[Federal Register: March 25, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 58)]
[Page 15363-15364]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 15363]]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for Issuance of 
an Incidental Take Permit Associated With a Habitat Conservation Plan 
for Pacific Gas & Electric Company's Operation and Maintenance 
Activities in the San Joaquin Valley, 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 (we, the Service) advises the public that we 
intend to gather information necessary to prepare, in coordination with 
the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and Pacific Gas & 
Electric Company (PG&E), a joint Environmental Impact Statement/
Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) on the PG&E San Joaquin Valley 
Operation and Maintenance Habitat Conservation Plan (Plan). The Plan is 
being prepared under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Federal Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended, (Act). PG&E intends to request a 
permit for 31 species federally listed as threatened or endangered and 
36 unlisted species that may become listed during the term of the 
permit. The permit is needed to authorize take of listed species that 
could occur as a result of implementation activities covered under the 
    The Service provides this notice to: (1) Describe the proposed 
action and possible alternatives; (2) advise other Federal and State 
agencies, affected Tribes, and the public of our intent to prepare an 
EIS/EIR; (3) announce the initiation of a public scoping period; and 
(4) obtain suggestions and information on the scope of issues and 
alternatives to be included in the EIS/EIR.

DATES: Public meetings will be held on: Tuesday, April 6, 2004, from 4 
PM to 7 PM, and on Wednesday, April 7, 2004, from 4 PM to 7 PM. Written 
comments should be received on or before April 26, 2004.

ADDRESSES: The public meeting on Tuesday, April 6, 2004 will be held at 
Siefert Community Center, Room 2, 128 West Benjamin Holt drive, 
Stockton, CA, (209) 937-7350, and the public meeting on Wednesday, 
April 7, 2004 will be held at Mosqueda Community Center, Room 6, 4670 
East Butler Avenue, Fresno, CA (559) 621-6600. Information, written 
comments, or questions related to the preparation of the EIS/EIR and 
NEPA process should be submitted to Lori Rinek, Chief, Conservation 
Planning and Recovery Division, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, 
Sacramento, California 95825; FAX (916) 414-6713.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Craig Aubrey, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, or Lori Rinek, Chief, Conservation Planning and Recovery 
Division at the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office at (916) 414-6600.


Reasonable Accommodation

    Persons needing reasonable accommodations in order to attend and 
participate in the public meeting should contact Lori Rinek at (916) 
414-6600 as soon as possible. In order to allow sufficient time to 
process requests, please call no later than one week before the public 
meeting. Information regarding this proposed action is available in 
alternative formats upon request.


    Section 9 of the Act and Federal regulations prohibit the ``take'' 
of a fish and wildlife species listed as endangered or threatened. 
Under the Act, the following activities are defined as take: harass, 
harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect listed 
animal species, or attempt to engage in such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1538). 
However, under section 10(a) of the Act, we may issue permits to 
authorize ``incidental take'' of listed species. ``Incidental take'' is 
defined by the Act as take that is incidental to, and not the purpose 
of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity. Regulations governing 
permits for threatened species and endangered species, respectively, 
are at 50 CFR 17.32 and 50 CFR 17.22.
    Take of listed plant species is not prohibited under the Act and 
cannot be authorized under a section 10 permit. We propose to include 
plant species on the permit in recognition of the conservation benefits 
provided for them under the Plan. These species would also receive no 
surprises assurances under the Service's ``No Surprises'' regulation 
(63 FR 8859).
    Currently, PG&E intends to request a permit for 67 species (covered 
species) under the Plan: 31 listed and 36 unlisted species. These 
include the federally listed endangered vernal pool fairy shrimp 
(Branchinecta lynchi), vernal pool tadpole shrimp (Lepidurus packardi), 
blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia sila), Tipton kangaroo rat 
(Dipodomys nitratoides nitratoides), giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys 
ingens), Buena Vista Lake shrew (Sorex ornatus relictus), riparian 
woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes riparia), riparian brush rabbit (Sylvilagus 
bachmani riparius), San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica), 
large-flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia grandiflora), California 
jewelflower (Caulanthus californicus), palmate-bracted bird's beak 
(Cordylanthus palmatus), Kern mallow (Eremalche kernensis), San Joaquin 
woolly-threads (Monolopia congdonii), Bakersfield cactus (Opuntia 
basilaris var. treleasei), hairy orcutt grass (Orcuttia pilosa), 
Hartweg's golden sunburst (Pseudobahia bahiifolia), Greene's tuctoria 
(Tuctoria greenei), Keck's checkermallow (Sidalcea keckii), and the 
threatened valley elderberry longhorn beetle (Desmocerus californicus 
dimorphus), California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii), giant 
garter snake (Thamnophis gigas), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), 
mariposa pussypaws (Calyptridium pulchellum), succulent owl's clover 
(Castilleja campestris ssp. succulenta), Hoover's spurge (Chamaesyce 
hooveri), Hoover's erastrium (Erastrium hooverii), Springville clarkia 
(Clarkia springvillensis), Colusa grass (Neostapfia colusana), San 
Joaquin Valley orcutt grass (Orcuttia inaequalis), San Joaquin adobe 
sunburst (Pseudobahia peirsonii), and their habitats.
    The 36 unlisted species proposed to be covered under the Plan 
include: midvalley fairy shrimp (Branchinecta mesovallensis), 
California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), limestone 
salamander (Hydromantes brunus), California black rail (Lateralis 
jamaicensis coturniculus), Swainson's hawk (Buteo swainsoni), white-
tailed kite (Elanus caerules), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), 
greater sandhill crane (Grus canadensis tabida), western burrowing owl 
(Athene cunicularia hypugaea), bank swallow (Riparia riparia), 
tricolored blackbird (Agelaius tricolor), San Joaquin antelope squirrel 
(Ammospermophilus nelsoni), lesser saltscale (Atriplex minuscula), 
Bakersfield smallscale (Atriplex tularensis), big tarplant 
(Blepharizonia plumosa spp. plumosa), tree-anemone (Carpenteria 
californica), slough thistle (Cirsium crassicaule), Mariposa clarkia 
(Clarkia biloba ssp. australis), Merced clarkia (Clarkia lingulata), 
Vasek's clarkia (Clarkia tembloriensis ssp. calientensis), hispid 
bird's-beak (Cordylanthus mollis ssp. Hispidus), Congdon's woolly 
sunflower (Eriophyllum congdonii), delta button-

