[Federal Register: March 23, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 55)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 13825-13832]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AE84

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed 
Threatened Status for the Northern Idaho Ground Squirrel

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior

ACTION: Proposed rule.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposes to list 
the northern Idaho ground squirrel (Spermophilus brunneus brunneus) as 
a threatened species throughout its range in western Idaho pursuant to 
the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). This subspecies 
is known from 21 sites in Adams and Valley Counties, Idaho. It is 
primarily threatened by habitat loss due to seral forest encroachment 
into former suitable meadow habitats. Seral forest encroachment results 
in habitat fragmentation, isolating northern Idaho ground squirrel 
colonies. The subspecies is also threatened by competition from the 
larger Columbian ground squirrel (Spermophilus columbianus), land use 
changes, recreational shooting and naturally occurring events. This 
proposal, if made final, would extend Federal protection provisions 
provided by the Act for the northern Idaho ground squirrel.

DATES: Comments from all interested parties must be received by May 22, 
1998. The Service will hold a public hearing on the proposal in 
Council, Idaho on May 5, 1998, from 6:00-8:00 p.m., at the Council 
Elementary School Multi Purpose Room, 202 Highway 95.

ADDRESSES: Comments and materials concerning this proposal should be 
sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Snake River Basin Office, 
1387 South Vinnell Way, Room 368, Boise, Idaho 83709. Comments and 
materials received will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert Ruesink, Supervisor, at the 
above address or (208) 378-5243.


[[Page 13826]]


