[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 165 (Tuesday, August 26, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 51041-51066]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-19927]



[[Page 51041]]

Vol. 79

Tuesday,

No. 165

August 26, 2014

Part III





 Department of the Interior





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 Fish and Wildlife Service





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50 CFR Part 17





 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding on the 
Petition To List Least Chub as an Endangered or Threatened Species; 
Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 79 , No. 165 / Tuesday, August 26, 2014 / 
Proposed Rules

[[Page 51042]]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2014-0033; 4500030113]


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding 
on the Petition To List Least Chub as an Endangered or Threatened 
Species

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 (Service), announce a 
revised 12-month finding on a petition to list the least chub 
(Iotichthys phlegethontis) as an endangered or threatened species and 
to designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, 
as amended (Act). After a review of the best available scientific and 
commercial information, we find that listing the least chub is not 
warranted at this time. Therefore, we are removing the species from our 
list of candidates under the Act. However, we ask the public to submit 
to us any new information that becomes available concerning threats to 
the least chub or its habitat at any time.

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on August 26, 
2014.

ADDRESSES: This finding is available on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2014-0033. Supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this finding is available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at: U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Utah Ecological Services Field Office, 2369 West 
Orton Circle, Suite 50, West Valley City, UT 84119; telephone 801-975-
3330. Please submit any new information, materials, comments, or 
questions concerning this finding to the above street address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Larry Crist, Field Supervisor, Utah 
Ecological Services Field Office (see ADDRESSES section). If you use a 
telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires 
that, for any petition to revise the Federal Lists of Threatened and 
Endangered Wildlife and Plants that contains substantial scientific or 
commercial information indicating that listing the species may be 
warranted, we make a finding within 12 months of the date of receipt of 
the petition. In this finding, we determine that the petitioned action 
is: (a) Not warranted, (b) warranted, or (c) warranted, but immediate 
proposal of a regulation implementing the petitioned action is 
precluded by other pending proposals to determine whether species are 
endangered or threatened, and expeditious progress is being made to add 
or remove qualified species from the Federal Lists of Endangered and 
Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Section 4(b)(3)(C) of the Act requires 
that we treat a petition for which the requested action is found to be 
warranted but precluded as though resubmitted on the date of such 
finding, that is, requiring a subsequent finding to be made within 12 
months. We must publish these 12-month findings in the Federal 
Register.

Previous Federal Actions

    On December 30, 1982, the Service classified the least chub as a 
Category 2 candidate species (47 FR 58454). Category 2 included taxa 
for which information in the Service's possession indicated that a 
proposed listing rule was possibly appropriate, but for which 
sufficient data on biological vulnerability and threats were not 
available to support a proposed rule. On January 6, 1989, we 
reclassified the least chub as a Category 1 candidate species (54 FR 
554). Category 1 included taxa for which the Service had substantial 
information in our possession on biological vulnerability and threats 
to support preparation of listing proposals. The Service ceased using 
category designations in February 1996. On September 29, 1995, we 
published a proposed rule to list the least chub as endangered with 
critical habitat (60 FR 50518). A listing moratorium, imposed by 
Congress in 1995, suspended all listing activities and further action 
on the proposal was postponed.
    In 1998, during the moratorium, the Service, Utah Division of 
Wildlife Resources (UDWR), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of 
Reclamation, Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission 
(Mitigation Commission), Confederated Tribes of the Goshute 
Reservation, and Central Utah Water Conservancy District developed a 
least chub candidate conservation agreement (CCA), and formed the Least 
Chub Conservation Team (LCCT) (Perkins et al. 1998, entire). The goals 
of the CCA are to ensure the species' long-term survival within its 
historical range and to assist in the development of rangewide 
conservation efforts. The objectives of the CCA are to eliminate or 
significantly reduce threats to the least chub and its habitat, to the 
greatest extent possible, and to ensure the continued existence of the 
species by restoring and maintaining a minimum number of least chub 
populations throughout its historical range. The LCCT implements the 
CCA and monitors populations, threats, and habitat conditions. These 
agencies updated and revised the 1998 CCA in 2005 (Bailey et al. 2005, 
entire) and amended the 2005 CCA in 2014 (LCCT 2014, entire; see 
Previous and Ongoing Conservation Efforts and Future Conservation 
Efforts, below). Implementation of the CCA resulted in the discovery of 
two additional wild populations, acquisition and protection of occupied 
habitat, fencing of sensitive habitat to limit grazing, removal of 
grazing at select sites, an agreement with the mosquito abatement 
districts to limit the introduction and use of western mosquitofish 
(Gambusia affinis), introductions of least chub into unoccupied 
suitable habitat, development of memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with 
grazing operators on private lands, restoration of occupied habitat, 
and groundwater monitoring near natural populations.
    On June 25, 2007, we received a petition from Center for Biological 
Diversity, Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, Great Basin 
Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club 
requesting that we list the least chub as threatened under the Act and 
designate critical habitat for it. Our 90-day finding (73 FR 61007, 
October 15, 2008) concluded the petition presented substantial 
information indicating that listing may be warranted. Our subsequent 
12-month finding identified least chub as a species for which listing 
as endangered or threatened was warranted but was precluded due to 
higher priority listing decisions, and we assigned the least chub a 
listing priority number of 7 (75 FR 35398, June 22, 2010). Following 
the finding, we completed annual candidate notices of review (CNORs) in 
2010 (75 FR 69222, November 10, 2010), 2011 (76 FR 66370, October 26, 
2011), 2012 (77 FR 69994, November 21, 2012) and 2013 (78 FR 70104, 
November 22, 2013), all of which maintained the species as a candidate 
with a listing priority number of 7. As a result of the Service's 2011 
multidistrict litigation settlement with petitioners, a proposed 
listing rule or a withdrawal of the 12-month finding is required by 
September 30, 2014 (In re:

[[Page 51043]]

Endangered Species Act Section 4 Deadline Litigation, No. 10-377 (EGS), 
MDL Docket No. 2165 (D.D.C. May 10, 2011)).

Species Information

    The least chub is an endemic minnow (Family Cyprinidae) of the 
Bonneville Basin in Utah. Historically, least chub were widely 
distributed throughout the basin in a variety of habitat types, 
including rivers, streams, springs, ponds, marshes, and swamps (Sigler 
and Miller 1963, p. 91). As implied by its common name, the least chub 
is a small fish, less than 55 millimeters (2.1 inches) long. It is an 
opportunistic feeder, and its diet reflects the availability and 
abundance of food items in different seasons and habitat types (Sigler 
and Sigler 1987, p. 182; Crist and Holden 1980, p. 808; Lamarra 1981, 
p. 5; Workman et al. 1979, p. 23). Least chub in natural systems live 
two times longer than originally thought; some least chub may live to 
be 6 years of age (Mills et al. 2004a, p. 409). Differences in growth 
rates may result from a variety of interacting processes, including 
food availability, genetically based traits, population density, and 
water temperatures (Mills et al. 2004a, p. 411).
    Maintaining hydrologic connections between springheads and marsh 
areas is important in fulfilling the least chub's ecological 
requirements (Crawford 1979, p. 63; Crist and Holden 1980, p. 804; 
Lamarra 1981, p. 10). Least chub follow thermal patterns for habitat 
use. In April and May, they use the flooded, warmer, vegetated marsh 
areas (Crawford 1979, pp. 59, 74), but in late summer and fall they 
retreat to spring heads as the water recedes, to overwinter (Crawford 
1979, p. 58). In the spring, the timing of spawning is a function of 
temperature and photoperiod (Crawford 1979, p. 39). Thermal preferences 
demonstrate the importance of warm rearing habitats in producing strong 
year classes and viable populations (Billman et al. 2006, p. 434).
    Our 1995 proposed rule (60 FR 50518, September 29, 1995), 2010 12-
month finding (75 FR 35398, June 22, 2010), and CNORs for the least 
chub (75 FR 69222, November 10, 2010; 76 FR 66370, October 26, 2011; 77 
FR 69994, November 21, 2012; 78 FR 70104, November 22, 2013) include a 
more detailed description of the species' life history, taxonomic 
classification, and historical distribution.
Population Distribution
    The current distribution of the least chub is highly reduced from 
its historical range in Utah's Bonneville Basin, based on UDWR survey 
and monitoring data collected since 1993. A comparison of survey 
results from the 1970s (Workman et al. 1979, pp. 156-158) to surveys 
from 1993 to 2007 (Hines et al. 2008, pp. 36-45) indicates that 
approximately 60 percent of the natural populations extant in 1979 were 
extirpated by 2007 (75 FR 35398).
    Least chub are distributed across three Genetic Management Units 
(GMU)--West Desert GMU, Sevier GMU, and Wasatch Front GMU. The GMUs 
were delineated by the LCCT based on genetics information that showed 
population similarities in these areas (Mock and Miller 2005, pp. 271-
277). Six naturally occurring populations of least chub remain within 
these GMUs: The Leland Harris Spring Complex, Gandy Marsh, Bishop 
Springs Complex, Mills Valley, Clear Lake, and Mona Springs (Hines et 
al. 2008, pp. 34-45).
    The West Desert GMU is represented by three of these populations 
(the Leland Harris Spring Complex, Gandy Marsh, and Bishop Spring 
Complex) (Perkins et al. p. 22, 28-29), which occur in the Snake Valley 
of Utah's west desert and are genetically similar and very close in 
proximity to each other (Mock and Miller 2005, p. 276; Mock and 
Bjerregaard 2007, pp. 145-146). The Sevier GMU is represented by the 
genetically similar Mills Valley and Clear Lake populations, which are 
located in relatively undeveloped sites in the Sevier subbasin on the 
southeastern border of the species' native range (Mock and Miller 2003, 
pp. 17-18; Mock and Miller 2005, p. 276; Mock and Bjerregaard 2007, pp. 
145-146; Hines et al. 2008, p. 17). The Wasatch Front GMU is 
represented by the Mona Springs site (Perkins et al. 1998, pp. 22, 29-
31). This GMU occurs in the southeastern portion of the Great Salt Lake 
subbasin on the eastern border of ancient Lake Bonneville, near the 
highly urbanized Wasatch Front (Mock and Miller 2005, p. 276). Least 
chub are still found in small numbers at the Mona Springs site (Hines 
et al. 2008, p. 37) which is genetically distinct from the other 
populations (Mock and Miller 2005, p. 276; Mock and Bjerregaard 2007, 
pp. 145-146). The small number of least chub at Mona Springs does not 
compose a viable self-sustaining population (LCCT 2008a, p. 3), but 
remains extant due to stocking activities. A detailed description of 
the naturally occurring least chub populations can be found in the 2010 
12-month finding (75 FR 35398) and 2014 CCA amendment (LCCT 2014, pp. 
7-14).
    In addition to actively managing and conserving the remaining wild 
populations, establishment of additional least chub populations has 
been a goal of the LCCT since it was established in 1998 (Perkins et 
al. 1998, entire). With the purpose of providing redundancy and 
resiliency to the naturally occurring least chub populations, 
introduced populations provide secure genetic refuges to protect 
against catastrophic loss, mitigate current and future threats that may 
affect natural populations, and provide a source for reestablishing 
naturally occurring populations or establishing new populations. Since 
1979, the UDWR attempted approximately 30 introductions of least chub 
to new locations within its historical range. Nineteen of these 
attempts through 2008 were described in detail in the 2010 12-month 
finding. However, these early introductions (pre-2008) were not highly 
successful or lacked sufficient monitoring to determine success; 
therefore, in our 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398), we did not 
consider them to be contributing to the conservation of the species, 
and as a result we did not evaluate whether they faced threats in our 
5-factor analysis.
    Since our 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398), we have additional 
monitoring data for the pre-2008 introduced populations. We have also 
developed success criteria for least chub habitat requirements (for 
specific criteria needed for success, see below). The success criteria 
allow us to evaluate the ability for each introduced population to 
contribute to species conservation. The success criteria also guides 
site selection for new introductions, and was used to establish four 
least chub introduction sites since 2008. Overall, introduced sites 
that are occupied by least chub and meet the success criteria are 
considered to contribute to conservation, and we evaluate the threats 
at those sites in this finding; there are 10 least chub introduced 
sites that are considered successful, as explained below. When 
experimental introductions fail, they typically fail in the first or 
second year after introduction due to existing threats at the site, 
including a lack of water quantity and quality, presence of nonnative 
fishes, or lack of adequate habitat conditions (UDWR 2013b, entire).
    Success criteria for introduced least chub sites were established 
by the LCCT: (1) A documented stable and secure water source 
(preferably with a water right); (2) water quality suitable for least 
chub (appropriate pH, salinity, and dissolved oxygen levels); (3) no 
nonnative fishes present, or if any are present they are species or 
numbers

[[Page 51044]]

which are determined not to be a threat to least chub persistence 
(e.g., low numbers of carp, rainbow trout, goldfish); (4) no grazing, 
or grazing for an agreed upon extent and duration which does not appear 
to have negative impacts on least chub or their habitat; (5) habitat 
requirements that are suitable for long-term persistence of least chub 
(e.g., adequate cover, over winter habitat, size); and (6) the 
introduction must occur on land where the owner or agency is signatory 
to a conservation agreement, or on land where an appropriate similar 
agreement is in place (LCCT 2013a, pp. 2, 3). Assessments are conducted 
prior to least chub introductions to ensure a low level of existing 
threats (LCCT 2013a, p. 2). In addition, the site must maintain at 
least two seasons of documented recruitment and no significant threats 
(LCCT 2013a, p. 3).
    Our goal for introduced populations, as agreed to and finalized by 
the LCCT, requires the successful establishment of three introduced 
populations in each of the three GMUs, with the introduced populations 
providing a genetic representation of each of the six wild populations 
(LCCT 2013a, p. 1). This goal has been met or exceeded for all but one 
of the naturally occurring populations (Table 1; LCCT 2013a, p. 4; LCCT 
2013b, p. 6). The Clear Lake population in the Sevier GMU does not have 
a representative introduced population (LCCT 2013b, p. 6). In 2013, a 
fire and debris flow impacted the population at Willow Springs, which 
was the only introduced site replicating the Clear Lake population. The 
UDWR and BLM personnel salvaged as many fish as possible, and relocated 
them to the Fisheries Experiment Station (FES) hatchery facility. The 
UDWR is working to reestablish an introduction site for the Clear Lake 
population. Additional fish will be transported from Clear Lake to FES 
in 2014, to increase the founding number of individuals for this 
temporary hatchery population. This population will be held at FES 
until a suitable introduction site can be established. The Clear Lake 
population was also introduced into Teal Springs in 2013 (UDWR 2013b, 
p. 21). This introduction is considered an experimental population, as 
it is too recent to meet all the introduction criteria.

                                                          Table 1--Successful Introduced Least Chub Sites by Source GMU and Population
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                                                                                         Number
                                                                                         years
               Name                     Source GMU           Source pop.       Year    documented       Ownership           Water right       Non-native species          Grazing status
                                                                                      recruitment
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Fitzgerald WMA...................  Sevier..............  Mills..............    2006            8  UDWR...............  Yes................  Carp, goldfish in    Not grazed.
                                                                                                                                              low densities.
Rosebud Top Pond.................  Sevier..............  Mills..............    2008            6  Private............  Yes................  Sterile rainbow      Not grazed.
                                                                                                                                              trout in low
                                                                                                                                              densities.
Cluster Springs..................  Sevier..............  Mills..............    2008            6  BLM................  Yes................  None...............  Yes, but fenced and managed.
Pilot Spring SE..................  Sevier..............  Mills..............    2008            6  BLM................  Yes................  None...............  Yes, but managed.
Escalante Elementary.............  Wasatch Front.......  Mona...............    2006            8  Local Gov't........  Yes................  None...............  Not grazed.
Upper Garden Creek...............  Wasatch Front.......  Mona...............    2011            3  Utah State Parks...  Yes................  None...............  Not grazed.
Deseret Depot....................  Wasatch Front.......  Mona...............    2011            3  Dept. of Defense...  Yes................  None...............  Not grazed.
Red Knolls Pond..................  West Desert.........  Bishop.............    2005            9  BLM................  Yes................  None...............  Not grazed.
Keg Spring.......................  West Desert.........  Gandy..............    2009            5  BLM................  Yes................  None...............  Yes, but fenced and managed.
Pilot Spring.....................  West Desert.........  Leland.............    2008            6  BLM................  Yes................  None...............  Yes, but fenced and managed.
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    In summary, there are 5 naturally occurring (excluding Mona Springs 
due to a lack of a self-sustaining population) and 10 successful 
introduced populations of least chub distributed across three GMUs that 
we conclude can contribute to the conservation of the species (see 
Table 1). As such, we evaluate the status and threats to these 
populations throughout the remainder of this document.
Population Size and Dynamics
    The UDWR began surveying least chub in the 1970s, but monitoring 
was limited to known populations in the Snake Valley region (Workman et 
al. 1979, p. 1). Sites were inconsistently monitored for least chub 
abundance through the 1980s (Osmundson 1985, p. 4), but by 1993, known 
least chub sites were monitored annually (Wilson et al. 1999, p. 3) 
using standardized survey methods (Crist 1990, p. 10). Through the 1998 
CCA, the signatories committed to continue annual sampling of known 
least chub populations (including introduced populations), to gather 
information on least chub life history and habitat needs, and report 
these findings annually (Perkins et al. 1998, p. 4). In 2007 (and 
updated in 2010), the sampling methodology changed to include cursory 
sampling at each site annually, and an in-depth distribution sampling 
at each site every third year on a rotating annual basis (UDWR 2007, 
entire; UDWR 2010a, entire; UDWR 2013a, pp. III-2). The annual cursory 
sampling provides a representative sample (100 individuals) of least 
chub, which are individually measured to provide the percentage of 
juveniles to adults; the greater number of juveniles indicates higher 
recruitment and reproductive success (UDWR 2013a, p. III-2). The 
distributional surveys monitor designated sites throughout the complex, 
calculating percentage of sites occupied and catch-per-unit-effort 
(CPUE) values for the population (UDWR 2013a, pp. I-3, III-2). The 
introduced sites are sampled annually following the cursory approach, 
documenting age class structure (i.e., recruitment) at each site (UDWR 
2013a, p. I-2).
    The sampling in 2010 documented recruitment at natural and 
introduced sites, but CPUE values exhibited high variability across 
years due to factors unrelated to population size (Hogrefe 2001, p. 4; 
UDWR 2013a, entire). This variability is likely due to several factors: 
In-depth distributional surveys are only conducted every 3 years per 
population (making comparisons difficult across years), and least chub 
and their habitats are dynamic (with seasonally fluctuating water 
levels least chub may not retreat to the springhead habitats until 
after sampling is

