[Federal Register: November 5, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 214)]
[Page 64581-64583]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of a Draft Environmental Impact Report/
Environmental Impact Statement and Receipt of an Application for an 
Incidental Take Permit for the Coachella Valley Multiple Species 
Habitat Conservation Plan, Riverside County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.


SUMMARY: The Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG), 
Coachella Valley Conservation Commission (to be formed prior to a 
permit decision), County of Riverside, Riverside County Flood Control 
and Water Conservation District, Riverside County Parks and Open Space 
District, Riverside County Waste Management District, Coachella Valley 
Water District, Imperial Irrigation District, California Department of 
Transportation, California Department of Parks and Recreation, 
Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy, and the cities of Cathedral 
City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, 
Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and Rancho Mirage (Applicants) have 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 of 
1973, as amended (Act). The Service is requesting public comment on the 
Draft Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan 
(MSHCP), Draft Implementing Agreement, and Draft Environmental Impact 
Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS). The Applicants seek a 
permit to incidentally take 22 animal species and assurances for 5 
plant species, including 17 unlisted species should any of them become 
listed, under the 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 development in the 
approximately 1.1 million-acre (1,719 square-mile) Plan Area in the 
Coachella Valley of Riverside County, California.
    A Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is the Federal 
portion of the Draft EIR/EIS, has been prepared jointly by the Service 
and CVAG to analyze the impacts of the MSHCP and is also available for 
public review. The analyses provided in the Draft EIR/EIS are intended 
to inform the public of the proposed action, alternatives, and 
associated impacts; address public comments received during the scoping 
period for the Draft EIR/EIS; disclose the direct, indirect, and 
cumulative environmental effects of the proposed action and each of the 
alternatives; and indicate any irreversible commitment of resources 
that would result from implementation of the proposed action.
    The Draft MSHCP also incorporates a Draft Public Use and Trails 
Plan which includes proposals that address non-motorized recreation 
activities on Federal and non-Federal lands in the Santa Rosa and San 
Jacinto Mountains. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a Cooperating 
Agency in this

[[Page 64582]]

planning process and will be using this EIR/EIS to make decisions on 
BLM-administered public lands pertaining to trail use in the Santa Rosa 
and San Jacinto Mountains. These proposals constitute activity 
(implementation) level actions in furtherance of the California Desert 
Conservation Area Plan (1980), as amended, and the Santa Rosa and San 
Jacinto Mountains National Monument Management Plan (2004). The BLM 
will issue a separate record of decision regarding non-motorized 
recreation activities on public lands after public comments have been 
received and a Final Environmental Impact Statement has been prepared.

DATES: Written comments should be received on or before February 3, 

ADDRESSES: Comments should be sent to Mr. Jim Bartel, Field Supervisor, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 6010 
Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, California 92009. You may also submit 
comments by facsimile to (760) 431-9624.
    Information, comments, and/or questions related to the EIR and the 
California Environmental Quality Act should be submitted to Mr. Jim 
Sullivan at CVAG, 73710 Fred Waring Drive, Suite 200, Palm Desert, 
California 92260; telephone (760) 346-1127; facsimile (760) 340-5949.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Therese O'Rourke, Assistant Field 
Supervisor, at the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office [see ADDRESSES]; 
telephone (760) 431-9440.


Availability of Documents

    Documents available for public review include the permit 
applications, the Public Review Draft MSHCP and Appendices I (the 
Technical Appendix) and II (the Planning Agreement), the accompanying 
Draft Implementing Agreement, and the Draft EIR/EIS.
    Individuals wishing copies of the documents should contact the 
Assistant Field Supervisor [see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT], or by 
letter to the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office [see ADDRESSES]. Copies 
of the MSHCP, Draft EIR/EIS, and Draft Implementing Agreement also are 
available for public review, by appointment, during regular business 
hours, at the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office or at the Coachella 
Valley Association of Governments (see ADDRESSES). Copies are also 
available for viewing in each of the Applicant cities, in the 
Applicants' public libraries, the Riverside County Planning 
Departments, and on the World Wide Web at http://www.cvmshcp.org.

