Final Environmental Impact Statement for Proposed Palmyra Restoration Project Available

by Sally Esposito on April 29, 2011

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today the availability of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Palmyra Atoll Restoration Project. The document describes the proposed action, selected from a range of alternatives, for eliminating nonnative black rats from the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to protect and restore the unique species and habitats at Palmyra Atoll.

Palmyra Atoll NWR is located in the Northern Line Islands, approximately 1,000 miles south of Honolulu, Hawaii, in the Central Pacific Ocean. The Refuge was established in 2001 to protect, restore, and enhance migratory birds, coral reefs, and threatened and endangered species in their natural setting, and is managed in coordination with The Nature Conservancy, which owns the largest island in the atoll and manages a preserve and research station there.

Palmyra Atoll consists of approximately 25 small, heavily vegetated islets surrounding 3 central lagoons. Habitats consist of 618 acres of land and 15,512 acres of lagoons and shallow reefs. The Refuge’s boundary extends seaward 12 nautical miles, encompassing 515,232 acres. Palmyra’s terrestrial habitats support one of the largest remaining tropical coastal strand forests in the U.S. Pacific Islands. A diverse land crab fauna including the coconut crab, ecologically intact predator-dominated fish assemblages, and large seabird populations are also important resources of the Refuge.

Rats are severely degrading the terrestrial ecosystem of this important atoll by preying on seabird eggs and chicks and native land crabs, and directly competing with native species for limited food resources. Rats also limit native plant recruitment and disperse the seeds of introduced, invasive plants. The proposed project is expected to result in biological diversity benefits for seabirds, plants, native rainforest, terrestrial invertebrates, and other components of the Atoll’s terrestrial ecosystem. The benefit of this conservation action is significant because Palmyra is the only moist tropical atoll ecosystem in the Central Pacific with strong protections that is not experiencing exploitation of both marine and terrestrial natural resources by burgeoning human populations. Without intervention, introduced rats may push some seabird colonies to extinction. Rats are likely preventing eight seabird species from successfully nesting on Palmyra.

Through the FEIS, the Service proposes to restore and protect native species and habitats by eradicating rats from the Atoll. This would be accomplished through the application of a lethal dose of rodenticide to every rat on the Atoll in a manner that minimizes harm to the ecosystem and upholds the probability of success.

The FEIS was prepared in accordance with National Environmental Policy Act requirements. Public input was sought prior to the development of the Draft EIS during a public scoping process (January 14 to March 1, 2010). The Draft EIS was released for a 45-day public comment period from February 25 through April 11, 2011. During this period 21 comments were received on the Draft EIS from individuals, organizations, and agencies regarding strong support for and strong opposition to rat eradication, threats to nontarget species, the proposed selection of the rodenticide brodifacoum over diphacinone, effects to other operations, and implementation strategies. The comments received and Service responses are presented in the FEIS.

Four alternatives are presented in the FEIS. Alternative A is the no action alternative, and Alternatives B, C, and D, are action alternatives. Alternative C is identified in the FEIS as the Preferred Alternative. In Preferred Alternative C, the Service proposes distributing brodifacoum and mitigating risks to vulnerable shorebirds. The potential impacts of each alternative were assessed, and, where appropriate, mitigation measures identified to avoid impacts or reduce their magnitude and intensity.

Some nontarget mortality of shorebirds is expected in each of the action alternatives. In order to minimize these effects, Preferred Alternative C will (1) time the operation to occur when the majority of birds have departed for their northern breeding grounds and are not at the Atoll; (2) exclude key shorebird roosting sites from an aerial application and hand bait sensitive shorebird areas; and (3) mitigate the impact to birds by carefully capturing, holding, and caring for the birds until they can be safely released back into the wild.

The project also includes an essential monitoring component to document and evaluate the effectiveness of the application techniques and the environmental response to the eradication. An independent team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture‟s National Wildlife Research Center will collect data immediately prior to and during the operation and team members will continue monitoring after the operation is complete.

The FEIS is intended to inform the public of the proposed action and alternatives; address public comments received during the public comment periods; disclose the direct, indirect and cumulative environmental effects of the proposed action and each of the alternatives; and indicate any irreversible commitment of resources that would result from project implementation.
Copies of the final EIS may be obtained by any of the following methods:

Service’s Website: http://www.fws.gov/palmyraatoll/rainforestrestoration.html
E-mail: pacific_reefs@fws.gov. Include “Palmyra rat project” in the subject line.
Fax: Attn: Susan White, 808.792.9586.
U.S. Mail: Pacific Reefs National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 300 Ala Moana
Blvd., Room 5-231, Honolulu, HI 96850.

To view the announcement in the Federal Register, click on Notice of Availability.

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