[Federal Register: July 21, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 141)]
[Page 45391-45394]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of an Environmental Assessment and Receipt of 
Applications for Incidental Take Permits for the Assessment District 
161 Habitat Conservation Plan in Western Riverside County, California

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of applications.


SUMMARY: Three public agencies and nine private entities (the 
Applicants) have applied to the Fish and Wildlife Service for 
incidental take permits pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. The Applicants are: 
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; Rancho California 
Water District; Murrieta Valley Unified School District; Obed 
Properties, Incorporated; Winchester 700, Limited Liability Company; 
Pulte Homes Corporation; Butterfield Development Company, Incorporated; 
Hill Country, Limited; Buie Communities, Limited Liability Company; 
Crowne Meadows Limited Partnership; Parcel Five, Incorporated; and SDI 
Communities, Limited Liability Company. We anticipate a future 
application from the County of Riverside; however, we do not intend to 
publish a separate notice for receipt of that application because the 
Assessment District 161 Habitat Conservation Plan (District Plan) and 
our Environmental Assessment comprehensively address all applications. 
The Applicants request a 30-year permit that would authorize take of 21 
covered species (4 listed species, and 17 unlisted species should they 
be listed during the term of the permit). Take would be incidental to 
otherwise lawful activities associated with urban development of 2,028 
acres of habitat in western Riverside County, California.
    We request comments from the public on the permit applications, and 
our Environmental Assessment, which are available for review. The 
permit applications include the proposed District Plan and an 
accompanying Implementing Agreement (legal contract). The District Plan 
describes the proposed project, the measures that the Applicants would 
undertake to minimize and mitigate take of the covered species, and the 
management program proposed for the conserved habitat.
    We provide this notice pursuant to section 10(a) of the Endangered 
Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act regulations (40 CFR 
1506.6). All comments that we receive, including names and addresses, 
will become part of the official administrative record and may be made 
available to the public.

DATES: We must receive your written comments on or before September 19, 

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Mr. Ken Berg, Field Supervisor, 
Fish and Wildlife Service, 2730 Loker Avenue West, Carlsbad, California 
92008; facsimile (760) 431-5902.

Wildlife Biologist, or Ms. Michelle Shaughnessy, Supervisory Fish and 
Wildlife Biologist, at the above address or call (760) 431-9440.


Availability of Documents

    You may obtain copies of these documents for review by contacting 
the above office (see ADDRESSES). Documents also will be available for 
public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
above address and at the following libraries: City of Murrieta Library, 
39589 Los Alamos Road, Murrieta, California; and Temecula Branch 
Library, 41000 County Center Drive, Temecula, California.


    Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act and Federal regulation 
prohibit the ``take'' of fish or wildlife species listed as endangered 
or threatened, respectively. Take of listed fish or wildlife is defined 
under the Act to include kill, harm, or harass. The Service may, under 
limited circumstances, issue permits to authorize incidental take; 
i.e., take that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, the carrying 
out of an otherwise lawful activity. Regulations governing

[[Page 45392]]

