[Federal Register: April 21, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 77)]
[Page 21567-21569]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on 
Petition To Delist the Stephens' Kangaroo Rat and Initiation of a 5-
Year Review

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 90-day petition finding and initiation of status 
review for the 12-month finding and 5-year review.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce a 
90-day finding for a petition to remove the Stephens' kangaroo rat 
(Dipodomys stephensi) from the Federal List of Threatened and 
Endangered Wildlife and Plants pursuant to the Endangered Species Act 
(Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). We find that the petition presents 
substantial information and are initiating a status review to determine 
if delisting this species is warranted. We are requesting submission of 
any new information (best scientific and commercial data) on the 
Stephens' kangaroo rat since its original listing as an endangered 
species in 1988. Following this status review, we will issue a 12-month 
finding on the petition to delist. Because a status review is also 
required for the 5-year review of listed species under section 
4(c)(2)(A) of the Act, we are electing to prepare these reviews 
simultaneously. At the conclusion of these simultaneous reviews, we 
will issue the 12-month finding on the petition, as provided in section 
4(b)(3)(B) of the Act, and make the requisite finding under section 
4(c)(2)(B) of the Act based on the results of the 5-year review.

DATES: The 90-day finding announced in this document was made on March 
24, 2004. To be considered in the 12-month finding on this petition, 
comments and information should be submitted to us by June 21, 2004.

ADDRESSES: Comments, material, information, or questions concerning 
this petition and finding should be sent to the Field Supervisor, 
Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6010 
Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, California 92009. The petition and 
supporting information are available for public inspection by 
appointment during normal business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jim Bartel, Field Supervisor, Carlsbad 
Fish and Wildlife Office, at the above address (telephone: 760/431-
9440; fax: 760/431-9618).



    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the Act requires that we make a finding on 
whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. To the maximum extent practicable, 
this finding is to be made within 90 days of receipt of the petition, 
and the finding is to be published promptly in the Federal Register. If 
we find substantial information is present, we are required to promptly 
commence a review of the status of the species (50 CFR 424.14). 
``Substantial information'' is defined in 50 CFR 424.14(b) as ``that 
amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe 
that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted.'' 
Petitioners need not prove that the petitioned action is warranted to 
support a ``substantial'' finding; instead, the key consideration in 
evaluating a petition for substantiality involves demonstration of the 
reliability and adequacy of the information supporting the action 
advocated by the petition.
    When considering an action for listing, delisting, or reclassifying 
a species, we are required to determine whether a species is endangered 
or threatened based on one or more of the five listing factors as 
described at 50 CFR 424.11. These factors are given as: (A) The present 
or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat 
or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, 
or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy 
of existing regulatory mechanisms; and (E) other natural or manmade 
factors affecting the continued existence of the species. Delisting a 
species must be supported by the best scientific and commercial data 
available and only considered if such data substantiates that the 
species is neither endangered nor threatened for one or more of the 
following reasons: (1) The species is considered extinct; (2) the 
species is considered to be recovered; and/or (3) the original data 
available when the species was listed, or the interpretation of such 
data, were in error.
    We received two similar petitions from Mr. Robert Eli Perkins 
requesting us to delist the Stephens' kangaroo rat from the Federal 
List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife and Plants pursuant to the 
Act. The first petition, submitted on behalf of the Riverside County 
Farm Bureau (RCFB), was received on May 1, 1995. We subsequently sent a 
letter on June 12, 1995, to the RCFB acknowledging the receipt of the 
petition. On August 13, 1997, the RCFB sent us an inquiry regarding the 
status of the delisting petition and requesting clarification as to 
whether we had the funds or staff to respond with a 90-day finding to 
the petition. We sent another letter to the RCFB on August 26, 1997, 
stating that we were unable to review the petition and publish our 90-
day finding due to limited resources. We also provided the RCFB with 
additional information concerning our Listing Priority Guidance for 
Fiscal Year 1997, which indicated that delisting petitions ranked as a 
low-priority Tier 3 action and that higher priority work took 
precedence. We received a resubmittal of the first petition to delist 
the Stephens' kangaroo rat from Mr. Perkins on February 25, 2002, and 
sent a letter acknowledging the receipt of the second petition to Mr. 
Perkins on August 6, 2002. The second petition repeated the same 
information as the first petition, and also stated that delisting is 
warranted as a result of the Riverside County Habitat Conservation 
Agency's conservation measures.
    The petition provides information on the species' range, habitat 
requirements, population size, population density, reproductive 
ability, ability to persist in small patches, and colonization 
capability, and states that this

