[Federal Register: June 12, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 112)]
[Page 33770-33772]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Post Ranch Inn Habitat Conservation Plan, Monterey County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The Post Ranch Limited Partnership (Applicant) has applied to 
the 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 proposed permit would authorize take of the 
federally endangered Smith's blue butterfly (Euphilotes enoptes smithi) 
and federally threatened California red-legged frog (Rana aurora 
draytonii) incidental to otherwise lawful activities associated with 
the expansion and operation of an existing inn, which would remove 
0.003 acre of Smith's blue butterfly habitat and 0.826 acre of 
California red-legged frog upland habitat within a 91.98 acre parcel in 
Big Sur, Monterey County, California.
    We invite comments from the public on the permit application, which 
is available for review. The application includes a Habitat 
Conservation Plan (HCP), that fully describes the proposed project and 
the measures that the applicant would undertake to minimize and 
mitigate anticipated take of the Smith's blue butterfly and California 
red-legged frog, as required in section 10(a)(2)(B) of the Act.
    We also invite comments on our preliminary determination that the 
HCP qualifies as a ``low-effect'' plan, eligible for a categorical 
exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act. We explain the 
basis for this possible determination in a draft Environmental Action 
Statement, which is also available for public review.

DATES: Written comments must be received no later than July 12, 2006.

ADDRESSES: Written comments should be addressed to Diane Noda, Field 
Supervisor, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite 
B, Ventura, California 93003. Comments may also be sent by facsimile to 
(805) 644-3958.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jacob Martin, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, at the above address or by calling (805) 644-1766.


Document Availability

    Please contact the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES) 
if you would like copies of the application, HCP, and Environmental 
Action Statement. Documents will also be available for review by 
appointment, during normal business hours, at the Ventura Fish and 
Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES) or via the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/ventura


    Section 9 of the Act and Federal regulations prohibit the ``take'' 
of fish or wildlife species listed as endangered or threatened, 
respectively. Take of listed fish or wildlife is defined under the Act 
to mean harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, 
or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. However, the 
Service, under limited circumstances, may issue permits to cover 
incidental take, i.e., take that is incidental to, and not the purpose 
of, the carrying out of an otherwise lawful activity. Regulations 
governing incidental take permits for threatened and endangered species 
are found at 50 CFR 17.32 and 17.22, respectively. Among other 
criteria, issuance of such permits must not jeopardize the existence of 
federally listed fish, wildlife, or plants.

[[Page 33771]]

