[Federal Register: June 28, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 125)]
[Page 39920-39922]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement/ Environmental 
Impact Report for Federal and State Actions Associated With the 
Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural 
Communities Conservation Plan

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior (Lead Agency).

COOPERATING AGENCIES: Bureau of Land Management, Interior; National 
Park Service, Interior; Forest Service, Agriculture; California 
Resources Agency; California Department of Fish and Game; California 
Department of Parks and Recreation; and Coachella Valley Association of 

ACTION: Notice of intent; notice of public meeting.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service and cooperating agencies are 
gathering information necessary for the preparation of an Environmental 
Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (Impact Statement/Report). 
This Impact Statement/Report will consider the actions of Federal, 
State, and local agencies, as well as private interests, associated 
with implementation of the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat 
Conservation Plan/Natural Communities Conservation Plan(Multispecies 
Plan) and the issuance of incidental take permits pursuant to section 
10(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, 
and section 2081 of the California Endangered Species Act. The Impact 
Statement/Report also will consider the Bureau of Land Management's 
proposed amendment of the California Desert Conservation Plan to 
conform with the Multispecies Plan. In addition, the Impact Statement/
Report will consider any other actions by other Federal or State 
agencies that are necessary or appropriate to implement the 
Multispecies Plan.
    We encourage interested persons to attend public meetings to 
identify and discuss the scope of issues and alternatives that should 
be addressed in the Multispecies Plan and in the Impact Statement/
Report. We provide this notice pursuant to the Council on Environmental 
Quality regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of the 
National Environmental Policy Act (40 CFR 1501.7 and 1508.22).

DATES: We must receive your written comments by July 28, 2000. See 
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section for meeting dates and locations.

[[Page 39921]]

ADDRESSES: Send comments regarding the scope of the Impact Statement/
Report as it relates to the proposed Multispecies Plan to the Field 
Supervisor, Fish and Wildlife Service, 2730 Loker Avenue West, 
Carlsbad, California 92008; facsimile 760/431-9624. Send comments 
regarding the scope of the Impact Statement/Report as it relates to the 
proposed amendment of the Desert Conservation Plan to the Field 
Manager, Bureau of Land Management, Palm Springs-South Coast Field 
Office, P.O. Box 1260, North Palm Springs, California 92258-1260; 
facsimile 760/251-4899.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Pete Sorensen, Supervisory Fish 
and Wildlife Biologist, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, Carlsbad, 
California; telephone 760/431-9440; or Ms. Elena Misquez, Planning and 
Environmental Coordinator, Bureau of Land Management, Palm Springs-
South Coast Field Office, North Palm Springs, California; telephone 

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: All comments that we receive will become 
part of the administrative record and may be released to the public. 
You may view these comments during normal business hours (8 a.m. to 5 
p.m., Monday through Friday) at the above offices (see ADDRESSES). 
Please call for an appointment.
    In addition, you may obtain specific information regarding the 
location of lands proposed for conservation from Mr. Steve Nagle, 
Coachella Valley Association of Governments, 73-710 Fred Waring Drive, 
Suite 200, Palm Desert, California 92260; telephone 760/346-1127; 
facsimile 760/340-5949.


    We will hold public meetings as follows:
    July 10, 2000, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., City Hall Council Chambers, 
68-700 Avenida Lalo Guerrero, Cathedral City, California.
    July 11, 2000, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., City Hall Council Chambers, 
68-700 Avenida Lalo Guerrero, Cathedral City, California.
    July 12, 2000, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., City Hall Council Chambers, 
78-495 Calle Tampico, La Quinta, California.
    The meetings on July 10 and 12 broadly focus on the scope and 
content of the Impact Statement/Report as it relates to the proposed 
Multispecies Plan and to the proposed amendment of the California 
Desert Conservation Plan. The meeting on July 11 specifically focuses 
on the trail component of these plans.


