Endangered Species Recovery Program

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Program Background

Formation of the Recovery Program

In July 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined with the Bureau of Reclamation to establish the San Joaquin Valley Endangered Species Recovery Program. Under the direction of Dr. Daniel F. Williams, Professor of Zoology at California State University, Stanislaus, and administered by California State Stanislaus, this cooperative program is playing a significant role in efforts to implement the terms of the Friant Biological Opinion. The Biological Opinion resulted from consultation between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation about the potential impacts to threatened and endangered species by the renewal of long-term water contracts in the Central Valley Project's Friant Division. The Opinion's purpose is to assure that renewal of the long-term water contracts does not "jeopardize the continued existence" of endangered species in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Planning Area

The Program's planning area encompasses the San Joaquin Valley below the blue-oak savanna, from the northern slopes of the Transverse ranges northward to, but not including, the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta and San Francisco Bay. It also includes the upper Cuyama Valley and the Carrizo Plain Natural Area, and, for issues involving the San Joaquin kit fox, the Salinas River watershed. The Program's responsibilities do not include aquatic or wetland species, nor migratory species whose geographic range extends beyond the planning area.

Of the four natural communities that originally covered most of the San Joaquin Valley—Valley Grassland, Freshwater Marsh, Riparian Woodland, and Saltbush Scrub—less than five percent in fragmented, scattered parcels remains undeveloped. These tiny remnants have been severely altered and degraded from their natural state. Reduction and degradation of natural communities have been largely due to the massive alteration of the landscape that accompanied the development of the region's vast agricultural potential, and the introduction of exotic species of plants and animals, starting with the arrival of people of European ancestry. As these natural communities disappeared, the species dependent on them also began to vanish. Today, the San Joaquin Valley has a greater number of endangered and threatened species than any other region of the United States outside of Hawaii.

The most important aspect of the transformation of the San Joaquin Valley into the most productive agricultural region in the world has been the diversion, storage, and delivery of water for agriculture. When funds for construction of the first units of the Central Valley Project were authorized by Congress in 1935, there was little public dialog or concern regarding environmental issues. Under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as long-term water contracts are renewed by Reclamation, Reclamation and the Service have to consult to ensure that the continued diversion of Federal water is done in a manner that does not preclude recovery of federally-listed threatened and endangered species. The result of this consultation on the renewal of contracts in the Friant Division was the issuance in October 1991 of the Friant Biological Opinion. In this document, Reclamation and Service jointly agreed to address these issues not only in the Friant Division, but throughout the San Joaquin Valley and, ultimately, the entire Central Valley Project service area.

Purpose of the Recovery Program

The Endangered Species Recovery Program was formed to assist Service and Reclamation in carrying out certain tasks specified in the Biological Opinion. Those tasks include: conducting surveys to determine the status of listed and candidate species on natural lands in the Valley; conducting population studies necessary for developing recovery plans for those species; and, developing recovery plans.

Recovery Planning

Recovery is the process by which the decline in an endangered or threatened species is arrested or reversed and threats to its survival are neutralized so that its long-term survival in nature is ensured. The goal of the process is the maintenance of secure, self-sustaining wild populations with minimum necessary investment of resources.

A recovery plan delineates, justifies, and schedules the research and management actions necessary to support recovery of a species. If successfully undertaken, recovery actions are likely to permit reclassification or delisting of the species. As strategy documents, recovery plans do not, of themselves, commit manpower or funds for recovery actions, nor have the legal force of laws and regulations. Instead, they are used in setting regional and national Federal conservation priorities for funding and implementation. They also provide blueprints for assessing Habitat Conservation Plans.

Ecosystem Management

According to the Endangered Species Act, its primary purpose is "to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved . . . ." The recovery plans to be developed by the Recovery Program are notable in that they will use an ecosystem approach to conservation instead of the more commonly-used, single-species approach.

The ecosystem approach, while first searching to understand the biology of an endangered species and the narrowly defined ecosystem of which it is a part, must then consider holistically the resource requirements and activities of humans along with their reciprocal relationships with other organisms in their ecosystem. This approach has a number of advantages over the single-species approach. These advantages include: recognizing the interactions of species within larger biotic communities, thus increasing the chances of survival for all member species; lessening the need to list additional species living in the same biological communities; saving money and effort expended in separate consultations over issues affecting each species; lessening the probability that some factor critical to recovery will be missed by too narrow a view; and, decreasing disruption to economic activities that might result from the more protracted single-species recovery efforts in an area with numerous threatened and endangered species. Eleven listed and 22 candidate species are fully covered in the San Joaquin Valley Terrestrial Ecosystem Recovery Plan. It also is expected to enhance recovery of the 145 other listed and candidate species of terrestrial and amphibious species living in the Valley. This recovery plan, being developed by the Recovery Planning Program, is the first comprehensive, multispecies recovery plan to be developed for a large, complex region, and may serve as a model for recovery plans for other ecosystems.

Recovery Program Research

To pursue these goals, the Recovery Program is conducting a variety of research projects to provide information necessary for the recovery of species covered by the Biological Opinion. Program biologists are currently conducting intensive ecological studies on ten federally-listed, upland species consisting of five animal and five plant species: San Joaquin kit fox, giant kangaroo rat, Tipton kangaroo rat, Fresno kangaroo rat, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, California jewelflower, Kern mallow, Hoover's woolly-star, San Joaquin woolly-threads, and Bakersfield cactus. They also are studying two riparian species, the riparian brush rabbit and the riparian woodrat. Research underway includes defining geographic ranges and estimating population numbers, monitoring population trends, identifying environmental factors that influence those trends, assessing potential habitat management strategies, and measuring range-wide genetic population diversity and structure.

In addition to these population and ecological studies, the Recovery Program is surveying natural lands for the status of listed and candidate species. Private lands are surveyed only with the landowner's permission.

As renewal dates for water contracts in other Central Valley Project Divisions approach, the focus of research will shift to other groups of threatened, endangered and candidate species in those areas. The Program also will be assisting in the preparation of Biological Assessments for use in future consultations between Service and Reclamation on the impact of long-term contract renewal on endangered species in these other Divisions.

Recovery Planning Cooperation

The Recovery Program is cooperating with other groups and agencies engaged in endangered species issues. Current cooperators include: Bureau of Land Management; U.S. Navy; California Department of Fish and Game; California Department of Transportation; California Department of Parks and Recreation; University of California, Berkeley and Santa Barbara; California State University, Bakersfield, Fresno, Northridge, and Stanislaus; Pennsylvania State University; University of Adelaide, Australia; and the Smithsonian Institution. In the private sector, Environmental Systems Research Institute, GTCO Corporation, ERDAS, Inc., Hewlett-Packard Corporation, Iomega, Microsoft Corporation, and Trimble Navigation, Inc., have donated equipment, software, and training to establish a fully-functional Geographic Information System facility for the Recovery Program. Efforts are underway to develop formal cooperative agreements that will allow the Program to better coordinate research on listed species in the Central Valley Project area by investigators from other universities and state and federal agencies.

Public Involvement in Recovery Planning

Recovery planning is a public process. Upon completion of a draft recovery plan , a notice of availability is published in the Federal Register, beginning a minimum 60-day public comment period. Public comments also will be accepted at any time during the recovery plan preparation. However, those received outside the designated public comment period (not yet specified) need not be formally addressed in the recovery plan, though the Service is free to use any significant information so provided. Comments must be sent to the Regional Office in Portland. Public comments made during the formal comment period will be addressed in preparing the final draft of the Recovery Plan.

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