[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 140 (Monday, July 22, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 43912-43914]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-17497]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R2-ES-2013-N147; FXES11150200000-134-FF02ENEH00]


Final Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances, Final 
Environmental Assessment, and Finding of No Significant Impact; Rio 
Grande Cutthroat Trout, New Mexico and Colorado

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), make 
available the final Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances 
(CCAA) for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki 
virginialis) in New Mexico and Colorado, as well as the final 
environmental assessment (EA) and the draft Finding of No Significant 
Impact (FONSI) under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 
(NEPA). Vermejo Park, LLC d/b/a Vermejo Park Ranch applied for an 
enhancement of survival permit pursuant to the Endangered Species Act 
of 1973, as amended (Act). The permit application included a draft CCAA 
between the Service and Vermejo Park Ranch for the Rio Grande cutthroat 
trout in Taos County, New Mexico, and Costilla County, Colorado. Our 
decision is to authorize the issuance of an enhancement of survival 
permit to Vermejo Park Ranch for implementation of the CCAA (Preferred 
Alternative described below).

DATES: We will issue a FONSI and make a final permit decision with the 
publication of this notice.

ADDRESSES: For where to view documents, see Availability of Documents 
in SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Wally Murphy, Field Supervisor, by 
U.S. mail at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Ecological 
Services Field Office, 2105 Osuna Rd NE., Albuquerque, New Mexico, 
87113, or by telephone at 505-346-2525.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We announce the availability of the final 
CCAA for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, final EA, and FONSI, which we 
developed in compliance with the agency decision-making requirements of 
NEPA. All alternatives have been described in detail, evaluated, and 
analyzed in our May 2013 final EA and the final CCAA.
    Based on our review of the alternatives and their environmental 
consequences as described in our final EA, we have selected Alternative 
2, the proposed CCAA for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus 
clarkii virginalis) in New Mexico and Colorado. The proposed Federal 
action is the approval of a CCAA, issuance of a section 10(a)(1)(A) 
enhancement of survival permit to Vermejo Park Ranch, and 
implementation of the CCAA for the conservation of the Rio Grande 
cutthroat trout in New Mexico and Colorado. With the assistance of the 
New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Colorado Division of Parks and 
Wildlife, and the Service, Vermejo Park Ranch would implement 
conservation measures for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout by restoring 
them to historically occupied streams, removing threats to the survival 
of the species, and protecting habitat. The CCAA would be in effect for 
25 years on lands owned by Vermejo Park Ranch in Taos County, New 
Mexico, and Costilla County, Colorado. The CCAA was developed in 
support of a section 10(a)(1)(A) enhancement of survival permit.
    By fully implementing the CCAA provisions of the enhancement of 
survival permit, Vermejo Park Ranch will be provided assurances that, 
should the Rio Grande cutthroat trout be listed, the Service will not 
require them to provide additional land, water, or financial resources, 
nor will there be any further restrictions to their land, water, or 
financial resources than those they committed to under the CCAA 
provisions. The CCAA provisions are found in the Code of Federal 
Regulations (CFR) at 50 CFR 17.22(d) and 17.32(d). Furthermore, if the 
Rio Grande cutthroat trout is listed, Vermejo Park Ranch would be 
provided incidental take authorization under the enhancement of 
survival permit for the level of incidental take on their lands 
consistent with the activities under the CCAA provisions. The term of 
the CCAA is 25 years from the date the CCAA is signed by Vermejo Park 
Ranch and the Service. The permit will become effective on the date of 
a final rule that lists the Rio Grande cutthroat trout as threatened or 
endangered and will continue through the end of the CCAA term.

