[Federal Register: November 8, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 217)]
[Page 56566-56567]
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 (NEPA), the 
Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) reopens the comment period to 
gather additional 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 Service's 
previous notice, published August 23, 2001 (66 FR 44372), contained 
errors. We are republishing the corrected notice in its entirety.
    We are furnishing this notice to: (1) Advise other Federal and 
State agencies, affected Tribes, and the public of our intentions; (2) 
reopen the public scoping period for 15 days; and (3) obtain 
suggestions and information on the scope of issues to be included in 
the EIR/EIS.

DATES: We will accept written comments until November 23, 2001.

ADDRESSES: Send comments to Mr. James Bartel, Field Supervisor, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 2730 
Loker Avenue West, Carlsbad, CA 92008; facsimile (760) 431-9618.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Karen Evans, Assistant Field 
Supervisor, (see ADDRESSES), telephone (760) 431-9440.



    Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973, as amended, 
and Federal regulation prohibiting 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 
    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 harassment) during urban 
development in the approximately 200 square-mile study area in the 
southern 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.
    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 (50 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 their 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's 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 the 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.

[[Page 56567]]

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 

Alternative 2, No Project/No NCCP/HCP Alternative

    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 
NEPA and sections 7 and 10 of the 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.

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 
California Department of Fish and Game 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 be distributed for 
review during the NCCP/HCP public planning process. The County will 
prepare and publish a separate Notice of Preparation for the General 
Plan Amendment and Zone Change EIR.

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 NEPA 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: November 1, 2001.
David G. Paullin,
Acting Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 01-28016 Filed 11-7-01; 8:45 am]