[Federal Register Volume 72, Number 48 (Tuesday, March 13, 2007)]
[Notices]
[Pages 11374-11375]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E7-4531]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service


Proposed Low-Effect Quino Checkerspot Butterfly Habitat 
Conservation Plan for the San Diego Gas and Electric Company, San 
Diego, Riverside, and Orange Counties, CA

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), have 
received an application from the San Diego Gas and Electric Company 
(Applicant) for a 40-year incidental take permit for one covered 
species pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Endangered Species Act 
of 1973, as amended (Act). The application addresses the potential for 
``take'' of the federally endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly 
(Euphydryas editha quino) associated with the operation and maintenance 
of the existing gas and electric system, and construction of new 
facilities. A conservation program to mitigate for the project 
activities would be implemented by the Applicant as described in the 
Quino Checkerspot Butterfly Habitat Conservation Plan for the San Diego 
Gas and Electric Company, San Diego, Riverside and Orange Counties, 
California (Plan), which would be implemented by the Applicant.
    We are requesting comments on the permit application and on the 
preliminary determination that the proposed Plan qualifies as a ``low-
effect'' Habitat Conservation Plan, eligible for a categorical 
exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, 
as amended. The basis for this determination is discussed in the 
Environmental Action Statement and the associated Low Effect Screening 
Form (Screening Form), which is also available for public review.

DATES: Written comments should be received on or before April 12, 2007.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to the Field Supervisor, Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 6010 Hidden 
Valley Road, Carlsbad, CA 92011. Written comments may be sent by 
facsimile to (760) 431-5901.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Chris Otahal, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES); telephone 
(760) 431-9440.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Availability of Documents

    Individuals wishing copies of the application, proposed Plan, and 
Screening Form should immediately contact the Service by telephone at 
(760) 431-9440 or by letter to the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office. 
Copies of the proposed Plan and Screening Form also are available for 
public inspection during regular business hours at the Carlsbad Fish 
and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES).

Background

    Section 9 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et. seq.) and its implementing 
Federal regulations prohibit the take of animal species listed as 
endangered or threatened. Take is defined under the Act as to harass, 
harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect 
listed animal species, or to attempt to engage in such conduct (16 
U.S.C. 1538). However, under section 10(a) of the Act, the Service may 
issue permits to authorize incidental take of listed species. 
``Incidental take'' is defined by the Act 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, respectively, are found in the Code of Federal 
Regulations at 50 CFR 17.22 and 50 CFR 17.32.
    The Applicant is seeking a permit for take of the Quino checkerspot 
butterfly during the life of the permit. This species is referred to as 
the ``QCB'' in the proposed Plan.
    The Applicant proposes to grade existing gas and electrical 
transmission line access roads, many of which have not been graded in a 
number of years and now support QCB habitat, and conduct other 
activities such as construction of new facilities, equipment repair and 
replacement, insulator washing, tree trimming, maintenance of fire 
control areas, pole in-setting, and pole brushing. With the exception 
of road grading and construction of new facilities, operation and 
maintenance activities are expected to result in temporary impacts to 
QCB habitat. The Applicant proposes habitat restoration and enhancement 
in areas temporarily impacted, where appropriate, as specified in the 
Plan. Additionally, the Applicant's operation and maintenance 
activities typically result in minor impacts to the landscape (i.e., 
impacts are usually measured in square-feet) and are spread over a 
broad area, which will reduce the level of significance of potential 
impacts to QCB habitat. Impacts of maintenance and operation activities 
will also spread over a 40-year period, thus providing an opportunity 
for habitat re-establishment and, in some areas, minimizing potential 
take from repetitive impacts within the same location. Up to 33 acres 
of QCB habitat may be lost through implementation of the Plan over 40 
years. The Applicant estimates 15 of the 33 acres of potential impacts 
to QCB habitat will result from road grading, and that other activities 
(e.g., new construction, pole brushing, and pole in-setting) will 
account for the remaining 18 acres of potential impact. These impacts 
would occur in unoccupied QCB habitat; occupied QCB habitat; and QCB 
critical habitat as outlined in the Plan.

