[Federal Register: April 8, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 68)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 18515-18516]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

RIN 1018-AI72

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Reopening of the 
Public Comment Period for the Determination of Distinct Vertebrate 
Population Segment for the California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; reopening of public comment period.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
reopening of the public comment period for the proposed determination 
of a distinct vertebrate population segment for the California 
gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica). The comment period will provide 
the public, and Federal, State, and local agencies and Tribes with an 
opportunity to submit written comments on the proposal. Comments 
previously submitted for this proposal need not be resubmitted as they 
have already been incorporated into the public record and will be fully 
considered in any final decision.

DATES: The original comment period closed on June 23, 2003. The public 
comment period for this proposal is now reopened, and we will accept 
comments and information until 5 p.m. May 24, 2004. Any comments 
received after the closing date may not be considered in the final 
decisions on these actions.

ADDRESSES: Written comments and materials may be submitted to us by any 
one of the following methods:
    1. You may submit written comments and information to the Field 
Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, 
Carlsbad, CA 92009.
    2. You may hand-deliver written comments and information to our 
Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office at the above address, or fax your 
comments to 760/431-9618.
    Comments and materials received, as well as supporting 
documentation used in preparation of the proposed determination of 
distinct vertebrate population segment for the California gnatcatcher, 
will be 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; 
facsimile 760/431-9618).


Public Comments Solicited

    We solicit comments or suggestions from the public, other concerned 
governmental agencies, Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or 
any other interested parties concerning our proposed determination of 
distinct vertebrate population segment for the California gnatcatcher, 
and on the taxonomic status of the gnatcatcher.
    With respect to our consideration of listing of the California 
gnatcatcher species north of the international border as a distinct 
vertebrate population segment (DPS), we are particularly soliciting 
comments on the following:
    (1) Do the recent genetic findings referenced in this report 
justify a review of the taxonomy of the California gnatcatcher?
    (2) Is there any other new information that we should consider in 
this context?
    In our consideration of the U.S. population of the California 
gnatcatcher as a DPS, we have presented a proposed five factor analysis 
of the status of the U.S. population. With respect to this analysis, we 
are particularly soliciting information on the following:
    (1) Existing populations of the California gnatcatcher, including 
the coastal California gnatcatcher subspecies, within its range in the 
United States;
    (2) Existing populations of the California gnatcatcher, including 
the coastal California gnatcatcher subspecies, in Mexico;
    (3) Information on the regulatory authorities available for the 
protection of the California gnatcatcher in Mexico;
    (4) Information on the adequacy of regulatory authorities available 
to protect coastal California gnatcatcher habitat in California absent 
the application of the Act;
    (5) Ways in which the California gnatcatcher exists in the U.S. or 
throughout the range of the coastal California gnatcatcher subspecies, 
in an ecological setting that is unusual or unique compared to the 
California gnatcatcher generally; and
    (6) Any other information that we should consider in our review of 
the species' taxonomy.
    Our practice is to make comments, including names and home 
addresses of respondents, available for public review during regular 
business hours. Individual respondents may request that we withhold 
their home address, which we will honor to the extent allowable by law. 
There also may be circumstances in which we would withhold a 
respondent's identity, as allowable by law. If you wish us to withhold 
your name and/or address, you must state this prominently at the 
beginning of your comments. 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 received will be available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.


    On April 24, 2003, we published a proposed rule in the Federal 
Register (68 FR 20228) to designate critical habitat for the coastal 
California gnatcatcher subspecies and propose our determination of a 
distinct vertebrate population segment for the California gnatcatcher. 
In today's Federal Register, we also reopened the comment period on the 
proposed designation of critical habitat. By this notice we are 
reopening the comment period on the proposed determination of the DPS 
for the California gnatcatcher. We intend to proceed to finalize these 
two rulemakings separately.
    A recent scientific paper (Zink, R.M., G.F. Barrowclough, J. L. 
Atwood, and R.C. Blackwell-Rago. 2000. Genetics, taxonomy, and 
conservation of the threatened California gnatcatcher. Conservation 
Biology 14(5):1394-1405) presents results of genetic research on the 
California gnatcatcher and calls into question the status of the 
coastal California gnatcatcher as a separate subspecies. This paper 
presents a contradictory view to previously published taxonomic reviews 
of the species. However, Atwood's research supported the original 
listing of the gnatcatcher. Zink et al. (2000) analyzed the genetic 
structure of California gnatcatcher populations throughout the range by 
looking for variation in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region 
and three mtDNA genes. Their analysis found genetic structuring

[[Page 18516]]

inconsistent with that of a geographically distinct subspecies. The 
authors presented their data as evidence that the species is expanding 
its range from a southern Baja California, Mexico, refugium northward 
into the southern coastal regions of California. The authors argue that 
morphological variations previously described in taxonomic treatments 
were not genetically based, and therefore, subspecific divisions of the 
species are not supported by the genetic studies conducted by the 
    Zink et al. (2000) present important new information concerning 
genetic variability within the California gnatcatcher. Given the 
uncertainty regarding California gnatcatcher taxonomy that this paper 
introduces, we have initiated an evaluation to determine whether 
populations of the California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica) 
species in the United States meet the definition of a DPS pursuant to 
our 1996 joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine 
Fisheries Service Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct 
Vertebrate Populations (61 FR 4722).
    We are reopening the comment period to allow all interested parties 
to comment on these issues.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited herein, as well as others 
used in the development of the proposed DPS, are available upon request 
from the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES section).


    The primary authors of this notice are the staff of the Carlsbad 
Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES section).


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

    Dated: March 26, 2004.
Craig Manson,
Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 04-7993 Filed 4-7-04; 8:45 am]