[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 238 (Wednesday, December 11, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 75313-75321]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-29410]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2013-0116; 4500030113]


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding 
on a Petition To Reclassify Eriodictyon altissimum as Threatened

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 12-month petition finding.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce a 12-month 
finding on a petition to reclassify Eriodictyon altissimum (Indian Knob 
mountain balm) as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act 
of 1973, as amended (Act). After review of the best available 
scientific and

[[Page 75314]]

commercial information, we find that reclassifying E. altissimum as 
threatened is not warranted at this time. However, we ask the public to 
submit to us any new information that becomes available concerning the 
threats to E. altissimum or its habitat at any time.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on December 11, 
2013.

ADDRESSES: This finding is available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS-R8-ES-2013-0116. Supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this finding is included in the 
docket at http://www.regulations.gov and available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, 2493 
Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003. Please submit any new 
information, materials, comments, or questions concerning this finding 
to the above street address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Stephen P. Henry, Deputy Field 
Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ventura Fish and Wildlife 
Office, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, CA 93003; telephone 805-
644-1766; facsimile 805-644-3958. If you use a telecommunications 
device for the deaf (TDD), call the Federal Information Relay Service 
(FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Previous Federal Actions

    We proposed to list Eriodictyon altissimum as an endangered species 
under the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) on December 23, 1991 (56 FR 
66400), based primarily on loss of habitat that was anticipated to 
result from residential development, surface mining, and oil well 
drilling. A final rule listing E. altissimum as endangered was 
published in the Federal Register on December 15, 1994 (59 FR 64613). 
In September 1998, we finalized a recovery plan for E. altissimum, 
three other federally endangered species (the Morro shoulderband snail 
(Helminthoglypta walkeriana), Cirsium fontinale var. obispoense (Chorro 
Creek bog thistle), and Clarkia speciosa ssp. immaculata (Pismo 
clarkia)), and one federally threatened species (Arctostaphylos 
morroensis (Morro manzanita)) (Service 1998).
    We published a notice of review and request for public comments 
concerning the status of Eriodictyon altissimum under section 4(c)(2) 
of the Act on March 22, 2006 (71 FR 14538). A second notice was 
published on April 3, 2006 (71 FR 16584) to clarify the contact 
offices. We notified the public of completion of the 5-year review on 
May 21, 2010 (75 FR 28636). The 5-year review resulted in a 
recommendation to change the status of the species from endangered to 
threatened. We acknowledged in the review that the recovery criteria 
had only been partially met. However, we still made the recommendation 
to downlist because the status of the species appeared to be self-
sustaining and stable (Service 2009, p. 11). We also made the 
recommendation based on a substantial reduction of the primary threat 
at the time of listing (i.e., habitat loss as a result of development); 
this threat was reduced as a result of conserving lands where the 
species occurred in the Los Osos and Indian Knob areas. Therefore, 
based on the best scientific and commercial information available at 
that time, we concluded that the species now best met the definition of 
threatened rather than endangered (Service 2009, p. 11).
    On December 21, 2011, we received a petition dated December 19, 
2011, from the Pacific Legal Foundation, requesting the Service to 
delist the Inyo California towhee (Pipilo crissalis eremophilus), and 
to reclassify from endangered to threatened Eriodictyon altissimum, 
Astragalus jaegerianus (Lane Mountain milk-vetch), Hesperocyparis 
abramsiana (=Cupressus abramsiana) (Santa Cruz cypress), arroyo toad 
(Anaxyrus californicus), and Modoc sucker (Catostomus microps). The 
petition was based on the analysis and recommendations contained in the 
most recent 5-year reviews for these taxa. On June 4, 2012 (77 FR 
32922), we published in the Federal Register a 90-day finding for the 
2011 petition to reclassify these six taxa. In our 90-day finding, we 
determined the 2011 petition provided substantial information 
indicating the petitioned actions may be warranted, and we initiated 
status reviews for each species. This 12-month finding also constitutes 
our 5-year status review for E. altissimum. The 12-month findings for 
H. abramsiana and Inyo California towhee published in the Federal 
Register on September 3, 2013 (78 FR 54221), and November 4, 2013 (78 
FR 65938), respectively; the other petitioned species will be addressed 
separately and findings published in the Federal Register in the 
future.

Background

    A scientific analysis was completed and presented in detail in a 
species report for Eriodictyon altissimum (Service 2013, entire), which 
is available at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-
2013-0116. The species report was prepared by Service biologists to 
provide a thorough discussion of the species' ecology, biological 
needs, and analysis of the threats that may be impacting the species. 
The species report includes discussion of the following: Species 
description, taxonomy, life history, habitat, soils, distribution, 
abundance, age and size distribution, role of fire in regeneration, and 
an assessment of threats currently acting on the species. This detailed 
information is summarized in the following paragraphs of this 
Background section and the Summary of Factors Affecting the Species 
section.
    Eriodictyon altissimum is a relatively weak-stemmed evergreen shrub 
that was originally placed in the waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae) 
(Halse 1993, pp. 683-708), but is now included in the borage family 
(Boraginaceae) (Kelley et al. 2012, pp. 450-511). While some 
individuals can achieve heights in excess of 13 feet (ft) (4 meters 
(m)), most are observed in the height range of 5 to 6 ft (1.5 to 2 m). 
Little specific scientific information exists in the literature for E. 
altissimum; as such, much of the information in the species report 
includes inferences from other species in the genus Eriodictyon.
    Like most species in the genus, Eriodictyon altissimum displays an 
open growth pattern and embodies those characteristics typical of a 
pioneer (early successional) species (e.g., shade-intolerant, poor 
competitor). It is a rapid-growing, short-lived shrub commonly observed 
along roadsides or trails, or within open areas of chaparral (CNPS 
1978, p. 1; Wells 1962, p. 186; Vanderwier 2006, 2009, pers. obs.). 
While pollination ecology has not been specifically studied for E. 
altissimum, other Eriodictyon species are pollinated by wasps, 
butterflies, and a variety of bee taxa (Moldenke 1976, p. 356).
    Eriodictyon altissimum, like the closely related E. capitatum, 
likely evolved in communities where fire is an integral ecological 
process; therefore, fires are presumed to play an important role in the 
persistence and reproduction of populations (Service 2002, p. 67969). 
Similar to other species in the genus, E. altissimum is thought to be a 
pioneer, or early successional, species and similarly adapted to 
periodic fire in its associated community (Service 1998, p. 23). A 
variety of short-lived subshrubs (including Eriodictyon spp.) germinate 
the first year following a fire and form an important element of stand 
structure in the first few years of succession. Fire cues, such as heat 
and charred wood, have been found to significantly

