Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision on Oncor Electric Delivery Company's Habitat Conservation Plan for 100 Texas Counties, 2993-2996 [2012-830]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 13 / Friday, January 20, 2012 / Notices Public use will be a blend of active and passive. Horseback riding and bicycling will continue, but camping will be eliminated. The Soda Lake Campground will be converted to dayuse facilities, and the area around the Bluebird Campground will be available by permit for day use as an educational site. Morgan Lake Road will be closed to overnight travel. Facilities with increased accessibility will be developed to promote compatible hunting and fishing. Waterfowl and big game hunting opportunities will be expanded by opening new areas; providing for additional hunting weapons; and implementing additional youth hunt days, areas, and seasons. The waterfowl hunting lottery will be discontinued in favor of first-come, firstserved hunting. A new hiking and interpretive trail will be developed within the Drumheller Channel National Natural Landmark in cooperation with the National Park Service. Seasonal and permanent wildlife observation blinds will be provided. New interpretive and educational programs and brochures will be developed, with an emphasis on building the volunteer program to manage them. The Sandhill Crane Festival will remain a priority. Fish stocking by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will continue, with an approved fisheries management plan, but will be discontinued in lakes where there is the highest likelihood of success for northern leopard frog recovery. Step-down plans on informational and interpretive signs, cultural resource management, habitat management, and other management areas related to the goals and objectives in this CCP will be developed. Water rights and/or agreements will be pursued to ensure the availability of water for moist soil management. Public Availability of Documents In addition to the methods in you can view or obtain documents at the following locations: • Agency Web Site: www.fws.gov/ pacific/planning/. • Public Library: Othello Branch of Mid-Columbia Libraries, 101 East Main Street, Othello, WA 99344; (509) 488– 9683. wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES ADDRESSES, Dated: November 17, 2011. Michael Carrier, Acting Regional Director, Pacific Region, Portland, Oregon. [FR Doc. 2012–1113 Filed 1–19–12; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4310–55–P VerDate Mar<15>2010 14:12 Jan 19, 2012 Jkt 226001 DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS–R2–ES–2011–N254; FXES11120200000F2–112–FF02ENEH00] Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision on Oncor Electric Delivery Company’s Habitat Conservation Plan for 100 Texas Counties Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior. ACTION: Notice of availability. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, make available the final environmental impact statement (EIS), and final record of decision under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 analyzing the impacts of the issuance of an incidental take permit for implementation of the final Oncor Electric Delivery LLC’s Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). Our decision is to issue a 30-year incidental take permit to Oncor for implementation of the preferred alternative (described below), which authorizes incidental take of animal species and impacts to plant species listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. Oncor has agreed to implement avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures to offset impacts to these species, as described in their HCP. DATES: We will issue a final permit no sooner than 30 days after publication of this notice. Comments on the final EIS and HCP will be accepted until February 21, 2012. ADDRESSES: For where to review documents and submit comments, see Reviewing Documents and Submitting Comments in SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Adam Zerrenner, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758 or (512) 490–0057. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We, the Service, announce the availability of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) and record of decision (ROD), which we developed in compliance with the agency decision-making requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended (NEPA), as well as the final Oncor Electric Delivery LLC (Oncor) Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) as submitted by the applicant. All alternatives have been described in detail, evaluated, and analyzed in our December 2011 final EIS and Oncor’s SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00047 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 2993 HCP. The ROD documents the rationale for our decision. Based on our review of the alternatives and their environmental consequences as described in our final EIS, we have selected Alternative 1, the proposed HCP. The proposed action is to issue Oncor an incidental take permit (ITP) under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) that authorizes incidental take of animal species and impacts to plant species. The term of the permit is 30 years (2012–2042), and it would include the following species that are endangered and threatened (also referred to as ‘‘covered species’’): Endangered Large-fruited sand-verbena (Abronia macrocarpa) Texas poppy-mallow (Callirhoe scabriuscula) Navasota ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes parksii) American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis) Whooping crane (Grus americana) Golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) Black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla) Red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) Threatened Pecos sunflower (Helianthus paradoxus) Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus) Take of listed plant species is not defined in the Act, although the Act does identify several prohibitions. However, because covered species in the Oncor HCP include both plants and animals, in the following discussion we use the term ‘‘incidental take’’ when discussing impacts to covered plants, as well as actual incidental take of covered animals. Oncor will implement avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures to offset impacts to covered species according to their HCP. For all but the whooping crane, impacts will be mitigated through purchase of mitigation credits from a Serviceapproved conservation bank, purchasing high-quality habitat near the impact area, or if purchase of land is not a viable mitigation option (e.g., mitigation necessary to offset impacts does not generate sufficient funds to purchase a reasonable amount of land to support the conservation of the species), additional options will be explored with the Service as described in the HCP. Within 1 mile of confirmed or potentially suitable stopover habitat for E:\FR\FM\20JAN1.SGM 20JAN1 2994 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 13 / Friday, January 20, 2012 / Notices wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES the whooping crane, Oncor will (1) mark all new transmission lines with bird flight diverters, (2) place transmission or distribution lines underground, or (3) relocate or remove transmission or distribution lines. Additionally, existing transmission or distribution lines within 1 mile of confirmed or potentially suitable stopover habitat will also be marked with bird flight diverters, equal to the number of new lines constructed that require marking with bird flight diverters. Background Oncor applied to the Service for an ITP. As part of the permit application, Oncor developed the HCP to meet the requirements of an ITP. Our issuance of an ITP and implementation of the HCP allow Oncor to incidentally take the covered species during construction, operation, and maintenance of various facilities (e.g., electric transmission and distribution lines), as well as during emergency response work (covered activities). The proposed plan area is 100 of Oncor’s 102-county service area, excluding Travis and Williamson counties, where any impacts to listed species will be authorized under existing permits (see map 1–1 in the HCP). The proposed covered area includes any area within Oncor’s service area where covered activities are expected to affect listed species during the 30-year ITP term. The Secretary of the Interior has delegated to the Service the authority to approve or deny an ITP in accordance with the Act. To act on Oncor’s permit application, we must determine that the HCP meets the issuance criteria specified in the Act and in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32. The issuance of an ITP 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). On July 15, 2011, we issued a draft EIS and requested public comment on our evaluation of the potential impacts associated with issuance of an ITP for implementation of the HCP and to evaluate alternatives, along with the draft HCP (76 FR 41808). We included public comments and responses associated with the draft EIS and draft HCP in the final EIS. Purpose and Need The purpose of the section 10(a)(l)(B) permit is to authorize incidental take associated with the covered activities described above. We identified key issues and relevant factors through VerDate Mar<15>2010 14:12 Jan 19, 2012 Jkt 226001 public scoping, working with other agencies and groups, and comments from the public. We received responses from three Federal agencies and one State agency. The National Park Service had no comment, the Environmental Protection Agency had ‘‘no objections’’ to implementation of the preferred alternative, and the Federal Aviation Administration encouraged Oncor to coordinate with them on any projects that would affect navigable airspace (Federal Aviation Regulations Part 77). Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) had more substantive comments, including requesting clarification regarding how mitigation would be implemented, a request to be included on any committees formed to determine mitigation strategies, the control of invasive species, covering additional rare species within the action area, and obtaining any necessary permits from TPWD for State-listed species. The Service believes these comments are addressed and reasonably accommodated in the final documents. No new significant issues arose following publication of the draft documents. Alternatives We considered three alternatives in the EIS. Alternative 1—Preferred Alternative: Our selected alternative is the proposed HCP with a 30-year term, and the preferred alternative (Alternative 1) as described in the final EIS, which provides for the issuance of an ITP to Oncor for incidental take of the covered species that is anticipated to occur as a result of covered activities. This alternative includes the implementation of measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate (mitigation measures described above) impacts from the potential incidental take to the maximum extent practicable. This alternative also provides conservation measures for covered species and the mechanism for streamlined compliance with the Act. No Action Alternative: Under the NoAction Alternative, the Service would not issue an incidental take permit for a programmatic HCP. Instead, Oncor would seek an individual section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental take permit, or coverage under a section 7 consultation where a Federal nexus (authorized by a Federal agency [e.g., section 404 permit under the Clean Water Act]) exists, on a project-by-project basis over the next 30 years if activities could result in incidental take of any federally listed species within the proposed permit area. Alternative 2 (50-year permit duration): Under this alternative the PO 00000 Frm 00048 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 permit duration would be 50 years, rather than 30. The covered activities, proposed permit area, and covered species would be the same as the preferred alternative. The avoidance and minimization discussed in the proposed HCP would be the same, but the additional 20-year duration would likely result in a greater amount of incidental take. Decision We intend to issue an ITP allowing Oncor to implement the preferred alternative (Alternative 1), as it is described in the final EIS. Our decision is based on a thorough review of the alternatives and their environmental consequences. Implementation of this decision entails the issuance of the ITP, including all terms and conditions governing the permit. Implementation of this decision requires adherence to all of the minimization and mitigation measures specified in the HCP, as well as monitoring and adaptive management measures. Rationale for Decision We have selected the preferred alternative (Alternative 1) for implementation based on multiple environmental and social factors, including potential impacts and benefits to covered species and their habitat, the extent and effectiveness of avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures, and social and economic considerations. We did not choose the No Action Alternative because, as compared with the preferred alternative, a project-byproject approach for complying with the Act would be more time-consuming and less efficient, and would result in piecemeal mitigation incapable of providing comprehensive or comparable net benefits to covered species. While Alternative 2 would result in a greater amount of mitigation, it was not chosen because of the uncertainties associated with planning and implementation over such an extended duration, 50 years, which would likely result in the need to modify or amend the permit, resulting in inefficiencies and limiting the effectiveness of the HCP. In order to issue an ITP, we must ascertain that the HCP meets the issuance criteria set forth in 16 U.S.C. 1539(a)(2)(A) and (B). We have made that determination based on the criteria summarized below: 1. The taking will be incidental. We find that the take will be incidental to otherwise lawful activities, including the proposed construction, operation, and maintenance of various facilities (e.g., electric transmission and distribution lines), as well as emergency E:\FR\FM\20JAN1.SGM 20JAN1 wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 13 / Friday, January 20, 2012 / Notices response work. The take of individuals of the covered species will be primarily due to the indirect impacts of habitat destruction and/or alteration. 