incidental take permits for threatened and endangered species are found 
in 50 CFR 17.32 and 17.22, respectively.
    The take prohibitions of the Act do not apply to listed plants on 
private land unless their destruction on private land is in violation 
of State law. Nevertheless, the Applicants consider plants in the 
District Plan and request permits for them to the extent that State law 
    The Applicants request a 30-year permit that would authorize take 
of 4 listed species and 17 unlisted species should they be listed 
during the term of the permit: endangered California Orcutt grass 
(Orcuttia californica); endangered Riverside fairy shrimp 
(Streptocephalus woottoni); endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly 
(Euphydryas editha quino); threatened coastal California gnatcatcher 
(Polioptila californicus californicus); Palmer's grapplinghook 
(Harpagonella palmeri); long-spined spineflower (Chorizanthe 
polygonoides); western spadefoot toad (Spea hammondii); San Diego 
horned lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum blainvillei); orange-throated 
whiptail lizard (Cnemidophorus hyperythrus); burrowing owl (Speotyto 
cunicularia); southern California rufous-crowned sparrow (Aimophila 
ruficeps canescens); Bell's sage sparrow (Amphispiza belli belli) 
grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum); American peregrine falcon 
(Falco peregrinus anatus); Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii); 
ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis); golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos); 
long-eared owl (Asio otis); merlin (Falco lineatus); sharp-shinned hawk 
(Accipiter strianus); and white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus).
    The District Plan area is located adjacent to the cities of 
Temecula and Murrieta within western Riverside County, California. 
Generally the District Plan area lies to the east of Interstate 15, 
south of Clinton Keith Road, and adjacent to Highway 79. The 
Southwestern Riverside Multiple Species Reserve and Lake Skinner 
Recreation Area are northeast of the District Plan area. Due to already 
existing development patterns in the County, the District and adjacent 
lands lie within the only possible landscape linkage between the Lake 
Skinner Core and the Lake Mathews multiple species reserve system. 
Maintaining a viable linkage between these areas is key to successful 
regional reserve design in western Riverside County and will contribute 
to the proposed Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. Habitat 
acquisition proposed under the District Plan would contribute 
regionally to conservation within this viable linkage area. Land uses 
surrounding the project sites include residential developments, 
commercial centers, undeveloped land with native vegetation, and 
agricultural fields.
    The District Plan identifies 19 covered projects that could result 
in take despite the avoidance and minimization measures proposed in the 
Plan. The covered projects are the residential developments of Crowne 
Hill, Roripaugh Ranch, SDI Communities, Silver Hawk Specific Plan, 
Costa-Pulte, Murrieta Springs, Rancho Miramosa, Parcel 5, Lincoln 
Ranch, Buie Communities, Los Alamos High School, San Diego/Rancho 
California Water District Pipeline No. 6, EM-20 Turnout and 
Transmission Main, San Diego Pipeline No.3 Bypass, and Nicholas 
Reservoir. In addition, in anticipation of an application, the County 
of Riverside projects have been included in the analysis: the extension 
of Butterfield Stage Road, widening portions of Winchester and Newport 
Roads, and the expansion of the French Valley Airport runway and the 
Southwest Justice Center.
    Several of the covered projects have sought or will, in the future, 
seek a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) pursuant to 
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act for effects to Corps-jurisdictional 
wetlands and non-wetland waters of the U.S. The District Plan does not 
address impacts to Corps jurisdictional areas. Federal wetland 
permitting would remain subject to the Fish and Wildlife Coordination 
Act and could result in additional avoidance, minimization and or 
mitigation measures not contemplated in this Plan.
    Riverside County initiated development of the District Plan in 
coordination with the project proponents within and around Assessment 
District 161. The County formed the District to fund public 
infrastructure. The District is encumbered with approximately $85 
million of debt. The County initiated a refinancing of the District 161 
bond to lower the interest rate; however, the refinancing could not 
proceed without assurances of development repaying the debt. Therefore, 
to facilitate these assurances, the affected landowners, along with the 
County, developed the District Plan to provide for both assurance of 
conservation and development within the Plan boundary.
    Take of covered species would occur during construction of single 
and multi-family housing, commercial and light industrial facilities, 
schools, parks, associated infra-structure, and public projects within 
a 3,094-acre footprint. Collectively, the projects would permanently 
eliminate 2,028 acres of suitable habitat for the covered species (659 
acres of coastal sage scrub, 89 acres of chaparral, 7 acres of coast 
live oak woodland, 7 acres of riparian habitat, 3 acres of stream bed, 
554 acres of non-native grassland, 10 acres of eucalyptus woodland, and 
699 acres of agricultural land).
    The Applicants propose to conserve 1,450 acres of habitat within 
the District Plan Area: 627 acres of coastal sage scrub, 61 acres of 
grassland, 77 acres chaparral, 10 acres of eucalyptus woodland , 568 
acres of agricultural lands, 10 acres of coast live oak woodland, 33 
acres of riparian habitat, 1 acre of pond, and 4 acres of stream bed. 
Habitat would be conserved on nine properties in three areas: the 
Johnson and Roripaugh Ranch area, along Warm Springs Creek, and east of 
Interstate 215 near Clinton Keith Road. The largest of these areas (674 
acres) is on Johnson Ranch, of which 503 acres is used for ongoing 
agricultural operations. The Applicants propose to continue agriculture 
in its current footprint as a method of weed control.
    The following table shows the anticipated effects to each proposed 
covered species in terms of acres of habitat destroyed and conserved:

                                              Habitat         Habitat
                 Species                     destroyed       conserved
California Orcutt grass \1\.............               4               0
Palmer's grapplinghook..................           1,213             689
Long-spined spineflower.................           1,213             689
Riverside fairy shrimp \1\..............               4               0
Quino checkerspot butterfly.............           1,695           1,180
Western spadefoot toad..................           1,230             734
San Diego horned lizard.................           1,213             689
Orange-throated whiptail lizard.........           1,213             689

[[Page 45393]]

Coastal California gnatcatcher..........             748             703
Burrowing owl...........................             554              61
Southern California rufous-crowned                   660             627
Bell's sage sparrow.....................             748             704
Grasshopper sparrow.....................             554              61
Raptors.................................           1,219          1,341
\1\ California Orcutt grass and Riverside fairy shrimp may be adversely
  affected by destruction of a small portion of the Skunk Hollow vernal
  pool watershed. We do not anticipate direct loss of individuals.

