[Federal Register: August 23, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 164)]
[Page 44372-44374]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report/Statement for the 
South Subregion Natural Community Conservation Plan/Habitat 
Conservation Plan, County of Orange, California

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, the Fish 
and Wildlife Service (Service) advises the public that we intend to 
gather information necessary to prepare, in coordination with the 
County of Orange, California (County), a joint programmatic 
Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) on 
the South Subregion Natural Community Conservation Plan/Habitat 
Conservation Plan (NCCP/HCP) proposed by the County. The County and 
possibly other jurisdictions intend to request Endangered Species Act 
permits for federally listed threatened or endangered species and for 
unlisted species that may become listed during the term of the permit. 
The permit is needed to authorize take of listed species (including 
harm, injury and

[[Page 44373]]

harassment) during urban development in the approximately 200 square-
mile study area in southern Orange County. The proposed NCCP/HCP would 
identify those actions necessary to maintain the viability of South 
Subregion coastal sage scrub habitat for the federally threatened 
coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica), 
and other species and major habitat types identified for inclusion and 
management during the preparation of the NCCP/HCP.
    The Service is furnishing this notice to: (1) Advise other Federal 
and State agencies, affected Tribes, and the public of our intentions; 
(2) announce the initiation of a 30-day public scoping period, and (3) 
obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues to be 
included in the EIR/EIS.

DATES: We will accept written comments on or before September 24, 2001.

ADDRESSES: Send comments to Mr. James Bartel, Field Supervisor, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Carlsbad Field Office, 3720 Loker Avenue 
West, Carlsbad, CA 92008; facsimile (760) 431-9618.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Karen Evans, Supervisory Fish and 
Wildlife Biologist, (see ADDRESSES); telephone (760) 431-9440.



    Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, and 
Federal regulation prohibit the ``taking'' of a species listed as 
endangered or threatened. The term ``take'' means to harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, capture or collect listed wildlife, 
or attempt to engage in such conduct. Harm includes habitat 
modification that kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing 
essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering. Under limited circumstances, the Service may issue permits 
for take of listed species that is incidental to, and not the purpose 
of, otherwise lawful activities. Regulations governing permits for 
threatened and endangered species are found in 50 CFR 17.32 and 50 CFR 
    If the Service approves the NCCP/HCP, we may authorize incidental 
take of the California gnatcatcher and other identified federally 
listed species through issuance of Endangered Species Act incidental 
take permits. The NCCP/HCP, coupled with an Implementation Agreement, 
could also form the basis for issuing incidental take permits for other 
identified non-listed species should these identified species be listed 
during the term of the permit.
    On March 25, 1993, the Service issued a Final Rule declaring the 
California gnatcatcher to be a threatened species (508 FR 16742). The 
Final Rule was followed by a special rule on December 10, 1993 (50 FR 
65088) to allow take of the California gnatcatcher pursuant to section 
4(d) of the Act. The special rule defined the conditions under which 
take of the coastal California gnatcatcher and other federally-listed 
species, resulting from specified land use activities regulated by 
state and local government, would not violate section 9 of the Act. In 
the special rule the Service recognized the significant efforts 
undertaken by the State of California through the Natural Community 
Conservation Planning Act of 1991 and encouraged holistic management of 
listed species, like the coastal California gnatcatcher, and other 
sensitive species. The Service declared its intent to permit incidental 
take of the California gnatcatcher associated with land use activities 
covered by an approved subregional NCCP prepared under the NCCP 
Program, provided the Service determines that the subregional NCCP 
meets the issuance criteria of an incidental take permit pursuant to 
section 10(a)(1) (B) of the Act and 50 CFR 17.32(b)(2). The County 
currently intends to obtain the Service's approval of the NCCP/HCP 
through a section 10(a)(1)(B) permit.