2. The applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize and mitigate the impacts of such takings. Oncor has committed to a wide variety of conservation measures and other strategies designed to avoid and minimize harm to the covered species, including monitoring and adaptive management, and will mitigate for any unavoidable loss through purchase of conservation credits and/or land acquisition. The mitigation will be commensurate with the actual level of take. In addition, Oncor has included provisions for changed circumstances that are reasonably foreseeable during the term of the permit. These strategies will ensure that impacts from the proposed taking are minimized and mitigated to the maximum extent practicable. Mitigation will be in place prior to occurrence of the take (i.e., construction through habitat). 3. The applicant will develop an HCP and ensure that adequate funding for the HCP will be provided. Oncor has developed and will implement their HCP. Section 6 of the HCP describes avoidance and minimization measures, including conservation measures and best management practices that will be written into project descriptions and budgets. These are standard practices and expenses that Oncor funds on all of their existing projects. It also describes the mitigation Oncor has agreed to undertake for unavoidable impacts that will be provided prior to occurrence of anticipated take (i.e., construction through habitat). The Service’s no surprises assurances are discussed in the HCP and measures to address changed circumstances have been identified. Adaptive management will be used to direct changes to conservation, mitigation, or management measures and monitoring when needed. Unforeseen circumstances would be addressed through the Service’s close coordination with Oncor in the implementation of the HCP, and Oncor has committed to a coordination process to address such circumstances. We have, therefore, determined that Oncor’s financial commitment and plan, along with their willingness to address changed and unforeseen circumstances in a cooperative fashion, is sufficient to meet this criterion. If needed, Oncor will arrange for an unconditional irrevocable stand-by letter of credit to be issued to the Service in the amount of the expected mitigation cost, as calculated in Section VerDate Mar<15>2010 14:12 Jan 19, 2012 Jkt 226001 6 of the HCP that will be issued by a nationally recognized banking institution acceptable to the Service with an expiration date that extends through the expected completion date of the mitigation measures. 4. The taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of any listed species in the wild. As the Federal action agency considering whether to issue an ITP to Oncor, we have reviewed the proposed action under section 7 of the Act. Our biological opinion, dated January 5, 2012, concluded that issuance of the ITP will not jeopardize the continued existence of the covered species in the wild. No areas designated as critical habitat for the Houston toad or whooping crane are expected to be affected. The biological opinion also analyzes other listed species within the planning area and concludes that the direct and indirect effect of the issuance of the ITP will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of other listed species or adverse modification of any designated critical habitat within the permit area. 5. The applicant agrees to implement other measures that the Service requires as being necessary or appropriate for the purposes of the HCP. We have assisted Oncor in the development of the HCP. We commented on draft documents, participated in numerous meetings and conference calls, and worked closely with Oncor during every step of plan and document preparation, so that conservation of the covered species would be assured and recovery would not be precluded by the covered activities. The HCP incorporates our recommendations for minimization and mitigation of impacts, as well as steps to monitor the effects of the HCP and ensure success. Annual monitoring, as well as coordination and reporting mechanisms, have been designed to ensure that changes in conservation measures can be implemented if proposed measures prove ineffective (adaptive management) or impacts exceed estimates (changed circumstances). It is our position that no additional measures are required to implement the intent and purpose of the HCP to those detailed in the HCP and its associated ITP. We have determined that the preferred alternative best balances the protection and management of habitat for covered species, while allowing and providing a streamlined process for compliance with the Act for continued construction, operation, and maintenance of electric facilities within Oncor’s service area. Considerations used in this decision include whether PO 00000 Frm 00049 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 2995 (1) mitigation will benefit the covered species; (2) mitigation lands will be managed for the species in perpetuity; (3) other conservation measures will protect and enhance habitat; (4) mitigation measures for the covered species will fully offset anticipated impacts to the species and provide recovery opportunities; and (5) the HCP is consistent with the covered species’ recovery plans. A final permit decision will be made no sooner than 30 days after the publication of this notice of availability and completion of the record of decision. Reviewing Documents and Submitting Comments You may obtain copies of the final EIS, final ROD, and final HCP by going to http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/ AustinTexas/. Alternatively, you may obtain compact disks with electronic copies of these documents by writing to Mr. Adam Zerrenner, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758; calling (512) 490–0057; or faxing (512) 490–0974. A limited number of printed copies of the final EIS and final HCP are also available, by request, from Mr. Zerrenner. Copies of the final EIS and final HCP are also available for public inspection and review at the following locations (by appointment only): • Department of the Interior, Natural Resources Library, 1849 C. St. NW., Washington, DC 20240. • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 500 Gold Avenue SW., Room 6034, Albuquerque, NM 87102. • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758. Persons wishing to review the application 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. Written comments may be submitted to Mr. Adam Zerrenner (see above). Public Availability of Comments Written comments we receive become part of the public record associated with this action. Before including your address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—may be made publicly available at any time. While you can request in your comment that we withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we E:\FR\FM\20JAN1.SGM 20JAN1 2996 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 13 / Friday, January 20, 2012 / Notices cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will not consider anonymous comments. All submissions from organizations or businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or businesses, will be made available for public disclosure in their entirety. 