    During the construction and operational phases of the covered 
projects, the Applicants propose to avoid and minimize impacts to 
covered species. These measures include best management practices; fire 
prevention; fuel management; access control; restriction of project 
footprints; dust control; restriction of lighting; monitoring of 
construction activities; revegetation of temporary disturbance areas; 
restrictions on the timing and nature of construction activities in and 
around occupied habitat; preconstruction surveys; buffers around 
riparian habitat; restrictions on use of invasive landscape species; 
and patrol, maintenance, and repair requirements.
    The Applicants propose to mitigate for destruction of habitat of 
the covered species by conserving:
    1. Approximately 1,180 acres of habitat for the Quino checkerspot 
butterfly (1,004 acres in the Skinner-Johnson metapopulation and 176 
acres in the Warm Springs metapopulation).
    2. Approximately 627 acres of coastal sage scrub and 77 acres of 
chaparral currently occupied by at least 50 pairs of coastal California 
gnatcatchers and providing habitat for the San Diego horned lizard, 
western spadefoot toad, orange-throated whiptail lizard, southern 
California rufous-crowned sparrow, Bell's sage sparrow, and raptors. 
The conserved habitat supports known populations of all of these 
    3. Approximately 46 acres of riparian and wetland habitats occupied 
by western spadefoot toads.
    4. Approximately 61 acres of grassland, including areas with clay 
soils. This would conserve habitat for Palmer's grapplinghook, long-
spined spineflower, western spadefoot toad, San Diego horned lizard, 
orange-throated whiptail lizard, burrowing owl, grasshopper sparrow, 
and raptors.
    In addition, the Applicant's propose a Quino checkerspot butterfly 
research and propagation program linked to the Vista Murrieta High 
School curriculum. The District Plan identifies the program goals as: 
(1) To study Quino checkerspot butterfly habitat and develop 
management/restoration techniques for application to conservation sites 
in Riverside County; (2) to propagate Quino checkerspot butterflies for 
release into conservation areas; and (3) to develop education programs 
in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District and at the University of 
California, Riverside, pertaining to Quino checkerspot butterfly 
biology and habitat. The effort would include a 3-year habitat 
restoration research program, a perpetual quino checkerspot propagation 
program, an on-site research facility, and a curriculum program in the 
Murrieta Valley Unified School District.
    The Applicants propose three habitat management phases for 
conserved lands: Interim, ongoing, and long-term. The interim 
management period would begin when an Applicant signs the Implementing 
Agreement and would end when management responsibilities are 
transferred to a conservation organization. Interim management would 
primarily involve protection of existing biological values and would be 
funded and provided by the property owner. The Applicants anticipate 
that most of the conservation areas would not have an interim 
management phase.
    The ongoing management period would begin when the conservation 
lands are transferred from individual property owners to a conservation 
organization and would end when or if management responsibilities are 
secured through completion and implementation of the Riverside County 
Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. Ongoing management would 
include exotic species monitoring and control, access control, 
monitoring of covered species, identification and ranking of 
restoration and enhancement opportunities, and implementation of a fire 
management plan and public outreach. Management of some of the 
properties would be funded by individual property owners.
    Long-term management would begin when or if management of the 
conservation lands is secured through the Riverside County Multiple 
Species Habitat Conservation Plan. If the County Multiple Species Plan 
is not adopted, then the Applicants propose to fund long-term 
management of the conservation areas through (1) a fee paid by the 
Applicants, (2) creation of a County Service Area, or (3) creation of a 
master Home Owners Association. In this contingency, the management 
effort would be the same as in the ongoing management phase.
    The Applicants propose to guarantee funding for ongoing and long-
term management of conservation lands by providing a bond, letter of 
credit, or other financial instrument acceptable to the Fish and 
Wildlife Service prior to the initiation of ground disturbing 
activities. The Applicants relied on a Property Analysis Record (a 
database used by the Center for Natural Lands Management) to estimate 
ongoing and long-term management costs.
    In the Environmental Assessment for our proposed action of issuing 
incidental take permits to the Applicants, we consider the 
environmental consequences of six alternatives. These alternatives are 
Implementation of the District Plan as Proposed, No Action, Reduced 
Coverage, District 161 Projects Only, District 161 Supplemental 
Assessment Area-wide Biological Mitigation, and Increased Conservation 
on Participating Properties.
    Under the No Action Alternative, the Applicants would pursue 
incidental take authorization separately. Under the Reduced Coverage 
Alternative, burrowing owl and grasshopper sparrow would not be 
included as covered species on the incidental take permit. Under the 
District 161 Projects Only Alternative, only projects that lie entirely 
within Assessment District 161 would be included in the Plan. The 
District 161 Supplemental Assessment Area-wide Biological Mitigation 
Alternative contemplates conserving the area identified for 
conservation in the Subsequent Environmental Impact Report prepared by 
the County of Riverside in 1992 for District 161. The Increased 
Conservation on Participating Properties Alternative examines

[[Page 45394]]

reduced impacts and a concomitant increase in conservation.
    We provide this notice pursuant to section 10(a) of the Endangered 
Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 
regulations (40 CFR 1506.6). We will evaluate the applications, 
associated documents, and comments submitted thereon to determine 
whether the applications meets the requirements of the National 
Environmental Policy Act regulations and section 10(a) of the 
Endangered Species Act. We will issue permits to the Applicants for 
incidental take of those species for which the permit issuance criteria 
are met. Our final permit decisions will be made no sooner than 60 days 
from the date of this notice.

    Dated: July 17, 2000.
Elizabeth H. Stevens,
Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, 
[FR Doc. 00-18485 Filed 7-20-00; 8:45 am]