[Federal Register: April 21, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 77)]
[Page 20719-20722]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of a Final Environmental Impact Report/
Environmental Impact Statement for the Coachella Valley Multiple 
Species Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural Community Conservation 
Plan, Riverside County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION:  Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: This notice announces the availability of the final Coachella 
Valley Association of Governments Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural 
Community Conservation Plan (Plan), final Implementing Agreement, and 
final Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/
EIR) for public review and comment. The Fish and Wildlife Service 
(Service) is considering the proposed action of issuing a 75-year 
incidental take permit, pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973 as amended (ESA), for 27 species in 
response to receipt of an application from the Coachella Valley 
Association of Governments (CVAG), Coachella Valley Conservation 
Commission, 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). The proposed 
permit would authorize take of individual members of animal species 
listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended 
(ESA). The permit is needed because take of species could occur during 
proposed urban development activities, rural infrastructure projects, 
and preserve management activities within a 1.1 million-acre planning 
area located in the Coachella Valley, California.
    The Final Plan also incorporates a 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 planning process and will use 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.

DATES: The 30-day waiting period will end on May 22, 2006. Written 
comments must be received on or before this date.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be sent to Mr. James Bartel, Field 
Supervisor, Fish and Wildlife Service, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife 
Office, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, California 92011; facsimile 
(760) 431-9624.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: (1) Jim Sullivan, Director of 
Environmental Resources, CVAG, 73710 Fred Waring Drive, Room 119, Palm 
Desert, CA 92260, (760) 346-1127; or, (2) Ms. Therese O'Rourke, 
Assistant Field Supervisor, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, Carlsbad, 
California 92011, (760) 431-9440.


Availability of Documents

    Copies of the Plan, Implementation Agreement, and Final EIR/EIS are 
available for public review, by appointment, during regular business 
hours, at the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office and at the CVAG office 
    The documents can also be viewed on the World Wide Web at http://www.cvmshcp.org.
 Copies are also available for viewing in each of the 

Applicant cities, in public libraries, the Riverside County Planning 
Departments, as follows:
    (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.

[[Page 20720]]