[[Page 75315]]

increase the germination of Eriodictyon species (Keeley 1987, p. 438; 
Service 2002, p. 67969). Absent fire to cue seed germination, 
Eriodictyon species most often reproduce, or spread, via rhizomes.
    Eriodictyon altissimum is a constituent of the maritime chaparral 
community found along the central California coast where a 
Mediterranean climate (warm dry summers, cool wet winters) prevails. 
The species occurs in two areas in western San Luis Obispo County: (1) 
Near the community of Los Osos (inclusive of Monta[ntilde]a de Oro 
State Park), approximately 11 miles (mi) (17 kilometers (km)) west of 
the city of San Luis Obispo (City); and (2) the Indian Knob area, 
approximately 5 mi (8 km) south-southeast of the City. The Los Osos 
area supports three extant occurrences (Ridge Trail, Hazard South, and 
Water Tank). It also supports habitat for two occurrences which, due to 
surveys conducted since the publication of the 2009 5-year review, we 
now consider to be extirpated (Broderson and Morro Dunes) (Service 
2013, p. 5; Table 1). The Indian Knob area supports two occurrences 
(Indian Knob and Baron Canyon) (Service 2013, p. 4).
    An accurate metric regarding the abundance, or number of plants, of 
Eriodictyon altissimum at any given occurrence is difficult to 
determine because this species, as with others in the genus 
Eriodictyon, commonly produces aboveground stems asexually from 
rhizomes (Wells 1962, p. 184; Howard 2012, p. 4; Service 1998, p. 21). 
Some aboveground stems that arise from rhizomes are often counted as 
genetically distinct individuals; however, they may actually represent 
a genetically identical expression (clone) of the source plant, as is 
the case in the closely related E. capitatum (Lompoc yerba santa) (Elam 
1994, pp. 146-194), a species found in habitat similar to where E. 
altissimum grows.
    Eriodictyon altissimum may also exhibit self-incompatibility (a 
general term for genetic mechanisms which prevent self-fertilization) 
similar to E. capitatum. Low seed production in E. capitatum has been 
attributed to the combined effects of self-incompatibility and single-
clone populations (Elam 1994, pp. 146-194). That is, single clone (one 
genotype) populations produce low numbers of fertile seeds relative to 
multiclonal (several genotype) populations.

Summary of Biological Status and Threats

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and implementing regulations 
(50 CFR 424) set forth procedures for listing species, reclassifying 
species, or removing species from listed status. ``Species'' is defined 
by the Act as any species or subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, 
and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish 
or wildlife which interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A 
species may be determined to be an endangered or threatened species 
because of any one or a combination of the five factors described in 
section 4(a)(1) of the Act: (A) The present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors 
affecting its continued existence.
    Determining whether the status of a species has improved to the 
point that it can be downlisted or delisted requires consideration of 
whether the species is endangered or threatened because of the same 
five categories of threats specified in section 4(a)(1) of the Act. For 
species that are already listed as endangered or threatened, this 
analysis of threats is an evaluation of both the threats currently 
facing the species and the threats that are reasonably likely to affect 
the species in the foreseeable future following the delisting or 
downlisting and the removal or reduction of the Act's protections.
    A species is an ``endangered species'' for purposes of the Act if 
it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion 
of its range and is a ``threatened species'' if it is likely to become 
an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. The word ``range'' in the 
``significant portion of its range'' phrase refers to the range in 
which the species currently exists. For the purposes of this analysis, 
we first evaluate the status of the species throughout all its range, 
then consider whether the species is in danger of extinction or likely 
to become so in any significant portion of its range. In the case of 
Eriodictyon altissimum, the latter step is unnecessary, since it is 
designated as endangered throughout all of its range.
    The following sections provide a summary of the threats impacting 
Eriodictyon altissimum. These threats include: loss of habitat (Factor 
A), competition with nonnative species (Factors A and E), lack of fire 
(Factors A and E), small population size and limited distribution 
(Factor E), and climate change (Factor A). Additionally, the existing 
regulatory mechanisms are inadequate to protect the species from these 
threats (Factor D).

Loss of Habitat

    At the time of listing, the primary threat to Eriodictyon 
altissimum was loss of habitat that was anticipated to result from 
residential development, surface mining, and oil well drilling (Factor 
A) (59 FR 64613, December 15, 1994). This primary threat remained at 
the time the recovery plan was completed in 1998, with habitat loss 
predicted from surface mining and oil well drilling in the Indian Knob 
area and residential development in the Los Osos area. Since the 
completion of the recovery plan, the threats from loss of habitat have 
been reduced. As discussed in the species report, the 2009 5-year 
review, and the Recovery and Recovery Plan Implementation section 
below, four of five extant occurrences are now protected in perpetuity. 
Furthermore, habitat occupied by E. altissimum in Los Osos that was 
once at risk from proposed residential development as part of the Morro 
Palisades development project is now conserved as part of the Morro 
Dunes Ecological Reserve, which is owned and managed by the California 
Department of Fish and Wildlife. Currently, the only occurrence at 
potential risk from development activities is the Baron Canyon 
occurrence. Therefore, we no longer consider habitat loss from 
residential development, surface mining, and oil well drilling 
activities to pose a substantial threat to the continued existence of 
E. altissimum. See additional discussion in the ``Threats at the Time 
of Listing'' section of the species report (Service 2013, pp. 9-11).

