[Federal Register: April 5, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 66)]
[Rules and Regulations]               
[Page 17779-17786]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 17779]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AE84

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Determination of 
Threatened Status for the Northern Idaho Ground Squirrel

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), determine 
the northern Idaho ground squirrel (Spermophilus brunneus brunneus) to 
be a threatened species under the authority of the Endangered Species 
Act (Act) of 1973, as amended. This subspecies is known from 36 sites 
in Adams and Valley counties, Idaho. It is primarily threatened by 
habitat loss due to forest encroachment into former suitable meadow 
habitats. Forest encroachment results in habitat fragmentation, 
eliminates dispersal corridors, and restricts the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel population into small isolated habitat areas. The subspecies 
is also threatened by competition from the larger Columbian ground 
squirrel (Spermophilus columbianus), land use changes, recreational 
shooting, poisoning, and naturally occurring events. This rule extends 
Federal protection provisions provided by the Act for the northern 
Idaho ground squirrel.

EFFECTIVE DATE: This final rule is effective May 5, 2000.

ADDRESSES: The complete file for this rule is available for inspection, 
by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Snake River Basin Office, 1387 South Vinnell Way, 
Room 368, Boise, Idaho 83709.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert Ruesink, Supervisor, at the 
above address (telephone 208/378-5243; facsimile 208/378-5262).



    The northern Idaho ground squirrel has the most restricted 
geographical range of any Spermophilus taxa, and one of the smallest 
ranges among North American mainland mammals (Gill and Yensen 1992). 
The first specimens, collected by L.E. Wyman in 1913, were described by 
A.H. Howell as Citellus townsendii brunneus, a subspecies of the 
Washington ground squirrel (Spermophilus washingtoni) (Howell 1938). In 
1938, Howell subsequently classified the Idaho ground squirrel as a 
full species, Citellus brunneus. Hershkovitz (1949) demonstrated that 
Spermophilus is the correct name for this genus. Nadler (1966) first 
presented chromosome descriptions and confirmed the systematics of 
Spermophilus. Yensen (1991) described the southern Idaho ground 
squirrel (Spermophilus brunneus endemicus) as taxonomically distinct, 
based on morphology, pelage (fur), and apparent life-history 
differences including biogeographical evidence of separation.
    Both the northern and southern Idaho ground squirrels are found 
only in western Idaho. Of the two subspecies, the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel is the rarest (Yensen 1991). A relatively small member of the 
genus Spermophilus, the mean length of northern Idaho ground squirrel 
males and females is 235 millimeters (mm) (9.25 inches (in.)) and 226 
mm (8.9 in.), respectively. In comparison, the mean length of southern 
Idaho ground squirrel males is 241 mm (9.5 in.) and 235 mm (9.25 in.) 
for females (Yensen 1991). Pelage in northern Idaho ground squirrel 
differs from the southern Idaho ground squirrel in its mid-dorsal area, 
which consists of long, dark guard hairs and shorter, dark guard hairs 
with one paler-colored band on the shield (Yensen 1991). Most northern 
Idaho ground squirrels are found in areas with shallow reddish parent 
soils of basaltic origin, while the southern Idaho ground squirrel 
lives on lower elevation, paler colored soils formed by granitic sands 
and clays from the Boise Mountains (Yensen 1985, 1991). Marked 
differences in pelage coloration between the disjunct subspecies are 
related to soil color.
    The baculum (penis bone) of northern Idaho ground squirrel is also 
generally smaller than the southern Idaho ground squirrel. A principal 
component analysis, which is a statistical analysis that proves 
similarities or differences, indicated a striking difference among 
bacula of the two subspecies (Yensen 1991). Genetic differentiation 
between the two subspecies was also confirmed using enzyme restriction 
analysis, blood allozyme analyses, and DNA protein sequencing, all of 
which analyze blood constituents to determine genetic differences (Gill 
and Yensen 1992; Sherman and Yensen 1994).
    The northern Idaho ground squirrel emerges in late March or early 
April, remains active above ground until late July or early August 
(Yensen 1991), and spends the rest of the year in hibernation 
underground (Eric Yensen, Albertson College, pers. comm. 1999). 
Populations occur at elevations ranging from 1,155 to 1,580 meters (m) 
(3,800 to 5,200 feet (ft)) in Adams and Valley counties of western 
Idaho. In contrast, the southern Idaho ground squirrel occurs at 
elevations ranging from 669 to 973 m (2,200 to 3,200 ft) in the low 
rolling hills and valleys along the Payette River in Gem, Payette, and 
Washington counties of western Idaho (Yensen 1991). The southern 
subspecies emerges in late January or early February where snow melt 
begins 1 to 2 months earlier in spring, and ceases above-ground 
activity in late June or early July. The emergence of the northern 
Idaho ground squirrel in late March or early April begins with adult 
males, followed by adult females, then young of the year.
    The northern Idaho ground squirrel normally becomes reproductively 
active within the first 2 weeks of emergence (Yensen 1991). Females 
that survive the first winter live, on average, nearly twice as long as 
males (3.2 years for females and 1.7 years for males). Individual 
females have lived for 8 years (Yensen 1991). Males normally die at a 
younger age due to behavior associated with reproductive activity. 
During the mating period, males move considerable distances in search 
of receptive females for mating and often fight with other males for 
copulations, thereby exposing themselves to predation by raptors 
including prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus), goshawk (Accipiter 
gentilis), and red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Significantly more 
males die or disappear during the 2-week mating period than during the 
rest of the 12- to 14-week period of above-ground activity (Sherman and 
Yensen 1994). Seasonal torpor (a state of sluggishness or inactivity) 
generally occurs in early to mid-July for males and females, and late 
July to early August for juveniles.
    Unlike many ground squirrel species, the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel is not truly colonial. In this final rule, local areas where 
this subspecies occurs are referred to as ``sites.'' In 1985, the 
estimated population of northern Idaho ground squirrels at 18 known 
sites was approximately 5,000 squirrels (John Woflin, Service, in litt. 
1985). Subsequent surveys were conducted on a sporadic basis from 1986 
through 1993; more intensive efforts to estimate populations at 10 
sites began in 1994 (Sherman and Yensen 1994). While new population 
sites were found during these surveys, several previously active sites 
became extirpated (Paul Sherman, Cornell University, pers. comm., 
1997). In 1996, the total population had

