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Proposed Rule

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for the Sharpnose Shiner and Smalleye Shiner

Action

Proposed Rule; Reopening Of The Comment Period.

Summary

We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the reopening of the public comment period on the August 6, 2013, proposed designation of critical habitat for the sharpnose shiner (Notropis oxyrhynchus) and smalleye shiner (N. buccula) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). We also announce the availability of a draft economic analysis (DEA) of the proposed designation of critical habitat for sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner and an amended required determinations section of the proposal. We are reopening the comment period to allow all interested parties an opportunity to comment simultaneously on the proposed critical habitat rule, the associated DEA, and the amended required determinations section. Comments previously submitted need not be resubmitted, as they will be fully considered in preparation of the final rule.

Unified Agenda

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Critical Habitat Designation for Two Brazos River Fish (Smalleye Shiner and Sharpnose Shiner)

5 actions from August 6th, 2013 to July 2014

  • August 6th, 2013
  • October 7th, 2013
    • NPRM Comment Period End
  • March 4th, 2014
  • April 3rd, 2014
    • NPRM Comment Period End
  • July 2014
    • Final Action
 

Table of Contents Back to Top

DATES: Back to Top

We will consider comments received or postmarked on or before April 3, 2014. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES section, below) must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date.

ADDRESSES: Back to Top

Document availability: You may obtain a copy of the proposed critical habitat rule and the associated draft economic analysis at Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2013-0008, or by mail from the Arlington, Texas, Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Written Comments: You may submit written comments by one of the following methods:

(1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Submit comments on the critical habitat proposal and associated DEA by searching for FWS-R2-ES-2013-0008, which is the docket number for the critical habitat proposed rulemaking.

(2) By hard copy: Submit comments on the critical habitat proposal and associated DEA by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2013-0008; 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: Back to Top

Debra Bills, Field Supervisor, Arlington, Texas, Ecological Services Field Office, 2005 NE Green Oaks Blvd., Suite 140, Arlington, Texas 76006, by telephone (817-277-1100), or by facsimile (817-277-1129). Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Back to Top

Public Comments Back to Top

We will accept written comments and information during this reopened comment period on our proposed designation of critical habitat for the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner that was published in the Federal Register on August 6, 2013 (78 FR 47612), our DEA of the proposed designation, and the amended required determinations provided in this document. We will consider information and recommendations from all interested parties. We are particularly interested in comments concerning:

(1) The reasons why we should or should not designate habitat as “critical habitat” under section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), including whether there are threats to the species from human activity, the degree of which can be expected to increase due to the designation, and whether that increase in threat outweighs the benefit of designation such that the designation of critical habitat is not prudent.

(2) Specific information on:

(a) The distribution of the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner;

(b) The amount and distribution of sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner habitat; and

(c) What areas occupied by the species at the time of listing that contain features essential for the conservation of the species we should include in the critical habitat designation and why; and

(d) What areas not occupied at the time of listing are essential to the conservation of the species and why.

(3) Land use designations and current or planned activities in the subject areas and their probable impacts on proposed critical habitat.

(4) Information on the projected and reasonably likely impacts of climate change on the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner and proposed critical habitat.

(5) Any probable economic, national security, or other relevant impacts of designating any area that may be included in the final designation; in particular, the benefits of including or excluding areas that exhibit these impacts.

(6) Information on the extent to which the description of economic impacts in the DEA is a reasonable estimate of the likely economic impacts.

(7) The likelihood of adverse social reactions to the designation of critical habitat, as discussed in the DEA, and how the consequences of such reactions, if likely to occur, would relate to the conservation and regulatory benefits of the proposed critical habitat designation.

(8) Whether any areas we are proposing for critical habitat designation should be considered for exclusion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, and whether the benefits of potentially excluding any specific area outweigh the benefits of including that area under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.

(9) Whether we could improve or modify our approach to designating critical habitat in any way to provide for greater public participation and understanding, or to better accommodate public concerns and comments.

If you submitted comments or information on the proposed rule during the initial comment period from August 6, 2013, to October 7, 2013, please do not resubmit them. We have incorporated them into the public record and will fully consider them in the preparation of our final determination. Our final determination will take into consideration all written comments and any additional information we receive during both comment periods. On the basis of public comments, we may, during the development of our final determination, find that areas proposed as critical habitat are not essential, are appropriate for exclusion under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, or are not appropriate for exclusion.