Competition With Nonnative Species

    The invasion of nonnative species into the habitat of Eriodictyon 
altissimum can affect both the species and its habitat. Habitat 
degradation resulting from the spread of invasive, nonnative plant 
species was not identified as a specific threat to E. altissimum in the 
1994 listing rule. At the time the recovery plan was prepared in 1998, 
we had not yet identified invasive plant species as a threat requiring 
management; however, the recovery plan did provide information on 
encroachment of several nonnative species into the coastal dune scrub 
and maritime chaparral communities that support E. altissimum. The 
recovery plan identified Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum), E. 
camaldulensis (red gum), Carpobrotus edulis (fig-marigold), Conocosia 
pugioniformis (narrowleaf iceplant), Ehrharta calycina (veldt

[[Page 75316]]

grass), and other nonnative grasses (e.g., Bromus spp. (brome), Lolium 
spp. (ryegrass), Avena spp. (oats)) as affecting the Los Osos area. The 
2009 5-year review for Eriodictyon altissimum noted that habitat 
surrounding the Broderson occurrence had historically been affected by 
competition from invasive, nonnative plants, particularly Ehrharta 
calycina, but did not state that nonnative plants posed a significant 
threat to Eriodictyon altissimum.
    Since the time of the 2009 5-year review, we have received 
additional information documenting impacts of nonnative plants on 
Eriodictyon altissimum and its habitat. The primary invasive, nonnative 
species of concern is Ehrharta calycina, a perennial, nonnative species 
that spreads rapidly from a persistent seedbank as well as 
vegetatively. Ehrharta calycina substantially changes the plant 
community composition in invaded habitats, altering fire potential by 
buildup of dense thatch during the summer months, and increasing the 
rate of organic matter accumulation (TNC 2005, p. 6; CalIPC 2012). The 
density of veldt grass in habitat in the Los Osos area has increased 
greatly in past decades (SWAP 2000). It is extremely difficult to 
eradicate once it has become established (Bossard et al. 2000 pp. 164-
170). Based on reports from local biologists, Ehrharta calycina is 
having a negative effect on habitat that supports Eriodictyon 
altissimum in the Los Osos area (CalIPC 2000, SWAP 2001; MBNEP 2010; 
Chestnut 2012b, pers. comm.), which is the portion of the species range 
that supports three of the five extant occurrences. Ehrharta calycina 
is also prevalent in coastal dune scrub that transitions into maritime 
chaparral at the site of the extirpated Broderson occurrence, and it is 
encroaching into and modifying the maritime chaparral near the location 
of the extirpated Morro Dunes occurrence (Vanderwier 2012, pers. obs.).
    Ehrharta calycina responds aggressively after fires or other 
disturbance activities (such as mechanical clearing) (CalIPC 2011, p. 
4; Chestnut 2012a, pers. comm.); thus, seedlings of Eriodictyon 
altissimum would likely be in direct competition with, and could be 
overwhelmed by, Ehrharta calycina. This competition could result in 
poor seedling survival and low recruitment rates of Eriodictyon 
altissimum. At least one local botanist (Chestnut 2012a, 2012b, pers. 
comm.) considers that, based on its encroachment into the chaparral 
habitat that supports Eriodictyon altissimum, the presence of Ehrharta 
calycina in and around the Los Osos area is at this time significantly 
impacting the extant occurrences of Eriodictyon altissimum; he also 
states that the encroachment of Ehrharta calycina would continue or 
expand in the case of a major fire. Other local conservation 
organizations are documenting the spread of Ehrharta calycina into the 
Los Osos and Indian Knob areas, and express concern over the way this 
invasive species is converting chaparral habitat to grasslands and the 
potential it has outcompete endemic species (SWAP 2001, pp. 1-2; MBNEP 
2010, p. 2). There is no long-term strategy being implemented to 
control or manage Ehrharta calycina (Chestnut 2012a, pers. comm.), 
though Monta[ntilde]a de Oro State Park, which contains two occurrences 
of Eriodictyon altissimum, is monitoring the spread of this invasive 
species, and has conducted some limited removal efforts in the past 
(CDPR 2013, no page number).
    Because this nonnative, invasive grass occurs at all five 
occurrences in the Los Osos area that currently or historically have 
supported Eriodictyon altissimum, and because there is no management 
plan in place, we consider Ehrharta calycina to pose a significant 
threat to the continued existence of Eriodictyon altissimum. See 
additional discussion in the ``Competition from Nonnative Plant 
Species'' section of the species report (Service 2013, pp. 11-14).

