FWS reopens comment period and public hearings on revisions to Peninsular bighorn sheep critical habitat
73 Fed. Reg. 50498 (Tuesday, August 26, 2008)(DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; Fish and Wildlife Service; 50 CFR Part 17; WS–R8–ES–2008–0005; 92210–1117–0000–B4 RIN 1018–AV09; Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for the Peninsular Ranges Population of Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni); Proposed rule; reopening of comment period, revised proposed critical habitat, notice of availability of draft economic analysis, notice of public hearings, and amended required determinations).
According to the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, "the Peninsular bighorn sheep is endangered because of the loss and fragmentation of Habitat, disease, and predation. A limiting factor is that the sheep live in a narrow band of Habitat in which they must find the resources needed to survive in a harsh desert environment." The CVMSHCP conservation goals expressly address the needs of the species. Photo of Bighorn sheep from Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management.
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the reopening of the comment period and the scheduling of public hearings on our October 10, 2007, proposed revision to critical habitat for the Peninsular bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). In this document, we propose to add approximately 36,240 acres (ac) (14,667 hectares (ha)) to our proposed revision of critical habitat. We also announce the availability of the draft economic analysis (DEA) of the proposed revision to critical habitat and amended required determinations. We are reopening the comment period to allow all interested parties an opportunity to comment simultaneously on the proposed revisions to critical habitat, the associated DEA, and the amended required determinations section. Please do not resend comments that you submitted on the October 10, 2007, proposed rule. We considered those comments in our revisions to the proposed critical habitat that are set forth in this supplemental proposed rule. Comments previously submitted are included in the public record for his rulemaking.
EXCERPT RE: ADDITIONAL HABITAT: FWS added new areas of critical habitat to the proposed designation. For example, "During the public comment period, a number of comments we received from biologists familiar with the Peninsular bighorn sheep provided additional information regarding the importance of low-elevation and alluvial fan habitat along the eastern edge of the Santa Rosa Mountains. We also received a limited amount of recently collected occurrence data in the wash areas along the eastern edge of the south Santa Rosa Mountains. In light of these comments and the revision of our criteria used to identify critical habitat to include occurrence data since 1988, we reevaluated and revised our proposed revised critical habitat boundary along the eastern edge of the Santa Rosa Mountains. We agree that low-elevation habitat is important for Peninsular bighorn sheep, and where occurrence data indicated sheep use, we revised our proposed revision of critical habitat to include four additional areas along the eastern edge of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Similarly, "since the proposed revised critical habitat was published, there have been additional sightings and reports of sheep activity around and within the Interstate 8 ‘‘Island,’’ including suitable habitat areas that extend south to the United States-Mexico border recently collected by Service biologists and other biologists familiar with the DPS include actual sightings of multiple sheep and reports of sheep scat and tracks throughout the area, indicating that this area is currently occupied by a group of Peninsular bighorn sheep. This area exhibits rugged habitat that contains the features essential for Peninsular bighorn sheep conservation and is continuous with habitat in Mexico...."
NOTEWORTHY EXCERPTS RE: REMOVAL AND EXCLUSIONS OF CRITICAL HABITAT. While FWS added some critical habitat, it substracted some too... Changes to Areas Currently Being Considered for Exclusion. Based on ownership updates and additions to the proposed revised critical habitat described in this document, there are approximately 6,302 ac (2,550 ha) of private and draft CVMSHCP (Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan) permittee-owned and in Unit 1 and 12,499 ac (5,058 ha) in Unit 2A. We are now evaluating and considering the possible exclusion from the final revised critical habitat designation approximately 18,801 ac (7,609 ha) of private and draft CVMSHCP permittee-owned lands covered by the draft CVMSHCP under section 4(b)(2) of the Act.
KEITHINKING: Public comment does serve a purpose, and FWS clearly does respond to it.