News Release

Service Proposes Revision Of Critical Habitat For Peninsular Ranges Population Of Bighorn Sheep

October 10, 2007

Contact:

Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220
Website: https://www.fws.gov/external-affairs/public-affairs/



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed rule today to revise critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for the federally endangered Peninsular Ranges population of bighorn sheep. Approximately 384,410 acres of habitat in portions of Riverside, San Diego and Imperial counties, California are included in the proposed revision.

Of the lands considered essential to the conservation of the bighorn sheep, the Service is proposing to exclude approximately 4,512 acres of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Tribal land and considering excluding approximately 19,211 acres of private land covered under the draft Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). However, the Service is specifically soliciting comments on whether federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and state land managed by the California Department of Fish and Game should also be considered for exclusion, based on the agencies? status as partners to the Coachella Valley MSHCP through a Memorandum of Understanding.

In the proposed rule to revise critical habitat, the Service is also proposing to revise the taxonomy of Peninsular bighorn sheep from a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the species Ovis canadensis, to a DPS of the subspecies Ovis canadensis nelsoni. The proposal to revise the taxonomy does not affect the Service's determination that the subspecies meets the requirements to be recognized as a DPS.

Public comments will be accepted until December 10, 2007. Written comments should be submitted to: Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, CA 92011, or by facsimile to 760-431-9624. Comments may also be sent by electronic mail to FW8cfwocomments@fws.gov">. Written requests for a public hearing will be accepted until November 26, 2007.

This proposal to revise critical habitat is the result of a lawsuit filed against the Service by the Agua Caliente Tribe and others challenging the economic analysis used in completing its original 2001 critical habitat designation. The original designation included 844,897 acres of land in the three counties in California. As a result of a consent decree arising from the lawsuit, critical habitat on Agua Caliente Tribal land, and private land owned by the Desert Riders and mining interests was vacated, leaving about 814,972 acres of currently designated critical habitat.

The proposed rule to revise critical habitat is more refined than the previous designation because the Service has identified specific areas of repeated use by Peninsular bighorn sheep, as well as ewe group boundaries, and habitat that provides for the life cycle needs of the species. The previous designation included areas that did not have documented use by Peninsular bighorn sheep for many years.

The proposed rule identifies habitat with steep, open slopes with less than 30 percent canopy cover; areas that support a variety of forage plants, including cacti, grasses and forbs that provide year-round food sources; steep rugged slopes below 4,600 feet elevation; and alluvial fans, washes, and permanent and intermittent sources of water as the habitat components that provide for the life cycle needs of the sheep.

Critical habitat identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands. Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

The current designation of 814,972 acres of critical habitat for the bighorn sheep will remain in place until the Service completes a new revised final designation.

A copy of the proposed rule and other information about the Peninsular Ranges Population of bighorn sheep is available on the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/carlsbad/PBHS_Docs.htm, or by contacting the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office at 760-431-9440.

The Service is preparing a draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat that will be released for public review and comment at a later date.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 548 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American Tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.

Information contained in older news items may be outdated. These materials are made available as historical archival information only. Individual contacts have been replaced with general External Affairs office information. No other updates have been made to the information and we do not guarantee current accuracy or completeness.


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