    The Post Ranch Inn is located on a 91.98 acre parcel between 
California Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean, approximately 1 mile south 
of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, in Big Sur, Monterey County, 
    The applicant proposes to construct additional facilities within 
the existing inn complex, including new inn units, new yoga/spa 
buildings, a central services facility, employee housing, and a 
maintenance/shop building. Expansion activities, including disturbance 
due to construction, construction staging, and fuels management, would 
occur within 5.136 acres. Approximately 72 percent (3.701 of 5.136 
acres) of the disturbance would occur within areas that are already 
developed, landscaped, or dominated by invasive plants. Thirteen plant 
communities occur within the 91.98 acre site, including California 
sagebrush (Artemesia californica) scrub, coyote brush (Baccharis spp.) 
scrub, broom (Genista spp.) scrub, coastal terrace prairie, California 
oatgrass (Danthonia californica) bunchgrass (Nassella spp. and Festuca 
spp.) grassland, California annual grassland, sedge seep, freshwater 
marsh, pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus) with floating leaves wetland, 
arroyo willow (Salix lasiolepis) riparian forest, California sycamore 
(Platanus racemosa) woodland, and coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) 
forest. Disturbed areas also exist at the site, such as the existing 
roads, buildings, parking, and landscaped areas.
    There are areas of California sagebrush scrub and California annual 
grassland in the southwestern portion of the Post Ranch Inn property 
that include seacliff buckwheat (Eriogonum parvifolium), a food plant 
used by all life stages of the Smith's blue butterfly. Surveys in July 
of 2000 indicated that these areas are occupied by the Smith's blue 
butterfly. The proposed expansion would remove a small area (0.003 
acre) of California sagebrush scrub habitat that either currently 
contains or could be easily colonized by adjacent seacliff buckwheat. 
This removal could result in take of Smith's blue butterflies. 
Additional seacliff buckwheat plants may be removed due to management 
activities, including clearance of fire breaks, invasive plant removal, 
and habitat restoration and enhancement. There is also a pond in the 
central portion of the Post Ranch Inn property. Ongoing surveys, which 
began in 2000, have demonstrated that this pond is occupied by 
California red-legged frogs. Up to 52 adult and subadult California 
red-legged frogs have been observed per survey. Expansion activities 
would not occur within the pond, but would impact 0.826 acre of upland 
habitat expected to be used by California red-legged frogs. Due to 
presence of the Smith's blue butterfly and California red-legged frog 
and expected impacts on their habitat, the Service concluded that the 
proposed expansion would likely result in take of these species and 
recommended that the applicant apply for an incidental take permit.
    The applicant proposes to implement measures to minimize and 
mitigate for take of the Smith's blue butterfly and California red-
legged frog within the project site. Specifically, they propose to: (1) 
Protect in perpetuity 36.1 acres within the Post Ranch Inn parcel via a 
conservation easement; (2) provide funding for monitoring of the 
easement area in perpetuity; (3) improve existing habitat by removing 
invasive plants and establishing at least 200 mature seacliff buckwheat 
plants within the easement area; (4) remove invasive species, including 
bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana), mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), and 
crayfish (Pacifastacus spp.) from the on-site pond; and (5) undertake 
various measures (including fencing of construction areas and providing 
a biological monitor) during grading and construction activities at the 
project site to minimize impacts to both listed species and their 
    The Service's proposed action is to issue an incidental take permit 
to the applicant who would then implement the HCP. The HCP includes 
measures to minimize and mitigate impacts of the project on the Smith's 
blue butterfly and California red-legged frog. Two alternatives to the 
taking of listed species under the proposed action are considered in 
the HCP. Under the No-Action alternative, the proposed expansion would 
not occur and the HCP would not be implemented. This would avoid the 
immediate effects of habitat removal on the Smith's blue butterfly and 
California red-legged frog. However, without the HCP, habitat for the 
Smith's blue butterfly and California red-legged frog on the project 
site likely would decline as a result of threats from invasive plants 
and animals. This alternative would also result in an unnecessary 
economic burden on the applicant.
    Under the Redesigned Project alternative, the development footprint 
for the project would be reduced or relocated to another portion of the 
site, thus reducing or altering the area of impacted habitat for the 
Smith's blue butterfly and California red-legged frog. Alternate 
locations for new construction are limited within the Post Ranch Inn 
parcel due to the presence of steep slopes, an existing scenic easement 
on the east side of the parcel, and a desire to avoid removal of native 
trees. These constraints leave only areas of annual grassland and an 
existing orchard as alternate construction sites. Use of these sites 
could potentially reduce the amount of Smith's blue butterfly and 
California red-legged frog habitat impacted, but would also require 
extension of roads, which would partially offset any improvements 
achieved through the relocation. Given the small amount of Smith's blue 
butterfly and California red-legged frog habitat that would be removed 
by the proposed expansion (0.003 acre and 0.826 acre, respectively), a 
reduction in the development envelope would not substantially improve 
post-project conditions for the Smith's blue butterfly and California 
red-legged frog on the site. Construction and on-going use of the site 
would still affect both species, even if the proposed expansion were 
reduced in size. Due to the constraints on alternate construction 
locations and the already small amount of listed species' habitat 
impacted by the project as proposed, we do not expect that relocation 
or reduction of the proposed construction would substantially benefit 
the Smith's blue butterfly or California red-legged frog. This 
alternative would also result in an unnecessary economic burden on the 
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that the HCP 
qualifies as a ``low-effect'' plan as defined by our Habitat 
Conservation Planning Handbook (November 1996). Our determination that 
a habitat conservation plan qualifies as a low-effect plan is based on 
the following three criteria: (1) Implementation of the plan would 
result in minor or negligible effects on federally listed, proposed, 
and candidate species and their habitats; (2) implementation of the 
plan would result in minor or negligible effects on other environmental 
values or resources; and (3) impacts of the plan, considered together 
with the impacts of other past, present and reasonably foreseeable 
similarly situated projects would not result, over time, in cumulative 
effects to environmental values or resources which would be considered 
significant. As more fully explained in our Environmental Action 
Statement, the applicant's proposal to expand the Post Ranch Inn 
qualifies as a ``low-effect'' plan for the following reasons:
    (1) Approval of the HCP would result in minor or negligible effects 
on the Smith's blue butterfly and California red-legged frog and their 
habitats. The Service does not anticipate significant direct or 
cumulative effects to the Smith's blue butterfly or California red-

[[Page 33772]]

legged frog resulting from the proposed development of the project 
    (2) Approval of the HCP would not have adverse effects on unique 
geographic, historic or cultural sites, or involve unique or unknown 
environmental risks.
    (3) Approval of the HCP would not result in any cumulative or 
growth-inducing impacts and would not result in significant adverse 
effects on public health or safety.
    (4) The project does not require compliance with Executive Order 
11988 (Floodplain Management), Executive Order 11990 (Protection of 
Wetlands), or the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, nor does it 
threaten to violate a Federal, State, local or tribal law or 
requirement imposed for the protection of the environment.
    (5) Approval of the HCP would not establish a precedent for future 
actions or represent a decision in principle about future actions with 
potentially significant environmental effects.
    The Service therefore has made a preliminary determination that 
approval of the HCP qualifies as a categorical exclusion under the 
National Environmental Policy Act, as provided by the Department of the 
Interior Manual (516 DM 2, Appendix 1 and 516 DM 6, Appendix 1). Based 
upon this preliminary determination, we do not intend to prepare 
further National Environmental Policy Act documentation. The Service 
will consider public comments in making its final determination on 
whether to prepare such additional documentation.
    The Service provides this notice pursuant to section 10(c) of the 
Endangered Species Act. We will evaluate the permit application, the 
HCP, and comments submitted thereon to determine whether the 
application meets the requirements of section 10 (a) of the Act. If the 
requirements are met, the Service will issue a permit to the applicant. 
We will make the final permit decision no sooner than 30 after the date 
of publication of this notice.

    Dated: June 6, 2006.
Diane K. Noda,
Field Supervisor, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, Ventura, 
 [FR Doc. E6-9066 Filed 6-9-06; 8:45 am]