[Federal Register: October 31, 2002 (Volume 67, Number 211)]
[Page 66413-66415]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for Issuance of 
Incidental Take Permits Associated With a Habitat Conservation Plan for 
the Kern Valley Floor, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, the Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service) advises the public that we intend to 
gather information necessary to prepare, in coordination with Kern 
County, a joint Environmental Impact Statement /Environmental Impact 
Report (EIS/EIR) on the Kern County Valley Floor Habitat Conservation 
Plan (Plan). The Plan covers an area of 3,110 square miles (1,990,400 
acres) of the Valley Floor in Kern County, California. Kern County and 
others intend to request Endangered Species Act permits for 11 species 
federally listed as threatened or endangered and 17 unlisted species 
that may become listed during the term of the permits. The permits are 
needed to authorize take of listed species that could occur as a result 
of urban and oil field development, and associated facilities.
    The Service provides this notice to: (1) Describe the proposed 
action and possible alternatives; (2) advise other Federal and State 
agencies, affected Tribes, and the public of our intent to prepare an 
EIS/EIR; (3) announce the initiation of a public scoping period; and 
(4) obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues to be 
included in the EIS/EIR. While written comments are encouraged, we will 
accept both written and oral comments at the meetings. In addition, you 
may submit written comments by mail or facsimile transmission.

DATES: Public meetings will be held on the following dates: (1) 
November 19, 2002, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Taft, California; and (2) November 
19, 2002, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Bakersfield, California. Written comments 
should be received on or before December 2, 2002.

ADDRESSES: The meeting locations are: (1) Taft-218 Taylor Street, Taft 
Veteran's Hall, Room 1; and (2) Bakersfield-2700 M Street, 
Kern County Public Services Building, First Floor Conference Room. 
Information, written comments, or questions related to the preparation 
of the EIS/EIR and the National Environmental Policy Act process should 
be submitted to Vicki Campbell, Division Chief, Conservation Planning, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 
2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, California 95825; FAX (916) 414-

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sheila Larsen, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, or Vicki Campbell, Division Chief, Conservation Planning, at 
the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office at (916) 414-6600.


Reasonable Accommodation

    Persons needing reasonable accommodations in order to attend and 
participate in the public meetings should contact Vicki Campbell at 
(916) 414-6600 as soon as possible. In order to allow sufficient time 
to process requests, please call no later than one week before the 
hearing. Information regarding this proposed action is available in 
alternative formats upon request.


    Section 9 of the Act and Federal regulation prohibit the ``take'' 
of animal species listed as endangered or threatened. Take is defined 
under the Act as harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture or collect listed animal species, or attempt to engage in such 
conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). However, under limited circumstances, the 
Service may issue permits to authorize ``incidental take'' of

[[Page 66414]]

