[Federal Register: March 14, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 48)]
[Page 12496-12498]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for the North 
County Multiple Species Conservation Program, San Diego, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) advises the public that we 
intend to gather information necessary to prepare, in coordination with 
the County of San Diego (County), a joint Environmental Impact 
Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) for the North County 
Multiple Species Conservation Program (NCMSCP) Plan. The NCMSCP Plan 
would serve as a multiple species Habitat Conservation Plan under 
Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Endangered Species Act, as amended 
in 1982 (ESA).
    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 and 
alternatives to be included in the EIS/EIR.

DATES: A public meeting will be held on Wednesday, March 30, 2005, from 
4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Written comments should be received on or before April 
13, 2005.

ADDRESSES: The public meeting will be held at the following location: 
Wednesday, March 30, 2005, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, 
CA 92009.
    Information, written comments, or questions related to the 
preparation of the EIS/EIR and NEPA process should be submitted to 
Susan Wynn, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife 
Office, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, California 92009 (facsimile 
(760) 431-5902).



Reasonable Accommodation

    Persons needing reasonable accommodations in order to attend and 
participate in the public meeting should contact Susan Wynn as soon as 
possible (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). In order to allow 
sufficient time to process requests, please call no later than 1 week 
before the public meeting. Information regarding this proposed action 
is available in alternative formats upon request.


    The purpose of the EIS/EIR is to analyze the impacts of the 
proposed issuance of an ESA incidental take permit based on 
implementation of the NCMSCP Plan. The Federal need is to ensure 
compliance with the ESA, NEPA, and other applicable Federal laws and 

[[Page 12497]]