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completed because of late rains or similar seasonal difference across 
years) (Crawford 1979, p. 11). Thus, CPUE and percentage of occupied 
sites were the only available measure to determine least chub status 
across sites (Hogrefe 2001, p. 4).
    Knowing the limitations of the survey methods, signatories to the 
2005 CCA (Bailey et al. 2005, entire) sought outside assistance in 
2011, to develop a population viability analysis (PVA) and associated 
adaptive, decision-support tool (structured decision-making (SDM) 
model) (Peterson and Saenz 2011; p. 2-3). These tools are being 
developed to assess the current status of least chub populations (i.e., 
increasing, decreasing, or stable), provide information on population 
and community dynamics, and predict population responses to future 
anthropogenic development and conservation strategies. The PVA and SDM 
method will also allow for the integration of monitoring data so that 
reliable information on the status and distribution of least chub can 
be updated as data are collected, thus providing an evaluation of the 
success or failure of management actions to enhance existing 
populations and a basis for the development of future conservation 
decisions.
    Interim findings are available (Peterson and Saenz 2011; entire), 
but the final population model and report are not anticipated until 
2015. Thus far, the analysis reveals what the agencies believed to be 
true, that CPUE values were highly variable and heavily biased by 
sampling method (gear type and location of net deployment), making CPUE 
an unreliable indicator of least chub population status and trends 
(Peterson and Saenz 2013, p. 31). Once completed, the PVA model will 
incorporate environmental factors (i.e., precipitation and minimum 
temperatures the previous winter and spring), and habitat 
characteristics (i.e., percent open water and average depth) to provide 
a better indicator of least chub population status and trends in least 
chub occupancy at a site (occupancy rates), including whether a 
population is increasing, decreasing, or stable (Peterson and Saenz 
2013, p. 27). The PVA would provide an immediate gauge of the 
population's probability to persist and remain reproductively 
successful in the long term (Peterson and Saenz 2013, p. 27).
    The interim PVA model provides estimated occupancy probabilities 
for the least chub populations at Leland Harris Spring Complex, Bishop 
Springs Complex, Mills Valley, and Gandy Marsh. The model approximates 
the occupancy rates at 70 percent for Leland Harris and Bishop Springs, 
60 percent for Mills Valley and, 30 percent for Gandy Marsh (Peterson 
and Saenz 2013, p. 28). These modeled occupancy probabilities are 
considered equilibrium values, where the occupancy rates at each site 
remain stable at these calculated rates for at least 100 years 
(Peterson and Saenz 2013, pp. 28, 70). These PVA estimations compared 
favorably to the 16 years of survey data available for Gandy Marsh (30-
40 percent measured occupancy rate) and Bishop Springs (80 percent 
measured occupancy rate). This comparison of monitoring data with the 
PVA model provided sufficient evidence that occupancy rates are a 
defensible metric for evaluating the status and trends of least chub 
populations (Peterson and Saenz 2013, p. 28). The results indicate that 
the PVA model can reasonably approximate the habitat dynamics of major 
portions of the wetlands (i.e., depth and percent open water) and the 
occupation of the wetlands inhabited by least chub populations using 
annual survey data, and that these populations exhibit stable occupancy 
rates over time. Based on this information, we can infer that the model 
would provide similar results for the other populations that are not 
limited by other factors, such as mosquitofish presence (i.e., Mona 
Springs).
    In addition to modeling the probability of least chub occupancy, 
the initial PVA model found that least chub populations generally 
displayed low probabilities of extirpation at the individual sites 
(Peterson and Saenz 2013, p. 29). The simulated mean time to 
extirpation was greater than 80 years for all populations under most 
simulated conditions except for the most extreme catastrophic 
disturbance probabilities (simulating a 90 percent habitat reduction) 
(Peterson and Saenz 2013, p. 30). Even under these extreme conditions, 
simulated mean time to extirpation exceeded 60 years for all 
populations evaluated (Peterson and Saenz 2013, p. 30). The authors 
suggest that the PVA should not be used as an absolute prediction of 
the likelihood of species extinction due to the intrinsic limitations 
of any model that uses incomplete information to predict future events 
(Reed et al. 2002, pp. 14-15). However, the results of the PVA indicate 
that all 15 natural and introduced least chub populations (with the 
exception of Mona Springs with mosquitofish present) exhibit consistent 
occupancy rates and have a high likelihood of persistence into the 
future (Peterson and Saenz 2013, pp. 54, 58).

Previous and Ongoing Conservation Efforts

    Below we summarize the previous and ongoing conservation actions 
conducted through the 1998 and 2005 CCAs that provided conservation 
benefits to the least chub. The conservation actions which are 
described below have already been implemented by the LCCT, and we have 
concluded that they are effective at reducing threats to the species.
    The partnership established under the 1998 CCA has been successful 
at implementing conservation measures to protect least chub. The 
document that served as the foundation for the conservation of least 
chub was the 1998 CCA, which was renewed in 2005 and amended in 2014 
(see Future Conservation Efforts, below) (Perkins et al. 1998, entire; 
Bailey et al. 2005, entire; LCCT 2014, entire). The 1998 and 2005 CCAs 
resulted in the coordination and implementation of conservation efforts 
over the last 16 years, including: The acquisition and protection of 
occupied habitat, fencing (from grazing) of important habitat, genetic 
analysis of natural populations, annual monitoring (to evaluate 
population status, and habitat and population response to conservation 
actions), successful introduction of new least chub populations, the 
creation of MOUs with grazing operators on private lands, habitat 
restoration, and groundwater monitoring. A summary of these previous 
and ongoing conservation actions, by least chub population site, are 
described below.
    (1) Mona Springs: Habitat in the vicinity of Mona Springs was 
originally privately owned, but the Mitigation Commission has acquired 
84 ha (208 ac) of land since 1998, thus wholly protecting occupied 
least chub habitat at the site (Hines et al. 2008, p. 34; Wilson 2014, 
pers. comm.). The Mitigation Commission is a federal agency formed to 
fund and implement mitigation projects associated with the Central Utah 
Project (a federal water project authorized in 1956, to develop Utah's 
allotment of the Colorado River), and was signatory to the 1998 and 
2005 CCAs. Livestock grazing was removed from the site in 2005, and 
habitat enhancement projects to deepen the springs and remove Russian 
olive (and other nonnative vegetation) began in 2011. Since 2000, UDWR 
continues to conduct nonnative fish removals at Mona Springs. In 2012, 
UDWR installed fish barriers and the number of juveniles collected 
during the 2013 sampling season was the highest on record, thus 
documenting successful recruitment for

[[Page 51046]]

the first time in many years (Grover and Crockett 2014, p. 17). As 
previously described, Mona Springs is not considered a viable, self-
sustaining population; however, the ongoing efforts to stock Mona 
Springs have allowed us to maintain a population at this site, and 
efforts to successfully protect the habitat in perpetuity provide us 
with ongoing management options into the future.
    (2) Leland Harris Spring Complex: Land ownership for least chub 
occupied habitat at Leland Harris is a combination of private (50 
percent) and UDWR (40 percent) lands (following completion of a land 
swap with State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) in 
2014), with about 10 percent owned by the BLM (Hines et al. 2008, pp. 
41-42). Miller Spring (located in this complex) and its surrounding 
wetlands (approximately 20.2 ha (50 ac)) are privately owned but are 
managed under a grazing plan developed by the UDWR and the private 
landowner. Paddocks for rotational grazing and exclosures to reduce 
springhead access by cattle were completed at Miller Spring in 1998. As 
a result, livestock no longer congregate around the vulnerable wetland 
habitat and now use the upland areas (Crockett 2013, pers. comm.), and 
although least chub are not regularly monitored at Miller Spring, they 
are observed schooling along the shoreline each year during Columbia 
spotted frog (Rana luteiventris) surveys (Grover 2013, pers. comm.).
    (3) Gandy Marsh: Land ownership includes BLM (70 percent), private 
lands (29 percent), and SITLA (1 percent). The BLM designated 919 ha 
(2,270 ac) as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) that is 
closed to oil and gas leasing to protect the least chub. The ACEC 
includes most of the lake bed and aquatic habitats and is fenced to 
exclude livestock (BLM 1992, pp. 11, 16, 18). Some springheads on the 
privately owned parcel were voluntarily exclosed by the landowner, 
significantly reducing the entrainment rate of livestock--livestock can 
become entrained (trapped) in soft spring deposits, where they can die, 
decompose, and pollute the springhead. Degraded springheads are 
prioritized and selected sites are restored on an annual, rotating 
basis to counteract the historical livestock damage. This restoration 
effort has resulted in increased least chub habitat and occupancy.
    (4) Bishop Springs Complex: Land ownership includes BLM (50 
percent), SITLA (40 percent), and private lands (10 percent). In 2006, 
UDWR and the Service entered into a candidate conservation agreement 
with assurances (CCAA) with the landowner to purchase water rights for 
Foote Reservoir and Bishop Twin Springs (USFWS 2006, entire). These 
water bodies provide most of the perennial water to the complex (Hines 
et al. 2008, p. 37). In 2008, UDWR obtained a permit for permanent 
change of use, providing for instream flow on a seasonal schedule. This 
instream flow helps to maintain water levels at Bishop Springs Complex, 
protecting the least chub (Hines et al. 2008, p. 37). Fencing around 
Foote Reservoir (Foote Spring) and North Twin Spring to exclude 
livestock was completed in 1993 (Wheeler 2014b, pers. comm.), and 
Russian olive removal was completed in 2012. These efforts have limited 
livestock access to least chub occupied habitat.
    (5) Mills Valley: Nearly 80 percent of the occupied habitat at 
Mills Valley is privately owned, and the remaining 20 percent is owned 
by UDWR as the Mills Meadow Wildlife Management Area (WMA) (LCCT 2014, 
p. 14). Livestock grazing rights on the UDWR WMA were provided to 
adjacent landowners in exchange for UDWR and public access to UDWR 
property (Stahli and Crockett 2008, p. 5); however, the grazing rights 
were purchased back from the private landowner. In addition, the UDWR 
is encouraging landowners to participate in the programmatic CCAA to 
improve their current grazing management strategies (USFWS 2014a, 
entire).
    (6) Clear Lake: This population was discovered in 2003 at the Clear 
Lake WMA, which is wholly owned and managed by UDWR. The site has a 
water right owned by UDWR. Common carp were prevalent at the site, but 
between 2003 and 2013, and through the implementation of the 2010 Clear 
Lake Aquatic Control Plan, UDWR successfully removed considerable 
numbers of common carp from the lake where they impacted vegetated 
habitat (Ottenbacher et al. 2010, entire). Removal efforts have 
significantly reduced the common carp population. Anecdotal evidence 
shows an increase in vegetated habitat and decrease in turbidity 
following these removal efforts (Wheeler 2014c, pers. comm).

Future Conservation Efforts

    Despite the positive accomplishments of the 1998 CCA and 2005 CCA, 
our 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398) identified several threats that 
were still negatively acting on the least chub and its habitat. The 
remaining threats identified in the 2010 12-month finding included: (1) 
Continued habitat loss and degradation caused by livestock grazing; (2) 
groundwater withdrawal; (3) nonnative fishes; (4) the effects of 
climate change and drought; (4) and cumulative interaction of the 
individual factors listed above. The 2010 12-month finding also 
determined that existing regulatory mechanisms were not adequately 
addressing the threat of groundwater withdrawal to the species.
    Based on information provided in the 2010 12-month finding, the 
LCCT partners met to evaluate the most recent least chub survey 
information and habitat conditions and amend the 2005 CCA. The 
resulting 2014 CCA amendment outlined several new conservation actions 
to address the threats that were identified in our 12-month finding: 
(1) Development and implementation of a programmatic candidate 
conservation agreement with assurances (CCAA) with private landowners; 
(2) the purchase of grazing rights on UDWR land; (3) completion of the 
population viability analysis (PVA) to evaluate natural and introduced 
populations and prioritize conservation strategies; (4) development of 
nonnative fish management plans; (5) additional fencing and habitat 
restoration of key sites; (6) maintenance and monitoring of introduced 
populations; and (7) completion of a study to evaluate the impact of 
groundwater level changes on habitat at a natural population site. A 
summary of specific conservation actions included in the 2014 CCA 
amendment are listed below in Table 2.

 Table 2--Threats to the Least Hub as Identified in the 2010 12-Month Finding (75 FR 35398), the Planned Actions
         To Address Those Threats as Identified in the 2014 CCA Amendment, and the Status of the Action
                                               [LCCT 2014, Entire]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           Threat                  Agency           Conservation actions                     Status
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Livestock grazing...........  UDWR...........  Purchase of grazing rights for  Completed.
                                                Mills Valley. Livestock to be
                                                removed September 2015.
                              UDWR, BLM......  Maintain fencing on their       Annually.
                                                respective lands.

[[Page 51047]]

 
                              Service, UDWR..  Encourage private landowners    After CCAA completion.
                                                at Mills Valley, Leland,
                                                Gandy, and Bishop to enroll
                                                in the programmatic CCAA.
                              UDWR...........  Complete land-swap package at   Completed.
                                                Leland Harris.
                              BLM............  Implement guidelines and plans  Continuous.
                                                when issuing or renewing
                                                grazing operator permits, and
                                                maintain Area of Critical
                                                Environmental Concern (ACEC)
                                                at Gandy.
                              UDWR...........  Purchase privately owned        Anytime.
                                                parcels at Gandy and Bishop,
                                                if possible.
                              BLM............  Complete Bishop Springs         May 2015.
                                                fencing project.
                              UDWR...........  Enhance habitat of degraded     Annually.
                                                areas.
                              UDWR...........  Submit an annual report.......  Annually.
                              All............  Adaptively manage grazing at    As needed.
                                                all applicable sites.
Ground-water withdrawal.....  UDWR...........  Monitor least chub populations  Annually.
                              Service, UDWR,   Protest new water rights        Continuous.
                               BLM.             applications through the
                                                formal protest process if the
                                                applications for water
                                                infringe on water rights and
                                                lands with least chub.
                              UDWR...........  Monitor water levels at         Annually.
                                                introduced sites.
                              UDWR...........  Review piezometer data and      Annually.
                                                monitor groundwater levels at
                                                Snake Valley least chub
                                                population sites.
                              All............  Review annual groundwater       Annually.
                                                reports by Utah Geological
                                                Survey (UGS) and U.S.
                                                Geological Survey (USGS).
                              All............  Use the new decision model to   Annually.
                                                assess the continued
                                                stability and suitability of
                                                habitats to support least
                                                chub.
                              All............  Integrate monitoring data into  1 year after completion of PVA.
                                                the decision model to reduce
                                                key uncertainties and improve
                                                future decision-making and
                                                provide a summary report
                                                annually.
                              UDWR...........  Use Leland Harris habitat       After study completion.
                                                study (expected in 2015) to
                                                develop a water level and
                                                inundated habitat model.
                              SNWA...........  Consider possible impacts of    When applicable.
                                                Southern Nevada Water
                                                Authority (SNWA) activities
                                                and plans on least chub and
                                                their habitat.
Nonnative fishes............  UDWR...........  Design/implement nonnative      May 2015.
                                                fish management plans.
                              UDWR...........  Maintain, enforce and educate   Continuous.
                                                on UDWR code regulations for
                                                movement of nonnative fish
                                                species.
                              All............  Use new information in          As needed.
                                                adaptive management planning.
Climate change and drought..  UDWR...........  Monitor piezometers, surface    Annually.
                                                flow gages, and weather
                                                patterns at the Snake Valley
                                                wild population sites.
                              UDWR...........  Apply information from the      Sept. 2015.
                                                Leland Harris habitat study
                                                (expected in 2015) to other
                                                sites.
                              All............  Use PVA and decision tool to    1 year after PVA completion.
                                                guide management under
                                                changes in drought and
                                                climate change conditions.
                              Service, UDWR..  Evaluate introduced             Continuous.
                                                populations and UDWR to
                                                establish new populations to
                                                meet goals.
                              UDWR, BLM......  Russian olive removal at        April 2015.
                                                Bishop Springs.
Cumulative effects..........  All............  Addressing the threats listed   Not applicable.
                                                above independently will
                                                prevent these threats from
                                                acting cumulatively.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    We have also completed an analysis of the certainty of 
implementation and effectiveness of these future actions pursuant to 
our Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing 
Decisions (PECE; 68 FR 15100, March 28, 2003; USFWS 2014b, entire), 
which is available on the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/leastchub/. This analysis pertains only to actions 
that have not yet been implemented or have been implemented but are not 
yet shown to be effective (see PECE Analysis, below). Our analysis 
under PECE allows us to include future actions that have not yet been 
implemented or shown to be effective in our current threats analysis 
and status determination.

PECE Analysis

    The purpose of PECE is to ensure consistent and adequate evaluation 
of recently formalized conservation efforts when making listing 
decisions. The policy provides guidance on how to evaluate conservation 
efforts that have not yet been implemented or have not yet demonstrated 
effectiveness. The evaluation focuses on the certainty that the 
conservation efforts will be implemented and effectiveness of the 
conservation efforts. The policy presents nine criteria for evaluating 
the certainty of implementation and six criteria for evaluating the 
certainty of effectiveness for conservation efforts. These criteria are 
not considered comprehensive evaluation criteria. The certainty of 
implementation and the effectiveness of a formalized conservation 
effort may also depend on species-specific, habitat-specific, location-
specific, and effort-specific factors. To consider that a formalized 
conservation effort contributes to forming a basis for not listing a 
species, or listing a species as threatened rather than endangered, we 
must find that the conservation effort is sufficiently certain to be 
implemented, and effective, so as to have contributed

[[Page 51048]]

to the elimination or adequate reduction of one or more threats to the 
species identified through the section 4(a)(1) analysis. The 
elimination or adequate reduction of section 4(a)(1) threats may lead 
to a determination that the species does not meet the definition of 
endangered or threatened, or is threatened rather than endangered.
    An agreement or plan may contain numerous conservation efforts, not 
all of which are sufficiently certain to be implemented and effective. 
Those conservation efforts that are not sufficiently certain to be 
implemented and effective cannot contribute to a determination that 
listing is unnecessary, or a determination to list as threatened rather 
than endangered. Regardless of the adoption of a conservation agreement 
or plan, however, if the best available scientific and commercial data 
indicate that the species meets the definition of ``endangered 
species'' or ``threatened species'' on the day of the listing decision, 
then we must proceed with appropriate rulemaking activity under section 
4 of the Act.
    Using the criteria in PECE (68 FR 15100, March 28, 2003), we 
evaluated (for those measures not already implemented) the certainty of 
implementation and effectiveness of conservation measures pertaining to 
the least chub. We have determined that the measures will be effective 
at eliminating or reducing threats to the species because they protect 
and enhance occupied habitat (by reducing further grazing damage, 
restoring historically impacted areas, and removing nonnative fishes); 
commit to continued monitoring of populations; and provide new 
information, management direction, and analysis on the populations 
through the PVA model and implementation. We have a high degree of 
certainty that the measures will be implemented because the LCCT 
partners have a long track record of implementing conservation measures 
and CCAs for this species since 1998. Over approximately the past 16 
years of implementation, UDWR, BLM, and the Mitigation Commission have 
implemented conservation actions to benefit least chub and its habitat, 
monitored their effectiveness, and adapted strategies as new 
information became available.
    New conservation actions are prescribed by the 2014 CCA amendment 
and are already being implemented, such as the purchase of grazing 
rights on UDWR land, a land swap with SITLA, the creation and 
implementation of the PVA, habitat restoration, and data collection for 
the study to evaluate the effect of groundwater level changes on 
habitat at a natural population site. The 2014 CCA amendment has 
sufficient annual monitoring and reporting requirements to ensure that 
all of the conservation measures are implemented as planned, and are 
effective at removing threats to the least chub and its habitat. The 
collaboration among the CCA signatories requires regular committee 
meetings and involvement of all parties in order to fully implement the 
conservation agreement. Based on the successes of previous actions of 
the conservation committee, we have a high level of certainty that the 
conservation measures in the 2014 CCA amendment will be implemented 
(for those measures not already begun) and effective, and thus they can 
be considered as part of the basis for our final listing determination 
for the least chub.
    Our detailed PECE analysis (USFWS 2014b, entire) on the 2014 CCA 
amendment (LCCT 2014, entire) is available for review at http://www.regulations.gov and http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/leastchub/.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4 of the Act and its implementing regulations (50 CFR 424) 
set forth the procedures for adding species to the Federal Lists of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. A species may be 
determined to be an endangered or threatened species due to one or more 
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. Listing actions may 
be warranted based on any of the above threat factors, singly or in 
combination. Each of these factors is discussed below. In our previous 
analysis in the 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398), we did not 
evaluate introduced populations, which are now evaluated in this 
document (see ``Population Distribution,'' above).