[[Page 21568]]

information demonstrates that the species was listed in error. The 
petition also states that delisting is warranted because the existing 
habitat conservation measures identified in a Habitat Conservation Plan 
(HCP) by the Riverside County Habitat Conservation Agency (RCHCA) are 

Biology and Distribution

    The Stephens' kangaroo rat is a medium-sized, five-toed, broad-
faced kangaroo rat of the rodent family Heteromyidae. Kangaroo rats 
(genus Dipodomys) are nocturnal, burrow-dwelling rodents found in 
semiarid and arid habitats of western North America (Eisenberg 1963). 
Members of this genus are characterized by their external fur-lined 
cheek pouches used for transporting seeds to safe caches; large hind 
legs adapted for rapid hopping; relatively small front legs; long 
tails; and large heads (Brown et al. 1979).
    The Stephens' kangaroo rat reaches its highest densities in 
intermediate successional stage grassland communities characterized by 
moderate to high amounts of bare ground, high forb cover, moderate 
slopes, and well-drained soils (O'Farrell and Uptain 1987, Anderson and 
O'Farrell, in review). This species prefers grassland communities 
dominated by herbaceous plants rather than by annual grasses because 
annual herbs rapidly break down after drying, which results in 
substantial patches of bare ground (O'Farrell and Clark 1987), which 
provide suitable conditions for the species' specialized mode of 
locomotion (Bartholomew and Caswell 1951). Because of these habitat 
preferences, natural or artificial disturbances that prevent the 
development of dense ground cover, and/or succession of grassland 
communities to later stage shrub communities can be beneficial to the 
species (O'Farrell 1993; Price et al. 1994). However, too much 
disturbance may also be detrimental to the species (SJM Biological 
Consultants 1999). While disturbances such as off-road vehicle use, 
farming, and grazing may be beneficial to the species by maintaining 
bare areas, such disturbances, if too excessive or intense, may be 
harmful, resulting in burrow destruction and possible changes to the 
vegetation community. Further research is needed to determine at what 
levels and intensities these disturbances become detrimental to the 
    The Stephens' kangaroo rat's known historic range is small for 
rodents in general, and in particular for kangaroo rats (Price and Endo 
1989). Its historic range encompassed extreme southwestern San 
Bernardino, western Riverside, and parts of northern and central San 
Diego Counties in southern California (Grinnell 1922; Lackey 1967; 
Bleich 1973; O'Farrell et al. 1986; O'Farrell and Uptain 1989; Pacific 
Southwest Biological Services, Inc. 1993; Ogden Environmental and 
Energy Services Co., Inc. 1997). However, massive expansion of urban, 
agricultural, and recreational development throughout the species' 
historic range during the past century resulted in severe losses of 
habitat and fragmentation of remaining populations (O'Farrell and Clark 
1987; Price and Endo 1989).
    On September 30, 1988, we listed the Stephens' kangaroo rat 
(Dipodomys stephensi) as endangered (53 FR 38465) pursuant to the Act. 
This determination was based upon the best scientific and commercial 
information available at the time of listing. As stated in the final 
rule, this action was taken, in part, because of significant known and 
impending losses of habitat due to development. We did not designate 
critical habitat for the Stephens' kangaroo rat at the time of listing 
because such action was not considered prudent at that time. We 
published a notice of availability for the Draft Recovery Plan for the 
Stephens' kangaroo rat in the Federal Register on June 23, 1997 (62 FR 
33799) and are currently working to finalize the Recovery Plan based on 
public comment and information that has become available since the 
draft publication.

