional background and supporting information is provided in the 
Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Environmental Review of Wood 
Bison Restoration in Alaska (ADF&G 2007), which can be accessed online 
at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=woodbison.management.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sonja Jahrsdoerfer, 1011 East Tudor 
Road, Anchorage, AK 99503, (907) 786-3323, or email woodbison-AK@fws.gov. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), 
you may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-
8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Executive Summary

    Under the Endangered Species Act, the Service may establish an 
experimental population, allowing for the reintroduction of a species 
to its former range with special rules that allow for some of the 
management requirements of the ESA to be relaxed to facilitate 
acceptance by local landowners and managers. The Alaska Department of 
Fish and Game (ADF&G) proposes to reintroduce wood bison (Bison bison 
athabascae) into one or more of three areas within their historical 
range in central Alaska (Yukon Flats, Minto Flats, and the lower 
Innoko/Yukon River area). If this proposed rule is adopted, the Alaska 
Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) would have primary management 
responsibility for leading and implementing the wood bison restoration 
effort, in cooperation with the Service. ADF&G would serve as the lead 
agency in the reintroduction and subsequent management of wood bison in 
Alaska; however, ADF&G would continue to coordinate with the Service on 
these restoration efforts. Management of populations in the NEP area 
would be guided by provisions in: (1) The associated special rule; (2) 
the EA for this action and ADF&G's environmental review; and (3) 
management plans developed for each area by ADF&G with involvement of 
landowners and other stakeholders. The rule would also allow for future 
regulated hunting based on sustained yield principles, once the herds 
are deemed sufficiently resilient to support such.

Public Comments

    To ensure that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be as effective as possible and that the final EA on the proposed 
action will evaluate all potential issues associated with this action, 
we invite the public, including Tribal and other government agencies, 
the scientific community, industry, and other interested parties, to 
submit relevant information for our consideration. Comments on the 
proposed rule and the draft EA that will be most useful are those that 
are supported by data or peer-reviewed studies and those that include 
citations to, and analyses of, applicable laws and regulations. Please 
include sufficient information with your comments to allow us to 
authenticate any scientific or commercial data you reference or 
provide. We particularly seek comments concerning:
    (1) Any information on the biological or ecological requirements of 
wood bison;
    (2) Current or planned activities in the proposed nonessential 
experimental population (NEP) area;
    (3) Current or planned management of the NEP population; and
    (4) Any information concerning the boundaries of the proposed NEP 
area.
    We will take into consideration all comments and additional 
information we receive in order to determine whether to issue a final 
rule to implement this proposed action and whether to prepare a finding 
of no significant impact or an environmental impact statement. Comments 
we receive may lead to a final rule that differs from this proposal.
    You may submit your comments and materials by one of the methods 
listed in the ADDRESSES section. Comments submitted to http://www.regulations.gov must be received before midnight (Eastern Time) on 
the date specified in the DATES section. All comments, whether 
submitted in hard copy or via http://www.regulations.gov, become part 
of the supporting record and will be posted on the Web site. You may 
request at the top of your document that we withhold personal 
identifying information from public review; however, we cannot 
guarantee that we will be able to do so. Please note that comments 
submitted to http://www.regulations.gov are not immediately viewable. 
The system

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receives comments immediately, but they are not publically viewable 
until we post them.
    All electronic and hard copy 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 and also by appointment, during normal business 
hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fisheries and Ecological 
Services, Anchorage, AK (see ADDRESSES).

Public Hearings

    The Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 
et seq.) provides for public hearings on this proposed rule, if 
requested. We must receive requests for public hearings, in writing, at 
the address shown in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section by the 
date shown in the DATES section.

Background

Legislative

    Under Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA) (Ministry of Justice, 
Canada, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca), the wood bison is listed as 
threatened, having been reclassified from endangered to threatened 
status in 1988. In the United States, the wood bison was first listed 
under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 as endangered 
(see 35 FR 8491, June 2, 1970). The Canadian National Wood Bison 
Recovery Team petitioned the Service to reclassify the wood bison as 
threatened, and on February 8, 2011, we published in the Federal 
Register (1) a 12-month finding indicating that the petitioned action 
was warranted, and (2) a proposed rule to reclassify the wood bison as 
a threatened species (76 FR 6734). On May 3, 2012 the status of the 
wood bison was reclassified to threatened (86 FR 26191).
    Under the ESA, species listed as endangered or threatened are 
afforded protection largely through the prohibitions of section 9, the 
requirements of section 7, and corresponding implementing regulations. 
Section 9 of the ESA and its implementing regulations at 50 CFR 17.21 
and 17.31, in part, prohibit any person subject to the jurisdiction of 
the United States to take (``take'' includes to harass, harm, pursue, 
hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, or collect, or to attempt any of 
these), import or export, ship in interstate commerce in the course of 
commercial activity, or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign 
commerce, any listed species. The term `harm' is further defined to 
include significant habitat modification or degradation that results in 
death or injury to listed species by significantly impairing behavioral 
patterns such as breeding, feeding, or sheltering. It also is illegal 
to knowingly possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any 
wildlife that has been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to 
agents of the Service and State conservation agencies.
    Section 7 of the ESA and its implementing regulations at 50 CFR 
part 402 outline the procedures for Federal interagency cooperation to 
conserve federally listed species and protect designated critical 
habitats. Under section 7(a)(1) of the ESA, all Federal agencies are 
directed to use their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of the 
ESA by carrying out programs for the conservation of endangered or 
threatened species. Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA states that Federal 
agencies will, in consultation with the Service, ensure that any action 
they authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of a listed species or result in the destruction or 
adverse modification of designated critical habitat. Section 7 of the 
ESA does not affect activities undertaken on private lands unless they 
are authorized, funded, or carried out by a Federal agency.
    Congress amended the Endangered Species Act of 1973, in 1982, with 
the addition of section 10(j), which provides for the designation of 
specific reintroduced populations of listed species as ``experimental 
populations.'' Under section 10(j) of the ESA, the Secretary of the 
Interior can designate reintroduced populations established outside the 
species' current range as ``experimental.'' Section 10(j) is designed 
to increase our flexibility in managing an experimental population by 
allowing us to treat the population as threatened, regardless of the 
species' designation elsewhere in its range. A threatened designation 
allows us discretion in devising management programs and special 
regulations for the population. Further, when we promulgate a section 
10(j) rule for a species, the regulations at 50 CFR 17.31 that extend 
most section 9 prohibitions to threatened species do not apply, as the 
generic regulations are superseded by the section 10(j) rule, which 
contains the specific prohibitions and exemptions necessary and 
appropriate to conserve that species.
    As experimental populations uniformly carry ``threatened'' status, 
section 4(d) of the ESA applies. Section 4(d) of the ESA allows us to 
adopt whatever regulations are necessary and advisable to provide for 
the conservation of a threatened species. Although the ESA limits the 
type of regulated take available for the conservation of threatened 
species, the Secretary is granted broad flexibility in promulgating 
``special'' regulations under section 4(d) of the ESA to protect 
threatened species, and may allow for direct take, as has been done in 
the past, for example, with with Gila trout (71 FR 40657, July 18, 
2006).
    Based on the best available information, we must determine whether 
experimental populations are ``essential'' or ``nonessential'' to the 
continued existence of the species. Experimental populations, whether 
essential or nonessential, are treated as a threatened species. 
However, for section 7 interagency cooperation purposes only, an NEP 
located outside of a National Wildlife Refuge or National Park is 
treated as a species proposed for listing.
    When NEPs are located outside a National Wildlife Refuge or 
National Park Service unit, only two provisions of section 7 of the ESA 
apply: Section 7(a)(1) and section 7(a)(4). In these instances, NEPs 
provide additional flexibility because Federal agencies are not 
required to consult with us under section 7(a)(2) of the ESA. Section 
7(a)(4) requires Federal agencies to confer (rather than consult, as 
required under section 7(a)(2)) with the Service on actions that are 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a species proposed to 
be listed. A conference results in conservation recommendations that 
are optional as the agencies carry out, fund, or authorize activities. 
However, because an NEP is by definition not essential to the continued 
existence of the species, it is very unlikely that we would ever 
determine jeopardy for a project impacting a species within an NEP. 
Thus, regulations for NEPs may be developed to be more compatible with 
routine human activities in the reintroduction area.
    Animals used to establish an experimental population may be 
obtained from a source or donor population provided their removal is 
not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species and 
appropriate permits have been issued in accordance with 50 CFR 17.22. 
In 2008, 53 wood bison were imported into Alaska after necessary 
permits and approvals were obtained. The primary original source of 
Alaska's wood bison is a captive-bred population at Elk Island National 
Park (EINP), Alberta, Canada, which was propagated for the purpose of 
providing disease-free stock for reestablishing

