[Federal Register: June 23, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 121)]
[Page 36132-36135]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement/
Environmental Impact Report and Receipt of an Application for an 
Incidental Take Permit for the Pacific Gas & Electric Company 
Operations and Maintenance Habitat Conservation Plan, San Joaquin 
Valley, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announces the 
availability for public review of the draft Pacific Gas & Electric 
Company Operations and Maintenance Habitat Conservation Plan (Plan), 
draft Implementing Agreement (IA), and draft Environmental Impact 
Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR). This is in response to 
receipt of an application from Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) 
for an incidental take permit (ITP) pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of 
the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA). The 
Service is considering issuing a 30-year permit to the applicant for 
the take of 65 species (Covered Species), incidental to otherwise 
lawful activities associated with routine operations and maintenance 
activities and minor construction for PG&E's gas and electrical 
distribution facilities, and implementation of the Plan. The activities 
are proposed to occur within a 12.1 million-acre planning area (Covered 
Area), located in the San Joaquin Valley, California.
    We request comments from the public on the permit application and 
the draft EIS/EIR, both of which are available for review. The permit 
application includes the proposed Plan and an accompanying draft IA. 
The Plan describes the proposed action and the measures the applicant 
will implement to minimize and mitigate take of the proposed Covered 
Species. To review the documents, see ``Availability of Documents'' in 

DATES: Two public meetings will be held on Tuesday, August 2, 2006 from 
7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Stockton, CA and Wednesday, August 2, 2006 from 7 
p.m. to 9 p.m., Fresno, CA. Written comments should be received on or 
before September 21, 2006.

ADDRESSES: The meetings locations are: Stockton--San Joaquin County 
Public Library, Stewart-Hazelton Room, 605 North El Dorado Street, 
Stockton, CA 95202 and Fresno--Fresno County Public Library, Sarah 
McCardle Room, 2420 Mariposa Street, Fresno, CA 93721. Send comments by 
mail or facsimile to: Lori Rinek, Division Chief, Conservation Planning 
and Recovery, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, 
Room W-2605, Sacramento, California 95825; facsimile 916-414-6713.

[[Page 36133]]

Conservation Planning and Recovery, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife 
Office, telephone 916-414-6600.


Availability of Documents

    You may obtain copies of these documents for review by contacting 
Lori Rinek [see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT]. Documents also will 
be available for public review, by appointment, during regular business 
hours at the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office [see ADDRESSES]. These 
documents are also available on the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife 
Office's Web site at: http://www.fws.gov/sacramento/. Copies of all 

documents are also available for viewing at the following public 
library locations and offices of the County Clerk:
    (1) Cesar Chavez Central Library, 605 N. El Dorado Street, 
Stockton, California.
    (2) Modesto Library, 1500 I Street, Modesto, California.
    (3) Merced County Library, 2100 O Street, Merced, California.
    (4) Central Fresno County Library, 2420 Mariposa, Fresno, 
    (5) Hanford Library (Main Library), 401 North Douty Street, 
Hanford, California.
    (6) Beale Memorial Branch Library, 701 Truxtun Avenue, Bakersfield, 
    (7) Mariposa County Library, 4978 10th Street Mariposa, California.
    (8) Madera County Library, 121 North G Street, Madera, California.
    (9) Tulare County Library, 200 West Oak Avenue, Visalia, 
    (10) San Joaquin County Clerk, 222 East Weber Avenue 707, 
Stockton, California.
    (11) Stanislaus County Clerk/Recorder, 1201 I Street, Suite 101, 
Modesto, California.
    (12) County Clerk/Recorder, 2222 M Street, Merced, California.
    (13) County Clerk/Recorder, 545 J Street, Los Banos, California.
    (14) County Clerk, 2221 Kern Street, Fresno, California.
    (15) County Clerk, 1400 West Lacey Boulevard, Hanford, California.
    (16) County Clerk, 1115 Truxtun Avenue, Bakersfield, California.
    (17) County Clerk, 4982 10th Street, Mariposa, California.
    (18) County Clerk, 209 West Yosemite Avenue, Madera, California.
    (19) Gregory B. Hardcastle, County Assessor/Clerk, Tulare County 
Civic Center, 221 South Mooney Boulevard, Visalia, California.