Review of Petition

    We have reviewed the petition and its supporting documents, as well 
as information in our files. We have found that substantial information 
relating to the distribution of the species and factors threatening its 
continued existence has become available since the Stephens' kangaroo 
rat was listed as an endangered species. We believe that it is 
appropriate to consider this information, and any other new information 
available about this species and the threats it may face, in a status 
    The petition states that the size of the known range for the 
Stephens' kangaroo rat has increased considerably since we listed the 
species. Federal listing of the Stephens' kangaroo rat prompted several 
focused surveys for the species in response to proposed development 
projects. These surveys occurred throughout, and adjacent to, the 
species' known range. As discussed in the Draft Recovery Plan for the 
Stephens' Kangaroo Rat (62 FR 33799), the range of the species is now 
known to be larger, with new populations in the general vicinities of 
Norco and Anza in Riverside County, and Guejito Ranch and Ramona in San 
Diego County (USFWS 1997). Significant questions remain about the 
amount and quality of occupied habitat within the current range, and 
the species' ability to persist in the face of expanding agricultural 
and urban development; however, we consider the expansion of the known 
range to be an issue relevant to the listing status of the Stephens' 
kangaroo rat that warrants further investigation.
    The petition also states that we may have overestimated the impact 
of actions such as grazing, off-road vehicle use, and farming in the 
listing rule. The listing rule identified these types of actions as 
potentially reducing habitat suitability. When properly managed, 
certain types of activities, such as grazing, off-road vehicle use, and 
farming, can cause artificial disturbance and promote bare ground, 
which may benefit the species. As discussed earlier, the best suitable 
habitat for the Stephens' kangaroo rat consists of early to 
intermediate successional stage grassland communities characterized by 
moderate to high amounts of bare ground, high forb cover, moderate 
slopes, and well-drained soils. Without a disturbance event, succession 
to dense ground cover (i.e., shrubs and invasive annual grasses) will 
render the habitat unsuitable in a relatively short time (O'Farrell and 
Uptain 1989). Maintenance of suitable Stephens' kangaroo rat habitat 
may require perpetual habitat manipulation to maintain the sparse 
vegetation conditions preferred by this species. In our status review, 
we will further evaluate actions such as grazing, off-road vehicle use, 
and farming, and assess their impact to the Stephens' kangaroo rat.
    The petition also questioned the need for listing the species when 
most of the lands in the core reserves under the HCP for the Stephens' 
kangaroo rat in western Riverside County were already under public 
ownership at the time of listing. The petitioner states that listing 
was not necessary because the missions of these public lands were 
compatible with the preservation of the species. Prior to listing, 
conservation measures for the species were not developed specifically 
for the preservation of the species in perpetuity. Since Federal 
listing, several public land agencies have participated in conservation 
measures or developed conservation strategies for ensuring the species' 
long-term survival. In our status review, we will examine the efficacy 
of these conservation measures by the various public land agencies.

[[Page 21569]]

    The petition also stated that the species warranted delisting 
because the RCHCA provided adequate habitat conservation measures for 
the species through the HCP for the Stephens' kangaroo rat in western 
Riverside County, which was initiated following our listing of the 
species in 1988. Following the completion of the HCP in March 1996 
(RCHCA 1996), we issued a 30-year Incidental Take Permit pursuant to 
section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act to the RCHCA and other jurisdictional 
entities on May 2, 1996. Under the HCP, the RCHCA and other permittees 
agreed to offset ``take'' of the Stephens'' kangaroo rat by funding and 
establishing a permanent reserve system consisting of seven core 
reserves for the conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the 
Stephens' kangaroo rat and its habitat within western Riverside County. 
We are also currently working with Riverside County and local 
jurisdictions on the development of a Western Riverside Multiple 
Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). If approved, the MSHCP will 
provide for the conservation, management, and ``take'' authorization of 
the Stephens' kangaroo rat outside the boundaries of the existing HCP 
for the Stephens' kangaroo rat in western Riverside County. We are also 
working with San Diego County toward the development of a Multiple 
Species Conservation Program North County Subarea Plan that, if 
approved, will also provide for the conservation, management, and take 
authorization of the Stephens' kangaroo rat in northern San Diego 
County. The Multiple Habitat Conservation Program of northwestern San 
Diego County might also contribute toward the conservation and 
management of this species. Both public and private landowners have 
undertaken significant measures to conserve the Stephens' kangaroo rat. 
These conservation efforts are also an issue relevant to the listing 
status of the Stephens' kangaroo rat that warrants further evaluation 
in a status review.


