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Recovery Plan for Upland Species of the San Joaquin Valley, California
Contents . Introduction . Species accounts . Recovery . Stepdown . Implementation . References . Appendix

Appendix E. Safe Harbor Programs

  1. Components of a Pilot Safe Harbor Program
  2. Target Areas for San Joaquin Kit Fox Safe Harbor Program

A Safe Harbor Agreement is a voluntary agreement between one or more private or nonfederal landowners and the USFWS to restore, enhance or maintain habitats for listed species, proposed species, candidates or other species of concern. Under the Agreement, the landowner would be provided assurances that additional land use restrictions as a result of their voluntary conservation actions would not be imposed by the USFWS. If the Agreement provides a net conservation benefit to the covered species and the landowner meets all the terms of the Agreement, the USFWS would authorize the incidental taking of covered species to enable the landowner to return the enrolled lands to agreed upon conditions.

Several variations of a safe harbor program are needed to assist in endangered species recovery in the San Joaquin Valley. A general program is needed Valley-wide to encourage farmers to voluntarily create, maintain, and enhance habitat for wildlife and native plants within the farmland mosaic. This program is needed both to increase the value of farmlands for wildlife and to engender trust between farmers and the regulatory agencies. It could apply to islands of natural lands and retired farmland as well as actively farmed ground. The general program, however, should not include enhancement of kit fox habitat unless it is set within an experimental framework with scientifically-acceptable levels of baseline measurements of habitat and populations; careful, frequent quantitative monitoring; and provisions to assess risks of the program in attracting and enhancing numbers of red foxes and their impacts on kit foxes. Different criteria and monitoring requirements (by resource management agencies) are needed on lands that currently support listed species compared to lands with no existing endangered species.

1. Components of a Pilot Safe Harbor Program

A more specific safe harbor program, directed at enhancing kit fox populations within the agricultural-natural lands mosaic on the Valley floor and the movement of foxes between the larger populations both on the floor and around the Valleys edge is needed. This program must begin on a small scale and be set within an experimental framework with scientifically acceptable procedures for measurement or identification of:

  1. baseline population numbers and habitat, and changes in population sizes with changes in cultural practices and habitat enhancements;
  2. proportion of foraging time in different crops and in crops with different cultural practices;
  3. prey numbers associated with different crops and cultural practices;
  4. food habits (including types of crop plants eaten);
  5. home range size and configuration with identification of landscape features used as movement paths;
  6. dispersal movements;
  7. population recruitment;
  8. denning sites and structure of dens;
  9. effects of the program on red foxes, habitat features associated with red foxes, and interactions between red foxes and kit foxes, if any.

The greatest concern is that though this program seems important for kit fox recovery, efforts at enhancing kit fox populations on the Valley floor may actually enhance red fox numbers, which may prey on and displace kit foxes from these areas. Thus, the program has a real, but unknown probability of doing more harm than good for recovery of kit foxes. It should only be implemented as a tightly-controlled scientific experiment.

2. Target Areas for San Joaquin Kit Fox Safe Harbor Program

Areas where safe harbor programs can potentially contribute substantially to recovery of kit foxes are:

  1. Farmland and small islands of natural lands along the northwest edge of the San Joaquin Valley from south of Los Banos in Merced County to the Delta region in San Joaquin, Alameda, and Contra Costa Counties;
  2. Natural lands supporting grasslands and oak savanna in eastern Stanislaus, Merced, and Madera Counties;
  3. Natural land and farmland in Merced County in the area along Sandy Mush Road and farmland linking the natural lands along Sandy Mush Road with the natural lands to the east in southern Merced and Madera Counties;
  4. Natural land and farmland along the San Joaquin River and Chowchilla Bypass between the wildlife refuges in Merced County and the natural lands in western Madera County;
  5. Farmland in western Fresno County along the major flood channels of ephemeral streams draining the coastal ranges to the San Joaquin River-Fresno Slough in the center of the Valley; and on any retired farmlands in the area that remain in private ownership after retirement;
  6. Farmland that is periodically not farmed for more than 2 or 3 years at a time along the western edge of the Valley in Fresno, Kings, and Kern Counties;
  7. Farmland and natural lands along the Highway 46 Corridor between natural lands west of Blackwells Corner, Kern County, and natural lands in the Semitropic Ridge Area;
  8. Farmland and natural lands between the Semitropic Ridge Area and the Pixley-Allensworth Natural Area, along the Garces Highway corridor;
  9. Farmland and natural lands within the Pixley- Allensworth Natural Area and between this area and Creighton Ranch Preserve to the north;
  10. Farmland and natural lands along Poso Creek between natural lands in the Sierra foothills on the east and Kern National Wildlife Refuge on the west;
  11. Natural land and farmland along the Estrella River tributaries in San Luis Obispo County;
  12. Natural land and farmland elsewhere in the Salinas River watershed in San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties.
  13. Natural land along the Kern River within the Bakersfield metropolitan area and westward.
  14. Natural land and farmlands between the Kettleman Hills and Anticline Ridge in Fresno County.
  15. Natural land along San Juan Creek from Shandon on the northwest, southeastward along the tributaries of the Creekswatershed, including dryland grain fields in the Conservation Reserve program.
  16. San Joaquin Valley foothills with grassland and saltbush scrub communities from western Madera County southward to the southern end of the Valley, then eastward and northward through Tulare County; and on the northeast in eastern Madera, Merced, and Stanislaus Counties.
  17. Natural lands in the Cuyama River watershed between about Cottonwood Canyon on the west, eastward and southward to the vicinity of Ballinger and Santa Barbara Canyons, including the lower reaches of the canyons where habitats for featured species are found.

Much of the planning area may eventually be included in safe harbor programs for the San Joaquin kit fox, but a phased approach is recommended. The first phase must be carefully controlled and needs to identify the farmland features and cultural practices that are associated with success in terms of kit fox survival, population recruitment, and dispersal movements, as well as any negative effects from alien red foxes. Later phases should be instituted first in areas identified as being important in promoting connectivity between major kit fox populations and include features identified as of positive value to the program objectives. These would be phased in as landowner participation and funding warrant. At all phases of the program, scientifically acceptable monitoring and analysis should be conducted. This is important to evaluate the efficacy of the programs and their contributions to recovery, and to identify and ward off potential problems such as those associated with red foxes.

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