[[Page 17780]]

declined to fewer than 1,000 individuals found at 19 sites (Sherman and 
Gavin 1997). Only 1 of these sites contained more than 60 animals. In 
1997 and 1998, additional locations with northern Idaho ground 
squirrels were found for a total of 36 historic and currently active 
sites. However the total population estimate still remains less than 
1,000 individuals. Of the 36 sites, 14 occur on public lands (Federal 
and State). At 3 of these 14 sites, the subspecies has been extirpated, 
and at 1 site, the subspecies was extirpated but has been reintroduced. 
There are 22 sites on private lands, but at 7 of the sites, the 
subspecies has been extirpated. The number of squirrels in many of the 
active sites has been decreasing for over 10 years (Yensen 1980, 1985; 
J. Woflin, in litt. 1985; Sherman and Yensen 1994; Gavin et al. 1998).
    Soil texture and depth can be a primary factor in determining 
species distribution for most Spermophilus (Brown and Harney 1993). The 
northern Idaho ground squirrel often digs burrows under logs, rocks, or 
other objects (Sherman and Yensen 1994). Dry vegetation sites with 
shallow soil horizons of less than 50 centimeters (19.6 in.) depth 
above basalt bedrock to develop burrow systems are preferred (Yensen et 
al. 1991). Burrows associated with shallow soils are called auxiliary 
burrows. Nesting burrows are found in well-drained soils greater than 1 
m (3 ft) deep, in areas not covered with trees or used by Columbian 
ground squirrels (Spermophilus columbianus). Although Columbian ground 
squirrels overlap in distribution with the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel (Dyni and Yensen 1996), Columbian ground squirrels prefer 
moister areas with deeper soils. Sherman and Yensen (1994) report that 
the lack of extensive use of the same areas by the two subspecies is 
likely due to competition, rather than to each subspecies having 
different habitat requirements.
    Nearly all of the meadow habitats utilized by northern Idaho ground 
squirrels are bordered by coniferous forests of Pinus ponderosa 
(ponderosa pine) and/or Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir). However, 
this ground squirrel is not abundant in meadows that are surrounded by 
high densities of small young trees (Sherman and Yensen 1994).
    The northern Idaho ground squirrel is granivorous (eats small seeds 
and grain) seasonally, similar to the Columbian ground squirrel (Dyni 
and Yensen 1996), and ingests large amounts of Poa species (bluegrass) 
and other grass seeds to store energy for the winter. The northern 
Idaho ground squirrel will consume the roots, bulbs, leaf stems, and 
flower heads of another 45 to 50 plant species that are major 
components of the diet during key periods of the spring and summer. The 
Columbian ground squirrel often inhabits areas with denser vegetation 
than the northern Idaho ground squirrel (Dyni and Yensen 1996). Such 
areas contain more abundant food resources than habitats occupied by 
northern Idaho ground squirrel (Belovsky and Schmitz 1994). The 
northern Idaho ground squirrel is found on lands administered by the 
U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service), Idaho State Department of Lands, 
and private property.

Previous Federal Action

    In a status review published January 6, 1989, we determined that 
the northern Idaho ground squirrel was a category 1 candidate (56 FR 
562). Category 1 candidates were those taxa for which we had on file 
substantial information on biological vulnerability and threats to 
support preparation of listing proposals. Upon publication of the 
February 28, 1996, Notice of Review (61 FR 7596), we ceased using 
category designations and included the northern Idaho ground squirrel 
as a candidate species. Candidate species are those for which we have 
on file sufficient information on biological vulnerability and threats 
to support proposals to list the species as threatened or endangered. 
Candidate status for this animal was continued in the September 19, 
1997, Notice of Review (62 FR 49398).
    As a result of long-standing litigation with the Fund for Animals, 
a lawsuit settlement of January 21, 1997, directed us to make a 
decision (i.e., prepare a proposed rule to list or remove from Federal 
candidacy) concerning the northern Idaho ground squirrel on or before 
April 1, 1998. A proposed rule to list the subspecies as threatened was 
published on March 23, 1998 (63 FR 13825).
    The processing of this final rule conforms with our Listing 
Priority Guidance published in the Federal Register on October 22, 1999 
(64 FR 57114). The guidance clarifies the order in which we will 
process rulemakings. Highest priority is processing emergency listing 
rules for any species determined to face a significant and imminent 
risk to its well-being (Priority 1). Second priority (Priority 2) is 
processing final determinations on proposed additions to the lists of 
endangered and threatened wildlife and plants. Third priority is 
processing new proposals to add species to the lists. The processing of 
administrative petition findings (petitions filed under section 4 of 
the Act) is the fourth priority. This final rule is a Priority 2 action 
and is being completed in accordance with the current Listing Priority 
Guidance. We have updated this rule to reflect any changes in 
information concerning distribution, status, and threats since the 
publication of the proposed rule.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    In the proposed rule (63 FR 13825), we requested all interested 
parties to submit factual reports or information that might contribute 
to the development of a final rule for the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel. We contacted appropriate State agencies, county governments, 
Federal agencies, scientists, landowners, and other interested parties 
and requested them to comment. We opened a public comment period of 60 
days on March 23, 1998, and closed it on May 22, 1998 (63 FR 13825). On 
March 13, 1998, we sent legal notices that invited public comment and 
announced a public hearing. The notice was published in The Idaho 
Statesman, Council Record, Adams County Leader, and the Central Idaho 
Star News on March 28, 1998. In anticipation of public interest, we 
conducted a public hearing on May 5, 1998, in Council, Idaho at the 
Council Elementary School. To consider new scientific information, we 
reopened the public comment period for 30 days on October 21, 1998 (63 
FR 56134). A legal notice concerning the public comment period was 
published on October 27, 1998, in The Idaho Statesman. This comment 
period closed on November 20, 1998.
    During the 3-month comment period, we received a total of seven 
comments. Of these comments, one supported listing, and two opposed the 
listing. Four comments were noncommittal. We reviewed all of the 
comments (i.e., written and oral testimony) referenced above. The 
comments were grouped and are discussed under the following issue 
headings. In addition, we considered and incorporated, as appropriate, 
into the final rule, all biological and commercial information obtained 
through the public comment period.

