[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 138 (Friday, July 17, 2020)]
[Pages 43597-43598]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-15437]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R8-ES-2020-N073; FXES11140800000-201-FF08ECAR00]

Safe Harbor Agreement for the Reintroduction of the Amargosa Vole 
(Microtus californicus scirpensis) in Shoshone, CA, and Draft 
Environmental Action Statement, Inyo County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), have 
received an application from Susan Sorrells (applicant) for an 
enhancement of survival permit (permit) under the Endangered Species 
Act. The application includes a draft safe harbor agreement (SHA) to 
facilitate reintroduction and recovery of the federally endangered 
Amargosa vole on non-Federal land in California. We have prepared a 
draft environmental action statement (EAS) for our preliminary 
determination that the SHA and permit decision may be eligible for 
categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act. We 
invite the public to review and comment on the permit application, 
draft SHA, and the draft EAS.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments on or 
before August 17, 2020.

ADDRESSES: You may view or download copies of the draft SHA and draft 
EAS and obtain additional information on the internet at https://www.fws.gov/carlsbad/, or obtain hard copies or a CD-ROM by calling the 
phone number listed below. You may submit comments or requests for more 
information by any of the following methods:
     Email: fw8cfwocomments@fws.gov. Include ``Amargosa vole 
SHA'' in the subject line of the message.
     U.S. Mail: Assistant Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Palm Springs Fish and Wildlife Office, 777 East 
Tahquitz Canyon Way, Suite 208, Palm Springs, CA 92262.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Hoffmann, Palm Springs Fish and 
Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES); by telephone at 760-322-2070 or by 
electronic mail at scott_hoffmann@fws.gov. If you use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), please call the Federal 
Information Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Susan Sorrells, hereafter referred to as the 
applicant, has applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for permit 
pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(A) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The permit application 
includes a draft safe harbor agreement (SHA), which covers 467 acres 
owned by the applicant in Inyo County, California. The proposed term of 
the permit and the SHA is 30 years. The permit would authorize 
incidental take of the endangered Amargosa vole (Microtus californicus 
scirpensis) in exchange for habitat conservation actions that are 
expected to provide a net conservation benefit for the species. We have 
prepared a draft environmental action statement (EAS) for our 
preliminary determination that the SHA and permit decision may be 
eligible for categorical exclusion under the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA; 43 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.). We invite the public to 
review and comment on the permit application, draft SHA, and the draft 

Background Information

    SHAs are intended to encourage private or other non-Federal 
property owners to implement beneficial conservation actions for 
species listed under the ESA. SHA permit holders are assured that they 
will not be subject to increased property use restrictions as a result 
of their proactive actions to benefit listed species. Incidental take 
of listed species is authorized under a permit pursuant to the 
provisions of section 10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA. For an applicant to 
receive a permit through an SHA, the applicant must submit an 
application form that includes the following:
    (1) The common and scientific names of the listed species for which 
the applicant requests incidental take authorization;
    (2) A description of how incidental take of the listed species 
pursuant to the SHA is likely to occur, both as a result of management 
activities and as a result of the return to baseline; and
    (3) A description of how the SHA complies with the requirements of 
the Service's Safe Harbor policy.
    For the Service to issue a permit, we must determine that:
    (1) The take of listed species will be incidental to an otherwise 
lawful activity and will be in accordance with the terms of the SHA;
    (2) The implementation of the terms of the SHA is reasonably 
expected to provide a net conservation benefit to the covered species 
by contributing to its recovery, and the SHA otherwise complies with 
the Service's Safe Harbor Policy (64 FR 32717, June 17, 1999);
    (3) The probable direct and indirect effects of any authorized take 
will not appreciably reduce the likelihood of survival and recovery in 
the wild of any listed species;
    (4) Implementation of the terms of the SHA is consistent with 
applicable Federal, State, and Tribal laws and regulations;
    (5) Implementation of the terms of the SHA will not be in conflict 
with any ongoing conservation or recovery programs for listed species 
covered by the permit; and
    (6) The applicant has shown capability for and commitment to 
implementing all of the terms of the SHA.
    The Service's Safe Harbor Policy (64 FR 32717) and the Safe Harbor 
Regulations (68 FR 53320, 69 FR 24084) provide important terms and 
concepts for developing SHAs. The Service's Safe Harbor policy and 
regulations are

[[Page 43598]]

available at the following website: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/laws-policies/regulations-and-policies.html.