    (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 Federal ESA of 1973, as amended and Federal 
regulations prohibit the take of fish and wildlife species listed as 
endangered or threatened (16 U.S.C. 1538). The term ``take'' means to 
harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or 
collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1532). 
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 of listed fish or 
wildlife; i.e., take that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, 
otherwise lawful activity. Regulations governing incidental take 
permits for threatened and endangered species are found in 50 CFR 17.32 
and 17.22, respectively.
    Although take of listed plant species is not prohibited under the 
Federal ESA, and therefore cannot be authorized under an incidental 
take permit, plant species may be included on a permit in recognition 
of the conservation benefits provided to them under a habitat 
conservation plan. All species included on an incidental take permit 
would receive assurances under the Services ``No Surprises'' regulation 
50 CFR 17.22(b)(5) and 17.32(b)(5).
    The Service has received an application for an incidental take 
permit for implementation of the Plan. The application was prepared and 
submitted by the CVAG on behalf of all the Applicants: Riverside 
County; the cities of Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, 
Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Rancho 
Mirage; California Department of Transportation, California Department 
of Parks and Recreation, Coachella Valley Association of Governments, 
Coachella Valley Conservation Commission, Coachella Valley Mountains 
Conservancy, Coachella Valley Water District, Imperial Irrigation 
District, Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation 
District, Riverside County Regional Parks and Open Space District, and 
Riverside County Waste Management Department. The CVAG prepared the 
Plan to satisfy the application requirements for a section 10(a)(1)(B) 
permit under the Federal ESA, of 1973, as amended, and a section 2835 
permit under the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act 
of 2002 (NCCPA). Thus, the Plan constitutes a Habitat Conservation Plan 
pursuant to the Federal ESA, and a Natural Community Conservation Plan 
pursuant to the California NCCPA.
    The CVAG seeks a 75-year incidental take permit for covered 
activities within a proposed 1.1 million-acre planning area, located 
entirely in eastern Riverside County, California. CVAG has requested a 
permit for 27 species, 10 of which are currently listed as threatened 
or endangered under the Federal ESA. Of these 27 species, CVAG requests 
a permit and assurances for 22 animal species and assurances for 5 
plant species.
    Proposed covered species include 6 wildlife species currently 
listed as endangered under the Federal ESA [Desert pupfish (Cyprinodon 
macularis), Arroyo toad (Bufo californicus), Yuma Clapper Rail (Rallus 
longirostris yumanensis), Southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax 
traillii extimus), Least Bell's vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus), 
Peninsular bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni)], 2 plant species 
currently listed as endangered under the Federal ESA [Coachella Valley 
milk-vetch (Astragalus lentiginosus var. coachellae), and Triple-ribbed 
milkvetch (Astragalus tricarinatus)], and 2 wildlife species currently 
listed as threatened under the Federal ESA [Desert Tortoise (Gopherus 
agassizii) and, Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard (Uma inornata)]. 
Proposed covered species also include 15 wildlife species and 3 plant 
species that are not listed under the Federal ESA at the current time.
    If the proposed Plan is approved and the permit issued, take 
authorization of covered listed wildlife species would be effective at 
the time of permit issuance. Take of the currently non-listed covered 
wildlife species would be authorized concurrent with the species' 
listing under the Federal ESA, should they be listed during the 
duration of the permit.
    The Plan is intended to be a comprehensive and multi-jurisdictional 
document, providing for regional species conservation and habitat 
planning, while allowing the prospective Permittees to better manage 
anticipated growth and development. The Plan also is intended to 
provide a coordinated process for permitting and mitigating the take of 
covered species as an alternative to the current project-by-project 
    If the Plan is approved, the Local Permittees would review 
development applications for compliance with the terms of the Plan. 
Take authorization would be issued to these parties by the Local 
Permittees if the project is consistent with the Plan. As part of the 
standard development review process, projects would typically require 
separate environmental review under the California Environmental 
Quality Act and, in some cases, the National Environmental Policy Act. 
In addition, the permit will provide incidental take authorization for 
public projects, operations and maintenance activities, management and 
monitoring activities in the Plan area by Permittees.

[[Page 20721]]

    An Implementing Entity, called the Coachella Valley Conservation 
Commission (CVCC), would be responsible for conducting broad 
conservation and management measures, such as acquiring and maintaining 
preserve land, restoring and enhancing habitat, tracking the success of 
the conservation strategy, and instituting any necessary changes. 
Projects conducted by the CVCC would be consistent with the Plan and 
receive coverage for take.
    In order to comply with the requirements of the Federal ESA, 
California ESA, and the California NCCPA, the proposed Plan addresses a 
number of required elements, including: Species and habitat goals and 
objectives; evaluation of the effects of covered activities on covered 
species, including indirect and cumulative effects; a conservation 
strategy; a monitoring and adaptive management program; descriptions of 
changed circumstances and remedial measures; identification of funding 
sources; and an assessment of alternatives to take of listed species.
    Covered Activities would include public and private development 
within the plan area that requires certain ministerial and 
discretionary actions by an Applicant subject to consistency with the 
Plan policies, regional transportation facilities, maintenance of and 
safety improvements on existing roads, the Circulation Elements of the 
Applicants, maintenance and construction of flood control facilities, 
and compatible uses in the reserve. The Plan makes a provision for the 
inclusion of special districts and other non-Applicant entities in the 
permit with a certificate of inclusion.
    The Plan 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 goals and objectives and would ensure that conservation 
keeps pace with development. The Plan 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 
Plan's conservation strategy.
    The Plan 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 is anticipated to occur over the first 30 years of 
the life 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 Species.
    The Public Use and Trails Plan element of the Plan provides for 
coordinated management of trails on public lands involving members of 
the public, local jurisdictions, and State and other Federal agencies.
    On November 5, 2004, the Service published a notice in the Federal 
Register (69 FR 64581) announcing receipt of an application for an 
incidental take permit from CVAG, Riverside County, the 9 cities and 
the other Applicants, and the availability of a Draft EIR/EIS for the 
application. The Draft EIR/EIS analyzed the potential environmental 
impacts that may result from the Federal action of authorizing 
incidental take anticipated to occur with implementation of the Plan, 
and identified various alternatives. We received a total of 310 comment 
letters on the Draft EIR/EIS. A response to each comment received in 
these letters has been included in Final EIR/EIS.