Peer Review

    In compliance with our July 1, 1994, Peer Review Policy (59 FR 
34270), we solicited the expert opinion of an independent scientist 
regarding pertinent scientific or commercial data and issues relating 
to the supportive biological and ecological information for the 
northern Idaho ground squirrel. Information and suggestions provided by 
the reviewer were considered in

[[Page 17781]]

developing this final rule, and incorporated where applicable.
    Issue 1: One commenter believed there was a general lack of 
adequate information about the squirrels or sufficient searches for 
additional sites to publish a final rule. This responder was also 
concerned that key Forest Service staff and the primary research 
personnel involved in studying the northern Idaho ground squirrel 
intend to leave the project.
    Our Response: We, the Forest Service, and the Idaho Department of 
Fish and Game have provided equipment, funding, and staff to support 
surveys for new populations and monitoring of existing populations 
since 1994. In 1998, additional surveys for the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel were conducted on lands owned by Boise Cascade Corporation 
(John Haufler, Boise Cascade Corporation, pers. comm., 1998). The 
surveys used vegetation habitat analysis, historical references, and 
anecdotal information from foresters, ranchers, engineers, and 
biologists. Staff at the Payette National Forest collated and field-
validated the information and placed it on a geographical information 
systems (GIS) map. Analysis of GIS maps allows biologists to predict 
potential habitat for the species throughout its present range. A team 
of biologists spent several weeks in 1997 and 1998 surveying the 
potential sites for ground squirrel activity. The known historic and 
extant sites increased from 19 in 1996 to 36 in 1998. Of these 36 
sites, 27 are currently occupied by northern Idaho ground squirrels. 
However, most of these sites have less than 20 individuals, and the 
total population numbers less than 1,000. Only by conducting annual 
monitoring of sites where animals were translocated from other sites 
and existing sites will we be able to document future population 
    Two scientists from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, who have 
overseen recent translocations, surveys, and annual monitoring notified 
us that they will not be able to continue this work in the future. 
However, one of these scientists agreed to assist with field surveys in 
1999, and instructed a team of biologists from the Idaho Department of 
Fish and Game, Payette National Forest, and the Service for 2 weeks in 
survey and monitoring methods. This team will continue to coordinate 
annual surveys for new populations, collect data on population trends, 
and monitor habitat changes in coordination with the Payette National 
Forest staff.
    Issue 2: One commenter requested that the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel not be listed because listing does not consider the impact of 
human welfare, local economy, public value, and private property 
    Our Response: In accordance with 16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(1)(A) and 50 CFR 
424.11 (b), listing decisions are made solely on the basis of the best 
scientific and commercial data available. In adding the word ``solely'' 
to the statutory criteria for listing a species, Congress specifically 
addressed this issue in the 1982 amendments to the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 
et seq.). The legislative history of the 1982 amendments states: ``The 
addition of the word solely is intended to remove from the process of 
the listing or delisting of species any factor not related to the 
biological status of the species' H.R. Rep. No. 567, Part I, 97th 
Cong., 2d Sess. 20 (1982).
    Issue 3: One commenter asserted that constitutional powers were 
being violated to list the northern Idaho ground squirrel under the Act 
since there is no substantial and documented interstate commerce 
involving this subspecies. This assertion is based on the belief that 
the intention of the U.S. Constitution is to regulate only those 
activities that substantially affect interstate commerce.
    Our Response: The Federal Government has the authority under the 
Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution to protect this subspecies, 
for the reasons given in Judge Wald's opinion and Judge Henderson's 
concurring opinion in National Association of Home Builders v. Babbitt, 
130 F.3d 1041 (D.C. Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 1185 S. Ct. 2340 (1998). 
That case involved a challenge to application of the Act's prohibitions 
to protect the listed Delhi Sands flower-loving fly (Rhaphiomidas 
terminatus abdominalis). As with the northern Idaho ground squirrel, 
the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly is endemic to only one State. Judge 
Wald held that application of the Act's prohibition against taking of 
endangered species to this fly was a proper exercise of Commerce Clause 
power to regulate: (1) Use of channels of interstate commerce; and (2) 
activities substantially affecting interstate commerce, because it 
prevented loss of biodiversity and destructive interstate competition. 
Judge Henderson upheld protection of the fly because doing so prevents 
harm to the ecosystem upon which interstate commerce depends, and 
because doing so regulates commercial development that is part of 
interstate commerce.
    The Federal Government also has the authority under the Property 
Clause of the Constitution to protect this subspecies. The northern 
Idaho ground squirrel occurs on the Payette National Forest, Idaho 
State lands, and private lands. If this subspecies were to become 
extinct, the diversity of vertebrate life in the Payette National 
Forest would be diminished. The courts have long recognized Federal 
authority under the Property Clause to protect Federal resources in 
such circumstances (See Kleppe v. New Mexico, 429 U.S. 873 (1976); 
United States v. Alford, 274 U.S. 264 (1927); Camfield v. United 
States, 167 U. S. 518 (1897); United States v. Lindsey, 595 F. 2d 5 
(9th Cir. 1979).