listed animal species. ``Incidental take'' is defined by the Act as 
take that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, carrying out an 
otherwise lawful activity. Regulations governing permits for threatened 
species and endangered species, respectively, are at 50 CFR 17.32 and 
50 CFR 17.22.
    The Plan will address incidental take of 28 covered species 
(species for which incidental take authorization is requested). These 
include the federally listed as endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard 
(Gambelia sila), Tipton kangaroo rat (Dipodomys nitratoides 
nitratoides), giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens), San Joaquin kit 
fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica), Buena Vista Lake shrew (Sorex ornatus 
relictus), California jewelflower (Caulanthus californicus), Kern 
mallow (Eremalche kernensis), San Joaquin woolly threads (Monolopia 
congdonii), Bakersfield cactus (Opuntia basilaris var. treleasei), and 
the threatened Hoover's eriastrum (Eriastrum hooveri), San Joaquin 
Adobe Sunburst (Pseudobahia peirsonii), and 17 currently unlisted 
species and their habitats.
    The proposed geographic area to be included in the Plan can be 
generally described as that portion of the San Joaquin Valley floor 
within Kern County, bounded by San Luis Obispo County to the west, 
Kings and Tulare counties to the north, and the 2,000-foot elevation 
contour to the east and south. On the west side, portions of the Plan 
area are at elevations greater than 2,000 feet. The project area 
includes approximately 3,110 square miles (1,990,400 acres). The Plan 
excludes several areas that are covered under separate conservation 
planning efforts. Excluded areas include the Coles Levee Ecosystem 
Preserve, Elk Hills (formerly Naval Petroleum Reserve in California No. 
1), Buena Vista Naval Petroleum Reserve in California No. 2, and the 
area covered by the existing Metropolitan Bakersfield Habitat 
Conservation Plan. However, the Plan will include oil and gas 
production activities within the Metropolitan Bakersfield Habitat 
Conservation Plan area, as those activities were not authorized for 
take under the Metropolitan Bakersfield Habitat Conservation Plan. Oil 
and gas production activities will occur within 497,176 acres in the 
Plan area, as well as 90,083 acres in the Metropolitan Bakersfield 
Habitat Conservation Plan area.
    Under the Plan, effects of urbanization and other activities are 
expected to be minimized and mitigated through participation in the 
conservation program, which will be described in the Plan. The focus of 
this conservation program is to provide long-term protection of covered 
species by protecting biological communities in the Plan area, 
including nonnative grasslands, valley saltbush scrub, and valley sink 
scrub. The proposed major conservation components are described below.
    Habitat Zones. The valley floor is broken up into three zones: Red 
Zone (128,594 acres), Green Zone (774,348 acres), and White Zone 
(1,087,241 acres). These habitat zones establish conservation priority 
of lands within the Plan area based on the relative conservation value 
of the habitat found in each zone. There are eight individual Red Zones 
ranging from 480 to 50,160 acres. The Red Zones contain the highest 
quality habitat for covered species. A number of rare plant occurrences 
are also found in the Red Zones. The Green Zone has the second highest 
habitat quality and generally includes areas around the western, 
southern, and eastern edges of the Plan area. The White Zone contains 
approximately 55 percent of the total Plan area. The White Zone 
generally has less valuable habitat and occurs throughout the central 
and eastern portions of the valley floor and is composed mostly of 
lands in active agriculture. These habitat zones serve as the basis for 
the Compensation Framework.
    Compensation Framework and Options. The Compensation Framework is a 
compensate-as-you-go approach that encourages conservation of Red Zone 
and Green Zone habitats and creates a system of conservation credits 
based on habitat quality. Credits are created by willing landowners and 
purchased by project proponents on a free market basis. Except in 
limited circumstances, White Zone land will not qualify for 
conservation preserves.
    Several compensation options are described in the Plan. The first 
option, Direct Fee Payment, would allow project proponents to pay a 
predetermined fee to Kern County to purchase conservation credits. The 
County would then pool those fees to obtain conservation lands through 
either fee title, purchase of conservation easements, or a combination 
of both.
    The second option, Industry/Agency Conservation Strategy, would 
address incidental take of covered species that may occur as a result 
of certain activities associated with major land uses (e.g., oil and 
gas, water systems, urban development, and public infrastructure). 
Within this option, three strategies are proposed for dealing with oil 
field development, urban development, and public infrastructure 
development. Within the Red Zone all cumulative development cannot 
exceed 10 percent. The oil strategy proposes an up-front, one-time 
compensation for continued oil field development within the 
administrative boundaries of the California Division of Oil, Gas, and 
Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) defined oil fields. The one-time 
compensation would provide 3,000 acres of compensation for future oil 
activities associated with 1,000 new wells (approximate 3 acres of 
disturbance per oil well) within the ``step out'' areas defined by 
DOGGR. The urban development strategy would allow certain permitted 
activities, and place a limit on the size of individual projects. 
Permitted activities would include residential development, commercial 
development; industrial development, private recreational facilities; 
miscellaneous facilities associated with urbanization, and electrical 
generating facilities supplying urban power. The strategy for public 
infrastructure would include certain activities undertaken by various 
departments of Kern County and special districts. The Water District 
Strategy allows operating and maintenance activities, and certain Water 
District development projects to be undertaken.
    The third option, Direct Negotiation, would allow a project 
proponent to address compliance, under the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended, and the California Endangered Species Act, 
independent of this Plan.
    The Plan also contains take avoidance and minimization measures 
that include, but are not limited to, relocation of individuals from 
the project site, avoidance of active San Joaquin kit fox natal dens, 
hand excavation of San Joaquin kit fox non-natal dens, and avoidance of 
active kangaroo rat burrow complexes by 50 feet. Safety Nets would also 
be established to ensure that no more than 10 percent disturbance would 
be allowed in each Red Zone; disturbance in the Green Zone would not 
exceed 25 percent; and a minimum width of 1 mile of connection between 
occurrences of contiguous natural habitat would be maintained 
throughout the Red and Green Zones. Safety Nets are also part of the 
Rare Plant Conservation Strategy designed to protect specific plant 
species with localized and restricted distributions.