    Section 9 of the Federal Endangered Species Act and regulations 
prohibit the ``take'' of animal species listed as endangered or 
threatened. That is, no one may harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, 
wound, kill, trap, capture or collect listed animal species, or attempt 
to engage in such conduct (16 USC 1538). ``Harm'' is defined by 
regulation to include significant habitat modification or degradation 
that actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing 
essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering (50 CFR 17.3). Under certain circumstances, the Fish and 
Wildlife Service may issue permits to authorize ``incidental'' take of 
listed animal species (defined by the Act as take that is incidental 
to, and not the purpose of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful 
activity). Regulations governing permits for federally-listed 
threatened and endangered species, respectively, are at 50 CFR 17.32 
and 50 CFR 17.22. The California Department of Fish and Game has 
similar provisions for incidental take of species listed under the 
California Endangered Species Act.
    The Coachella Valley Association of Governments and its member 
jurisdictions (Riverside County and 9 municipalities) intend to apply 
for incidental take permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the 
California Department of Fish and Game. As part of the application 
process, the Association is developing the Multispecies Plan for an 
anticipated 31 target species and 24 habitat types currently within 
their jurisdiction. We anticipate that the permit applications for 
incidental take will include 20 unlisted species and the following 11 
federally-listed species: Peninsular bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), 
desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), Southwest arroyo toad (Bufo 
microscaphus californicus), desert slender salamander (Batrachoseps 
aridus), Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard (Uma inornata), desert 
pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius), Yuma clapper rail (Rallus longirostris 
yumanensis), least Bell's vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus), Southwestern 
willow flycatcher (Empidonax trailii extimus), Coachella Valley milk-
vetch (Astragalus lentiginosus var. coachellae), and triple-ribbed 
milk-vetch (Astragalus tricarinatus).
    The take prohibitions of the Federal Endangered Species Act do not 
apply to listed plants on private land unless their destruction on 
private land is in violation of State law. Nevertheless, we expect that 
the Coachella Valley Council of Governments and its member 
jurisdictions will consider plants in the Multispecies Plan and request 
permits for them to the extent that State law applies.
    The 1,206,578-acre (1,885 square-mile) planning area for the 
Multispecies Plan is located in the central portion of Riverside 
County, California. It generally is defined by the ridgelines of the 
San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, and Little San Bernardino Mountains, extending 
to the Imperial and San Diego County lines from the Cabazon/San 
Gorgonio Pass area in the northwest to, and including, portions of the 
Salton Sea in the southeast.
    Approximately 45 percent of the planning area consists of lands 
under the ownership and management of the Bureau of Land Management, 
while private lands total about 43 percent. The remaining 12 percent 
includes native American, State, and other public and quasi-public 
    The Multispecies Plan is being designed to assure the conservation 
of adequate habitat and ecological processes for the protection and 
long-term viability of populations of the target species that are 
either listed as threatened or endangered, are proposed for listing, or 
are believed to have a high probability of being proposed for listing 
in the future if they are not protected by the Multispecies Plan. A 
critical consideration of the Plan is allowing key ecological 
processes, such as sand movement by wind and water, to support a 
shifting network of sand dunes essential to the well being of the 
target species. Plan developers are considering conservation of core 
habitat areas and linkages primarily through protection and management 
of existing public and quasi-public lands, and through acquisition of 
additional lands by cooperating Federal, State, and local governments 
from willing sellers throughout the planning area. The linkage areas 
connecting core habitat areas are intended to assure the long-term 
protection of movement or migratory corridors through which wildlife 
populations can mix and perpetuate a healthy gene pool.

Project Alternatives

    A range and mix of public and private lands are under consideration 
and will be analyzed as project alternatives in the Impact Statement/
Report, including a ``No Project'' alternative that assesses the 
efficacy of species and habitat protections, as well as associated 
impacts. Each alternative is summarized below.
    No Project Alternative: Under this alternative, an area-wide 

[[Page 39922]]