    The northern Idaho ground squirrel (Spermophilus brunneus brunneus) 
has the most restricted geographical range of any Spermophilus taxa and 
one of the smallest ranges among North American mainland mammals (Gill 
and Yensen 1992). The first specimens, collected by L. E. Wyman in 
1913, were described by A. H. Howell as Citellus townsendii brunneus, a 
subspecies of the Washington ground squirrel (Spermophilus washingtoni) 
(Howell 1938). In 1938, Howell subsequently classified the Idaho ground 
squirrel as a full species, Citellus brunneus. Spermophilus is the 
generic name that was used by Hershkovitz (1949) to correctly establish 
this genus. Yensen (1991) described the southern Idaho ground squirrel 
(Spermophilus brunneus endemicus) as taxonomically distinct, based on 
morphology, pelage, and apparent life history differences including 
biogeographical evidence of separation.
    Both the northern and southern Idaho ground squirrels are found 
only in western Idaho. Of the two subspecies, the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel is the rarest (Yensen 1991). A relatively small member of the 
genus Spermophilus, the mean length of northern Idaho ground squirrel 
males and females is 233 millimeters (mm) (9.25 inches (in)) and 225 mm 
(8.9 in), respectively. In comparison, the mean length of southern 
Idaho ground squirrel males is 240 mm (9.5 in) and 233 mm (9.25 in) for 
females (Yensen 1991). Pelage in northern Idaho ground squirrel differs 
from the southern Idaho ground squirrel in its mid-dorsal area which 
consists of long, dark guard hairs and shorter, dark guard hairs with 
one paler-colored band on the shield (Yensen 1991). Most northern Idaho 
ground squirrels are found in areas with shallow reddish parent soils 
of basaltic origin, while the southern Idaho ground squirrel lives on 
lower elevation, paler colored soils formed by granitic sands and clays 
from the Boise Mountains (Yensen 1985, 1991). Marked differences in 
pelage coloration between the disjunct subspecies are related to soil 
    The baculum (penis bone) of northern Idaho ground squirrel is also 
generally smaller than that of the southern Idaho ground squirrel. A 
principal-component analysis indicated a striking difference among 
bacula of the two subspecies that forms a cluster well separated in 
character space (Yensen 1991). Genetic differentiation between the two 
subspecies has also been confirmed using enzyme restriction analysis, 
blood allozyme analyses and DNA protein sequencing (Gill and Yensen 
1992; Sherman and Yensen 1994).
    The northern Idaho ground squirrel emerges in late March or early 
April and remains active above ground until late July or early August 
(Yensen 1991). It occurs at 1,150 to 1,580 meters (m) (3,800 to 5,200 
feet (ft)) elevation in Adams and Valley Counties of western Idaho. In 
contrast the southern Idaho ground squirrel occurs at elevations of 670 
to 975 m (2,200 to 3,200 ft) in the low rolling hills and valleys along 
the Payette River in Gem, Payette, and Washington Counties of western 
Idaho (Yensen 1991). The southern subspecies emerges in late January or 
early February, where snow melt begins 1 to 2 months earlier in spring, 
and ceases above-ground activity in late June or early July. The 
emergence of the northern Idaho ground squirrel in late March or early 
April begins with adult males, followed by adult females, then 
    The northern Idaho ground squirrel becomes reproductively active 
within the first 2 weeks of emergence (Yensen 1991). Females that 
survive the first winter live, on average, nearly twice as long as 
males (3.2 years for females and 1.7 years for males). Individual 
females have lived for 8 years. Males normally die at a younger age due 
to behavior associated with reproductive activity. During the mating 
period, males move considerable distances in search of receptive 
females and often fight with other males for copulations, thereby 
exposing themselves to predation by raptors including prairie falcon 
