Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Revises Critical Habitat For Peninsular Bighorn Sheep

April 1, 2009


Division of Public Affairs
External Affairs
Telephone: 703-358-2220

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today a revised critical habitat designation for the Peninsular bighorn sheep, a distinct population segment of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni). Approximately 376,938 acres of habitat in portions of Riverside, San Diego, and Imperial counties, California are included in the revised final designation. This is a reduction of approximately 467,959 acres from the original 2001 critical habitat designation.

The revised final rule is a 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 of California. As a result of a consent decree arising from this lawsuit, critical habitat on Agua Caliente Tribal land and private land owned by the Desert Riders and mining interests was vacated, leaving 814,972 acres of currently designated critical habitat. In completing this action, the Service has complied with the court’s requirement to complete a new rulemaking.

An advanced copy of the revised final designation is available online through the Federal Register at Federal Register Public Inspection. However, this copy does not include maps. The official copy, including maps, will be published in the Federal Register on April 14, 2009. The final rule will become effective on May 14, 2009, and supersedes the current designation.

Areas designated as critical habitat support the habitat features essential to the conservation and recovery of a species. The lands identified in this revised final designation are within the following four critical habitat units: (1) San Jacinto Mountains; (2a) Northern Santa Rosa Mountains; (2b) Southern Santa Rosa Mountains south to Vallecito Mountains; and (3) Carrizo Canyon. The majority of lands designated in the final rule are managed by federal and state agencies including, but not limited to the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The Service excluded approximately 4,790 acres of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Tribal lands and approximately 38,759 acres of private and permittee-owned or controlled lands covered by the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. These lands are excluded from the revised final designation because they are covered by management plans that benefit the species or because the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of including the areas as critical habitat.

The final economic analysis estimates that over the next 20 years, conservation efforts for the Peninsular bighorn sheep will cost $92.5 million (three percent discount rate). Of this amount, economic impacts attributable solely to the critical habitat designation are estimated to be at $411,000 based on the same timeframe and discount rate. The Service did not exclude any areas from the final critical habitat designations based on economic impacts.

This revised critical habitat designation reflects new information about the bighorn sheep and its habitat obtained since 2001, including: (1) improved mapping accuracy to more precisely identify areas containing the physical and biological features essential to the bighorn sheep; (2) focusing on areas of documented, recurring bighorn sheep use; (3) identification of areas that support each of the known ewe groups; and (4) updated ownership information.

Habitat and plant communities essential for the lifecycle needs of the Peninsular bighorn sheep are diverse and include steep, open slopes, and canyons with less than 30 percent canopy cover below the 4,600 feet elevation; areas that support a variety of forage plants, including cacti, grasses, and forbs that provide year-round food sources; rugged, mountainous slopes greater than or equal to 60 percent; and alluvial fans, washes and both permanent and intermittent water sources.

Copies of the revised final designation, final economic analysis and other information about the Peninsular bighorn sheep will be available on April 14, 2009, at, at, or by contacting the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office at 760-431-9440.

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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