The US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) related to an anticipated permit application from nine Collier County, Florida landowners for the incidental take of listed species. The EIS will be prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The prospective applicants intend to seek an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. If approved by the Service, the ITP would authorize the incidental take of listed species resulting from residential and commercial development and earth mining activities as described in the Eastern Collier Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (ECMSHCP). The ITP would cover actions affecting ten federally and six state-listed species found on approximately 152,124 acres in northeastern Collier County, Florida (covered lands).
Currently, the prospective applicants include:
- Alico, Inc.
- Barron Collier Investments, Ltd.
- Collier Enterprises Management, Inc.
- Consolidated Citrus Limited Partnership
- English Brothers Partnership
- Heller Bros. Packing Corp.
- John E. Price, Jr. Trust
- Pacific Land, Ltd.
- Sunniland Family Limited Partnership
Issuance of an ITP by the Service is a federal action subject to review under NEPA. The Service is preparing an EIS, in accordance with NEPA, to analyze the potential environmental effects of issuing the ITP and implementing the ECMSHCP, and to consider potential alternatives to that action.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) is a law that requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. Using the NEPA process, agencies evaluate the environmental, social, and economic effect of their proposed action and alternatives to the action.
The Service is responsible for ensuring NEPA compliance during the permitting process. Under NEPA, the Service must involve the public in the decision making process. Through the NEPA process, citizens and other federal, state, local, and Tribal entities have an opportunity to learn about the Service’s proposed actions and to provide additional information and comments to the Service.
Environmental Impact Statements
An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is a document prepared to comply with the requirements of NEPA. An EIS is intended to analyze and disclose the effects of a proposed activity and its reasonable alternatives on the environment, including potentially significant short-term, long-term, direct, indirect, and cumulative effects. An EIS considers public and agency comments regarding the scope and scale of the proposed activities and reasonable alternatives.
With respect to the ECMSHCP, the EIS will consider a range of alternatives, including the proposed action (i.e., the issuance of an ITP to the prospective applicants), a no-action alternative (no implementation of the ECMSHCP and non-issuance of an ITP), and alternatives that consider variations in the scope and location of the covered activities. It will also provide a detailed description of the proposed action and alternatives as well as identify and analyze the potential significance of direct and indirect impacts from the proposed action and alternatives to biological resources, land use, air quality, water quality, water resources, economics, and other environmental resources. The Service also will consider different strategies for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating the impacts of incidental take from the proposed action.
ESA and Incidental Take Permits
Section 9 of the ESA and the Service’s implementing regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 50 CFR Part 17 prohibit the “take” of federally-listed “endangered” and “threatened” species (16 U.S.C. 1538). The ESA defines the term “take” as to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect listed species or to attempt to engage in such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1532). “Harm” includes an act that actually kills or injures a listed species and may include significant habitat modification or degradation that actually kills or injures a species by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, and sheltering [50 CFR 17.3]. Under section 10(a)(1)(B) (16 U.S.C. 1539) of the ESA, the Service may issue permits authorizing “incidental take” of listed species. “Incidental take” is defined as take otherwise prohibited but incidental to, and not the purpose of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity [50 CFR 17.3]. Regulations governing incidental take permits for endangered species and threatened species, respectively, are found in 50 CFR 17.22 and 50 CFR 17.32.
Habitat Conservation Plans and the ECMSHCP
To receive an ITP, applicants must design, implement and secure funding for a conservation plan that avoids, minimizes and mitigates harm to the listed species affected by their proposed activity. That plan is commonly called a habitat conservation plan, or HCP. HCPs are legally binding agreements between the Secretary of the Interior and the ITP holder.
The prospective applicants have prepared a draft Eastern Collier Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (ECMSHCP). In its final form, the ECMSHCP would include measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate for incidental take with an emphasis on preserving some of the lands to maintain the viability and continued existence of populations of federally- listed threatened and endangered species. The ECMSHCP also would include a funding mechanism for the avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures, such as land acquisition, habitat mitigation, establishment of wildlife crossings, ecological restoration, land management, and actions to assist in the conservation of species through research. The proposed term of the ITP would be 50 years.
The prospective applicants are expected to seek incidental take authorization for the following federally-listed species: the Florida scrub-jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens), Audubon’s crested caracara (Polyborus plancus) (alternatively identified as the northern crested caracara (Caracara cheriway)), wood stork (Mycteria americana), red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), Everglade snail kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus), eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi), Florida bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), and Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi) (“covered species”). The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), which is a candidate species, would also be included as a covered species for which the prospective applicants would seek incidental take authorization. The prospective applicants’ ECMSHCP would also cover the following state-listed and unlisted species: the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus), Florida sandhill crane (Grus canadensis pratensis), little blue heron (Egretta caerulea), Southeastern American kestrel (Falco sparverius paulus), tricolored heron (Egretta tricolor), and the Big Cypress fox squirrel (Sciurus niger avicennia).
The covered lands of the ECMSHCP encompass approximately 152,124 acres in northeastern Collier County, Florida that surround the town of Immokalee. The covered lands are bordered to the south by the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve; to the north and east by the Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest; and, to the northwest by the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The prospective applicants are expected to propose a conservation strategy in the ECMSHCP that would preserve a large portion of the covered lands as habitat for the covered species while conducting activities on smaller, clustered portions of the covered lands. Biologically, the ECMSHCP would focus on maintaining areas of high value habitat for the covered species while engaging in residential and commercial development and earth mining on 45,000 acres of the lands. The prospective applicants also would maintain suitable habitat within the impacted areas to ensure the availability of corridors for dispersal of the covered species.
A copy of the Draft ECMSHCP is located under Related Links & Documents.