(Falco mexicanus), goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) and red-tailed hawk 
(Buteo jamaicensis). Significantly more males die or disappear during 
the 2 week mating period than during the rest of the 12 to 14 week 
period of above ground activity (Sherman and Yensen 1994). Seasonal 
torpor generally occurs in early to mid July for males and females, and 
late July to early August for juveniles.
    In 1985, the total northern Idaho ground squirrel population in 18 
known colonies was approximately 5,000 squirrels (Fish and Wildlife 
Service 1985). Subsequent surveys were conducted on an annual basis. 
While new active colonies were found during these surveys, previously 
active colonies became extirpated (P. Sherman, Cornell University, 
pers. comm., 1997). For example, one colony located on BLM lands was 
active through 1988, but since then has not been occupied by northern 
Idaho ground squirrels (J. La Rocco, BLM, pers. comm., 1997). In 1996, 
the total population had declined to fewer than 1,000 individuals 
distributed through 19 colonies (Sherman and Gavin 1997). Only one of 
these colonies contained greater than 60 animals. In 1997, three 
additional colonies were found for a total of 21 active colonies. Still 
the total population estimate remains at less than 1,000 individuals. 
Of the 21 known active colonies, 11 occur on public lands and 10 occur 
on private lands. The numbers of squirrels in many of the active 
colonies have been trending downward for over 10 years (Yensen 1980; 
Fish and Wildlife Service 1985; Yensen 1985; Sherman and Yensen 1994; 
Sherman and Gavin 1997).
    Soil texture and depth can be a primary factor in determining 
species distribution for most Spermophilus (Brown and Harney 1993). The 
northern Idaho ground squirrel often digs burrows under logs, rocks, or 
other objects (Sherman and Yensen 1994). Dry vegetation sites with 
shallow soil horizons of less than 50 centimeters (19.5 in) depth above 
basalt bedrock to develop burrow systems are preferred (Yensen et al. 
1991). Burrows associated with shallow soils are called auxiliary 
burrows. Nesting burrows are found in deeper soil pockets that are 
greater than 1 m (3 ft) deep, usually located near the tops of slopes. 
Although Columbian ground squirrels (Spermophilus columbianus) overlap 
in distribution with the northern Idaho ground squirrel (Dyni and 
Yensen 1996), Columbian ground squirrels prefer moister areas with 
deeper soils. Sherman and Yensen (1994) report that the lack of 
extensive use of the same areas by the two species is due to 
competitive exclusion, rather than to each species having different 
habitat requirements.
    Nearly all of the meadow habitats utilized by northern Idaho ground 
squirrels are bordered by coniferous forests of Pinus ponderosa 
(ponderosa pine) and/or Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir). However, 
this ground squirrel is not abundant in meadows that contain high 
densities of small trees (Sherman and Yensen 1994).
    The northern Idaho ground squirrel is primarily granivorous, 
similar to the Columbian ground squirrel (Dyni and Yensen 1996), and 
ingests large amounts of Poa sp. and other grass seeds to store energy 
for the winter. The northern Idaho ground squirrel consumes 45 to 50 
different plant species but prefers Poa sp., Stipa sp., Microseris sp. 
and Cryptantha sp. seeds. Roots, bulbs, leaf stems and flower heads are 
minor components of the diet. The Columbian ground squirrel often 
inhabits areas with denser vegetation than the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel (Dyni

[[Page 13827]]

and Yensen 1996). Such areas contain more abundant food resources than 
habitats occupied by northern Idaho ground squirrel (Belovsky and 
Schmitz 1994).
    The northern Idaho ground squirrel is found on lands administered 
by the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho State Department of Lands, Boise 
Cascade Corporation, and other private properties.