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populations in other parts of the species' original range (Gates et al. 
2001, p. 15). These animals are presently maintained at the Alaska 
Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) in Portage, Alaska, where 
additional, disease-free, wood bison (obtained as a result of an 
illegal import in 2003) are also held.
    Canada's ``National Recovery Plan for the Wood Bison'' includes the 
specific goal of reestablishing at least four viable populations of 400 
or more wood bison in Canada (Gates et al. 2001, pp. 32-33). This plan 
supports fostering the ``restoration of wood bison in other parts of 
their original range and in suitable habitat elsewhere'' but sets no 
discrete goals for recovery in other parts of the species' range. The 
Wood Bison Recovery Team places a high priority on the reintroduction 
of wood bison to Alaska (Gates et al. 2001, pp. 32-33). The 
reestablishment of free-ranging, disease-free wood bison in Alaska 
would contribute to the overall conservation of wood bison in North 
America. However, future loss of a wood bison NEP from Alaska would not 
reduce the likelihood of the species' survival in its current range in 
Canada, which encompasses the only populations Canada evaluates when 
considering the status of the species for listing purposes under SARA. 
Consequently, because their loss would not appreciably reduce the 
likelihood of survival of the species in the wild, the Service finds 
that any wood bison populations established in Alaska would meet the 
definition of ``nonessential'' (see 50 CFR 17.80(b)). Therefore, we 
propose to designate a nonessential experimental population of wood 
bison in Alaska.

Biological

    Members of the family Bovidae, wood bison are the largest native 
terrestrial mammal in the western hemisphere, with adult bulls weighing 
2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) or more (Reynolds et al. 2003, p. 1015). 
Wood bison are somewhat larger than the other extant bison subspecies 
in the United States, the plains bison (B. b. bison), and are 
distinguished by a more pronounced hump, forward-falling display hair 
on the head, reduced chaps and beard, and different variegation and 
demarcation on the cape (van Zyll de Jong et al. 1995, pp. 393-396). 
Specimen collections and historical accounts indicate that the 
historical range of wood bison included much of Interior and 
Southcentral Alaska, and the Yukon, the western Northwest Territories, 
and northern Alberta and British Columbia in Canada (Stephenson et al. 
2001, pp. 135-136; Reynolds et al. 2003, pp. 1012-1013). Wood bison are 
predominantly grazers, foraging mainly on grasses and sedges that occur 
in northern meadows (Larter and Gates 1991, p. 2679).
    Wood bison were present in Alaska for most of the last 5,000 to 
10,000 years (Stephenson et al. 2001, pp. 125, 145-146). Detailed 
historical accounts from Athabascan elders in Alaska describe how bison 
were hunted and used and indicate that bison were an important source 
of food for Athabascan people before the population declined to low 
levels within the last few hundred years (Stephenson et al. 2001, pp. 
128-134). The most recent recorded sightings of wood bison in Alaska 
were from the early 1900s, of small groups or single animals in 
northeastern Alaska (Stephenson et al. 2001, pp. 129-134). Factors 
leading to the extirpation of wood bison from Alaska most likely 
included unregulated hunting by humans, along with the isolation of 
subpopulations caused by changes in habitat distribution during the 
late Holocene (Stephenson et al. 2001, pp. 146-147).
    Wood bison were largely extirpated from Alaska and much of their 
original range in Canada by about 1900 (Stephenson et al. 2001, p. 
140). At that time, only a few hundred animals existed in northeastern 
Alberta. Intensive conservation efforts in Canada beginning around 1900 
are principally responsible for preventing the species' extinction 
(Gates et al. 2001, pp. 11-21). However, the translocation of surplus 
plains bison into Wood Buffalo National Park in the 1920s (Carbyn et 
al. 1993, pp. 25-27) resulted in some genetic dilution of wood bison, 
as well as the introduction of domestic cattle diseases into this 
population (Gates et al. 2001, p. 35). Cattle diseases, including 
bovine brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis, are still a management 
concern in some herds in Canada (Gates et al. 2010, pp. 28-32; USDA 
2008, p. 10). The susceptibility of wood bison and other native 
ungulates to these diseases underscores the importance of rigorous 
disease-testing protocols prior to releasing wood bison in Alaska 
(ADF&G-ADEC 2008).

Recovery Efforts

    Recovery efforts in Canada have been very successful. There are 
approximately 10,000 free-ranging wood bison in Canada today, including 
about 4,500 in 7 free-ranging, disease-free herds and 5,000 in 4 free-
ranging herds that are not disease-free. In 1978, there was 1 free-
ranging, disease-free herd with 300 individuals, the MacKenzie herd. By 
2000, when the last Canadian status review was conducted, the number of 
disease-free herds had grown to 6, with a total of approximately 2,800 
individuals. Since 2000, an additional herd has been established, 
bringing the total number of herds to 7, and the number of disease-
free, free-ranging bison has increased to approximately 4,500. Four of 
the herds have a population of 400 or more, meeting one of the primary 
recovery goals. An additional 300 animals are held in a publicly owned 
captive herd (Elk Island National Park herd) that is maintained for 
conservation purposes (http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/elkisland/natcul/natcul1/b/ii.aspx, viewed October 12, 2011). There are also 45 to 60 
commercial wood bison operations in Canada, with approximately 500 to 
700 animals (Canadian Wildlife Service, unpublished data 2009). 
Although commercial wood bison herds are not a part of Canada's 
recovery programs, their existence indicates that wood bison will 
propagate readily, given sufficient space and proper nutrition.
    The National Wood Bison Recovery Plan, prepared by Canada's 
National Wood Bison Recovery Team, is currently being updated (Wilson, 
Environment Canada, 2011, pers. comm.). In addition, the State of 
Alaska has outlined plans for wood bison restoration and will complete 
detailed management plans developed with public input, for each bison 
release area before wood bison are reestablished. If this proposal is 
adopted, any wood bison reintroduced to Alaska would be designated as 
nonessential to recovery and experimental.