    We have reviewed the petition and the supporting documents, as well 
as other information in our files. We find that the petition and other 
information in our files presents substantial information that 
delisting the Stephens' kangaroo rat may be warranted, and are 
initiating a status review. We will issue a 12-month finding in 
accordance with section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act as to whether or not 
delisting is warranted.

Five-Year Review

    Section 4(c)(2)(A) of the Act requires that we conduct a review of 
listed species at least once every five years. We are then, under 
section 4(c)(2)(B) and the provisions of subsection (a) and (b), to 
determine, on the basis of such a review, whether or not any species 
should be removed from the List (delisted), or reclassified from 
endangered to threatened, or threatened to endangered. Our regulations 
at 50 CFR 424.21 require that we publish a notice in the Federal 
Register announcing those species currently under active review. This 
notice announces our active review of the Stephens' kangaroo rat.

Public Information Solicited

    We are requesting information for both the 12-month finding and the 
5-year review, as we are conducting these reviews simultaneously.
    When we make a 90-day finding on a petition that substantial 
information exists to indicate that listing or delisting a species may 
be warranted, we are required to promptly commence a review of the 
status of the species. To ensure that the status review is complete and 
based on the best available scientific and commercial information, we 
are soliciting information on the Stephens' kangaroo rat. This includes 
information regarding historical and current distribution, biology and 
ecology, ongoing conservation measures for the species and its habitat, 
and threats (including wildfires) to the species and its habitat. We 
also request information regarding the adequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms. We request any additional information, comments, and 
suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, 
Tribes, the scientific community, industry or environmental entities, 
or any other interested parties concerning the status of the Stephens' 
kangaroo rat.
    The 5-year review considers all new information available at the 
time of the review. This review will consider the best scientific and 
commercial data that have become available since the current listing 
determination or most recent status review, such as:
    A. Species biology, including, but not limited to, population 
trends, distribution, abundance, demographics, and genetics;
    B. Habitat conditions, including, but not limited to, amount, 
distribution, and suitability;
    C. Conservation measures that have been implemented that benefit 
the species;
    D. Threat status and trends;
    E. Other new information, data, or corrections, including, but not 
limited to, taxonomic or nomenclatural changes, identification of 
erroneous information contained in the List, and improved analytical 
    If you wish to comment for either the 12-month finding or the 5-
year review, you may submit your comments and materials concerning this 
finding to the Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office (see 
ADDRESSES section). Our practice is to make comments, including names 
and home addresses of respondents, available for public review during 
regular business hours. Respondents may request that we withhold a 
respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you wish us to withhold 
your name or address, you must state this request prominently at the 
beginning of your comment. However, we will not consider anonymous 
comments. To the extent consistent with applicable law, we will make 
all submissions from organizations or businesses, and from individuals 
identifying themselves as representatives or officials of organizations 
or businesses, available for public inspection in their entirety. 
Comments and materials received will be available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the above 
Carlsbad address.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this finding is 
available, upon request, from the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office 
(see ADDRESSES section).


    The authority for this action is section 4 of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: March 24, 2004.
Marshall Jones,
Deputy Director, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 04-7536 Filed 4-20-04; 8:45 am]