Background

    The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is native to the Rio Grande, Pecos 
River, and Canadian River basins in New Mexico and Colorado. It is the 
southernmost subspecies of cutthroat trout. Because of nonnative 
species introductions, Rio Grande cutthroat trout are now restricted to 
streams that are narrow and small compared to the larger streams they 
once occupied; these populations occupy approximately 10 percent of 
historical habitat. Rio Grande cutthroat trout face a variety of 
imminent threats, including fragmentation, isolation, small population 
size, presence of nonnative trout, whirling disease, fire, drought, and 
the effects of climate change. Because of the range contraction and the 
imminent threats, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout became a candidate 
species on May 14, 2008 (73 FR 27900), indicating that listing of the 
Rio Grande cutthroat trout was warranted but precluded by higher 
priority actions. The species was given a listing priority number of 9, 
indicating a subspecies facing imminent threats of moderate to low 
magnitude.
    Currently, cooperative efforts are in place to restore this 
subspecies to the Rio Costilla watershed, where much of the habitat for 
Rio Grande cutthroat trout exists on private land. The CCAA was 
initiated in order to facilitate conservation and restoration of the 
Rio Grande cutthroat trout on private lands in New Mexico and Colorado. 
Expected conservation benefits for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout from 
implementation of the conservation measures in this CCAA will be 
recognized through additional connected populations being maintained 
over time.
    Furthermore, Rio Grande cutthroat trout conservation will be 
enhanced by with regulatory assurances for the participating property 
owner. There will be a measure of security for the participating 
landowner in the knowledge that they will incur no additional land use 
restrictions if the species is listed under the Act.
    Vermejo Park Ranch requests issuance of the enhancement of survival 
permit in order to address the take prohibitions of section 9 of the 
Act should the species become listed in the future. The permit would 
authorize incidental take associated with implementation of 
conservation commitments and measures described in the CCAA and

[[Page 43913]]

existing land uses on Vermejo Park Ranch.
    The Secretary of the Interior has delegated to the Service the 
authority to approve or deny a section (10)(a)(1)(A) permit in 
accordance with the Act. To act on Vermejo Park Ranch's permit 
application, we must determine that the CCAA meets the issuance 
criteria specified in the Act and at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32. The 
issuance of a section (10)(a)(1)(A) permit is a Federal action subject 
to NEPA compliance, including the Council on Environmental Quality 
Regulations for Implementing the Procedural Provisions of NEPA (40 CFR 
1500-1508). The draft CCAA and application for the enhancement of 
survival permit were not eligible for categorical exclusion under NEPA.
    On January 25, 2013 (78 FR 5480), we issued a draft EA and 
requested public comment on our evaluation of the potential impacts 
associated with issuance of a permit for implementation of the CCAA and 
to evaluate alternatives, along with the draft CCAA. We received no 
public comments.

Purpose and Need

    The purpose of the CCAA is to conserve the ecosystems depended upon 
by the Rio Grande cutthroat trout in such a way as to potentially 
preclude the need to list this species under the Act. This purpose, 
under the CCAA, would be accomplished through the voluntary involvement 
of Vermejo Park Ranch, who is willing to protect, maintain, enhance, 
and develop the habitats necessary for the survival and conservation of 
Rio Grande cutthroat trout on their lands. The purpose of the permit is 
to provide assurances to Vermejo Park Ranch that no additional 
conservation measures would be required beyond those specified in the 
CCAA should the species become listed in the future, as long as Vermejo 
Park Ranch implements and maintains the conservation measures specified 
in the CCAA in good faith through the duration of the CCAA and 
associated permit. Should listing of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout 
occur, the permit would authorize incidental take associated with 
implementation of conservation commitments and measures described in 
the CCAA, as well as existing land uses and other covered activities on 
Vermejo Park Ranch.
    The CCAA and permit are needed to protect and conserve the Rio 
Grande cutthroat trout through reducing threats that this species faces 
while providing a mechanism to authorize incidental take of the Rio 
Grande cutthroat trout, should it be listed pursuant to the Act, for 
Vermejo Park Ranch.
    The Service identified key issues and relevant factors through 
public scoping and working with other agencies and groups. We received 
no comments during the public comment period. No new significant issues 
arose following publication of the draft documents.