Factor A. The Present or Threatened Destruction, Modification, or 
Curtailment of Its Habitat or Range

    The following potential threats that may affect the habitat or 
range of least chub are discussed in this section, including: (1) 
Livestock grazing; (2) oil and gas leasing and exploration; (3) mining; 
(4) urban and suburban development; (5) ground water and surface water 
withdrawal and diversion; and (6) drought.
Livestock Grazing
    Livestock grazing was considered a threat to the species at the 
time of the 2010 12-month finding, particularly for the Snake Valley 
(Leland Harris, Gandy, Bishop Springs) and Mills Valley populations. 
Grazing animals can impact aquatic habitats in multiple ways. Livestock 
seek springs for food and water, both of which are limited in desert 
habitats; therefore, they spend a disproportionate amount of time in 
these areas (Stevens and Meretsky 2008, p. 29). As they spend time at 
springs, livestock eat and trample plants, compact local soils, and 
collapse the banks (Stevens and Meretsky 2008, p. 29). Input of organic 
wastes increases nutrient concentrations, and some nutrients (e.g., 
nitrogen compounds) can become toxic to fish (Taylor et al. 1989, in 
Stevens and Meretsky 2008, p. 29). Domestic livestock can also be 
trapped in soft spring deposits, die and decompose, and pollute the 
water, although this has happened infrequently. All of these effects 
can result in the loss or decline of native aquatic fauna (Stevens and 
Meretsky 2008, pp. 29-30) at site-specific locations.
    Historical livestock grazing impacted five of the six naturally 
occurring least chub sites (Leland Harris, Gandy Marsh, Bishop Springs, 
Mills Valley, and Mona Springs). Despite some remaining localized 
impacts at a few of these locations, removal of grazing, implementation 
of conservation activities, continued monitoring efforts, habitat 
restoration, and private landowner agreements leading to modified 
grazing practices have decreased grazing pressure and resultant impacts 
at these sites since 2005 (Hines et al. 2008 pp. 22-23; LCCT 2014, pp. 
18-19; Crockett 2013, pers. comm; Wheeler 2013b, pers. comm.). In 
addition, the LCCT has evaluated livestock grazing at successful 
introduced population sites and determined that all sites, except one 
(Pilot SE), have been protected from grazing since establishment, 
either through fencing or land management practices, and thus no 
grazing related impacts are present. The following discussion provides 
site-specific analysis of livestock grazing for all least chub 
populations.
    The Clear Lake WMA and Mona Springs naturally occurring least chub 
populations are protected from livestock grazing by the management 
policies of

[[Page 51049]]

UDWR when Clear Lake WMA was established, and the Mitigation Commission 
in 2005, respectively. The UDWR never grazed livestock at the Clear 
Lake WMA and the Mitigation Commission removed grazing from Mona 
Springs in 2005 (Hines et al. 2008, p. 34, 45).
    Livestock damage occurred at Gandy Marsh during periods of 
unmanaged overgrazing (Hines et al. 2008, p. 39; LCCT 2008b, p. 2). In 
August 2007, livestock damage was reported to be extensive when 
approximately 600 head of cattle were fenced into the northern area of 
Gandy Marsh (LCCT 2008b, p. 2; Wheeler 2013b, pers. comm.). However, 
the number of cattle has decreased to about 12 to 40 head (more than a 
90 percent decrease) on this privately owned Gandy Marsh parcel since 
2007, and the livestock entrainment rate significantly declined when 
the landowner voluntarily fenced about 50 percent of the springheads 
(Wheeler 2013b, pers. comm.). This change in management is the result 
of an informal, voluntary agreement initiated around 2008 between the 
landowner and the UDWR. The UDWR also manually restored 25 of the 
heavily impacted springheads at Gandy Marsh and least chub re-colonized 
75 percent of those restored areas within several months (Wheeler 
2013a, p. 3; Wheeler 2014a, p. 10). The BLM also installed fencing to 
protect springs on their lands at Gandy Marsh. Overall, 60 percent of 
the springs at Gandy Marsh are protected from livestock grazing by 
fencing (on both private and BLM lands), with nearly 80 percent of the 
habitat managed and regulated via grazing permits by BLM, and the 
remaining habitat managed for livestock grazing under the informal, 
voluntary agreement between UDWR and the landowner, which is expected 
to continue into the future since the exclosures in place since 2008, 
minimize livestock entrainment and loss, thereby providing benefits to 
landowner and encouraging a continuous agreement by the landowner with 
UDWR. The UDWR, as signatory to the 2014 CCA amendment, agrees to 
continue efforts to restore degraded habitat on an annual, rotating 
basis to counteract the historical livestock damage (LCCT 2014, p. 16).
    Miller Spring and portions of the Leland Harris sites (within the 
Leland Harris Springs Complex) were previously considered unsuitable 
for least chub due to sedimentation, trampling, and poor water quality 
associated with livestock use, but extensive efforts by UDWR in 1999 
and 2000, to restore and fence the spring significantly improved the 
habitat (Hogrefe 2001, pp. 7, 20). A rotational grazing plan was 
established through a wildlife extension agreement between the 
landowner and UDWR on 75 ha (188 ac) of Miller Spring and Leland Harris 
Springs (which also exhibited historical ungulate damage and bank 
disturbance) that resulted in improved habitat conditions at both sites 
(Hines et al. 2008, p. 42). Fencing of additional springs at Leland 
Harris in 2013 protected another 0.12 ha (0.3 ac) of habitat on private 
land and reduced livestock entrainment (Crockett 2013, pers. comm.). 
Survey data at Leland Harris indicate that least chub are widely 
distributed throughout the spring complex (UDWR 2012b, pp. II-17), and 
although least chub are not regularly monitored at Miller Spring, they 
are observed schooling along the shoreline each year during Columbia 
spotted frog (Rana luteiventris) surveys (Grover 2013, pers. comm.). 
Additional efforts to remove livestock grazing at Leland Harris include 
a recent land swap in 2014, between SITLA and UDWR, thereby protecting 
nearly 50 percent of the Leland Harris site, which is approximately 28 
percent of the entire Leland Harris Springs Complex (LCCT 2014, p. 19). 
Overall, 28 percent of habitat at the Leland Harris Springs Complex has 
no livestock grazing, and the remainder of habitat is either under the 
grazing management plan through the 20-year wildlife extension 
agreement between UDWR and the landowner (67 percent) or actively 
managed for grazing by BLM (5 percent). As a signatory to the 2014 CCA 
amendment, the BLM ensures that its grazing permits are issued at 
levels sufficient to conserve least chub (e.g., turn out dates, number 
of cattle, rest periods; BLM 1988, entire), and has committed to 
continue to implement Utah Guidelines for Grazing Management (BLM 2011, 
entire) that protect least chub habitat when issuing or renewing 
grazing permits (LCCT 2014, p. 19) (see Factor D. Inadequacy of 
Existing Regulatory Mechanisms, below).
    Foote Spring and North Twin Spring at the Bishop Spring Complex 
have been protected from livestock by fences since 1993, and Central 
Spring, although not fenced, is inaccessible to livestock due to its 
location in the center of the wetland complex. The remaining spring in 
the complex, South Twin Spring, was severely impacted by bank 
sloughing, resulting in shallower water, increased surface area, and 
sedimentation of the springhead in past years (Wheeler et al. 2004, p. 
5). In 2014 and 2015, BLM will install a fence structure and water gap, 
improve bank stabilization, and reduce sediment deposition at the South 
Twin spring through funds provided by UDWR's Watershed Restoration 
Initiative, a conservation activity committed to in the 2014 CCA 
amendment (BLM 2014, entire; LCCT 2014, p. 19). Overall, 75 percent of 
springs at the Bishop Springs Complex are protected from livestock 
grazing (i.e., via fencing or livestock inaccessibility), and the 
remaining 25 percent of the springs will be fenced and protected from 
livestock grazing by 2015.
    On the State-owned WMA portion of the Mills Valley site, grazing 
was allowed in return for UDWR access across private land to monitor 
least chub status. The damage due to overgrazing on this parcel was 
documented as moderate to severe in 2006 (UDWR 2006, pp. 27-28). The 
UDWR recently purchased the grazing rights for the parcel and grazing 
will be removed by September 2015 (LCCT 2014, p. 18). The remaining 80 
percent of the least chub site is privately owned, but in general, only 
springs on the eastern edge of the wetland complex (approximately 50 
percent of privately owned lands) have suffered from significant 
grazing impacts in the past (UDWR 2012b, pp. II-19, 20). In 2012, by 
targeting habitat restoration efforts and shifting the grazing patterns 
on a portion of the private lands previously impacted, habitat quality 
improved and no additional accumulation of sediment from grazing was 
detected after restoration at the sites (UDWR 2013a, p. II-8, 9; Grover 
2013, pers. comm.). To further minimize the remaining livestock impacts 
at Mills Valley, the UDWR agrees to encourage private landowners to 
enroll in the programmatic CCAA (see discussions in Previous and 
Ongoing Conservation Efforts and Future Conservation Efforts sections, 
above), which will incorporate a grazing management plan with a 
rotational grazing schedule and establish a maximum number of grazing 
units, key rest periods, and livestock turn-out dates for the 
protection of least chub (LCCT 2014, p. 18). Overall, through UDWR 
management, 20 percent of least chub habitat at Mills Valley will have 
no livestock grazing by 2015.
    As described previously, in 2013, the LCCT established formal 
introduction criteria for establishing new least chub populations (LCCT 
2013a, entire). The criteria includes a thorough threat assessment and 
evaluation of the site; standards requiring that no livestock grazing 
occur at a site, or if there is grazing, it will be for an agreed-upon 
extent and duration that would not have

[[Page 51050]]

negative impacts on least chub or their habitat; that livestock 
watering access be limited to a water gap (a notch in a fence 
surrounding a waterbody that allows for limited watering access for 
livestock) or off-site water source; that there are no apparent 
sedimentation issues; and that the site exhibits stable banks and 
minimal vegetation disturbance from livestock presence (UDWR 2013b, p. 
2). Ten introduced sites meet the establishment criteria and are 
considered successful introductions, two of which have been established 
since the 2010 12-month finding. Six of these sites do not have 
livestock grazing; three sites are fenced and managed for livestock; 
and one site has seasonal livestock grazing, but there is no documented 
damage to least chub habitats associated with the seasonal livestock 
use (Allen 2014, pers. comm.). Overall, 90 percent of the successful 
introduced sites are protected from livestock grazing, and 10 percent 
(1 site) has low intensity, seasonal grazing with no documented habitat 
damage in the 6 years since its establishment.
    In summary, historical livestock grazing was widespread across the 
majority of the natural populations and extensive livestock-related 
damage (i.e., entrainment, sedimentation, trampling) had occurred in 
the recent past at some of the natural sites. However, we find that 
completed efforts to protect the populations from grazing (e.g., 
fencing, livestock management, land and grazing rights acquisitions) 
and planned efforts under the 2014 CCA amendment (as described above 
under PECE Analysis) to continue to improve grazing management in least 
chub habitats provide an adequate amount of habitat protection from 
livestock grazing and contribute to the long-term conservation of the 
wetland and springs essential to least chub populations across the 
species' range.
Oil and Gas Leasing and Exploration
    Oil and gas leasing and exploration was not considered a threat to 
least chub in our 2010 12-month finding, but our analysis did not 
previously evaluate introduced populations, which are now evaluated in 
this document. Oil and gas leasing and exploration can have direct and 
indirect impacts on springs, marshes, and riparian habitats. Vehicles, 
including drilling rigs and recording trucks, can crush vegetation, 
compact soils, and introduce exotic plant species (BLM 2008, pp. 4-9 to 
4-20). Roads and well pads can affect local drainages and surface 
hydrology, and increase erosion and sedimentation (Matherne 2006, p. 
35). Accidental spills (Etkin 2009, pp. 36-42, 56) can result in the 
release of hydrocarbon products into ground and surface waters 
(Stalfort 1998, section 1). Accumulations of contaminants in 
floodplains can result in lethal or sublethal impacts to endemic 
sensitive aquatic species (Stalfort 1998, section 4; Fleeger et al. 
2003, p. 207).
    The closest active well to a natural least chub population, as 
reported in our 2010 12-month finding, was 9.7 kilometers (km) (6 miles 
(mi)) away when evaluated using data from 2009 (Megown 2009a, entire). 
However, the activities associated with the active well 9.7 km (6 mi) 
away have not increased drilling operation and maintenance vehicle 
traffic near the least chub site, nor has there been evidence of 
compacted soils, soil erosion, crushed vegetation, or contamination 
runoff near the least chub site. Therefore, we consider this to be 
beyond the distance where least chub or their habitat would be 
reasonably affected. Using the most recent information from the State 
of Utah, Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (UDOGM) data, the same 
analysis in 2014 revealed no change; the well examined in 2009 remains 
the closest well to a natural least chub population (Jorgensen 2014a, 
entire). The closest active well in the UDOGM database to an introduced 
population is 49.9 km (31 mi) away (Jorgensen 2014a, entire). Since oil 
and gas leasing sites have not encroached closer than 9.7 km (6 mi) to 
the nearest natural least chub site in 5 years, wells are nearly 50 km 
(31 mi) from introduced least chub populations, and we are unaware of 
any plans for new exploration or development in these areas, oil and 
gas leasing and exploration is not considered a threat to the least 
chub.
Mining
    Mining was not considered a threat to least chub at the time of our 
2010 12-month finding, but our analysis did not previously evaluate 
introduced populations, which are now evaluated in this document. Peat 
mining has the potential to alter the hydrology and habitat complexity 
of bog areas with peat and humus resources (Olsen 2004, p. 6; Bailey et 
al. 2005, p. 31). Mills Valley was the only natural least chub 
population site containing peat and humus suitable for mining at the 
time of the 2010 12-month finding. In 2003, a Mills Valley landowner 
received a permit from UDOGM to conduct peat mining on their private 
land. Although one test hole was dug, no further peat mining occurred 
in this location. This peat mining permit is now inactive, and the 
operation has been abandoned (W. Western 2014, pers. comm), indicating 
that it is unlikely to be reinitiated as a viable project in the 
future. Past peat mining activities were unsuccessful in Mills Valley, 
and we are unaware of any future private or commercial peat mining 
proposals or permits, including any near or within introduced least 
chub sites (W. Western 2014, pers. comm.).
    In summary, our analysis found one permit for peat removal in the 
Mills Valley least chub population area, but the attempt was abandoned. 
We are unaware of any additional private or commercial peat operation 
activities or permits at Mills Valley or any other natural or 
introduced least chub populations prior to or since the 2010 12-month 
finding. We conclude that peat mining is not a threat to the least 
chub.
Urban and Suburban Development
    Urban and suburban development were not considered threats to the 
species at the time of the 2010 12-month finding, but our analysis did 
not previously evaluate introduced populations, which are now evaluated 
in this document. We acknowledge that historical development resulted 
in the loss of least chub habitats and populations across the species' 
range. The least chub was originally common throughout the Bonneville 
Basin in a variety of habitat types (Sigler and Miller 1963, p. 82). In 
many urbanized and agricultural areas, residential development and 
water development projects have effectively eliminated historical 
habitats and potential reintroduction sites for least chub (Keleher and 
Barker 2004, p. 4; Thompson 2005, p. 9). Development and urban 
encroachment either functionally or completely eliminated most springs, 
streams, and wetlands along the Wasatch Front (Keleher and Barker 2004, 
p. 2). Urban and suburban development affect least chub habitats 
through: (1) Changes to hydrology and sediment regimes; (2) inputs of 
pollution from human activities (contaminants, fertilizers, and 
pesticides); (3) introductions of nonnative plants and animals; and (4) 
alterations of springheads, stream banks, floodplains, and wetland 
habitats by increased diversions of surface flows and connected 
groundwater (Dunne and Leopold 1978, pp. 693-702).
    At the time of our 2010 12-month finding, of the remaining natural 
sites, only the Mona Springs site (Keleher and Barker 2004, p. 4; 
Thompson 2005, p. 9) was considered vulnerable to rapid population 
growth along the Wasatch Front. At that time, the human population in 
the Mona Springs area was increasing and a housing