    The Draft EIS/EIR considered five alternatives in addition to the 
proposed project 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 proposed project alternative; an expanded 
conservation alternative; and a no project alternative.
    The proposed project alternative without the City of Palm Springs 
would have remained the same as the proposed project alternative; 
however, implementation of the Plan would be altered. The permits would 
have not provided incidental take authorization for any of the Covered 
Species under the jurisdiction of the City of Palm Springs and the 
mitigation fee would not be collected on land subject to the 
jurisdiction of the City of Palm Springs. All existing conservation 
lands, except those belonging to the City of Palm Springs, would 
continue to be part of the Plan Reserve System.
    The public lands alternative includes all local, State, and Federal 
land, and private conservation land, in the Plan Area. The local 
jurisdictions would contribute to the management of the existing 
conservation lands as mitigation. This alternative entails no land 
acquisition; only core habitat, essential ecological processes, and 
linkages that happen to be on existing public conservation lands or 
private conservation lands would be protected. As a result, sand 
transport, watershed, and other ecological processes would not be 
    The core habitat with ecological processes alternative would 
protect core habitat for the species and natural communities included 
in the plan, as well as ecological processes necessary to sustain these 
habitats. This alternative creates new preserve areas in the Snow Creek 
area and at the Whitewater River delta at the northwest end of the 
Salton Sea. Based on comments in the ISA report, comments received from 
California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) and the Service, and 
other information, this alternative was subsequently revised to develop 
the proposed project alternative.
    The enhanced conservation alternative expanded on the public lands 
alternative by including all additional areas that were recommended for 
further consideration by the Service and CDFG. This alternative would 
result in less impact than the proposed project alternative and 
increased the number of acres to be conserved by approximately 10,200 
acres. Much of the area anticipated for conservation under this 
alternative would cause significant land use conflicts and increased 
    The No Project alternative entails no plan being developed and no 
permits issued. Individual projects would have to seek their own 
incidental take permits or avoid take by not developing portions of the 
project site that would result in take of a listed species. This 
alternative would preclude impacts to listed species from activities 
covered under the plan; however, conservation of species and habitats 
provided through mitigation and compensation under the existing 
regulatory framework could result in a pattern of conservation that is 
fragmented and managed in a piecemeal fashion.

National Environmental Policy Act

    Proposed permit issuance triggers the need for compliance with the 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California 
Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Accordingly, a joint NEPA/CEQA 
document has been prepared. The Service is the Lead Agency responsible 
for compliance under NEPA and the BLM is a Cooperating Agency, and CVAG 
is the Lead Agency with responsibility for compliance with

[[Page 20722]]

CEQA. As NEPA lead agency, the Service is providing notice of the 
availability of the final EIS/EIR and is making available for public 
review the responses to comments on the Draft EIS/EIR.

Public Review

    The Service and CVAG invite the public to review the Final Plan, 
Final EIR/EIS, and Final Implementing Agreement during a 30-day waiting 
period [see DATES]. Any comments received, including names and 
addresses, will become part of the administrative record and may be 
made available to the public.
    The Service will evaluate the application, associated documents, 
and comments submitted to them to prepare a Record of Decision. A 
permit decision will be made no sooner than 30 days after the 
publication of the Final EIR/EIS and completion of the Record of 
    This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(a) of the Federal 
ESA and Service regulations for implementing NEPA, as amended (40 CFR 
1506.6). We provide this notice in order to allow the public, agencies, 
or other organizations to review these documents.

    Dated: April 7, 2006.
Alexandra Pitts,
Acting Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, 
 [FR Doc. E6-5990 Filed 4-20-06; 8:45 am]