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act and regulations (50 CFR part 424) promulgated 
to implement the listing provisions of the Act set forth the procedures 
for adding species to the Federal lists. A species may be determined to 
be an endangered or threatened species due to one or more of the five 
factors described in section 4(a)(1). These factors and their 
application to the northern Idaho ground squirrel are as follows:

A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or Curtailment 
of its Habitat or Range

    The historic range of the northern Idaho ground squirrel is not 
well known. However, it is thought that this subspecies was relatively 
uncommon throughout its historic range (Forest Service 1997a). All 
remaining habitat sites for the northern Idaho ground squirrel are 
small in relation to those of other ground squirrels, ranging in size 
from 1.2 to 16 hectares (3 to 40 acres), and all are threatened by one 
or more of the following: forest encroachment into grassland meadows; 
conversion to agriculture; residential construction; development of 
recreational facilities such as golf courses; and road construction and 
    The primary threat to the northern Idaho ground squirrel is meadow 
invasion by conifers (Sherman and Yensen 1994; E. Yensen, pers. comm. 
1998, 1999). Fire suppression and the dense regrowth of conifers 
resulting from past logging activities have significantly reduced 
meadow habitats suitable for northern Idaho ground squirrels over the 
past 40 years. As the amount of suitable meadow habitat on public and 
private lands has been reduced, northern Idaho ground squirrel 
dispersal corridors have been reduced or eliminated, further 
constricting the subspecies into smaller isolated habitat areas (Truksa 
and Yensen 1990). The loss of dispersal corridors has caused some 
isolated populations to become extirpated in recent years (Sherman and

[[Page 17782]]

Yensen 1994; Service 1996). Small populations at several remaining 
sites are likely to become extirpated as well (Sherman and Yensen 1994; 
Mangel and Tier 1994).
    The fragmented distribution of the northern Idaho ground squirrel 
is a remnant of what may once have been a more continuous distribution 
from Round Valley, Idaho, in Valley County north to New Meadows, Idaho, 
and southwest to Council, Idaho, in Adams County. The forest structure 
in the area has changed markedly over the past century due to logging 
and fire suppression, resulting in denser, more even-aged younger 
stands of trees with thinner and less heterogeneous (not uniform) 
under-story plant communities (Burns and Zborowski 1996). Fire 
suppression allowed conifers to invade once suitable meadow habitats, 
thereby shrinking the size of forb/grass meadows or closing open grassy 
dispersal/migration corridors entirely to nearby meadow sites. These 
changes isolated the dry meadows with suitable shallow soils where the 
northern Idaho ground squirrel finds refuge from the Columbian ground 
squirrel, in addition to eliminating migration between northern Idaho 
ground squirrel sites. Remaining dry meadow habitats supporting 
northern Idaho ground squirrels are now being invaded by young conifer 
trees, reducing availability of the preferred forage and burrow habitat 
of this subspecies. Habitat dissection and reduced opportunities for 
dispersal among habitats prevents gene flow and results in considerable 
population differentiation (Sherman and Yensen 1994).
    Agricultural conversion and rural housing developments near the 
communities of Round Valley, north to New Meadows, and south to 
Council, during the past 40 years have fragmented suitable habitats 
formerly occupied by the northern Idaho ground squirrel. Various types 
of developments continue to threaten remaining occupied sites in Adams 
and Valley counties. Occupied ground squirrel habitat near New Meadows 
was converted to a golf course and associated housing development 
(Yensen 1985), which resulted in the eradication of northern Idaho 
ground squirrels by poisoning because they were impacting the fairways 
and golf greens (E. Yensen, pers. comm. 1999).
    A 51.5 kilometer (km) (32 mile (mi)) gravel road from Council to 
Cuprum, Idaho, is scheduled to be paved by the year 2001 (U.S. 
Department of Transportation 1998). Approximately 6.4 km (4 mi) of this 
project runs through historic and currently occupied habitat of the 
northern Idaho ground squirrel. The road improvement project will 
seasonally extend vehicle access to four occupied northern Idaho ground 
squirrel sites. These four sites will be subject to increased mortality 
risk from vehicular traffic, and possibly recreational shooting (Forest 
Service 1997a). The Federal Highways Administration consulted with us 
and the Forest Service in developing conservation measures as part of 
their biological assessment for the Council to Cuprum Road paving 
project (Forest Service 1997a). Conservation measures include actions 
to attract northern Idaho ground squirrels away from the paved highway 
to adjacent but suitable habitat to avoid passing vehicles. Funding for 
these conservation measures was approved by the U.S. Department of 
Transportation to monitor the measures before and after the road 
improvements have been made. Monitoring was initiated in 1998 and will 
continue through 2003. At this time, it is uncertain whether the 
proposed conservation measures will be successful in protecting 
remaining populations in the vicinity of the road improvement project.