[[Page 51051]]

development had expanded to within 1 km (0.6 mi) of the Mona Springs 
least chub site (Megown 2009b, entire). Since then, there has been no 
additional encroachment at the Mona Springs site, and we know of no 
additional urban development planned for the other natural least chub 
sites (Jorgensen 2014b, entire). Naturally occurring populations are 
more than 16 km (10 mi) away from population centers, and 40 percent of 
introduced sites are more than 80 km (50 mi) away (Jorgensen 2014d, 
entire).
    Of the introduced population sites, only Escalante is near an urban 
interface (ponds are located on the property of the Escalante 
Elementary School in Salt Lake City), and we are unaware of any future 
development planned for this site. Two additional introduced sites are 
near the Wasatch Front, but they are more than 8 km (5 mi) from 
development, with the closest developed site located on military lands 
(not open to additional development) (Jorgensen 2014d, entire). There 
has been no alteration to the least chub-occupied spring habitats at 
these introduced sites, nor any evidence of increased sedimentation or 
contamination at the sites due to suburban or urban development within 
8 km (5 mi); therefore, we consider this to be beyond the distance 
where least chub or their habitat would be reasonably affected.
    Despite the effects of urban and suburban development on historical 
populations along the eastern portion of the least chub historical 
range, most of the remaining sites where least chub naturally occurs or 
was introduced occur in relatively remote portions of Utah with minimal 
human populations. We have no information indicating that urban or 
suburban development poses a threat to the least chub now or in the 
future.
Water Withdrawal and Diversion
    Water withdrawals and diversions were considered a threat to the 
species at the time of the 2010 12-month finding. Our analysis was 
based on groundwater trends at the time and proposed large-scale 
groundwater development projects anticipated in the near future. 
However, there have been changes to the proposed groundwater 
development activities and additional information on groundwater is now 
available. Furthermore, successful conservation actions have been 
implemented since the 2010 12-month finding. Please refer to our 
``Summary of Groundwater Withdrawal at Least Chub Populations Sites'' 
(USFWS 2014c, entire), which can be found on the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/leastchub/, for a detailed 
description of the history and our current analysis of groundwater 
withdrawal in Utah and the Snake Valley (an interstate groundwater 
basin) and large-scale groundwater development projects. A summary is 
provided below.
Effects of Water Withdrawal
    Hydrologic alterations, including water withdrawal and diversion, 
affect a variety of abiotic and biotic factors that regulate least chub 
population size and persistence. Abiotic factors include physical and 
chemical characteristics of the environment, such as water levels and 
temperature, while biotic factors include interactions with other 
individuals or other species (Deacon 2007, pp. 1-2). Water withdrawal 
directly reduces available habitat, impacting water depth, water 
surface area, and flows from springheads (Alley et al. 1999, p. 43). As 
available habitat decreases, the characteristics and value of the 
remaining habitat changes. Reductions in water availability to least 
chub habitat reduce the quantity and quality of the remaining habitat 
(Deacon 2007, p. 1).
    Water withdrawal and diversion reduces the size of ponds, springs, 
and other water features that support least chub (Alley et al. 1999, p. 
43). Assuming that the habitat remains at carrying capacity for the 
species or, in other words, assuming all population processes (e.g., 
birth rate and death rate) remain unchanged, smaller habitats support 
fewer individuals by offering fewer resources for the population 
(Deacon 2007, p. 1).
    Particularly because least chub live in patchily distributed desert 
aquatic systems, reduction in habitat size also affects the quality of 
the habitat. Reduced water depth may isolate areas that would be 
hydrologically connected at higher water levels. Within least chub 
habitat, springheads offer stable environmental conditions, such as 
temperature and oxygen levels, for refugia and overwintering, but offer 
little food or vegetation (Deacon 2007, p. 2). In contrast, marsh areas 
offer vegetation for spawning and feeding, but exhibit wide 
fluctuations in environmental conditions (Crawford 1979, p. 63; Crist 
and Holden 1980, p. 804). Maintaining hydrologic connections between 
springheads and marsh areas is important because least chub migrate 
between these areas to access the full range of their ecological 
requirements (Crawford 1979, p. 63; Crist and Holden 1980, p. 804; 
Lamarra 1981, p. 10). As an example, flow reductions and periodic 
dewatering reduced available habitat in the wetland needed for least 
chub reproduction at Bishop Springs (Crawford 1979, p. 38; Lamarra 
1981, p. 10; Wheeler et al. 2004, p. 5). Fortunately, UDWR's 
acquisition of water rights through a CCAA with a private landowner at 
Bishop Springs in 2006, and approval of a permanent change of use to 
provide instream flow to the Complex in 2008, addresses these 
historical low water conditions at the site (USFWS 2006, entire; Hines 
et al. 2008, p. 37).
    Reductions in water may alter chemical and physical properties of 
aquatic habitats. As water quantity decreases, temperatures may rise 
(especially in desert ecosystems with little shade cover), dissolved 
oxygen may decrease, and the concentration of pollutants may increase 
(Alley et al. 1999, p. 41; Deacon 2007, p. 1). These modified habitat 
conditions could significantly impact least chub life-history 
processes, possibly beyond the state at which the species can survive. 
For example, the maximum growth rate for least chub less than 1 year of 
age occurs at 22.3 [deg]C (72.1[emsp14][deg]F). Temperatures above or 
below this have the potential to negatively impact growth and affect 
survival rates (Billman et al. 2006, p. 438).
    Reduced habitat quality and quantity may cause niche overlaps with 
other fish species, increasing hybrid introgression, interspecific 
competition, and predation (see Factor C and E discussions). Reduction 
in spring flows reduces opportunities for habitat niche partitioning; 
therefore, fewer species are able to coexist. The effect is especially 
problematic with respect to introduced species. Native species may be 
able to coexist with introduced species in relatively large habitats 
(see Factor C discussion), but the native species become increasingly 
vulnerable to extirpation as habitat size diminishes (Deacon 2007, p. 
2).
    Habitat reduction may affect the species by altering individual 
success. Fish and other aquatic species tend to adjust their maximum 
size to the amount of habitat available, so reduced habitat may reduce 
the growth capacity of least chub (Smith 1981, in Deacon 2007, p. 2). 
Reproductive output decreases exponentially as fish size decreases 
(Smith 1981, in Deacon 2007, p. 2). Therefore, reduction of habitat 
volume in isolated desert springs and streams can reduce reproductive 
output (Deacon 2007, p. 2). Longevity also may be reduced resulting in 
fewer reproductive seasons (Deacon 2007, p. 2).

[[Page 51052]]

Current Groundwater Policy and Management
    The Utah State Engineer (USE), through the Utah Division of Water 
Rights (UDWRi), is responsible for the administration of water rights, 
including the appropriation, distribution, and management of the 
State's surface and groundwater. This office has broad discretionary 
powers to implement the duties required by the office. For groundwater 
management, Utah is divided into groundwater basins and policy is 
determined by basin (UDWRi 2013, entire; UDWRi 2014a, entire). Based on 
the extent of groundwater development within each basin, they are 
either, open, closed or restricted to further appropriations.
    In our 2010 12-month finding, we stated that water rights basins 
where natural populations of least chub occurred were either open or 
closed, but even closed basins allowed for additional groundwater 
pumping. Additionally, in our 2010 12-month finding, we reported that 
groundwater withdrawals were increasing in the closed basins and 
monitoring wells were showing declines in water levels based on 
information in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and UDWRi annual 
Groundwater Conditions in Utah Report (Burden 2009, entire). For 
example, the water rights basins corresponding to the Mona Springs, 
Mills Valley, and Clear Lake WMA least chub populations were listed as 
closed, but the annual Groundwater Conditions in Utah Report reported 
new wells drilled in these basins (Burden 2009, p. 5). From this 
information, it appeared that additional groundwater withdrawals were 
being authorized for these basins by the USE. Thus, our analysis 
concluded that these basins were in effect still open to additional 
groundwater pumping which posed a threat to all least chub populations.
    Since we made our 12-month finding in 2010, we reevaluated the 
information concerning the reported new well records based upon 
information provided by UDWRi's online water rights and well log 
database, and we determined that they were replacement wells for 
similar pumping capacities and not additional appropriations of 
groundwater (UDWRi 2013, entire; USFWS 2014c, p. 6; Greer 2013, pers. 
comm.). Additionally, the UDWRi Assistant State Engineer confirmed that 
the basins corresponding to the Mona Springs, Mills Valley, and Clear 
Lake WMA naturally occurring least chub populations were closed, and no 
new appropriations have been approved since the closure following the 
groundwater policies implemented in 1995, 1997, and 2003, for the 
basins, respectively (Greer 2013, pers. comm.; UDWRi 1995, entire; 
UDWRi 1997, entire; UDWRi 2003, entire; UDWRi 2013, entire).
    In addition, we reevaluated the available monitoring well data, 
which previously indicated declines in water levels (Burden 2009, pp. 
41-43, 46-50, 53-55). Our recent analysis of the monitoring well 
reports indicates that while water levels fluctuate, they are not in 
decline, and have increased slightly since 2010 (Burden 2013, pp. 41-
43, 46-50, 53-55). In our 2010 12-month finding, we concluded that 
there were increasing groundwater withdrawals in the closed basins 
(populations in closed basins are discussed above), suggesting that 
additional withdrawals had been granted. However, we now know that 
withdrawals have decreased since 2010 in the Sevier Desert (Clear Lake 
population) basin or maintained a fairly similar average to those 
reported in 2010 (Burden 2013, pp. 5-6). Although we originally 
reported changes in water withdrawals from the closed basins as 
evidence of additional withdrawals, they are within the appropriated 
water rights issued by USE prior to the basin closure policies. Annual 
variation in precipitation explain some of the differences in 
groundwater withdrawals between years in these closed basins, with 
drought years corresponding to increases and wet years with decreases 
in withdrawals (USFWS 2014c, p. 6). In addition, not all water rights 
appropriated are pumped at the same volume each year; thus, differences 
occur among years based on the pumping regime of the water right holder 
(USFWS 2014c, p. 6; J. Greer 2013, pers. comm.).
    Although no studies have quantitatively characterized the available 
least chub habitat associated with fluctuations in groundwater 
withdrawals, the best available information indicates that the water 
levels have remained relatively stable and available habitat has 
remained consistent seasonally for least chub at Mona Springs and Mills 
Valley, but has shown declines in the past at Clear Lake WMA (UDWR 
2012a, pp. II-19-20, III-4; Wheeler 2014c, pers. comm.; Grover 2014, 
pers. comm.). However, the water right owned by UDWR at Clear Lake WMA, 
which retains water on-site, provides additional assurance that water 
will be available for the site in the event of drying or other climatic 
conditions. Therefore, with this new and clarified information, we 
believe the closed basins protect least chub populations at Mona 
Springs, Mills Valley, and Clear Lake WMA by preventing further 
groundwater development.
    Three naturally occurring least chub populations occur within the 
Snake Valley UDWRi groundwater basin, which remains open to 
appropriations (see ``Localized Pumping in Snake Valley,'' below). Of 
the three populations occurring in the Snake Valley, two have secured 
water rights owned by the UDWR and BLM, authorizing a combination of 
instream flow, and wildlife and riparian habitat uses for the water, 
which retains additional water on-site by providing an additional 3 
cubic feet per second (cfs) above the natural flow at each site (UDWRi 
2014b, p. 1-8). These water rights provide additional security and 
legally ensure senior rights over any new appropriations in the 
vicinity of these sites, as well as provide water for the site beyond 
that provided by the natural base flow. Overall, three of the six 
natural least chub sites occur in UDWRi closed basins and of the 
remaining three sites (Snake Valley), two sites have secured water 
rights; thus five of the six natural least chub sites are either fully 
protected via water rights policy or are secured by existing water 
rights that provide additional water for the sites.
    Least chub introduced populations are located primarily in the 
northern portion of the Bonneville Basin, which spans numerous UDWRi 
groundwater basins. The majority of the introduced least chub 
populations (90 percent) are within open or restricted basins, except 
Escalante, which is located within a closed basin under the policy of 
the Salt Lake Valley Groundwater Management Plan, finalized in 2002 
(UDWRi 2002, entire). Despite the water right basin status, all 
introduced population sites have associated water rights that authorize 
water to be retained on-site through various ``purposes of use,'' 
including for fish culture use, as a pond and habitat study, and for 
stockwatering (which is approved for use by both wild and domestic 
animals as well as natural plant life in the area). Thus, stable water 
levels can generally be maintained at these sites from natural base 
flows, but water retained on-site through the water rights adds 
additional security. The security is provided by the legal assurance of 
senior rights over any new appropriations in the vicinity of these 
sites.
    In summary, five of six natural least chub populations have 
existing water rights or occur in closed basins. All of the introduced 
least chub populations have existing water rights, which provide water 
on site for least chub and

[[Page 51053]]

are held by a combination of owners, including BLM, UDWR, Utah State 
Parks, local government, Department of Defense, and private landowners. 
The ownership of a water right legally ensures the senior rights over 
any new appropriations in their respective vicinities and retains the 
water on-site for use by least chub, beyond the amount provided by 
natural flow. Therefore, we conclude that groundwater withdrawal is not 
anticipated to occur at a level that will pose a threat to least chub 
populations.
Current Status of Large-Scale Snake Valley Groundwater Pumping
    Our 2010 12-month finding considered the proposed large-scale 
groundwater withdrawals from the Snake Valley aquifer to be one of the 
most significant threats to least chub populations. At the time of our 
2010 12-month finding, several applications for large-scale groundwater 
withdrawal from the Snake Valley aquifer were pending, including water 
rights for Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), appropriation of 
groundwater by the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District and 
Beaver County, Utah, and an increase of water development by the 
Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation (SNWA 2008, p. 1-6). Of 
greatest concern was the SNWA Groundwater Development (GWD) Project, 
proposing conveyance of up to 170,000 acre-feet per year (afy) of 
groundwater from hydrographic basins (approximately 50,600 afy from 
Snake Valley) in Clark, Lincoln, and White Pine Counties, Nevada, to 
SNWA member agencies and the Lincoln County Water Conservancy District 
in Las Vegas (SNWA 2008, pp. 1-1, 1-6, Table 1-1). The SNWA had also 
applied to the BLM for issuance of rights-of-way to construct and 
operate a system of regional water supply and conveyance facilities to 
transport water to Las Vegas (SNWA 2008, p. 1-3).
    In 1990, Department of the Interior (DOI) agencies protested water 
rights applications in Spring and Snake Valleys, based in part on 
potential impacts to water-dependent natural resources (Plenert 1990, 
p. 1; Nevada State Engineer (NSE) 2007, p. 11). In 2006, DOI agencies 
reached a stipulated agreement with SNWA for the Spring Valley water 
rights applications and withdrew their protests (NSE 2007, p. 11). For 
groundwater pumping planned in Spring Valley, the stipulated agreement 
established a process for developing and implementing hydrological and 
biological monitoring, management, and mitigation for biological 
impacts (NSE 2007, p. 11).
    The Utah Geological Survey (UGS) began evaluating Snake Valley in 
2004, due to concerns over the proposed groundwater development by SNWA 
(UGS 2013, p. 1.2-4). Because monitoring of baseline groundwater 
conditions was relevant to future water-management, the Utah 
Legislature requested UGS to establish a long-term (50+ years) 
groundwater-monitoring network in Snake Valley to determine the 
baseline groundwater conditions and measure changes if future 
groundwater development were to occur (UGS 2013, p. 1.2-4). The well 
network was completed in December 2009. The UGS groundwater-monitoring 
network consists of 60 piezometers (wells open to the aquifers) to 
measure groundwater levels and surface-flow gages to measure spring 
discharge (UGS 2013, Abstract p. 3). The monitoring sites were selected 
adjacent to the Snake Valley portion of the proposed SNWA GWD Project 
and coincide with areas of current agricultural groundwater pumping, 
environmentally sensitive and economically important springs, and along 
possible areas of interbasin flow (UGS 2013, Abstract p. 3).
    Although all SNWA facilities were planned for development in 
Nevada, associated pumping from the Utah-Nevada shared Snake Valley 
Basin (SNWA 2008, p. 1-1) was expected to affect Utah groundwater 
resources and consequently habitats of the least chub (Welch et al. 
2007, p. 82). However, prior to any approved groundwater withdrawals 
from the shared basin, federal legislation (known as the Lincoln County 
Conservation, Recreation, and Development Act of 2004) requires that 
the two States shall reach an agreement regarding the division of the 
water sources prior to any transbasin diversion (Pub. L. 108-424, 118 
Stat. 2403, sec. 301(e)(3), November 30, 2004). To date, no agreement 
between Utah and Nevada has been signed. Thus, there are significant 
procedural hurdles to overcome before large-scale groundwater 
development could occur in the Snake Valley.
    Since the 2010 12-month finding, the Nevada State Engineer (NSE), 
in March 2012, granted groundwater rights to SNWA for Delamar, Dry 
Lake, Cave, and Spring valleys, but not for Snake Valley. However, 
SNWA's approved groundwater rights require pipeline development and 
conveyance of the water from these east-central Nevada valleys to 
southern Nevada, across BLM land. The BLM published a record of 
decision (ROD) in December 2012, authorizing SNWA groundwater 
conveyance across BLM lands in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave, and Spring 
valleys in Nevada, but not Snake Valley, and the amount that can be 
conveyed is limited to 83,988 afy (BLM 2012b, p. 36). Thus, the SNWA 
GWD Project is not currently authorized to develop groundwater from the 
Snake Valley.
    The BLM's ROD and final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for 
the SNWA GWD Project described hydrological model simulations that were 
developed to evaluate the probable long-term effects of groundwater 
withdrawal from the project and selected alternative on a regional 
scale (BLM 2012b, p. 16; Service 2014c, entire). The model evaluated 
predicted drawdowns across three time series; at full build-out, full 
build-out plus 75 years, and full build-out plus 200 years. Comparison 
of the simulation results for the three points in time indicates that 
the drawdown area continues to progressively expand as pumping 
continues into the future (BLM 2012a, p. 3.3-179; BLM 2012b, pp. 16, 
17). However, even at full build-out, the drawdown areas are localized 
in the vicinity of the pumping wells in central and southern Spring 
Valley, southern Cave Valley, and Dry Lake Valley; drawdown in excess 
of 10 feet would not occur in the Snake Valley (BLM 2012a, p. 3.3-179).
    At the full build-out plus 75 years timeframe, there are two 
distinct drawdown areas (BLM 2012a, p. 3.3-184). The northern drawdown 
area encompasses most of the valley floor in Spring Valley, and extends 
into northern Hamlin Valley and along the southwest margin of Snake 
Valley (BLM 2012a, p. 3.3-184). The Snake Valley least chub populations 
are located in the northeast portion of Snake Valley and would be 
approximately 32-40 km (20-25 mi) from the edge of the drawdown area, 
reasonably considered to be beyond the distance where the least chub 
habitat would be affected. The southern drawdown area extends across 
the Delamar, Dry Lake, and Cave valleys in a north-south direction (BLM 
2012a, p. 3.3-184) where least chub do not occur. By the full build-out 
plus 200 years timeframe, the two drawdown areas merge into one that 
extends approximately 305 km (190 mi) in a north-south direction and up 
to 80 km (50 mi) in an east-west direction, flanking the southwestern 
edge of the Snake Valley basin (BLM 2012a, p. 3.3-184). In this 
scenario, the drawdown area is still approximately 24-32 km (15-20 mi) 
from the closest least chub population in Snake Valley, which we 
consider to be beyond the distance where least chub habitat would be 
affected, because pumping generally

