[Federal Register: July 24, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 141)]
[Page 41835-41836]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Receipt of an Application for an Incidental Take Permit for the 
Joshua Tree Recreational Campground Low-Effect Habitat Conservation 
Plan, San Bernardino County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: JAT Associates, Inc. (Applicant) has applied to the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service or ``we'') for an incidental take permit 
pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (Act). We are considering issuing a 30-year permit to the 
Applicant that would authorize take of the federally threatened desert 
tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) incidental to otherwise lawful activities 
associated with the construction and operation of the Joshua Tree 
Recreational Campground on 13.8 acres of their 314.6-acre property.
    We are requesting comments on the permit application and on our 
preliminary determination that the proposed Habitat Conservation Plan 
(HCP) qualifies as a ``low effect'' HCP, eligible for a categorical 
exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, 
as amended. We explain the basis for this possible determination in a 
draft Environmental Action Statement (EAS) and associated Low Effect 
Screening Form. The Applicant's Low Effect HCP describes the mitigation 
and minimization measures they would implement, as required in Section 
10(a)(2)(B) of the Act, to address the effects of the project on the 
desert tortoise. These measures are outlined in the SUPPLEMENTARY 
INFORMATION section below. The draft HCP and EAS are available for 
public review.

DATES: Written comments should be received on or before August 23, 

ADDRESSES: Please address written comments to Diane Noda, Field 
Supervisor, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, California 93003. You may 
also send comments by facsimile to (805) 644-3958. To obtain copies of 
draft documents, see ``Availability of Documents'' under SUPPLEMENTARY 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jen Lechuga, HCP Coordinator, (see 
ADDRESSES) telephone: (805) 644-1766 extension 224.


Availability of Documents

    You may obtain copies of the application, HCP, and EAS by 
contacting the HCP Coordinator (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). 
Copies of the draft documents are also available for public inspection 
and review at the following locations: (1) U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, 
Ventura, California 93003; (2) Joshua Tree Public Library, 6465 Park 
Blvd., Joshua Tree, California 92252; and (3) Ventura Fish and Wildlife 
Office Internet site: http://www.fws.gov/ventura.


    Section 9 of the Act and Federal regulations 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 mean to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. 
However, the Service, under limited circumstances, may issue permits to 
cover incidental take, i.e., take that is incidental to, and not the 
purpose of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful activity. 
Regulations governing incidental take permits for threatened and 
endangered species are found at 50 CFR 17.32 and 17.22, respectively. 
Among other criteria, issuance of such permits must not jeopardize the 
existence of federally listed fish, wildlife, or plants.
    The proposed Joshua Tree Recreational Campground project is located 
in the unincorporated community of Joshua Tree, San Bernardino County, 
California. The Applicant proposes to construct, operate, and maintain 
campground facilities on 13.8 acres. Proposed construction on the 13.8 
acres includes 22 camp sites, a fitness center, a reception/restaurant 
building, multiple salt water pools, massage treatment rooms, a horse 
stable, roads, and trails. Construction would be completed in two 
phases. Phase I would comprise approximately 62 percent of the total 
project area. The campground would be in operation for 3 to 5 years 
before Phase II construction begins. Construction of the two phases is 
expected to take 10 years.
    The Applicant proposes to implement measures to minimize and 
mitigate for take of the desert tortoise within the project site. The 
Applicant has designed the project such that the footprint of the roads 
and structures are located where few desert tortoise signs were 
observed. For mitigation, they will restore and manage at a 1:1 ratio 
13.8 acres of desert tortoise habitat on their 314.6-acre property. The 
Applicant also proposes to: (1) Halt destructive activities to desert 
tortoises and their habitat presently taking place on the site; (2) 
raise awareness of the desert tortoise for construction personnel, 
staff, and guests; (3) post signs and establish speed limits; (4) 
construct a desert tortoise-exclusion fence along the access road; (5) 
reduce the presence of desert tortoise predators; and (6) undertake 
various other measures to minimize impacts.
    The impacts from construction and operation activities associated 
with the Joshua Tree Campground are considered to be negligible to the 
species as a whole because: (1) The amount of habitat being disturbed 
is small relative to the amount of habitat available within the Joshua 
Tree area, the West Mojave Recovery Unit, and within the wide range of 
the species as a whole; (2) most of the areas that will be disturbed 
during construction and operation of buildings on the site are of poor 
quality and probably support few if any desert tortoises due to ongoing 
illegal shooting, dumping, and off highway vehicular (OHV) use; (3) 
disturbance associated with construction of roads on the site is 
associated with habitat that has also been impacted, to a lesser extent 
by illegal dumping, shooting, and OHV use; (4) the construction of this 

