[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 139 (Friday, July 19, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 43123-43124]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-16812]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket Nos. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111; FWS-R6-ES-2012-0108: 4500030113]
RIN 1018-AZ20; RIN 1018-AX71


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 6-Month Extension 
of Final Determinations on the Proposed Endangered Status and Proposed 
Designation of Critical Habitat for Gunnison Sage-Grouse

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rules; Reopening of the Comment Period.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
6-month extension of the final determination of whether to list the 
Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as endangered and designate 
critical habitat, and announce the reopening of the comment period on 
the proposed rules to list the species and to designate critical 
habitat. We are taking this action based on our finding that there is 
substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency and accuracy of the 
available data relevant to our determinations regarding the proposed 
listing rule, making it necessary to solicit additional information by 
reopening the comment period for 45 days. Comments previously submitted 
need not be resubmitted as they are already incorporated into the 
public record and will be fully considered in the final rules.

DATES: The comment period end date is September 3, 2013. We request 
that comments be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing 
date.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter the appropriate Docket 
No.: FWS-R6-ES-2012-0108 for the proposed endangered status for 
Gunnison sage-grouse; or FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111 for the proposed 
designation of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse. You may 
submit a comment by clicking on ``Comment Now!''
    (2) By Hard Copy: For the proposed endangered status for Gunnison 
sage-grouse, submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments 
Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2012-0108; Division of Policy and 
Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax 
Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
    For the proposed designation of critical habitat for Gunnison sage-
grouse, submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments 
Processing, Attn: FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111; Division of Policy and 
Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax 
Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described 
above. 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).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Patty Gelatt, Western Colorado 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Colorado Field 
Office, 764 Horizon Drive, Building B, Grand Junction, CO 81506-3946; 
telephone 970-243-2778; facsimile 970-245-6933. Persons who use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at (800-877-8339).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    On January 11, 2013, we published a proposed rule listing the 
Gunnison sage-grouse as endangered (78 FR 2486) and a proposed 
designation of critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse (78 FR 
2540) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). For a 
description of previous Federal actions concerning the Gunnison sage-
grouse, please refer to the proposed listing rule. We held four public 
meetings regarding the proposed rule and designation in January and 
February 2013 and also extended the initial 60-day comment period on 
these proposals by an additional 21 days, until April 2, 2013 (78 FR 
15925, March 13, 2013). We also solicited and received independent 
scientific review of the information contained in each proposed rule 
from peer reviewers with expertise in Gunnison sage-grouse or similar 
species biology, in accordance with our July 1, 1994 peer review policy 
(59 FR 34270).
    Section 4(b)(6) of the Act and its implementing regulation, 50 CFR 
424.17(a), requires that we take one of three actions within 1 year of 
a proposed listing and concurrent proposed designation of critical 
habitat: (1) Finalize the proposed rules; (2) withdraw the proposed 
rules; or (3) extend the final determination by not more than 6 months, 
if there is substantial disagreement among scientists knowledgeable 
about the species regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the 
available data relevant to the determination, for the purposes of 
soliciting additional data.
    During the public comment period, we received multiple comments on 
the proposed listing and critical habitat designation from scientists 
with knowledge of the species and others regarding the sufficiency or 
accuracy of the available data used to support these proposed 
rulemakings. We also received comments on the proposed rules from 
scientists with expertise on Gunnison sage-grouse or similar species 
biology through the peer review process. In particular, commenters 
raised questions regarding:
    (1) The interpretation of scientific literature in the proposed 
rulemakings, and scientific literature that we may have overlooked in 
our analysis. Specifically, some scientists knowledgeable about the 
species were concerned with the appropriateness of our interpretation 
of a study by Aldridge et al. (2011) on habitat use by Gunnison sage-
grouse near roads and residential developments, and a study by Wisdom 
et al. (2011) which concludes that there are no strongholds for the 
species. These commenters also suggested that there may be additional, 
relevant studies that were not analyzed in the proposed rules.
    (2) Gunnison sage-grouse population trends. Specifically, some 
scientists

