[Federal Register: July 7, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 129)]
[Page 40291-40293]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of an Environmental Assessment and Receipt of an 
Application for an Incidental Take Permit for the Newport Estates 
Development in Riverside County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

[[Page 40292]]

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.


SUMMARY: Pacific Communities Builders, Inc. (Applicant) has applied to 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for an incidental take 
permit pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act 
(Act) of 1973, as amended. The Service is considering issuing a 15-year 
permit to the Applicant that would authorize take of the threatened 
coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica, 
``gnatcatcher'') incidental to otherwise lawful activities associated 
with the construction of a residential development on a 278-acre site 
in the unincorporated community of Menifee, Riverside County, 
California. The project would result in the incidental take of three 
pairs of gnatcatchers on the project site through permanent removal of 
approximately 106.9 acres of habitat.
    We request comments from the public on the permit application and 
an Environmental Assessment, both of which are available for review. 
The permit application includes the proposed Habitat Conservation Plan 
(Plan) and an accompanying Implementing Agreement. The Plan describes 
the proposed action and the measures that the Applicant will undertake 
to minimize and mitigate take of the gnatcatcher. To review the permit 
application or Environmental Assessment, see ``Availability of 
Documents'' in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section.

DATES: We must receive your written comments on or before September 5, 

ADDRESSES: Please address written comments to Mr. Jim Bartel, Field 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, 
Carlsbad, California 92009. You also may send comments by facsimile to 
(760) 918-0638.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Karen Goebel, Assistant Field 
Supervisor, at the above address or call (760) 431-9440.


Availability of Documents

    You may obtain copies of these documents for review by contacting 
the Assistant Field Supervisor (FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). 
Documents also will be available for public inspection, by appointment, 
during normal business hours at the above address (see ADDRESSES) and 
at the following libraries in Riverside County:
    (1) 26982 Cherry Hills Boulevard, Sun City, California 92586; (2) 
31516 Rail Road Canyon Road, Canyon Lake, California 92587; (3) 600 
West Graham, Lake Elsinore, California 92530); and (4) 3581 Mission Inn 
Avenue, Riverside, California 92501.


    Section 9 of the Act and Federal regulations prohibit the ``take'' 
of fish and wildlife species listed as endangered or threatened. Take 
of federally listed fish and wildlife is defined under the Act as 
including to ``harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.'' The 
Service may, under limited circumstances, issue permits to authorize 
incidental take (i.e., take that is incidental to, and not the purpose 
of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful activity). Regulations 
governing incidental take permits for threatened species are found in 
50 CFR 17.32.
    The Applicant proposes to develop housing containing up to 856 
residential units on 278 acres. The project site is located between 
Newport Road and Holland Road, about 1.3 miles west of Interstate 215 
and 6 miles east of Interstate 15 in the community of Menifee, 
Riverside County, California. The project site is surrounded by a 
combination of agriculture, residential development, and open space 
with native vegetation. The property is subject to occasional 
disturbance by human activity, including off-highway vehicle use and 
fuel modification activities. The proposed project site is not directly 
connected to habitat being considered by the Service and local agencies 
for the long-term conservation of the gnatcatcher and does not occur 
within designated gnatcatcher critical habitat.
    A protocol survey for gnatcatchers from December 1998 to February 
1999 documented up to three pairs of gnatcatchers onsite. Based on 
these survey results, the Service concluded that implementation of the 
proposed project would likely result in take of up to three pairs of 
gnatcatchers through the permanent removal of 106.9 acres of 
Riversidean sage scrub habitat on the 278-acre site.
    Federally endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha 
quino) were not detected on the project site during 3 years of surveys, 
1999-2001. The federally endangered Stephens' kangaroo rat (Dipodomys 
stephensi) may occupy portions of the proposed project site; however, 
no Stephens' kangaroo rat surveys have been conducted at the project 
site. Because the proposed project site occurs within the plan area 
boundary of the approved Habitat Conservation Plan for the Stephens' 
Kangaroo Rat in Western Riverside County, California (March 1996), 
compliance with this Plan and its associated implementation agreement 
will be required prior to any ground-disturbing activities, including 
vegetation removal.
    To mitigate take of gnatcatchers on the project site, the Applicant 
proposes to purchase credits towards conservation in-perpetuity of 320 
acres of Riversidean sage scrub vegetation and three pairs of 
gnatcatchers from the Joe A. Gonzalez Wilson Creek Conservation Bank in 
western Riverside County. The conservation bank collects fees that fund 
a management endowment to ensure the permanent management and 
monitoring of sensitive species and habitats, including the 
    The Service's Environmental Assessment considers the environmental 
consequences of four alternatives, including: (1) The Proposed Project 
Alternative, which consists of issuance of the incidental take permit 
and implementation of the Plan and Implementing Agreement; (2) the No 
Action Alternative, which consists of no permit issuance and no 
development at this time; (3) the Reduced Project Alternative, which 
consists of issuing a permit for a smaller development, which would 
impact 69.6 acres of Riversidean sage scrub vegetation instead of 106.9 
acres; and (4) the Increased Density Alternative, which would impact 
all 129.6 acres of Riversidean sage scrub vegetation onsite. The No 
Action Alternative and Reduced Project Alternative would result in less 
long-term conservation for the gnatcatcher within western Riverside 
County, as they would not contribute as much, or at all, to 
conservation of areas within or directly connected to habitat being 
considered by the Service and local agencies for long-term conservation 
of the species. The Increased Density Alternative would leave no 
habitat remaining onsite, eliminating the possibility that the site 
could ever be used for gnatcatcher breeding or dispersal.
    This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(a) of the Act and 
the regulations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 
(40 CFR 1506.6). All comments that we receive, including names and 
addresses, will become part of the official administrative record and 
may be made available to the public. We will evaluate the application, 
associated documents, and comments submitted thereon to determine 
whether the application meets the requirements of NEPA regulations and 
section 10(a) of

[[Page 40293]]

the Act. If we determine that those requirements are met, we will issue 
a permit to the Applicant for the incidental take of the gnatcatcher. 
We will make our final permit decision no sooner than 60 days after the 
date of this notice.

    Dated: June 30, 2003.
D. Kenneth McDermond,
Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, 
[FR Doc. 03-17062 Filed 7-3-03; 8:45 am]