[Federal Register: October 7, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 194)]
[Page 57924-57926]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Availability of Final Environmental Impact Statement for an 
Incidental Take Permit for the Western Riverside County Multiple 
Species Habitat Conservation Plan, California

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, this notice 
advises the public of the availability of the Final Environmental 
Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) on the 
application by the County of Riverside, California Department of 
Transportation, California Department of Parks and Recreation and 14 
cities (Applicants) in western Riverside County to incidentally take 83 
animal species, including 69 unlisted species should any of them become 
listed, under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), 
during the term of the proposed 75-year permit. The permit is needed to 
authorize take of listed animal species (including harm, injury and 
harassment) during urban and rural development in the approximately 1.2 
million-acre (1,967 square-mile) Plan Area in western Riverside County, 
California. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is publishing 
this notice to inform the public of the proposed action and to make 
available for review the Final EIS/EIR, which includes responses to 
public comments received on the Draft EIS/EIR. The Environmental 
Protection Agency (EPA) also is publishing a similar notice for this 
Final EIS/EIR.

DATES: A Record of Decision will occur no sooner than 30 days after the 
publication date of the EPA notice. Comments on the Final EIS/EIR must 
be received by the close of the comment period as indicated in the EPA 

ADDRESSES: Comments should be sent to Mr. James Bartel, Field 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife 
Office, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, California 92009; facsimile 
(760) 431-9624.
    Copies of the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat 
Conservation Plan (MSHCP), Implementation Agreement, and Final EIS/EIR 
are available for review at the Riverside County Integrated Plan 
website (http://www.rcip.org) or at the following locations in 

1. Carlsbad--U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife 
Office, 6010 Hidden Valley Road
2. Riverside--Riverside County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon 
Street, 7th Floor; University of California, Riverside, Tomas Rivera 
Library, 900 University Avenue; and Riverside Public Library, 3581 
Mission Inn Avenue
3. Murrieta--Murrieta Public Library, 39589 Los Alamos Road
4. Hemet--Riverside County Library, Hemet Branch, 25757 Fairview Avenue
5. Perris--Riverside County Library, Perris Branch, 163 E. San Jacinto.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Karen Goebel, Assistant Field 
Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES), 
telephone number (760) 431-9440.


[[Page 57925]]


    The Applicants seek an incidental take permit and assurances for 83 
animal species (9 endangered, 5 threatened, and 69 unlisted), and 
assurances for 63 plant species (8 endangered, 3 threatened, and 52 
unlisted). The animal species include 3 crustacean species (1 
endangered, 1 threatened and 1 unlisted); 2 insect species (both 
endangered); 2 fish species (1 threatened and 1 unlisted); 5 amphibian 
species (2 endangered, 1 threatened, 2 unlisted); 12 reptile species 
(all unlisted); 45 bird species (2 endangered, 2 threatened, and 41 
unlisted); and 14 mammal species (2 endangered and 12 unlisted). 
Collectively the 146 listed and unlisted species are referred to as 
Covered Species by the MSHCP. Twenty-eight of the Covered Species are 
identified as Covered Species for which adequate conservation has not 
been assured. These species would not be provided with incidental take 
under the permit until adequate conservation has been assured.
    A permit is needed because section 9 of the Act and Federal 
regulations prohibit the ``take'' of animal species listed as 
endangered or threatened. Take of listed animal species is defined 
under the Act to include kill, harm, or harass. Harm includes 
significant habitat modification or degradation that actually kills or 
injures listed animals by significantly impairing essential behavioral 
patterns, including breeding, feeding, and sheltering [50 CFR 17.3(c)]. 
Under limited circumstances, the Service may issue permits to authorize 
incidental take; i.e. take that is incidental to, and not the purpose 
of, otherwise lawful activity. Although take of plant species is not 
prohibited under the Act, and therefore cannot be authorized under an 
incidental take permit, plant species are proposed to be included on 
the permit in recognition of the conservation benefits provided to them 
under the MSHCP. Assurances of no additional mitigation requirements 
provided under the No Surprises Rule at 50 CFR 17.3, 17.22(b)(5), and 
17.32(b)(5) would extend to all species named on the permit. 
Regulations governing incidental take permits for threatened and 
endangered species are found in 50 CFR 17.32 and 17.22.
    The MSHCP is intended to protect viable populations of native plant 
and animal species and their habitats in perpetuity through the 
creation of a preserve system, while accommodating continued economic 
development and quality of life for residents of western Riverside 
County. In the year 2020, the Southern California Association of 
Governments estimates that Riverside County will be home to 
approximately 2.8 million people, who will occupy approximately 918,000 
dwelling units. This represents a doubling of the County's present 
population and housing stock. Another study by the California 
Department of Finance estimates that the County will continue to grow 
to 3.5 million people by 2030 and 4.5 million people by 2040. These 
residents will be located within 24 incorporated cities, as well as 
within unincorporated areas.
    The MSHCP is one part of Riverside County's Integrated Project, the 
purpose of which is to integrate and provide for future land use, 
transportation, and conservation needs in Riverside County. The MSHCP 
Plan Area encompasses 1.2 million acres in western Riverside County and 
includes the following 14 incorporated cities: Banning, Beaumont, 
Calimesa, Canyon Lake, Corona, Hemet, Lake Elsinore, Moreno Valley, 
Murrieta, Norco, Perris, Riverside, San Jacinto, and Temecula. The 
MSHCP is one of two large, multiple-jurisdictional habitat planning 
efforts in Riverside County, both of which are ``subregional'' plans 
under the State of California's Natural Community Conservation Planning 
Act of 1991.
    In the MSHCP, the Applicants have proposed the conversion of 
approximately 800,000 acres from open space to non-open space uses 
during the 75-year permit, primarily by activities already planned for 
by the cities and County. These activities include residential, 
commercial, and industrial development; construction and maintenance of 
transportation facilities; construction and maintenance of flood 
control facilities, public utilities, and parks and trails; 
agricultural conversion of vegetation communities; management of 
reserves; and other anticipated projects.
    Proposed covered activities which require discretionary action by a 
permittee, subject to consistency with MSHCP policies, include: two 
internal regional transportation facilities, maintenance of and safety 
improvements on existing roads, circulation element roads, single 
family homes on existing legal parcels, compatible uses in the reserve, 
and up to 10,000 new acres of agricultural activity within the Criteria 
Area (an area to be evaluated for inclusion in the reserve in 
accordance with the criteria guidelines). The MSHCP makes a provision 
for the inclusion of special districts and other non-permittee entities 
in the permit.
    As described in Volumes I and II of the Public Review Draft MSHCP 
(November 2002) and the Draft EIS/EIR, the applicants propose to create 
a preserve system that protects and manages 153,000 acres of habitat 
for the Covered Species in addition to the identified existing 347,000 
acres of Covered Species habitat in the Plan Area with conservation 
value in public or quasi-public ownership. The existing 347,000 acres 
would be monitored and managed in coordination with the 153,000 acres 
to achieve a conservation area of 500,000 acres. The County and cities 
are in the process of adopting a mitigation fee to acquire 97,000 acres 
as mitigation for private development in the Plan Area. The funding 
plan assumes that of the 97,000 acres, 41,000 acres would be conserved 
through the land use approval process. An additional 6,000 acres would 
be conserved as mitigation for State (California Department of 
Transportation and California Department of Recreation) projects. It is 
anticipated that the Service and the California Department of Fish and 
Game would provide an additional 50,000 acres to complement the 103,000 
acres of mitigation identified in the MSHCP. The 153,000 acres of 
conservation area lie within a larger Criteria Area. The Criteria Area 
is divided into a grid consisting of 160-acre cells. Each cell or cell 
group has associated criteria that describe the conservation expected 
in that cell.
    The MSHCP includes measures to avoid and minimize incidental take 
of the Covered Species, emphasizing project design modifications to 
protect both habitats and species' individuals. A monitoring and 
reporting plan would gauge the Plan's success based on achievement of 
biological species objectives and reserve design criteria, and would 
ensure that conservation keeps pace with open space conversion. The 
MSHCP also includes adaptive management which allows for changes in the 
conservation program if the biological species objectives are not met, 
or new information becomes available to improve the efficacy of the 
MSHCP's conservation strategy.
    The MSHCP would be implemented by the permittees and the Regional 
Conservation Authority (RCA), a Joint Powers Authority. The RCA would 
be formed prior to our Record of Decision and permit decision. After 
the RCA is formed, it would apply to the Service for an incidental take 
permit to implement the MSHCP. We do not intend to notice the RCA's 
incidental take permit application in the Federal Register because the 
role of the RCA