[[Page 11375]]

    The Applicant proposes to mitigate the effects to QCB by fully 
implementing the Plan. The Plan emphasizes protection of habitat 
through impact avoidance and use of operational protocols, designed to 
avoid or minimize impact to QCB. The Applicant will supplement these 
operational protocols, or avoidance and minimization measures, with 
habitat restoration and enhancement measures, and other mitigation. The 
Applicant proposes to implement general and QCB-specific operational 
protocols, designed to avoid or minimize take of QCB. To mitigate 
temporary impacts, QCB habitat will be enhanced or restored, where 
appropriate. To mitigate for permanent impacts, the Applicant will 
implement one of the following mitigation measures: (1) Pay into a QCB 
habitat fund; the money will be used to benefit QCB through the 
acquisition, restoration, or enhancement of QCB habitat; (2) Enhance an 
unallocated portion of the Applicant's existing mitigation parcel for 
the benefit of QCB; (3) Purchase credits from a to-be-established Quino 
checkerspot butterfly bank, should one be approved by the Service in 
the future; or (4) Acquire a mitigation parcel that supports or could 
support QCB. Specific details regarding these mitigation measures may 
be found in the Plan.
    The Proposed Action consists of the issuance of an incidental take 
permit and implementation of the proposed Plan, which includes measures 
to mitigate impacts of the proposed activities on QCB. Two alternatives 
to the proposed action are considered in the Plan. Under the No Action 
Alternative, no permit would be issued and the Applicant would avoid 
take of QCB; however, avoidance of impacts will not be possible for 
some of the Applicant's projects, which would preclude some critical 
projects from being completed or require the Applicant to seek 
individual take authorizations. Under this alternative, conservation 
measures would likely be developed on a case-by-case basis at the time 
that a project required take authorization. Under the Project-by-
Project Alternative, take of QCB would be addressed either through 
section 7 or 10 of the Act on a project-by-project basis, but with a 
common set of minimization and mitigation measures developed in 
advance. The proposed Plan provides more comprehensive conservation of 
QCB than either of the two alternatives. In addition, the proposed Plan 
would be more efficient and would provide the Applicant with long-term 
predictability concerning the nature of its operations for which 
incidental takings are permitted, avoiding potential facility-
compromising delays.
    The Service has made a preliminary determination that approval of 
the proposed Plan qualifies as a categorical exclusion under NEPA, as 
provided by the Department of the Interior Manual (516 DM 2, Appendix 1 
and 516 DM 6, Appendix 1) and as a ``low-effect'' plan as defined by 
the Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook (November 1996). 
Determination of Low-effect Habitat Conservation Plans is based on the 
following three criteria: (1) Implementation of the proposed Plan would 
result in minor or negligible effects on federally listed, proposed, 
and candidate species and their habitats; (2) Implementation of the 
proposed Plan would result in minor or negligible effects on other 
environmental values or resources; and (3) Impacts of the proposed 
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 
that would be considered significant.
    Based upon this preliminary determination, we do not intend to 
prepare further NEPA documentation. We will consider public comments in 
making the final determination on whether to prepare such additional 
documentation.

Public Review

    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 e-mail 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.
    This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(c) of the Act. We 
will evaluate the permit application, the proposed Plan, and comments 
submitted thereon to determine whether the application meets the 
requirements of section 10(a) of the Act. If the requirements are met, 
we will issue a permit to the Applicant for the incidental take of the 
Quino checkerspot butterfly associated with the operation and 
maintenance of the existing gas and electric system and construction of 
new facilities within San Diego, Riverside and Orange Counties, 
California.

    Dated: March 7, 2007.
Jim A. Bartel,
Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, Carlsbad, 
California.
[FR Doc. E7-4531 Filed 3-12-07; 8:45 am]
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