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: December 28, 2011. David C. Mendias, Acting Regional Director, Region 2, Albuquerque, New Mexico. [FR Doc. 2012–830 Filed 1–19–12; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4310–55–P DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS–R9–SATD–2011–N263; FXSC142009000009A–123–FF09S0000] National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments; announcement of public workshops. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, Department of Commerce) and other Federal, State, and tribal partners, announce that we are seeking public comments and input regarding the draft National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (Strategy). The purpose of the Strategy will be to inspire and enable natural resource professionals and other decision makers to take action to conserve the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants, and ecosystem functions, as well as the human uses and values these natural systems provide, in a changing climate. In addition to this request for written comments, several public workshops will be conducted in order to provide additional opportunities for public involvement and discussion of the draft. The draft Strategy is available at the following link: http://www. wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov/publicreview-draft.php. DATES: Submitting Comments: To ensure that we are able to consider your wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Mar<15>2010 14:12 Jan 19, 2012 Jkt 226001 comments, we must receive them by March 5, 2012 (see ADDRESSES). Public Workshops: Five workshops are being planned for the public. One workshop will be held in Washington, DC, and four additional workshops will be held at various regional venues around the country (Albany, NY; Charleston, SC; Madison, WI; and Sacramento, CA). Dates and addresses of the public workshops will be posted on the Strategy Web site (www. wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov) as they become available. For more details, see ADDRESSES. There will be two additional public workshops held as online web conferences or ‘‘webinars,’’ during which interested members of the public will be able to participate remotely. These web conferences will be held on January 26, 2012, and February 22, 2012. We request that all persons planning to attend a workshop in person or participate via a webinar register at http://www.wildlifeadaptationstrategy. gov/public-workshops.php prior to the event. For more information or to register, please see ‘‘IV., Meeting Participation Information,’’ under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION. Tribal Consultation Sessions: Eight Tribal consultation sessions are being planned for January and February 2012. These consultation sessions will be held in Anchorage, AK; Albany, NY; Albuquerque, NM; Charleston, SC; Madison, WI; Oklahoma City, OK; Sacramento, CA; and Shelton, WA. Dates and addresses for the tribal consultation sessions will be posted on the strategy Web site (www.wildlife adaptationstrategy.gov) as they become available. ADDRESSES: Public Comments: To provide comments and feedback on the draft Strategy, please visit http://www. wildlifeadaptationstrategy.gov/publiccomments.php. Alternatively, you may send comments by U.S. mail to the Office of the Science Advisor, Attn: National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222, Arlington, VA 22203. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mark Shaffer, Office of the Science Advisor, at (703) 358–2603 (telephone) or wildlifeadaptationstrategy@fws.gov (email), or via the Strategy Web site at http://www.wildlifeadaptationstrategy. gov/contact-us.php. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), please call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at (800) 877–8339. PO 00000 Frm 00050 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 In cooperation with NOAA and other Federal, State, and tribal partners, we are soliciting public comments on the draft National Fish, Wildlife, and Plants Climate Adaptation Strategy (Strategy). The adverse impacts of climate change transcend political and administrative boundaries. No single entity or level of government can safeguard wildlife and society against the effects of climate change. When finalized, this draft Strategy will present a unified approach—reflecting shared principles and science-based practices— for reducing the negative impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants, habitats, and our natural resource heritage. The Strategy will provide a basis for sensible actions that can be taken now, in spite of the uncertainties that exist about precise impacts of climate change. It also will provide guidance about what further actions are most likely to promote natural resource adaptation to climate change, and will describe mechanisms that will foster collaboration among all levels of government, conservation organizations, and private landowners. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: I. Background Climate change affects more than temperature. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, impacts include shifts in rainfall and storm patterns, increasing wildfires, and more frequent water shortages, as well as rising sea levels, loss of sea ice, ocean acidification, and coastal flooding and erosion. Given the magnitude of the observed changes in climate, it is not surprising that fish, wildlife, and plant resources in the United States and around the world are already being affected. The impacts can be seen everywhere, from working landscapes like tree farms and pastures to wilderness areas far from human habitation. As the climate continues to change over the next century, so too will the effects on species, ecosystems, and their functions. Furthermore, climateinduced changes are also likely to exacerbate existing stresses like habitat loss and fragmentation, putting additional pressure on our nation’s valued living resources. Rapid warming may also begin to threaten the benefits that natural systems provide to people and communities, creating new challenges for human health, infrastructure, agriculture, transportation, and energy supplies. At risk are clean air and water; flood and erosion control; natural resource jobs and income; hunting, fishing, and wildlife-related recreation; and, ultimately, our quality of life. E:\FR\FM\20JAN1.SGM 20JAN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 13 (Friday, January 20, 2012)]
[Notices]
[Pages 2993-2996]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-830]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R2-ES-2011-N254; FXES11120200000F2-112-FF02ENEH00]


Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision on 
Oncor Electric Delivery Company's Habitat Conservation Plan for 100 
Texas Counties

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, make available the 
final environmental impact statement (EIS), and final record of 
decision under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 analyzing 
the impacts of the issuance of an incidental take permit for 
implementation of the final Oncor Electric Delivery LLC's Habitat 
Conservation Plan (HCP). Our decision is to issue a 30-year incidental 
take permit to Oncor for implementation of the preferred alternative 
(described below), which authorizes incidental take of animal species 
and impacts to plant species listed under the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended. Oncor has agreed to implement avoidance, 
minimization, and mitigation measures to offset impacts to these 
species, as described in their HCP.

DATES: We will issue a final permit no sooner than 30 days after 
publication of this notice. Comments on the final EIS and HCP will be 
accepted until February 21, 2012.

ADDRESSES: For where to review documents and submit comments, see 
Reviewing Documents and Submitting Comments in SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Adam Zerrenner, Field Supervisor, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 200, Austin, 
TX 78758 or (512) 490-0057.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We, the Service, announce the availability 
of the final environmental impact statement (EIS) and record of 
decision (ROD), which we developed in compliance with the agency 
decision-making requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act 
of 1969, as amended (NEPA), as well as the final Oncor Electric 
Delivery LLC (Oncor) Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) as submitted by 
the applicant. All alternatives have been described in detail, 
evaluated, and analyzed in our December 2011 final EIS and Oncor's HCP. 
The ROD documents the rationale for our decision.
    Based on our review of the alternatives and their environmental 
consequences as described in our final EIS, we have selected 
Alternative 1, the proposed HCP. The proposed action is to issue Oncor 
an incidental take permit (ITP) under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.) that authorizes incidental take of animal species and impacts to 
plant species. The term of the permit is 30 years (2012-2042), and it 
would include the following species that are endangered and threatened 
(also referred to as ``covered species''):