Role of Regulated Hunting in Recovery

    Regulated hunting has been used in Canada since 1987 to manage wood 
bison herds and is consistent with the recovery goals in the Canadian 
wood bison recovery plan. Herds with regulated harvest have increased 
in size (76 FR 6734, February 8, 2011). For example, the Mackenzie 
herd, which was established in 1963, first supported harvest in 1987 
and now has grown to approximately 2,000 head, supporting an annual 
harvest of approximately 40 animals (http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/_live/pages/wpPages/Mackenzie_Bison.aspx, viewed October 14, 2011). 
Regulated hunting has been used to (1) maintain herd size within the 
carrying capacity of the landscape; (2) reduce the potential for the 
spread of disease; (3) address public safety concerns near roads; and 
(4) increase community support for reestablished wood bison herds. 
Where hunting is allowed, it can lead to increased revenue for 
monitoring and management of the herds.

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    Sustainable levels of hunting of wood bison in Alaska would serve 
some of these same purposes, particularly securing the support of 
project sponsors (e.g., ADF&G, local communities, and nongovernmental 
organizations involved in the project). Because reintroduction of wood 
bison to Alaska depends heavily on this support, including provisions 
for hunting as a future management option is an essential component of 
this proposed rule. Moreover, provisions for future regulated hunting 
will assure landowners and development interests that the 
reintroduction of wood bison would not interfere with natural resource 
development or other human activities. Without such assurances, the 
reintroduction of wood bison to Alaska is unlikely to be acceptable to 
the public, development interests, or the Alaska State Legislature. 
Thus, we believe that the opportunity for Alaska to contribute to the 
overall recovery and conservation of wood bison will be lost if 
provisions for hunting are not included in this rulemaking.

Alaska Reintroduction Goals and Objectives

    The proposed reintroduction of wood bison to Alaska is patterned 
after the successful reintroductions made in Canada. The goal of the 
Alaska wood bison restoration project is to reestablish one to three 
free-ranging populations. In addition to contributing to the 
conservation and recovery of wood bison in North America, objectives of 
the Alaska reintroduction effort include (1) restoring a key indigenous 
grazing animal to northern ecosystems; (2) restoring biological and 
habitat diversity and natural processes; (3) increasing the total 
number of wood bison in free-ranging, disease-free herds, thereby 
enhancing the overall survival of the species in the wild; (4) 
providing a basis for sustainable development, including opportunities 
for local tourism, and, in the future, hunting and other guiding 
businesses; and (5) reestablishing the historical cultural connection 
between bison and Alaska residents (ADF&G 2007, pp. 2-3).
    Although many private landowners within the proposed NEP area have 
indicated support for the presence of wood bison on their lands in the 
future, some major private landowners have expressed concerns about the 
potential legal and regulatory burdens related to the ESA and wood 
bison, including effects on other resource development activities. 
Provisions of the proposed special rule would ensure that the 
reintroduction of wood bison would not impede existing or potential 
future resource development activities.
    Wood bison would be released only after a suitable management 
framework has been developed by the State in cooperation with 
landowners, land managers, the Service, conservation organizations, and 
Tribal and local governments. Because the reintroduction sites in 
Alaska are remote and roadless and create logistical and economical 
challenges for traditional management approaches (e.g., herding, 
fencing), the most feasible means of population control in the future, 
if it were needed, would likely be regulated hunting. Hunters in Alaska 
are accustomed to accessing (e.g., bush planes, float planes) and 
traveling (e.g., snow machines, off-road vehicles, hiking) in roadless 
areas and represent a feasible and economical method of population 
control. As mentioned above, wood bison in some herds in northern 
Canada are legally harvested under Territorial or Provincial hunting 
regulations, and regulated harvest is considered one of the primary 
management tools in conservation of the species.
    Experience with bison reintroductions elsewhere indicates that 
reintroduced wood bison populations in Alaska are likely to prosper in 
the areas where the State of Alaska proposes to restore the species 
(ADF&G 2007, pp. 11-12). However, temporary fluctuations in numbers may 
occur, which would not constitute a reason to reevaluate or change the 
NEP status. We do not intend to change the NEP designation unless the 
wood bison is no longer listed as endangered or threatened under the 
ESA, in which case the NEP designation would be discontinued.

Source of Stock

    In June 2008, under permits obtained from the Service, U.S. 
Department of Agriculture, Canadian Wildlife Service, and the State of 
Alaska, 53 wood bison were translocated from the disease-free EINP herd 
to a temporary holding facility at the AWCC, where they joined a small 
existing herd that was confiscated in 2003 after being imported 
illegally. As of October 2011, more than 100 wood bison were at AWCC. 
All of these animals have been subjected to a rigorous disease-testing 
protocol while preparations are made for release of free-ranging wood 
bison in Alaska (ADF&G-ADEC 2008).

Reintroduction Sites

    ADF&G has identified three areas that would provide suitable 
habitat for wood bison. These sites were selected based on intensive 
evaluations of potential habitat conducted in seven areas in Interior 
Alaska between 1993 and 2006 (Berger et al. 1995, pp. 1-9; ADF&G 1994, 
pp. 10-14; Gardner et al. 2007, pp. 1-24). Following the 
recommendations of Canada's Wood Bison Recovery Team, suitable release 
sites should: (1) Support a minimum population of 400 bison, (2) be 
separate from areas inhabited by plains bison, and (3) not have 
conflicting land uses such as agriculture (Gardner et al. 2007, p. 2). 
Based on forage availability, three areas in Alaska--the Yukon Flats, 
Minto Flats, and lower Innoko/Yukon River--were determined suitable to 
support viable populations of wood bison (ADF&G 2007, p. 27). The Yukon 
Flats offers the best habitat and can support in excess of 2,000 bison 
(Berger et al. 1995, p. 8). Minto Flats offers abundant forage, but the 
area is relatively small, and access to wet habitats may be limited 
during summer. The lower Innoko/Yukon River area offers suitable 
habitat that could possibly support 400 or more wood bison (Gardner et 
al. 2007, p. 8). Characteristics of each selected reintroduction site 
are described in more detail in the draft EA associated with this 
proposed action (see ADDRESSES for information on obtaining a copy of 
the draft EA).
    Locations of the three potential wood bison reintroduction sites 
and boundaries of the proposed NEP are shown in Figure 1 (below). The 
boundaries of the proposed NEP represent our interpretation of the best 
available information on the extent of the wood bison's historical 
occurrence in Alaska. This historical range includes substantial areas 
with little or no suitable bison habitat, interspersed with localized 
areas that would provide high-quality habitat. By proposing this large 
area for NEP designation, we do not imply that most or all of the area 
within the NEP boundary is suitable habitat for wood bison.

