Endangered Species Recovery Program

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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 G. Summary of Agency and Public Comments on the Draft Recovery Plan for Upland Species of the San Joaquin Valley, California

  1. Summary of the Agency and Public Comment Process
  2. Summary of Comments and USFWS Responses
    1. Public Involvement Process
    2. Executive Summary
    3. Introduction
    4. Species Accounts
    5. Recovery
    6. Stepdown Narrative
    7. Implementation Schedule

1. Summary of the Agency and Public Comment Process

On September 31, 1997, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released the Draft Recovery Plan for Upland Species of the San Joaquin Valley, California (Draft Plan) for a 120-day comment period ending on January 28, 1998, to Federal agencies, state and local governments, and members of the public (60 FR 2155-56). On September 30, 1997, a press release was issued by the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office announcing the availability of the Draft Plan for public review, and the dates of a series of Open Houses. Over 700 Draft Plans were distributed to county, State and Federal agencies, libraries, and interested parties. The Open Houses were held to present the Draft Plan to the public, answer questions, and seek written comments. The public Open Houses were held in December of 1997 in three counties within the San Joaquin Valley: Kern, Fresno, and Stanislaus. On February 4, 1998, based on requests from interested groups the public comment period was extended an additional 60 days.

This section provides a summary of general demographic information including the number of letters received from various affiliations. Dr. Katherine Ralls of the Smithsonian Institute, Dr. David Germano of California State University Bakersfield, and Dr. Jay Sheppard, formerly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, were requested to peer review the Draft Plan. A complete index of those who commented, by affiliation, is available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ecological Services, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 3310 El Camino Avenue, Suite 100, Sacramento, California 95821. All letters of comment on the Draft Plan are kept on file in the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office.

The following is a breakdown of the number of letters received from various affiliations:

A total of 43 letters were received, each containing varying numbers of comments. Many letters provided suggestions for clarity, most of these suggestions were included in the final plan. Some comments provided new information and some challenged the Draft Plan. New information was included in the final plan if it was important to a recovery task. The remainder of comments were considered, noted, and principal comments were included for response. The following section is a summary of the principal comments and the USFWSs responses to those comments. We thank all those who commented.

2. Summary of Comments and USFWS Responses

Public Involvement Process

Comment: The USFWS did not follow their own Department of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policies regarding the development of recovery plans and involvement of stakeholders as published in the Federal Register in June, 1994.

Response: The concept of a multispecies recovery plan for the San Joaquin Valley, and the formation of the recovery team predates the Federal Register notice of June, 1994. Beginning in 1996, during the development of the draft, the USFWS began holding meetings with interested parties to discuss major strategies of the Draft Pan. The interested parties included the California Department of Water Resources, the Tulare County Habitat Conservation Plan Advisory Committee, the California Department of Fish and Game, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and species experts.

Comment: A plan of this scope cannot be achieved without the support and participation of both public and private interests.

Response: Beginning in the Executive Summary the Plan recognizes the need for public involvement and the need for incentives to encourage this involvement. The Plan recommends the establishment of a regional, cooperative public/private recovery plan implementation team to enlist the participation of all stakeholder groups and interested parties. The Introduction acknowledges that if recovery is to be achieved..."trust, partnership, and common purpose must be established amongst government agencies, ranchers, farmers, developers, conservationists, urbanites, and other citizens of the Valley". The following sections of the Plan provide more detail on the way these partnerships will be encouraged; IV. Stepdown Narrative (pg. 195-230), Appendix E. Safe Harbor Programs (pg. 304-305), and Appendix F. Retirement of Farmland with Drainage Problems (pg. 306-308).

Executive Summary

Comment: What were the reasons behind including or excluding certain species from the Draft Plan?

Response: Certain species were excluded from the Draft Plan because they were not listed by the State or Federal government at the time of the Draft Plans inception (San Joaquin spearscale, big tarweed), or had ranges far beyond the San Joaquin Valley (hispid birds beak, mountain plover, San Joaquin coachwhip, tri-colored blackbird, southwestern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo), or were entire community types that far exceeded the geographic distribution of the featured species (e.g., sycamore alluvial woodland community).

Certain species were included even though questions remain about their genetic makeup because the intent behind including these species was to prevent their being listed which would then necessitate further protection (Bakersfield smallscale, Le Contes thrasher). Conservation efforts for these species typically includes research into the species genetic makeup, behavior, and geographical distribution. The results of this research will provide the basis for the USFWSs determination as to their uniqueness.