Small Population Size and Limited Distribution

    Eriodictyon altissimum is known from a very limited area, with only 
five extant occurrences in two geographic areas approximately 13 mi 
(20.9 km) apart. At the time of listing, effects related to small 
population size were not discussed, though the 2009 5-year review did 
recognize that species that have very few locations or are from small 
and highly variable populations are considered to be vulnerable to 
stochastic extinction (Shaffer 1981, pp. 131-134; Primack 1998, pp. 
279-308). Species with few populations or few individuals are 
vulnerable to the threat of naturally occurring random events, as these 
events can cause extinction through mechanisms operating at either the 
genetic, population, or landscape level (Shaffer 1981, pp. 131-134; 
Primack 1998, pp. 279-308). When such species occur within a limited 
geographic distribution, they also face a greater likelihood that all 
of the populations or individuals within the populations will be 
affected by the same event (Factor E). Five occurrences of E. 
altissimum are currently considered extant, and three of these consist 
of fewer than 50 individuals (Service 2013, Table 1). All occur within 
just 13 mi (20.9 km) of each other. Therefore, E. altissimum may be at 
risk from threats related to small population size and limited 
distribution.
    In the absence of information identifying threats to the species 
and linking those threats to the rarity of the species, we do not 
consider rarity or small populations alone to be a threat. However, E. 
altissimum possesses life-history characteristics that make it 
vulnerable to threats due to small population size (i.e., its clonal 
nature and suspected self-incompatibility) (see Background section 
above). Plants present in a population that consists of a single clone 
probably only receive compatible pollen through long-distance gene 
flow, whereas plants in multiclonal populations are more likely to 
receive some compatible pollen from nearby genotypes in the population 
(Elam 1994, pp. 146-194). If E. altissimum is also self-incompatible, 
the distance between occurrences could make it difficult for cross-
pollination to occur, resulting in limited seed set that could have a 
negative effect on the establishment of a viable seed bank and species 
recovery after fires. Loss of genetic diversity due to small population 
sizes can result in reduced fitness of individuals and may reduce the 
adaptive capability of a species to respond to changing environmental 
conditions (Gilpin and Soul[eacute] 1986, pp. 32-33; Lesica and 
Allendorf 1995, p. 756).
    Therefore, based on the limited distribution of the species, and 
its likely limited genetic diversity, we consider threats related to 
small population size and limited distribution to impact Eriodictyon 
altissimum. See additional discussion in the ``Small Population Size 
and Limited Distribution'' section of the species report (Service 2013, 
pp. 13-14).

Altered Fire Regime

    Understanding fire frequency is essential to understanding the 
habitat and life-history requirements for Eriodictyon altissimum. At 
the time of listing and in the recovery plan, we assumed that fire was 
necessary for the persistence of E. altissimum and its habitat (59 FR 
64613, December 15, 1994; Service 1998, p. 23). At historical fire 
frequencies, chaparral species are generally resilient to fire because 
they are well known to regenerate from either resprouting of perennial 
root crowns or germination of seeds in the soil when heated or exposed 
to smoke (obligate seeders and sprouters) (Lambert et al. 2010, p. 31). 
However, alterations to the historical fire frequency through either

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increasing or decreasing the time between events can affect a species' 
viability and persistence by killing individual plants or altering the 
characteristics of the habitat that supports them (Zedler et al. 1983, 
pp. 815-816; Tyler 1996, pp. 2182-2183; Van Dyke et al. 2001, p. 2; 
Lambert et al. 2010, p. 31), including E. altissimum.
    We do not possess specific information on the role fire plays in 
the persistence of Eriodictyon altissimum or the post-fire behavior for 
this species. However, inference from other species in the genus and 
other co-occurring species indicate that fire is likely a necessary 
habitat component. Absence of fire to cue seed bank germination and 
maintain a mosaic pattern of vegetation with open areas that favor E. 
altissimum may contribute to its limited distribution and reduced 
numbers. Keeley (1992, p. 441) also noted the importance of variable 
fire regimes to maintain equilibrium in species composition. Seed 
viability in a seed bank after a fire is also an important factor 
(Lambert et al. 2010, p. 31). For example, in the co-occurring 
Arctostaphylos morroensis, post-fire densities can be relatively high 
(e.g., 45,000 seeds per square meter), but seed viability is generally 
very low (1-5 percent) (Odion and Tyler 2002).
    Determining fire frequency is an important means of assessing 
ecosystem tolerances to fire return intervals. Alterations to the 
historic fire frequency, either increasing or decreasing the time 
between events, can affect a species' viability and persistence. Too 
long of a fire return interval could lead to the development of climax, 
closed canopy chaparral stands that would eventually have an adverse 
effect on populations of Eriodictyon altissimum by precluding expansion 
into otherwise suitable habitat and development of even-aged, senescent 
stands (stands in which the individuals are so old that their 
reproductive potential has been reduced) (Ne'eman et al. 1999, pp. 235-
242). Fire events that are too frequent could kill individuals before 
they have had an opportunity to flower, set seed, and contribute to a 
seedbank. However, such calculations can be challenging as until the 
20th century, records were not systematically kept (Keeley et al. 2012, 
p. 41). It is believed that the fire cycle was historically relatively 
long and likely was limited more by the number of ignition events than 
by fuels (Keeley et al. 2012, p. 119). Estimates of historic fire 
return intervals for the Monterey Bay area range from as short as 10 
years to as long as 100 years or more (Greenlee and Langenheim 1990, p. 
124) or between 50-85 years for fires recorded in coastal southern 
California and northern Baja California Mexico (Moritz et al. 2004, p. 
68).
    According to historical fire records, no natural or prescribed 
fires have occurred in the vicinity of the Indian Knob and Baron Canyon 
occurrences of Eriodictyon altissimum in the past 50 years (California 
Division of Forestry and Fire Protection 2012); therefore, the fire 
return interval for this area is unknown. It is possible that since the 
discovery of E. altissimum in 1961, we are still within a single fire 
frequency return interval in this area. Because of the lack of recent 
fire and the subsequent buildup of fuels, these occurrences could be 
very susceptible to intense wildfire (USDA 1984, pp. 46, 54).
    Multiple prescribed and natural burns have historically occurred in 
the Los Osos area; however, few were in close proximity to Eriodictyon 
altissimum occurrences. The northern perimeter of a prescribed fire 
conducted in 2003 came within an estimated 0.2 mi (0.08 km) of the 
Water Tank occurrence (Veneris 2012, pers. comm.). In recent years, 
California State Parks has considered conducting prescribed burns in 
Monta[ntilde]a de Oro State Park in the vicinity of the Ridge Trail and 
Hazard South occurrences; however, broadcast burning is not considered 
feasible near these occurrences due to the adjacent residential 
communities, heavy fuel loads, and potential impacts to the federally 
threatened Arctostaphylos morroensis (Morro manzanita) (Walgren 2012, 
pers. obs.). This manzanita species has not recovered well from a 
prescribed burn in Montana de Oro State Park in 1998 (Odion and Tyler 
2002).
    According to Chestnut (2012a, pers. comm.), the plants in the 
Indian Knob area (most likely the Baron Canyon occurrence) have been 
affected by the construction of Baron Canyon Ranch, an estate home 
development. He states that landscaping, fire suppression treatments 
and similar development-driven activities are continuing to occur in 
this portion of the population with minimal oversight, based on his 
direct observations from the conserved lands at Guidetti Ranch adjacent 
to the Baron Ranch. The area around Indian Knob is largely undeveloped, 
although residential areas near Baron Canyon and other areas to the 
west could cause additional limitations for conducting prescribed burns 
in the future. The local community has previously expressed strong 
resistance to the idea of controlled burns in proximity to their 
properties, mostly due to concerns about fire escaping control and 
damaging structures (Vanderwier 2013, pers. obs.). Therefore, based on 
high fuel loads within chaparral habitat, proximity of residential 
communities, and possible impacts to federally listed species, attempts 
to restore the natural fire regime in E. altissimum habitat are not 
likely.
    Little is known about the specific effects of fire on the life 
history of Eriodictyon altissimum. However, based on the best available 
scientific and commercial information, including characteristics of 
species with similar habitat and life-history characteristics, E. 
altissimum is likely dependent on fire for reproduction and 
persistence. The lack of recent fire and constraints on prescribed 
burns, therefore, pose a significant threat to the continued existence 
of the species. We also note that the level of impact this threat is 
having on E. altissimum could increase over time if prescribed burning 
and other fire management measures continue to be limited. See 
additional discussion in the ``Lack of Fire'' section of the species 
report (Service 2013, pp. 14-17).