Endangered

Large-fruited sand-verbena (Abronia macrocarpa)
Texas poppy-mallow (Callirhoe scabriuscula)
Navasota ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes parksii)
American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus)
Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis)
Whooping crane (Grus americana)
Golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia)
Black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla)
Red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis)

Threatened

Pecos sunflower (Helianthus paradoxus)
Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus)
    Take of listed plant species is not defined in the Act, although 
the Act does identify several prohibitions. However, because covered 
species in the Oncor HCP include both plants and animals, in the 
following discussion we use the term ``incidental take'' when 
discussing impacts to covered plants, as well as actual incidental take 
of covered animals.
    Oncor will implement avoidance, minimization, and mitigation 
measures to offset impacts to covered species according to their HCP. 
For all but the whooping crane, impacts will be mitigated through 
purchase of mitigation credits from a Service-approved conservation 
bank, purchasing high-quality habitat near the impact area, or if 
purchase of land is not a viable mitigation option (e.g., mitigation 
necessary to offset impacts does not generate sufficient funds to 
purchase a reasonable amount of land to support the conservation of the 
species), additional options will be explored with the Service as 
described in the HCP. Within 1 mile of confirmed or potentially 
suitable stopover habitat for

[[Page 2994]]

the whooping crane, Oncor will (1) mark all new transmission lines with 
bird flight diverters, (2) place transmission or distribution lines 
underground, or (3) relocate or remove transmission or distribution 
lines. Additionally, existing transmission or distribution lines within 
1 mile of confirmed or potentially suitable stopover habitat will also 
be marked with bird flight diverters, equal to the number of new lines 
constructed that require marking with bird flight diverters.

Background

    Oncor applied to the Service for an ITP. As part of the permit 
application, Oncor developed the HCP to meet the requirements of an 
ITP. Our issuance of an ITP and implementation of the HCP allow Oncor 
to incidentally take the covered species during construction, 
operation, and maintenance of various facilities (e.g., electric 
transmission and distribution lines), as well as during emergency 
response work (covered activities). The proposed plan area is 100 of 
Oncor's 102-county service area, excluding Travis and Williamson 
counties, where any impacts to listed species will be authorized under 
existing permits (see map 1-1 in the HCP). The proposed covered area 
includes any area within Oncor's service area where covered activities 
are expected to affect listed species during the 30-year ITP term.
    The Secretary of the Interior has delegated to the Service the 
authority to approve or deny an ITP in accordance with the Act. To act 
on Oncor's permit application, we must determine that the HCP meets the 
issuance criteria specified in the Act and in the Code of Federal 
Regulations (CFR) at 50 CFR 17.22 and 17.32. The issuance of an ITP 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).
    On July 15, 2011, we issued a draft EIS and requested public 
comment on our evaluation of the potential impacts associated with 
issuance of an ITP for implementation of the HCP and to evaluate 
alternatives, along with the draft HCP (76 FR 41808). We included 
public comments and responses associated with the draft EIS and draft 
HCP in the final EIS.

Purpose and Need

    The purpose of the section 10(a)(l)(B) permit is to authorize 
incidental take associated with the covered activities described above. 
We identified key issues and relevant factors through public scoping, 
working with other agencies and groups, and comments from the public. 
We received responses from three Federal agencies and one State agency. 
The National Park Service had no comment, the Environmental Protection 
Agency had ``no objections'' to implementation of the preferred 
alternative, and the Federal Aviation Administration encouraged Oncor 
to coordinate with them on any projects that would affect navigable 
airspace (Federal Aviation Regulations Part 77). Texas Parks and 
Wildlife Department (TPWD) had more substantive comments, including 
requesting clarification regarding how mitigation would be implemented, 
a request to be included on any committees formed to determine 
mitigation strategies, the control of invasive species, covering 
additional rare species within the action area, and obtaining any 
necessary permits from TPWD for State-listed species. The Service 
believes these comments are addressed and reasonably accommodated in 
the final documents. No new significant issues arose following 
publication of the draft documents.