Proposed Action

    The applicant has submitted a draft SHA for the Amargosa vole that 
covers approximately 467 acres of land (enrolled property) in Inyo 
County, California, within historical but currently unoccupied habitat 
of the Amargosa vole. The enrolled property comprises marsh habitat in 
areas irrigated by water from Shoshone Spring or other sources, 
interspersed trees of various species, open meadow, various degrees of 
undisturbed and disturbed salt scrub desert, and developed areas. 
Development within the enrolled property includes the Shoshone Trailer 
RV Park (camping sites, picnic areas, walking trails, and a swimming 
pool), various parking areas, and unpaved trails and roads. The broader 
Enrolled Property is bisected by Old State Highway CA 127 and State 
Highway CA 127, and lies adjacent to land owned by the Death Valley 
Unified School District. Within the enrolled property is a core area 
comprising three connected marsh sites where intensive habitat 
restoration activities have been implemented by the applicant, the 
Service, and other cooperators.
    The permit and implementation of management activities described in 
the SHA will enable the translocation and reintroduction of wild 
Amargosa voles, which will expand the species' current range into 
historical habitat where it had previously been extirpated. Management 
activities will also include ongoing restoration in the core area to 
support this newly established population. The re-establishment of 
Amargosa vole populations within their historical range is a high-
priority recovery action. Management activities in the SHA have been 
developed to support recovery actions for the Amargosa vole by 
restoring and protecting suitable habitat, and by implementing habitat 
management plans. The Service anticipates that implementation of these 
activities will produce the following net conservation benefits to the 
Amargosa vole:
     Re-establish Amargosa vole populations at the northern 
extent of the subspecies' range, in its historical type locality;
     Provide areas where suitable habitat for the Amargosa vole 
will be maintained, protected, and remain relatively undisturbed;
     Increase population redundancy within the subspecies' 
range; and
     Reduce the potential for local extirpation and extinction 
due to stochastic events (e.g., wildfire and disease) within the 
species' limited existing occupied habitat.

Species Information

    The current range of the Amargosa vole is confined to 36 marshes in 
the Lower Amargosa River Valley in the vicinity of Tecopa Hot Springs 
and the northern end of the Amargosa Canyon. The Amargosa vole 
obligately depends upon, and is closely associated with, wetland 
vegetation dominated by Olney's three-square bulrush (Schoenoplectus 
americanus), where it generally occurs in isolated and disjunct marshes 
surrounded by saltgrass-dominated habitats or more xeric desert scrub 
or barren areas. Although not all of the mechanisms that drive habitat 
selection are fully understood, plausible explanations for habitat 
preference may include the presence of standing and flowing water, 
reliance on Olney's three-square bulrush as a vital food source, and 
utilization of bulrush litter layers (up to 3.3 feet in depth) for 
thermoregulation, nesting, and predator avoidance.

National Environmental Policy Act Compliance

    The development of the draft SHA and the proposed issuance of an 
enhancement of survival permit are Federal actions that trigger the 
need for compliance with the NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.). We have 
prepared a draft EAS to analyze the impacts of permit issuance and 
implementation of the SHA on the human environment in comparison to the 
no-action alternative. We have made a preliminary determination that 
issuing the permit and implementing the SHA would have minor or 
negligible impacts to the environment, and thus the proposed SHA and 
permit actions are eligible for categorical exclusion under NEPA. The 
basis for our preliminary determination is contained in the EAS, which 
is available for public review (see ADDRESSES).

Next Steps

    We will evaluate the permit application, associated documents, and 
comments we receive to determine whether the permit application meets 
the requirements of the ESA, NEPA, and their implementing regulations. 
If we determine that all requirements are met, we will sign the 
proposed SHA and issue a permit under section 10(a)(1)(A) of the ESA to 
the applicant. We will not make our final decision on the permit 
application until after the end of the public comment period, and we 
will fully consider all comments we receive during the comment period.

Public Availability of Comments

    Written comments we receive become part of the public record 
associated with this action. Before including your address, phone 
number, email address, or other personal identifying information in 
your comment, you should be aware that the entire comment, including 
your personal identifying information, may be made available at any 
time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal 
identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we 
will be able to do so.


    We provide this notice under section 10(c) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 
1531 et seq.) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR 17.22 and 
17.32), and NEPA (42 U.S.C. 4371 et seq.) and its implementing 
regulations (40 CFR 1506.6; 43 CFR part 46).

Scott Sobiech,
Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, Pacific Southwest 
[FR Doc. 2020-15437 Filed 7-16-20; 8:45 am]