Reintroduction Procedures

    In conformance with recommendations of bison geneticists and 
conservation biologists, about 40 captive-raised wood bison should be 
released at a single site within the NEP area in the first year of the 
program, and a similar number may be released at each of two additional 
sites in subsequent years. Additional bison may be released in each 
area if stock and funding are available. Released wood bison would be 
excess to the needs of captive-breeding herds at EINP and AWCC, and 
their release would not affect the genetic diversity of the captive 
wood bison populations. Wood bison released in Alaska would be tagged 
with

[[Page 4112]]

passive radio frequency tags, and some bison would be radio-collared. 
Population monitoring would include telemetry studies and aerial 
population surveys to determine and monitor population size, 
productivity, and movements.
    A temporary holding facility consisting of up to 5 to 10 fenced 
acres (2 to 4 hectares), a small camp, and a supply of hay would be 
provided at each release site. Ideally, wood bison would be transported 
to the site in late winter or early spring and held for several weeks 
prior to release to allow them to acclimate in their new location. A 
more detailed review of reintroduction procedures is included in the 
draft EA (see ADDRESSES for information on obtaining a copy of the 
draft EA).
    ADF&G, the Service, and reintroduction cooperators would evaluate 
the success of each reintroduction effort and apply knowledge gained to 
subsequent efforts, thereby increasing the efficiency and long-term 
success in wood bison restoration in Alaska. ADF&G would work with 
various cooperators to monitor population growth and movements, and to 
conduct basic long-term environmental monitoring.

Legal Status of Reintroduced Populations

    Based on the current legal and biological status of the species and 
the need for management flexibility, and in accordance with section 
10(j) of the ESA, the Service proposes to designate all wood bison 
released in Alaska as members of the NEP. Such designation allows us to 
establish a special rule for management of wood bison in Alaska, thus 
avoiding the general section 9 prohibitions that would otherwise limit 
our management options. The legal and biological status of the species 
and the need for management flexibility resulted in our decision to 
propose the NEP designation for wood bison reintroduced into Alaska.
    The proposed section 4(d) special rule associated with this 
proposed NEP designation would further the conservation of wood bison 
by allowing their reintroduction to a large area within their 
historical range. The special rule would provide assurances to 
landowners and development interests that the reintroduction of wood 
bison would not interfere with natural resource development or other 
human activities. Without such assurances, the reintroduction of wood 
bison to Alaska would not be acceptable to the public, development 
interests, or the Alaska State Legislature. Except as provided for 
under section 10(e) of the ESA or as described in the proposed section 
4(d) special rule associated with this proposed NEP rule, take of any 
member of Alaska's wood bison NEP would be prohibited under the ESA.

Geographic Extent of the Proposed Rule

    The proposed geographic extent for the Alaska wood bison NEP 
includes the Yukon, Tanana, and Kuskokwim River drainages in northern 
Alaska (refer to Figure 1 in the rule portion of this document). 
Section 10(j) of the ESA requires that an experimental population be 
geographically separate from other wild populations of the same 
species. Because wild wood bison no longer exist in Alaska, the 
reintroduced herd(s) would not overlap with any existing wild wood 
bison population. Wood bison herds established in Alaska would be 
separated from the nearest wild population in Canada (Aishihik herd in 
Yukon) by at least 450 miles (725 kilometers) of mostly hilly or 
mountainous terrain, which would deter long-distance movements between 
herds.
    All released wood bison and their offspring would likely remain in 
areas adjacent to release sites and well within the boundaries of the 
NEP area due to the presence of prime habitat (extensive meadow systems 
that will provide an abundance of preferred forage for bison) and 
surrounding geographic barriers. The geographic area being proposed for 
NEP designation represents what ADF&G believes to be the maximum 
geographic extent to which bison populations might expand if they are 
reestablished in Alaska.

Management

    (a) Authority and planning. If this proposed rule is adopted, ADF&G 
would serve as the lead agency in the reintroduction and subsequent 
management of wood bison in Alaska; however, ADF&G would continue to 
coordinate with the Service on these restoration efforts. If this 
proposed rule is adopted, the Service would delegate management 
authority to ADF&G, contingent upon periodic reporting in conformity 
with Federal regulations. Management of populations in the NEP area 
would be guided by provisions in: (1) The associated special rule; (2) 
the EA for this action and ADF&G's environmental review; and (3) 
management plans developed for each area by ADF&G with involvement of 
landowners and other stakeholders.
    The ADF&G would use public planning processes to develop 
implementation and management plans for wood bison restoration. 
Planning groups would include representatives from local communities, 
regional population centers, landowners, Alaska Native interests, 
wildlife conservation interests, industry, and State and Federal 
agencies as appropriate for each area. Draft management plans would be 
circulated for public review, and final plans would be presented to the 
Alaska Board of Game and Federal Subsistence Board for review and 
approval. More detailed information on wood bison reintroduction and 
management is provided in the EA associated with this proposed action 
(see ADDRESSES for information on obtaining a copy of the draft EA).
    (b) Population monitoring. Reintroduced wood bison populations 
would be monitored annually and during important seasonal periods. 
Biological data necessary for long-term bison management would be 
obtained from annual spring population surveys, fall or winter 
composition counts, and monitoring of herd movements. Bison populations 
are relatively easy to monitor because of their visibility, gregarious 
nature, and fidelity to seasonal ranges (ADF&G 2007, p. 12).
    Through public outreach programs, ADF&G would inform the public and 
other State and Federal agencies about the presence of wood bison in 
the NEP area. Reports of injured or dead wood bison would be required 
to be provided to ADF&G (see the draft EA for contact information) for 
a determination of the cause of injury or death.
    (c) Disease monitoring and prevention. Because of the extensive 
disease-testing programs at EINP (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2008, 
pp. 5-13) and at AWCC (ADF&G-ADEC 2008), the risk of reintroduced wood 
bison being infected with serious diseases is negligible. The ADF&G 
would continue to obtain samples for disease testing as opportunities 
arise in connection with future wood bison radio-collaring efforts or 
harvests. In the unlikely event that a disease posing a significant 
threat to wood bison, other wildlife, or humans were to occur, the 
situation would be addressed through appropriate management actions, 
including vaccination or other veterinary treatment, culling, or 
removal of an entire herd, as described in the draft EA.
    (d) Genetics. Wood bison selected for reintroduction are excess to 
the needs of the captive populations in Canada. The ultimate goal is to 
reestablish wild wood bison populations in Alaska with founding animals 
that are as genetically diverse as possible. Population objectives for 
each area would be developed during public management planning efforts, 
and would consider

