[Federal Register Volume 68, Number 98 (Wednesday, May 21, 2003)]
[Notices]
[Pages 27841-27842]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 03-12679]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service


Availability of an Environmental Assessment and Receipt of an 
Application for an Incidental Take Permit for the Harley John Reservoir 
Replacement in Riverside County, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability and receipt of application.

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SUMMARY: Western Municipal Water District (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 (Act) of 
1973, as amended. The Service is considering issuing a 3-year permit to 
the Applicant that would authorize take of the threatened coastal 
California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica, 
``gnatcatcher'') incidental to otherwise lawful activities associated 
with the replacement of an existing 300,000 gallon water tank reservoir 
with a 4 million gallon reservoir on 2.7 acres in Riverside County, 
California. The project would result in the incidental take of one pair 
of gnatcatchers on the project site through permanent removal of 
approximately 2.3 acres of habitat.
    We request comments from the public on the permit application and 
an Environmental Assessment, both of which are available for review. 
The permit application includes the proposed Habitat Conservation Plan 
(HCP) and an accompanying Implementing Agreement. The HCP describes the 
proposed action and the measures that the Applicant will undertake to 
minimize and mitigate take of the gnatcatcher. To review the permit 
application or Environmental Assessment, see ``Availability of 
Documents'' in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section.

DATES: We must receive your written comments on or before July 21, 
2003.

ADDRESSES: Please address written comments to Mr. Jim Bartel, Field 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, 
Carlsbad, California 92009. You also may send comments by facsimile to 
(760) 918-0638.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Karen Evans, Assistant Field 
Supervisor, at the above address or call (760) 431-9440.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Availability of Documents

    You may obtain copies of these documents for review by contacting 
the Assistant Field Supervisor (FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). 
Documents also will be available for public inspection, by appointment, 
during normal business hours at the above address (see ADDRESSES) and 
at the Woodcrest Library, Riverside County Library System, 17024 Van 
Buren Blvd., Riverside, California.

Background

    Section 9 of the Act and federal regulations prohibit the ``take'' 
of fish and wildlife species listed as endangered or threatened. Take 
of federally listed fish and wildlife is defined under the Act as 
including to ``harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, 
capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.'' The 
Service may, under limited circumstances, issue permits to

[[Page 27842]]

authorize 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 species 
are found in 50 CFR 17.32.
    The Applicant proposes to replace an existing 300,000-gallon 
reservoir with a 4-million gallon reservoir on 2.7 acres. The project 
site is located approximately one-quarter mile west of Harley John 
Road, two-thirds of a mile north of Cajalco Road, one-half mile east of 
El Sobrante Road, and one-quarter mile south of Scottsdale Drive, in 
Riverside County, California. The existing water tank has been in use 
for approximately 40 years. The project site occurs at the northern 
periphery of the Lake Mathews Estelle Mountain Reserve. Rural 
residences and orchards exist southeast of the site. The project site 
contains and is adjacent to gnatcatcher habitat within the Lake Mathews 
region. The project site does not occur within gnatcatcher proposed 
critical habitat.
    One pair of gnatcatchers and a juvenile were detected during 
surveys conducted according to Service protocol in 1994, 1999, and 
2000. Based on these survey results, the Service concluded that 
implementation of the proposed project will likely result in take of 
one pair of gnatcatchers through the permanent removal of 2.3 acres of 
vegetation on the 2.7-acre site.
    The federally endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas 
editha quino) was not detected on the project site during a survey 
conducted in 1999. The federally endangered Stephens' kangaroo rat 
(Dipodomys stephensi) may occupy portions of the proposed project site; 
however, no Stephens' kangaroo rat surveys have been conducted at the 
project site. Because the proposed project site occurs within the plan 
area boundary of the Habitat Conservation Plan for the Stephens' 
Kangaroo Rat in Western Riverside County, California (March 1996), 
compliance with this Plan and its associated implementation agreement 
will be required prior to any ground-disturbing activities.
    To mitigate take of gnatcatchers on the project site, the Applicant 
proposes to purchase 7 credits towards conservation in perpetuity of 7 
acres of gnatcatcher habitat, composed of riversidean sage scrub 
vegetation, from an off-site conservation bank in western Riverside 
County. The conservation bank collects fees supporting a management 
endowment to ensure the permanent management and monitoring of 
sensitive species and habitats, including the gnatcatcher, within the 
area protected by the bank.
    Although not reflected in the HCP and Implementing Agreement 
available for public comment, we anticipate that the conservation bank 
landowner and land manager will be signatories to the Agreement, 
committing to the protection, management, and monitoring of the 
conservation bank lands to conserve riversidean sage scrub habitat and 
gnatcatchers in perpetuity.
    The Service's Environmental Assessment considers the environmental 
consequences of two alternatives, including: (1) The Proposed Project 
Alternative, which consists of issuance of the incidental take permit 
and implementation of the HCP and Implementing Agreement; and (2) the 
No Action Alternative, which consists of no permit issuance and no 
replacement of the reservoir at this time. The alternative to the 
Proposed Project Alternative would result in less long-term 
conservation for the gnatcatcher within western Riverside County, as it 
would not contribute as much, or at all, to conservation of areas 
within habitat being considered by the Service and local agencies for 
long-term conservation of the species.
    This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(a) of the Act and 
the regulations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 
(40 CFR 1506.6). All comments that we receive, including names and 
addresses, will become part of the official administrative record and 
may be made available to the public. We will evaluate the application, 
associated documents, and comments submitted thereon to determine 
whether the application meets the requirements of NEPA regulations and 
section 10(a) of the Act. If we determine that those requirements are 
met, we will issue a permit to the Applicant for the incidental take of 
the gnatcatcher. We will make our final permit decision no sooner than 
60 days after the date of this notice.

    Dated: May 14, 2003.
Ken McDermond,
Deputy Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, Sacramento, 
California.
[FR Doc. 03-12679 Filed 5-20-03; 8:45 am]
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