You may submit your comments and materials concerning the proposed rule or DEA by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES.

If you submit a comment via http://www.regulations.gov, your entire comment—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the Web site. We will post all hardcopy comments on http://www.regulations.gov as well. If you submit a hardcopy comment 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.

Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing the proposed rule and DEA, will be available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2013-0008 or by appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arlington, Texas, Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Background Back to Top

On August 6, 2013, we published in the Federal Register proposed rules to list the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner as endangered species (78 FR 47582) and designate critical habitat for both species (78 FR 47612). For more information on the species and the species' habitat, refer to the June 2013 Draft Species Status Assessment Report for the Sharpnose Shiner and Smalleye Shiner (SSA Report; Service 2013), available online at http://www.regulations.gov in Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2013-0083 in association with the proposed listing rule. We proposed to designate as critical habitat approximately 1,002 river kilometers (623 river miles) in Baylor, Crosby, Fisher, Garza, Haskell, Kent, King, Knox, Stonewall, Throckmorton, and Young Counties in the upper Brazos River basin of Texas. Those proposals had 60-day comment periods, ending October 7, 2013. We will submit for publication in the Federal Register a final listing determination and critical habitat designation for sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner on or before August 6, 2014.

Critical Habitat Back to Top

Section 3 of the Act defines critical habitat as the specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found those physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species and that may require special management considerations or protection, and specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of the species. If the proposed rule is made final, section 7 of the Act will prohibit destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat by any activity funded, authorized, or carried out by any Federal agency. Federal agencies proposing actions affecting critical habitat must consult with us on the effects of their proposed actions, under section 7(a)(2) of the Act.

Consideration of Impacts Under Section 4(b)(2) of the Act

Section 4(b)(2) of the Act requires that we designate or revise critical habitat based upon the best scientific data available, after taking into consideration the economic impact, impact on national security, or any other relevant impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. We may exclude an area from critical habitat if we determine that the benefits of excluding the area outweigh the benefits of including the area as critical habitat, provided such exclusion will not result in the extinction of the species.

When considering the benefits of inclusion for an area, we consider the additional regulatory benefits that area would receive from the protection from adverse modification or destruction as a result of actions with a Federal nexus (activities conducted, funded, permitted, or authorized by Federal agencies), the educational benefits of mapping areas containing essential features that aid in the recovery of the listed species, and any benefits that may result from designation due to State or Federal laws that may apply to critical habitat.

When considering the benefits of exclusion, we consider, among other things, whether exclusion of a specific area is likely to result in conservation; the continuation, strengthening, or encouragement of partnerships; or implementation of a management plan. In the case of sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner, the benefits of critical habitat include public awareness of the presence of sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner and the importance of habitat protection, and, where a Federal nexus exists, increased habitat protection for sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner due to protection from adverse modification or destruction of critical habitat. In practice, situations with a Federal nexus exist primarily on Federal lands or for projects undertaken by Federal agencies.

We have not considered any areas for exclusion in our proposed critical habitat designation.

Consideration of Economic Impacts Back to Top

Section 4(b)(2) of the Act and its implementing regulations require that we consider the economic impact that may result from a designation of critical habitat. To assess the probable economic impacts of a proposed designation, we must first evaluate specific land uses or activities and projects that may occur in the area of the critical habitat. We then must evaluate the impacts that a specific critical habitat designation may have on restricting or modifying specific land uses or activities for the benefit of the species and its habitat within the areas proposed. We then identify which conservation efforts may be the result of the species being listed under the Act versus those attributed solely to the designation of critical habitat for this particular species.

The probable economic impact of a proposed critical habitat designation is analyzed by comparing scenarios both “with critical habitat” and “without critical habitat.” The “without critical habitat” scenario represents the baseline for the analysis, which includes the existing regulatory and socio-economic burden imposed on landowners, managers, or other resource users potentially affected by the designation of critical habitat (e.g., under the Federal listing as well as other Federal, State, and local regulations). The baseline, therefore, represents the costs of all efforts attributable to the listing of the species under the Act (i.e., conservation of the species and its habitat incurred regardless of whether critical habitat is designated). The “with critical habitat” scenario describes the incremental impacts associated specifically with the designation of critical habitat for the species. The incremental conservation efforts and associated impacts would not be expected without the designation of critical habitat for the species. In other words, the incremental costs are those attributable solely to the designation of critical habitat, above and beyond the baseline costs. These are the costs we use when evaluating the benefits of inclusion and exclusion of particular areas from the final designation of critical habitat should we choose to conduct an optional section 4(b)(2) exclusion analysis.