[[Page 51054]]

only affects groundwater levels in monitoring wells up to 8 km (5 mi) 
from their pumping center, based on localized pumping information (UGS 
2013, p. 5.3.7-35) (see ``Localized Pumping in Snake Valley,'' below). 
In short, the selected alternative shows no drawdowns in the vicinity 
of the Snake Valley least chub populations, even 200 years after full 
build-out.
    Because these drawdown predictions are based on groundwater models, 
there are intrinsic limitations that should be considered with any 
interpretive effort. The model may underestimate groundwater drawdowns 
because it was developed for regional scale analysis and does not 
consider changes in groundwater elevation of less than 3 meters (m) (10 
feet (ft)) (BLM 2012a, p. 3.3-87). Thus, the geographical extent of 
groundwater drawdown could be greater than what is presented in the 
analysis, and the extent and timing of these effects could vary among 
springs, based on their distance from extraction sites and location 
relative to regional groundwater flow paths (Patten et al. 2007, pp. 
398-399). Despite these limitations, this model is the most advanced 
analysis currently available to evaluate pumping impacts from the SNWA 
GWD Project, and any modeled impacts would have to increase by 24-32 km 
(15-20 mi) to reach habitat occupied by least chub 200 years after full 
build-out; we consider this level of disparity to be unlikely. In 
addition, the UGS monitoring well network (see the beginning of the 
``Current Status of Large-Scale Snake Valley Groundwater Pumping'' 
section) will be used to evaluate groundwater drawdowns and changes in 
spring discharge rates within the vicinity of the Snake Valley least 
chub populations. Because SNWA has agreed to avoid and mitigate for any 
impacts to least chub and their habitat in the 2014 CCA amendment (LCCT 
2014, p. 20), it is anticipated that UGS monitoring data will be used 
to initiate discussions to change groundwater pumping if impacts are 
found to occur (as described in more detail below).
    Although the BLM authorized the SNWA GWD Project conveyance for all 
valleys except Snake Valley, and water rights for those valleys were 
granted by NSE, on December 10, 2013, the Seventh Judicial District 
Court in Nevada heard petitions and remanded the NSE orders that 
granted the water rights to SNWA in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave, and Spring 
valleys (Seventh Judicial District Court, Nevada 2013, p. 1). The 
Court, through the remand, has required the following: Recalculation of 
water available from the respective basins; additional hydrological 
study of Delamar, Dry Lake and Cave valleys; and establishment of 
standards for mitigation in the event of a conflict with existing water 
rights or unreasonable effects to the environment or the public 
interest (Seventh Judicial District Court, Nevada 2013, pp. 1, 2). It 
is unclear how the requirements by the courts will operate in 
conjunction with the stipulated agreement and how the NSE will define 
standards, thresholds, and triggers for mitigation. With these 
uncertainties, the SNWA GWD Project in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave, and 
Spring valleys will likely be delayed until further analysis is 
completed.
    In summary, the SNWA GWD project was not approved for Snake Valley, 
the location of known least chub populations. Drawdowns from pumping in 
Spring Valley, if it occurs, are not anticipated to affect least chub 
populations even 200 years following full build-out, based on the best 
available analysis. Recent court decisions have lent uncertainty toward 
the future ability to complete the SNWA Project in Spring Valley, a 
valley outside the historical range of least chub. Based on available 
hydrologic modeling, we do not anticipate that the SNWA GWD project, if 
it occurs, will pose a threat to least chub.
Other Proposed Large-Scale Water Development Projects Within or Near 
Snake Valley
    In our 2010 12-month finding, other large-scale water development 
projects were anticipated or completed, and included: (1) Beaver 
County, Utah, for appropriations in Wah Wah, Pine, and Hamlin valleys 
(UDWRi 2009b, pp. 2, 5, 8); (2) SITLA for up to 9,600 afy from 
underground water wells across the Snake Valley; (3) Central Iron 
County (Utah) Water Conservancy District for appropriations in Hamlin 
Valley, Pine Valley, and Wah Wah valleys (UDWRi 2009a, pp. 2, 12, 23); 
and (4) The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation (located in 
east-central Nevada and west-central Utah) for an increase their Deep 
Creek basin rights (Steele 2008, p. 3).
    To evaluate the potential effects of these four large-scale water 
development projects on least chub and their habitat, we first 
evaluated the project's current water rights status (rejected, pending, 
or approved). Then, if found to be pending or approved, we determined 
if it occurs within the same or a different regional groundwater flow 
system as the Snake Valley least chub populations (i.e., hydrologically 
connected). Lastly, we measured the proximity of the water development 
project to least chub habitat if it was located within the same 
regional groundwater flow system, as distance between groundwater 
development and least chub populations can be an indicator of potential 
impacts, as described below.
    Through their efforts to monitor Snake Valley groundwater with a 
monitoring well network, UGS determined that localized agricultural 
groundwater pumping has the potential to affect groundwater levels in 
monitoring wells up to 8 km (5 mi) from their pumping center, as 
evidenced by a distinct change in monitoring well water level during 
irrigation season (UGS 2013, p. 5.3.7-35). Despite observing this 
relationship between groundwater pumping and distance affected, they 
also found that not all pumping activities within 8 km (5 mi) cause 
changes in monitoring well water levels, as distance from aquifer 
recharge areas, and duration and the intensity of pumping activities 
can be complicating factors (UGS 2013, p. 5.3.7-35). Thus, within an 8-
km (5-mi) distance from groundwater pumping, additional analysis is 
necessary to characterize pumping impacts. Based on this information, 8 
km (5 mi) was considered a reasonable threshold distance of a least 
chub site from a pumping location. If groundwater withdrawal wells were 
located closer than this, either water level trends at the population 
sites or changes in monitoring well water levels near the sites were 
used in our analysis to determine if groundwater pumping was affecting 
least chub population sites (see ``Localized Pumping in Snake Valley,'' 
below, for additional descriptions of monitoring well trends at least 
chub populations sites).
    Our 2010 12-month finding reported that the Beaver County 
applications were rejected by the USE (UDWRi 2009b, pp. 3, 6, 9) and 
that the SITLA water rights were granted in 2005 for 9,600 afy in the 
Snake Valley. This information remains correct, but further analysis 
revealed that the SITLA water rights are for 12 separate wells across 
the Snake Valley: 1 well at Bishop Springs, 1 near Gandy Marsh (6 km (4 
mi)) away from the nearest least chub population), 3 wells north of the 
nearest least chub population (10 km (6 mi) away), and 7 wells south of 
the nearest least chub population (ranging from 30 to 50 km (20 to 30 
mi) away) (UDWRi 2009c, entire; UDWRi 2014c, entire). These wells have 
been active for 9 years, with 2 wells occurring within 8 km (5 mi) of 
least chub habitat. Several of those 9 years overlap with the drawdowns 
experienced at Bishop Springs prior to water right acquisition at the 
site (although a relationship

[[Page 51055]]

cannot be not confirmed). However, since the water right held by UDWR 
was approved in 2008 for instream flows to benefit wildlife at Bishop 
Springs, drawdowns have not occurred at the site, based on annual 
monitoring surveys. Furthermore, the UGS well network has not detected 
drawdowns at the site since piezometer installation in 2009. It is 
certainly possible that withdrawals by SITLA near the site have 
affected Bishop Springs in the past, but the water right held by UDWR 
providing instream flow has maintained suitable flows for least chub at 
the site since its acquisition in 2008.
    Central Iron County water rights hearings were held in 2010, but 
the applications remain unapproved by USE (UDWRi 2014c, p. 1-9). It is 
uncertain when or if the water rights will be approved. However, the 
locations of the appropriations are in Hamlin Valley, Pine Valley, and 
Wah Wah valleys (UDWRi 2014c, p. 1-9). Pine and Wah Wah valleys are 
adjacent to, and are within the same regional groundwater flow system 
(Great Salt Lake Desert (GSLD) system) as Snake Valley, but the 
hydrological connection to Snake Valley or its least chub populations 
is not clear (Welch et al. 2007, p. 5). However, Hamlin Valley is 
hydrologically connected to Snake Valley in the south (Welch et al. 
2007, p. 5), but the northernmost Central Iron County water right 
application site is nearly 160 km (100 mi) south of the nearest least 
chub population, which is reasonably considered to be beyond the 
distance where the least chub habitat would be affected.
    The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation application from 
the Deep Creek Valley remains unapproved due to numerous protests, 
associated hearings, and the application is currently being 
reconsidered by USE (UDWRi 2014c, pp. 10-14). Deep Creek Valley is 
adjacent to Snake Valley, but is part of Goshute Valley regional 
groundwater flow system, which is not connected to Snake Valley or its 
associated GSLD regional flow system (Welch et al. 2007, p. 5). Thus, 
we do not expect that any potential approval and use of these water 
rights would impact least chub sites because the rights would be 
located in a different regional groundwater flow system and no least 
chub populations are located within this other groundwater system.
    In summary, current and proposed large groundwater development 
acquisitions, including SITLA, Central Iron County, and the 
Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, are not noticeably 
causing drawdowns, are located more than 8 km (5 mi) from the nearest 
least chub populations, or are not hydrologically connected to the 
regional flow system of the Snake Valley, respectively, and thus not 
anticipated to impact least chub populations in the Snake Valley.
Localized Pumping in Snake Valley
    Smaller, localized groundwater development has the potential to 
decrease flow from springs, including those supporting least chub. In 
our 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398), we concluded that agricultural 
pumping, combined with drought, has affected several springs in Snake 
Valley. These include Knoll Spring near the agricultural town of 
Eskdale and springs on private properties in the agricultural town of 
Callao (Sabey 2008, p. 2). These sites were all historically documented 
locations of least chub that no longer harbor the species (Hickman 
1989, pp. 16-17; Garland 2007, pers. comm.).
    Since the publication of our 2010 12-month finding, UGS conducted 
extensive research of ground and surface water hydrology in Snake 
Valley. UGS found that groundwater-level hydrographs at monitoring 
sites in the UGS study area vary according to distance from areas of 
groundwater pumping and by their distance from recharge areas (UGS 
2013, p. 5.3.7-35). Groundwater levels at sites within about 8 km (5 
mi) of agricultural areas can show seasonal response to groundwater 
pumping, if pumping is severe enough to cause declines (UGS 2013, p. 
5.3.7-35).
    The UGS found that groundwater levels near spring heads naturally 
fluctuate by up to 0.9 m (3 ft) per year in response to seasonal 
changes in evapotranspiration rates, but that they are not declining 
from year to year (UGS 2013, Abstract p. 3). For spring-gradient sites 
near least chub populations, groundwater levels in the piezometers 
naturally fluctuated by about 0.15-0.91 m (0.5 to 3 ft) seasonally, 
with lowest levels during the summer months and highest levels during 
the late winter/early spring months, in response to evapotranspiration 
in the spring-fed wetlands ecosystems that are supported by the spring 
flow and not from groundwater withdrawals (UGS 2013, p. 5.3.4-26).
    We analyzed the number of local wells in the vicinity of Snake 
Valley least chub populations to determine how local groundwater 
pumping may be affecting the species. Because UGS determined that 
localized agricultural groundwater pumping can affect groundwater 
levels in monitoring wells up to 8 km (5 mi) from their pumping center, 
as evidenced by a distinct change in monitoring well water level during 
irrigation season (UGS 2013, p. 5.3.7-35), we used this measure to 
identify our analysis area. The number of water rights within this 
distance of the Snake Valley least chub sites were evaluated.
    Although there are several wells and spring withdrawals near least 
chub sites, including one new well in 2012 (Jorgensen 2014c, entire), 
in general, the Snake Valley least chub population sites show stable 
groundwater levels since piezometer installations in 2009 (Hurlow 2013, 
pers. comm.), with the exception of Gandy Marsh. Unlike the sites to 
the north (Leland and Miller) and to the south (Bishop), the Gandy 
piezometers showed a slight downward trend. Gandy's downward trend is 
likely due to natural cyclic climatic variation and not agricultural 
withdrawals, similar to the trends seen in the UGS remote sites which 
are not influenced by local pumping; thus Gandy Marsh is not influenced 
by local pumping and is only showing a slight downward trend due to 
climatic variation, like the trends exhibited at the remote monitoring 
sites which are not influenced by pumping (Taylor and Alley, 2001, pp . 
15-16 in UGS 2013, p. 5.3.7-31; Hurlow 2013, pers. comm.). To date, UGS 
has not detected effects of irrigation pumping and drawdowns at these 
least chub sites due to the current pumping activities, but UGS should 
be able to detect future changes (if they do occur) through the 
monitoring well network currently in place (UGS 2013, p. 5.1-1). Not 
only have the Bishop Springs and Gandy Marsh sites been able to provide 
sufficient habitat and maintained stable numbers of least chub, but 
they also have existing water rights held by the BLM and UDWR (UDWRi 
2014b, p. 1-8) that provide additional water for least chub beyond the 
natural flows supplied from the on-site springs (totaling 3.0 cfs per 
site) (UDWR 2013a, entire; UDWR 2013b, entire).
    Current allocated water rights for the entire Snake Valley are 
12,000 afy in Nevada and 55,000 afy in Utah (including 20,000 afy 
reserved for the Service's water rights for Fish Springs National 
Wildlife Refuge) (UGS 2013, pp. 9.2-1,2). Sustainable yield 
calculations (as outlined in the original draft interstate agreement, 
referenced above, which remains unsigned), would include new 
development of 35,000 afy in Nevada and 6,000 afy in Utah, if the 
maximum allowed development were to occur (UGS 2013, p. 9.2-1,2). Thus 
an additional 6,000 afy could be developed in Utah's Snake Valley and 
not exceed the USE calculated sustainable yield.

[[Page 51056]]

    The UGS suggests that based on the distribution of recent water 
rights applications, most of the new groundwater development would 
likely occur in central and southern Snake Valley (UGS 2013, p. 9.2-2). 
Most of the current use is for irrigation in south-central Snake Valley 
near Garrison and Eskdale, Utah, and Baker, Nevada, and in southern 
Snake Valley in Nevada and Utah (UGS 2013, p. 9.2-2). Because the Snake 
Valley least chub populations are located in the northeast portion of 
the valley and would be approximately 30 to 50 km (20 to 30 mi) from 
these agricultural areas, it is unlikely that these withdrawals would 
impact the least chub Snake Valley populations, but UGS should be able 
to detect future changes (if they do occur) through the monitoring well 
network currently in place (UGS 2013, p. 5.1-1).
Summary of Water Withdrawal and Diversion
    Least chub populations occur within several groundwater basins in 
Utah, where 25 percent occur in basins closed to groundwater withdrawal 
(natural and introduced), 25 percent occur in restricted basins, and 50 
percent occur in basins open to unrestricted groundwater withdrawal. 
Eighty percent of all these populations have secured water rights, 
which provide onsite water available for the least chub. Those without 
water rights occur in closed basins (Mona Springs, Mills Valley) that 
provide protection from additional groundwater withdrawals, or are in 
basins where groundwater levels are monitored (i.e., Leland Harris in 
Snake Valley monitored by UGS wells). We have also concluded that the 
SNWA GWD Project will not impact least chub populations due to the 
exclusion of Snake Valley (and its least chub populations) from 
authorizations and modeling that demonstrates Spring Valley water 
withdrawals will not result in drawdowns near the Snake Valley least 
chub populations. In addition, data from UGS do not suggest that there 
are impacts from local pumping on least chub populations in the Snake 
Valley. Overall, based on updated information, water withdrawal and 
diversion are not considered a threat to the least chub.
Drought
    In our 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398), we concluded that 
drought was not a threat on its own, but was a threat to the least chub 
when considered cumulatively with water withdrawals. Prolonged droughts 
have primary and secondary effects on groundwater resources. Decreased 
precipitation leads to decreased recharge of aquifers. Decreased 
surface-water resources generally lead to increased groundwater 
withdrawal and increased requests for water-well construction permits 
(Hutson et al. 2004, p. 40; Burden 2009, p. 2). Past and future 
climatic conditions (see ``Climate Change'' section under Factor E) 
influence the water available to both water development and aquatic 
habitats, with water development usually taking priority.
    The impacts to least chub habitat from drought can include: 
Reduction in habitat carrying capacity; lack of connectivity resulting 
in isolation of habitats and resources; alteration of physical and 
chemical properties of the habitat, such as temperature, oxygen, and 
pollutants; vegetation changes; niche overlap resulting in 
hybridization, competition, and predation; and reduced size and 
reproductive output (Alley et al. 1999, pp. 41, 43; Deacon 2007, pp. 1-
2). These impacts are similar to those associated with water withdrawal 
and diversions, as described under Factor A.
    Least chub have survived for thousands of years with intermittent 
natural drought conditions. As described in our 2010 12-month finding 
(75 FR 35398), the effects of drought were considered a threat because 
we were concerned that ongoing and proposed large-scale water 
withdrawals would exacerbate impacts to the least chub. The cumulative 
impact of drought and water development for irrigation has led to the 
loss of springs in the Snake Valley, including those on the Bagley and 
Garland Ranches (Garland 2007, pers. comm.).
    However, we no longer conclude that drought is a threat to the 
least chub in combination with water withdrawals because of changes to 
our understanding of water withdrawals, and ongoing conservation 
actions and amendments in the 2014 CCA. As described above (see ``Water 
Withdrawal and Diversion''), the Snake Valley was recently excluded 
from the SNWA GWD Project, so that project is not anticipated to result 
in drawdowns at Snake Valley least chub sites. In addition, there is 
only slow development of groundwater in the vicinity of the Snake 
Valley least chub sites and most sites maintain secure water rights or 
are located in closed basins. Conservation actions in the 2014 CCA 
amendment also moderate the effects of drought by ensuring connectivity 
within sites and prioritizing for restoration or habitat modification, 
so that habitat corridors remain open for least chub (see discussions 
in Previous and Ongoing Conservation Efforts and Future Conservation 
Efforts sections, above). Therefore, drought is not considered a threat 
to the species.
Summary of Factor A
    At this time, based on best available information, and the addition 
of successful introduced populations, past conservation actions and 
anticipated conservation actions under the 2014 CCA amendment, and new 
information concerning the future of water development in the Snake and 
Spring valleys, we conclude that livestock grazing, mining, oil and gas 
leasing and exploration, urban and suburban development, water 
withdrawal and diversion, and drought do not pose a threat to least 
chub. Although loss of habitat from urban development and groundwater 
withdrawals extirpated least chub from all but a fraction of its 
historical range, we find that the present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of the species' habitat or range does not 
pose a threat to the species now or in the future.

Factor B. Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes was not considered a threat to least chub in our 
2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398). Commercial, recreational, 
scientific, and educational utilizations are not common least chub-
related activities, and protections are in place to limit their effect 
on the species. Least chub are considered a ``prohibited'' species 
under Utah's Collection Importation and Possession of Zoological 
Animals Rule (R-657-3-1), which makes it unlawful to collect or possess 
least chub without a permit. Between 2002 and 2010, two permits were 
issued by UDWR for survey of least chub in the wild, and all least chub 
collected under the permits were released unharmed (Wilson 2009b, p. 
1). No new permits have been issued since 2010 (Mellon 2014, pers. 
comm.). Use of least chub for scientific or educational purposes is 
also controlled by UDWR, and the agency typically provides least chub 
from fish hatchery stocks for these purposes (Wilson 2009b, pp. 1-4; 
Mellon 2014, pers. comm.). The UDWR has collected least chub from the 
natural and introduced populations (an average of 528 per year combined 
for all populations for the last 17 years) to augment hatchery stocks 
or for transfer to new or existing introduced sites (UDWR 2014, 
entire). We are aware of no evidence that least chub are being 
illegally collected for commercial or recreational purposes.

[[Page 51057]]

Summary of Factor B
    Least chub are not being overutilized for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes. Least chub that are needed for 
research purposes can be provided from fish hatchery stocks. A limited 
number of least chub are collected from wild populations for hatchery 
augmentation or for translocation purposes, but the available 
information does not indicate that this causes a threat to extant 
populations now or in the foreseeable future. We find that 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes is not a threat to the species now or likely to 
become so in the future.