B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Recreational shooting has contributed to the decline of northern 
Idaho ground squirrels at various sites (Yensen 1985, 1991; E. Yensen, 
pers. comm. 1999). Sites adjacent to housing developments, farms, and 
roads, in particular, are subject to a high rate of recreational 
    Four population sites have been documented as being subjected to 
recreational shooting (E. Yensen, pers. comm. 1998). One site is 
located next to a road on National Forest land. It was common to find 
.22 rifle casings on the road from people presumably shooting the 
ground squirrels. The subspecies has now been extirpated from this site 
as a result of shooting. Another site on private land that had both 
northern Idaho ground squirrels and Columbian ground squirrels was 
routinely used by recreational shooters, and, as a result, the 
population is now extinct there. Another site on private land at New 
Meadows was periodically used by recreational shooters until a golf 
course was put in at the site. The operators of the golf course then 
poisoned the remaining population of northern Idaho ground squirrels to 
eliminate them. The fourth site is partially located on private land 
and partially located on Forest Service land and also is subjected to 
shooting (E. Yensen, pers. comm. 1999).
    Vandalism, either by shooting or poisoning, is a threat to most of 
the populations. Many private landowners consider ground squirrels to 
be a pest that requires elimination. In June 1998, Dr. Eric Yensen of 
Albertson College, who has done research on the subspecies, approached 
a private landowner for permission to check on a northern Idaho ground 
squirrel population occurring on his land. The landowner told Dr. 
Yensen he wanted to know where the population was so he could go out 
and poison them. Since the landowner was threatening to eliminate the 
population, Dr. Yensen declined to tell him exactly where the site was. 
Dr. Yensen was then refused permission to check on the site by the 
landowner. Other landowners have made similar threats against northern 
Idaho ground squirrel populations to Dr. Yensen (E. Yensen, pers. comm. 
1999). Since most of the population sites contain less than 20 animals, 
and less than 1,000 animals overall, shooting and poisoning could have 
significant adverse impacts (E. Yensen, pers. comm. 1999).

C. Disease or Predation

    Disease is not thought to be a major factor affecting the northern 
Idaho ground squirrel. The parasitic nematode, Pelodera strongyloides, 
infects the eyes of the northern Idaho ground squirrel (Sherman and 
Yensen 1994; Yensen et al. 1996). This eye worm is not currently known 
to be a cause of mortality in existing populations (Yensen et al. 
1996). Plague (Yersina pestis) a contagious bacterial disease in 
rodents, has not yet been found in any northern Idaho ground squirrel 
populations (Yensen et al. 1996.). The disease, once established, could 
decimate these squirrels. Blood analysis to determine whether pandemic 
diseases are present have not been done on the northern Idaho ground 
    The primary predators of the northern Idaho ground squirrel include 
badger (Taxidea taxus), goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), prairie falcon 
(Falco mexicanus), and occasionally red-tailed hawk (Buteo 
jamaicensis). Predators may threaten many of the smaller, more isolated 
populations of northern Idaho ground squirrel. Badger activity has been 
noted at several of these sites (Sherman and Gavin 1997). Badgers are 
efficient predators and could eliminate an entire population of 20 or 
so animals in just a few days. Male ground squirrels, due to their 
above-ground active behavior patterns, are particularly subject to 
increased predation risk

[[Page 17783]]

during the mating period. Juveniles are also subject to a high degree 
of predation during their first year (Sherman and Yensen 1994). Also, 
domestic cat (Felis catus) predation has been documented at two sites 
because the sites are located near residential housing (E. Yensen, 
pers. comm. 1999).

D. The Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The State of Idaho recognizes the northern Idaho ground squirrel as 
a ``Species of Special Concern'' (Idaho Department of Fish and Game 
1994). Because of this status, the northern Idaho ground squirrel is, 
by State law, protected from taking (shooting, trapping, poisoning) or 
possession. To date, however, protection from recreational shooting has 
not been adequately enforced by the State, and the northern Idaho 
ground squirrel remains vulnerable to this type of activity (Yensen 
    Local land use ordinances and other regulations are inadequate to 
protect this subspecies. For example, in Adams County where 99 percent 
of northern Idaho ground squirrel population sites are found, land use 
regulations allow for single and multiple housing developments under a 
permit system. There is no consideration under the existing permit 
system for impacts that may result to northern Idaho ground squirrels 
from housing or recreation developments in or adjacent to their 
habitat. With no limitations on development of northern Idaho ground 
squirrel habitat, it is anticipated that human population growth and 
development in the foreseeable future will impact ground squirrel 

E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting its Continued Existence

