[Federal Register: December 18, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 243)]
[Page 79115-79117]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for 
Issuance of Permits, to Incidentally Take Threatened and Endangered 
Species, to the City of Sacramento and Sutter County in Association 
with a revised Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan, Sacramento and 
Sutter Counties, California

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), is considering 
approval of a revised Natomas Basin Habitat Conservation Plan (Plan) 
and re-issuance of an Endangered Species Act Incidental Take Permit 
(Permit), under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act, to 
the City of Sacramento (City) and issuing a Permit to Sutter County. 
These municipalities have the majority of land use authority in the 
Natomas Basin. The permit would authorize incidental take of listed 
species and unlisted species that may be listed in the future. 
Incidental take of listed species could occur as a result of urban 
development, certain on-going rice farming activities, and management 
of habitat reserves.
    Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, the Service 
intends to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement addressing the 
proposed action of approving the Plan and issuing Permits. The Plan 
covers the entire 53,341-acre Natomas Basin, including portions of the 
City and Sacramento and Sutter Counties that occur within the basin. 
The Environmental Impact Statement will also serve as an Environmental 
Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act. The Plan 
addresses the incidental take of the federally listed threatened giant 
garter snake (Thamnophis gigas), Aleutian Canada goose (Branta 
canadensis leucopareia), valley elderberry longhorn beetle (Desmocerus 
californicus dimorphus), the endangered vernal pool fairy shrimp 
(Branchinecta lynchi), vernal pool tadpole shrimp (Lepidurus packardi), 
conservancy fairy shrimp

[[Page 79116]]

(Branchinecta conservatio), longhorn fairy shrimp (Branchinecta 
longiantenna), Colusa grass (Neostapfia colusana), Sacramento Orcutt 
grass (Orcuttia viscida), slender Orcutt grass (Orcuttia tenuis), and 
16 currently unlisted species and their habitats resulting from 
development, certain agricultural activities, and species and habitat 
management actions in the Natomas Basin. The Plan includes a process 
for covering third party development and agricultural activities within 
the two jurisdictions that are carried out in conformance with the 
    This notice describes the proposed action and possible 
alternatives, invites public participation in the scoping process for 
preparation of the joint Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental 
Impact Report, solicits written comments, and identifies the Service 
official to whom questions and comments concerning the proposed action 
should be directed.

DATES: Written comments are encouraged and should be received on or 
before January 16, 2001.
    Public Meeting: The Service, City, and Sutter County will hold 
public scoping meetings on January 3, 2001, 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., 
Holt Tractor Manufacturing, large conference room, 7310 Pacific Avenue, 
Pleasant Grove, California; and, January 4, 2001, 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 
p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., City of Sacramento, 1231 I Street, 
First Floor, Room 102, Sacramento, California. Verbal and written 
comments will be accepted at the meetings. For additional meeting 
information, contact Vicki Campbell, Division Chief, Conservation 
Planning at (916) 414-6600.

ADDRESSES: Information, written comments, or questions related to the 
preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact 
Report and the National Environmental Policy Act process should be 
submitted to Vicki Campbell, Division Chief, Conservation Planning, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 
2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, California 95825; FAX (916) 414-
6713. All comments received, including names and addresses, will become 
part of the official administrative record and may be made available to 
the public.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lori Rinek or Kelly Hornaday, Fish and 
Wildlife Biologists, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office at (916) 414-
6600. Persons wishing to obtain background materials should contact 
Grace Hovey, City of Sacramento, 1231 I Street, Suite 300, Sacramento, 
California 85814 at (916) 264-7601, or Jeff Pemstein, Sutter County, 
10461 Old Placerville Road, Suite 110, Sacramento, California 95827 at 
(916) 361-8384, extension 203.