Alternatives

    Alternative 1 (No Action): In the No Action Alternative, the 
Service would not approve the draft CCAA nor issue the associated 
section 10(a)(1)(A) enhancement of survival permit. Therefore, a 
programmatic effort to reduce threats through providing regulatory 
assurances to Vermejo Park Ranch through a section 10(a)(1)(A) permit 
of the Act and its implementing regulations, policy, and guidance for 
CCAAs would not be available. Individual actions and smaller efforts 
could be undertaken, but the major incentive for Vermejo Park Ranch to 
conserve a candidate species such as the Rio Grande cutthroat trout 
would not be in place. The No Action alternative provides the baseline 
for comparing the environmental effects of the preferred alternative.
    Alternative 2 (Preferred Alternative): Our selected alternative is 
the approval and implementation of a CCAA between the Service and 
Vermejo Park Ranch; this preferred alternative, as described in the 
final EA, provides for the issuance of a permit pursuant to section 
10(a)(1)(A) of the Act to Vermejo Park Ranch for incidental take that 
is anticipated to occur as a result of implementing the CCAA as 
proposed. The preferred alternative will provide Vermejo Park Ranch, 
who has voluntarily agreed to implement conservation measures to 
restore and maintain suitable habitat for Rio Grande cutthroat trout on 
their property, regulatory assurances that their conservation efforts 
will not result in future regulatory obligations in excess of those 
they agree to at the time they enter into the CCAA. The CCAA 
conservation actions to be implemented or maintained are intended to 
conserve and restore Rio Grande cutthroat trout and their habitat so 
that sustainable population levels may be maintained. Implementation of 
these actions is also intended to reduce any unfavorable impacts to Rio 
Grande cutthroat trout arising from the management and utilization of 
the enrolled lands, which are expected to be minimal. This alternative 
includes implementation of conservation measures to avoid and minimize 
the potential incidental take of Rio Grande cutthroat trout to the 
maximum extent practicable.

Decision

    We intend to issue an enhancement of survival permit allowing 
Vermejo Park Ranch to implement the preferred alternative (Alternative 
2), as it is described in the final CCAA and EA. Our decision is based 
on a thorough review of the alternatives and their environmental 
consequences. Implementation of this decision entails the issuance of 
the permit, including all terms and conditions governing the permit. 
Implementation of this decision requires that Vermejo Park Ranch adhere 
to the conservation measures specified in the CCAA in good faith 
through the duration of the CCAA and permit.

Rationale for Decision

    We have selected the preferred alternative (Alternative 2) for 
implementation based on multiple environmental and social factors, 
including potential impacts to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, the 
benefits to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout that are expected to be 
achieved through implementation of conservation actions and measures 
contained in the CCAA, and social and economic considerations. We did 
not choose the No Action Alternative because under this alternative, a 
programmatic effort to reduce threats to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout 
by providing regulatory assurances to Vermejo Park Ranch through a 
section 10(a)(1)(A) permit of the Act and its implementing regulations, 
policy, and guidance for CCAAs would not be available. Individual 
actions and smaller efforts could be undertaken, but the major 
incentive for landowners to conserve a candidate species such as the 
Rio Grande cutthroat trout would not be in place, and these smaller 
efforts would be incapable of providing comprehensive or comparable net 
benefits as compared to those under the preferred alternative.
    In order for us to issue a permit, we must ascertain that the CCAA 
meets the issuance criteria set forth in 16 U.S.C. 1539(a)(2)(A) and 
(B). In addition, we must determine that the applicant has met all 
issuance criteria for the permit contained in 50 CFR 17.22(d)(1) and 
17.32(d)(1). We have made our determination based on the criteria 
summarized below:
    1. The taking will be incidental. We find that the take of Rio 
Grande cutthroat trout would be incidental to otherwise lawful 
activities. Vermejo Park Ranch will implement the CCAA, which includes 
implementation of conservation commitments and