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celery (Eryngium racemosum), striped adobe-lily (= Greenhorn) 
(Fritillaria striata), Bogg's Lake hedge-hyssop (Gratiola 
heterosepala), pale-yellow layia (Layia heterotricha), Comanche layia 
(Layia leucopappa), legenere (Legenere limosa), Congdon's lewisia 
(Lewisia congdonii), Mason's lilaeopsis (Lilaeopsis masonii), Mariposa 
lupine (Lupinus citrinus var. deflexus), showy madia (Madia radiata), 
Hall's bush mallow (Malacothamnus hallii), pincushion navarretia 
(Navarretia myersii spp. myersii), oil neststraw (Stylocline 
citroleum), and Jared's pepper grass (Lepidium jaredii ssp. jaredii). 
Species may be added or deleted during the course of Plan development 
based on further analysis, new information, agency consultation, and 
public comment.
    The Plan area includes the network of PG&E facilities within 
approximately 12,094,000 acres of the San Joaquin Valley. The Plan area 
comprises portions of nine counties: San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, 
Fresno, Kings, Kern, Mariposa, Madera, and Tulare. The boundaries of 
the Plan area are generally defined by the north and eastern boundaries 
of San Joaquin and Stanislaus County lines, until reaching Mariposa 
County where it follows the 3,000-foot elevation contour or Federal 
lands, whichever is lower, south along the western Sierra Nevada 
foothills. On the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, the plan 
boundary follows the western boundary of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, 
Merced, Fresno, Kings, and Kern Counties. The southern limit of the 
plan area boundary is the 3,000-foot elevation contour near the Kern 
County line.
    Implementation activities that may be covered under the Plan 
include activities associated with the operation, maintenance, and 
minor construction of PG&E's gas and electric transmission and 
distribution system as mandated for public safety by the California 
Public Utilities Commission, the California Energy Commission, and the 
Department of Transportation. More specifically, these activities may 
include: gas pipeline protection, recoating, repair and replacement; 
electric line protection, repair, reconductering, and replacement; 
electric pole repair/replacement; vegetation management to maintain 
clearances around facilities; and minor new gas and electric 
extensions. Under the Plan, the effects on covered species of the 
covered activities are expected to be minimized and mitigated through 
participation in a conservation program, which will be fully described 
in the Plan. This conservation program would focus on providing long-
term protection of covered species by protecting biological communities 
in the Plan area.
    Components of this conservation program are now under consideration 
by the Service and PG&E. These components will likely include: 
avoidance and minimization measures, monitoring, adaptive management, 
and mitigation measures consisting of preservation, restoration and 
enhancement of habitat.

Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report

    PG&E and the Service have selected Jones & Stokes to prepare the 
Draft EIS/EIR. The joint document will be prepared in compliance with 
NEPA and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Although 
Jones & Stokes will prepare the EIS/EIR, the Service will be 
responsible for the scope and content of the document for NEPA 
purposes, and DFG will be responsible for the scope and content of the 
CEQA document, as the state lead agency pursuant to CEQA and the 
permitting entity pursuant to the California Endangered Species Act and 
Fish and Game Code 2081.
    The EIS/EIR will consider the proposed action (i.e., the issuance 
of a Section 10(a)(1)(B) permit under the Act), and a reasonable range 
of alternatives. A detailed description of the proposed action and 
alternatives will be included in the EIS/EIR. It is anticipated that 
several alternatives will be developed, which may vary by the level of 
conservation, impacts caused by the proposed activities, permit area, 
covered species, or a combination of these factors. Additionally, a No 
Action alternative will be considered. Under the No Action alternative, 
the Service would not issue a section 10(a)(1)(B) permit.
    The EIS/EIR will also identify potentially significant impacts on 
biological resources, land use, air quality, water quality, mineral 
resources, water resources, economics, and other environmental issues 
that could occur directly or indirectly with implementation of the 
proposed action and alternatives. For all potentially significant 
impacts, the EIS/EIR will identify mitigation measures where feasible 
to reduce these impacts to a level below significance.
    Environmental review of the EIS/EIR will be conducted in accordance 
with the requirements of NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), its 
implementing regulations (40 CFR 1500-1508), other applicable 
regulations, and Service procedures for compliance with those 
regulations. This notice is being furnished in accordance with 40 CFR 
1501.7 of NEPA to obtain suggestions and information from other 
agencies and the public on the scope of issues and alternatives to be 
addressed in the EIS/EIR. The primary purpose of the scoping process is 
to identify important issues raised by the public, related to the 
proposed action. Written comments from interested parties are invited 
to ensure that the full range of issues related to the permit request 
are identified. While written comments are encouraged, we will accept 
both written and oral comments at the public meeting. In addition, you 
may submit written comments by mail or facsimile transmission (see 
ADDRESSES). All comments received, including names and addresses, will 
become part of the official administrative record and may be made 
available to the public.

    Dated: March 17, 2004.
Ken McDermond,
Deputy Manager, Region 1, California/Nevada Operations Office, 
Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 04-6664 Filed 3-24-04; 8:45 am]