[[Page 4113]]

conservation guidelines for population and genetic management.
    (e) Mortality. Based on experience in reestablishing bison in other 
northern habitats, wood bison mortality is expected to be minimal after 
release (Gates and Larter 1990, p. 235). Public education, to be 
conducted by ADF&G for each release, would help reduce potential 
sources of human-caused mortality. Based on the results of previous 
releases of disease-free wood bison, it is unlikely that predator 
management would be needed to allow populations to be successfully 
reestablished. A review of predator-prey interactions (ADF&G 2007, p. 
43) is available online at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/species/speciesinfo/woodbison/pdfs/er_no_appendices.pdf.
    Section 10 of the ESA authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to 
permit ``incidental take,'' which is take that is incidental to, and 
not the purpose of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful activity, 
such as recreation, livestock grazing, oil and gas or mineral 
exploration and development, timber harvesting, transportation, and 
other activities that are in accordance with Federal, Tribal, State, 
and local laws and regulations. If this proposed rule is made final, a 
person could take a wood bison within the NEP area provided that the 
take is: (1) Unintentional, and (2) not due to negligent conduct. Such 
incidental take would not constitute ``knowing take,'' and neither the 
Service nor the State would pursue legal action. If we have evidence of 
knowing (i.e., intentional) take of a wood bison that is not 
authorized, we would refer matters to the appropriate authorities for 
prosecution.
    Highway vehicles and trains can pose a risk to bison (Rowe 2007, p. 
8). In Alaska, the only area where vehicle collisions might occur is in 
the vicinity of the Minto Flats, where the Parks Highway and the Alaska 
Railroad border the southeastern edge, and the Elliot Highway 
approaches the northern edge of the area. There are currently no roads 
in the Yukon Flats or lower Innoko/Yukon River area. However, roads 
could be constructed within these areas in the future to support 
resource developments or for other purposes.
    If this proposed rule is adopted, regulations to prohibit hunting 
until it would be sustainable would be developed and enforced by the 
appropriate law enforcement entity with jurisdiction for the area. 
Public education and enforcement activities would reduce the risk of 
illegal hunting. Based on results of similar efforts in Canada, we 
expect a low rate of natural or incidental mortality (Gates et al. 
2001, pp. 30-40). If significant illegal mortality does occur in any 
given year, the State would develop and implement measures to reduce 
the level of mortality to the extent possible.
    (f) Special handling. If this proposed rule is adopted, ADF&G 
biologists, Service employees, and authorized agents acting on behalf 
of ADF&G or the Service may handle wood bison: (1) For scientific 
purposes; (2) to relocate bison to avoid conflict with human 
activities; (3) for conservation purposes; (4) to relocate wood bison 
to other reintroduction sites; (5) to aid sick, injured, or orphaned 
wood bison; and (6) to salvage dead wood bison. The Service would work 
with ADF&G to determine appropriate procedures for handling all sick, 
injured, orphaned, and dead wood bison.
    (g) Potential for conflict with oil and gas development, mineral 
development, recreation, and other human activities. Several natural 
resource development projects that could be important to Alaska's 
economy are located within or near the three potential wood bison 
restoration sites. There is ongoing exploration and potential oil and 
gas development in the Minto Flats and Yukon Flats areas, and potential 
for a gold mine in an area about 30 to 40 miles (48 to 64 kilometers) 
east of the expanse of potential wood bison habitat near the lower 
Innoko/Yukon River area (Liles 2010, p. 1; U.S. Department of the 
Interior 2005, pp. 1-18; Barrick/Novagold 2008). However, wood bison 
are relatively tolerant of human activity and resource development 
activities (ADF&G 2007, p. 47; Fortin and Andruskiw 2003, p. 811). They 
are mobile and adaptable animals that can use a variety of habitats. 
Their large size and social nature also make them relatively easy to 
monitor (e.g., by aerial surveys) and manage.
    Because wood bison will be introduced as an NEP, we expect their 
establishment will not preclude or conflict with the development of 
oil, gas, and mineral resources or other human activities. Minor 
conflicts between livestock grazing or agriculture and wood bison 
management might eventually occur in the southeast corner of the Minto 
Flats, where a few small agricultural operations exist. Such conflicts 
would be addressed through negotiations and cooperative habitat 
management between ADF&G and landowners (DuBois and Rogers 2000, pp. 
17-24). Agricultural activities on private lands within the proposed 
NEP area would continue without additional restrictions during 
implementation of wood bison restoration activities. We do not expect 
adverse impacts to wood bison in the proposed NEP area from hunting of 
other species; furbearer trapping; recreational activities, such as 
boating, snow machining, off-road vehicle use, or camping; or other 
resource gathering activities, such as fishing, firewood cutting, berry 
picking, or logging.
    (h) Protection of wood bison. ADF&G would employ accepted animal 
husbandry practices to promote the welfare of wood bison during captive 
holding and release (Weinhardt 2005, pp. 2-21). Releasing wood bison in 
areas with little human activity and development would minimize the 
potential for accidental, human-related bison mortality, such as 
collisions with highway vehicles.
    (i) Public awareness and cooperation. If this proposed rule is 
adopted, ADF&G would work with the Service and other organizations to 
continue to inform the general public about the effort to restore wood 
bison to parts of their original range. Through the efforts of ADF&G 
and others, there is already widespread public and agency awareness of 
the program on State, national, and international levels (ADF&G 2007, 
pp. 18-25 and Appendix D). Designation of the NEP in Alaska would 
provide assurance of management flexibility to landowners, agencies, 
and other interests in the affected areas. As described above, through 
the application of management provisions set forth in the proposed 
special rule, we do not expect wood bison reintroductions to impede 
future human activity and development in Alaska.

Findings

    Based on the best scientific and commercial data available (in 
accordance with 50 CFR 17.81), the Service finds that reintroducing 
wood bison to Alaska and the associated protective measures and 
management practices under this proposed rulemaking would further the 
conservation of the species. The nonessential experimental population 
status is appropriate for wood bison taken from captive populations and 
released in Alaska because loss of a wood bison NEP from Alaska would 
not reduce the likelihood of the species' survival in its current range 
in Canada and would not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival 
of the species in the wild. The Service additionally finds that the 
less stringent section 7(a)(4) conference requirements associated with 
the nonessential designation do not pose a threat to the recovery and 
continued existence of wood bison. An NEP designation provides 
important

[[Page 4114]]

assurances to stakeholders and the State in regards to regulatory 
compliance requirements relating to a listed species. This conservation 
effort would not occur without such assurances (Draft EA 2010, p. iii).
    Hunting is an important management tool for the long-term 
conservation of wood bison on the landscape because it will be the 
primary means by which herd size can be maintained within the carrying 
capacity of the reintroduction site(s). In addition, biologically 
sustainable harvest can help build support for wood bison conservation 
among constituents. Given that introduced wood bison will be determined 
to be nonessential, experimental populations, hunting will be an 
allowed take based on sustained yield principles established by the 
Alaska Department of Fish and Game with the Service. This finding only 
applies to the specific circumstances relating to establishing an NEP 
of wood bison in Alaska.

Peer Review

    In conformance with our policy on peer review, published on July 1, 
1994 (59 FR 34270), we will provide copies of this proposed rule to 
three specialists to solicit comments on the scientific data and 
assumptions relating to the supporting biological and ecological 
information for this NEP proposed rule. The purpose of such review is 
to ensure that the final NEP designation decision is based on the best 
scientific information available, as well as to ensure that reviews by 
appropriate experts and specialists are included in the rulemaking 
review process.

