[Federal Register: July 25, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 143)]
[Page 44094-44095]
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 Hyundai Motor America 
Automotive Test Track Project in Kern County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.


SUMMARY: Hyundai Motor America (HMA) and the City of California City 
(collectively Applicants) have applied to the Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service) for an incidental take permit pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) 
of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The Service is 
considering issuing a 30-year permit to the Applicants that would 
authorize take of the threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) 
incidental to otherwise lawful activities associated with the 
construction and operation of a proposed automotive test track project 
on 4,340 acres in Kern County, California. With the access road from 
the south and access road/waterline from the east, the project would 
result in the permanent removal of approximately 4,368.5 acres of 
occupied desert tortoise habitat, relocation of desert tortoises 
currently occupying the site, and acquisition of 3,228.5 acres of 
higher quality desert tortoise habitat. Desert tortoise impacts to 
1,140 acres on the project site previously were compensated under a 
federal land exchange, the West Mojave Land Tenure Adjustment Act.
    We request comments from the public on the proposed Habitat 
Conservation Plan (Plan), Environmental Assessment, and Implementing 
Agreement, which are available for review. The Plan describes the 
proposed action and the measures that the Applicant will undertake to 
minimize and mitigate take of the desert tortoise. 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 23, 

ADDRESSES: Please address written comments to Field Supervisor, Ventura 
Fish and Wildlife Office, Fish and Wildlife Service, 2493 Portola Road, 
Suite B, Ventura, California 93003. You also may send comments by 
facsimile to (805) 644-3958.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tim Thomas, Botanist, Ventura Fish and 
Wildlife Office, Barstow Sub-office; (760) 255-8890.


Availability of Documents

    You may obtain copies of these documents for review by contacting 
the above office, or by making an appointment to view the documents at 
the above address during normal business hours (FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT). Documents also will be available for public inspection, on 
our Web site at http://ventura.fws.gov., and during regular business 
hours at the California City Library, 9507 California City Boulevard, 
California City, California.


    Section 9 of the Act and federal regulations prohibit the ``take'' 
of fish and wildlife species listed as

[[Page 44095]]

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 and endangered species are found in 50 CFR 17.32 and 17.22.
    The Applicants are proposing to construct an automotive test track 
facility and associated water line and access roads to evaluate the 
safety, performance and handling of concept, prototype and production 
automobiles to be manufactured at HMA's automotive assembly and 
manufacturing plant currently under construction in Birmingham, 
Alabama. HMA proposes to construct the facility on 4,340 acres located 
approximately 60 miles southeast of Bakersfield, California, 9 miles 
east of the community of Mojave, California and 0.5 mile north of State 
Highway 58 in Kern County, California. The proposed project is located 
in the west Mojave Desert. The proposed facility will consist of a 6-
mile long oval test course, two access roads, a winding track, a 
vehicle dynamics area, a hill-up road, a straight stability road, a 
support building and parking lot and perimeter fencing. The proposed 
project includes installation of desert tortoise exclusion fencing 
around the 4,340-acre site perimeter and removal and relocation of 
desert tortoises from the site. The project also includes an off-site 
access road from State Highway 58 that will remove 8.5 acres of desert 
tortoise habitat. Finally, the City of California City proposes to 
build a 2-mile water line extension and widen Joshua Tree Boulevard to 
serve the project, which will result in adverse effects to 20 acres of 
desert tortoise habitat.
    The 4,340-acre project site includes 1,140 acres that were part of 
the Western Mojave Land Tenure Adjustment (LTA) Project, a land 
exchange program between private parties and the U.S. Bureau of Land 
Management (BLM). Pursuant to a Biological Opinion issued by the 
Service to BLM on January 8, 1998, (6844440 (CA-063.50) (1-8-98-F-
60R)), any proposed take of desert tortoise on the 1,140 acres must be 
authorized by the Service, but no further mitigation is required for 
take of the desert tortoise or impacts to its habitat.
    The project site is classified by BLM as Category III habitat for 
desert tortoise and is occupied by desert tortoise. Category III 
habitat is defined as areas that are not essential to maintenance of 
viable populations, that contain low to medium densities, and that are 
not contiguous with medium- or high-density areas and in which the 
population is stable or decreasing. The proposed project site supports 
three common Mojave Desert plant communities--desert saltbush scrub, 
Mojave creosote bush scrub, and Joshua tree woodland. Past and current 
grazing of domestic sheep has degraded the site. Field survey 
observations also documented signs of human disturbance, including 
approximately 60 acres of unimproved roads, scattered shotgun shells 
and bullet casings, trash, and abandoned campsites and automobiles. 
Signs of historical military use also are found throughout the site, 
including ammunition casings and at least one aircraft crash site.
    During directed surveys in March and April 2002, three live desert 
tortoises were observed on the proposed development site. An additional 
survey performed in May 2003 observed 8 live tortoises. Construction of 
the proposed project is anticipated to directly affect 834.5 acres of 
occupied desert tortoise habitat. In addition, the 4,340-acre site will 
no longer be accessible to desert tortoise due to installation of 
desert tortoise exclusion fencing around the perimeter of the site. The 
State Highway 58 access road will remove 8.5 acres of desert tortoise 
habitat, and the City water line extension and Joshua Tree Boulevard 
road access will adversely affect 20 acres of desert tortoise habitat. 
Impacts to 1,140 acres on the project site already have been mitigated 
pursuant to the LTA 1998 Biological Opinion. The Applicants propose to 
mitigate for the remaining desert tortoise impacts by acquiring 3,228.5 
acres of higher quality desert tortoise habitat in an area adjacent to 
the Desert Tortoise Natural Area and translocating desert tortoises 
from the Hyundai site to a location that will be managed for the desert 
tortoise. Based on the survey results and habitat impacts, the Service 
concluded that implementation of the proposed project likely will 
result in take of less than 40 desert tortoises due to their 
translocation from the project site.
    The Service's Environmental Assessment considers the environmental 
consequences of five alternatives, including: (1) The No Action 
Alternative, which consists of no permit issuance and no development on 
the Hyundai property at this time; (2) the On-Site Fencing Alternative, 
which consists of installing desert tortoise exclusion fencing around 
the test track and other features on the Hyundai property and moving 
tortoises outside the exclusion fence to adjacent areas on the Hyundai 
property; (3) the San Bernardino County Automotive Test Course Site, 
which consists of locating the project to a site within San Bernardino 
County; (4) the Riverside County Automotive Test Course Site, which 
consists of locating the project to a site within Riverside County; and 
(5) the Proposed Action, which consists of installing desert tortoise 
exclusion fence around the perimeter of the Hyundai property and 
relocating all desert tortoises to an off-site location. Except for the 
No Action Alternative, the alternatives to the Proposed Action would 
adversely affect more federally listed species than the Proposed Action 
    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 the Act. If we determine that those requirements are 
met, we will issue a permit to the Applicants for the incidental take 
of the desert tortoise.

    Dated: July 18, 2003.
D. Kenneth McDermond,
Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, California
[FR Doc. 03-18925 Filed 7-24-03; 8:45 am]