Certain species remain in the Plan, even though during the plans creation, new evidence indicated that the species was more widespread than was originally thought (Hoovers woolly-star), because they have not yet been downlisted or removed from the endangered species list.

The San Joaquin kit fox and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard were included in the Draft Plan because during the periodic review by the USFWS of their existing recovery plans, the USFWS determined that revisions to those plans were needed. Based on the USFWSs review of both species unstable population status, continuing threats to recovery, and limited achievement of reaching original recovery plan goals, the USFWS determined that these two species warranted inclusion in the Plan.

Comment: Focusing on loss of habitat as the primary cause of species endangerment fails to acknowledge the role that negligence, mismanagement of habitat, and inadequate control of invasive, exotic organisms have played in the degradation of remaining available habitat.

Response: The USFWS recognizes the importance of managing lands for listed species, and does recognize the inadequacy of some previous management programs, however, the USFWS believes that the Plan is built, both on the successes and failures of prior research, directions, and actions. Within the Plan the term "habitat protection" means ensuring appropriate uses of land to maintain and optimize species habitat values.

Comment: Which species do not fall under the San Joaquin kit fox umbrella?

Response: Plant species that are not covered or only partially covered under the San Joaquin kit fox umbrella are the palmate-brcted birds-beak, Bakersfield cactus, Vaseks clarkia, Temblor buckwheat, Tejon poppy, diamond-petaled California poppy, Merced monardella, and Merced phacelia. Animal species not covered by the kit fox umbrella include the riparian brush rabbit, the riparian woodrat, and certain locations for the three dune beetle species. Specialty reserves have been designated to address the needs of both plant and animal species that are not covered by the kit fox umbrella by virtue of their range or habitat specificity.

Introduction

Comment: Relate this Draft Plan to other plans, current or future, for other listed species which are also found within the San Joaquin Valley.

Response: The table with this information has been inserted into the final Plan as Appendix D.

Comment: Define "natural", it is unclear in the text if nonnative grasslands are included in this definition.

Response: Natural lands are those that have not been cultivated in recent years and retain a semblance of the natural community that historically occurred there.

Comment: The Draft Plan does not fully incorporate an ecosystem approach. The Draft Plan should address the numerous other species of concern, all native annual plant species, the interactions of these natives with non-native plant species, and incorporation of other literature covering related species, similar habitats and/or relevant ecological principles and processes, and the negative effect introduced herbivores have had on the native flora.

Response: The commenter suggests a document that would be beyond the scope, policy, and budget of the USFWS. The USFWS has the responsibility under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) , "to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, ..." In 1994, the USFWS and the National Marine Fisheries Service issued six joint policies regarding implementation of the Act. The third policy addresses the need to "focus on groups of species dependent on the same ecosystem." It directs the USFWS to "implement recovery plans for multiple listed and candidate species".

Comment: How much of the remaining 5 percent of the San Joaquin Valley, that is not urban or agricultural, would need to be protected to meet the goals of the Draft Plan?

Response: The exact acreage of remaining natural lands on the Valley floor that are needed for recovery cannot be determined at this time. The amount needed will depend on a number of factors, including how successfully public lands are managed, if mechanisms are developed to move kit foxes through existing agricultural land, and the role that other developed lands can contribute to species conservation.

Comment: Provide a brief account of the significant limitations of the GAP Data Set, especially for valley communities, as Figure 3 likely over-estimates Natural Lands.

Response: Figure 3 is a generalization of the California Gap Analysis data from the University of California at Santa Barbara. The Universitys coverage was developed with state and regional level analysis in mind. It does not provide spatial resolution of individual stands of vegetation.

The coverage is considered a draft product subject to revision based on additional field work and review by local experts. The Minimum Mapping Unit for upland sites is 100 hectares (250 acres) and for wetland sites is 40 hectares (100 acres). This resolution was selected by the University in light of the objective to map landscape mosaics rather than individual stands as the appropriate level for protection of biodiversity within the entire state.

Species Accounts

Comment: The Draft Plan does not say how many members of a species need to exist to insure perpetual survival.

