[Federal Register: February 10, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 27)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 6240-6243]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-day Finding for 
a Petition To List Cymopterus deserticola (Desert Cymopterus) as 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status 


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding for a petition to list Cymopterus deserticola (desert 
cymopterus) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended. We find that the petition does present substantial scientific 
or commercial information indicating that listing this species may be 
warranted. Therefore, with the publication of this notice, we are 
initiating a status review of the species, and will issue a 12-month 
finding to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To help 
ensure the review is comprehensive, we are soliciting information and 
data regarding this species.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on January 29, 
2004. To be considered in the 12-month finding for this petition, 
comments and information must be submitted to us by April 12, 2004.

ADDRESSES: Data, information, written comments and materials, or 
questions concerning this petition and finding must be submitted to the 
Field Supervisor, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003. The 
petition finding and supporting information are available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the above 

Wildlife Service, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, at the above 
ADDRESSES (telephone 805/644-1766; facsimile 805/644-3958).



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that the Service make 
a finding on whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a 
species presents substantial scientific or commercial information 
indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. We are to base 
this finding on all information available to us at the time we make the 
finding. To the maximum extent practicable, this finding is to be made 
within 90 days of the receipt of the petition, and the finding is to be 
published promptly in the Federal Register. Our standard for 
substantial information within the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 
with regard to a 90-day petition finding is ``that amount of 
information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the 
measure proposed in the petition may be warranted'' (50 CFR 424.14(b)). 
If the finding is that substantial information was presented, we are 
required to promptly commence a review of the status of the species, if 
one has not already been initiated under our internal candidate 
assessment process.
    Cymopterus deserticola became a candidate for listing in 1975. In 
1993, the Service elevated the status of C. deserticola from a ``C2'' 
candidate to a ``C1'' candidate. In 1995, C. deserticola was returned 
to the ``C2'' category, citing reduced threats due to the development 
of the West Mojave Plan (BLM 2003). In 1996, the Service discontinued 
the recognition of ``C2'' candidates and henceforth referred to former 
``C1'' candidates as ``candidates'' (61 FR 7457).
    On April 15, 2002, the Service received a petition, dated March 29, 
2002, from Ileene Anderson of the California Native Plant Society and 
Daniel Patterson of the Center for Biological Diversity, requesting 
that the Service list Cymopterus deserticola (desert cymopterus) in the 
western Mojave Desert, California, as endangered pursuant to the Act, 
and to concurrently designate critical habitat. The petition requested 
endangered status because the petitioners assert very few C. 
deserticola remain in the western Mojave Desert, this species has 
suffered declines in recent years, and habitat destruction is ongoing 
and impending.
    In response to the petitioners' requests to list Cymopterus 
deserticola, we sent a letter to the petitioners on June 12, 2002, 
explaining that we would not be able to address their petition until 
fiscal year 2003. The reason for this delay was that court orders and 
settlement agreements required nearly

[[Page 6241]]

all of our listing funding for fiscal year 2002. At the end of fiscal 
year 2003, we were able to initiate work on the petition.