Factor C. Disease or Predation

    In our 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398), we concluded that 
nonnative fish predation of least chub was a threat to the continued 
existence of the species because least chub rarely persist where 
nonnative fishes are introduced (Osmundson 1985, p. 2; Hickman 1989, 
pp. 2-3, 9). The species is tolerant of broad natural habitat 
conditions and is well adapted to persist in the extreme, yet natural, 
environments of springs and playa marshes of the Bonneville Basin, but 
they are not an effective competitor with nonnative species (Lamarra 
1981, p. 1) and are constantly at risk of the introduction and presence 
of nonnative fish (Hickman 1989, p. 10).
    The mosquitofish is the most detrimental invasive fish to least 
chub (Perkins et al. 1998, p. 23; Mills et al. 2004b, entire). 
Mosquitofish prey on the eggs and smaller size classes of least chub 
and compete with adults and young (Mills et al. 2004b, p. 713). The 
presence of mosquitofish changes least chub behavior and habitat use 
because young least chub retreat to heavily vegetated, cooler habitats 
in an effort to seek cover from predation. In these less optimal 
environments, they have to compete with small mosquitofish that also 
are seeking refuge from adult mosquitofish. This predatory refuge 
scenario, in turn, affects survivorship and growth of least chub young-
of-year (Mills et al. 2004b, pp. 716-717).
    Mosquitofish tolerate an extensive range of environmental 
conditions and have high reproductive potential (Pyke 2008, pp. 171, 
173). The ecological impact of introduced mosquitofish is well 
documented. Mosquitofish profoundly alter ecosystem function, and cause 
declines of native amphibians and small fish (Alcaraz and Garcia-
Berthou 2007, pp. 83-84; Pyke 2008, pp. 180-181). The mosquitofish is 
native only to the southern United States and northern Mexico, but was 
introduced into more than 50 countries (Garc[iacute]a-Berthou et al. 
2005, p. 453) to control mosquito populations (Pyke 2008, p. 172).
    Mosquito abatement districts throughout Utah have released 
mosquitofish for mosquito control since 1931 (Radant 2002, p. 2), and 
the mosquitofish has expanded into aquatic ecosystems throughout Utah 
(Sigler and Sigler 1996, pp. 227-229). However, UDWR successfully 
persuaded the mosquito abatement districts in Utah to restrict stocking 
of mosquitofish for the protection of least chub through a signed MOU 
established in 2002 (Hines et al. 2008, p. 25). Despite this protective 
measure, mosquitofish are present in Mills Valley and Mona Springs. In 
the fall of 2013, several mosquitofish individuals were detected during 
annual sampling at Mills Valley. The likely source is overland sheet 
flow from the Sevier River during a recent flood event; however, they 
are not expected to be widespread yet (LCCT 2013c, entire), and UDWR 
will implement a population-wide assessment and removal effort in 2014. 
At Mona Springs, extensive chemical poisoning and mechanical efforts to 
remove mosquitofish were largely unsuccessful until recently. In 2013, 
least chub recruitment was documented at Mona Springs, following 
barrier installation and mosquitofish removal from isolated springheads 
(Grover and Crockett 2014, p. 2). These results are promising; however, 
long-term monitoring of this effort will be needed to determine if Mona 
Springs can successfully sustain least chub without further 
intervention. Despite the fact that mosquitofish are present at Mills 
Valley and Mona Springs, mosquitofish are not yet fully established at 
the Mills Valley site and the least chub population remains viable, and 
the mosquitofish removal and restoration efforts in 2013 at Mona 
Springs have shown positive results, suggesting that it may become a 
viable self-sustaining least chub population site in the near future, 
after several more years of successful least chub reproduction are 
documented.
    Other nonnative fishes predate upon and compete with least chub 
when present in high enough densities. Rainwater killifish (Lucania 
parva) and plains killifish (Fundulus zebrinus) were illegally 
introduced into least chub habitats by unknown entities at an unknown 
time (Perkin et al. 1998, p. 23). These fish are potential competitors 
with the least chub because they are closely related to mosquitofish 
and have similar life histories and habitat requirements (Perkins et 
al. 1998, p. 23). Introduced game fishes, including largemouth bass 
(Micropterus salmoides), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and brook 
trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), are predators of least chub, and these 
species are present in both native and introduced least chub habitats 
(Workman et al. 1979, pp. 1-2, 136; Osmundson 1985, p. 2; Sigler and 
Sigler 1987, p. 183; Crist 1990, p. 5). Common carp, in high densities, 
reduce submerged aquatic vegetation (Parkos et al. 2003, p. 187). 
Aquatic vegetation is preferred least chub-spawning habitat, and it 
provides the eggs, larvae, and young with oxygen, food, and cover 
(Crawford 1979, p. 74; Crist and Holden 1980, p. 808). As explained 
below, Clear Lake and Mills Valley least chub populations are currently 
sympatric with nonnative fishes.
    Clear Lake is an expansive habitat that allows least chub to 
coexist with nonnative fishes. Common carp are present in Clear Lake 
(Hines et al. 2008, p. 43, Mellon 2011, p. 5), and UDWR has implemented 
carp removal efforts in Clear Lake, successfully reducing the carp 
densities, but efforts to fully extirpate carp are still ongoing 
(Wheeler 2011, pp. 1-2; UDWR 2013a, p. III-6).
    The habitat in Mills Valley is a system of seasonally 
interconnected springs and wetlands that drain into the Sevier River 
(UDWR 2010, p. II-7). During spring flooding events least chub habitats 
are periodically connected to other habitat within the Mills Valley 
(UDWR 2006, p. 27). Nonnative green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), which 
is a voracious predator, and fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) 
(Sigler and Sigler 1987, p. 306) invaded least chub habitat at the 
Mills Valley in 2005 (Hines et al. 2008, p. 43; UDWR 2006, pp. 36-37) 
and spread throughout the wetland complex by 2007 (UDWR 2010, p. II-7). 
Nonnative fish, as a percentage of the fish community in the area, 
declined annually from 64 percent in 2007, to less than 1 percent in 
2009 (UDWR 2010, p. II-16), and although it is not clear why, it is 
possibly due to their use of shallower habitats that ice over in winter 
(least chub overwinter in deeper habitats) that provide unsuitable 
habitat conditions for them in some years (UDWR 2013a, p. II-8). Thus, 
the severity of this threat appears to be minimal at this time, based 
on the best available information.
    Although nonnative fish numbers in least chub habitat declined from 
2007 to 2009 (UDWR 2010, p. II-16), the potential for nonnative 
reinvasion during unusually high spring flooding events continues to 
impact the Mills Valley least chub population. In light of this, the 
2014 CCA amendment requires

[[Page 51058]]

the drafting of a nonnative fish management plan by the spring of 2015, 
to address nonnative fish presence and removal efforts at both Mills 
Valley and Mona Springs least chub populations.
    Overall, nonnative fish occur at three of the six naturally 
occurring least chub populations (Clear Lake WMA, Mills Valley, and 
Mona Springs). Mosquitofish are only present at two of the six 
naturally occurring sites: Mills Valley and Mona Springs. Efforts are 
ongoing to reduce the impacts of nonnative species at the naturally 
occurring least chub sites, and we are seeing recent successes. 
However, if nonnative species persist and continue to negatively impact 
the naturally occurring sites, the recent successful establishment of 
introduced least chub populations helps to mediate any concerns for the 
species because the introduced least chub populations are not 
negatively affected by nonnative species, as described below.
    Nonnative species are present in only 2 of the 10 introduced least 
chub populations (Fitzgerald WMA and Rosebud Top Pond; see Table 1, 
above). The introduced population criteria specifically require that 
for any introduction to become successful, no nonnatives be present or 
present only in low numbers and of species types that do not impact 
least chub. Mosquitofish are not present in any of the 10 introduced 
populations. The populations have remained stable at the two sites 
where nonnative fishes co-exist, in low numbers, with least chub. Based 
on the successful establishment of the introduced sites, nonnative 
species are not considered a threat to these populations. By including 
these 10 introduced populations in conjunction with the naturally 
occurring populations, the overall threat to the species is reduced 
because these populations allow us to mitigate the potential that some 
least chub sites may become unable to support the species over time due 
to nonnative fish predation pressures. By protecting a variety of 
habitats and establishing introduced populations throughout the 
species' historical range, we increase the probability that the species 
can adjust in the future to various limiting factors that may affect 
the population.
    Disease and parasitism have not affected least chub to a 
significant degree. Although the parasite blackspot (Neascus cuticola) 
was present at the Leland Harris Spring Complex site during 1977-78, 
all least chub were robust and in good condition (Workman et al. 1979, 
pp. 2, 103-107). More recently, the parasite was identified in least 
chub at the Bishop Springs site (Wheeler et al. 2004, p. 5). Although 
we have no information that allows us to determine the effect of 
blackspot on least chub at the Bishop Springs site, the population has 
remained stable for the past 15 years (Hines et al. 2008, pp. 37-39, 
Peterson and Saenz, p. 69). As described in our 2010 12-month finding, 
parasites exist in least chub habitats and some least chub are known to 
harbor parasites, but we do not have scientific information that the 
presence of parasites pose a threat to individual least chub or least 
chub populations. At this time, the best available information does not 
indicate that the presence of parasites or disease poses a threat to 
the least chub now nor is likely to in the future.
Summary of Factor C
    Least chub are unlikely to persist in the presence of mosquitofish 
without human intervention. Mosquitofish prey upon least chub eggs and 
young and compete with least chub for food items, which can result in 
the decline and eventual elimination of least chub populations. 
Mosquitofish have already caused the extirpation of several least chub 
populations. The stocking of mosquitofish into least chub habitat by 
State mosquito abatement programs is addressed by an MOU that regulates 
this practice. However, removing mosquitofish from aquatic habitats has 
only recently proven successful, and they continue to invade new sites 
on a limited basis. Disease and parasites are not known to pose a 
threat to least chub populations.
    Overall, we have determined that two of the six least chub 
naturally occurring populations (Mona Springs and possibly Mills 
Valley, if mosquitofish successfully establish) are impacted by the 
presence of nonnative fish species, which are currently being addressed 
through the 2014 CCA amendment conservation actions. However, 
establishment of the 10 introduced populations mitigates the potential 
that some least chub sites may become unable to support the species at 
some point in the future due to nonnative fish predation pressures. 
Based on the best scientific and commercial information available to 
us, we conclude that nonnative fish predation of least chub is not a 
threat to the least chub now nor is likely to become so in the future.

Factor D. Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    In our 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398), we concluded that the 
existing regulatory mechanisms related specifically to land management 
were sufficient for mitigating potential threats to least chub, but 
regulatory mechanisms were not in place to adequately protect the 
species from groundwater withdrawal. We now find that regulatory 
mechanisms related specifically to water management are sufficient for 
mitigating potential threats to the least chub. The LCCT (comprised of 
various agencies that implement conservation actions for least chub) 
has successfully worked with the partners to establish protective 
mechanisms on most of the existing natural and introduced populations 
of least chub, including land acquisitions, easements, instream flows, 
and establishment of an ACEC that precludes oil and gas development. 
Furthermore, the changes to the SNWA GWD Project and the 2014 CCA 
amendment that adds conservation actions to address Snake Valley 
groundwater development addresses threats to the species.
    Regulatory mechanisms affecting the species fall into three general 
categories: (1) Land and water management; (2) State mechanisms; and 
(3) Federal mechanisms.
Land and Water Management
    Land Management--Populations of least chub are distributed across 
private, BLM, SITLA, Mitigation Commission, and UDWR lands, and are 
protected by varying regulatory mechanisms depending on land ownership. 
The percentages of managed lands and those under landowner or other 
protective agreements are shown in Table 3, below, and the details of 
each natural population are further described in our 2010 12-month 
finding (75 FR 35398). The introduced populations are described in the 
2014 CCA amendment (LCCT 2014, entire; UDWR 2013b, entire). Table 3 
shows that 82 percent of all populations have the majority (67 percent 
to 100 percent) of their habitat either managed specifically for least 
chub by State or Federal agencies or managed for least chub by 
agreements, and that 12 of 16 populations have 100 percent of their 
habitat either managed by State or Federal agencies or managed by 
agreements with private landowners.
    Water Management--Populations of least chub are distributed across 
a suite of groundwater basins with various levels of groundwater 
policies and regulations by UDWRi (i.e., open, closed, or restricted), 
with varying associated protections (see the ``Current Groundwater 
Policy and Management'' section, above). Each groundwater basin status 
by site is described above under Factor A, with 25 percent of natural 
and introduced least chub populations occurring in closed basins, 25 
percent occurring in restricted basins, and 50

[[Page 51059]]

percent occurring in open basins. Of these, 80 percent of all the 
populations have water rights providing water available at the site for 
least chub (held by various entities, including BLM, UDWR, Utah State 
Parks, local government, Department of Defense, and private 
landowners), regardless of their groundwater basin status, thus 
providing stable water sources for the least chub populations at these 
sites. Populations of least chub without water rights either occur in 
closed basins (Mona Springs, Mills Valley), or are located in a basin 
that monitors groundwater levels (i.e., Leland Harris in Snake Valley 
monitored by UGS wells). Upon closure of a basin, no additional 
appropriations can be issued by the Utah State Engineer per the 
statutory requirements set forth under Utah Code (title 73, chapter 3, 
sections 1 and 8; and title 73, chapter 4, section 1); thus, basin 
closures provide regulatory protection from additional groundwater 
withdrawals. Overall, 94 percent of the populations have regulatory 
mechanisms that secure water for the site (water rights) or protect 
against additional withdrawals as enforced by UDWRi (closed basin 
status). Thus, we find that the existing regulatory mechanisms are 
adequate to protect the species from threats due to groundwater 
withdrawals.

  Table 3--Land Ownership and Percent of Natural and Introduced Least Chub Habitat Managed by State or Federal
                          Agencies, Managed Under an Agreement, or Not Managed, by Site
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                         Percent occupied habitat
                                                        --------------------------------------------------------
               Site                   Land ownership      Managed by state
                                                             or federal       Managed under       Not managed
                                                              agencies          agreements
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mona Springs.....................  Mitigation                          100  .................  .................
                                    Commission.
Mills Valley.....................  UDWR, private.......                 20  .................                 80
Clear Lake WMA...................  UDWR................                100  .................  .................
Leland Harris Complex............  BLM, private, UDWR..                 33                 67  .................
Gandy Marsh......................  BLM, SITLA, private.                 80              \1\19                  1
Bishop Springs...................  BLM, private, SITLA.                 47  .................             \2\ 53
Fitzgerald WMA...................  UDWR................                100  .................  .................
Rosebud Top Pond.................  Private.............  .................                100  .................
Cluster Springs..................  BLM.................                100  .................  .................
Pilot Spring SE..................  BLM.................                100  .................  .................
Escalante Elementary.............  Local Govt..........  .................                100  .................
Upper Garden Creek...............  State Parks.........                100  .................  .................
Deseret Depot....................  Dept. of Defense....  .................                100  .................
Red Knolls Pond..................  BLM.................                100  .................  .................
Keg Spring.......................  BLM.................                100  .................  .................
Pilot Spring.....................  BLM.................                100  .................  .................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Under voluntary, informal agreement between landowner and UDWR.
\2\ 100 percent of springs are fenced from grazing per agreements with SITLA, but lands are not actively managed
  by SITLA.

(2) State Regulatory Mechanisms
    Least chub are considered ``prohibited'' species under the Utah 
Collection Importation and Possession of Zoological Animals Rule (Utah 
Code 657-3), making them unlawful to collect or possess. Thus, the 
species receives regulatory protection from unauthorized collection and 
take. While its classification is not a regulatory mechanism, the least 
chub is classified in the State of Utah Wildlife Action Plan as a Tier 
1 Sensitive Species, a status that includes federally listed species 
and species for which a conservation agreement was completed and 
implemented (Bailey et al. 2005, p. 3).
    Introduced nonnative fishes for mosquito abatement and game-fishing 
purposes can be detrimental to the persistence of least chub (see 
Factor C discussion). The primary mode of historical mosquitofish 
introduction into least chub habitats was through the actions of Utah's 
Mosquito Abatement Districts, which used mosquitofish for vector 
control (Radant 2002, entire; see Factor C for detailed discussion). 
Under the authority of 657-16 of the Utah Code, the 2003 Policy for 
Fish Stocking and Transfer Procedures does not allow stocking of 
nonnative fishes, including mosquitofish, into aquatic habitats without 
appropriate documentation and certification. This Statewide policy 
specifies protocols for the introduction of nonnative species into Utah 
waters and states that all stocking actions must be consistent with 
ongoing recovery and conservation actions for State of Utah sensitive 
species, including least chub. This policy is not expected to change in 
the future. Thus, this policy provides adequate regulation in the 
prevention of the primary mode of mosquitofish introduction in least 
chub sites.
    The State of Utah operates under the 2008 Utah Aquatic Invasive 
Species Interdiction Act (Aquatic Invasive Species Act), per title 23, 
chapter 27 of the Utah Code (and Rule 657-60), which was developed to 
prevent the movement of aquatic invasive species, including quagga 
mussels (Dreissena sp.), zebra mussels (Dreissena sp.), and mud snails 
(Potamopyrgus sp.) during fish transfer operations (UDWR 2009a, 
entire). Under the Aquatic Invasive Species Act, a control plan is 
required by UDWR and must include notification and evaluation of water 
sources being considered for fish transfers, fish health inspections, 
and completion of an updated hazard analysis and critical control point 
plan. The Aquatic Invasive Species Act should help reduce the 
probability of additional aquatic invasive species introductions to 
least chub habitats.
    Regulatory mechanisms that relate to historical groundwater 
withdrawal are implemented through the USE through the UDWRi, as 
described in Factor A, ``Water Withdrawal and Diversion'' section, and 
the Factor D, ``Land and Water Management'' section, above. Groundwater 
withdrawal in the Snake Valley for future municipal development by SNWA 
or other potentially interested parties is subject to both Federal and 
State regulatory processes (Lincoln County Conservation Recreation and 
Development Act (LCCRDA) and Utah Code 73-3, 73-4, respectively). 
Therefore, we find that the State regulatory mechanisms in existence 
adequately protect the least

