[Federal Register: September 7, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 174)]
[Page 54295-54297]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP) for Pima County, Arizona

AGENCY: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement 
(EIS) and notice of public scoping meetings related to the SDCP.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), this 
notice advises the public that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service) intends to prepare an EIS to evaluate the impacts of and 
alternatives for the possible issuing an incidental take permit, 
pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (Act), to Pima County. Pima County proposes to be an 
applicant for an incidental take permit, through development and 
implementation of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan (SDCP), which 
will serve as a habitat conservation plan, as required by the Act for 
issuance of an incidental take permit. The SDCP will provide the 
measures to minimize and mitigate the effects of the proposed taking on 
listed and sensitive species and the habitats upon which they depend.

DATES AND ADDRESSES: Written comments on conservation alternatives and 
issues to be addressed in the EIS are requested by October 23, 2000, 
and should be sent to Mr. David Harlow, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 2321 West Royal Palm Road, Suite 103, Phoenix, AZ, 
85021 at 602/640-2720. Oral and written comments will also be accepted 
at the public scoping meetings to be held at the following locations:

October 4, 2000, 3-5 PM, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Gallery, 2021 N. 
Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ 85743.

October 4, 2000, 6-8 PM, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Gallery, 2021 N. 
Kinney Road, Tucson, AZ 85743.

    For the information of the general public, names and addresses of 
anyone who comments may and can be disclosed under the Freedom of 
Information Act.

Barrett, Assistant Field Supervisor, Tucson Suboffice, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 300 West Congress, Room 6J, Tucson, AZ, 85701, at 
520/670-4617, or Mr. David Harlow, Field Supervisor, Arizona State 
Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2321 West Royal Palm Road, 
Suite 103, Phoenix, AZ, 85021 at 602/640-2720.
    For Further Information on the SDCP, Contact: Mr. Paul Fromer, 
RECON, 1927 Fifth Avenue, Suite 200, San Diego, California 92101-2358 
at 619/308-9333. Information on the purpose, membership, meeting 
schedules, and documents associated with the SDCP may be obtained on 
the Internet at http://www.co.pima.az.us/cmo/sdcp/index.html.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This notice advises the public that the 
Service intends to gather information necessary to determine impacts 
and formulate alternatives for an EIS related to the potential issuance 
of an incidental take permit to Pima County, Arizona, and the 
development and implementation of the SDCP, which will provide measures 
to minimize and mitigate the effects of the incidental take of 
federally listed species.


    Pima County, Arizona, is home to over 800,000 residents, and the 
population is expected to reach 1.2 million by the year 2020. The Pima 
County Board of Supervisors is responsible for the protection of those 
lands in unincorporated Pima County that are of environmental, 
cultural, or historic importance. Given Pima County's rapid growth 
rate, Pima County has recognized the need to balance economic, 
environmental, and human interests by implementing a regional 
ecosystem-based multi-species conservation program.
    Section 9 of the Act prohibits the ``taking'' of threatened and 
endangered species. The Service may, however, under limited 
circumstances, issue permits to take federally listed and candidate 
species, incidental to, and not the purpose of, otherwise lawful 
activities. Regulations governing permits for endangered species are at 
50 CFR 17.22. The term ``take'' under the Act means to harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt 
to engage in any such conduct. The proposed permit would allow approved 
incidental take outside of proposed preserve lands within the proposed 
permit boundaries.
    Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act and regulations at 50 CFR 17.32, 
contain provisions for issuing incidental take permits to non-federal 
entities for the take of endangered and threatened species, provided 
the following criteria are met:
    1. The taking will be incidental;
    2. The applicant will, to the maximum extent practicable, minimize 
and mitigate the impacts of such taking;
    3. The applicant will ensure that adequate funding for the Plan 
will be provided;
    4. The taking will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the 
survival and recovery of the species in the wild; and
    5. Any other measures that the Service may require as being 

[[Page 54296]]