[[Page 43914]]

measures on their lands as described in the CCAA. Incidental take 
authorized under the permit would be in the form of harassment, harm, 
and mortality associated with conservation and monitoring activities 
necessary to implement the CCAA.
    2. The CCAA complies with the requirements of the CCAA policy. 
Vermejo Park Ranch has developed the CCAA and permit application 
pursuant to the requirements in the implementing regulations and the 
issuance criteria for a permit. Conservation benefits for the Rio 
Grande cutthroat trout from implementation of the CCAA are expected in 
the form of avoidance of negative impacts; reduction of threats; and 
conservation, enhancement, and restoration of populations and habitat 
intended to establish and maintain viable populations of Rio Grande 
cutthroat trout in Taos County, New Mexico, and Costilla County, 
Colorado. Also, this CCAA may be used as a model for CCAAs in other 
parts of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout's range to encourage 
cooperative management and conservation.
    3. The probable direct and indirect effects of any authorized take 
will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery 
in the wild of any species. The Act's legislative history establishes 
the intent of Congress that this issuance criteria be identical to a 
regulatory finding of no ``jeopardy'' under section 7(a)(2) of the Act. 
As a result, issuance of this section 10(a)(1)(A) permit was reviewed 
by the Service according to provisions of section 7 of the Act. In the 
Intra-Service Section 7 Conference Opinion, the Service concluded that 
issuance of a permit will not jeopardize the continued existence of the 
Rio Grande cutthroat trout or any other species. The taking associated 
with the implementation of the CCAA will be incidental to efforts 
associated conservation actions for Rio Grande cutthroat trout in their 
historic range and gathering important biological information necessary 
to continue conservation efforts for the species.
    4. Implementation of the terms of the CCAA is consistent with 
applicable Federal, State, and Tribal laws and regulations. The Service 
is unaware of any law or regulation that would prevent the 
implementation of the CCAA and the accompanying permit. The permit will 
include conditions that revoke the take provisions of the permit if any 
applicable State, Federal, or tribal law or regulation is broken.
    5. Implementation of the terms of the CCAA will not be in conflict 
with any ongoing conservation programs for species covered by the 
permit. The CCAA in New Mexico and Colorado for the Rio Grande 
cutthroat trout furthers ongoing conservation activities for the 
species' conservation and is essential in developing additional 
conservation agreements within the historic range of the Rio Grande 
cutthroat trout. The Service is a participant on the Rio Grande 
Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team, which is a consortium of agencies 
that has been working together to conserve, restore, and enhance Rio 
Grande cutthroat populations rangewide. This combined State, Federal, 
Tribal, and private effort should provide conservation incentives and 
result in greater success in reducing threats and stabilizing the 
status of Rio Grande cutthroat trout.
    6. The Applicant has shown capability for and commitment to 
implementing all of the terms of the CCAA. Vermejo Park Ranch has shown 
the ability to administer the CCAA and work effectively with 
cooperators to implement conservation commitments in the CCAA. The 
funding for implementation will come from several sources and is 
already in place. Vermejo Park Ranch will also have assistance from the 
Service, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and Colorado Division 
of Parks and Wildlife in determining the conservation priorities. Based 
on conservation measures described in the CCAA, the Service does not 
expect any circumstances to occur that would preclude Vermejo Park 
Ranch's funding and implementation of the CCAA.
    Section 9 of the Act and its implementing regulations prohibit the 
``taking'' of threatened or endangered species. However, under limited 
circumstances, we may issue permits to take listed wildlife species 
incidental to, and not for the purpose of, otherwise lawful activities.

Availability of Documents

    Electronic copies of the final CCAA and final EA will be available 
on the Service's New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office Web site, 
http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/NewMexico/VRCCAA.cfm. Alternatively, 
you may obtain CD-ROMs with electronic copies of these documents by 
writing to Mr. Wally Murphy, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 2105 Osuna Rd NE., Albuquerque, NM 87113; calling 505-346-
2525; or faxing 505-346-2542. The final CCAA and final EA also are 
available for public inspection, by appointment only, during normal 
business hours (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at the Albuquerque address listed 
above.
    Persons wishing to review the application or FONSI may obtain a 
copy by writing to the Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, P.O. Box 1306, Room 6034, Albuquerque, NM 87103.

Authority

    We provide this notice under section 10(c) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR 17.22) and NEPA 
(42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and its implementing regulations (40 CFR 
1506.6).

    Dated: June 21, 2013.
Joy E. Nicholopoulos,
Acting Regional Director, Southwest Region, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-17497 Filed 7-19-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P