Response: It is the USFWSs National Policy to quantify recovery criteria, whenever possible. The Recovery Criteria are discussed in the Plan under section III. RECOVERY. The Plan does not specify numbers of individuals for many of the species because their natural behavior makes them dificult to count, and they experience significant natural population fluctuations. Rather, the quantitative criteria are the site-specific protection requirements as listed in Tables 5 and 6. Many of the plant species combine both numbers of individuals and site-specific protection requirements. Some species may have specific research tasks assigned which will assist in quantifying recovery criteria in the future.

Comment: The species accounts need updating.

Response: Many of the species accounts in the Draft Plan were written prior to 1995, the USFWS has updated the portions of species accounts that are necessary to understand or clarify a recovery issue, task, or priority.

Comment: Absent protection of the remaining, undeveloped portions of the Springtown Alkali Sink Preserve watershed, it is unlikely that this population of palmate-bracted birds-beak will remain stable and viable over the long term.

Response: The USFWS realizes the importance of protecting the integrity of the Springtown watershed and has been actively working with the City of Livermore in protecting the hydrology of the area through the North Livermore General Plan.

Comment: Because Hoovers woolly-star is proposed for delisting, a recovery strategy is not necessary.

Response: The recovery planning process and development of a delisting proposal for Hoovers woolly-star have been progressing simultaneously. Intensive surveys conducted by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Department of Energy in recent years indicate that Hoovers woolly-star is more widespread, abundant, and more resilient to perceived threats than previously thought. This new information suggests that this species may no longer need protection under the Act. Protection of Hoovers woolly-star will be in part through the commitment from the Bureau of Land Management to "maintain the species in sufficient numbers and distribution such that listing of the species will never again be necessary". This new biological information, together with existing protective measures on public lands, allows the USFWS to consider delisting Hoovers woolly-star. However, because the delisting has not been proposed or finalized at this time, the USFWS must include Hoovers woolly-star in this recovery plan.

Comment: It seems arbitrary and capricious to prescribe recovery criteria for populations that are not known to be declining (such as the foothill populations).

Response: Unlike animals, plants are not listed by population; the entire species is listed. Thus, recovery strategies for Hoovers woolly-star address the entire range of the species. Populations that are not in decline will contribute to recovery without changes in management, whereas declining populations will require more intensive efforts to ensure their long-term conservation.

Comment: It is conjecture that the privatization of the U.S. Department of Energys Naval Petroleum Reserve #1 could lead to greater surface disturbance if rates of exploration and production are increased.

Response: Increased production is not conjecture, as Occidental Petroleum has already expressed its intent to drill additional wells and conduct exploratory activities throughout Elk Hills. Although low-to-moderate levels of petroleum production appear to be compatible with the continued existence of Hoovers woolly-star and other listed species, there is no evidence that high-density oil fields maintain suitable habitat over the long-term.

Comment: The species account for the Bakersfield smallscale does not clearly indicate the presence of a resident population at the Kern Lake Preserve nor does subsequent discussion clearly indicate Bakersfield smallscale as a separate species.

Response: These have been clarified in the final version of the Plan.

Comment: Based on the community associations described in the species account, the East Bay Regional Park District suggests that there are four suitable sites for recovery of the diamond-petaled California poppy in the East Bay (Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, Roddy Ranch, Lo Vaqueros Watershed, and in the Altamont Creek watershed).

Response: The USFWS appreciates the interest of the East Bay Regional Park District in the conservation of the diamond-petaled California poppy, and has included those sites in Table 3 and the Conservation Strategy section.

Comment: In regard to protection of lands, those lands currently occupied by giant kangaroo rats should receive priority over lands that are not currently occupied by the species (pg 91, item c should be moved to the bottom of the list).

Response: The giant kangaroo rat has intermittently occupied these periodically-farmed areas in western Fresno and eastern San Benito Counties. Protecting these lands could allow the giant kangaroo rat to expand in that area. For this reason, these lands are considered to be a higher priority than the smaller, fragmented populations in the Cuyama Valley, Kettlemen Hills, or San Juan Creek Valley.

Comment: No mention is made in the Draft Plan about the effect of the California ground squirrel on the giant kangaroo rat.

Response: There is some evidence that the California ground squirrel may displace the giant kangaroo rat, however, this is usually on a temporary basis, and over the long-term, has not significantly affected this species.

Comment: Provide an estimate for the number of hectares that historically would have been suitable habitat for the Fresno kangaroo rat.