Climate Change

    The term ``climate change'' refers to a change in the mean or 
variability of one or more measures of climate (e.g., temperature or 
precipitation) that persists for an extended period, usually decades or 
longer, whether the change is due to natural variability, human 
activity, or both (IPCC 2007, p. 78). Various types of changes in 
climate can have direct or indirect effects on species, including 
Eriodictyon altissimum. Specific effects of climate change on E. 
altissimum and its habitat depend on the magnitude of future changes. 
Analysis through Climate Wizard (2012) projects an increase in 
temperature and a decrease in rainfall; however, these changes are 
expected to be moderated somewhat by the species' proximity to the 
coastline.
    We recognize that climate change is ongoing and will likely affect 
a wide range of plant and animal species, as well as their habitats. 
However, we lack adequate information to make specific projections 
regarding the effects of climate change on Eriodictyon altissimum at 
this time. See additional discussion in the ``Climate Change'' section 
of the species report (Service 2013, pp. 17-18).

Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    Eriodictyon altissimum receives protection from multiple Federal, 
State, and local laws, particularly the Act, the California Endangered 
Species Act, and

[[Page 75318]]

the California Coastal Act. Due to the status of E. altissimum as a 
State listed species and existing habitat conservation, we expect that 
E. altissimum will continue to receive protections even absent those of 
the Act. However, none of the existing regulations address the threat 
of nonnative, invasive grasses, nor do they address the need for 
restoration of a natural fire regime to support E. altissimum and its 
habitat.
    Federal, State, and local regulations provide important protections 
for Eriodictyon altissimum, particularly through habitat conservation. 
However, other impacts to the species, such as competition with 
nonnative plants, small population size, and limited distribution can 
not necessarily be reduced or eliminated through the use of existing 
regulatory mechanisms. See additional discussion in the ``Regulatory 
Mechanisms'' section of the species report (Service 2013, pp. 20-23).

Combined Factors

    The threats to the long-term persistence of Eriodictyon altissimum 
are compounded by their interactions with each other, particularly the 
interactions between the invasive, nonnative grass Ehrharta calycina 
and altered fire regimes. In addition to competing with and displacing 
native vegetation, nonnative grass species can increase both the volume 
of readily ignitable fuel and the seasonal duration when fuels are 
susceptible to ignition (Lambert et al. 2010, p. 31) in maritime 
chaparral where Eriodictyon altissimum is found. The presence of 
Ehrharta calycina could change the frequency of fire due to increased 
biomass of fuels, changes in the distribution of flammable fuels 
biomass, and increased fuels flammability (Lambert et al. 2010, p. 29), 
thus causing more intense and damaging fires. Furthermore, Ehrharta 
calycina quickly germinates and re-establishes after fires and other 
disturbances (CalIPC 2011, p. 4). As such, it could out-compete 
seedlings of Eriodictyon altissimum that would emerge after a fire, 
particularly in the Los Osos area, where Ehrharta calycina is 
prevalent.
    As invasive, nonnative species increase fire severity, the 
increased fires may promote the establishment and dominance of those 
species while making restoration to the original habitat conditions 
more difficult (CalIPC 2011, p. 4) as a result of changes in soil 
chemistry. The preponderance of seeds produced by the invasive, 
nonnative species can result in the site becoming quickly colonized by 
those species; in contrast, it may take 1 to 3 years before typical 
chaparral species (e.g., Arctostaphylos morroensis) are mature enough 
to produce seed (Odion and Tyler 2002, no page numbers). If an 
assertive, nonnative plant species control program is not instituted 
immediately after a fire that occurs within the range of Eriodictyon 
altissimum, it is possible the spread of Ehrharta calycina could swamp 
emerging Eriodictyon altissimum seedlings and other native chaparral 
species, resulting in the depletion of the seed bank and possible 
subsequent extirpation of occurrences, as well as alteration of the 
chaparral habitat that supports Eriodictyon altissimum. Therefore, 
based on the best available scientific and commercial information, we 
find that the cumulative and combined effects of altered fire regimes 
and invasive, nonnative plants pose a threat to Eriodictyon altissimum 
and its habitat. This is compounded further by the small population 
sizes and limited distribution of Eriodictyon altissimum, making the 
species particularly vulnerable to stochastic events arising from the 
effects of altered fire regimes and invasive plant species.

