[Federal Register: September 21, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 184)]
[Page 57206-57207]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of a Draft Environmental Assessment for Federal 
Agency Participation in the Virgin River Resource Management and 
Recovery Program

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: This notice advises the public that the Draft Environmental 
Assessment (DEA) for Federal agency participation in the Virgin River 
Resource Management and Recovery Program (Program) is available for 
public review and comment. The purpose of the proposed Federal action 
described in the DEA is to formally declare the intent of the Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service 
to participate in the multi-agency program designed to implement 
recovery actions for two endangered fish species, the woundfin and the 
Virgin River chub, as well as conservation actions for the Virgin 
spinedace, as species being managed as sensitive by the State of Utah 
and subject of a Conservation Agreement. In addition to implementing 
recovery actions, the Program facilitates resolution of conflicts 
between endangered species protection and water development in the 
Virgin River Basin in Utah. Other participants include the State of 
Utah Department of Natural Resources, Washington County Water 
Conservancy District, and Grand Canyon Trust, a local non-profit, 
environmental conservation group.

DATES: Written comments should be received on or before October 30, 
2000, to be considered. In addition, an open house will be held on 
Thursday, September 21, 2000, beginning at 7 p.m. MST, at the Bureau of 
Land Management Office, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, Utah. 
Program participants will be available to provide information on the 
Program and answer questions from the public. Copies of the DEA will be 
mailed to affected government offices and interested parties who 
specifically requested it. The DEA also is available for viewing or 
downloading at http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/nepa/VirginRiver. Those 
interested persons not on the DEA mailing list may view or download 
from the internet or may request a copy from the Project Leader at the 
address below. All interested agencies and individuals are urged to 
provide comments and suggestions regarding the DEA for our review prior 
to completion of a final finding. All comments received by October 30 
will be considered in our final determination whether to prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement or a Finding of No Significant Impact on 
Federal agency participation in the Virgin River Resource Management 
and Recovery Program.
    All comments received will become part of the official public 
record. Requests for such comments will be handled in accordance with 
the Freedom of Information Act and the Council on Environmental 
Quality's National Environmental Policy Act Regulations (40 CFR 
1506.6). When requested, comment letters with the names and addresses 
of the individuals who wrote the comments will generally be provided in 
response to such requests to the extent permissible by law. Individual 
respondents may request that we withhold their home address from the 
record, which we will honor to the extent allowable by law. If you wish 
to withhold your name and/or address, you must state this prominently 
at the beginning of your comments.

ADDRESSES: Written comments should be addressed to the Field 
Supervisor, Utah Ecological Services Field Office, Lincoln Plaza, 145 
East 1300 South State Street, Suite 404, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115. 
Electronic (e-mail) comments also may be submitted to: 
FW6_VirginRiver@fws.gov. All comments and materials received will be 
available upon request for public inspection, by appointment, during 
normal business hours at the above address.

Supervisor (see ADDRESSES above), at 801-524-5001, extension 126.



    The woundfin was listed as endangered on October 13, 1970 (35 FR 
16047). The Virgin River chub was listed as endangered on August 24, 
1989 (54 FR 35305). The Virgin River Fishes Recovery Plan (VRFRP), 
which included recovery of both woundfin and Virgin River chub, was 
finalized in 1995. Critical Habitat was designated for these

[[Page 57207]]

two species on January 26, 2000 (65 FR 4140). The Virgin spinedace was 
proposed for listing as endangered on May 18, 1994 (59 FR 25875). The 
Virgin Spinedace Conservation Agreement and Strategy (VSCA) to 
eliminate or reduce impacts threatening the continued existence of 
Virgin spinedace was finalized on April 11, 1995, and, subsequently, 
the proposal to list was withdrawn on February 6, 1996 (61 FR 44010). 
All three of these fish species are endemic to the Virgin River Basin 
through Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. The southwestern willow flycatcher 
is a neo-tropical migratory bird listed as endangered on February 27, 
1995 (60 FR 10693) that seasonally occupies sites along the Virgin 
River and throughout the Desert Southwest. In addition, the Virgin 
River Basin retains a diversity of native desert animal and plant 
species, many of which are declining due to impacts from human 
development in the area.
    Despite Federal listing of the two fish species, implementation of 
recovery actions in the Virgin River to benefit endangered fish have 
been minimal due to limited funding for recovery over the past 25 
years. Furthermore, conflicts have arisen between water development 
interests and those managing for protection of native species that rely 
on the river environment. Specifically, contention between the local 
environmental community and local water developers over operations of 
the Quail Creek Diversion in the Virgin River near Hurricane, Utah, led 
to discordant relations and threats of litigation among the agencies 
and organizations interested in water use.
    To resolve this situation, the interested entities agreed to 
develop the Virgin River Resource Management and Recovery Program that 
would provide a mechanism to prioritize, fund, and implement recovery 
actions while allowing water development necessary to meet human needs 
in the Utah portion of the Virgin River Basin. It is anticipated that 
the Program will not only provide recovery actions that are necessary 
to offset impacts from proposed development actions to the native 
protected species, but further lead to full recovery of the endangered 
fish species, conservation of the Virgin spinedace, as well as provide 
benefits to the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.
    The Program will encompass the VRFRP and the VSCA so that actions 
identified in these documents can be funded, implemented, and evaluated 
for effectiveness. In addition, the Program will provide measures to 
offset proposed Federal project impacts during Section 7 consultations 
in order to prevent future conflict over water development and minimize 
impacts of Federal projects on protected aquatic species. Goals and 
objectives of the Program are based on recovery of the endangered fish 
and conservation of Virgin spinedace in an environment of continuing 
water development. Although some impacts to native species are expected 
through future water development projects, recovery actions have been 
and will continue to be implemented in advance of project impacts such 
that the status of species and/or its habitat is expected to improve 
and remain greater than that necessary to offset anticipated impacts. A 
crediting system has been developed to assess, measure, and track 
benefits and impacts of projects, and is designed to maintain measured 
benefits at a higher level than impacts so that the Program is always 
moving towards recovery and conservation of protected species.
    Although participation is limited to Utah portions of the Virgin 
River Basin at this time, it is expected that the remaining portions of 
the Virgin River Basin in Arizona and Nevada will be invited to 
participate in the Program in future years as it becomes better 
established and demonstrates effectiveness.
    It is important to note that participation in this Program does not 
represent or guarantee legal authority for any water development 
project. Such projects must be evaluated individually as they are 
proposed and continue to be subject to all applicable Federal and State 
laws including NEPA and ESA. This DEA is not intended to provide 
analysis for specific project impacts, but rather analyzes only effects 
of Federal participation in the Program.
    Author: The primary author of this notice is Yvette K. Converse, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 145 East 1300 South State Street, Suite 
404, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115 (801-524-5001, extension 135).


    The authorities for this action are the National Environmental 
Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1532 et seq.)

    Dated: September 15, 2000.
Spencer F. Conley,
Regional Director, Denver, Colorado.
[FR Doc. 00-24250 Filed 9-20-00; 8:45 am]