Alternatives

    We considered three alternatives in the EIS.
    Alternative 1--Preferred Alternative: Our selected alternative is 
the proposed HCP with a 30-year term, and the preferred alternative 
(Alternative 1) as described in the final EIS, which provides for the 
issuance of an ITP to Oncor for incidental take of the covered species 
that is anticipated to occur as a result of covered activities. This 
alternative includes the implementation of measures to avoid, minimize, 
and mitigate (mitigation measures described above) impacts from the 
potential incidental take to the maximum extent practicable. This 
alternative also provides conservation measures for covered species and 
the mechanism for streamlined compliance with the Act.
    No Action Alternative: Under the No-Action Alternative, the Service 
would not issue an incidental take permit for a programmatic HCP. 
Instead, Oncor would seek an individual section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental 
take permit, or coverage under a section 7 consultation where a Federal 
nexus (authorized by a Federal agency [e.g., section 404 permit under 
the Clean Water Act]) exists, on a project-by-project basis over the 
next 30 years if activities could result in incidental take of any 
federally listed species within the proposed permit area.
    Alternative 2 (50-year permit duration): Under this alternative the 
permit duration would be 50 years, rather than 30. The covered 
activities, proposed permit area, and covered species would be the same 
as the preferred alternative. The avoidance and minimization discussed 
in the proposed HCP would be the same, but the additional 20-year 
duration would likely result in a greater amount of incidental take.

Decision

    We intend to issue an ITP allowing Oncor to implement the preferred 
alternative (Alternative 1), as it is described in the final EIS. Our 
decision is based on a thorough review of the alternatives and their 
environmental consequences. Implementation of this decision entails the 
issuance of the ITP, including all terms and conditions governing the 
permit. Implementation of this decision requires adherence to all of 
the minimization and mitigation measures specified in the HCP, as well 
as monitoring and adaptive management measures.

Rationale for Decision

    We have selected the preferred alternative (Alternative 1) for 
implementation based on multiple environmental and social factors, 
including potential impacts and benefits to covered species and their 
habitat, the extent and effectiveness of avoidance, minimization, and 
mitigation measures, and social and economic considerations. We did not 
choose the No Action Alternative because, as compared with the 
preferred alternative, a project-by-project approach for complying with 
the Act would be more time-consuming and less efficient, and would 
result in piecemeal mitigation incapable of providing comprehensive or 
comparable net benefits to covered species. While Alternative 2 would 
result in a greater amount of mitigation, it was not chosen because of 
the uncertainties associated with planning and implementation over such 
an extended duration, 50 years, which would likely result in the need 
to modify or amend the permit, resulting in inefficiencies and limiting 
the effectiveness of the HCP.
    In order to issue an ITP, we must ascertain that the HCP meets the 
issuance criteria set forth in 16 U.S.C. 1539(a)(2)(A) and (B). We have 
made that determination based on the criteria summarized below:
    1. The taking will be incidental. We find that the take will be 
incidental to otherwise lawful activities, including the proposed 
construction, operation, and maintenance of various facilities (e.g., 
electric transmission and distribution lines), as well as emergency

[[Page 2995]]