[[Page 41836]]

will not serve to fragment desert tortoise populations in the Joshua 
Tree, California, area; and (5) one of the most likely forms of take is 
capture to move desert tortoises out of harm's way, resulting in 
temporary low impacts.
    The Service's proposed action is to issue an incidental take permit 
to the Applicant, who would then implement the HCP. Two alternatives to 
the taking of listed species under the proposed action are considered 
in the HCP. Under the No-Action alternative, the proposed project would 
not occur and the HCP would not be implemented. This would avoid the 
immediate effects of habitat removal on the desert tortoise. However, 
without the HCP, habitat for the desert tortoise on the project site 
likely would continue to decline as a result of current shooting, 
dumping, and recreational OHV activities occurring on the site. 
Further, this alternative would not meet the Applicant's project goals 
or protect 13.8 acres of habitat for the benefit of the desert 
    The Applicant's Alternate Site Alternative considered moving the 
project to an alternate location within the 314.6-acre property. This 
alternative entailed a more spread-out development with 11 additional 
campsites and 2 additional buildings in the southeastern region of the 
property. This location overlapped with the area most used by 
tortoises. The alternative was rejected because it would likely result 
in greater impacts to the desert tortoise and its habitat. In addition, 
the Applicant can achieve the project goals in the southwestern area of 
the property where there is less presence of desert tortoises.
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that the HCP 
qualifies as a ``low-effect'' plan as defined by our Habitat 
Conservation Planning Handbook (November 1996). Our determination that 
an HCP qualifies as a low-effect plan is based on the following 
criteria: (1) Implementation of the plan would result in minor or 
negligible effects on federally listed, proposed, and candidate species 
and their habitats; (2) implementation of the plan would result in 
minor or negligible effects on other environmental values or resources; 
and (3) impacts of the plan, considered together with the impacts of 
other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable similarly situated 
projects would not result, over time, in cumulative effects to the 
environmental values or resources that would be considered significant. 
As more fully explained in our EAS and associated Low Effect Screening 
Form, the Applicant's proposal to build and operate the Joshua Tree 
Recreational Campground qualifies as a ``low effect'' plan for the 
following reasons:
    (1) Approval of the HCP would result in minor or negligible effects 
on the desert tortoise and its habitat. The Service does not anticipate 
significant direct or cumulative effects to the desert tortoise 
resulting from the proposed development and operation of the project 
    (2) Approval of the HCP would not have adverse effects on unique 
geographic, historic, or cultural sites, or involve unique or unknown 
environmental risks.
    (3) Approval of the HCP would not result in any cumulative or 
growth-inducing impacts and would not result in significant adverse 
effects on public health or safety.
    (4) The project does not require compliance with Executive Order 
11988 (Floodplain Management), Executive Order 11990 (Protection of 
Wetlands), or the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, nor does it 
threaten to violate a Federal, State, local or tribal law or 
requirement imposed for the protection of the environment.
    (5) Approval of the HCP would not establish a precedent for future 
actions or represent a decision in principle about future actions with 
potentially significant environmental effects.
    The Service therefore has made a preliminary determination that 
approval of the HCP qualifies as a categorical exclusion under the 
National Environmental Policy Act, as provided by the Department of the 
Interior Manual (516 DM 2, Appendix 1 and 516 DM 6, Appendix 1). Based 
upon this preliminary determination, we do not intend to prepare 
further National Environmental Policy Act documentation. The Service 
will consider public comments in making its final determination on 
whether to prepare such additional documentation.
    We will evaluate the permit application, the HCP, and comments 
submitted thereon to determine whether the application meets the 
requirements of section 10(a) of the Act. If the requirements are met, 
the Service will issue a permit to the Applicant.

Public Review and Comment

    If you wish to comment on the permit application, draft 
Environmental Action Statement or the proposed HCP, you may submit your 
comments to the address listed in the ADDRESSES section of this 
document. Our practice is to make comments, including names, home 
addresses, etc., of respondents available for public review. Individual 
respondents may request that we withhold their names and/or home 
addresses, etc., but if you wish us to consider withholding this 
information you must state this prominently at the beginning of your 
comments. In addition, you must provide a rationale demonstrating and 
documenting that disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted 
invasion of privacy. In the absence of exceptional, documented 
circumstances, this information will be released. All submissions from 
organizations or businesses, and from individuals identifying 
themselves as representatives or officials of organizations or 
businesses, are available for public inspection in their entirety.
    The Service provides this notice pursuant to section 10(c) of the 
Act and pursuant to implementing regulations for NEPA (40 CFR 1506.6).

    Dated: July 18, 2006.
Diane K. Noda,
Field Supervisor, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, Ventura, 
 [FR Doc. E6-11718 Filed 7-21-06; 8:45 am]