    Cymopterus deserticola is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae). 
C. deserticola varies from other members of the genus Cymopterus by 
having extremely dense, single-tiered umbels (flower stems radiating 
from a central point). Individual plants generally reach 6 inches (in) 
(15 centimeters (cm)) in height when in flower. The leaves are highly 
dissected (fernlike), grayish green and hairless, and are arranged in a 
basal rosette around the stem-root crown that is just below the soil 
    Cymopterus deserticola is unusual in having herbaceous aboveground 
leaves and inflorescences (flowering structure) that die back at the 
end of the growing season, leaving only the perennial taproot to 
overwinter. The leaves and inflorescences may only be visible in years 
when climatic conditions, including sufficient rainfall, are present. 
In some years, individuals may produce leaves but not inflorescences. 
In years when flowering does occur, the inflorescences emerge between 
March and May. When climatic conditions are unfavorable, including 
drought, the plant may persist solely as a dormant taproot. Although 
many perennial desert species survive periods of drought-induced 
dormancy, the lifespan of the perennial taproot of C. deserticola is 
    In 1915, Thomas Brandegee first described Cymopterus deserticola 
from material collected near Kramer Junction, San Bernardino County, 
California. The historic distribution of C. deserticola ranges from 
Apple Valley, San Bernardino County, northward approximately 55 miles 
(mi) (89 kilometers (km)) to the Cuddeback Lake basin in San Bernardino 
County, and westward approximately 45 mi (73 km) to the Rogers and 
Buckhorn Lake basins on Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB) in Kern and Los 
Angeles Counties (Mitchell et al. 1995; California Department of Fish 
and Game (CDFG) 2003).
    The Apple Valley populations are known only from historic 
collections made in 1915, 1920, and 1941. Recent attempts to locate 
Cymopterus deserticola in areas of the historic Apple Valley 
collections have been unsuccessful, and it appears likely that these 
populations have been lost to urban development and off-highway vehicle 
(OHV) use (Moe 1988). The Apple Valley populations are also disjunct by 
at least 28 mi (45 km) from the nearest known extant populations.
    The extant range of the species includes the Rogers Dry Lake basin, 
the Harper Dry Lake basin, the Cuddeback Dry Lake basin, and the 
Superior Dry Lake basin. This extant range extends approximately 50 mi 
(80 km) from east to west and 35 mi (56 km) from north to south. 
However, the plant usually occurs in areas adjacent to these ephemeral 
(transitory) lakes.
    Survey information is more complete for some areas than others. In 
addition, survey results are not always comparable because of the 
variation in how individuals tallied populations or colonies 
(concentrations of individuals) across the landscape. Moreover, surveys 
only count the individuals visible above ground; consequently, survey 
numbers represent only a subset of the total number of individuals that 
may be present at that population.
    The greatest number of individuals are located within the Rogers 
Dry Lake basin on Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB), where approximately 
14,093 plants were counted or estimated over 1,465 acres (ac) (593 
hectares (ha)) throughout the base in 67 survey areas (Mitchell et al. 
1995), including 8 previously documented populations from 1988 (Moe 
1988; CDFG 2001) and 2 historic collections. Prior to extensive surveys 
conducted in 1995, Cymopterus deserticola had been reported from 29 
populations on EAFB (Mitchell et al. 1995). The intensity of survey 
efforts for C. deserticola in 1995 and favorable weather contributed to 
the relocation of 19 of the previously known 29 populations, and the 
discovery of 57 new populations. Approximately 10,402 plants were 
counted in all the 19 populations in 1995, while fewer than 1,700 
plants had previously been reported for these 19 populations. Within 
this watershed, there are 9 other populations outside of EAFB in the 
Peerless Valley where C. deserticola has been observed. Less than 200 
plants have been cumulatively documented from these nine populations 
(Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 2001). In all, 76 C. deserticola 
populations were observed within this basin in 1995, with 14,362 plants 
    In 2003, EAFB undertook efforts to develop an initial habitat model 
for Cymopterus deserticola and two other plant species of concern, 
Calochortus striatus (Alkali mariposa lily) and Eriophyllum mohavense 
(Barstow wooly sunflower). Six new populations of C. deserticola were 
found on base and just to the north of the base during field 
verification of the habitat model (Wood 2003). Therefore, C. 
deserticola has occurred, or is known to occur, at 92 populations on 
    The Harper Dry Lake basin contains 6 populations, which together 
support at a maximum 200 Cymopterus deserticola plants (BLM 2001). The 
Cuddeback Dry Lake basin supports four populations of C. deserticola. 
In 2001, more than 40 plants were observed at these populations. At the 
Superior Dry Lake basin in 2001, Silverman and Cione discovered a range 
extension to the east. Forty plants in a single population were counted 
(BLM 2001).
    Cymopterus deserticola grows on loose sandy soils in Joshua tree 
woodland, saltbush scrub, and Mojavean desert scrub communities in the 
western Mojave Desert between 2,000 and 3,000 feet (610 and 915 meters) 
in elevation (Bagley 1998). The sandy soils that C. deserticola 
requires can be found in the following, alluvial fans and basins, 
stabilized sand fields, and occasionally sandy slopes of desert dry 
lake basins. This species typically grows in the cool, moist conditions 
of winter and early spring, and goes dormant as the warmer weather 
progresses in April and May (Bagley 1998).