response work. The take of individuals of the covered species will be 
primarily due to the indirect impacts of habitat destruction and/or 
alteration.
    2. The applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize 
and mitigate the impacts of such takings. Oncor has committed to a wide 
variety of conservation measures and other strategies designed to avoid 
and minimize harm to the covered species, including monitoring and 
adaptive management, and will mitigate for any unavoidable loss through 
purchase of conservation credits and/or land acquisition. The 
mitigation will be commensurate with the actual level of take. In 
addition, Oncor has included provisions for changed circumstances that 
are reasonably foreseeable during the term of the permit. These 
strategies will ensure that impacts from the proposed taking are 
minimized and mitigated to the maximum extent practicable. Mitigation 
will be in place prior to occurrence of the take (i.e., construction 
through habitat).
    3. The applicant will develop an HCP and ensure that adequate 
funding for the HCP will be provided. Oncor has developed and will 
implement their HCP. Section 6 of the HCP describes avoidance and 
minimization measures, including conservation measures and best 
management practices that will be written into project descriptions and 
budgets. These are standard practices and expenses that Oncor funds on 
all of their existing projects. It also describes the mitigation Oncor 
has agreed to undertake for unavoidable impacts that will be provided 
prior to occurrence of anticipated take (i.e., construction through 
habitat).
    The Service's no surprises assurances are discussed in the HCP and 
measures to address changed circumstances have been identified. 
Adaptive management will be used to direct changes to conservation, 
mitigation, or management measures and monitoring when needed. 
Unforeseen circumstances would be addressed through the Service's close 
coordination with Oncor in the implementation of the HCP, and Oncor has 
committed to a coordination process to address such circumstances. We 
have, therefore, determined that Oncor's financial commitment and plan, 
along with their willingness to address changed and unforeseen 
circumstances in a cooperative fashion, is sufficient to meet this 
criterion.
    If needed, Oncor will arrange for an unconditional irrevocable 
stand-by letter of credit to be issued to the Service in the amount of 
the expected mitigation cost, as calculated in Section 6 of the HCP 
that will be issued by a nationally recognized banking institution 
acceptable to the Service with an expiration date that extends through 
the expected completion date of the mitigation measures.
    4. The taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the 
survival and recovery of any listed species in the wild. As the Federal 
action agency considering whether to issue an ITP to Oncor, we have 
reviewed the proposed action under section 7 of the Act. Our biological 
opinion, dated January 5, 2012, concluded that issuance of the ITP will 
not jeopardize the continued existence of the covered species in the 
wild. No areas designated as critical habitat for the Houston toad or 
whooping crane are expected to be affected. The biological opinion also 
analyzes other listed species within the planning area and concludes 
that the direct and indirect effect of the issuance of the ITP will not 
appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery of other 
listed species or adverse modification of any designated critical 
habitat within the permit area.
    5. The applicant agrees to implement other measures that the 
Service requires as being necessary or appropriate for the purposes of 
the HCP. We have assisted Oncor in the development of the HCP. We 
commented on draft documents, participated in numerous meetings and 
conference calls, and worked closely with Oncor during every step of 
plan and document preparation, so that conservation of the covered 
species would be assured and recovery would not be precluded by the 
covered activities. The HCP incorporates our recommendations for 
minimization and mitigation of impacts, as well as steps to monitor the 
effects of the HCP and ensure success. Annual monitoring, as well as 
coordination and reporting mechanisms, have been designed to ensure 
that changes in conservation measures can be implemented if proposed 
measures prove ineffective (adaptive management) or impacts exceed 
estimates (changed circumstances). It is our position that no 
additional measures are required to implement the intent and purpose of 
the HCP to those detailed in the HCP and its associated ITP.
    We have determined that the preferred alternative best balances the 
protection and management of habitat for covered species, while 
allowing and providing a streamlined process for compliance with the 
Act for continued construction, operation, and maintenance of electric 
facilities within Oncor's service area. Considerations used in this 
decision include whether (1) mitigation will benefit the covered 
species; (2) mitigation lands will be managed for the species in 
perpetuity; (3) other conservation measures will protect and enhance 
habitat; (4) mitigation measures for the covered species will fully 
offset anticipated impacts to the species and provide recovery 
opportunities; and (5) the HCP is consistent with the covered species' 
recovery plans.
    A final permit decision will be made no sooner than 30 days after 
the publication of this notice of availability and completion of the 
record of decision.

Reviewing Documents and Submitting Comments

    You may obtain copies of the final EIS, final ROD, and final HCP by 
going to http://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/AustinTexas/. Alternatively, 
you may obtain compact disks with electronic copies of these documents 
by writing to Mr. Adam Zerrenner, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road Suite 200, Austin, TX 78758; 
calling (512) 490-0057; or faxing (512) 490-0974. A limited number of 
printed copies of the final EIS and final HCP are also available, by 
request, from Mr. Zerrenner. Copies of the final EIS and final HCP are 
also available for public inspection and review at the following 
locations (by appointment only):
     Department of the Interior, Natural Resources Library, 
1849 C. St. NW., Washington, DC 20240.
     U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 500 Gold Avenue SW., Room 
6034, Albuquerque, NM 87102.
     U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 10711 Burnet Road, Suite 
200, Austin, TX 78758.
    Persons wishing to review the application 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. Written comments may be 
submitted to Mr. Adam Zerrenner (see above).

Public Availability of Comments

    Written comments we receive become part of the public record 
associated with this action. Before including your address, phone 
number, email address, or other personal identifying information in 
your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment--including 
your personal identifying information--may be made publicly available 
at any time. While you can request in your comment that we withhold 
your personal identifying information from public review, we

[[Page 2996]]

cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will not consider 
anonymous comments. All submissions from organizations or businesses, 
and from individuals identifying themselves as representatives or 
officials of organizations or businesses, will be made available for 
public disclosure in their entirety.

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: December 28, 2011.
David C. Mendias,
Acting Regional Director, Region 2, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
[FR Doc. 2012-830 Filed 1-19-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P