Previous Federal Action

    In a notice of review published January 6, 1989, the Service 
determined that the northern Idaho ground squirrel was a category 1 
candidate (54 FR 562). Category 1 candidates were those taxa for which 
the Service had on file substantial information on biological 
vulnerability and threats to support preparation of listing proposals. 
In a notice of review published on November 21, 1991 (56 FR 58804), the 
taxon was again included in category 1. On November 15, 1994, the 
Service published a revised notice of review in which the northern 
Idaho ground squirrel was included in category 2 (59 FR 58982). 
Category 2 species were those for which the Service had information 
indicating that listing may be warranted but for which it lacked 
sufficient information on status and threats to support issuance of 
listing rules. Upon publication of the February 28, 1996, notice of 
review (61 FR 7596), the Service ceased using category designations and 
included the northern Idaho ground squirrel as a candidate species. 
Candidate species are those for which the Service has on file 
sufficient information on biological vulnerability and threats to 
support proposals to list the species as threatened or endangered. 
Candidate status for this animal was continued in the September 19, 
1997, notice of review (62 FR 49398)
    As a result of long-standing litigation with the Fund For Animals, 
a lawsuit settlement of January 21, 1997, directed the Service to make 
a decision (i.e. prepare a proposed rule to list or remove from Federal 
candidacy) concerning the northern Idaho ground squirrel on or before 
April 1, 1998. This proposed rule constitutes the finding that listing 
of the northern Idaho ground squirrel as a threatened species is 
    The processing of this proposed rule conforms with the Service's 
final listing priority guidance published in the Federal Register on 
December 5, 1996 (61 FR 64475) and extended in October 23, 1997 (62 FR 
55268). The guidance clarifies the order in which the Service will 
process rulemakings. The guidance calls for giving highest priority to 
handling emergency situations (Tier 1), second highest priority (Tier 
2) to resolving the listing status of the outstanding proposed 
listings, third priority (Tier 3) to new proposals to add species to 
the list of threatened and endangered plants and animals, and fourth 
priority (Tier 4) to processing critical habitat determinations and 
delisting or reclassifications. This proposed rule constitutes a Tier 3 

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and regulations (50 CFR part 
424) promulgated to implement the listing provisions of the Act set 
forth the procedures for adding species to the Federal lists. A species 
may be determined to be an endangered or threatened species due to one 
or more of the five factors described in section 4 (a)(1). These 
factors and their application to the northern Idaho ground squirrel are 
as follows:
    A. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range. Little is known about the historic 
range of the northern Idaho ground squirrel, however, it is thought 
that this subspecies was always uncommon within a limited habitat, but 
in the past was much more abundant than at present (Forest Service 
1997). All remaining habitat sites for the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel are small in relation to those of other ground squirrels, 
ranging in size from 1.2 to 16 hectares (3 to 40 acres), and are 
imminently threatened by one or more of the following--land conversion 
to agriculture; residential construction; development of recreational 
facilities such as campgrounds; and road construction and maintenance.
    Agricultural conversion and rural housing developments from the 
communities of Round Valley, north to New Meadows, and south to 
Council, Idaho, during the past 40 years have fragmented habitat that 
was formerly occupied by the northern Idaho ground squirrel. These 
types of developments continue to threaten remaining colonies in both 
Adams and Valley Counties. Occupied ground squirrel habitat near New 
Meadows was converted to a golf course and associated housing 
development (Yensen 1985), resulting in the eradication of northern 
Idaho ground squirrels at the site.
    A 51.6 kilometer (km) (32 mile (mi)) gravel road from Council to 
Cuprum, Idaho is scheduled to be paved by the year 2000. Approximately 
6.5 km (4 mi) of this project runs through historic and currently 
occupied habitat of the northern Idaho ground squirrel. The project 
will improve and seasonally extend vehicle access to four nearby 
northern Idaho ground squirrel colonies. Four existing colonies will be 
subject to increased mortality risk from vehicles, and possibly 
recreational shooting (U. S. Forest Service 1997a).
    A mitigation plan (Plan) has been developed for the Council to 
Cuprum Road paving project in cooperation with the Federal Highway 
Administration (Forest Service 1997a). The Plan identifies mitigation 
actions to attract northern Idaho ground squirrels away from the paved 
highway to adjacent but suitable habitat to avoid passing vehicles. 
Funding for this Plan, if approved, would allow for monitoring the 
mitigation measures for a 3-year period after the road improvements 
have been made, which will occur between 1998-2000. At this time, it is 
uncertain whether proposed mitigation measures will be successful in 
protecting colonies in the vicinity of the project.
    B. Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes. Some, in the general public, consider ground 
squirrels as varmints and, as such, recreational shooting contributes 
to the decline of northern Idaho ground squirrel colonies (Yensen 
1991). Colonies adjacent to housing developments, towns, or farms, in 
particular, are subject to a high rate of recreational shooting. 
Scientific collection of ground squirrels could also adversely impact 
this species, however, to date, no known mortality has occurred through 
handling or marking over 1,100 squirrels (Sherman and Yensen 1994).
    C. Disease or predation. The significance of disease as a threat to 
this subspecies is unknown. The parasitic nematode, Pelodera 
strongyloides, infects the eyes of the northern Idaho ground squirrel 
(Sherman and Yensen 1994; Yensen et al. 1996). This eye worm is not 
currently known to be a cause of mortality or to affect the population 
structure within existing colonies (Yensen et al. 1996). Although 
plague, (Yersina pestis), a contagious bacterial disease in rodents, 
has not been found in any northern Idaho ground squirrel colonies, the 
disease, once established, could decimate these colonies (Yensen et al. 
    The primary predators of the northern Idaho ground squirrel include 
badger (Taxidea taxus), goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), prairie falcon 
(Falco mexicanus) and occasionally red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). 
In particular, predators threaten the smaller more isolated colonies of 
northern Idaho

