Pacific Southwest Region
California, Nevada and Klamath Basin

Service Proposes New Revision of Critical Habitat for Coachella Valley Milk-Vetch Plant

Aug 24, 2011

Contact: Stephanie Weagely, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office - 760/431-9440 ext. 210
 stephanie_weagley@fws.gov
  

Service Proposes New Revision of Critical Habitat for Coachella Valley Milk-Vetch Plant

Carlsbad, CA -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today a new proposed rule to revise critical habitat for the federally endangered Coachella Valley milk-vetch (Astragalus lentiginosus var. coachellae) plant. Approximately 25,704 acres of land in Riverside County, California, are proposed for designation.

Coachella Valley milk-vetch is found primarily on loose, wind or water transported sands that are located on dunes or flats, and along disturbed margins of sandy washes. 

The four geographic units proposed as critical habitat include sand transport and deposition areas associated with:  San Gorgonio River and Snow Creek, Whitewater River, Mission Creek and Morongo Wash, and the Thousand Palms area. Each unit contains the habitat components essential to the plant’s long-term survival, including sands from the transport channels/corridors and deposition sites.

Over 55 percent of proposed critical habitat lands are privately-owned and include tribal and water district lands, while the remaining areas are government-owned. These areas include lands occupied and unoccupied by the Coachella Valley milk-vetch. Unoccupied stream channels within the drainage systems provide for the water transported sands essential for the conservation of the plant.

Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, preserve, or other conservation area. In general, a critical habitat designation for a plant species has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or federal permits.

We are considering excluding approximately 18,446 acres of land, which includes 15,762 acres covered by the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan; 1,788 acres within the City of Desert Hot Springs; and 896 acres of tribal lands owned or managed by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Morongo Band of Mission Indians.

These areas are being considered for exclusion because we believe that the land managers sufficiently provide conservation for the plant; exclusion will encourage the continuation and strengthening of cooperative partnerships; or areas subject to the implementation of management plans provides equal to or more conservation than the designation of critical habitat would provide.

Changes between the 2005 final critical habitat designation and this 2011 proposed revised rule include: 

1. Improvements in defining the physical and biological features of the plant’s habitat;

2. Inclusion of unoccupied areas of the plant’s habitat consisting of transport channels within the drainage systems;

3. Criteria used to identify critical habitat are described in more detail; and

4. Identified critical habitat is being proposed without upfront exclusions.

The Service anticipates current conservation and management efforts will continue with our conservation partners. We are working to actively engage the public and others in the search for improved and innovative ways to conserve and protect species and their habitats.

Coachella Valley milk-vetch, an annual or short-lived perennial, is 4 to 12 inches tall and densely covered with short, white-silky hairs, giving it a silvery appearance. When in bloom, the flowers are deep purple to violet. The plant is endemic to the Coachella Valley. A photo of the plant may be viewed on Flickr.

This proposed rule to revise critical habitat is the result of a lawsuit filed against the Service by the Center for Biological Diversity challenging the final 2005 critical habitat designation.

We are asking for comments and information on all aspects of this proposal. An advance copy of the proposed revision of critical habitat can be viewed online today at the Federal Register Public Inspection Page.

Comments and information on the proposed revision can be submitted electronically beginning on August 25, 2011, at http://www.regulations.gov, and must be received by October 24, 2011. In the Keyword box, enter: FWS-R8-ES-2011-0064 and follow the instructions. Requests for a public hearing must be submitted in writing to the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office by October 11, 2011.

You may also submit comments in writing to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-2011-0064; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA, 22203.

A draft economic analysis of this proposal will be released for public review and comment at a later date.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.cno. Connect with our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/usfwspacificsouthwest, follow our tweets at http://twitter.com/USFWSPacSWest, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfws_pacificsw/

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