Recovery and Recovery Plan Implementation

    Section 4(f) of the Act directs us to develop and implement 
recovery plans for the conservation and survival of endangered and 
threatened species unless we determine that such a plan will not 
promote the conservation of the species. Under section 4(f)(1)(B)(ii), 
recovery plans must, to the maximum extent practicable, include: 
``Objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a 
determination, in accordance with the provisions of [section 4 of the 
Act], that the species be removed from the list.'' However, revisions 
to the list (adding, removing, or reclassifying a species) must reflect 
determinations made in accordance with sections 4(a)(1) and 4(b) of the 
Act. Section 4(a)(1) requires that the Secretary determine whether a 
species is endangered or threatened (or not) because of one or more of 
five threat factors. Section 4(b) of the Act requires that the 
determination be made ``solely on the basis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available.'' Therefore, recovery criteria should 
indicate when a species is no longer an endangered species or 
threatened species because of any of the five statutory factors.
    Still, while recovery plans provide important guidance to the 
Service, States, and other partners on methods of minimizing threats to 
listed species and measurable objectives against which to measure 
progress towards recovery, they are not regulatory documents and cannot 
substitute for the determinations and promulgation of regulations 
required under section 4(a)(1) of the Act. A decision to revise the 
status of or remove a species from the Federal List of Endangered and 
Threatened Plants (50 CFR 17.12) is ultimately based on an analysis of 
the best scientific and commercial data then available to determine 
whether a species is no longer an endangered species or a threatened 
species, regardless of whether that information differs from the 
recovery plan.
    In 1998, we finalized a recovery plan that included Eriodictyon 
altissimum (Service 1998), as well as other listed species. At that 
time, we only considered criteria for downlisting to threatened status, 
as so little was known about the species' genetics, biology, 
demography, or response to fire (Service 1998, p. 41). The plan stated 
that delisting criteria would be discussed at a future date, depending 
on the success of recovery efforts and of gathering additional 
management and life-history information (Service 1998, p. iii). 
According to the recovery plan, E. altissimum can be considered for 
downlisting when all three of the following criteria have been 
achieved: (1) At least five occurrences from throughout its range are 
on lands secure from human-induced threats; (2) surrounding habitat is 
protected in amounts adequate to permit management of the vegetation 
community using prescribed fire, if it is deemed beneficial to the 
species; and (3) populations are projected to be self-sustaining and 
either stable or increasing as determined by long-term monitoring and 
research results. These criteria are discussed in detail in the species 
report and summarized below.
    Downlisting Criterion 1: At least five occurrences from throughout 
the species' range are on land secure from human-induced threats.
    In the 2009 5-year review, we only recognized six occurrences of 
Eriodictyon altissimum, all of which were considered extant. Five of 
those occurrences were on lands that were conserved and managed, but 
the status of the sixth occurrence (Broderson) was uncertain. Though 
there were five occurrences conserved, due to concern over the 
uncertain status of the sixth occurrence, we judged that Criterion 1 
had only been partially met (Service 2009, pp. 5-6).
    Since that time, multiple surveys were conducted in areas 
historically known to support Eriodictyon altissimum. We now recognize 
seven occurrences of E. altissimum; however,

[[Page 75319]]