    Other factors affecting conservation actions for this subspecies 
include land ownership patterns, prelisting activities, and 
conservation efforts on private and public lands. All active northern 
Idaho ground squirrel sites occur on private, State, and Payette 
National Forest lands. A conservation agreement (Agreement) was 
finalized in July 1996, between us and the Payette National Forest 
(Service 1996). The duration of the Agreement is 5 years. The Agreement 
identifies conservation and land management actions that will provide 
habitat favorable to the northern Idaho ground squirrel. These actions, 
some already in the implementation phase, include controlled burning of 
selected meadows to reduce over-story and to improve forage preferred 
by the northern Idaho ground squirrel, timber harvest in select areas 
to open meadows where active sites are found, and timber harvest to 
provide dispersal corridors for improved connectivity between active 
populations (Forest Service 1998). For example, 3.3 million board feet 
of timber is proposed for harvest in the Lick Creek drainage from 1998 
to 2000 (Forest Service 1997b). The sale is designed to reconnect an 
active population with other nearby populations. It will also expand 
the size of 12 meadow habitats on Federal lands that are favorable to 
recolonization by the northern Idaho ground squirrel. Two units were 
completed in 1999, and the rest will be harvested in 2000. Although the 
Agreement does not currently remove or reduce threats to the degree 
where listing may be precluded, the conservation actions implemented 
will facilitate recovery.
    A relocation plan, developed by scientists from Cornell University 
and Albertson College, was initiated in the spring of 1997, and 
continued in 1998 and 1999. A total of 76 squirrels were transplanted 
to 2 sites on lands managed by the Forest Service that had been treated 
through burning and timber harvest (Sherman and Gavin 1997; Gavin et 
al. 1998). One site had a small existing population of northern Idaho 
ground squirrels, and at the other site, the subspecies had been 
extirpated. Initial results indicate that some translocated females 
were lactating, and juveniles were observed at both sites, indicating 
successful reproduction (Sherman and Gavin 1997; Gavin et al. 1998). A 
report compiling the results of monitoring the transplant is expected 
in the spring of 2000. Whether long-term benefits to ground squirrel 
recovery result from these actions will be unknown for several years.
    Habitat and resource competition with the Columbian ground squirrel 
is a factor affecting the survival of the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel. Competition from the Columbian ground squirrel could be an 
important factor in the decline of the northern Idaho ground squirrel 
(Dyni and Yensen 1996). The northern Idaho ground squirrel may have 
been forced into areas containing shallower soils due to competition 
from Columbian ground squirrels (Sherman and Yensen 1994). The 
Columbian ground squirrel is larger and prefers deeper areas with soils 
that provide better over-winter protection and higher nutrients. Where 
both subspecies occur, the northern Idaho ground squirrel tends to 
occupy the shallower soils but requires deeper soils less than 1 m (3.2 
ft) for nests (Yensen et al. 1991). The Columbian ground squirrel is 
not restricted by soil depth; typically, their burrow systems are 
associated with degree of slope, well-drained soils, and number of 
native forbs (Weddell 1989).
    Winter mortality may be a contributing factor for northern Idaho 
ground squirrel decline, especially when juvenile squirrels enter 
torpor without sufficient fat reserves and snow levels are below 
average (Paul Sherman, pers. comm., 1997). Soils tend to freeze to 
greater depths where snow levels are shallow. When this occurs, ground 
squirrels are unable to thermoregulate or maintain sufficient fat 
reserves. Although the relationship between ground squirrels and 
weather is complex, (Yensen et al. 1992) sites may have been adversely 
affected by drought and over winter mortality in the early 1990's. 
Winter mortality is of special concern since many remaining sites 
contain few individuals. High winter mortality combined with the loss 
of suitable vegetation conditions can result in the permanent loss of 
isolated populations.
    As a result of the factors discussed above, and due to the small 
population sizes at remaining sites and the low total number of 
individuals, the northern Idaho ground squirrel may have little 
resilience to naturally occurring events (Gavin et al. 1993). Small 
populations are often highly vulnerable to natural climatic 
fluctuations as well as catastrophic natural events (Mangel and Tier 
1994). Gavin et al. (1993) used a computer population viability 
simulation program (VORTEX), using natality (birth) and mortality 
(death) values recorded over 8 years from an intensively studied 
northern Idaho ground squirrel population (Sherman and Yensen 1994) to 
examine population viability. Variables in the model included no 
natural immigration. The population viability analysis used 50 
individuals, a figure that was 30 individuals lower than the actual 
population size of 80 individuals (Sherman and Yensen 1994). The model 
calculated that all but 1 of 100 populations would become extinct in 
less than 20 years.
    In developing this rule, we have carefully assessed the best 
scientific and commercial information available regarding the past, 
present, and future threats faced by the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel. Based on this evaluation, the preferred action is to list the 
northern Idaho ground squirrel as a threatened species. The subspecies 
has declined from approximately 5,000 animals in 1985 to fewer than 
1,000 animals in 1998. Although additional occupied sites have been 
recently discovered, numerous extirpations have occurred. Most 
remaining populations

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consist of small numbers of individuals isolated from other 
populations. Remaining occupied sites on private land are not protected 
from threats to the species or its' habitat. Existing land use 
regulations are inadequate to protect the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel from habitat destruction resulting from development. Some 
ground squirrel habitat improvement projects have been initiated at two 
sites on Payette National Forest lands. While these efforts may be 
important to the long-term conservation of the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel, they are currently very limited in their applicability and 
the threat of meadow loss still continues. Benefits to the northern 
Idaho ground squirrel from current conservation actions may not be 
realized or quantifiable for years. While the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel is not in immediate danger of extinction because of ongoing 
conservation efforts, the subspecies could become endangered in the 
foreseeable future if remaining sites decline further. Not listing this 
taxon would be inconsistent with the intent of the Act.