[[Page 13828]]

ground squirrel. Males are particularly subject to increased predation 
risk during the mating period (Sherman and Yensen 1994).
    D. The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms. The State of 
Idaho recognizes the northern Idaho ground squirrel as a ``Species of 
Special Concern'' (Idaho Department of Fish and Game 1994). Because of 
this status, the northern Idaho ground squirrel is, by law, protected 
from taking (shooting, trapping, poisoning) or possession. To date, 
however, protection from recreational shooting has not been adequately 
enforced by the State and the northern Idaho ground squirrel remains 
vulnerable to this activity (Yensen 1985).
    Local land use ordinances and other regulations are inadequate to 
protect this subspecies. For example, the Adams County land use 
regulations, where 99 percent of northern Idaho ground squirrel 
colonies are found, allow for single and multiple housing developments 
under a permit system. There is no consideration under the permit 
system for impacts that may result from building housing or recreation 
developments in or adjacent to habitat occupied by the northern Idaho 
ground squirrel. With no limitations on development of northern Idaho 
ground squirrel habitat, it is anticipated that human population growth 
and development in the foreseeable future will continue to impact 
ground squirrel colonies where the two overlap.
    Under the present status as a candidate species, there is no 
requirement for Federal agencies to consult with the Service under 
section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. When this proposed rule to 
list the northern Idaho ground squirrel is published in the Federal 
Register, conferencing (which is equivalent to section 7 consultation) 
by other Federal agencies will be required when their actions may 
jeopardize the species. Until this step has been completed, only the 
voluntary conservation agreement between the Payette National Forest 
and the Service provides responsible management to reduce threats to 
the northern Idaho ground squirrel.
    E. Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued 
existence. The primary threat to the northern Idaho ground squirrel is 
meadow invasion by conifers (Sherman and Yensen 1994). Fire suppression 
and the dense regrowth of conifers resulting from past logging 
activities have significantly reduced meadow habitats suitable for 
northern Idaho ground squirrels. As the extent of meadow habitat on 
public and private lands was reduced over the past 40 years, northern 
Idaho ground squirrel dispersal corridors have been reduced or 
eliminated, further constricting the species into smaller isolated 
habitat areas (Truksa and Yensen 1990). The loss of dispersal corridors 
has caused at least some isolated colonies to become extirpated 
(Sherman and Yensen 1994: Fish and Wildlife Service 1996). Small 
populations at several remaining colony sites are likely to become 
extirpated as well (Sherman and Yensen 1994; Mangel and Tier 1994).
    The fragmented distribution of the northern Idaho ground squirrel 
is the remnant of what may once have been a more continuous 
distribution from Round Valley, Idaho in Valley County north to New 
Meadows and then southwest to Council in Adams County, and the existing 
colonies on private and public lands northwest of Council. Because of 
logging and fire suppression, forest structure has changed markedly 
over the past century, resulting in much denser, more even-aged younger 
stands of trees with thinner and less heterogeneous under-story plant 
communities (Burns and Zborowski 1996). Fire suppression has allowed 
conifers to invade areas that were once meadows, thereby shrinking the 
size of forb/grass meadows or closing open grassy corridors entirely to 
each of these meadow sites. These changes have isolated the dry meadows 
with shallow soils where the northern Idaho ground squirrel finds 
refuge from the Columbian ground squirrel, which also eliminates 
phenotypic exchange between northern Idaho ground squirrel colonies. 
Those dry meadow habitats where colonies still are extant are now being 
invaded in most areas by small trees, further constricting the 
preferred forage and fossorial habitat of this species. Habitat 
dissection and reduced opportunities for dispersal among habitats 
prevents gene flow and results in considerable population 
differentiation (Sherman and Yensen 1994).
    Habitat and resource competition with the Columbian ground squirrel 
is another factor affecting the survival of the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel. The northern Idaho ground squirrel may have been forced into 
areas containing shallower soils due to competition from Columbian 
ground squirrels (Sherman and Yensen 1994). The Columbian ground 
squirrel is larger and prefers deeper soil areas with soils that 
provide better over-winter protection and higher nutrients. Competition 
from Columbian ground squirrel could be an important factor in 
population decline of the northern Idaho ground squirrel (Dyni and 
Yensen 1996). Where both species occur, the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel tends to occupy the shallower soils but requires deeper soils 
less than 1 m (3.2 ft) for nests (Yensen et al. 1991). The Columbian 
ground squirrel is not restricted by soil depth. Typically their burrow 
systems are associated with degree of slope, well drained soils, and 
number of native forbs (Weddell 1989).
    Winter mortality may be a contributing factor for northern Idaho 
ground squirrel decline, especially when juvenile squirrels enter 
torpor without sufficient fat reserves and snow levels are below 
average (Paul Sherman, pers. comm., 1997). Soils tend to freeze to 
greater depths where snow levels are shallow. When this occurs ground 
squirrels are unable to thermoregulate or maintain sufficient fat 
reserves. Although the relationship between ground squirrels and 
weather is complex (Yensen et al. 1992) colonies may have been 
adversely affected by drought and over winter mortality in the early 
    As a result of the factors discussed above and due to the small 
population sizes of remaining colonies and the small total number of 
individuals, the northern Idaho ground squirrel may have little 
resilience to respond to naturally occurring events (Gavin et al. 
1993). Small animal populations are often highly vulnerable to natural 
climatic fluctuations as well as catastrophic events (Mangel and Tier 
1994). Gavin et al. (1993) ran a computer population viability 
simulation program (VORTEX), using natality and mortality values 
recorded over 8 years from an intensively studied northern Idaho ground 
squirrel colony (Sherman and Yensen 1994). Variables in the model 
included no natural immigration, and began the population viability 
analysis using 50 individuals, a figure that was 30 individuals lower 
than the actual population size of 80 individuals (Sherman and Yensen 
1994). The model calculated that all but 1 of 100 populations would 
become extinct in less than 20 years.
    The Service has carefully assessed the best scientific and 
commercial information available regarding the past, present, and 
future threats faced by the northern Idaho ground squirrel in 
determining to propose this rule. Based on this evaluation, the 
preferred action is to list the northern Idaho ground squirrel as 
threatened. The subspecies has declined from approximately 5,000 
animals in 1985 to fewer than 1,000 animals in 1997. While the northern 
Idaho ground squirrel is not in immediate danger of extinction because