Plan would not be adopted. Hence Federal and State incidental take 
permits would be issued incrementally for individual projects. 
Assemblage of an effective preserve system would be unlikely. Over 
time, additional species would likely become listed, further 
complicating continued urban development. The land development permit 
process would continue to be lengthy, costly, and uncertain.
    Existing Conservation Lands Alternative: Only existing reserves and 
other public and private conservation lands with habitat for target 
species would be included in this alternative. The type, amount and 
location of lands conserved under this alternative would be 
insufficient to obtain incidental take permit coverage for most, if not 
all, of the target species. This alternative would not streamline 
development permit processing.
    Core Habitat, Ecological Processes and Linkages Alternative: 
Developed by the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Multispecies 
Plan, this alternative focuses on protecting core habitat areas of 
sufficient size and long-term viability for the protection of target 
species and natural communities. This alternative also includes 
protection of essential ecological processes and wildlife movement 
    Expanded Core Habitat, Ecological Processes and Linkages 
Alternative: Based upon the previous alternative, this enhanced 
conservation alternative would include additional habitat, ecological 
processes and wildlife corridors to further ensure functionality.
    Avoid or Minimize Incidental Take Alternative: Under this 
alternative, most remaining viable habitat for target species, and 
associated ecological process and wildlife corridor lands in the 
planning area would be incorporated into the preserve system. 
Conservation would focus on all large habitat blocks within the 
composite range of target species and would allow development of all 
isolated habitat fragments. Little economic incentive for private land-
owner participation would be available and immediate land acquisition 
would likely be required to address the resulting take of private 

Alternative Funding and Implementation Mechanisms

    Estimates of the costs associated with the dedication, acquisition, 
and management of lands to be protected in perpetuity under the 
Multispecies Plan have not yet been completed. Substantial Federal and 
State assets are currently proposed for inclusion in the Plan, as are 
county, local, and private lands. Several alternative approaches are 
under consideration.
    Tool Box Approach: This implementation mechanism may take the form 
of zoning overlays, General Plan policies, ordinances, development 
fees, and mitigation ratios. Tools that may be used include: (a) 
Conservation easements, (b) density transfer and cluster development, 
(c) conservation banks, (d) donation of lands for tax benefits, and (e) 
inclusion of land in a habitat transaction system with pre-assigned 
habitat values or credits.
    Immediate Purchase of All At-Risk Lands: This alternative 
represents the optimum implementation mechanism but would require the 
immediate or short-term availability of substantial funding for 
purchase of land and conservation easements. Potential funding sources 
may include biological resource impact-fees assessed to future 
development, State and Federal grants, government loan guarantees, 
landfill tipping fees, and local sales tax.
    Combined Public Funds/Mitigation Fee for Land Acquisition and 
Management: This approach includes the combined use of State and 
Federal grants, as well as the payment of a standardized impact 
mitigation fees for development of lands outside conservation areas. 
Revenues from existing or new tax streams, bond issues, landfill 
tipping fees, and other sources are also being explored. Continued 
private contributions are expected to be available for habitat 
    In addition, the Forest Service, pursuant to the National Forest 
Management Act of 1976, and the Bureau of Land Management, pursuant to 
the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, have authority to 
acquire, excess, exchange and transfer Federal lands, and will be the 
agencies primarily responsible for furthering the Federal realty 
actions. The State of California also acquires lands for conservation 
purposes through the Wildlife Conservation Board, the Department of 
Parks and Recreation, and the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy.

Proposed Amendment of the California Desert Conservation Plan

    The Bureau of Land Management is participating as a responsible 
agency in the planning process. To ensure that its land use decisions 
are in conformance with the Multispecies Plan, the Bureau proposes to 
amend the California Desert Conservation Area Plan in compliance with 
the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy 
Management Act of 1976, and the Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR 
part 1500 and 43 CFR part 1610).
    The Bureau will use the Impact Statement/Report prepared for the 
Multispecies Plan as the Environmental Impact Statement for its 
proposed amendment to the Desert Conservation Plan. The Bureau will 
prepare a Record of Decision separate from that of the Fish and 
Wildlife Service. The proposed plan amendment will address changes in 
Bureau land use classifications, identify public lands for exchange to 
augment the multi-species reserve system, and designate new Areas of 
Critical Environmental Concern. The proposed plan amendment will take 
into consideration biological, botanical, cultural, wilderness, mineral 
and other natural resources, as well as use of the public lands for 
recreation, mineral extraction, utility corridors and other uses. 
Nothing in this proposed plan amendment shall have the effect of 
terminating any validly issued rights-of-way or customary operation, 
maintenance, repair, and replacement activities in such rights-of-ways 
in accordance with Sections 509(a) and 701(a) of the Federal Land 
Policy Management Act of 1976.

    Dated: June 21, 2000.
Elizabeth H. Stevens,
Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Region 1, 
Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 00-16383 Filed 6-27-00; 8:45 am]