Response: An accurate estimate of the amount of historical Fresno kangaroo rat habitat cannot be calculated. There has been a long history of land conversion in the range of the Fresno kangaroo rat, 140 to 150 years in some cases. Also, the subspecies range did include wetlands and other natural communities that did not support Fresno kangaroo rats. Our best guess is that a significant portion of the historical range (probably 50 to 70 percent) was suitable habitat.

Comment: If the San Joaquin kit fox preys on listed kangaroo rat species, why is there no mention of controlling the San Joaquin kit fox through a predator control effort.

Response: Because the San Joaquin kit fox is an endangered species, predation by kit foxes on kangaroo rats is not likely to be a significant limiting factor on kangaroo rat populations, and, therefore, controlling kit fox numbers would be unsound.

Comment: There is no mention of recent genetics work which tends to lump Tipton kangaroo rats and short-nosed kangaroo rats, but supports the subspecies division relative to short-nosed and Fresno kangaroo rats.

Response: The genetic studies referred to by the commenter have not been completed at this time, therefore, it is premature to speculate about their conclusions. Because of the extreme difficulty of finding Fresno kangaroo rat populations in their primary historic range, researchers have been required to use museum specimens. Thorough analyses of these specimens is a lengthy process.

Comment: The blunt-nosed leopard lizard had a previous recovery plan, can the successes and failures be quantified, particularly with regard to acreage.

Response: The original recovery plan for the blunt-nosed leopard lizard was written in 1980. The prime objective of the 1980 recovery plan was to restore and maintain blunt-nosed leopard lizard populations at or above the 1979 levels. This included determining distribution of the lizard on both public and private lands, monitoring land use changes and population changes, investigating effects of insect and rodent control programs, and preserving specific "units" of habitat (through lease, fee title, purchase, easement, landowner agreement or zoning).

The recovery plan designated twenty "Habitat Units" as "essential", giving 10 of those priority for protection. The 10 areas equaled 150,000 acres of private lands. The recovery plan determined that in addition to the public lands designated as essential, 30,000 acres of the 150,000 acres of private land would need to be preserved to delist the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. To date less than 10,000 acres of the designated 150,000 acres has been preserved, however, an estmated 74,144 acres have been lost.

In addition many other goals of the 1980 recovery plan have not been met. For example, the effects of oil and gas operations on blunt-nosed leopard lizards were not evaluated to the extent that they were for the kit fox.

Comment: Clarify if blunt-nosed leopard lizards occupy ground squirrel burrows, the text is confusing.

Response: They inhabit both antelope squirrel and California ground squirrel burrows.

Comment: San Joaquin kit fox had a previous recovery plan. Can the successes and failures be quantified?

Response: In the 1983 Recovery Plan for the San Joaquin kit fox, six Recovery Tasks were proposed. The first was to reduce or reverse the rate at which habitat of the kit fox is being lost by initiating a program of essential habitat management, protection, and acquisition. Although no specific "program" was initiated, there was a coordinated effort by agencies and nonprofit organizations to acquire and manage lands for this purpose. The goal was to protect a total of 25,000 acres in western Kern County and the Carrizo Plain in eastern San Luis Obispo County. To date, the target has been met only for the Carrizo Plain.

The second task was to acquire additional information necessary to understand the ecological life history requirements of the kit fox and to determine their compatibility with human activities such as petroleum field developments, grazing, rodent control programs, and agricultural expansion. Many research programs were developed in the intervening years to answer just such questions. As of 1983 there were only 13 documents with information on the San Joaquin kit fox. Today there are hundreds of papers, either published in technical journals or as reports to agencies. The U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission both conducted multiple year research into the effect of differing oil production levels on a variety of kit fox natural history aspects. The U. S. Department of the Army conducted similar studies with regard to the effects that military exercises would have on kit foxes. Recently the Endangered Species Recovery Program began studying the use of agricultural lands by kit foxes, and grazing research undertaken by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Geologic Survey will provide insights into the effects of grazing on kit fox prey abundance. Recent work on urban kit fox population ecology in Bakersfield is shedding new light on the potential for this population to contribute to recovery. No specific research has been conducted on the effects of different rodent control programs on the San Joaquin kit fox.

The third task was to restore degraded essential habitats by enhancing natural routes and rates of vegetation. Although much of the land protected under task 1 has been managed for San Joaquin kit fox, it has not reached or retained the goal of 1.4 adult kit foxes per acre.