[[Page 13829]]

of ongoing conservation and recovery efforts, the subspecies could 
become endangered in the foreseeable future if remaining colony 
populations decline further.

Critical Habitat

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as: (i) The 
specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species, at 
the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found 
those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation 
of the species and (II) that may require special management 
considerations or protection and; (ii) specific areas outside the 
geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed, upon 
a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of 
the species. ``Conservation'' means the use of all methods and 
procedures needed to bring the species to the point at which listing 
under the Act is no longer necessary.
    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12) require that, to the maximum extent prudent 
and determinable, the Secretary designate critical habitat at the time 
a species is determined to be endangered or threatened. Service 
regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)) state that designation of critical 
habitat is not prudent when one or both of the following situations 
exist--(1) the species is threatened by taking or other human activity, 
and identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the 
degree of threat to the species, or (2) such designation of critical 
habitat would not be beneficial to the species.
    The Service believes critical habitat designation is not prudent 
for the northern Idaho ground squirrel because both of the above 
described situations exist. The northern Idaho ground squirrel has been 
studied for 17 years (Yensen 1980; Yensen 1985; Sherman and Yensen 
1994; Sherman and Gavin 1997), and the locations of active and historic 
colonies are well documented and known within the scientific community. 
However, publication of detailed critical habitat maps and 
descriptions, as required, would make this information more readily 
available to the general public and serve as an advertisement for 
casual/recreational visits to the habitat areas, thereby increasing the 
risk of elimination of northern Idaho ground squirrels or their 
habitat. Eliminating a colony or destroying the squirrel's habitat 
serves to create the false sense that it is no longer a problem. 
Publishing maps of critical habitat may also serve as rally areas for 
the shooting public to use and destroy ground squirrels directly or 
indirectly (R. Howard, Fish and Wildlife Service, pers. comm., 1997). 
In light of the vulnerability of this species to vandalism or the 
intentional destruction of its habitat, critical habitat designation 
would reasonably be expected to increase the degree of threat to the 
species, increase the enforcement difficulties, and further contribute 
to the decline of the northern Idaho ground squirrel.
    Additionally, designation of critical habitat would not be 
beneficial to the northern Idaho ground squirrel. Critical habitat 
designation provides protection only on Federal lands or on private or 
State lands when there is Federal involvement through authorization or 
funding of, or participation in, a project or activity. Eleven of the 
remaining sites are located on Federal lands administered by the U.S. 
Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. These agencies are 
aware of the species occurrence at these sites and the requirement to 
consult with the Service under section 7(a)(2) to ensure that any 
actions federally authorized, funded or carried out is not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of an endangered or threatened 
species. Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies, in 
consultation with the Service, to ensure that any action authorized, 
funded or carried out by such agency, does not jeopardize the continued 
existence of a federally listed species. Consultation is most likely to 
occur with the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service 
concerning timber harvest activities, recreational use permits, and 
management of grazing allotments. The consequence of critical habitat 
designation is that Federal agencies must also ensure that their 
actions do not result in destruction or adverse modification of 
critical habitat. The adverse modification standard would not address 
seral forest encroachment which is considered a principal factor 
causing northern Idaho ground squirrel declines. Therefore, in this 
case, the prohibition on adverse modification would likely provide no 
additional benefit to conservation of the subspecies than that provided 
by the prohibition on jeopardy.
    The Service acknowledges that critical habitat designation may 
provide some benefits to a species by identifying areas important to a 
species conservation and calling attention to those areas in special 
need of protection. A critical habitat designation contributes to 
species conservation primarily by highlighting important habitat areas 
and by describing the features within those areas that are essential to 
the species. However, in this case, this information can be 
disseminated more effectively through alternative means and the primary 
threat (plant succession) would not be addressed by critical habitat 
    The northern Idaho ground squirrel is not well known to the general 
public because of its rarity and limited distribution. As a 
consequence, all involved parties and landowners have been notified of 
the importance of the northern Idaho ground squirrel habitat. The 
Service is directly working with Federal land management agencies to 
develop a coordinated management plan including vegetation control and 
translocation to reestablish or augment populations of the northern 
Idaho ground squirrel. Appropriate consultation and coordination with 
other Federal agencies, such as the Forest Service and Bureau of Land 
Management, will also occur once any specific federally supported 
activity that could affect the northern Idaho ground squirrel is 
proposed. These conservation actions for the Idaho ground squirrel 
would not be enhanced by designation of critical habitat.
    Therefore, the Service finds that designation of critical habitat 
for this species is not prudent, for such designation would increase 
the degree of threat from vandalism, shooting, or intentional 
destruction of habitat and would provide no additional benefit to the 
    The Service will continue in its efforts to obtain more information 
on the northern Idaho ground squirrel's biology and ecology, including 
essential habitat characteristics, and existing and potential sites 
that can contribute to conservation of the species. The information 
resulting from this effort will be used to identify measures needed to 
achieve conservation of the species, as defined under the Act. Such 
measures could include, but are not limited to, development of 
additional conservation agreements with the State, other Federal 
agencies, local governments, and private landowners and organizations, 
and implementation of those agreements already in effect.

Available Conservation Measures

    Ongoing conservation activities for this species include prelisting 
actions and conservation efforts on Federal and private lands. The 
remaining active northern Idaho ground squirrel colonies occur on 
private and Payette National Forest lands. A management agreement 
between The Nature Conservancy and