Critical Habitat

    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as: (i) The 
specific areas within the geographical area occupied by a species, at 
the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which are found 
those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation 
of the species and (II) that may require special management 
considerations or protection and; (ii) specific areas outside the 
geographical area occupied by a species at the time it is listed, upon 
a determination that such areas are essential for the conservation of 
the species. ``Conservation'' means the use of all methods and 
procedures needed to bring the species to the point at which listing 
under the Act is no longer necessary.
    In the proposed rule, we indicated that designation of critical 
habitat was not prudent for the northern Idaho ground squirrel because 
of a concern that publication of precise maps and descriptions of 
critical habitat in the Federal Register could increase the 
vulnerability of this species to incidents of shooting and other forms 
of human activity. We also indicated that designation of critical 
habitat was not prudent because we believed it would not provide any 
additional benefit beyond that provided through listing as endangered.
    In the last few years, a series of court decisions have overturned 
Service determinations regarding a variety of species that designation 
of critical habitat would not be prudent (e.g., Natural Resources 
Defense Council v. U.S. Department of the Interior 113 F. 3d 1121 (9th 
Cir. 1997); Conservation Council for Hawaii v. Babbitt, 2 F. Supp. 2d 
1280 (D. Hawaii 1998)). Based on the standards applied in those 
judicial opinions, we have reexamined the question of whether critical 
habitat for the northern Idaho ground squirrel would be prudent.
    Due to the small number of populations, the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel is vulnerable to shooting, colony destruction, or other 
disturbance. We remain concerned that these threats might be 
exacerbated by the publication of critical habitat maps and further 
dissemination of locational information. We have examined the evidence 
available for the northern Idaho ground squirrel, and have knowledge of 
two separate incidents where northern Idaho ground squirrel colonies 
were eliminated on private lands from poisoning and shooting. As stated 
in threat factor D, northern Idaho ground squirrels are, by Idaho State 
law, protected from taking (shooting, trapping, poisoning) or 
possession, but protection from recreational shooting has not been 
adequately enforced by the State, especially in those areas where 
recreational shooting of nearby Columbian ground squirrels is popular. 
However, we do not have any evidence that the publication of critical 
habitat maps would provide additional location information that was not 
already available and thus increase the threat to northern Idaho ground 
squirrels from shooting and poisoning. Consequently, consistent with 
applicable regulations (50 CFR 424.12(a)(1)(i)) and recent case law, at 
this time we cannot make a finding that the identification of critical 
habitat will increase the degree of threat to these species from taking 
or other human activity.
    In the case of this species, some benefits may result from 
designation of critical habitat. The primary regulatory effect of 
critical habitat is the section 7 requirement that Federal agencies 
refrain from taking any action that destroys or adversely modifies 
critical habitat. While a critical habitat designation for habitat 
currently occupied by this species would not be likely to change the 
section 7 consultation outcome because an action that destroys or 
adversely modifies such critical habitat would also be likely to result 
in jeopardy to the species, in some instances section 7 consultation 
might be triggered only if critical habitat is designated. Examples 
could include unoccupied habitat or occupied habitat that may become 
unoccupied in the future. Designating critical habitat may also provide 
some educational or informational benefits. Therefore, we find that 
designation of critical habitat is prudent for the northern Idaho 
ground squirrel.
    As explained in detail in our Listing Priority Guidance for FY 2000 
(64 FR 57114), our listing budget is currently insufficient to allow us 
to immediately complete all of the listing actions required by the Act. 
Deferral of the critical habitat designation for the northern Idaho 
ground squirrel will allow us to concentrate our limited resources on 
higher priority critical habitat and other listing actions, while 
allowing us to put in place protections needed for the conservation of 
the northern Idaho ground squirrel without further delay. However, 
because we have successfully reduced, although not eliminated, the 
backlog of other listing actions, we anticipate in FY 2000 and beyond 
giving higher priority to critical habitat designation, including 
designations deferred pursuant to the Listing Priority Guidance, such 
as the designation for this species, than we have in recent fiscal 
    We plan to employ a priority system for deciding which outstanding 
critical habitat designations should be addressed first. We will focus 
our efforts on those designations that will provide the most 
conservation benefit, taking into consideration the efficacy of 
critical habitat designation in addressing the threats to the species, 
and the magnitude and immediacy of those threats. We will develop a 
proposal to designate critical habitat for the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel as soon as feasible, considering our workload priorities. 
Unfortunately, for the immediate future, most of Region 1's listing 
budget must be directed to complying with numerous court orders and 
settlement agreements, as well as due and overdue final listing 
determinations (like the one at issue in this case).

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
activities. Recognition through listing encourages and results in 
conservation actions by Federal, State, and private agencies, groups, 
and individuals. Without the elevated profile that Federal listing 
affords, little likelihood exists that any conservation activities 
would be undertaken. The Act provides for possible land acquisition and 
cooperation with the States and requires

[[Page 17785]]