Task four was to monitor progress of recovery by determining changes in kit fox distribution and abundance, habitat losses or gains, rates of habitat restoration, and acquisition of new information concerning kit foxes. Unfortunately, as is mentioned in the Plan, there has not been a range wide survey to determine kit fox distribution and abundance. Individual monitoring programs do provide yearly data on local distribution and abundance. In part, due to this yearly information, it became clear to the USFWS that the 1983 Recovery Plan for the kit fox needed to be revisited and updated, hence the inclusion of the kit fox in the Plan.

The fifth task was to investigate the feasibility of reintroductions in portions of the original range of the kit fox. Minimal research has been conducted on this task.

The sixth task was to develop strategies for integrating Recovery Plan objectives into development and management goals for the southern San Joaquin Valley. As mentioned in the Plan there has been, and continues to be, much progress on this task. Habitat Conservation Plans, Biological Opinions, and Resource Management Plans, all take into account goals for kit fox recovery.

Comment: It is unclear from the Drat Plan whether the concern is that there is inadequate information to determine if enhancement of farmland habitat for wildlife will benefit the nonnative red fox over the San Joaquin kit fox, or whether it is established that enhancement activities for the kit fox would also benefit the red fox. If enhancement activities would also benefit red fox, then red fox control will have to be an integral part of the overall recovery strategy.

Response: The Endangered Species Recovery Program is currently studying the use of agricultural land by both species. Results of this study will guide the direction of management. Any red fox control program would need to be done in a selective manner.

Comment: Not provided is any justification for the need, location, and width of the actual linkage corridors for the San Joaquin kit fox shown on Figure 73.

Response: The Plan does discuss the need for linkage corridors, and the general locations are indicated on Figure 73. Specific locations, within the larger general area, and the eventual width and shape of the linkage corridors is dependant on the amount of state and federally owned land, the amount of natural lands, and the willingness of landowners to voluntarily enter into cooperative agreements to preserve natural lands or to reestablish habitat on retired farmland.

Comment: Fort Hunter Liggett has a very small population to be considered "important" (no foxes sighted in the last 2 years and fewer than a dozen known on post at any given time). Camp Roberts populations are also at extremely low levels and possibly below the necessary number required to recover. Additional recovery efforts may be needed here, including determining why the fox population is declining, and considering a reintroduction program for these two sites.

Response: This information has been taken into account and necessary adjustments made in the final Plan.

Comment: In the San Joaquin kit fox Population Ecology and Management section, what does "fluctuations in vital rates and spatial parameters of populations" mean. (pg. 133, within v.)?

Response: Fluctuations in vital rates and spatial parameters of populations refers to population demography, including reproduction, mortality, survivorship, recruitment into the population and dispersal. These are basic parameters of population ecology.

Comment: Another measure that should be considered under the San Joaquin kit fox Population Ecology and Management section, is to study the persistence and demographics of kit foxes in urban areas such as Bakersfield. Protection measures for foxes in urban areas should also be developed and implemented.

Response: This information has been taken into account and necessary adjustments made in the final Plan.

Comment: The Draft Plan may only provide limited protection for the dune community insects and it is not clear by what method the number of protected sites, acreages, and locations were chosen.

Response: Locations highlighted in the Plan are sites where populations of the dune community insects are known to occur. If additional populations are found, the USFWS will pursue incentives for conservation.

Comment: Due to the low numbers of riparian brush rabbits, has the USFWS considered an artificial breeding recovery program in which individuals trapped in the future would be added to the breeding program?

Response: The dangerous decline in riparian brush rabbit numbers has been a result of the last few years of extensive and persistent flooding. Adjustments have been made in the final Plan to respond to the urgent needs of this species.

Recovery

Comment: The Draft Plan should make clearer that the goal of any recovery plan is to recover the species, not just to reclassify the listed status.

Response: Within the OBJECTIVES of Section III. RECOVERY, the Plan states that the overall objectives of this recovery plan are to delist the federally listed species. Downlisting from endangered to threatened is usually the first step in the delisting process. This reclassifcation is an indicator that "the species is on the road to recovery", however, protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act is still in effect. This protection remains in place until the best scientific and commercial data available indicate that protection is no longer needed for the species long-term survival.