For this particular designation, we developed an Incremental Effects Memorandum (IEM) considering the probable incremental economic impacts that may result from this proposed designation of critical habitat. The information contained in our IEM was then used to develop a screening analysis of the probable effects of the designation of critical habitat for the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner (IEc 2014, entire). We began by conducting a screening analysis of the proposed designation of critical habitat in order to focus our analysis on the key factors that are likely to result in incremental economic impacts. The purpose of the screening analysis is to filter out the geographic areas in which the critical habitat designation is unlikely to result in probable incremental economic impacts.

In particular, the screening analysis considers baseline costs (i.e., absent critical habitat designation) and includes probable economic impacts where land and water use may be subject to conservation plans, land management plans, best management practices, or regulations that protect the habitat area as a result of the Federal listing status of the species. The screening analysis filters out particular areas of critical habitat that are already subject to such protections and are, therefore, unlikely to incur incremental economic impacts. The screening analysis also assesses whether units are unoccupied by the species and may require additional management or conservation efforts as a result of the critical habitat designation for the species which may incur incremental economic impacts. This screening analysis combined with the information contained in our IEM are what we consider our draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat designation for the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner and is summarized in the narrative below.

Executive Orders 12866 and 13563 direct Federal agencies to assess the costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives in quantitative (to the extent feasible) and qualitative terms. Consistent with the E.O. regulatory analysis requirements, our effects analysis under the Act may take into consideration impacts to both directly and indirectly impacted entities, where practicable and reasonable. We assess, to the extent practicable, the probable impacts, if sufficient data are available, to both directly and indirectly impacted entities. As part of our screening analysis, we considered the types of economic activities that are likely to occur within the areas likely affected by the critical habitat designation. In our evaluation of the probable incremental economic impacts that may result from the proposed designation of critical habitat for the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner, first we identified, in the IEM dated September 12, 2013, probable incremental economic impacts associated with the following categories of activities: (1) Water management, including flood control and drought protection operations; (2) in-stream projects; (3) transportation activities, including bridge construction; (4) oil and natural gas exploration and development; and (5) utilities projects, including water and sewer lines.

We considered each industry or category individually. Additionally, we considered whether their activities have any Federal involvement. Critical habitat designation will not affect activities that do not have any Federal involvement; designation of critical habitat only affects activities conducted, funded, permitted, or authorized by Federal agencies. In areas where the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner are present, Federal agencies will be required to consult with the Service under section 7 of the Act on activities they fund, permit, or implement that may affect the species. If we finalize this proposed critical habitat designation, consultations to avoid the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat would be incorporated into the consultation process. Therefore, disproportionate impacts to any geographic area or sector are not likely as a result of this critical habitat designation.

In our IEM, we attempted to clarify the distinction between the effects that will result from the species being listed and those attributable to the critical habitat designation (i.e., the difference between the jeopardy and adverse modification standards) for the sharpnose and smalleye shiners' critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat for sharpnose shiners and smalleye shiners was proposed concurrently with the listing. In our experience with such simultaneous rulemaking actions, discerning which conservation efforts are attributable to the species being listed and which will result solely from the designation of critical habitat is difficult. However, the following specific circumstances in this case help to inform our evaluation: (1) The essential physical and biological features identified for critical habitat are the same features essential for the life requisites of the species, and (2) any actions that would result in sufficient harm or harassment to constitute jeopardy to the sharpnose shiner or smalleye shiner would also likely adversely affect the essential physical and biological features of critical habitat. The IEM outlines our rationale concerning this limited distinction between baseline conservation efforts and incremental impacts of the designation of critical habitat for this species. This evaluation of the incremental effects has been used as the basis to evaluate the probable incremental economic impacts of this proposed designation of critical habitat.

