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CURRENT ANNOUNCEMENTS AND NEWS RELEASES
SOURCE: Federal Register, December 4, 2003
NOTICE OF CLOSURE
SUMMARY: This notice closes to casual use certain public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, in order to prevent hikers and other visitors from accessing ridges that overlook bighorn sheep breeding pens on the property of the Bighorn Institute.
EFFECTIVE DATE: December 4, 2003.
ADDRESSES: Send inquiries or suggestions to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, Palm Springs Field Office, Bureau of Land Management, 690 W. Garnet, PO Box 581260, North Palm Springs, CA 92258-1260.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Danella George, Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Manager, (760) 251-4800.
On February 13, 2003, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
issued a Biological Opinion (FWS-ERIV-3354.1), in accordance with section 7 of the
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, addressing effects on the endangered
Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) from a proposed joint trails and
recreation use plan prepared by the City of Palm Desert and the Bureau of Land Management
(the joint plan). As part of the proposed action, and consistent with the Biological
Opinion, the City of Palm Desert (City) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed to
close portions of City and BLM-managed public lands to recreation and casual use to
prevent hikers from accessing ridges that overlook bighorn sheep breeding pens on the
property of the Bighorn Institute.
The population of bighorn sheep in the United States' Peninsular Ranges was listed as an endangered species on March 18, 1998. The Recovery Plan for Bighorn Sheep in the Peninsular Ranges, California, was issued on October 25, 2000. On October 25, 2000, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument was established by an Act of Congress that was signed into law by President Clinton (Pub. L. 106- 351). BLM completed the California Desert Conservation Area Plan Amendment for the Coachella Valley (Coachella Valley Plan) on December 27, 2002. The Coachella Valley Plan covered portions of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountain National Monument and addresses recovery of the bighorn sheep.
Because bighorn sheep evolved with canine predators, they are particularly sensitive to the presence of dogs. This has created a conflict between bighorn sheep conservation management and recreational use of public lands. In 2000, BLM issued a temporary closure of public lands prohibiting dogs in designated critical bighorn sheep habitat, except in a few designated areas. Recreational hiking with dogs had been a popular use on City owned lands and public lands south of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center on Highway 74. This situation caused a conflict with the Bighorn Institute, a captive bighorn sheep breeding facility located north of the Visitor Center. The director of the Bighorn Institute expressed concern over the nearness of dogs south of the Visitor Center and requested that they be moved to a different location. BLM and the City proposed to construct a loop trail south of the Visitor Center that would be off-limits to dogs, and to construct an additional trail, open to hikers with dogs, on the west side of Highway 74 that would connect the City's Homme-Adams Park with the Cahuilla Hills Park. Dogs would be allowed on the Homme-Adams Park Trail and Cahuilla Hills Park Trail. Under agreements with the Bighorn Institute and the City, BLM proposed to discourage hiking access by reclaiming an unauthorized road and enforce a closure along the saddle immediately south of the BLM property line that leads to an overlook on BLM lands above the Bighorn Institute's sheep pens. The proposed action for trail realignments, new trail construction, and blocking access to the ridge overlooking the Bighorn Institute was analyzed under an environmental assessment (Homme-Adams and Visitor Center Trail Loops, EA-660-03-08). The BLM initiated consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) on the effects of the proposed project on the endangered Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep, in accordance with section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA), on December 30, 2002. The Service issued a Biological Opinion based on the BLM and City environmental assessments, information in Service files, and on information and agreements obtained in meetings, telephone conversations, and e-mails prior to and during the consultation period. Under the Terms and Conditions of the Biological Opinion, and to meet the requirement of section 9 of the ESA, the BLM must take reasonable and prudent measures to minimize the impact of incidental take by minimizing the adverse effects of human disturbance to wild and captive bighorn sheep, through the proposed actions referenced in EA- 660-03-08. These actions include BLM and City commitments: (1) To block human access to the old ``Shirley'' road on their lands through a combination of signage, fencing and physical barriers, including deconstructing and recontouring the road sufficient to discourage access and reinforce the closure along the saddle immediately south of the BLM property line that leads to an overlook on BLM lands of the Bighorn Institute's sheep pens, and (2) to employ a progressive management strategy to prevent hiking off the designated trail system and towards or overlooking captive sheep in the Bighorn Institute pens, including signage, stricter enforcement and penalties when legally feasible, physical barriers and fencing at strategic locations. The BLM issued a Decision Record to implement the proposed action, including the Terms and Conditions of the Biological Opinion, on March 7, 2003. The City issued an ordinance (Ordinance No. 1034) and a resolution (Resolution No. 03-12), approving construction of a new trail and closing portions of City lands between the National Monument Visitor Center and the ridge overlooking the Bighorn Institute, on January 23, 2003 (mitigation measures B-5 and B-6).
In compliance with 43 CFR 8364.1(c), notice is hereby given that BLM is closing portions of public lands in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The public lands hereby closed are those lands within the north \1/2\ of the north \1/2\ of Section 7, Township 6 South, Range 6 East, San Bernardino Meridian (SBM). These restrictions will be in effect year-round from December 4, 2003 until rescinded by the authorized officer. The order to close these lands is needed to protect the resources of the public lands and to minimize conflicts among various uses of the public lands.
[note by AVA webmaster: see Federal Register for complete text of the Notice]
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