[[Page 57926]]

was identified in the Draft MSHCP that was made available for public 
review with the Federal Register Notice of the incidental take permit 
applications from the other Applicants (67 FR 69236) and the RCA permit 
application would contain no new substantive information for the public 
to comment upon.
    On November 15, 2002, the Service published a notice in the Federal 
Register (67 69236) announcing receipt of an application for an 
incidental take permit from Riverside County, the 14 cities and the 
other Applicants, and the availability of a Draft EIS/EIR for the 
application. The Draft EIS/EIR analyzed the potential environmental 
impacts that may result from the Federal action of authorizing 
incidental take anticipated to occur with implementation of the MSHCP, 
and identified various alternatives. We received a total of 110 comment 
letters on the Draft EIS/EIR. A response to each comment received in 
these letters has been included in Final EIS/EIR.
    The Draft EIS/EIR considered four alternatives in addition to the 
preferred alternative/proposed project described above: (1) A listed, 
proposed and strong candidate species alternative; (2) a listed and 
proposed species alternative; (3) an existing reserves alternative; and 
(4) a no project alternative.
    The listed, proposed and strong candidate species alternative 
focuses on the conservation of 29 state and/or federally listed species 
and seven unlisted species. This alternative would conserve 
approximately 119,300 acres of ``new'' lands (i.e., acreage above and 
beyond what is already conserved through public or quasi-public land 
ownership and management).
    The listed and proposed species alternative focuses on the 
conservation of 29 state and/or federally listed or proposed species. 
The proposed new conservation under this alternative is approximately 
93,800 acres.
    The existing reserves alternative would provide coverage for six 
State and/or federally listed or candidate species and some unlisted 
species depending on management regimes in the existing reserves. It 
would not provide any new conservation of land.
    The analysis provided in the Final EIS/EIR is intended to 
accomplish the following: inform the public of the proposed action; 
address public comments received on the Draft EIS/EIR; disclose the 
direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental effects of the proposed 
action; and indicate any irreversible commitment of resources that 
would result from implementation of the proposed action. This notice is 
provided pursuant to section 10 of the Act and National Environmental 
Policy Act regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

Robert D. Williams,
Deputy Manager, Region 1, California/Nevada Operations Office, 
Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 03-25313 Filed 10-6-03; 8:45 am]