due to increased survey data, we now consider two occurrences known at 
the time of listing to be extirpated (Service 2013, p. 4). Of the 5 
extant occurrences, only four occurrences of E. altissimum are on land 
secured from development. The fifth extant occurrence of E. altissimum 
(Baron Canyon) is on private land in the Indian Knob area and is not 
currently protected from development. Development appears to have 
continued in the vicinity of this occurrence, and there also appears to 
be clearing of habitat nearby (Vanderwier 2012, pers. obs.).
    Since the time of listing, important progress has been made in 
meeting Recovery Criterion 1. However, now that two occurrences of 
Eriodictyon altissimum are considered extirpated, there are only four 
extant occurrences of E. altissimum on conserved lands, one fewer than 
at the time of the 2009 5-year review. Therefore, we do not consider 
this downlisting criterion to have been achieved.
    Downlisting Criterion 2: Surrounding habitat is protected in 
amounts adequate to permit management of the vegetation community using 
prescribed fire, if it is deemed beneficial to the species.
    In the 2009 5-year review, we considered this criterion to be no 
longer adequate and appropriate to the recovery of the species because: 
(1) The proximity of several occurrences to urban areas makes it 
unlikely that jurisdictions would implement prescribed burns in these 
areas; and (2) other methods (e.g., mechanical clearing of chaparral) 
may be available for managing the vegetation in a fashion that would 
allow maintenance of open areas needed for the continued survival of 
Eriodictyon altissimum (Service 2009, pp. 6-7).
    Since the publication of the 5-year review, we have received 
substantial new information from the public and concerned scientists 
about the habitat that supports E. altissimum. Based on that 
information and on a thorough reevaluation of the best available 
scientific information, we have reconsidered the importance of fire to 
Eriodictyon altissimum and the chaparral habitat that supports it, and 
believe that fire rather than mechanical clearing is necessary to 
maintain proper habitat conditions and increase germination rates of E. 
altissimum (Service 2013, pp. 2-3, 16-17). Therefore, we now do 
consider this recovery criterion to be appropriate.
    We do, however, still have concerns about the feasibility of 
conducting controlled burns within E. altissimum habitat. All of the 
occurrences of E. altissimum occur within 1 mi (1.6 km) of existing 
residential development. The Ridge Trail occurrence is the farthest 
from development at approximately 0.8 mi (1.3 km) south of residences. 
Habitat to the south of the Ridge Trail and Hazard South occurrences is 
protected within Monta[ntilde]a de Oro State Park. California State 
Parks has conducted prescribed burns within this 8,000-ac (3,200-ha) 
park but away from E. altissimum and its habitat; however, the 
locations of those burns are not adjacent to residential areas. It is 
unlikely that prescribed fire could be used at any of the Los Osos 
occurrences because of their proximity to residential areas and heavy 
fuel loads. The Water Tank occurrence is the closest to development, 
being within 150 ft (46 m) of a water tank and approximately 300 ft 
(107 m) from residences. This occurrence is bounded immediately to the 
north and east by the residential development, to the west and south by 
protected habitat within the Bayview Unit of the Morro Dunes Ecological 
Reserve and the County's Broderson parcel for a distance of at least 1 
mi (1.62 km), and to the south by at least 7 mi (11.3 km) of chaparral 
and other habitat protected within Monta[ntilde]a de Oro State Park. 
The Indian Knob and Baron Canyon occurrences are also within close 
proximity to large residential estates.
    While the Ridge Trail and Indian Knob occurrences are within a 
landscape that is likely large enough in size to allow for the use of 
prescribed burns for Eriodictyon altissimum, the public is concerned 
about the threat of fire, whether it is from natural causes or 
prescribed as a management tool (Vanderwier 2013, pers. obs.). We will 
continue to investigate the potential for fire to be used in habitat 
that supports E. altissimum, and also consider other management options 
to meet the challenges posed by the use of controlled burns. Therefore, 
for these occurrences, we consider that prescribed burns could be used 
as a management tool for habitat that supports E. altissimum; however, 
because it has not been used at any of the occurrences, we do not 
consider this downlisting criterion to have been achieved.
    Downlisting Criteron 3: Populations are projected to be self-
sustaining and either stable or increasing as determined by long-term 
monitoring and research results.
    At the time of the 2009 5-year review was being drafted, efforts 
were increased to survey for occurrences of Eriodictyon altissimum; 
these were the first surveys in over 20 years at the Broderson and 
Morro Dunes occurrences. However, despite searches conducted by local 
botanists and agency personnel familiar with the locations (McLeod 
1986; Walgren 2009, pers. obs.; Vanderwier 2006, 2009, pers. obs.; 
County of San Luis Obispo 2010, p. 28; Vanderwier 2012, pers. obs.), E. 
altissimum was not detected at these two locations. Since it has not 
been detected at the Broderson occurrence since 1979 or at the Morro 
Dunes occurrence since 1985, we now consider those two occurrences to 
be extirpated. Furthermore, the number of individuals reported for each 
of the extant Los Osos occurrences (Ridge Trail, Hazard South, and 
Water Tank) has not increased since their detection in the area in 1972 
(Service 2013, Table 1). Additionally, anecdotal information indicates 
that the Indian Knob occurrence did not increase noticeably between the 
1990s and 2006 (Vanderwier 2006. pers. obs.). As we do not possess data 
from long-term monitoring or research, it is not possible for us to 
know if the currently extant occurrences are self-sustaining, stable, 
or increasing. We do conclude, however, that two of the occurrences 
(Broderson and Morro Dunes) considered extant at the time of listing 
are likely now extirpated. Therefore, we conclude that this downlisting 
criterion has not been achieved, a conclusion that we also reached in 
the 2009 5-year review (Service 2009, p. 7).
    Overall, these and other data that we have analyzed indicate that 
though some progress has been made toward meeting the first downlisting 
criteria (habitat protection), the other two downlisting criteria 
(surrounding habitat is protected in amounts adequate to permit 
management of the vegetation community using prescribed fire, and 
populations are projected to be self-sustaining and either stable or 
increasing as determined by long-term monitoring and research results) 
have not been met.
    Additional information on recovery and recovery plan implementation 
are described in the ``Recovery Progress'' section of the species 
report (Service 2013, pp. 39-43).

Finding

    An assessment of the need for a species' protection under the Act 
is based on whether a species is in danger of extinction or likely to 
become so because of any of five factors: (A) The present or threatened 
destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E)

