[Federal Register: August 4, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 149)]
[Page 42408-42409]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of a Habitat Conservation Plan and Receipt of an 
Application for an Incidental Take Permit for the Tulare Irrigation 
District Main Intake Canal Lining Project, Tulare County, California

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.


SUMMARY: The Tulare Irrigation District has applied to the Fish and 
Wildlife Service for an incidental take permit pursuant to section 
10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. The 
Service proposes to issue a 5-year permit to the Tulare Irrigation 
District that would authorize take of the threatened valley elderberry 
longhorn beetle (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) incidental to 
otherwise lawful activities. Such take would occur during the concrete 
lining of 9.7 miles of an existing canal in Tulare County, California. 
Lining of the canal would result in the loss of up to 54 elderberry 
plants with 227 stems which provide habitat for the valley elderberry 
longhorn beetle.
    We request comments from the public on the permit application, 
which is available for review. The application includes a Habitat 
Conservation Plan (Plan). The Plan describes the proposed project and 
the measures that the Tulare Irrigation District would undertake to 
minimize and mitigate take of the valley elderberry longhorn beetle.
    We also request comments on our preliminary determination that the 
Plan qualifies as a ``low-effect'' Habitat Conservation Plan, eligible 
for a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy 
Act. The basis for this determination is discussed in an Environmental 
Action Statement, which also is available for public review.

DATES: Written comments should be received on or before September 3, 

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Mr. Wayne White, Field Supervisor, 
Fish and Wildlife Service, 3310 El Camino Avenue, Suite 130, 
Sacramento, California 95821-6340. Comments may be sent by facsimile to 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Chris Davis, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, at the above address or call (916) 979-2728.


Document Availability

    Please contact the above office if you would like copies of the 
application, Plan, and Environmental Action Statement. Documents also 
will be available for review by appointment, during normal business 
hours at the above address.


    Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act and Federal regulation 
prohibit the ``take'' of fish or wildlife species listed as endangered 
or threatened. Take of listed fish or wildlife is defined under the Act 
to include kill, harm, or harass. The Service may, under limited 
circumstances, issue permits to authorize 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 in 50 CFR 17.32 
and 17.22, respectively.
    The Tulare Irrigation District operates the Main Intake Canal 
(canal) primarily to transport an average of 60,000 acre-feet of water 
from the St. Johns and Kaweah Rivers to agricultural areas within 
Tulare Irrigation District boundaries. The canal begins at a turnout on 
the Friant-Kern Canal, approximately 4 miles east of the community of 
Ivanhoe in Tulare County, and proceeds in a general southwesterly 
direction to the Tulare Irrigation District boundary at Road 132, 
approximately 3 miles west of the community of Farmersville. The 
existing canal is unlined with a varying capacity up to 900 cubic feet 
per second. Since 1978, the canal has conveyed water an average of 177 
days per year. According to the Tulare Irrigation District, 
approximately 10 percent of water conveyed through the canal is lost to 
seepage. Therefore, the Tulare Irrigation District has proposed to line 
the canal to conserve water, increase water deliveries, and decrease

[[Page 42409]]

per-unit costs associated with water deliveries.
    Although the maintained banks of the canal are generally 
unvegetated, elderberry bushes and several mature oaks and cottonwoods 
are present within adjacent Tulare Irrigation District right-of-ways. 
Land use adjacent to the canal is primarily agricultural (vineyards, 
orchards, and nurseries) interspersed with stretches of sparse 
residential and industrial developments. The Tulare Irrigation District 
comprises approximately 70,000 acres of land that has been entirely 
developed for agricultural, residential, and/or commercial purposes.
    In 1998, biologists surveyed the project area for special-status 
wildlife and plant species that could be affected by the project. Based 
upon those surveys, the Service concluded the project may result in 
take of one federally listed species, the threatened valley elderberry 
longhorn beetle.
    The Tulare Irrigation District has agreed to implement the 
following measures to minimize and mitigate take of the valley 
elderberry longhorn beetle: (1) Protect elderberry bushes in place 
where possible by using protective fencing and conducting educational 
meetings with contractors to highlight the importance of protecting 
elderberry bushes; and (2) make a one-time payment into the Valley 
Elderberry Longhorn Beetle Mitigation Fund that has been established 
through a joint agreement between the Service and the Center for 
Natural Lands Management. Payments made to the Mitigation Fund would be 
dispersed by the Center for Natural Lands Management at the direction 
of the Service to preserve and manage large tracts of habitat suitable 
for supporting valley elderberry longhorn beetle.
    The Proposed Action consists of the issuance of an incidental take 
permit and implementation of the Plan to minimize and mitigate impacts 
of the project on the valley elderberry longhorn beetle. An alternative 
to the taking of listed species under the Proposed Action is considered 
in the Plan. Under the No Action Alternative, no permit would be 
issued. Under this alternative, canal operation would continue to 
result in the loss of up to 6,000 acre-feet of water per year. The 
Tulare Irrigation District considered five other alternatives described 
in the Plan, but did not select them for various reasons, including 
disagreement among, or opposition from, local landowners.
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that the Plan 
qualifies as a ``low-effect'' plan as defined by its Habitat 
Conservation Planning Handbook (November 1996). We made this 
determination by evaluating 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 environmental values or resources 
which would be considered significant. As more fully explained in the 
Service's Environmental Action Statement, the Tulare Irrigation 
District Plan likely qualifies as a ``low-effect'' plan for the 
following reasons:

    1. Approval of the Plan would result in minor or negligible 
effects on the valley elderberry longhorn beetle and its habitat. 
The Service does not anticipate significant direct or cumulative 
effects to the valley elderberry longhorn beetle resulting from 
lining of the existing canal.
    2. Approval of the Plan would not have adverse effects on unique 
geographic, historic or cultural sites, or involve unique or unknown 
environmental risks.
    3. Approval of the Plan would not result in any cumulative or 
growth inducing impacts and, therefore, 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 Plan would not establish a precedent for 
future action or represent a decision in principle about future 
actions with potentially significant environmental effects.
    The Service therefore has preliminarily determined that approval 
of the Plan 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.
    The Service provides this notice pursuant to section 10(c) of 
the Endangered Species Act. We will evaluate the permit application, 
the Plan, and comments submitted thereon to determine whether the 
application meets the requirements of section 10(a) of the 
Endangered Species Act. If the requirements are met, the Service 
will issue a permit to the Tulare Irrigation District for incidental 
take of the valley elderberry longhorn beetle during lining of the 
canal. We will make the final permit decision no sooner than 30 days 
from the date of this notice.

    Dated: July 24, 1999.
Elizabeth H. Stevens,
Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, 
[FR Doc. 99-19973 Filed 8-3-99; 8:45 am]