Comment: It is not clear in Table 4 Generalized Recovery Criteria for Federally-Listed Plants and Animals, whether or not the required protected recovery areas overlap with other species requirements or if the acreage of each species is additive to the overall requirement of the Draft Plan.

Response: Table 4 provides information for delisting for each individual species. If listed species overlap in their locations, the acreages would not be additive. The species with the lower acreage would, therefore, be included in the larger acreage as long as the other criteria, such as occupation, were met. These acreage amounts are also not additive to the "overall requirement", they are the pieces of the overall requirement.

Comment: The Draft Plan fails to adequately describe the "site specific management actions" that may be "necessary to achieve the plans goal for the conservation and survival of the species" (16 U.S.C. 1533(f)(1)(B)(I)).

Response: Areas in need of protection have been identified in Tables 5 and 6. Site specific management actions have been addressed where possible, and where not addressed, specific management actions will be tailored to the area once the identified management related research tasks are completed (see Table 10).

Comment: The Draft Plan fails to describe "objective, measurable criteria" which "would result in a determination...that the species be removed from the list" (16 U.S.C. 1533(f)(1)(B)(ii).

Response: It is the USFWSs National Policy to quantify recovery criteria, whenever possible. The Recovery Criteria are discussed in the Plan under section III. RECOVERY. The Plan does not specify numbers of individuals for many of the species because their natural behavior makes them difficult to count, and they experience significant natural population fluctuations. Rather, the quantitative criteria are the site-specific protection requirements as listed in Tables 5 and 6. Many of the plant species combine both numbers of individuals and site-specific protection requirements. Some species may have specific research tasks assigned which will assist in quantifying recovery criteria in the future.

Comment: The Draft Plan fails to provide "estimates of the time required and the cost to carry out those measures needed to achieve the plans goal (16 U.S.C. 1533(f)(1)(B)(iii).

Response: See the Implementation Schedule for estimates of the time required to carry out each recommended task and the cost to carry out each task, where costs can be estimated.

Comment: Will the Draft Plan add an additional layer of mitigation and or compensation requirements on top of requirements called for in existing Habitat Conservation Plans?

Response: Existing Habitat Conservation Plans were developed with listed species recovery and candidate species protection in mind. In many instances Habitat Conservation Plans are the cornerstone of protection strategies within the Plan. A fundamental aspect of Habitat Conservation Plans is that they cannot preclude recovery, and in many cases, such as the Kern Water Bank Habitat Conservation Plan, help the USFWS reach recovery goals. Therefore, there would be no new mitigation or compensation requirements from these existing Habitat Conservation Plans.

Comment: The Draft Plan states that monitoring showing stability or increasing numbers during a precipitation cycle (annual rainfall of 35 percent above-average through greater than 35 percent below-average and back to average or greater) would achieve population goals. How was this criterion for achieving population goals arrived at?

Response: Although basing population assessments on a precipitation cycle of plus or minus 35 percent of average preciitation is somewhat arbitrary, it recognizes the tremendous environmental variability in the San Joaquin Valley and the significant impacts this variability has on population dynamics of plants and animals. This extreme variability (which is normally affected through timing and amount of rainfall) is a fact, as is the impact it has on San Joaquin ecosystems. Sufficient information is currently unavailable to refine this criterium. This is an area that needs further research.

Comment: The Draft Plan incorrectly refers to natural habitat and historic ranges of upland species in areas that were actually the historical Tulare Lake, and therefore a historical wetland. Restoration efforts should be driven by what occurred on the site historically and should not be permanently hampered by protection efforts driven by what occurs on the site currently.

Response: The USFWS recognizes the importance of wetland restoration in the San Joaquin Valley. Wetland restoration that provides a full complement of the factors needed by wetland species should include an upland component. This upland component can benefit upland federally listed species as well.

Comment: Small preserves should not be limited to specialty preserves, but for all species, to protect from disease, potential genetic disorders, and invasion of exotic species or predators.

Response: The Plan does not exclude small preserves and some of the identified research tasks will help determine the size, shape, and locations of these preserves for the reasons presented by the commenter.

Comment: How much private land will be needed to recover these species?

Response: The USFWS cannot estimate the acreage of private land that will be needed to recover listed species included in this recovery plan. Wherever possible, the recovery plan first emphasizes using public or other conservation lands to achieve recovery goals.