Background Information

    Section 9 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1538) and implementing regulations 
prohibit the ``take'' of fish and wildlife species listed as endangered 
or threatened. The term ``take'' is defined under the ESA to mean 
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'' is defined by Service regulation to include significant 
habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures 
listed wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral 
patterns, including breeding, feeding, and sheltering (50 CFR 17.3(c)). 
However, under limited circumstances, the Service may issue permits to 
authorize ``incidental take'' of listed species. Incidental take is 
defined by the ESA as take that is incidental to, and not the purpose 
of, carrying out 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.
    Although take of listed plant species is not prohibited under the 
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. The applicant, PG&E, would receive assurances under the Services 
``No Surprises'' regulation 50 CFR 17.22(b)(5) and 17.32(b)(5) for all 
species included on an ITP.
    PG&E seeks a 30-year ITP for covered activities within a proposed 
12.1 million-acre planning area, located entirely in the San Joaquin 
Valley, California. However, the focused area where the majority of 
impacts are likely to occur is approximately 276,000 acres. Annual 
species effects are estimated to be approximately 43 acres per year. 
PG&E has requested a permit for 65 species (Covered Species), 31 of 
which are currently listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA 
and 34 that are currently unlisted. Of these 65 species, 23 are animal 
species and 42 are plant species.
    Proposed covered species include 8 wildlife species, currently 
listed as endangered under the ESA [vernal pool tadpole shrimp 
(Lepidurus packardi), blunt-nosed leopard lizard (Gambelia sila), Buena 
Vista Lake shrew (Sorex ornatus relictus), riparian brush rabbit 
(Sylvilagus bachmani riparius), riparian (San Joaquin Valley) woodrat 
(Neotoma fuscipes riparia), Tipton kangaroo rat (Dipodomys nitratoides 
nitratoides), giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens), San Joaquin kit 
fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica)], 10 plant species, currently listed as 
endangered under the ESA [large-flowered fiddleneck (Amsinckia 
grandiflora), California jewelflower (Caulanthus californicus), 
palmate-bracted bird's-beak (Cordylanthus palmatus), Kern mallow 
(Eremalche kernensis), San Joaquin woollythreads (Monolopia [Lembertia] 
congdonii), Bakersfield cactus (Opuntia basilaris var. treleasei), 
hairy Orcutt grass (Orcuttia pilosa), Hartweg's golden sunburst 
(Pseudobahia bahiifolia), Keck's checkerbloom (Sidalcea keckii), and 
Greene's tuctoria (Tuctoria greenei)], and 7 wildlife species currently 
listed as threatened under the ESA [vernal pool fairy shrimp 
(Branchinecta lynchi), Valley elderberry longhorn beetle (Desmocerus 
californicus dimorphus), California tiger salamander (Ambystoma 
californiense), California red-legged frog (Rana aurora draytonii), 
giant garter snake (Thamnophis gigas), golden eagle (Aquila 
chrysaetos), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)], 7 plant species 
currently listed as threatened under the ESA [Mariposa pussypaws 
(Calyptridium pulchellum), succulent owl's-clover (Castilleja 
campestris ssp. succulenta), Hoover's spurge (Chamaesyce hooveri), 
Springville clarkia (Clarkia springvillensis), Colusa grass (Neostapfia 
colusana), San Joaquin Valley Orcutt grass (Orcuttia inaequalis), San 
Joaquin adobe sunburst (Pseudobahia peirsonii)].
    Proposed covered species also include plants and animals that are 
not listed under the ESA at the current time including 8 wildlife 
species [midvalley fairy shrimp (Branchinecta mesovallensis), limestone 
salamander (Hydromantes brunus), Swainson's hawk (Buteo swainsoni), 
white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus), Western burrowing owl (Athene 
cunicularia hypugea), bank swallow (Riparia riparia), tricolored 
blackbird (Agelaius tricolor), and San Joaquin (Nelson's) antelope 
squirrel (Ammospermophilus nelsoni)], and 25 plant species [lesser 
saltscale (Atriplex minuscula), Bakersfield smallscale (Atriplex 
tularensis), big tarplant (Blepharizonia plumose ssp. 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-celery (Eryngium racemosum), striped adobe lily (Fritillaria 
striata), Boggs