[[Page 43124]]

questioned our analysis of the species' population trends in the 
Gunnison Basin, suggesting we did not account for increasing lek counts 
and what these scientists consider a low risk of extinction in that 
population.
    (3) The scope and efficacy of Gunnison County's regulatory 
mechanisms in addressing threats to Gunnison sage-grouse in the 
Gunnison Basin. Specifically, we received comments suggesting that we 
may have underestimated the extent to which Gunnison County's 
regulatory mechanisms address residential development and other threats 
to the species.
    (4) The accuracy of projections about the extent of future 
residential development within the range of the species. Specifically, 
commenters suggested that we may have overestimated the amount of 
future growth in human populations and development that is expected to 
occur within the species' range in the Gunnison Basin.
    (5) What constitutes historical habitat and important current 
habitat for the species. Specifically, some scientists knowledgeable 
about the species suggested we may have overestimated the extent of 
historical Gunnison sage-grouse habitat, and habitat that is important 
for the species.
    As a result of these comments, we find that there is substantial 
disagreement among scientists knowledgeable about the species regarding 
the sufficiency and accuracy of the available data that is relevant to 
our determination of the proposed listing and critical habitat 
designation. In consideration of these scientific disagreements, we 
have determined that a 6-month extension of final determinations for 
these rulemakings is warranted, and are hereby extending the final 
determinations for 6 months in order to solicit information that will 
help to clarify these issues and to fully analyze this information. 
This extension will also allow us to solicit and consider information 
relating to other substantial disagreements regarding available data 
that are relevant to our final listing determination. If we determine 
that listing is warranted, we will designate critical habitat to the 
maximum extent prudent and determinable.
    As noted in the proposed listing rule (78 FR 2486), we were 
previously required by the terms of a judicially approved settlement 
agreement to make a final determination on the Gunnison sage-grouse 
proposed rules no later than September 30, 2013. Therefore, with this 
6-month extension, we will make a final determination on the proposed 
rules no later than March 31, 2014.

Public Comments

    We will accept written comments and information during this 
reopened comment period on our proposed listing for the Gunnison sage-
grouse that was published in the Federal Register on January 11, 2013 
(78 FR 2486), and our proposed critical habitat designation for the 
Gunnison sage-grouse that was published in the Federal Register on 
January 11, 2013 (78 FR 2540). We will consider information and 
recommendations from all interested parties. We intend that any final 
action resulting from these proposals be as accurate as possible and 
based on the best available scientific and commercial data.
    In consideration of the scientific and other disagreements about 
the data used to support these proposed rulemakings, we are 
particularly interested in new information and comment regarding:
    (1) Whether we have appropriately interpreted the scientific 
studies cited in the proposed rule, and whether there is additional 
scientific information we may have overlooked;
    (2) Gunnison sage-grouse population trends in each population area;
    (3) The scope and effectiveness of regulatory mechanisms enacted by 
Gunnison County to address threats to the Gunnison sage-grouse;
    (4) Projections for future residential development and human 
population growth within Gunnison sage-grouse range in the Gunnison 
Basin including portions of Gunnison and Saguache Counties; and
    (5) What constitutes historical habitat and important current 
habitat for the species.
    If you previously submitted comments or information on the proposed 
rule, please do not resubmit them. We have incorporated them into the 
public record, and we will fully consider them in the preparation of 
our final determination. Our final determination concerning this 
proposed listing will take into consideration all written comments and 
any additional information we received.
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section above. We 
request that you send comments only by the methods described in the 
ADDRESSES section.
    If you submit information via http://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the Web site. If your submission is made via a hardcopy 
that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the 
top of your document that we withhold this information from public 
review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We 
will post all hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing the proposed rules, 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, Western Colorado Field Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT). You may obtain copies of the proposed rules on 
the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-
2012-0108 for the proposed endangered status for Gunnison sage-grouse; 
or Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2011-0111 for the proposed designation of 
critical habitat for Gunnison sage-grouse. Copies of the proposed rules 
are also available at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/birds/gunnisonsagegrouse/. A notice of availability for the draft 
economic analysis of the proposed designation of critical habitat for 
the Gunnison sage-grouse will be published in the Federal Register in 
the near future.

Authors

    The primary authors of this notice are the staff of the 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: June 26, 2013.
Stephen Guertin,
Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-16812 Filed 7-18-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P