Comment: The reliance on the "Safe Harbor" concept to recover certain species in the Draft Plan will not work because Safe Harbor agreements do nothing to reduce the chief source of liability for neighboring agricultural landowners: incidental take of species in the course of otherwise lawful, routine, and ongoing agricultural practices on lands in active agricultural use. Clearly, such a limited "harbor" provides no safety whatsoever to an agricultural landowner.

Response: The commenter appears to be concerned about two issues--the effects of the Endangered Species Acts (Act) "take" prohibition on agricultural lands and producers generally; and (2) specifically, the effects of the Acts take prohibition on lands neighboring properties subject to a Safe Harbor agreement. With respect to number (2), landowners that neighbor Safe Harbor programs may have legitimate fears that habitat creation or restoration under such programs could result in regulatory restrictions on their own lands (if, for example, endangered species on the Safe Harbor lands colonize a neighboring property). The USFWS shares this concern and is exploring mechanisms to protect neighboring landowners, as well as the landowner enrolled in the Safe Harbor program, under its national Safe Harbor policy. The USFWS also shares the concern expressed under number (1) above--that the Acts take prohibition may result in violations of the Act if endangered species are inadvertently taken during routine agricultural operations, such as plowing fallowed land. However, this is a broader issue that exceeds the scope of the Safe Harbor program and is best addressed under the Habitat Conservation Planning program.

Comment: The Draft Plan does not recognize the cumulative impact on the San Joaquin Valley economy of other species protection set-asides in place or in planning at this time, including the demands of the massive CALFED process which threatens to retire more than 250,000 acres of some of the best farmland in the nation -- within the recovery planning area-- to offset impacts traceable in large measure to growth outside this area. It is poor environmental planning to retire agricultural acreage if feasible alternatives exist.

Response: Land Retirement is a program authorized under the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA (3408(h)). The primary objective of the Land Retirement Program is to decrease drainage-related problems caused by selenium along the central and western side of the San Joaquin Valley. The land is purchased from willing sellers and is intended to retire lands that are no longer suitable for sustained agricultural production. These lands have permanent damage resulting from severe drainage or agricultural wastewater management problems, groundwater withdrawals, or other causes.

There are many advantages to retiring these damaged and impaired lands. Certain lands retired may be restored to benefit listed upland species helping to meet recovery goals. Retirement of selenifirous lands and restoration for endangered species can be a cost effective method of overlaying two Federal programs lessening the burden on private landowners. By reducing saline and toxic drainage, land retirement can lead to an improvement of water conservation by water districts or improve the quality of an irrigation districts agricultural wastewater. Safer water can potentially benefit fish and wildlife, and associated habitats in the Central Valley. Many land owners are receptive to the program--for example, advertisements in local newspapers, organizational newsletters, and agricultural publications resulted in the receipt of 31 applications covering approximately 27,582 acres, of which 12,563 acres were selected.

It should be stated that recovery plans are advisory documents and not action documents. Implementation of recovery tasks is discretionary. Therefore, recovery plans do not require, as do National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, an analysis of the cumulative impacts of recovery implementation. Specific Federal actions that implement recovery tasks might be subject to such analysis.

Currently the CALFed project does not include a land retirement program.

Comment: Perpetual conservation easements or transfer of fee title to a conservation entity constitutes a "taking" of private properties if it is done without any accompanying compensation.

Response: Perpetual conservation easements are purchased from willing sellers at fair market value or received as donations. Transfer of fee title also occurs when landowners willingly sell or donate land. The USFWS, therefore, is not "taking" land.

Comment: Discussions pertaining to the Kern Lake Preserve presented within the Draft Plan present the impression that private landowners are incapable of administering recovery programs or maintaining sensitive habitat areas.

Response: The USFWS recognizes and appreciates that the landowner has protected, to date, the Kern Lake population of the Buena Vista Lake shrew. However, there are factors outside of the landowners control that may affect this population. Without an agreement for the conservation of this candidate species, its protection is not guaranteed.

Comment: The number of "specialty preserves" is unusually high in Kern County relative to other portions of the plan area.

Response: Kern County has a higher proportion of natural lands remaining on the Valley floor than do most other counties included in the plan area. Not coincidentally, threatened and endangered plants have persisted in Kern County. Many of these plants, additionally, have limited distribution.

Comment: Now that the Naval Petroleum Reserve in California # 1 is in private ownership, the Draft Plan does not adequately identify procedural steps and funding appropriate to designate the Elk Hills Unit as a "core area".