[[Page 36134]]

Lake hedge-hyssop (Gratiola heterosepala), pale-yellow layia (Layia 
heterotricha), Comanche Point layia (Layia leucopappa), legenere 
(Legenere limosa), Panoche peppergrass (Lepidium jaredii ssp. album), 
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 ssp. myersii), oil neststraw (Stylocline 
citroleum), Kings gold (Twisselmannia californica).
    If the proposed Plan is approved and the permit issued, take 
authorization for listed covered wildlife species would be effective at 
the time of permit issuance. Take of the unlisted covered wildlife 
species would be authorized concurrent with the species' listing under 
the ESA, should they be listed during the duration of the ITP.
    The proposed Plan is intended to be a comprehensive document, 
providing for regional species conservation and habitat planning, while 
allowing PG&E to better manage routine operations and maintenance 
activities and minor construction for PG&E's gas and electrical 
transmission and distribution facilities. The proposed Plan is also 
intended to provide a coordinated process for permitting and mitigating 
the take of Covered Species as an alternative to the current project-
by-project approach.
    In order to comply with the requirements of the ESA, the proposed 
Plan addresses a number of required elements, including: 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 routine operations and maintenance 
activities and minor construction for PG&E's gas and electrical 
transmission and distribution facilities and preserve management.
    The Plan includes measures to avoid and minimize incidental take of 
the Covered Species. A monitoring and reporting plan would gauge the 
Plan's success based on achievement of biological goals and objectives. 
The Plan's adaptive management program 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 conservation strategy was designed to minimize and mitigate the 
impacts of covered activities, contribute to the recovery of listed 
Covered Species, and protect and enhance populations of unlisted 
Covered Species, as proposed. The proposed Plan's conservation strategy 
uses three mechanisms to address the potential effects of operation and 
maintenance activities on species covered by the Plan and their 
habitat: Avoidance and minimization measures, surveys to assess 
potential impacts on particular species, when warranted; and 
compensation for impacts that cannot be avoided. Pre-activity surveys 
will be conducted before any activity begins that has the potential to 
disturb 0.1 acre or more of habitat in an area of natural vegetation. 
Pre-activity surveys will be conducted for activities with the 
potential to disturb 0.1 acre or less of natural habitat when they 
occur in wetlands, vernal pools, or other areas of known sensitivity, 
including designated occupied habitat, or when Covered Species are 
known to be present. Where impacts cannot be avoided, the Plan provides 
a systematic process for compensation of temporary and permanent 
losses. All permanent losses of habitat suitable, for one or more of 
the Covered Species, will be compensated at a 3:1 ratio (3 acres 
created, restored, or conserved for every acre lost), and temporary 
losses of suitable habitat will be compensated at a ratio of 0.5:1. 
Permanent and temporary loss of wetlands, including vernal pools, will 
be compensated at a 3:1 ratio using existing mitigation banks. 
Compensation lands must offer habitat characteristics similar to those 
of the lands disturbed or lost. Several approaches may be used to 
provide appropriate compensation lands: Purchase of conservation lands, 
purchase of mitigation credits from existing mitigation banks, 
establishment of conservation easements on lands currently in PG&E 
ownership, and purchase of conservation easements on non-PG&E lands. 
Compensation will be proposed in advance by PG&E and approved by the 
Service and the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) in 5-year 
increments to ensure timely and continuous compensation.