    (1) Riverside County Planning Department: 4080 Lemon Street, 9th 
Floor, Riverside, California 92502.
    (2) Riverside County Planning: 82675 Hwy 111, Room 209, Indio, 
California 92201.
    (3) U.S. Bureau of Land Management: 690 Garnet Avenue, North Palm 
Springs, California 92258.
    (4) City of Palm Springs: 3200 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm 
Springs, California 92262.
    (5) City of Cathedral City: 68-700 Avenida Lalo Guerrero, Cathedral 
City, California 92234.
    (6) City of La Quinta: 78-495 Calle Tampico, La Quinta, California 
    (7) City of Rancho Mirage: 69825 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, 
California 92270.
    (8) City of Palm Desert: 73-510 Fred Waring Drive, Palm Desert, 
California 92260.
    (9) City of Indio: 100 Civic Center Mall, Indio, California 92201.
    (10) City of Indian Wells: 44950 El Dorado Drive, Indian Wells, 
California 92210.
    (11) City of Coachella: 1515 Sixth Street, Coachella, California 
    (12) City of Desert Hot Springs: 65950 Pierson Boulevard, Desert 
Hot Springs, California 92240.
    (13) Cathedral City Public Library: 33520 Date Palm Drive, 
Cathedral City, California 92234.
    (14) Coachella Branch Library: 1538 7th Street, Coachella Valley, 
California 92260.
    (15) Desert Hot Springs Public Library: 1691 West Drive, Desert Hot 
Springs, California 92240.
    (16) Indio Public Library: 200 Civic Center Mall, Indio, California 
    (17) Lake Tamarisk Branch Library: Lake Tamarisk Drive, Desert 
Center, California 92239.
    (18) La Quinta Public Library: 78080 Calle Estado, La Quinta, 
California 92253.
    (19) Mecca-North Shore Branch Library: 65250 Cahuilla, Mecca, 
California 92254.
    (20) Palm Springs City Library: 300 South Sunrise Way, Palm 
Springs, California 92262.
    (21) Rancho Mirage Public Library: 42-520 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho 
Mirage, California 92270.
    (22) Riverside County Library: Palm Desert Branch, 73-300 Fred 
Waring Drive, Palm Desert, California 92260.
    (23) Thousand Palms Library: 72-715 La Canada Way, Thousand Palms, 
California 92276.

Background Information

    Section 9 of the Act and Federal regulation prohibit the ``take'' 
of fish and wildlife species federally listed as endangered or 
threatened. Take of federally listed fish or wildlife is defined under 
section 1532(19) of 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.'' Harm includes significant habitat 
modification or degradation that actually kills or injures listed 
wildlife 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. Regulations governing incidental take permits for 
threatened and endangered species are found in 50 CFR 17.32 and 17.22, 
    The Applicants seek an incidental take permit and assurances for 22 
animal species and assurances for 5 plant species. Collectively the 27 
listed and unlisted species are referred to as ``Covered Species'' by 
the MSHCP and include 5 plant species (2 endangered, 3 unlisted); 2 
insect species (both unlisted); 1 fish species (endangered); 1 
amphibian species (endangered); 3 reptile species (2 threatened, 1 
unlisted); 11 bird species (3 endangered, 8 unlisted); and 4 mammal 
species (1 endangered and 3 unlisted). The permit would provide take 
authorization for animal species identified by the MSHCP as ``Covered 
Species.'' Take authorized for listed covered animal species would be 
effective upon permit issuance. For currently unlisted covered animal 
species, take authorization would become effective concurrent with 
listing should the species be listed under the Act during the permit 
    The Draft MSHCP is intended to protect and sustain viable 
populations of native plant and animal species and their habitats in 
perpetuity through the creation of a reserve system, while 
accommodating continued economic development and quality of life for 
residents of the Coachella Valley. The Southern California Association 
of Governments estimates that in the year 2020 the Coachella Valley 
will be home to approximately 518,481 people. This represents nearly 
double the Valley's present population and housing stock. Another study 
by the California Department of Finance estimates that

[[Page 64583]]