Required Determinations

Regulatory Planning and Review (Executive Orders 12866 and 13563)

    Executive Order 12866 provides that the Office of Information and 
Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) will review all significant rules. The Office 
of Information and Regulatory Affairs has determined that this rule is 
not significant.
    Executive Order 13563 reaffirms the principles of E.O. 12866 while 
calling for improvements in the nation's regulatory system to promote 
predictability, to reduce uncertainty, and to use the best, most 
innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends. 
The executive order directs agencies to consider regulatory approaches 
that reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for 
the public where these approaches are relevant, feasible, and 
consistent with regulatory objectives. E.O. 13563 emphasizes further 
that regulations must be based on the best available science and that 
the rulemaking process must allow for public participation and an open 
exchange of ideas. We have developed this rule in a manner consistent 
with these requirements.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.), as 
amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act 
(SBREFA) of 1996 (5 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), whenever a Federal agency 
publishes a notice of rulemaking for any proposed or final rule, it 
must prepare, and make available for public comment, a regulatory 
flexibility analysis that describes the effect of the rule on small 
entities (i.e., small businesses, small organizations, and small 
government jurisdictions). However, no regulatory flexibility analysis 
is required if the head of an agency certifies that the rule will not 
have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. The SBREFA amended the Regulatory Flexibility Act to require 
Federal agencies to provide a statement of the factual basis for 
certifying that a rule will not have a significant economic impact on a 
substantial number of small entities. We certify that, if adopted, this 
rule would not have a significant economic effect on a substantial 
number of small entities. The following discussion explains our 
rationale.
    The area affected by this rule consists of State, Federal, and 
private lands in interior and western Alaska. Reintroduction of wood 
bison associated with this proposed rule would not have any significant 
effect on recreational activities in the NEP area. We do not expect any 
closures of roads, trails, or other recreational areas. We do not 
expect wood bison reintroduction activities to affect the status of any 
other species, or other resource development actions within the release 
area (Fortin and Andruskiw 2003, p. 804). In addition, this proposed 
rulemaking is not expected to have any significant impact on private 
activities in the affected area. The designation of an NEP for wood 
bison in Alaska would significantly reduce the regulatory requirements 
associated with the reintroduction of wood bison, would not create 
inconsistencies with other agency actions, and would not conflict with 
existing or future human activities, including other resource 
development, or Tribal and public use of the land. This proposed rule, 
if made final, would not have significant adverse effects on 
competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or the 
ability of United States-based enterprises to compete with foreign-
based enterprises.
    Lands within the NEP area that would be affected if this proposed 
rule is adopted include the Yukon, Tanana, and Kuskokwim River 
drainages within Alaska. Many private landowners have indicated support 
for the presence of wood bison on their lands in the future. However, 
some major private landowners have expressed concerns about the 
potential legal and regulatory burdens related to the ESA and wood 
bison, including effects on other resource development activities, such 
as the possibility of natural gas extraction in an area near the 
southern end of the Minto Flats State Game Refuge, the potential for 
petroleum-related developments on the Yukon Flats, and mineral 
development adjacent to the lower Innoko/Yukon River area. The proposed 
special rule includes provisions to ensure that the reintroduction of 
wood bison would not impede these or any other existing or potential 
future resource development activities.
    The existence of a wood bison NEP in Alaska would not interfere 
with actions taken or planned by other agencies. Federal agencies most 
interested in this proposed rulemaking include the Service, the Bureau 
of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Indian 
Affairs. The U.S. Forest Service has provided land to help support 
bison in captivity prior to release. This proposed rulemaking is 
consistent with the policies and guidelines of the other Department of 
the Interior bureaus. Because of the substantial regulatory relief 
provided by the NEP designation, we believe the reintroduction of wood 
bison in the areas described would not conflict with existing or future 
human activities on public lands administered by these agencies.
    This proposed rule, if made final, would not materially affect 
entitlements, grants, user fees, loan programs, or the rights and 
obligations of their recipients. This rule would not raise novel legal 
or policy issues. The Service has previously designated experimental 
populations of other species at numerous locations throughout the 
nation.
    On the basis of this information, as stated earlier, we certify 
that, if adopted, this rule would not have a significant economic 
effect on a substantial number of small entities.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act

    In accordance with the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 
et seq.), if adopted, the proposed NEP

[[Page 4115]]

designation would not place any additional requirements on any city, 
village, borough, or other local municipalities. The proposed specific 
sites where the NEP of wood bison would occur include predominantly 
State, Federal, and private lands in interior and western Alaska. Many 
landowners and agencies have expressed support for this project. The 
State has expressed support for accomplishing the reintroduction 
through an NEP designation. Accordingly, the NEP would not 
``significantly or uniquely'' affect small governments. A Small 
Government Agency Plan is not required.
    The NEP designation for wood bison in Alaska would not impose any 
additional management or protection requirements on the State or other 
entities. ADF&G has determined that restoring wood bison to Alaska is a 
high priority, and has voluntarily undertaken all efforts associated 
with this proposed restoration project. Since this rulemaking does not 
require that any action be taken by local or State government or 
private entities, we have determined and certify pursuant to the 
Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, 2 U.S.C. 1501 et seq., that this 
rulemaking would not impose a cost of $100 million or more in any given 
year on local or State governments or private entities (i.e., it is not 
a ``significant regulatory action'' under this Act).

Takings (E.O. 12630)

    In accordance with Executive Order 12630, we have determined that 
the establishment of a wood bison NEP would not have significant 
takings implications. Designating reintroduced populations of federally 
listed species as NEPs significantly reduces the ESA's regulatory 
requirements with respect to that species within the NEP. Under NEP 
designations, the ESA requires a Federal agency to confer with the 
Service if the agency determines its action within the NEP area is 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the reintroduced 
species. However, even if a proposed Federal agency action would 
completely eliminate a reintroduced species from an NEP, the ESA would 
not compel the agency to deny a permit or cease any activity as long as 
the Service does not foresee that the activity may jeopardize the 
species' continued existence throughout its range. Furthermore, the 
results of a conference are advisory and do not restrict agencies from 
carrying out, funding, or authorizing activities. Additionally, the 
proposed section 4(d) special rule stipulates that unintentional take 
(including killing or injuring) of the reintroduced wood bison would 
not be a violation of the ESA, when such take is incidental to an 
otherwise legal activity (e.g., oil and gas development, mineral 
extraction).
    Multiple-use management of lands within the NEP area by government, 
industry, or recreational interests would not change as a result of the 
NEP designation. Because of the substantial regulatory relief provided 
by NEP designations, we do not believe the proposed reintroduction of 
wood bison would conflict with existing human activities or hinder 
public use of the NEP area. Private landowners and others who live in 
or visit the NEP area would be able to continue to conduct their usual 
resource-gathering activities. The State of Alaska, through ADF&G, is a 
strong supporter of wood bison reintroduction under the NEP designation 
and has led the development and implementation of the restoration 
effort. A takings implication assessment is therefore not required 
because this rule: (1) Would not effectively compel a property owner to 
suffer a physical invasion of property, and (2) would not deny 
economically beneficial or productive use of the land or aquatic 
resources. This rule would substantially advance a legitimate 
government interest (conservation of a listed species) and would not 
present a barrier to any reasonable and expected beneficial use of 
private property.