or appropriate for the purposes of the Plan are met.
    The proposed action is the issuance of an incidental take permit 
for listed and sensitive species in Pima County, pursuant to section 
10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. Pima 
County will develop and implement the SDCP, which will serve as a 
habitat conservation plan, as required by section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act. The SDCP will provide measures to minimize and 
mitigate the effects of the taking on listed and sensitive species and 
their habitats. The biological goal of the SDCP is to ensure the long-
term survival of the full spectrum of plants and animals that are 
indigenous to Pima County through maintaining or improving the habitat 
conditions and ecosystem functions necessary for their survival.
    Activities proposed for coverage under the incidental take permit 
include lawful activities that would occur outside the proposed 
preserve, and include, but are not limited to, maintenance of county 
operations, implementation of capital improvement projects, and 
issuance of land use related permits, including those for development.
    Pima County is expected to apply for an incidental take permit for 
the following federally listed species (proposed covered species): the 
lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris curasoae yerbabuenae), 
southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus), cactus 
ferruginous pygmy owl (Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum), desert pupfish 
(Cyprinodon macularius),
    Pima pineapple cactus (Coryphantha scheeri var. robustispina), 
Nichol's Turk's head cactus (Echinocactus horizonthalonius var. 
nicholli), and Huachuaca water umbel (Lilaeopsis schaffneriana 
recurva). In addition, Pima County will seek to address and cover the 
Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis), a species proposed for 
listing, and the Gila chub (Gila intermedia) and the Acuna cactus 
(Echinomastus erectocentrus var. acunensis), both of which are 
candidates for listing. Pima County is also seeking to address and 
cover at least 50 other rare and/or sensitive species that occur in the 
County. Unlisted species that are addressed as if they were listed, and 
that are found to be adequately conserved by the SDCP, will be 
automatically permitted for take should they be listed as federally 
threatened or endangered species at some time in the future. Numerous 
other listed and sensitive species for which Pima County is not seeking 
permit coverage will also benefit from the conservation measures 
provided in the SDCP.
    The purpose of and need for the EIS and proposed SDCP are:(1) to 
ensure the long-term survival of the full spectrum of plants and 
animals that are indigenous to Pima County, through maintaining or 
improving the habitat conditions and ecosystems necessary for their 
survival; and, (2) to provide the framework for a combination of 
actions to protect and enhance the natural environment through 
comprehensive, long-range planning. This will ensure that the County's 
natural and urban environments not only can coexist, but also can 
develop an interdependent relationship with one another, thus guiding 
already approved public bond investments and conservation and 
preservation actions, defining Federal program and funding priorities, 
and establishing a regional preference for the expenditure of State 
funds to preserve and protect State Trust lands threatened by 
urbanization. The Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan contains the 
following six elements: (1) Ranch conservation, (2) historic and 
cultural preservation, (3) riparian restoration, (4) mountain parks, 
(5) habitat, biological and ecological corridor conservation, and (6) 
critical and sensitive habitat preservation.
    In October of 1998 a draft Sonoran Desert Conservation Concept Plan 
was proposed by Pima County. During a three-month comment period, 
nearly 200 written responses were received. The SDCP was adopted in 
concept by Pima County in March of 1999 to frame future regional 
conservation planning. An 84 member Steering Committee and numerous 
technical teams were formed.
    It was also agreed to pursue an ecosystem-based approach to 
developing the SDCP for interim and long-term compliance with 
applicable endangered species and environmental laws and to implement 
conservation and protection measures for species and habitats covered 
in the SDCP.
    It is anticipated that Pima County will request permit coverage for 
a period of 30-50 years. Implementation of the SDCP will result in the 
establishment of a preserve system that will provide for the 
conservation of covered species and their habitats in perpetuity. 
Research and monitoring, in combination with adaptive management, will 
be used to facilitate accomplishment of these goals.
    The proposed action and alternatives to be analyzed in the EIS will 
be assessed against a No Action/No Project alternative, which assumes 
that some or all of the current and future projects proposed in Pima 
County would be implemented individually, one at a time, and be in 
compliance with the ESA. The No Action/No Project alternative implies 
that the impacts from these potential projects on sensitive species and 
habitats would be evaluated and mitigated on a project-by-project 
basis, as is currently the case. Individual ESA Section 10(a) permits 
would be required for any activities involving take of federally listed 
species due to non-federal projects/actions. Without a coordinated, 
comprehensive, ecosystem-based conservation approach for the region, 
listed species may not be adequately addressed by individual project-
specific mitigation requirements, unlisted candidate and sensitive 
species would not receive proactive actions intended to benefit them 
and prevent their listing, and project-specific mitigation would be 
less cost effective and piecemeal and would not help Federal and non-
federal agencies work toward recovery of listed species.
Urban land uses, including residential, commercial, and industrial 
Water resources, including hydrology and water quality
Air resources
Cultural and historical resources
Ranching practices and livestock grazing
Mineral resources
Utility rights-of-way
Fire management
Social and economic resources
Environmental justice

    The Service will conduct an environmental review that analyzes the 
proposed action, as well as a range of reasonable alternatives and the 
associated impacts of each. The EIS will be the basis for the Service's 
evaluation of impacts to the species and to the environment, and the 
range of alternatives to be addressed. The EIS is expected to provide 
biological descriptions of species and habitats and socioeconomic 
effects of the proposed action to be affected by the SDCP.
    Comments and suggestions are invited from all interested parties to 
ensure that a range of issues and alternatives related to the proposed 
action are identified. The review of this project will be conducted 
according to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act 
of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), National Environmental 
Policy Act Regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508), and other appropriate 
Federal laws, regulations, policies and guidance.

[[Page 54297]]

    Related Project Documentation--It is anticipated that the EIS 
process will make full use (including incorporation by reference, as 
appropriate, pursuant to NEPA) of documents prepared by Pima County and 
other entities regarding the environmental and socioeconomic issues in 
the project area, copies of which will be available for public 
inspection at the Pima County Administrator's Office, 130 West 
Congress, 10th floor, Tucson AZ 85701.
    After the environmental review is completed, the Service will 
publish a notice of availability and a request for comment on the draft 
EIS and Pima County's permit application, which will include the SDCP.
    The draft EIS is expected to be completed by December, 2002.

    Dated: August 31, 2000.
Domenick R. Ciccone,
Acting Regional Director, Southwest Region, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
[FR Doc. 00-22903 Filed 9-6-00; 8:45 am]