Proposed Action

    The Service will prepare a joint EIR/EIS with the County of Orange, 
lead agency for the NCCP/HCP. The County will prepare an EIR in 
accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The County 
will publish a separate Notice of Preparation for the EIR.
    The South Subregional NCCP/HCP study area covers more than 200 
square miles in the southern and eastern portions of Orange County. 
This NCCP subregion is bounded on the east by the San Diego County line 
and on the north by Riverside County line. Along the west, the study 
area boundaries follow San Juan Creek inland to the Interstate 5 (I-5) 
overcrossing, then northwest along I-5 to El Toro Road, and north along 
El Toro Road to the intersection of Live Oak Canyon Road and 
northeasterly on a straight line from that intersection to the northern 
apex of the County boundary. The subregion is bounded on the south by 
the Pacific Ocean.
    The NCCP/HCP will describe strategies to conserve coastal sage 
scrub and other major upland and aquatic habitat types identified for 
inclusion and management, while allowing incidental take of endangered 
and threatened species associated with development. Development may 
include residential, commercial, industrial, and recreational 
development; public infrastructure such as roads and utilities; and 
maintenance of public facilities.

Preliminary Alternatives

    The EIR/EIS for the South Subregion NCCP/HCP will assist the 
Service during its decision making process by enabling us to analyze 
the environmental consequences of the proposed action and a full array 
of alternatives identified during preparation of the NCCP/HCP. Although 
specific programmatic alternatives have not been prepared for public 
discussion, the range of alternatives preliminarily identified for 
consideration include:

Alternative 1, No Project/No Development Alternative

    No land development and no NCCP/HCP directly impacting listed 
species. Conservation would rely on existing or future amended General 
Plans, growth management programs and habitat management efforts, and 
continuing project-by-project review and permitting pursuant to the 
National Environmental Policy Act and Sections 7 and 10 of the 
Endangered Species Act.

Alternative 3, NCCP/HCP Alternative Based on Orange County Projections 
(OCP) 2000

    Land uses projected by the County's OCP 2000 for Rancho Mission 
Viejo Lands would be considered for implementation under a Subregional 
NCCP/HCP approach designed to comply with the requirements of section 
10(a) of the Endangered Species Act by assuring long-term value of 
coastal sage scrub and other major habitat types on a subregional level 
through the following measures:
    (1) Permanently set aside coastal sage scrub and other major 
habitats consistent with Scientific Review Panel Reserve Design 
Criteria (1993).
    (2) Address habitat needs of coastal sage scrub species and of 
other species that use major habitat types specifically identified for 
inclusion and management within the NCCP Reserve.
    (3) Maintain and enhance habitat connectivity within the subregion 
and between adjacent subregions.
    (4) Provide for adaptive habitat management within the NCCP 
Reserve, including, habitat restoration and enhancement.

[[Page 44374]]

Alternative 4, NCCP/HCP Alternative Based on Other Land Use Scenarios

    Formulation of alternative subregional conservation plans and 
habitat reserve configurations designed to comply with the requirements 
of Section 10(a) by assuring the long-term value of coastal sage scrub 
and other major habitat types on a subregional level through the same 
four general measures listed under Alternative 3.

Other Governmental Actions

    The NCCP/HCP is being prepared concurrently and coordinated with 
the joint preparation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and CDFG of a 
Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) and Master Streambed Alteration 
Agreement (MSAA) for the San Juan Creek and western San Mateo Creek 
watersheds. These watersheds cover most of the South NCCP Subregion. In 
addition to the concurrent SAMP/MSAA process, the County and Rancho 
Mission Viejo, the owner of the largest undeveloped property in the 
subregion, will be proceeding with consideration of amendments to the 
County General Plan and Zoning Code for that portion of the subregion 
owned by Rancho Mission Viejo. The SAMP/MSAA will involve the 
preparation of a concurrent joint programmatic EIR/EIS and the General 
Plan/Zoning amendment programs will involve the preparation of an EIR 
that will distributed for review during the NCCP/HCP public planning 
process. The County of Orange will prepare and publish a separate 
Notice of Preparation for the General Plan Amendment and Zone Change 

Service Scoping

    We invite comments from all interested parties to ensure that the 
full range of issues related to the permit requests are addressed and 
that all significant issues are identified. We will conduct 
environmental review of the permit applications in accordance with the 
requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 as 
amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), its implementing regulations (40 CFR 
parts 1500 through 1508), and with other appropriate Federal laws and 
regulations, policies, and procedures of the Service for compliance 
with those regulations. We expect a draft EIR/EIS for the South 
Subregion NCCP/HCP to be available for public review in Fall 2002.

    Dated: August 16, 2001.
Mary Ellen Mueller,
Acting Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 01-21272 Filed 8-22-01; 8:45 am]