[Federal Register: March 23, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 56)]
[Page 13818-13820]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Notice of Availability of a Final Environmental Impact Statement/
Environmental Impact Report for the Pacific Gas & Electric Company San 
Joaquin Valley Operations and Maintenance Program Habitat Conservation 
Plan, San Joaquin Valley, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: This notice announces the availability of the Pacific Gas & 
Electric Company San Joaquin Valley Operations and Maintenance Program 
Final Habitat Conservation Plan (Plan), Implementing Agreement (IA), 
and the 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 30-
year permit, pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species 
Act of 1973 as amended (ESA), for take of 65 species (covered species) 
in response to receipt of an application from Pacific Gas & Electric 
Company (PG&E). The proposed permit would authorize take of individual 
members of animal species listed under the ESA. The permit is needed 
because take of species could occur during routine operations and 
maintenance activities and minor construction on PG&E's gas and 
electrical distribution facilities, and other activities associated 
with the implementation of the final Plan. These covered activities are 
to occur within a 12.1 million-acre planning area located in the San 
Joaquin Valley, California. The final Plan describes the actions and 
the measures PG&E will implement to minimize and mitigate take of the 
covered species.

DATES: A permit decision will occur no sooner than April 23, 2007. 
Written comments on the final documents must be received on or before 
this date.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments on the final documents to Lori Rinek, 
Division Chief, Conservation Planning and Recovery Division, Sacramento 
Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-2605, Sacramento, 
California 95825; facsimile 916-414-6713.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Nina Bicknese, Senior Fish and 
Wildlife Biologist, or Lori Rinek, Division Chief, Conservation 
Planning and Recovery, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, telephone 


Availability of Documents

    Copies of the final EIS/EIR, the Plan, and the IA may be obtained 
by contacting Nina Bicknese [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].

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)). 
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, including plants, identified on the incidental take permit.
    PG&E seeks a 30-year permit for incidental take, which may result 
from specific PG&E activities (covered activities) within a 12.1 
million-acre planning area covering portions of nine counties in the 
California San Joaquin Valley: San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno, 
Kings, Kern, Mariposa, Madera, and Tulare counties. However, the 
majority of impacts are likely to occur on approximately 276,000 acres. 
Annual impacts to covered species and their habitats are expected to be 
limited to approximately 43 acres. Covered activities are defined in 
the Plan to include routine operations and maintenance activities and 
minor construction on PG&E's gas and electrical transmission and 
distribution facilities, and the management and monitoring of 
compensation lands. PG&E has requested a take permit for 65 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, 
PG&E requests a permit and assurances for 23 animal species and 
assurances for 42 plant species.
    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 6 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), 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), 

[[Page 13819]]

grass (Neostapfia colusana), San Joaquin Valley Orcutt grass (Orcuttia 
inaequalis), San Joaquin adobe sunburst (Pseudobahia peirsonii)].
    Covered species also include plants and animals that are not listed 
under the ESA at the current time, including 9 wildlife species 
[midvalley fairy shrimp (Branchinecta mesovallensis), limestone 
salamander (Hydromantes brunus), Swainson's hawk (Buteo swainsoni), 
white-tailed kite (Elanus leucurus), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), 
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 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 incidental 
take permit.
    PG&E proposes to minimize and mitigate incidental take of, and 
effects to, covered species associated with the covered activities 
described in the Plan. 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 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, with descriptions of 
changed circumstances and remedial measures; identification of funding 
sources; and an assessment of alternatives to the take of listed 
species expected under the proposed action. The proposed Plan's 
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. A monitoring and reporting plan gauges the proposed Plan's 
success based on achievement of biological goals and objectives. The 
proposed Plan's adaptive management program allows for changes in the 
conservation strategy if the biological species objectives are not met, 
or new information becomes available to improve the efficacy of the 
Plan's conservation strategy.
    The proposed Plan's conservation strategy uses three mechanisms to 
address the potential effects of PG&E covered-activities on covered 
species 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: PG&E 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 by PG&E in advance and then 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 issuance of an incidental take permit 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. The Service published a 
notice in the Federal Register on June 23, 2006 (71 FR 36132) 
announcing receipt of an application for an incidental take permit from 
PG&E based on the proposed Plan and the availability of a draft EIS/EIR 
for the application. The Service received six comment letters on that 
draft EIS/EIR. A response to each comment received in these letters has 
been included in the final EIS/EIR. As NEPA lead agency, the Service is 
now providing notice of the availability of the final EIS/EIR. The 
final EIS/EIR includes an analysis of the potential environmental 
impacts, which may result from the Federal action of authorizing 
incidental take anticipated to occur with the implementation of the 
proposed Plan. The final EIS/EIR also analyzed three alternatives in 
addition to the proposed Plan. Each alternative includes the same 
Federal components as the proposed Plan (i.e., approval of the Plan, 
IA, and issuance of an incidental take permit). The conservation 
strategy of all three alternatives incorporated avoidance and 
minimization measures, pre-activity surveys, and compensation for 
impacts that cannot be avoided. The alternatives and the proposed Plan 
differed in the details of their conservation strategies.

[[Page 13820]]

The three alternatives are described below.
    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 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.
    The final EIS/EIR is intended to accomplish the following: inform 
the public of the proposed Plan and the alternatives, address public 
comments received on the draft EIS/EIR; disclose the direct, indirect, 
and cumulative environmental effects of the proposed action and each of 
the alternatives; and indicate any irreversible commitment of resources 
that would result from the implementation of the proposed Plan.

Public Review

    The Service and PG&E invite the public to review the final EIS/EIR, 
proposed Plan, and the IA during a 30-day review period beginning on 
the date of this notice. Written comments from interested parties are 
welcome to ensure that the issues of public concern related to the 
proposed action are identified. Comments and materials received will be 
available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business 
hours at the office listed in the ADDRESSES section of this notice. All 
comments and materials received, including names and addresses, will 
become part of the administrative record and may be released to the 
public. Our practice is to make comments, including names, home 
addresses, home phone numbers, and email addresses of respondents, 
available for public review. Individual respondents may request that we 
withhold their names and/or homes addresses, etc., but if you wish us 
to consider withholding this information you must state this 
prominently at the beginning of your comments. In addition, you must 
present a rationale for withholding this information. This rationale 
must demonstrate that disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted 
invasion of privacy. Unsupported assertions will not meet this burden. 
In the absence of exceptional, documentable circumstances, this 
information will be released. We will always make submissions from 
organization or businesses, and from individuals identifying themselves 
as representatives of or officials of organizations or businesses, 
available for public inspection in their entirety.
    We provide this notice in order to allow the public, agencies, or 
other organizations to review and comment on these final documents 
prior to our decision, pursuant to section 10(a) of the ESA and NEPA 
implementing regulations (40 CFR 1506.6 and 1506.10). The Service will 
evaluate the permit application, the associated final documents, and 
public comments submitted thereon to prepare a public Record of 
Decision (40 CFR 1505.2). No Federal decision on the permit will be 
made until at least 30 days after publication of this notice and 
subsequent issuance of the Record of Decision.

    Dated: March 13, 2007.
Ken McDermond,
Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, 
 [FR Doc. E7-5334 Filed 3-22-07; 8:45 am]