[[Page 51060]]

chub from the threat of reduction of habitat.
(3) Federal Regulatory Mechanisms
    The major Federal regulatory mechanisms for protection of least 
chub and its habitat are through section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 
U.S.C. 1251 et seq.), the stipulated agreement for Spring Valley, 
Federal Land Policy and Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.) 
(FLPMA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4231 et 
seq.) (NEPA). Additionally, various Executive Orders (E.O. 11990 for 
wetlands, E.O. 11988 for floodplains, and E.O. 13112 for invasive 
species) provide guidance and incentives for Federal land management 
agencies to manage for habitat characteristics essential for least chub 
conservation.
    Least chub population areas contain wetland habitats, and section 
404 of the Clean Water Act regulates fill in wetlands that meet certain 
jurisdictional requirements. Activities that result in fill of 
jurisdictional wetland habitat require a section 404 permit. We can 
review permit applications and provide recommendations to avoid and 
minimize impacts and implement conservation measures for fish and 
wildlife resources, including the least chub. However, incorporation of 
Service recommendations into section 404 permits is at the discretion 
of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, not all activities in 
wetlands involve fill and not all wetlands are ``jurisdictional.'' 
Regardless, we have evaluated threats to the species' habitat where 
fill of wetlands may occur, including peat mining and oil and gas 
development. At this time we do not have information to indicate that 
peat mining and oil and gas development pose a threat to the species.
    As described under Factor A, SNWA and DOI agencies entered into the 
Spring Valley Stipulated Agreement in 2007. The Spring Valley 
Stipulated Agreement requires hydrological and biological monitoring, 
and management and mitigation of unreasonable adverse effects to 
federal resources from SNWA groundwater pumping in Spring Valley (NSE 
2007, entire). For reasons cited previously, we are confident that the 
changes the SNWA GWD Project (which now excludes Snake Valley), UGS 
monitoring, and the 2014 CCA amendment conservation actions will be 
effective in protecting least chub habitat in Snake Valley.
    The Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) is the primary 
Federal law governing most land uses on BLM-administered lands across 
the range of the least chub populations. Section 102(a)(8) of FLPMA 
specifically recognizes wildlife and fish resources as being among the 
uses for which these lands are to be managed. Regulations pursuant to 
FLPMA address wildlife habitat protection on BLM administered land. 
Cumulatively, BLM regulations allow the agency to formally recognize 
sensitive species for special management and protection and include 
them as such in their land management plans. The least chub is 
designated as a sensitive species by the BLM in Utah. The policy in BLM 
Manual 6840--Special Status Species Management (BLM Manual 6840) 
states: ``Consistent with the principles of multiple use and in 
compliance with existing laws, the BLM shall designate sensitive 
species and implement species management plans to conserve these 
species and their habitats and shall ensure that discretionary actions 
authorized, funded, or carried out by the BLM would not result in 
significant decreases in the overall range-wide species population and 
their habitats'' (BLM 2008, p. 10). Similarly, the BLM Manual 1613--
Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) (BLM Manual 1613) allows 
designation of critical areas for the protection of fish and wildlife 
resources and natural processes and systems (BLM 1988, entire). 
Designation of Gandy Marsh as an ACEC closed the area to oil and gas 
leasing by BLM in accordance with the House Resource Management Plan 
(RMP) and provides additional protection for least chub beyond that 
provided by the RMP (BLM 1987, entire; BLM 1993, entire). The RMP is 
BLM's land use decision-making document that provides guidance on 
management decisions for the area, including issuance of grazing 
permits and oil and gas leasing. The RMP specific to the Snake Valley 
populations is expected to be updated in approximately 10 to 15 years. 
Any change to the management direction would be reviewed at the time of 
the update and subject to public comment (BLM 2009a, p. 54).
    The BLM manual 6840 also establishes management policy and 
direction for BLM's continued involvement in the 2014 CCA amendment and 
its membership on the LCCT (LCCT 2014, entire). Furthermore, the BLM, 
through the 2014 CCA amendment, has committed to the continued 
management and protection of least chub and its habitat on BLM lands 
(LCCT 2014, p. 18, 19). Although CCAs are not regulatory mechanisms, 
CCA signatories can implement conservation measures via regulatory 
mechanisms, and the BLM has used its regulatory authority to implement 
the specific protections for the least chub as outlined in the 2014 CCA 
amendment through its ACEC designation and grazing management under the 
RMP (as described above).
    As required through NEPA for federal actions, the BLM published a 
ROD authorizing SNWA groundwater conveyance across BLM lands in 
Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave, and Spring valleys in Nevada, but not Snake 
Valley (as described under Factor A). Thus, the SNWA GWD Project is not 
currently authorized to develop groundwater from the Snake Valley.
    NEPA also has a provision for the Service to assume a cooperating 
agency role for Federal projects undergoing evaluation for significant 
impacts to the human environment. This includes participating in 
updates to BLM's RMPs. As a cooperating agency, we have the opportunity 
to provide recommendations to the action agency to avoid impacts or 
enhance conservation for least chub and its habitat. For projects where 
we are not a cooperating agency, we often review proposed actions and 
provide recommendations to minimize and mitigate impacts to fish and 
wildlife resources.
    Acceptance of our NEPA recommendations is at the discretion of the 
action agency. The BLM land management practices are intended to ensure 
avoidance of negative effects to species whenever possible, while also 
providing for multiple-use mandates; therefore, maintaining or 
enhancing least chub habitat may be considered in conjunction with 
other agency priorities.
Summary of Factor D
    We find that regulatory mechanisms related specifically to land 
management are sufficient for mitigating potential impacts from land 
development to the least chub. BLM has provided protective mechanisms 
in the form of an ACEC at Gandy Marsh. We also retain the ability to 
comment on NEPA evaluations for other projects on BLM lands that may 
impact the least chub.
    The Spring Valley Stipulated Agreement, the lack of trans-basin 
transfer of water resources without an interstate agreement (per 
LCCRDA), the closure of groundwater basins in Utah (Utah Code 73-3, 73-
4), and the exclusion of Snake Valley from the SNWA GWD Project (via 
BLM's ROD) are adequate to sufficiently protect the least chub from 
local or large-scale groundwater withdrawal.

[[Page 51061]]

    As evidenced by the discussion above, the species is adequately 
protected by the existing regulatory mechanisms; thus, we conclude that 
the lack of existing regulatory mechanisms is not a threat to the 
species, now or in the future.

Factor E. Other Natural or Manmade Factors Affecting Its Continued 
Existence

    Our 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398) found that natural and 
manmade threats to the species included: (1) Drought and climate 
change; and (2) cumulative effects of drought, climate change, and 
groundwater withdrawal.
    Our 2010 12-month finding also concluded that hybridization, loss 
of genetic diversity, and stochastic disturbance and population 
isolation were not considered a threat to the least chub. We have no 
information to indicate that those conclusions of our 2010 12-month 
finding should change. While introduced populations were not evaluated 
under these factors in that 12-month finding, the introduced 
populations only serve to enhance the resiliency and redundancy for the 
species should something unanticipated happen to the natural 
populations. Therefore, we conclude again that hybridization, loss of 
genetic diversity, and stochastic disturbance and population isolation 
are not a threat to the species.
Climate Change
    Our analyses under the Act include consideration of environmental 
changes resulting from ongoing and projected changes in climate. The 
terms ``climate'' and ``climate change'' are defined by the 
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The term ``climate'' 
refers to the mean and variability of different types of weather 
conditions over time, with 30 years being a typical period for such 
measurements, although shorter or longer periods also may be used (IPCC 
2007a, p. 78). The term ``climate change'' thus 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, 
typically decades or longer, whether the change is due to natural 
variability, human activity, or both (IPCC 2007a, p. 78).
    Scientific measurements spanning several decades demonstrate that 
changes in climate are occurring, and that the rate of change has been 
faster since the 1950s. Based on extensive analyses of global average 
surface air temperature, the most widely used measure of change, the 
IPCC concluded that warming of the global climate system over the past 
several decades is ``unequivocal'' (IPCC 2007a, p. 2). In other words, 
the IPCC concluded that there is no question that the world's climate 
system is warming.
    Examples of other changes include substantial increases in 
precipitation in some regions of the world and decreases in other 
regions (for these and additional examples, see IPCC 2007a, p. 30; 
Solomon et al. 2007, pp. 35-54, 82-85). Various environmental changes 
(e.g., shifts in the ranges of plant and animal species, increasing 
ground instability in permafrost regions, conditions more favorable to 
the spread of invasive species and of some diseases, changes in amount 
and timing of water availability) are occurring in association with 
changes in climate (IPCC 2007a, pp. 2-4, 30-33).
    Results of scientific analyses presented by the IPCC show that most 
of the observed increase in global average temperature since the mid-
20th century cannot be explained by natural variability in climate and 
is ``very likely'' (defined by the IPCC as 90 percent or higher 
probability) due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) 
concentrations in the atmosphere as a result of human activities, 
particularly carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use (IPCC 2007a, 
pp. 5-6 and figures SPM.3 and SPM.4; Solomon et al. 2007, pp. 21-35). 
Further confirmation of the role of GHGs comes from analyses by Huber 
and Knutti (2011, p. 4), who concluded it is extremely likely that 
approximately 75 percent of global warming since 1950 has been caused 
by human activities.
    Scientists use a variety of climate models, which include 
consideration of natural processes and variability, as well as various 
scenarios of potential levels and timing of GHG emissions, to evaluate 
the causes of changes already observed and to project future changes in 
temperature and other climate conditions (e.g., Meehl et al. 2007, 
entire; Ganguly et al. 2009, pp. 11555, 15558; Prinn et al. 2011, pp. 
527, 529). All combinations of models and emissions scenarios yield 
very similar projections of average global warming until about 2030. 
Although projections of the magnitude and rate of warming differ after 
about 2030, the overall trajectory of all the projections is one of 
increased global warming through the end of this century, even for 
projections based on scenarios that assume that GHG emissions will 
stabilize or decline. Thus, there is strong scientific support for 
projections that warming will continue through the 21st century, and 
that the magnitude and rate of change will be influenced substantially 
by the extent of GHG emissions (IPCC 2007a, pp. 44-45; Meehl et al. 
2007, pp. 760-764; Ganguly et al. 2009, pp. 15555-15558; Prinn et al. 
2011, pp. 527, 529).
    In addition to basing their projections on scientific analyses, the 
IPCC reports projections using a framework for treatment of 
uncertainties (e.g., they define ``very likely'' to mean greater than 
90 percent probability, and ``likely'' to mean greater than 66 percent 
probability; see Solomon et al. 2007, pp. 22-23). Some of the IPCC's 
key projections of global climate and its related effects include: (1) 
It is virtually certain there will be warmer and more frequent hot days 
and nights over most of the earth's land areas; (2) it is very likely 
there will be increased frequency of warm spells and heat waves over 
most land areas; (3) it is very likely that the frequency of heavy 
precipitation events, or the proportion of total rainfall from heavy 
falls, will increase over most areas; and (4) it is likely the area 
affected by droughts will increase, that intense tropical cyclone 
activity will increase, and that there will be increased incidence of 
extreme high sea level (IPCC 2007b, p. 8, Table SPM.2). More recently, 
the IPCC published additional information that provides further insight 
into observed changes since 1950, as well as projections of extreme 
climate events at global and broad regional scales for the middle and 
end of this century (IPCC 2011, entire).
    Various changes in climate may have direct or indirect effects on 
species. These may be positive, neutral, or negative, and they may 
change over time, depending on the species and other relevant 
considerations, such as interactions of climate with other variables 
such as habitat fragmentation (for examples, see Franco et al. 2006; 
IPCC 2007b, pp. 8-14, 18-19; Forister et al. 2010; Galbraith et al. 
2010; Chen et al. 2011). In addition to considering individual species, 
scientists are evaluating possible climate change-related impacts to, 
and responses of, ecological systems, habitat conditions, and groups of 
species; these studies include acknowledgement of uncertainty (e.g., 
Deutsch et al. 2008; Berg et al. 2009; Euskirchen et al. 2009; 
McKechnie and Wolf 2009; Sinervo et al. 2010; Beaumont et al. 2011; 
McKelvey et al. 2011; Rogers and Schindler 2011).
    Many analyses involve elements that are common to climate change 
vulnerability assessments. In relation to climate change, vulnerability 
refers to the degree to which a species (or system) is susceptible to, 
and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including 
climate variability

[[Page 51062]]

and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the type, magnitude, and 
rate of climate change and variation to which a species is exposed, its 
sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity (IPCC 2007a, p. 89; see also 
Glick et al. 2011, pp. 19-22). No single method for conducting such 
analyses applies to all situations (Glick et al. 2011, p. 3). We use 
our expert judgment and appropriate analytical approaches to weigh 
relevant information, including uncertainty, in our consideration of 
various aspects of climate change.
    As is the case with all stressors that we assess, even if we 
conclude that a species is currently affected or is likely to be 
affected in a negative way by one or more climate-related impacts, it 
does not necessarily follow that the species meets the definition of an 
``endangered species'' or a ``threatened species'' under the Act. If a 
species is listed as endangered or threatened, knowledge regarding the 
vulnerability of the species to, and known or anticipated impacts from, 
climate-associated changes in environmental conditions can be used to 
help devise appropriate strategies for its recovery.
    The IPCC predicts that the resiliency of many ecosystems is likely 
to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate 
change, associated disturbances (e.g., flooding, drought, wildfire, and 
insects), and other global drivers (IPCC 2007, pp. 31-33). With medium 
confidence, IPCC predicts that approximately 20 to 30 percent of plant 
and animal species assessed by the IPCC so far are likely to be at an 
increased risk of extinction if increases in global average temperature 
exceed 1.5 to 2.5 [deg]C (3 to 5 [deg]F) (IPCC 2007a, p. 48).
    Utah is projected to warm more than the average for the entire 
globe (Governor's Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change 
(GBRAC) 2008, p. 14). The expected consequences of this warming are 
fewer frost days, longer growing seasons, and more heat waves (GBRAC 
2008, p. 14). For Utah, the projected increase in annual mean 
temperature by year 2100 is about 4.5 [deg]C (8[emsp14][deg]F) (GBRAC 
2008, p. 14). Because of increased temperature, Utah soils are expected 
to dry more rapidly (GBRAC 2008, p. 20), and this is likely to result 
in reduced inundation duration and depth in least chub habitat during 
certain years. Utah is also projected to have more frequent heavy 
precipitation events, separated by longer dry spells as a result of 
climate change (GBRAC 2008, p. 15). Drought is a localized dry spell. 
Drought conditions are a potential stressor to the least chub, as 
rainfall determines springhead discharge and wetland inundation, which 
may indirectly control population size in the isolated habitat of the 
individual wetland/spring complexes in which least chub reside.
    Precipitation models predict a reduction in mountain snowpack, a 
threat of severe and prolonged episodic drought (UBRAC 2007, p. 3), and 
a decline in summer precipitation across all of Utah (UBRAC 2007, p. 
18). However, Utah is in the transition zone for predicted changes in 
winter precipitation (between the northwest and southwest United 
States), resulting in low confidence in future winter precipitation 
trends (UBRAC 2007, p 18).
    More locally to least chub, the hydrology of the Great Salt Lake 
Basin will be impacted by changes in mountain runoff (UBRAC 2007, p. 
18). While predictions indicate that the Great Salt Lake Basin will be 
affected by declining mountain snowpack and the resulting runoff, the 
timing and extent of these changes are unclear (UBRAC 2007, p. 19). 
Drought conditions and higher evaporation rates could likely result in 
lowered groundwater levels, reduced spring flows, and reductions in 
size and depth of pool habitat for least chub (Wilson 2006, p. 8).
    Because the least chub depends on small, ephemeral springfed 
wetlands for major portions of its life history (spawning, nursery 
niches, and feeding) and the amount of this habitat available will 
likely be reduced and restricted to spring heads, the severity of 
climate change is an important factor in the species' persistence. 
Under circumstances of restricted habitats, both hybridization and 
extirpation have occurred (Hubbs 1955, p. 18; Miller and Behnke 1985, 
p. 514). Additionally, the species is bound by dispersal barriers 
throughout its range and cannot retreat to additional habitats or 
easily recolonize areas after they are extirpated.
    Least chub survival and reproduction, as described above, are 
highly dependent upon habitat inundation, which in turn is dependent 
upon climatic conditions (precipitation and temperature). Climate 
change is predicted to increase temperatures and increase the 
likelihood and duration of drought conditions in Utah. Both of these 
effects will reduce inundation depths and amount of wetted habitat and 
could impact the least chub. Despite the predicted effects of climate 
change on least chub and its habitat, there are several factors that 
offset the effects of climate change and must be weighed against 
potential effects including habitat restoration, established water 
rights, and the redundancy of multiple populations. To help the species 
adapt and be resilient to changing climates, the 2014 CCA amendment 
commits to maintaining habitat corridors between the springs and 
wetlands through habitat modification or restoration activities, if 
warming periods close off these important corridors. This scenario is 
expected to result in greater habitat connectivity under these 
circumstances and make the species more resilient to climate change.
    The species' resiliency has also been increased by the increased 
number of introduced populations (increased redundancy) that now reside 
across a significant portion of the northern Bonneville Basin. As 
detailed in the sections above, there are an additional 10 introduced 
least chub populations that were not included in the 2010 12-month 
finding analysis. Even though several of these populations were in 
existence at the time, they were not included because information was 
limited and their long-term success was unknown. These populations are 
spread over an area that is likely to have more diverse microclimates, 
resulting in a greater variability and ability for the species to adapt 
to changing climatic conditions than was originally considered in our 
2010 12-month finding. Thus, these additional areas and their 
individual micro climates will increase species' resiliency and 
decrease its vulnerability to the effects of climate change.
    Since our 2010 12-month finding, the LCCT has secured water rights 
at least chub population locations, which has further increased the 
resiliency of the species and decreased its susceptibility to the 
effects of climate change. As explained in the ``Water Withdrawal and 
Diversion'' section above, 3 of the 6 natural populations and all of 
the 10 introduced populations have secure water rights. Although water 
rights are typically subject to changes in yearly runoff or 
precipitation amounts, they are nonetheless regulated by the USE and 
provide assurance of a continued water source for least chub habitats.
    In summary, least chub habitats are isolated from each other and 
are thus limited in adapting to changing climatic conditions by 
shifting habitat use (e.g., move into spring head habitat), but the 
expanded geographic range when considering the introduced populations 
now encompasses the western half of Utah in the Bonneville Basin, 
thereby counteracting the effects of climate change as climatic effects 
will vary across this 28-million-acre range. In addition, proven 
successes of habitat

[[Page 51063]]

restoration will allow the LCCT to employ an adaptive management 
process that allows for isolated or dewatered areas to be recovered for 
functional least chub habitat. Established water rights for a majority 
of natural and introduced least chub sites will result in greater 
protection of species habitat. For these reasons, we conclude that 
environmental changes resulting from climate change, including drought, 
will be moderated as a result of range expansion through previous and 
anticipated conservation actions in the 2014 CCA amendment, established 
water rights, and broadly distributed population, and therefore, we do 
not consider climate change to be a threat to the species.
Summary of Factor E
    Least chub have persisted for thousands of years, and naturally 
occurring drought does not pose a threat to the species. Climate models 
predict that Utah may warm more than average, with more heat waves, 
less mountain snowpack, and a decline in summer precipitation. The 
introduced sites occur over a large geographic range and provide 
habitat heterogeneity and redundancy, they are supported by established 
water rights, and habitat restoration can be used to offset some 
effects of climate change. We believe that this approach provides a 
buffer against environmental effects that may result from cumulative 
effects of drought and changing climate conditions in the Bonneville 
Basin, and we conclude that addressing the threats identified in the 
2010 12-month finding will prevent these threats from acting 
cumulatively.
Cumulative Effects
    We cannot completely predict the cumulative effects of climate 
change and drought on least chub at this time, but we know that each 
will occur to some extent and be compounded by the others. In our 2010 
12-month finding (75 FR 35398), the cumulative effects of proposed 
large-scale groundwater withdrawal, drought, and climate change were 
likely to pose a threat to the least chub. However, as described above, 
because of the changes in the SNWA GWD Project, the addition of UGS 
monitoring, and 2014 CCA amendment conservation actions, water 
development is no longer a threat to least chub, and the effects of 
drought and climate change are mitigated by the presence of the 
introduced least chub populations across a large geographic range.
    In summary, we find that the potential combination of drought and 
climate change are likely to occur but that the expanded geographic 
range of all the populations together, when including the introduced 
sites, thereby counteract the effects of climate change as effects will 
vary across the full range of the species, and established water rights 
for the majority of the natural and introduced populations will offset 
any significant effects. Since the impacts of each of the cumulative 
threats are reduced, these threats cumulatively no longer are a threat 
to the species.

