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74 Fed. Reg. 17288 / Vol. 74, No. 70 / Tuesday, April 14, 2009 / DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR / Fish and Wildlife Service / 50 CFR Part 17 / Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Peninsular Bighorn Sheep and Determination of a Distinct Population Segment of Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni)
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), designate revised critical habitat for the Peninsular bighorn sheep, a distinct population segment (DPS) of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) occupying the Peninsular Ranges of Southern California, under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). In total, approximately 376,938 acres (ac) (152,542 hectares (ha)) fall within the boundaries of the critical habitat designation. This revised designation of critical habitat for Peninsular bighorn sheep reduces the 2001 designation by approximately 467,959 ac (189,377 ha). The revised critical habitat is located in Riverside, San Diego, and Imperial Counties, California.
Peninsular bighorn sheep inhabit dry, rocky, low-elevation desert slopes, canyons, and washes from the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountains near Palm Springs, California south into Baja California, Mexico. The species is exposed to dangers including habitat reduction, automobile collisions, ingestion of poisonous ornamental plants, high predator densities, and parasites and disease. Photo and caption info from the Bighorn Institute.
EXCERPT: The areas identified in this final revised rule constitute a revision of the areas we proposed to designate as critical habitat for Peninsular bighorn sheep on October 10, 2007 (72 FR 57740). In light of substantial public comments and a revision of our criteria used to identify critical habitat, we reevaluated and included in this final rule three general areas that were not included in the 2007 proposed rule. These additions were announced in the NOA published in the Federal Register on August 26, 2008, (73 FR 50498), and include the following: Areas along the eastern edge of the Santa Rosa Mountains in Units 2A and 2B; parts of the San Ysidro, Pinyon, and Vallecito Mountains in Unit 2B; and a portion of the Jacumba Mountains in Unit 3 (approximately 36,240 ac (14,666 ha)). The reduction in total area from the 2007 proposed critical habitat designation is primarily the result of habitat exclusions under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.
KEITHINKING: The announcement includes a lengthy section with public comments and responses, but in the end, a substantial reduction in critical habitat results -- over a 50% reduction -- largely due to the exclusion of tribal lands, and lands with HCPs or other approved management plans. According to the Silicon Valley Mercury News, the Center for Biological Diversity intends to challenge the agency action. The Federal Register announcement is also noteworthy for its explanation of FWS' views on critical habitat, and the agency opinion that Habitat Conservation Planning is a more effective tool for protection of endangered and threatened species:
We believe that in many instances the regulatory benefit of critical habitat is minimal when compared to the conservation benefit that can be achieved through implementing Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs) under section 10 of the Act or other habitat management plans. The conservation achieved through such plans is typically greater than what we achieve through multiple site-by-site, project-by-project, section 7(a)(2) consultations involving consideration of critical habitat. Management plans commit resources to implement long-term management and protection to particular habitat for at least one and possibly other listed or sensitive species. Section 7(a)(2) consultations only commit Federal agencies to preventing adverse modification of critical habitat caused by the particular project, and they are not committed to provide conservation or long-term benefits to areas not affected by the proposed action. Thus, implementation of an HCP or management plan that incorporates enhancement or recovery as the management standard may often provide as much or more benefit than a consultation for critical habitat designation.