FWS notices proposed enhancement of survival permit for Oregon forests, granting Safe Harbor and incidental take coverage to landowners in return for habitat management measures that benefit Northern spotted owls
74 Fed. Reg. 35883 / Vol. 74, No. 138 / Tuesday, July 21, 2009
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR / Fish and Wildlife Service / Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Permit Application, Northern Spotted Owl, Oregon
ACTION: Receipt of application for enhancement of survival permit; notice of availability of programmatic safe harbor agreement.
SUMMARY: The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) has applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for an enhancement of survival permit (permit) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. The permit application includes a proposed programmatic safe harbor agreement (Agreement) between ODF, the U.S. Department of Agriculture—Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Service. The proposed term of the permit and Agreement is 50 years. The requested permit would authorize ODF to extend incidental take coverage with assurances through issuance of Certificates of Inclusion to eligible landowners who are willing to carry out habitat management measures that would benefit the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), which is federally listed as threatened. The covered area or geographic scope of this Agreement includes non-Federal forest lands within the range of the spotted owl in Oregon. We request comments from the public on the permit application, proposed Agreement, and related documents, which are available for review (see ADDRESSES below). DATES: Comments must be received from interested parties on or before August 20, 2009.
One of the primary threats affecting the northern spotted owl is the widespread loss of suitable habitat. Spotted owls are most often found in older forests with: High canopy closure; a multi-layered/multi-species canopy; larger trees (greater than 30 inches diameter at chest height); a high incidence of those large trees with various deformities (broken tops, large cavities, e.g.); large dead trees; accumulations of woody debris on the ground, including large fallen trees; and sufficient open space below the tree canopy for spotted owls to fly. Photo from Oregon State.
KEITHINKING: As explained in the Federal Register notice, "Safe Harbor Agreements, and the subsequent enhancement of survival permits that are issued pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Act, encourage private and other non-Federal property owners to implement conservation efforts for listed species by assuring the landowners that they will not be subjected to increased property use restrictions as a result of their efforts to either attract listed species to their property, or to increase the numbers or distribution of listed species already on their property." Generally, these evaluations take place on a site specific, property-by-property basis. In this instance, the analysis is more regional in scope. Some critics may raise concerns that this analysis is insufficiently site-specific, similar to the concerns recently adjudicated in Friends of Animals v. Salazar (see prior ESA blawg). But here, the proposed permit also anticipates a future case-by-case, site-by-site review of owl habitat for landowners seeking protection under the scope of the safe harbor agreement. See, Federal Register Notice, 74 Fed. Reg. at 35884 col. 2 ("Sites known to be occupied by spotted owls or that contain suitable habitat will have their baseline conditions determined on a case-by-case basis by ODF and the Service, with landowner consent. Baseline conditions will be expressed in terms of the amount (acres) and quality of habitat."). The proposed process also seems to delegate some of the FWS permitting authority to the Oregon Department of Forestry, empowering ODF to extend incidental take coverage to eligible landowners, in return for agreed-upon conservation efforts (and after the above-mentioned site-specific review is complete.) As the announcement notes, "State of Oregon statutes give ODF the authority to enter into Stewardship Agreements with landowners who wish to voluntarily improve fish and wildlife habitat and water quality."