[[Page 75320]]

other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. As 
required by section 4(a)(1) of the Act, we conducted a review of the 
status of this plant and assessed the five factors to evaluate whether 
Eriodictyon altissimum is endangered or threatened throughout all of 
its range. We examined the best scientific and commercial information 
available regarding the past, present, and future threats faced by the 
species. We reviewed information presented in the 2011 petition, 
information available in our files and gathered through our 90-day 
finding in response to this petition, and other available published and 
unpublished information. We also consulted with species experts and 
land management staff with California Department of Fish and Wildlife 
(CDFW), California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR), the 
County of San Luis Obispo, the City of San Luis Obispo, and local 
biologists who are actively managing Eriodictyon altissimum.
    In considering what factors might constitute threats, we must look 
beyond the mere exposure of the species to the factor to determine 
whether the exposure causes actual impacts to the species. If there is 
exposure to a factor, but no response, or only a positive response, 
that factor is not a threat. If there is exposure and the species 
responds negatively, the factor may be a threat and we then attempt to 
determine how significant the threat is. If the threat is significant, 
it may drive, or contribute to, the risk of extinction of the species 
such that the species warrants listing as endangered or threatened as 
those terms are defined by the Act. This does not necessarily require 
empirical proof of a threat. The combination of exposure and some 
corroborating evidence of how the species is likely impacted could 
suffice. The mere identification of factors that could impact a species 
negatively is not sufficient to compel a finding that listing is 
appropriate; we require evidence that these factors are operative 
threats that act on the species to the point that the species meets the 
definition of endangered or threatened under the Act.
    Due to increased conservation and management, the primary threat 
impacting Eriodictyon altissimum at the time of listing has been 
largely reduced and is no longer posing a substantial threat to the 
species and its habitat. The 2009 5-year review recognized the threat 
from loss of habitat that was anticipated to result from residential 
development, surface mining, and oil well drilling has largely receded; 
thus, we recommended reclassification of E. altissimum from endangered 
to threatened. However, since that time, we have received substantial 
new information about threats impacting E. altissimum. Additionally, 
surveys of E. altissimum since 2009 indicate two occurrences considered 
extant in 2009 are likely extirpated, reducing the number of extant 
occurrences to five.
    New information received since the 2009 5-year review indicates 
threats to Eriodictyon altissimum from invasive, nonnative species 
(Service 2013, pp. 11-13). Observations by local botanists and other 
knowledgeable persons indicate that the habitat surrounding the Los 
Osos area occurrences is being negatively affected by competition from 
invasive, nonnative plant species, in particular Ehrharta calycina 
(Factor A). Ehrharta calycina in the Los Osos area has the ability to 
spread rapidly if a fire occurs, thus potentially outcompeting 
Eriodictyon altissimum in post-fire conditions (Factor E). Because 
invasive, nonnative species (particularly Ehrharta calycina) currently 
affect three of five extant occurrences, and due to the lack of 
management to counter the spread of Ehrharta calycina and other 
invasive, nonnative grasses, we find this threat impacts Eriodictyon 
altissimum and that it is contributing to the overall impacts that 
place this species in danger of extinction throughout all of its range.
    Altered fire regime (Factors A and E) is also affecting the 
continued existence of Eriodictyon altissimum. Fire has largely been 
absent in E. altissimum habitat across its range in recent years, 
resulting in a buildup of fuel in an already highly fire-susceptible 
habitat. Furthermore, restrictions on controlled burning within habitat 
that supports E. altissimum are likely to continue due to the presence 
of other listed species and residential development within E. 
altissimum habitat. Both E. altissimum and its habitat require periodic 
fire, though the specific fire return interval is uncertain for E. 
altissimum. Therefore, we find that the altered fire regime is 
negatively affecting E. altissimum and is contributing to the overall 
impacts that place this species in danger of extinction throughout all 
of its range.
    Altered fire regimes and invasive, nonnative species work in 
synergy to increase threats to Eriodictyon altissimum (Factors A and 
E). The proliferation of nonnative grasses in chaparral habitat 
increases the likelihood of high intensity wildfire, while increases in 
high intensity wildfires increase the ability of nonnative grasses to 
invade recently burned areas and outcompete native chaparral species, 
such as E. altissimum. Therefore, we find that the combination of fire 
and invasive, nonnative grasses exacerbate the overall degree of 
impacts that threaten the continued survival and recovery of E. 
altissimum.
    Eriodictyon altissimum is also threatened by small population size, 
particularly given the clonal nature and suspected self-incompatibility 
of the species (Factor E). The remaining three occurrences in the Los 
Osos area currently consist of fewer than 50 individuals and the entire 
range of the species is estimated to be 90 mi\2\ (233 km\2\) or less; 
thus, the combined effect of small population size and a limited 
distribution makes E. altissimum vulnerable to stochastic events that 
could result in the extirpation of these occurrences (Factor E). 
Additionally, though existing regulatory mechanisms are providing 
important protections to E. altissimum and its habitat, there are not 
any mechanisms in place that can address the threat of altered fire 
regime and invasive, nonnative grasses (Factor D). Climate change 
(Factors A and E) may also impact the species; however, we lack 
specific data to project how climate change will affect E. altissimum 
and its coastal chaparral habitat. We did not find any evidence that 
threats attributable to Factor B (overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes) or Factor C (disease 
or predation) are currently impacting the species.
    In conclusion, we have carefully assessed the best scientific and 
commercial information available regarding the past, present, and 
future threats faced by this species. After review of the information 
pertaining to the five statutory factors, we find that ongoing threats 
are of sufficient imminence, intensity, and magnitude to indicate that 
Eriodictyon altissimum is presently in danger of extinction throughout 
all of its range. Therefore, we find that E. altissimum continues to 
meet the definition of an endangered species (i.e., is likely to become 
in danger of extinction throughout all or a portion of its range).

National Environmental Policy Act

    We determined we do not need to prepare an environmental assessment 
or an environmental impact statement, as defined under the authority of 
the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), 
in connection with regulations adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the 
Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination 
in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

[[Page 75321]]

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this finding is available on 
the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-
2013-0116 or upon request from the Deputy Field Supervisor, Ventura 
Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authors

    The primary authors of this finding are the staff members of the 
Pacific Southwest Regional Office and the Ventura Fish and Wildlife 
Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authority

    The authority for this section is section 4 of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: November 27, 2013.
Rowan W. Gould,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-29410 Filed 12-10-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P