Finding

    As required by the Act, we considered the five factors in assessing 
whether the least chub meets the definition of an endangered or 
threatened species. We examined the best scientific and commercial 
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats 
faced by the species. Based on our review of the best available 
scientific and commercial information, we find that the current and 
future threats are not of sufficient imminence, intensity, or magnitude 
to indicate that the least chub is in danger of extinction 
(endangered), or likely to become endangered within the foreseeable 
future (threatened). Therefore, the least chub does not meet the 
definition of an endangered or a threatened species, and we are 
withdrawing the least chub from our candidate list. Our rationale for 
this finding is outlined below.
    Review of least chub historical population trends shows that the 
distribution of the least chub was reduced from its historical range in 
Utah's Bonneville Basin. However, UDWR surveys in the 1990s and 2000s 
discovered 3 new populations on the eastern extent of the historical 
range, and 10 successful introduced populations have been established 
since 2005. We now consider 15 viable, naturally occurring and 
introduced least chub populations to exist (excluding Mona Springs due 
to lack of a self-sustaining population at this current time).
    The least chub is not in danger of extinction because 10 successful 
introduced populations have been established in addition to the 
naturally occurring populations, and these populations, when combined, 
show high likelihood of persistence even under higher probabilities of 
catastrophic events, as analyzed by the initial PVA (Peterson and Seanz 
2013, p. 30). The introduced sites occur over a large geographic range 
and provide habitat heterogeneity and redundancy. We conclude that they 
provide a buffer against environmental effects that may result from 
cumulative effects of drought and changing climate conditions in the 
Bonneville Basin. Furthermore, their distribution encompasses and is 
representative of the known genetic diversity of the species (each 
natural population and GMU is represented in at least one introduced 
population). If the species continued to persist in its current 
distribution, we conclude that it will have sufficient resiliency, 
redundancy, and representation to persist now and in the foreseeable 
future.
    In our 2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398), we identified several 
threats that we expected to significantly impact the status of the 
species as a whole into the foreseeable future, which was an 
appropriate conclusion based on the best available scientific and 
commercial information available at that time. However, since that 
time, activities such as the SNWA GWD Project have been modified 
substantially, and significant ongoing and new conservation efforts 
have reduced the magnitude of potential impacts in the future such that 
the species no longer meets the definition of an endangered or 
threatened species.
    In our 2010 12-month finding, we identified livestock grazing, 
groundwater development and withdrawal, lack of regulatory mechanisms 
to regulate groundwater withdrawal, nonnative fishes, and the effects 
of climate change and drought (and their cumulative effects) as threats 
to the continued existence of the least chub. Our conclusion was based 
on information about past and current impacts to least chub habitat due 
to these stressors, information about continued and future groundwater 
development near least chub habitat, and the lack of a sufficient 
number of populations to protect against these stressors.
    Since the time of our 2010 12-month finding, the LCCT has made a 
significant effort to develop and implement additional conservation 
measures (2014 CCA amendment) for the least chub. The 2005 CCA 
contained conservation measures that were implemented by the BLM and 
UDWR that have reduced or eliminated threats to the least chub, 
including fencing projects and private landowner agreements (see 
Previous and Ongoing Conservation Efforts and Future Conservation 
Efforts sections, above). In addition, through the 2014 CCA amendment, 
the LCCT has implemented several conservation measures that address the 
threat of livestock grazing by acquiring and managing lands for the 
protection of least chub (land-swap and grazing rights purchase), 
committing to habitat restoration activities, and

[[Page 51064]]

fencing heavily impacted areas. The LCCT has also committed to 
nonnative fish removal by implementing activities, now described in the 
2010 Nonnative Fish Management Plans, which have been successful at 
Clear Lake and recently at Mona Springs. Furthermore, groundwater 
withdrawal in the Snake Valley is being closely monitored through the 
UGS monitoring well network and through a bathymetry and habitat 
evaluation of Leland Harris; once completed, this network will provide 
us with the ability to track the projections we make in this document 
regarding the effects of groundwater withdrawals. Restoration and 
habitat modifications have ensured adequate habitat corridors for 
dispersal and colonization within population sites, which is expected 
to increase resilience to future random natural impacts and offset the 
threat of climate change and drought. In addition, water rights at half 
of the natural and all of the introduced least chub sites (held by a 
variety of entities, including UDWR, BLM, local government, Department 
of Defense, and private landowners) will help offset the effects of 
climate change and drought by providing dedicated water sources to help 
stabilize area water levels and ensure adequate habitat is available.
    As summarized in the Previous and Ongoing Conservation Efforts, 
Future Conservation Efforts, and PECE Analysis sections above, we have 
a high degree of certainty that the 2005 CCA and the 2014 CCA amendment 
will continue to be implemented. See Table 2 under Future Conservation 
Efforts for the status of the 2014 CCA amendment conservation actions. 
Our level of certainty is high because: (1) The signatory agencies have 
been compliant with implementation of the conservation actions of the 
original 1998 CCA and its 2005 reauthorization; (2) the authorities for 
expending funds are in place and least chub research and population 
monitoring has been funded by signatory agencies for the last 20+ 
years; (3) signatory agencies have been responsive to protecting 
existing habitat and acquiring new introduction sites for the species; 
(4) monitoring and documentation of compliance with the conservation 
measures are in place; (5) annual reports of monitoring have been 
completed; (6) adaptive management will be used to reassess 
conservation actions on a regular basis; (7) water rights are 
established for the majority of least chub locations--all of these 
least chub sites have sufficient natural water flow to maintain 
populations, but the water rights provide additional security (above 
and beyond natural flows) in the event that water levels decrease at 
some point in the future; and (8) all parties have the legal 
authorities to carry out their responsibilities under the 2005 CCA and 
the 2014 CCA amendment. In addition, the estimated occupancy rates and 
the presence of recruitment have remained consistent over the last 10 
years.
    We also have high certainty that the suite of conservation measures 
in the 2005 CCA and the 2014 CCA amendment will be effective at 
reducing and eliminating threats to the least chub to the point that 
the species does not meet the definition of an endangered or threatened 
species. Our certainty arises from the fact that the 10 successful 
introduced populations have been established, and the CCAs have been 
successful in implementing conservation actions in the past. 
Furthermore, annual monitoring and reporting requirements will ensure 
that all of the conservation measures are implemented as planned, and 
are effective at removing threats to the least chub and its habitat. 
Any issues that arise will be discussed at annual meetings and the 
adaptive management process will be used to address any identified 
issues until they are resolved. The collaboration between us and other 
stakeholders requires regular meetings and mandatory involvement of all 
signatories and associated parties in order to implement the agreement 
fully, as outlined in the 2014 CCA amendment.
    In summary, we conclude that the conservation efforts have 
sufficient certainty of implementation and effectiveness that they can 
be relied upon in this 12-month finding. Further, we conclude that 
conservation efforts have reduced or eliminated current and future 
threats to the least chub to the point that the species is not in 
danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future. In addition, we 
received new information that several of the threats identified in our 
2010 12-month finding (75 FR 35398) do not reduce the viability of the 
species to the level that it meets the definition of an endangered or 
threatened species under the Act. Therefore, we find that listing the 
least chub as endangered or threatened is not warranted.
    We will continue to monitor the status of the species through 
monitoring requirements in the 2005 CCA and 2014 CCA amendment, and our 
evaluation of any other information we receive. These monitoring 
requirements will not only inform us of the amount of least chub 
habitat protected through the actions, but will also help inform us of 
the status of the least chub natural and introduced populations. 
Additional information will continue to be accepted on all aspects of 
the species. We encourage interested parties, outside of those parties 
already signatories to the 2005 CCA and the 2014 CCA amendment, to 
become involved in the conservation of the species.
    If at any time data indicate that protective status under the Act 
should be needed, for example, we become aware of declining enforcement 
of or participation in the CCA or CCA amendment or noncompliance with 
the conservation actions, or if there are new threats or increasing 
stressors that rise to the level of a threat, we can initiate listing 
procedures, including, if appropriate, emergency listing pursuant to 
section 4(b)(7) of the Act.

Distinct Population Segment Analysis

    After assessing whether the species is endangered or threatened 
throughout its range, we considered whether a distinct vertebrate 
population segment (DPS) of the least chub meets the definition of an 
endangered or threatened species.
    Under the Service's Policy Regarding the Recognition of Distinct 
Vertebrate Population Segments Under the Endangered Species Act (61 FR 
4722, February 7, 1996), three elements are considered in the decision 
concerning the establishment and classification of a possible DPS. 
These are applied similarly for additions to or removal from the 
Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. These elements 
include:
    (1) The discreteness of a population in relation to the remainder 
of the species to which it belongs;
    (2) The significance of the population segment to the species to 
which it belongs; and
    (3) The population segment's conservation status in relation to the 
Act's standards for listing, delisting, or reclassification (i.e., is 
the population segment endangered or threatened).
Discreteness
    Under the DPS policy, a population segment of a vertebrate taxon 
may be considered discrete if it satisfies either one of the following 
conditions:
    (1) It is markedly separated from other populations of the same 
taxon as a consequence of physical, physiological, ecological, or 
behavioral factors. Quantitative measures of genetic or morphological 
discontinuity may provide evidence of this separation.
    (2) It is delimited by international governmental boundaries within 
which differences in control of exploitation, management of habitat, 
conservation

[[Page 51065]]

status, or regulatory mechanisms exist that are significant in light of 
section 4(a)(1)(D) of the Act.
    Least chub are distributed across three Genetic Management Units 
(GMU)--West Desert GMU, Sevier GMU, and Wasatch Front GMU. The GMUs 
were delineated by the LCCT based on genetics information which showed 
population similarities in these areas (Mock and Miller 2005, pp. 271-
277). There are 5 naturally occurring (excluding Mona Springs due to a 
lack of a self-sustaining population) and 10 successful introduced 
populations of least chub distributed across these three GMUs. Least 
chub in these GMUs are markedly separated from each as a consequence of 
physical (geographic) features, and as a result appear to exhibit 
genetic divergence as well. We, therefore, conclude that the three GMUs 
are discrete under the Service's DPS policy.
Significance
    If a population segment is considered discrete under one or more of 
the conditions described in the Service's DPS policy, its biological 
and ecological significance will be considered in light of 
Congressional guidance that the authority to list DPSs be used 
``sparingly'' while encouraging the conservation of genetic diversity. 
In making this determination, we consider available scientific evidence 
of the discrete population segment's importance to the taxon to which 
it belongs. Since precise circumstances are likely to vary considerably 
from case to case, the DPS policy does not describe all the classes of 
information that might be used in determining the biological and 
ecological importance of a discrete population. However, the DPS policy 
describes four possible classes of information that provide evidence of 
a population segment's biological and ecological importance to the 
taxon to which it belongs. As specified in the DPS policy (61 FR 4722), 
this consideration of the population segment's significance may 
include, but is not limited to, the following:
    (1) Persistence of the discrete population segment in an ecological 
setting unusual or unique to the taxon;
    (2) Evidence that loss of the discrete population segment would 
result in a significant gap in the range of a taxon;
    (3) Evidence that the discrete population segment represents the 
only surviving natural occurrence of a taxon that may be more abundant 
elsewhere as an introduced population outside its historic range; or
    (4) Evidence that the discrete population segment differs markedly 
from other populations of the species in its genetic characteristics.
    A population segment needs to satisfy only one of these conditions 
to be considered significant. Furthermore, other information may be 
used as appropriate to provide evidence for significance.
    Because of the isolated status of the least chub GMUs, each GMU 
could be considered potentially discrete based on the physical, 
geographic factors separating the existing populations. However, 
separate GMUs and configurations of GMUs would not meet the standard of 
being significant for several reasons: They do not occur in an unusual 
ecological setting; their loss would not result in a significant gap in 
the range of the species; they do not represent the last surviving 
natural occurrence; and they are not markedly separate from other 
populations in their genetic characteristics. We conclude that none of 
the three GMUs were independently significant because they would not 
meet any of the four standards under our policy definition of 
significant.
    We determine, based on a review of the best available information, 
that the least chub GMUs are not independently significant in relation 
to the remainder of the taxon. Therefore, these population segments do 
not qualify as DPSs under our 1996 DPS policy and are not listable 
entities under the Act. Since we found that the population segments do 
not meet the significance element and, therefore, do not qualify as 
DPSs under the Service's DPS policy, we will not proceed with an 
evaluation of the status of the population segments under the Act.

Significant Portion of Its Range Analysis

    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is endangered or threatened throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. The Act defines ``endangered 
species'' as any species which is ``in danger of extinction throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range,'' and ``threatened species'' 
as any species which is ``likely to become an endangered species within 
the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its 
range.'' The term ``species'' includes ``any subspecies of fish or 
wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment [DPS] of any 
species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.'' 
We published a final policy interpretating the phrase ``Significant 
Portion of its Range'' (SPR) (79 FR 37578, July 1, 2014). The final 
policy states that (1) if a species is found to be endangered or 
threatened throughout a significant portion of its range, the entire 
species is listed as endangered or threatened, respectively, and the 
Act's protections apply to all individuals of the species wherever 
found; (2) a portion of the range of a species is ``significant'' if 
the species is not currently endangered or threatened throughout all of 
its range, but the portion's contribution to the viability of the 
species is so important that, without the members in that portion, the 
species would be in danger of extinction, or likely to become so in the 
foreseeable future, throughout all of its range; (3) the range of a 
species is considered to be the general geographical area within which 
that species can be found at the time the Service or the National 
Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) makes any particular status 
determination; and (4) if a vertebrate species is endangered or 
threatened throughout an SPR, and the population in that significant 
portion is a valid DPS, we will list the DPS rather than the entire 
taxonomic species or subspecies.
    The SPR policy is applied to all status determinations, including 
analyses for the purposes of making listing, delisting, and 
reclassification determinations. The procedure for analyzing whether 
any portion is an SPR is similar, regardless of the type of status 
determination we are making. The first step in our analysis of the 
status of a species is to determine its status throughout all of its 
range. If we determine that the species is in danger of extinction, or 
likely to become so in the foreseeable future, throughout all of its 
range, we list the species as endangered (or threatened) and no SPR 
analysis will be required. If the species is neither endangered nor 
threatened throughout all of its range, we determine whether the 
species is endangered or threatened throughout a significant portion of 
its range. If it is, we list the species as endangered or threatened, 
respectively; if it is not, we conclude that listing the species is not 
warranted.
    When we conduct an SPR analysis, we first identify any portions of 
the species' range that warrant further consideration. The range of a 
species can theoretically be divided into portions in an infinite 
number of ways. However, there is no purpose to analyzing portions of 
the range that are not reasonably likely to be significant and 
endangered or threatened. To identify only those portions that warrant 
further consideration, we determine whether there is substantial 
information indicating that (1) the portions may be

[[Page 51066]]

significant and (2) the species may be in danger of extinction in those 
portions or likely to become so within the foreseeable future. We 
emphasize that answering these questions in the affirmative is not a 
determination that the species is endangered or threatened throughout a 
significant portion of its range--rather, it is a step in determining 
whether a more detailed analysis of the issue is required. In practice, 
a key part of this analysis is whether the threats are geographically 
concentrated in some way. If the threats to the species are affecting 
it uniformly throughout its range, no portion is likely to warrant 
further consideration. Moreover, if any concentration of threats apply 
only to portions of the range that clearly do not meet the biologically 
based definition of ``significant'' (i.e., the loss of that portion 
clearly would not be expected to increase the vulnerability to 
extinction of the entire species), those portions will not warrant 
further consideration.
    If we identify any portions that may be both (1) significant and 
(2) endangered or threatened, we engage in a more detailed analysis to 
determine whether these standards are indeed met. As discussed above, 
to determine whether a portion of the range of a species is 
significant, we consider whether, under a hypothetical scenario, the 
portion's contribution to the viability of the species is so important 
that, without the members in that portion, the species would be in 
danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future 
throughout all of its range. This analysis will consider the 
contribution of that portion to the viability of the species based on 
principles of conservation biology. Contribution would be evaluated 
using the concepts of redundancy, resiliency, and representation. 
(These concepts can similarly be expressed in terms of abundance, 
spatial distribution, productivity, and diversity.) The identification 
of an SPR does not create a presumption, prejudgment, or other 
determination as to whether the species in that identified SPR is 
endangered or threatened. We must go through a separate analysis to 
determine whether the species is endangered or threatened in the SPR. 
To determine whether a species is endangered or threatened throughout 
an SPR, we will use the same standards and methodology that we use to 
determine if a species is endangered or threatened throughout its 
range.
    Depending on the biology of the species, its range, and the threats 
it faces, it may be more efficient to address the ``significant'' 
question first, or the status question first. Thus, if we determine 
that a portion of the range is not ``significant,'' we do not need to 
determine whether the species is endangered or threatened there; if we 
determine that the species is not endangered or threatened in a portion 
of its range, we do not need to determine if that portion is 
``significant.''
    We evaluated the current range of the least chub to determine if 
there is any apparent geographic concentration of potential threats for 
the species. The range for least chub is limited to the springs and 
seasonally-connected marsh habitats where they are found. We examined 
potential threats from livestock grazing, oil and gas leasing and 
exploration, mining, urban and suburban and development, water 
withdrawal and diversion, overutilization, disease or predation, the 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, drought, and climate 
change. We found no concentration of threats that suggests that least 
chub may be in danger of extinction in a portion of its range. We found 
no portions of the range where potential threats are significantly 
concentrated or substantially greater than in other portions of its 
range. Therefore, we find that factors affecting the species are 
essentially uniform throughout its range, indicating no portion of the 
range of the species warrants further consideration of possible 
endangered or threatened status under the Act.
    Our review of the best available scientific and commercial 
information indicates that the least chub is not in danger of 
extinction (endangered) nor likely to become endangered within the 
foreseeable future (threatened), throughout all or a significant 
portion of its range. Therefore, we find that listing this species as 
an endangered or threatened species under the Act is not warranted at 
this time.
    We request that you submit any new information concerning the 
status of, or threats to, the least chub to our Utah Ecological 
Services Field Office (see ADDRESSES) whenever it becomes available. 
New information will help us monitor this species and encourage its 
conservation. If an emergency situation develops for this species, we 
will act to provide immediate protection.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited is available on the Internet at 
http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the Utah Ecological 
Services Field Office (see ADDRESSES section).

Authors

    The primary authors of this notice are the staff members of the 
Utah Ecological Services Field Office.

Authority

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

    Dated: August 12, 2014.
Stephen Guertin,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-19927 Filed 8-25-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-P