Federalism (E.O. 13132)

    In accordance with Executive Order 13132, we have considered 
whether this proposed rule has significant Federalism effects and have 
determined that a Federalism assessment is not required. This rule 
would not have substantial direct effects on the States, on the 
relationship between the Federal Government and the States, or on the 
distribution of power and responsibilities among the various levels of 
government. In keeping with Department of the Interior policy, we 
requested information from and coordinated development of this proposed 
rule with the affected resource agencies in the State of Alaska. No 
intrusion on State policy or administration is expected, roles or 
responsibilities of Federal or State governments would not change, and 
fiscal capacity would not be substantially directly affected. The 
proposed special rule operates to maintain the existing relationship 
between the State and the Federal Government and is being undertaken in 
coordination with the State of Alaska. The State endorses the NEP 
designation as the most feasible way to pursue wood bison restoration 
in Alaska, and we have cooperated with ADF&G in preparing this proposed 
rule. Therefore, this proposed rule does not have significant 
Federalism effects or implications that would warrant the preparation 
of a Federalism Assessment pursuant to the provisions of Executive 
Order 13132.

Civil Justice Reform (E.O. 12988)

    In accordance with Executive Order 12988, the Office of the 
Solicitor has determined that this rule would not unduly burden the 
judicial system and would meet the requirements of sections (3)(a) and 
(3)(b)(2) of the Order.

Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.)

    This proposed rule does not contain new information collection 
requirements, and a submission under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) 
is not required. The Office of Management and Budget has approved the 
reporting requirements associated with experimental populations and has 
assigned OMB Control Number 1018-0095, expiring on May 31, 2014. We may 
not conduct or sponsor and you are not required to respond to a 
collection of information unless it displays a currently valid OMB 
control number.

National Environmental Policy Act

    In compliance with all provisions of the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), we have analyzed the 
impact of this proposed rule. Based on this analysis and any new 
information resulting from public comment on the proposed action, we 
will determine if there are any significant impacts or effects caused 
by this rule. We have prepared a draft EA on this proposed action and 
have made it available for public inspection: (1) In person at the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service's Regional Office (see ADDRESSES), and (2) 
online at http://www.regulations.gov. All appropriate NEPA documents 
will be finalized before this rule is finalized.

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes (E.O. 13175)

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 
``Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments'' (59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175, and the Department 
of the Interior Manual Chapter 512 DM 2, the Service, through ADF&G, 
has coordinated closely with the Tribal governments near potential 
release sites throughout development of this project and rulemaking 
process. The Service has extended an invitation for consultation to all 
Tribes within the

[[Page 4116]]

NEP area and will fully consider information received through the 
Government-to-Government consultation process, as well as all comments 
submitted during the public comment period by Tribal members or Tribal 
entities on the proposed NEP designation and wood bison reintroduction.

Energy Supply, Distribution, or Use (E.O. 13211)

    Executive Order 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of 
Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. Because this proposed 
rule is not expected to significantly affect energy supplies, 
distribution, and use, it is not a significant energy action. 
Therefore, no Statement of Energy Effects is required.

Clarity of the Rule

    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the 
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain 
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (a) Be logically organized;
    (b) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (c) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (d) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (e) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us 
comments by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. To 
better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as 
possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections 
or paragraphs that are not clearly written, which sections or sentences 
are too long, and the sections where you feel lists or tables would be 
useful, etc.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this proposed rule is 
available at http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the Fish 
and Wildlife Service's Regional Office, Fisheries and Ecological 
Services (see ADDRESSES).

Author

    The primary authors of this proposed rule are Judy Jacobs, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage, AK, and Bob Stephenson, Alaska 
Department of Fish and Game, Fairbanks, AK.

Administrative Changes to the ESA List at 50 CFR 17.11(h)

    In preparing this proposed rule, we noted two errors in entries in 
the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife at 50 CFR 17.11(h); both 
are in the ``Special rules'' column. The entry for the special rule for 
slender chub (Erimystax cahni) includes a reference to ``17.84(sr)''; 
this reference should be to ``17.84(s)''. The entry for the special 
rule for bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) includes a reference to 
``17.84(v)''; this reference should be to ``17.84(w)''.
    These entries are in no way related to this special rule concerning 
wood bison. However, to correct these errors in the Code of Federal 
Regulations, we must publish a rulemaking document in the Federal 
Register. Therefore, we are using this rulemaking action as the vehicle 
for making these corrections. Accordingly, we have proposed to revise 
these entries in the rule portion of this document. These changes are 
noncontroversial and purely administrative in nature.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth 
below:

PART 17--[AMENDED]

0
1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by revising the entries for ``Bison, wood'' 
under ``Mammals'' and ``Chub, slender'' and ``Trout, bull'' under 
``Fishes'' in the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife to read as 
follows:


Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                           Historical range      endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Mammals
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Bison, wood......................  Bison bison           Canada, Alaska.....  Entire.............  T                    3, 803           NA           NA
                                    athabascae.
Bison, wood......................  Bison bison           Canada, Alaska.....  U.S.A. (Alaska)....  XN              ...........           NA     17.84(x)
                                    athabascae.
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
              Fishes
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Chub, slender....................  Erimystax cahni.....  U.S.A. (TN, VA)....  Entire, except       T                        28     17.95(e)     17.44(c)
                                                                               where listed as an
                                                                               experimental
                                                                               population.
Chub, slender....................  Erimystax cahni.....  U.S.A. (TN, VA)....  U.S.A. (TN--         XN              ...........           NA     17.84(s)
                                                                               specified portions
                                                                               of the French
                                                                               Broad and Holston
                                                                               Rivers; see
                                                                               17.84(s)(1)(i)).
 

[[Page 4117]]

 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
Trout, bull......................  Salvelinus            U.S.A. (AK, Pacific  U.S.A., coterminous  T                637, 639E,     17.95(e)    17.44(w),
                                    confluentus.          NW into CA, ID,      (lower 48 states),                     659, 670                  17.44(x)
                                                          NV, MT) Canada (NW   except where
                                                          Territories).        listed as an
                                                                               experimental
                                                                               population.
Trout, bull......................  Salvelinus            U.S.A. (AK, Pacific  Clackamas River      XN              ...........           NA     17.84(w)
                                    confluentus.          NW into CA, ID,      subbasin and the
                                                          NV, MT) Canada (NW   mainstem
                                                          Territories).        Willamette River,
                                                                               from Willamette
                                                                               Falls to its
                                                                               points of
                                                                               confluence with
                                                                               the Columbia
                                                                               River, including
                                                                               Multnomah Channel.
 
                                                                      * * * * * * *
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
3. Amend Sec.  17.84 by adding a new paragraph (x) to read as follows:


Sec.  17.84  Special rules--vertebrates.

* * * * *
    (x) Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae).
    (1) Wood bison within the area identified in paragraph (x)(2)(i) of 
this section are members of a nonessential experimental population 
(NEP) and will be managed primarily by the State of Alaska, in 
cooperation with the Service, in accordance with this rule and the 
respective management plans.
    (2) Where are wood bison in Alaska designated as an NEP?
    (i) The boundaries of the NEP area encompass the Yukon, Tanana, and 
Kuskokwim River drainages in Alaska (Figure 1). The NEP area includes 
much of the wood bison's historical range in Alaska, and the release 
sites are within the species' historical range. The NEP area is defined 
as follows: the Yukon River drainage from the United States-Canada 
border downstream to its mouth; the Tanana River drainage from the 
United States-Canada border downstream to its confluence with the Yukon 
River; and the Kuskokwim River drainage from its headwaters downstream 
to its mouth at the Bering Sea.