Environmental Impact Statement/Report

    Kern County and the Service have selected URS Corporation to 
prepare the Draft EIS/EIR. The joint document will

[[Page 66415]]

be prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act 
and the California Environmental Quality Act. Although URS Corporation 
will prepare the EIS/EIR, the Service will be responsible for the scope 
and content of the document for National Environmental Policy Act 
purposes, and the County will be responsible for the scope and content 
of the document for California Environmental Quality Act purposes.
    The EIS/EIR will consider the proposed action (issuance of section 
10(a)(1)(B) Endangered Species Act permits), and a reasonable range of 
alternatives. Potential alternatives may include a compensation ratio 
unique to each of the three zones for habitat disturbance, assigning a 
relative conservation credit value per acre within each habitat zone, 
and a no action alternative. Under the compensation ratio alternative, 
the Red Zone lands would have a compensation ratio of 9:1; the Green 
Zone, 6:1; and the White Zone, 3:1. Compensation, in the form of 
habitat protection, would be in place prior to impacts. Under the 
conservation credit value alternative, a compensation ratio of not more 
than 3:1, based on conservation credits, would be used to determine 
compensatory requirements. Credits would be generated by the permanent 
preservation of habitat, restoration, granting of conservation 
easements, and other measures. The value of the credits and the amount 
of required compensation would be based on the conservation value of 
the land preserved and impacted, respectively. Under the no action 
alternative, the Service would not issue section 10(a)(1)(B) permits.
    Potentially significant impacts on biological resources, land use, 
air quality, water quality, mineral resources (oil and gas), water 
resources (treatment, storage, and conveyance systems), and economics 
could occur directly or indirectly with implementation of the proposed 
action and alternatives. Land development could cause incidental take 
of federally listed species for which the Plan proposes to provide a 
method of compensation that could achieve protection of covered species 
through habitat conservation. Also, the proposed Habitat Zones could 
potentially influence development patterns and associated land use 
decisions, oil and gas activities, and development of water systems 
within the affected area. For all potentially significant impacts, the 
EIS/EIR will identify mitigation measures where feasible.
    Environmental review of the Plan will be conducted in accordance 
with the requirements of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, as 
amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), its implementing regulations (40 CFR 
parts 1500-1508), other applicable regulations, and Service procedures 
for compliance with those regulations. This notice is being furnished 
in accordance with Section 1501.7 of the National Environmental Policy 
Act to obtain suggestions and information from other agencies and the 
public on the scope of issues to be addressed in the EIS/EIR. We invite 
written comments from interested parties to ensure that the full range 
of issues related to the permit requests are addressed and that all 
significant issues are identified. All comments received, including 
names and addresses, will become part of the official administrative 
record and may be made available to the public.
    The primary purpose of the scoping process is to identify, rather 
than to debate, significant issues related to the proposed action. 
Interested persons are encouraged to provide comments on the scope of 
issues and alternatives to be addressed in the Draft EIS/EIR.

    Dated: October 24, 2002.
David G. Paullin,
Acting Deputy Manager, Region 1, California/Nevada Operations Office, 
Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 02-27659 Filed 10-30-02; 8:45 am]