Riverside County, currently the fastest growing county in the state, 
will continue to grow to 3.5 million people by 2030 and 4.5 million 
people by 2040.
    The Draft MSHCP plan area encompasses approximately 1.1 million 
acres in the Coachella Valley and includes the following 9 incorporated 
cities: Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, 
Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and Rancho Mirage. It is 
one of two large, multiple-jurisdictional habitat planning efforts in 
Riverside County, each of which constitutes a ``subregional'' plan 
under the State of California's Natural Community Conservation Planning 
(NCCP) Act, as amended.
    As described in the Draft MSHCP and the Draft EIR/EIS, the proposed 
MSHCP would provide for the creation of a reserve system that protects 
and manages approximately 725,780 acres of habitat for the Covered 
Species, including approximately 538,000 acres of existing conservation 
lands as of 2003 (482,000 acres as of 1996), 98,100 acres conserved as 
the local mitigation component as of 2003 (100,600 acres as of 1996), 
and 10,800 acres of other non-permittee public and quasi-public lands 
to be conserved. It is anticipated that as of 2003, 31,250 acres will 
be acquired by State and Federal agencies independent of the MSHCP 
(39,850 acres as of 1996). The financing plan for the local portion of 
the reserve assembly as of 2003 addresses 90,600 acres and includes a 
mitigation fee, tipping fee for use of waste management facilities, 
transportation mitigation fees, and other funding sources.
    The Draft MSHCP identifies the proposed reserve system which will 
be established from lands within 21 conservation areas that are either 
adjacent or linked by biological corridors. The acquisition program for 
the reserve system, involving conservation of 140,150 acres is 
anticipated to occur over the first 30 years of the permit. When 
completed, the reserve system will include core habitat for Covered 
Species, essential ecological processes, and biological corridors and 
linkages to provide for the conservation of the proposed Covered 
    The Draft 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 MSHCP's success based on achievement of 
biological goals and objectives and would ensure that conservation 
keeps pace with development. The Draft MSHCP also includes a management 
program, including 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.
    Covered Activities would include public and private development 
within the plan area that requires certain ministerial and 
discretionary actions by a permittee subject to consistency with MSHCP 
policies, regional transportation facilities, maintenance of and safety 
improvements on existing roads, the Circulation Elements of the 
permittees, maintenance and construction of flood control facilities, 
and compatible uses in the reserve. The Draft MSHCP makes a provision 
for the inclusion of special districts and other non-permittee entities 
in the permit with a certificate of inclusion.
    The Public Use and Trails Plan element of the Draft MSHCP provides 
for coordinated management of trails on public lands involving members 
of the public, local jurisdictions, and State and other Federal 
agencies. The Recovery Plan for Bighorn Sheep in the Peninsular Ranges, 
California (USFWS 2000) recommends development and implementation of an 
interagency trails management plan to reduce or eliminate detrimental 
human activities within bighorn sheep habitat. The California Desert 
Conservation Area Plan Amendment for the Coachella Valley (December 
2002) prescribes a combination of methods to avoid, reduce, or mitigate 
disturbance to bighorn sheep, including voluntary avoidance programs, 
closures, seasonal restrictions, and permit stipulations and 
    The Draft EIR/EIS analyzes five other alternatives in addition to 
the proposed MSHCP Preferred Project Alternative described above 
including: an alternative that would not include the City of Palm 
Springs; an alternative that includes all existing local, State, and 
Federal agency land and private conservation land with additional 
management prescriptions; an alternative that protects core habitat, 
ecological processes, and biological corridors with less land than the 
preferred alternative; an expanded conservation alternative; and a no 
project alternative.
    Pursuant to the June 10, 2004, order in Spirit of the Sage Council 
v. Norton, Civil Action No. 98-1873 (D. D.C.), the Service is enjoined 
from approving new section 10(a)(1)(B) permits or related documents 
containing ``No Surprises'' assurances until such time as the Service 
adopts new permit revocation rules specifically applicable to section 
10(a)(1)(B) permits in compliance with the public notice and comment 
requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. This notice concerns 
a step in the review and processing of a section 10(a)(1)(B) permit and 
any subsequent permit issuance will be in accordance with the Court's 
order. Until such time as the Service's authority to issue permits with 
``No Surprises'' assurances has been reinstated, the Service will not 
approve any incidental take permits or related documents that contain 
``No Surprises'' assurances.

Public Comments

    The Service and CVAG invite the public to comment on the Draft 
MSHCP, Draft Implementing Agreement, and Draft EIR/EIS during a 90-day 
public comment period beginning the date of this notice. The comment 
period is opened for 90 days to eliminate the need for an extension 
subsequent to the close of the comment period. All comments received, 
including names and addresses, will become part of the official 
administrative record and may be made available to the public. This 
notice is provided pursuant to section 10(a) of the Act and Service 
regulations for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 
1969 (40 CFR 1506.6). The Service will evaluate the application, 
associated documents, and comments submitted thereon to prepare a Final 
EIS. A permit decision will be made no sooner than 30 days after the 
publication of the Final EIS and completion of the Record of Decision.

    Dated: October 22, 2004.
Russell Joe Bellmer,
Acting Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 04-24274 Filed 11-4-04; 8:45 am]