Conservation Status

    The petitioners provided substantial amounts of information 
relating to threats to Cymopterus deserticola. Information on the 
status and threats to the species in relation to the five factors in 
section 4 of the Act are summarized below:
    With respect to factor A, the petitioners assert that the Rogers 
Dry Lake basin, which contains the largest concentration of known 
extant species occurrences, is threatened by habitat alteration and 
destruction due to military activities on EAFB. One example is the 
cleanup of the groundwater contamination from the Air Force Research 
Laboratory Propulsion Directorate (EAFB 1998) that underlies one of the 
documented study sites for Cymopterus deserticola as stated in the 1995 
Mitchell et al. report.
    The petitioners claim that utility construction has also adversely 
affected this species and its habitat in the southern portion of the 
Harper Dry Lake basin and the northern portion of Rogers Dry Lake in 
the BLM designated utility corridor and adjacent sites (Bagley 1998). 
Types of projects in utility corridors include construction of 
transmission lines and pipelines. An example is the Kern River Pipeline 
expansion project that potentially threatens six populations on private 
lands west of Kramer Junction between Highway 58 and EAFB. The 

[[Page 6242]]

and widening of State Highway 58 also potentially poses a threat to the 
species and its habitat.
    Other factors the petitioners claim are adversely affecting 
Cymopterus deserticola and its habitat include OHV activity, oil and 
gas development, and the BLM's Land Tenure Adjustment program. The BLM 
has assessed the habitat at the Superior Valley site as being in ``poor 
condition'' due to adverse affects from OHV recreation (BLM 1998). Oil 
and gas development may have increased the potential for destroying 
habitat for this species in the Cuddeback Dry Lake basin and Rogers Dry 
Lake. One population of C. deserticola occurs on BLM lands available 
for Land Tenure Adjustment, potentially removing another population 
from public management and making it available for private development.
    With regard to factor B, the petitioners state no commercial or 
recreation overutilization for the species is known at this time, but 
that, because of its rarity, collection for scientific or educational 
purposes may be a threat to the species.
    With respect to factor C, the petitioners assert that grazing poses 
another threat to this species. Although the effects of livestock 
grazing on Cymopterus deserticola is not documented in the literature, 
sheep grazing has been documented to have directly affected two 
populations. Although according to Bagley (1998), grazing is not 
permitted on EAFB, one of these two populations is located on the base. 
Individuals at this site on EAFB were entirely eliminated as a result 
of grazing by trespass sheep in 1994. On two other sites that occur on 
BLM lands in Harper Dry Lake outside of the grazing allotment, trespass 
of sheep has been chronic (BLM 1998). In addition to direct predation 
(eating the plants), the ecological processes of the habitat are 
altered by livestock trampling, which may disrupt water holding 
capacities of the soil, promote soil erosion from wind, and change the 
plant taxa composition found within the community to non-native weedy 
species that outcompete native species.
    High levels of leaf predation on Cymopterus deserticola have been 
observed in two studies on EAFB in areas not grazed by livestock 
(Mitchell et al.1995; Charleton 1993). Predation is likely due to a 
variety of herbivores such as black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus 
californicus), brush rabbits (Family Leporidae), ground squirrels 
(Family Sciuridae), kangaroo rats (Family Heteromyidae), mice (Families 
Cricetidae and Muridae), desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), 
caterpillars (Order Lepidoptera), and beetles (Order Coleoptera) 
(Bagley 1998). The petitioners claim no specific disease threats have 
been reported for C. deserticola.
    In respect to factor D, the petitioners address the draft WMP (BLM 
2003), which will function as a multi-species Habitat Conservation Plan 
for the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) and other listed and 
sensitive species within the planning area. The petitioners claim that 
Cymopterus deserticola has been dropped from the planning process 
because the species cannot have a viable conservation strategy without 
military participation (BLM 2002). According to the draft Environmental 
Impact Report and Statement for the draft WMP (BLM 2003), C. 
deserticola is still a species targeted for conservation measures, and 
has not been dropped.
    The draft WMP (BLM 2003) requires botanical surveys for projects 
proposed within the Fremont-Kramer and Superior-Cronese Desert Wildlife 
Management Areas (DWMAs) for those areas of windblown sand on the east 
side of larger playas, including Harper Dry Lake, Superior Dry Lake, 
and Cuddeback Dry Lake in San Bernardino County. If the plant is 
located, prescriptions call for avoiding all occurrences to the maximum 
extent practicable, and reporting the loss of plants. In Kern County, 
the draft WMP proposes the following measures: establishing the North 
Edwards Conservation Area, requiring botanical surveys, and adjusting 
the boundary over time to reflect survey results. The draft WMP has 
undergone numerous revisions over the last decade and is still in draft 
form and the implementation of conservation strategies for Cymopterus 
deserticola and its habitat remain a proposal.
    The petitioners also state that the lack of any management or 
conservation strategies by EAFB and ongoing projects on EAFB is 
adversely affecting this species and leave the future survival of C. 
deserticola populations on EAFB uncertain. Petitioners assert that, 
since the core population of this species is located on EAFB, without 
assured conservation measures in place, the long-term survival of C. 
deserticola remains in question.
    With regard to factor E, the petitioners claim that the ``extremely 
limited distribution and relatively small numbers of individuals'' of 
this species, make populations of Cymopterus deserticola vulnerable to 
extinction from stochastic events (e.g., drought and disease). Species 
with few populations and individuals are vulnerable to the threat of 
naturally occurring events, causing extinction through mechanisms 
operating either at the genetic level, the population level, and/or the 
landscape level. Isolation of small populations from one another can 
lead to loss of genetic variation due to genetic drift and increased 
inbreeding (Hamrick and Godt 1996). Genetic consequences of drift and 
loss of genetic variation include loss of adaptability to change and 
inbreeding, which is the mating of individuals likely to share some of 
their genes due to common ancestry. Inbreeding depression is thought to 
reduce fitness of individual plants; it may negatively affect 
components such as seed availability, germination success, and flower 
and fruit production (Falk 1992). At the landscape level, random 
natural events, such as storms or drought, could destroy a significant 
percentage of individuals or entire populations; a hot fire could 
destroy a seedbank as well. The restriction of colonies to small sites 
increases their risk of extinction from such naturally occurring 
events. The genetic characteristics of Cymopterus deserticola have not 
been investigated; therefore, the degree to which these characteristics 
contribute to the likelihood of C. deserticola being vulnerable to 
extinction for these reasons is unknown.