    Section 9 of the Federal ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and Federal 
regulations prohibit the ``take'' of a fish or wildlife species listed 
as endangered or threatened. Under the ESA, the following activities 
are defined as take: 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 section 10(a) of the ESA, 
we may issue permits to authorize ``incidental take'' of listed animal 
species. ``Incidental take'' is defined by the ESA 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.
    Take of listed plant species is not prohibited under the ESA and 
cannot be authorized under an ESA section 10 permit. We propose to 
include plant species on the permit in recognition of the conservation 
benefits provided for them under the plan. All species included on the 
permit would receive assurances under the Service's ``No Surprises'' 
    The proposed NCMSCP Plan is intended to protect key sensitive plant 
and animal populations and habitats within the unincorporated portion 
of northern San Diego County, with an overall goal of allowing 
currently threatened and endangered species to maintain or improve 
their status in the wild and eliminating the need to list more species 
as endangered in the future under Federal and State Endangered Species 
Acts. The proposed NCMSCP Plan also is intended to provide an economic 
benefit by reducing constraints on future development and decreasing 
the costs of compliance with Federal and State laws protecting 
biological resources.
    The proposed NCMSCP Plan would serve as a multiple species Habitat 
Conservation Plan under Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Federal ESA. The 
proposed NCMSCP Plan is a cooperative effort among the County, the 
Service and California Department of Fish and Game (Wildlife Agencies). 
This program would support applications to the Wildlife Agencies for 
incidental ``take'' of threatened or endangered animal species. 
Incidental take may be authorized for otherwise legal activities that 
would allow harm to listed individual animals or their habitat in 
return for supporting conservation in planned preserve areas. If the 
County obtains take authorization, it could permit take of animal 
species for projects that conform to the standards outlined in the 
    Currently the County intends to request a permit authorizing the 
incidental take of 30 animal species (8 federally listed and 22 
unlisted animal species) for 50 years during the course of conducting 
otherwise lawful land use or development activities on public and 
private land in northern San Diego County. The permit would also cover 
9 listed and 19 unlisted plant species. Listed species proposed to be 
included are: (1) The endangered San Diego fairy shrimp (Branchinecta 
sandiegonensis); (2) endangered arroyo toad (Bufo californicus); (3) 
endangered Stephens' kangaroo rat (Dipodomys stephensi); (4) endangered 
light-footed clapper rail (Rallus longirostris levipes); (5) endangered 
least Bell's vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus); (6) endangered southwestern 
willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus); (7) threatened 
California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica); (8) 
threatened bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus); (9) endangered 
Nevin's barberry (Berberis nevinii); (10) endangered San Diego button-
celery (Eryngium aristulatum var. parishii); (11) endangered Del Mar 
manzanita (Arctostaphylos glandulosa ssp. crassifolia); (12) endangered 
Orcutt's spineflower (Chorizanthe orcuttiana); (13) endangered San 
Diego ambrosia (Ambrosia pumila); (14) threatened Encinitas baccharis 
(Baccharis vanessae); (15) threatened thread-leaved brodiaea (Brodiaea 
filifolia); (16) threatened spreading navarettia (Navarettia fossalis); 
and (17) threatened San Diego thornmint (Acanthomintha illicifolia). 
The total species covered by the NCMSCP Plan may fluctuate based on the 
review process and alternatives proposed.
    The intended overall effect of the proposed NCMSCP Plan is to 
create large, connected preserve areas that address the regional 
habitat needs for a number of species together and provide for ongoing 
management and monitoring. The proposed NCMSCP Plan is the second of 
three County Habitat Conservation Plans that would work together to 
protect sensitive plants, animals, and their habitats in the 
unincorporated portions of the County of San Diego. Currently, there is 
a Subarea Plan that covers South County and a Plan for East County is 
in its initial planning phase. The cities in the northern portion of 
the county (Solana Beach to Oceanside and east to Escondido) have 
recently completed a subregional plan, the Multiple Habitat 
Conservation Plan, which is being implemented on a city-by-city basis 
through individual Habitat Management Plans. The proposed NCMSCP Plan 
would provide connections to the planned open space areas in the 
Multiple Habitat Conservation Plan as well as the South County MSCP 
Subarea Plan, thereby providing a regional open space preserve system. 
This could also provide an opportunity for coordinated management and 
monitoring of preserves throughout the region. Outside of multiple 
species planning programs, project-level mitigation occurs for 
relatively few species and can result in small, isolated open space 
easements that are difficult to manage and monitor. The NCMSCP Plan 
proposes to include a requirement to manage, maintain and monitor plant 
and animal life on the lands once they are acquired or dedicated as 
preserve lands. There are two levels of management activities proposed: 
stewardship (removal of trash, prevention of trespass, erosion control, 
etc.) and biological monitoring (habitat monitoring, corridor 
monitoring, species-specific surveys).
    Three documents will be prepared and the project impacts will be 
analyzed as part of the NEPA/California Environmental Quality Act 
(CEQA) review process:
    1. Draft NCMSCP Plan. The draft NCMSCP Plan would outline the goals 
and policies that affect land within the NCMSCP Plan boundaries. It 
would identify conservation policies, allowable uses in preserve areas, 
and general procedures and guidelines for assembling the preserve. The 
draft NCMSCP Plan would also include a map that illustrates a number of 
conservation elements.
    2. Draft North County Biological Mitigation Ordinance (NCBMO). The 
draft NCBMO would explain the requirements for processing project 
development applications and describe required habitat mitigation 
measures for projects not exempt from the NCBMO. The NCBMO would apply 
to those lands within the proposed NCMSCP Plan boundaries.
    3. Draft North County MSCP Implementing Agreement (Agreement). The 
third document to be drafted is an Implementing Agreement among the 
County and the Wildlife Agencies. The purpose of this proposed 
Agreement is to ensure the implementation of the NCMSCP Plan by binding 
each of the parties to fulfill and faithfully perform the obligations, 
responsibilities, and tasks assigned to it pursuant to the terms of the 
NCMSCP Plan as proposed. This Agreement would also provide remedies and 
recourse should any of the Parties fail to perform its obligations,

[[Page 12498]]