We proposed to designate as critical habitat approximately 1,002 river kilometers (623 river miles) in the upper Brazos River basin of Texas and a 30 meter lateral buffer beyond the bankfull width of the river on both side of the river in the following Texas counties: Baylor, Crosby, Fisher, Garza, Haskell, Kent, King, Knox, Stonewall, Throckmorton, and Young. Only areas currently occupied by the species were proposed for designation as critical habitat. No unoccupied river segments were proposed as critical habitat. The proposed critical habitat encompasses the last areas where potentially viable populations of smalleye and sharpnose shiners remain. All stream segments included in the proposed critical habitat (the stream beds, including the small, seasonally dry, portions of the stream beds between the bankfull width, where vegetation occurs, and the wetted channel) are managed by the State, while to the best of our knowledge all adjacent riparian areas are privately owned.

The economic cost of implementing the rule through section 7 of the Act will most likely be limited to additional administrative effort to consider adverse modification. Areas proposed for critical habitat designation are remote and experience low levels of economic activity. The human population of all eleven counties containing proposed critical habitat totals only 52,613. Because these areas are so remote, we anticipate low levels of consultation due to the designation of critical habitat. All proposed units are considered occupied. Therefore, any activities with a Federal nexus will be subject to section 7 consultation requirements regardless of critical habitat designation. Further, most proposed actions that would adversely affect the physical or biological features would also likely constitute take of the species. For example, activities that fragment occupied riverine habitat or substantially alter its flow regime to the extent that critical habitat would be adversely affected would also result in the decline of sharpnose and smalleye shiner populations.. The Service anticipates that project modifications recommended to avoid adverse modification will likely be the same as those recommended to avoid jeopardy because the species is so closely dependent on its habitat for the life requisites of the species. Thus, based on the substantial baseline protections afforded the smalleye and sharpnose shiners and the close relationship between adverse modification and jeopardy in occupied habitat, we do not forecast any incremental costs associated with project modifications. When section 7 consultations occur, costs are likely to be limited to the additional administrative effort to consider adverse modification during the consultation process.

The additional administrative cost of addressing adverse modification during the section 7 consultation process ranges from approximately $410 to $5,000 per consultation, depending upon the type of consultation. Based on a review of the consultation history for the shiners, no more than 2 formal consultations, 28 informal consultations, and 16 technical assistances are expected annually. Thus, the incremental administrative burden resulting from the designation is likely to be less than $84,000 in a given year. The incremental administrative burden resulting from the designation is unlikely to reach $100 million in a given year based on the small number of anticipated consultations and pre-consultation costs.

Due to data availability limitations, we are unable to assign costs to specific units. Rather, we provide estimates of potential costs across the entire proposed critical habitat designation. We note that, of the 11 counties where critical habitat is located, Young County contains more than one-third of the overall human population. Thus, the amount of economic activity generated in this area may be larger than in the more remote counties. We did identify specific projects in Subunits 1 and 6 that would likely require section 7 consultation, but in both cases the only additional incurred incremental costs would likely be limited to administrative costs.

In some cases, proposed critical habitat may provide new information to project proponents who otherwise would not have consulted with the Service, thus resulting in incremental economic impacts. We cannot predict where or when these situations may occur, but anticipate that consultations of this nature will be infrequent. The designation of critical habitat is not expected to trigger additional requirements under State or local regulations, nor is the designation expected to have perceptional effects on markets. Additional section 7 efforts to conserve the species are not predicted to result from the designation of critical habitat. Thus, the designation is unlikely to exceed $100 million in a given year.

As we stated earlier, we are soliciting data and comments from the public on the DEA, as well as all aspects of the proposed rule and our amended required determinations. We may revise the proposed rule or supporting documents to incorporate or address information we receive during the public comment period. In particular, we may exclude an area from critical habitat if we determine that the benefits of excluding the area outweigh the benefits of including the area, provided the exclusion will not result in the extinction of this species.