    The information provided by the petitioners and information in our 
files presents substantive information that Cymopterus deserticola may 
be threatened by habitat alteration and destruction and livestock 
grazing throughout its range, both on EAFB and BLM lands. The draft WMP 
may contain measures that contribute to the conservation of C. 
deserticola. However, the WMP only addresses a small portion of this 
species' range, which is outside of EAFB. More than 90 percent of the 
known populations occur on EAFB and conservation measures for the 
species were not included in the EAFB INRMP.


    We have reviewed the petition to list Cymoterus deserticola and the 
supporting documentation, information in our files, and other readily 
available information. We find that the petition did include 
substantial information indicating that the listing of C. deserticola 
may be warranted. With the publication of this notice, we are 
initiating a status review of C. deserticola to determine whether 
listing is warranted.
    The petition also requests us to designate critical habitat for 
this species. If we determine in our 12-

[[Page 6243]]

month finding that listing Cymopterus deserticola is warranted, we will 
address the designation of critical habitat in the subsequent proposed 
listing rule or as funding allows.

Public Information Solicited

    When we find that there is substantial information indicating that 
the petitioned action may be warranted, we are required to promptly 
commence a review of the status of the species. To ensure that the 
status review is complete and based on the best available scientific 
and commercial information, we are soliciting information on the 
Cymopterus deserticola throughout the species' range. We request any 
additional information, comments, and suggestions from the public, 
governmental agencies, the scientific community, industry, and any 
other interested parties concerning the status of this species 
throughout its range. We are seeking information regarding historic and 
current distribution, habitat, biology and ecology, ongoing 
conservation measures for this species and its habitat, threats to the 
species and its habitat and information regarding the adequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms.
    If you wish to comment, you may submit your comments and materials 
concerning this finding to the Field Supervisor (see ADDRESSES 
section). Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Respondents may request that we withhold a respondent's 
identity, as allowable by law. If you wish us to withhold your name or 
address, you must state this request prominently at the beginning of 
your comment. However, we will not consider anonymous comments. To the 
extent consistent with applicable law, we will make all submissions 
from organizations or businesses, and from individuals identifying 
themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or 
businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety. Comments 
and materials received will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein is available on 
request from the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES 


    The primary author of this document is Robert McMorran, Ventura 
Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (see ADDRESSES 


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: January 29, 2004.
Steve Williams,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 04-2596 Filed 2-9-04; 8:45 am]