responsibilities, and tasks as set forth in the MSCP, the NCMSCP Plan 
and this Agreement.
    There are six specific conservation areas associated with the 
proposed NCMSCP plan:
    1. Publicly-Owned Preserve Areas. These are permanent open space 
preserve areas currently owned and managed by public agencies.
    2. Negotiated ``Hardline'' Areas. These are proposed areas where 
portions of private land development projects have been identified for 
development and others committed to the proposed NCMSCP Plan preserve 
as permanent open space.
    3. Pre-Approved Mitigation Area (PAMA). Lands within the proposed 
PAMA have been identified through an extensive computer modeling 
process and independent scientific review as being of high biological 
importance. Mitigation, in the form of private land open space 
dedications, would be encouraged to take place in these areas as set 
forth in the NCBMO as proposed. Development would occur within the 
proposed PAMA area but mitigation ratios would be higher and certain 
design standards would have to be met as set forth in the NCBMO. The 
County anticipates that 75 percent of the proposed PAMA would be 
preserved as natural open space or agricultural lands through 
acquisition of lands in fee title or easements by public and private 
organizations and private land dedications.
    4. San Luis Rey River Regional Park Area. Preservation of habitat 
within the San Luis Rey River Regional Park Area is proposed to meet 
outdoor recreational needs of San Diego County residents and help 
provide coverage for incidental take of animal species under the 
proposed NCMSCP Plan for the widening of State Route 76. Take 
authorization for the improvement of State Route 76 would be permitted 
if the improvement plans meet set criteria and goals.
    5. Working Landscapes. These proposed areas include agricultural 
operations that maintain conservation value for endangered species such 
as the arroyo toad and the Stephen's kangaroo rat, and could also 
provide habitat connectivity in core and linkage areas. Maintaining 
agriculture in these areas would be encouraged. The County is 
investigating a variety of economic incentive programs for landowners 
in these areas such as exempting agricultural clearing from NCBMO in 
areas outside of Pre-approved Mitigation Areas, if Agricultural 
Conservation Easements are granted to the County on areas to be 
    6. The Ramona Vernal Pools Planning Area. Vernal pools in the 
downtown area of Ramona and the adjacent grasslands have been assessed 
in a study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. The results 
from the final report would be incorporated into the plan. The proposed 
Ramona Vernal Pool component would prescribe a process for project 
review and mitigation to preserve the most valuable pools with the 
greatest likelihood of perpetual preservation.
    Components of the proposed conservation program are now under 
consideration by the Service and the Applicants. These components would 
likely include avoidance and minimization measures, monitoring, 
adaptive management, and mitigation measures consisting of 
preservation, restoration, and enhancement of habitat. We also welcome 
public input on formulating these components.

Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report

    The County, the Service, and the California Department of Fish and 
Game have selected Jones and Stokes to prepare the Draft EIS/EIR under 
the agencies supervision. The joint document will be prepared in 
compliance with NEPA and CEQA. Although Jones and Stokes will prepare 
the EIS/EIR, the Service will be responsible for the scope and content 
of the document for NEPA purposes, and the County will be responsible 
for the scope and content of the EIR for CEQA purposes.
    The EIS/EIR will consider the proposed action (i.e., the issuance 
of a section 10(a)(1)(B) permit under the Federal ESA to the County), 
and a reasonable range of alternatives. A detailed description of the 
impacts of the proposed action and each alternative will be included in 
the EIS/EIR. The alternatives to be considered for analysis in the EIS/
EIR may include: variations of the geographical coverage of the permit; 
variations in the amount and type of conservation; variations in permit 
duration; variations of the scope or type of covered activities or 
covered species; no project/no action; or, a combination of these 
elements. Under the No Action alternative, the Service would not issue 
a section 10(a)(1)(B) permit.
    The EIS/EIR will also identify potentially significant impacts on 
biological resources, recreation, and other environmental issues that 
could occur directly or indirectly with implementation of the proposed 
action and alternatives. For all potentially significant impacts, the 
EIS/EIR will identify mitigation measures where feasible to reduce 
these impacts to a level below significance.
    Environmental review of the EIS/EIR will be conducted in accordance 
with the requirements of NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), its 
implementing regulations (40 CFR 1500-1508), other applicable 
regulations, and Service procedures for compliance with those 
regulations. This notice is being furnished in accordance with 40 CFR 
1501.7 of NEPA to obtain suggestions and information from other 
agencies and the public on the scope of issues and alternatives to be 
addressed in the EIS/EIR. The primary purpose of the scoping process is 
to identify important issues raised by the public, related to the 
proposed action. Written comments from interested parties are invited 
to ensure that the full range of issues related to the proposed action 
is identified. Comments will only be accepted in written form. You may 
submit written comments by mail, facsimile transmission, or in person 
(see ADDRESSES). All comments received, including names and addresses, 
will become part of the official administrative record, and may be made 
available to the public.

    Dated: March 8, 2005.
Vicki Campbell,
Acting Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, 
[FR Doc. 05-4926 Filed 3-11-05; 8:45 am]