[[Page 13830]]

one private landowner protects northern Idaho ground squirrels on this 
    A conservation agreement (Agreement) was finalized in July of 1996 
between the Service and the Payette National Forest (Fish and Wildlife 
Service 1996). Duration of the Agreement is 5 years. The Agreement 
identifies conservation and land management actions that will provide 
habitat favorable to the northern Idaho ground squirrel. These actions, 
some already in the implementation phase, include: controlled burning 
of selected meadows to reduce over-story and to improve forage 
preferred by the northern Idaho ground squirrel; timber harvest in 
select areas to open meadows where active colonies are found; and, 
timber harvest to provide dispersal corridors for improved connectivity 
between colonies. For example, 3.3 million board feet of timber is 
proposed for harvest in the Lick Creek drainage in 1998 (Forest Service 
1997b). The sale is designed to reconnect an active colony with other 
nearby colonies. It will also open 12 meadow habitats on Federal lands 
that are favorable to recolonization by the northern Idaho ground 
    A relocation plan developed by scientists from Cornell University, 
Ithaca, New York, and Albertson College, Caldwell, Idaho, was initiated 
in the spring of 1997. A total of 49 of squirrels were transplanted to 
two sites (15 and 34 respectively) that had been treated through 
burning and or timber harvest (P. Sherman, pers. comm., 1997). Both 
treated sites are on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and were 
selected because both have recently supported northern Idaho ground 
squirrels. One site still supports a small population of animals while 
squirrels were found until 1996 at the other site. Initial results 
indicate that some translocated females were lactating and juveniles 
were observed at both sites (P. Sherman, pers. comm., 1997). More 
definitive results of the translocation will not be known until 
monitoring efforts are completed in the spring of 1998. Whether long-
term benefits to ground squirrel recovery result from these actions may 
be unknown for several years.
    These ongoing conservation efforts for the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel address threats that have likely contributed to the species' 
past decline. The Service will continue to work with private and 
Federal land owners to restore and maintain suitable habitat and 
dispersal corridors for the species and to address other limiting 
    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
activities. Recognition through listing encourages and results in 
conservation actions by Federal, State, and private agencies, groups, 
and individuals. The Act provides for possible land acquisition and 
cooperation with the States and requires that recovery actions be 
carried out for all listed species. The protection required of Federal 
agencies and the prohibitions against taking and harm are discussed, in 
part, below.
    Section 7(a) of the Act, as amended, requires Federal agencies to 
evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is proposed or 
listed as endangered or threatened and with respect to its critical 
habitat, if any is being designated. Regulations implementing this 
interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR 
part 402. Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with the Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of a proposed species or result in destruction or 
adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a species is 
listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) requires Federal agencies to 
insure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not 
likely to jeopardize the continued existence of such a species or to 
destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action 
may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible 
Federal agency must enter into formal consultation with the Service.
    The Act requires the appropriate land management agencies to 
evaluate potential impacts to the species that may result from 
activities they authorize or permit. Consultation under section 7 of 
the Act is required for activities on Federal, State, County, or 
private lands, that may impact the survival and recovery of the 
northern Idaho ground squirrel, if such activities are funded, 
authorized, carried out, or permitted by Federal agencies. Federal 
agencies that may be involved in activities affecting this species 
include the Forest Service, Federal Highways Administration, Bureau of 
Land Management, Office of Surface Mining and Natural Resources 
Conservation Service. Section 7 requires these agencies to consider 
potential impacts to the northern Idaho ground squirrel prior to 
approval of any activity authorized or permitted by them.
    Federal agency actions that may require consultation include 
removing, thinning or altering vegetation; construction of roads or 
camping sites in the vicinity of active and historical colonies, 
recreational home developments, permitting off-road vehicle use areas, 
and development of gravel or sand mining activities, campground 
construction, mining permits and expansion, highway construction, 
timber harvest, etc.
    The Act and implementing regulations found at 50 CFR 17.21 and 
17.31 set forth a series of general prohibitions and exceptions that 
apply to all threatened wildlife. These prohibitions, in part, make it 
illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States 
to take (including harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, 
trap, capture, collect, or attempt any such conduct), import or export, 
transport in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial 
activity, or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce 
any listed species. It also is illegal to possess, sell, deliver, 
carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been taken 
illegally. Certain exceptions apply to agents of the Service and State 
conservation agencies.
    Permits may be issued to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving threatened wildlife species under certain circumstances. 
Regulations governing permits are at 50 CFR 17.22, 17.23 and 17.32. 
Such permits are available for scientific purposes, to enhance the 
propagation or survival of the species, and/or for incidental take in 
connection with otherwise lawful activities. For threatened species, 
permits are also available for zoological exhibition, educational 
purposes, or special purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act. 
(Information collections associated with these permits are approved 
under the Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq., and assigned 
Office of Management and Budget clearance number 10180-0094.)
    It is the policy of the Service, published in the Federal Register 
on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent 
practicable at the time a species is proposed for listing, those 
activities that would or would not constitute a violation of section 9 
of the Act. The intent of this policy is to increase public awareness 
of the effect of the listing on proposed and ongoing activities within 
a species' range. The Service believes that, based upon the best 
available information, the following action will not result in a 
violation of section 9:
    Activities authorized, funded, or carried out by Federal agencies 
(e.g., logging, flood and erosion control, mineral and housing 
development, off road permitting or park development,