Required Determinations—Amended Back to Top

In our August 6, 2013, proposed rule to designate critical habitat (78 FR 47612), we indicated that we would defer our determination of compliance with several statutes and executive orders until we had evaluated the probable effects on landowners and stakeholders and the resulting probable economic impacts of the designation. Following our evaluation of the probable incremental economic impacts resulting from the designation of critical habitat for the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner, we have amended or affirmed our determinations below. Specifically, we affirm the information in our proposed rule concerning Executive Order (E.O.) 12866 (Regulatory Planning and Review), E.O. 13132 (Federalism), E.O. 12988 (Civil Justice Reform), E.O. 13211 (Energy, Supply, Distribution, and Use), the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (2 U.S.C. 1501 et seq.), the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.), the National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), and the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, “Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments” (59 FR 22951). However, based on our evaluation of the probable incremental economic impacts of the proposed designation of critical habitat for the sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner, we are amending our required determination concerning the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.) and E.O. 12630.

Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.)

Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA; 5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.), as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 (SBREFA; 5 U.S.C. 801 et seq.), whenever an agency is required to publish 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 effects 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 the agency certifies the rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The SBREFA amended the RFA to require Federal agencies to provide a certification statement of the factual basis for certifying that the rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.

According to the Small Business Administration, small entities include small organizations such as independent nonprofit organizations; small governmental jurisdictions, including school boards and city and town governments that serve fewer than 50,000 residents; and small businesses (13 CFR 121.201). Small businesses include manufacturing and mining concerns with fewer than 500 employees, wholesale trade entities with fewer than 100 employees, retail and service businesses with less than $5 million in annual sales, general and heavy construction businesses with less than $27.5 million in annual business, special trade contractors doing less than $11.5 million in annual business, and agricultural businesses with annual sales less than $750,000. To determine if potential economic impacts to these small entities are significant, we considered the types of activities that might trigger regulatory impacts under this designation as well as types of project modifications that may result. In general, the term “significant economic impact” is meant to apply to a typical small business firm's business operations.

Following recent court decisions, the Service's current understanding of the requirements under the RFA, as amended, is that Federal agencies are required to evaluate the potential incremental impacts of rulemaking only on those entities directly regulated by the rulemaking itself and, therefore, are not required to evaluate the potential impacts to indirectly regulated entities. The regulatory mechanism through which critical habitat protections are realized is section 7 of the Act, which requires Federal agencies, in consultation with the Service, to ensure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by the Agency is not likely to adversely modify critical habitat. Under these circumstances, only Federal action agencies are directly subject to the specific regulatory requirement (avoiding destruction and adverse modification) imposed by critical habitat designation. Therefore, it is our position that only Federal action agencies will be directly regulated by this designation. Federal agencies are not small entities, and there is no requirement under the RFA to evaluate the potential impacts to entities not directly regulated. Therefore, because no small entities are directly regulated by this rulemaking, the Service certifies that, if promulgated, the proposed critical habitat designation will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.

In summary, we have considered whether the proposed designation would result in a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. For the above reasons and based on currently available information, we certify that, if promulgated, the proposed critical habitat designation would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small business entities. Therefore, an initial regulatory flexibility analysis is not required.

E.O. 12630 (Takings)

In accordance with E.O. 12630 (Government Actions and Interference with Constitutionally Protected Private Property Rights), we have analyzed the potential takings implications of designating critical habitat for sharpnose shiner and smalleye shiner in a takings implications assessment. As discussed above, the designation of critical habitat affects only Federal actions. Although private parties that receive Federal funding or assistance or require approval or authorization from a Federal agency for an action may be indirectly impacted by the designation of critical habitat, the legally binding duty to avoid destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat rests squarely on the Federal agency.

The economic analysis found that no significant economic impacts are likely to result from the designation of critical habitat for sharpnose shiners and smalleye shiners. The Act's critical habitat protection requirements apply only to Federal agency actions, few conflicts between critical habitat and private property rights should result from this designation. Based on information contained in the DEA and described within this document, economic impacts to a property owner are unlikely to be of a sufficient magnitude to support a takings action. Therefore, the takings implications assessment concludes that this designation of critical habitat for sharpnose shiners and smalleye shiners does not pose significant takings implications for lands within or affected by the proposed designation.

Authors Back to Top

The primary authors of this notice are the staff members of the Arlington, Texas, Ecological Services Field Office, Southwest Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Authority Back to Top

The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

Dated: February 19, 2014.

Rachel Jacobson,

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

[FR Doc. 2014-04465 Filed 3-3-14; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4310-55-P

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