    Section 9 of the Act and Federal regulation prohibit the ``take'' 
of animal species listed as endangered or threatened. Take is defined 
under the Act as 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 limited circumstances, the 
Service may issue permits to authorize ``incidental take'' of listed 
animal species. ``Incidental take'' is defined by the Act 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 
    Prior to adoption of the Plan and the Service's issuance of the 
Permit to the City in December 1997, an Environmental Assessment was 
prepared by the Service in accordance with the National Environmental 
Policy Act and a Negative Declaration was prepared by the City pursuant 
to the California Environmental Quality Act. A Federal court ruling on 
August 15, 2000, held that the Service's decisions to issue the Permit 
to the City and its decision not to prepare an Environmental Impact 
Statement for the project were arbitrary and capricious. The City and 
Sutter County are preparing a revised Plan for the Natomas Basin that 
will address the court's concerns and support the issuance of Permits 
to both the City and Sutter County. The goals of the Plan, as revised, 
are to conserve listed and unlisted species and their habitat in the 
basin while accommodating compatible development and certain on-going 
agricultural activities.
    The Plan study area comprises the entire 53,341-acre Natomas Basin 
within both Sacramento and Sutter Counties, California. Agriculture is 
the dominant land use in the Natomas Basin. The predominant crops are 
rice, corn, sugar beets, grain, tomatoes, and pasture land. Natural and 
uncultivated vegetation types are interspersed throughout the 
agricultural areas of the Natomas Basin. Natural areas are found 
primarily along irrigation canals, drainage ditches, pasture lands, and 
uncultivated fields. Narrow strips of emergent vegetation and/or wooded 
riparian areas are associated with borders of the irrigation canals and 
drainage ditches.
    Portions of the Natomas Basin that are within the jurisdiction of 
the City were included in the original December 1997 Plan and Permit. 
The City is seeking re-issuance of its Permit for urban development 
activities and certain on-going rice farming activities, and Sutter 
County is seeking issuance of a Permit for urban development and rice 
farming in its portion of the Natomas Basin. In addition, a separate 
Permit application is under review by the Service for the Metro Air 
Park Property Owners Association. The Metro Air Park application 
proposes participation in the Basin-wide conservation program. The 
Metro Air Park Permit would cover the urbanization of approximately 
2,000 acres of land within the Natomas Basin portion of unincorporated 
Sacramento County. The total acreage within the basin for which take 
resulting from urban development activities is being sought under the 
revised Natomas Basin Plan and the Metro Air Park Plan is 17,500 acres.
    Under the Plan, the effects of urbanization and other activities 
are expected to be minimized and mitigated through the City and Sutter 
County's participation in a Basin-wide conservation program, which will 
be described in the revised Plan. The focus of this Basin-wide 
conservation program is the preservation and enhancement of ecological 
communities that support species associated with wetland and upland 
habitats. Through the payment of development fees, one-half acre of 
mitigation land is expected to be established for every acre of land 
developed within the Basin. The mitigation land will be acquired by the 
Natomas Basin Conservancy, a non-profit conservation organization 
established in 1998 to implement the original Plan. Mitigation fee 
amounts, and the mitigation and minimization strategies will be subject 
to the adjustment required under the Plan, as revised. The Plan also 
contains take avoidance and minimization measures that include the 
requirements for developers and landowners to conduct pre-construction 
surveys and to carry out minimization measures prior to site 
    The City, County, and Service have selected CH2M Hill to prepare 
the joint Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact 
Report. The Environmental Impact Statement will be prepared in 
compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the 
Environmental Impact Report will be prepared in compliance with the 
California Environmental Quality Act.

[[Page 79117]]

Although CH2M Hill will prepare the Draft Environmental Impact 
Statement/Environmental Impact Report, the Service will be responsible 
for the scope and content of the Environmental Impact Statement, and 
the City and County will be responsible for the scope and content of 
the Environmental Impact Report.
    The Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report will 
consider the proposed action (issuance of section 10(a)(1)(B) 
Endangered Species Act permits to the City and Sutter County), and a 
reasonable range of alternatives as summarized below. Plan components 
related to the court's ruling that will be addressed, include the 
    1. The Plan's mitigation fee structure, mitigation land ratio, and 
rice farming best management practices;
    2. The viability of the Plan if fewer than all of the three 
jurisdictions with land in the basin participate in the Plan with 
respect to mitigation fees, the quality and location of habitat that 
would be lost and preserved under the Plan, and the impacts to the 
covered species and their habitats;
    3. Analysis of the species and the quality, quantity and location 
of habitat within each jurisdiction;
    4. Analysis of the effect on giant garter snakes if the Plan's 
goals of large, connected blocks of reserve lands cannot be met, and 
the design of a process to be built into the plan to assure its habitat 
goals are achieved;
    5. Analysis of the midcourse review procedure incorporated into the 
plan to respond to new information and address implementation issues if 
the City (or Sutter County) is the only permittee; and
    6. Analysis of the effectiveness of the monitoring and adaptive 
management provisions of the Plan if the City (or Sutter County) is the 
sole permittee.
    Potential alternatives may include a decreased development 
alternative, an increased mitigation ratio alternative, and a No Action 
alternative. Under the No Action alternative, the Service would not 
issue section 10(a)(1)(B) permits to the City and Sutter County in the 
Natomas Basin.
    Environmental review of the revised Plan will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the 1969 National Environmental 
Policy Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), National Policy Act 
regulations (40 CFR parts 1500-1508), other applicable regulations, and 
Service procedures for compliance with those regulations. This notice 
is being furnished in accordance with section 1501.7 of the National 
Environmental Policy Act to obtain suggestions and information from 
other agencies and the public on the scope of issues to be addressed in 
the Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report.
    Comments and participation in the scoping process are hereby 
solicited. The 1997 Plan, upon which the revised Plan is based, was 
subject to extensive public review. However, because of likely changes 
in the Plan, including addition of the benefits of the ``No Surprises'' 
regulation (63 FR 8859) and the Services' ``Five-Point Policy'' (65 FR 
35242), additional public review and input is being sought.
    The primary purpose of the scoping process is to identify, rather 
than to debate, significant issues related to the proposed action. 
Interested persons are encouraged to provide comments on the scope of 
issues and alternatives to be addressed in the Draft Environmental 
Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report.

    Dated: December 11, 2000.
Elizabeth H. Stevens,
Deputy Manager, Region 1, California/Nevada Operations Office, 
Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 00-32095 Filed 12-15-00; 8:45 am]