[[Page 13831]]

recreational trail and campground development, road construction, 
prescribed burns, pest control activities, utility lines or pipeline 
construction) when such activity is conducted in accordance with any 
incidental take statement prepared by the Service in accordance with 
section 7 of the Act.
    Activities that the Service believes could potentially result in a 
violation of section 9 include but are not limited to:
    (1) Unauthorized or unpermitted collecting, handling, harassing, or 
taking (such as recreational shooting) of the subspecies;
    (2) Activities that directly or indirectly result in the actual 
death or injury of the northern Idaho ground squirrel, or that modify 
the known habitat of the subspecies by significantly modifying 
essential behavior patterns (e.g., plowing, conversion to cropland, 
residential or recreational uses; road and trail construction; water 
development and impoundment; mineral extraction or processing; off-road 
vehicle use; and unauthorized application of herbicides or pesticides).
    (3) Activities within the northern Idaho ground squirrel 
hibernating period (mid July through early April), and near burrow 
areas that include controlled burns, mowing, road, pipeline or utility 
construction, herbicide application or other activities that would 
alter the burrow systems and food sources of the northern Idaho ground 
    Questions regarding whether specific activities will constitute a 
violation of section 9 or to obtain guidance for activities within 
northern Idaho ground squirrel habitat should be directed to the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Snake River Basin Office, Boise, Idaho (see 
ADDRESSES section). Requests for copies of the regulations concerning 
listed animals and inquiries regarding prohibitions and permits may be 
addressed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species 
Permits, 911 N.E. 11th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97232-4181 (telephone 
503/231-6241; FAX 503/231-6243).

Public Comments Solicited

    The Service intends that any final action resulting from this 
proposal will be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, 
comments or suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental 
agencies, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested 
party concerning this proposed rule are hereby solicited. Comments 
particularly are sought concerning:
    (1) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 
any threat (or lack thereof) to this subspecies;
    (2) The location of any additional populations of this subspecies 
and the reasons why any habitat should or should not be determined to 
be critical habitat as provided by section 4 of the Act;
    (3) Additional information concerning the range, distribution, and 
population size of this subspecies;
    (4) Biological or physical elements that best describe this 
subspecies' habitat, that could be considered critical for the 
conservation of the subspecies (e.g., colonies, hibernation, 
vegetation, food, topography);
    (5) Current or planned activities in the subject area and their 
possible impacts on this subspecies;
    (6) Possible alternative recreational and logging practices, or 
road right-of-way development and maintenance activities that will 
reduce or eliminate the take of northern Idaho ground squirrel or their 
habitats; and
    (7) Other management strategies that will conserve the subspecies 
throughout its range.
    Final promulgation of the regulations on this subspecies will take 
into consideration the comments and any additional information received 
by the Service, and such communications may lead to a final regulation 
that differs from this proposal.
    The Act provides for one or more public hearings on this proposal, 
if requested. Requests must be received within 45 days of the date of 
publication of the proposal in the Federal Register. The Service has 
scheduled a public hearing in Council, Idaho (see DATES section).

National Environmental Policy Act

    The Service has determined that an Environmental Assessment, as 
defined under the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 
1969, need not be prepared in connection with regulations adopted 
pursuant to section 4(a) of the Endangered Species Act, as amended. A 
notice outlining the Service's reasons for this determination was 
published in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

Required Determinations

    This rule does not contain collection of information that requires 
approval by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork 
Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.).

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein, as well as others, 
is available upon request from the Snake River Basin Office (see 

Author: The primary author of this proposed rule is Richard Howard, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Snake River Basin Office (see 
ADDRESSES section).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, the Service hereby proposes to amend part 17, 
subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, 
as set forth below:


    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

    2. Amend section 17.11(h) by adding the following, in alphabetical 
order under MAMMALS, to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife:

Sec. 17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                          Species                                                    Vertebrate                                                         
------------------------------------------------------------                         population                                                         
                                                                                       where                                      Critical     Special  
                                                                 Historic range      endangered       Status       When listed    habitat       rules   
            Common name                  Scientific name                                 or                                                             
                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  
Squirrel, northern Idaho ground....  Spermophilus brunneus   U.S.A. (ID)..........           NA  ................            T           NA           NA

[[Page 13832]]

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  

    Dated: March 6, 1998.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 98-7480 Filed 3-20-98; 8:45 am]