[[Page 4118]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP18JA13.000

    (ii) Any wood bison found within the Alaska wood bison NEP area, 
and reintroduction sites within this area, will be considered part of 
the NEP. The bison will be managed by the State of Alaska (ADF&G) to 
prevent establishment of any population outside the NEP area.
    (3) Under what circumstances might an Alaska wood bison NEP be 
eliminated?
    (i) We do not anticipate eliminating all individuals within an 
Alaska wood bison NEP unless:
    (A) The State deems the reintroduction efforts a failure or most 
members of reintroduced populations have disappeared for any reason;
    (B) Monitoring of wood bison in Alaska indicates appreciable harm 
to other native wildlife, such as the introduction of disease or other 
unanticipated environmental consequences associated with their 
presence; or
    (C) Legal or statutory changes reduce or eliminate the State's 
ability to complete the restoration effort as designed and intended in 
its management plans, with the management flexibility and protection of 
other land uses (including other resource development) provided in this 
NEP designation.
    (ii) If any of the circumstances listed in paragraph (x)(3)(i) of 
this section occur, some or all wood bison may be removed from the wild 
in Alaska by any method deemed practicable by the State, including 
lethal removal. If the reintroduction of wood bison under this 
nonessential experimental designation is discontinued for any reason 
and no action is taken by the Service and the State to change the 
designation, all remaining wood bison in Alaska will retain their NEP 
status.
    (4) Which agency is the management lead for wood bison in Alaska? 
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) will have primary 
responsibility for leading and implementing the wood bison restoration 
effort, in cooperation with the Service, and will keep the Service 
apprised of the status of the effort on an ongoing basis. The Service 
will retain responsibility for ensuring compliance with all provisions 
of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 
et seq.), including compliance with section 7 for actions occurring on 
National Wildlife Refuge and National Park Service lands.
    (5) What take of wood bison is allowed in the NEP area? In the 
following instances, wood bison may be taken in accordance with 
applicable State fish and wildlife conservation laws and regulations:

[[Page 4119]]

    (i) Hunting will be an allowed take based on sustained yield 
principles established by the ADF&G.
    (ii) A wood bison may be taken within the NEP area, provided that 
such take is not willful, knowing, or due to negligence, or is 
incidental to and not the purpose of the carrying out of an otherwise 
lawful activity, including but not limited to recreation (e.g., 
trapping, hiking, camping, or shooting activities); forestry; 
agriculture; oil and gas exploration and development and associated 
activities; construction and maintenance of roads or railroads, 
buildings, facilities, energy projects, pipelines, and transmission 
lines of any kind; mining; mineral exploration; travel by any means, 
including vehicles, watercraft, snow machines, or aircraft; tourism; 
and other activities that are in accordance with Federal, State, and 
local laws and regulations and specific authorizations. Such conduct is 
not considered intentional or ``knowing take'' for purposes of this 
regulation, and neither the Service nor the State will take legal 
action for such conduct. Any cases of ``knowing take'' will be referred 
to the appropriate authorities for prosecution.
    (iii) Any person with a valid permit issued by the Service under 50 
CFR 17.32 or by ADF&G may take wood bison for educational purposes, 
scientific purposes, the enhancement of propagation or survival of the 
species, zoological exhibition, and other conservation purposes 
consistent with the ESA. Additionally, any employee or agent of the 
Service or ADF&G designated for such purposes, acting in the course of 
official duties, may take a wood bison in the wild in the NEP area if 
such action is necessary:
    (A) For scientific purposes;
    (B) To relocate a wood bison to avoid conflict with human 
activities;
    (C) To relocate a wood bison if necessary to protect the wood 
bison;
    (D) To relocate wood bison within the NEP area to improve wood 
bison survival and recovery prospects or for genetic purposes;
    (E) To relocate wood bison from one population in the NEP area into 
another, or into captivity;
    (F) To aid or euthanize a sick, injured, or orphaned wood bison;
    (G) To dispose of a dead wood bison, or salvage a dead wood bison 
for scientific purposes;
    (H) To relocate wood bison that have moved outside the experimental 
population back into the experimental population; or
    (I) To aid in law enforcement investigations involving wood bison.
    (iv) Any person may take a wood bison in defense of the 
individual's life or the life of another person. The Service, the 
State, or our designated agent(s) may also promptly remove any wood 
bison that the Service, the State, or our designated agent(s) determine 
to be a threat to human life or safety. Any such taking must be 
reported within 24 hours to the location identified in paragraph 
(x)(5)(vi) of this section.
    (v) In connection with otherwise lawful activities, including but 
not limited to the use and development of land, provided at paragraph 
(x)(5)(ii) of this section, the Federal Government, the State, 
municipalities of the State, other local governments, Native American 
Tribal Governments, and all landowners and their employees or 
authorized agents, tenants, or designees may harass wood bison in the 
areas defined in paragraph (x)(2)(i) of this section, provided that all 
such harassment is by methods that are not lethal or physically 
injurious to wood bison and is reported within 24 hours to the location 
identified in paragraph (x)(5)(vi) of this section.
    (vi) Any taking pursuant to paragraph (x)(5)(ii) of this section 
must be reported within 14 days by contacting the Alaska Department of 
Fish and Game, 1300 College Road, Fairbanks, AK 99701; (907) 459-7206. 
The ADF&G will determine the most appropriate course of action 
regarding any live or dead specimens.
    (6) What take of wood bison is not allowed in the NEP area?
    (i) Except as expressly allowed in paragraph (x)(5) of this 
section, all the provisions of 50 CFR 17.31(a) and (b) apply to the 
wood bison identified in paragraph (x)(1) of this section.
    (ii) Any manner of take not described under paragraph (x)(5) of 
this section is prohibited in the NEP area.
    (iii) You may not possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, ship, 
import, or export by any means whatsoever any of the identified wood 
bison, or parts thereof, that are taken or possessed in a manner not 
expressly allowed in paragraph (x)(5) of this section or in violation 
of the applicable State or local fish and wildlife laws or regulations 
or the ESA.
    (iv) You may not attempt to commit, solicit another to commit, or 
cause to be committed any offense except the take expressly allowed in 
paragraph (x)(5) of this section.
    (7) How will the effectiveness of the reestablishment be monitored? 
The ADF&G will monitor the population status of reintroduced bison 
herds at least annually and document productivity, survival, and 
population size. The Service or other Federal agencies may also be 
involved in population monitoring, particularly where National Refuge 
System or Bureau of Land Management lands are involved. Tribal 
governments or other organizations may also participate in population 
monitoring and other management activities. Depending on available 
resources, monitoring may occur more frequently, especially during the 
first few years of reestablishment efforts. This monitoring will be 
conducted primarily through aerial surveys and will be accomplished by 
State or Service employees, through cooperative efforts with local 
governments, or by contracting with other appropriate species experts.

    Dated: January 2, 2013.
Michael J. Bean,
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 2013-00692 Filed 1-17-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P