National Environmental Policy Act Compliance

    The proposed issuance of an ITP 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 CDFG is the Lead Agency with 
responsibility for compliance with CEQA. As NEPA lead agency, the 
Service is providing notice of the availability of the draft EIS/EIR, 
which evaluates the impacts of proposed issuance of the permit and 
implementation of the Plan, as well as a reasonable range of 
    The Service formally initiated the environmental review of the 
project through publication of a Notice of Intent to prepare a draft 
EIS/EIR and held a public scoping meeting which was published in the 
Federal Register on March 25, 2004 (69 FR 15363).
    The draft EIS/EIR analyzes three alternatives in addition to the 
proposed Plan. Each alternative would include the same federal 
components as the proposed Plan (i.e., approval of the Plan, IA, and 
issuance of an ITP). The conservation strategy of all three 
alternatives would incorporate avoidance and minimization measures, 
pre-activity surveys, and compensation for impacts that cannot be 
avoided. The alternatives and the proposed Plan differ in the details 
of their conservation strategies. The three alternatives are described 
    Alternative 1 (Plan with Reduced Take) would require a more 
comprehensive implementation of avoidance and minimization measures 
than the proposed Plan. Specifically, under Alternative 1, avoidance 
and minimization measures would be implemented for all activities, 
including all small disturbance activities. These additional 
requirements would reduce take below the level anticipated under the 
proposed Plan. Compensation ratios for habitat loss or disturbance 
would be the same as those for the proposed Plan.
    Alternative 2 (Plan with Enhanced Compensation) would provide 
enhanced compensation for impacts that cannot be avoided. Under 
Alternative 2, both permanent and temporary losses of suitable habitat 
would be compensated at a 3:1 ratio. Loss of wetlands, including vernal 
pools, would be compensated at a 3:1 ratio if compensation is 
accomplished through an existing mitigation bank, and at a 6:1 ratio if 
compensation takes place outside existing banks. Avoidance, 
minimization measures, and thresholds for implementation of avoidance 
and minimization measures would be the same as those for the proposed 
    Alternative 3 (Plan with Reduced Number of Covered Species) would 
cover fewer species than the proposed

[[Page 36135]]

Plan. The following species covered under the proposed Plan would not 
be covered under Alternative 3: the vernal pool crustaceans, limestone 
salamander, California red-legged frog, giant garter snake, bank 
swallow, tricolored blackbird, Buena Vista Lake shrew, riparian brush 
rabbit, riparian woodrat, Tipton kangaroo rat, and 11 plant species. 
This alternative would focus on those species that are currently 
Federal or State listed and have been identified as having more than 2 
acres of habitat likely to be disturbed by operations or maintenance 
activities each year. Avoidance and minimization measures, thresholds 
for implementation of avoidance and minimization measures, and habitat 
compensation would be the same as the proposed Plan.
    Under the No-Action/No-Project alternative, the proposed Plan would 
not be adopted, and a permit pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA 
would not be issued by the Service. Compliance with the ESA would 
continue to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Public Comments

    The Service and PG&E invite the public to comment on the draft 
Plan, draft EIS/EIR, and draft IA during a 90-day public comment period 
beginning on the date of this notice. The comment period is opened for 
90 days to eliminate the need for an extension subsequent to the close 
of the comment period. All 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 thereon to prepare the Final EIS/EIR, HCP and 
IA. A permit decision will be made no sooner than 30 days after the 
publication of the final EIS/EIR and completion of the Record of 
    This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(a) of the 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 and comment on these documents.

    Dated: June 16, 2006.
Douglas Vandegraft,

Acting Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, 
[FR Doc. E6-9847 Filed 6-22-06; 8:45 am]