Response: The purpose of a recovery plan is to identify areas needing preservation. The mechanism to preserve the area should be determined by agencies and the landowner.

Comment: It is very likely that pesticide concerns and some of the proposed research can be addressed with existing information on file at the Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Response: The USFWS will use all appropriate sources of information when carrying out recovery tasks.

Comment: The claim that pesticides are a potential threat to pollinators of native plant species is not credible at face value.

Response: The USFWS continues to believe that insecticides are a potential threat, given that they kill insects and insects are believed to pollinate many of the plant species included in this Plan. Dr. Robbin Thorp, professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis, and a highly respected expert on native insect pollinators, supports USFWSs concerns regarding the potential threat of insecticides. The Plan does not state that insecticides or other pesticides are a documented threat but rather that they are a potential threat. It recommends further research to determine whether or not pesticides pose a problem, and under what conditions their use is compatible with recovery of these species. The efforts of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to strengthen existing protections, by prohibiting use of certain insecticides when listed plants are in bloom, is a positive step toward protecting these rare plants until research on this matter can be conducted.

Comment: Many of the efforts outlined in the Draft Plan that will be necessary to recover species are in progress or have at least been initiated.

Response: The Plan, which has been developing over the last 6 years, has already provided many agencies and organizations a direction in planning research projects and in targeting specific areas for purchase that will meet recovery tasks. There are at a minimum three research projects underway that will begin to answer questions about San Joaquin kit foxes, and the direction provided in early versions of the Draft Plan allowed the Metropolitan Bakersfield Implementation Trust group to target specific areas for the protection of Bakersfield cactus, bringing recovery goals ever closer.

Comment: Some areas mentioned in the Draft Plan, like Devils Den, Lost Hills, Caliente Creek, Cuyama Valley, and Poso Creek are currently slated by the Bureau of Land Management to be exchanged. These areas could very likely move into private ownership. How will this change the Draft Plan?

Response: The geographic areas listed by the commenter fall within the Bureau of Land Management Caliente Resource Management Plan (RMP) area. The Bureau of Land Management RMP General Management Processes require that all proposed actions, including land exchanges, be reviewed for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and other laws. If it is determined that a proposed land exchange may affect a listed species, the Bureau of Land Management must consult with the USFWS under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

Comment: Define the terms and any legal significance of "Management Plan", "survival of the species as an objective", and "identified as essential to continued survival".

Response: There is no legal significance to any of the above terms. A Management Plan is a document that states the management objectives for a specific site and identifies the actions to be taken to achieve those objectives. "Survival of the species as an objective" means that the management plan should specify that promoting the continued existence of species covered in this Plan is an objective. "Identified as essential to continued survival" referred to the areas specified in the Recovery and Stepdown Narrative sections of the Plan (sections III and IV, respectively) that are needed to achieve recovery. To avoid confusion with legally designated critical habitat, the final Plan refers to these as "important to the continued survival".

Stepdown Narrative

Comment: The Draft Plan should present strategies to secure funding to promote local government Habitat Conservation Plan efforts.

Response: In section 6. (d) of the Act, the USFWS is "authorized to provide financial assistance to any State, through its respective State agency... to assist in the development of programs for the conservation of listed species or to assist in monitoring the status of candidate species... nd recovered species". These funds are allocated on an annual basis. In 1997 and 1998, money was appropriated by Congress, through section 6 of the Act, to assist local entities with Habitat Conservation Plan implementation.

Implementation Schedule

Comment: The Implementation Schedule lacks sufficient detail in addressing the specific source of funding, and lacks the assurances that the responsible parties such as State and Federal agencies will actually implement the recovery strategies.

Response: The USFWS can not assure that state or other Federal agencies will implement the recovery plan. Congress appropriates funds to the USFWS for endangered species activities, and the USFWS funds the implementation of recovery tasks after evaluating all of its work load priorities. The USFWS cannot guarantee that sufficient funds will be available to implement this or any other recovery plan.

Comment: The Implementation Schedule is for the first 4 fiscal years only, yet the Draft Plan is for 20 years. How will the costs be allocated for the next 16 years?

Response: The Total Cost column reflects costs over 20 years. Only the first 4 years are shown in detail because they represent a more precise budget cycle. For ongoing continual tasks the costs in years 5 through 20 would be the same or similar to years 1 through 4.

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