that recovery actions be carried out for all listed species. The 
protection required of Federal agencies and the prohibitions against 
taking and harm are discussed, in part, below.
    Section 7(a) of the Act, as amended, requires Federal agencies to 
evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is proposed or 
listed as endangered or threatened and with respect to its critical 
habitat, if any is being designated. Regulations implementing this 
interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR 
part 402. Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with us on any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of a proposed species or result in destruction or adverse 
modification of proposed critical habitat. If a species is listed 
subsequently, section 7(a)(2) requires Federal agencies to insure that 
activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of such a species or to destroy or 
adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action may affect a 
listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency 
must enter into formal consultation with us.
    The Act requires the appropriate land management agencies to 
evaluate potential impacts to the species that may result from 
activities they authorize or permit. Consultation under section 7 of 
the Act is required for activities on Federal, State, county, or 
private lands that may impact the survival and recovery of the northern 
Idaho ground squirrel, if such activities are funded, authorized, 
carried out, or permitted by Federal agencies. Federal agencies that 
may be involved with this subspecies include the Forest Service, 
Federal Highway Administration, BLM, Office of Surface Mining, and 
Natural Resource Conservation Service. Section 7 requires these 
agencies to consider potential impacts to the northern Idaho ground 
squirrel prior to approval of any activity authorized or permitted by 
    Federal agency actions that may require consultation include 
removing, thinning, or altering vegetation; constructing of roads or 
camping sites in the vicinity of active and historical sites; 
recreational home developments; off-road vehicle use areas; gravel or 
sand mining activities; campground construction; mining permits and 
expansion; highway construction; and timber harvest.
    Listing this subspecies as threatened provides for development of a 
recovery plan. Such a plan would identify both State and Federal 
efforts for conservation of the subspecies and establish a framework 
for agencies to coordinate activities and cooperate with each other in 
conservation efforts. The plan would set recovery priorities and 
describe site-specific management actions necessary to achieve 
conservation and survival of the subspecies. Additionally, pursuant to 
section 6 of the Act, we would be able to grant funds to affected 
States for management actions promoting the protection and recovery of 
this subspecies.
    The Act and implementing regulations found at 50 CFR 17.31 describe 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to all threatened 
wildlife. These prohibitions, in part, make it illegal for any person 
subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to take (including 
harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, 
or attempt any such conduct), import or export, transport in interstate 
or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity, or sell or 
offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any listed species. It 
also is illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship 
any such wildlife that has been taken illegally. Certain exceptions 
apply to our agents and State conservation agencies.
    Permits may be issued to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving threatened wildlife species under certain circumstances. 
Regulations governing permits for threatened species are at 50 CFR 
17.32. Such permits are available for scientific purposes, to enhance 
the propagation or survival of the species, and/or for incidental take 
in connection with otherwise lawful activities. For threatened species, 
permits are also available for zoological exhibition, educational 
purposes, or special purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act.
    As published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34272), 
our policy is to identify, to the maximum extent practicable at the 
time when a species is proposed for listing, those activities that 
would or would not constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The 
intent of this policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of 
the listing on proposed and ongoing activities within a species' range. 
We believe that, based upon the best available information, the 
following action will not likely result in a violation of section 9:
    (1) Activities authorized, funded, or carried out by Federal 
agencies (e.g., logging, flood and erosion control, mineral and housing 
development, off-road vehicle permitting or park development, 
recreational trail and campground development, road construction, 
prescribed burns, pest control activities, utility lines or pipeline 
construction) when such activity is conducted in accordance with any 
incidental take statement prepared by us in accordance with section 7 
of the Act; and
    (2) Clearing of a firebreak around one's personal residence.
    Activities that we believe could potentially result in a violation 
of section 9 include but are not limited to:
    (1) Activities that directly or indirectly result in the actual 
death or injury of the northern Idaho ground squirrel, or that modify 
the known habitat of the subspecies by significantly modifying 
essential behavior patterns (e.g., intensive plowing and conversion to 
cropland, shooting, intentional poisoning, road and trail construction, 
water development and impoundment, mineral extraction or processing, 
off-road vehicle use, and unauthorized application of herbicides or 
    (2) Activities within the northern Idaho ground squirrel 
hibernating period (mid July through early April) and near burrow areas 
that include road, pipeline, or utility construction, herbicide 
application, or other activities that would alter the burrow systems 
and food sources of the northern Idaho ground squirrel; and
    (3) Activities authorized, funded, or carried out by Federal 
agencies (e.g., logging, flood and erosion control, mineral and housing 
development, off-road vehicle permitting or park development, 
recreational trail and campground development, road construction, 
prescribed burns, pest control activities, utility lines or pipeline 
construction) when such activity is not conducted in accordance with 
any incidental take statement prepared by us in accordance with section 
7 of the Act.
    Questions regarding whether specific activities will constitute a 
violation of section 9 or requests to obtain approved guidelines for 
actions within northern Idaho ground squirrel habitat should be 
directed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Snake River Basin 
Office, Boise, Idaho (see ADDRESSES section). Requests for copies of 
the regulations concerning listed animals and inquiries regarding 
prohibitions and permits may be addressed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Endangered Species Permits, 911 N.E. 11th Avenue, Portland, 
Oregon 97232-4181 (telephone 503/231-2063; Facsimile 503/231-6243).

National Environmental Policy Act

    We determined that we do not need to prepare an Environmental

[[Page 17786]]

Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement, as defined under the 
authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 in 
connection with regulations adopted under section 4(a) of the 
Endangered Species Act, as amended. A notice outlining our reasons for 
this determination was published in the Federal Register on October 25, 
1983 (48 FR 49244).

Required Determinations

    This rule does not contain any new collections of information other 
than those already approved under the Paperwork Reduction Act, 44 
U.S.C. 3501 et seq., and assigned Office of Management and Budget 
clearance number 1018-0094. An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a 
person is not required to respond to a collection of information unless 
it displays a currently valid OMB control number. For additional 
information concerning permit and associated requirements for 
threatened species, see 50 CFR 17.32.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein, as well as others, 
is available upon request from the Snake River Basin Office (see 


    The primary author of this proposed rule is Richard Howard, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Snake River Basin Office (see ADDRESSES 

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
record keeping requirements, Transportation.

Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 
of the Code of Federal Regulations, as follows:


    1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 16 U.S.C. 1531-1544; 16 U.S.C. 
4201-4245; Pub. L. 99-625, 100 Stat. 3500; unless otherwise noted.

    2. Amend Sec. 17.11(h) by adding the following, in alphabetical 
order under MAMMALS, to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife 
to read as follows:

Sec. 17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

                        Species                                                    Vertebrate
--------------------------------------------------------                        population where                                  Critical     Special
                                                            Historic range       endangered or         Status      When listed    habitat       rules
           Common name                Scientific name                              threatened

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *
Ground squirrel, northern Idaho..  Spermophilus          U.S.A. (ID)........  NA.................  T                       693           NA           NA
                                    brunneus brunneus.

                   *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *

    Dated: March 29, 2000.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 00-8346 Filed 4-4-00; 8:45 am]