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SOURCE: US Fish and Wildlife Servce, Press Release, June 6, 2000.
SERVICE PROPOSES CRITICAL HABITAT FOR ENDANGERED ARROYO TOAD
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will publish June 8 a proposal to designate 478,400 acres of land as critical habitat for the endangered arroyo toad. These lands encompass portions of Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties in California.
About half of the land proposed for protection is managed by federal, state or local agencies, and half is private property. The proposal includes about 8,500 acres of land owned by six Native American Tribes. Some of the areas proposed as critical habitat for the arroyo toad overlap areas already proposed as critical habitat for other endangered species, such as the California gnatcatcher.
Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may requirespecial management considerations. These areas do not necessarily have to be occupied by the species at the time of designation. A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved. It has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not involve federal funding or permits.
A significant percentage of the remaining stream, riparian, and upland habitats for the arroyo toad is on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Department of the Army, and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Although the Services proposal covers nearly 500,000 acres, not all areas within the proposed critical habitat boundaries have habitat features that would require federal agencies to consult with the Service. For example, roads, shopping centers and similar features on the landscape do not contain specific habitat features that the toad needs. These types of man-made structures are included within the proposed boundaries for critical habitat because of the difficulty of mapping at a scale minute enough to exclude all such areas.
The Service is not proposing critical habitat on non_federal lands that are covered by existing Habitat Conservation Plans with executed implementation agreements where activities affecting the arroyo toad are addressed because these lands receive special management considerations and protection under the terms of the agreements. HCPs are agreements with landowners that allow taking of individual endangered or threatened species incidental to otherwise lawful activities, when the effects of the taking are mitigated and minimized by agreed-upon conservation measures. "As an endangered species, the arroyo toad already is protected wherever it occurs and federal agencies are required to consult on any action they take which might jeopardize the species," said Michael J. Spear, manager of the Services California-Nevada Operations Office. "The designation will help the species by ensuring federal agencies and the public alike are aware of the habitat needs of this species and that proper consultation is conducted when required by law."
The arroyo toad was listed as endangered in 1994, under the federal Endangered Species Act. At the time of the listing, the Service concluded that designation of critical habitat was not prudent for the arroyo toad because such designation would not benefit the species, and could make it more vulnerable to increased acts of habitat vandalism, destruction, or unauthorized collection.
In a lawsuit filed against the Service by the Center for Biological Diversity, the plaintiffs contended the Service was in violation of section 4 of the Act, which requires a determination of critical habitat at the time a species is listed. Today's announcement is the result of a settlement agreement to submit a proposed critical habitat rule to the Federal Register by June 1, 2000.
The arroyo toad is a small, buff-colored toad that measures between two and three inches in length and has dark-spotted, warty skin. Its call is a soft, high, whistled trill that is commonly mistaken for the call of an insect. Arroyo toads prefer shallow pools and open, sandy stream terraces. They use adjacent upland habitat for feeding and shelter in winter. The arroyo toad historically occurred in isolated coastal and desert stream areas west of the Mojave Desert, from Monterey County south to the northwestern portion of Baja California, Mexico. Approximately 75 percent of the toads historical habitat has been eliminated as a result of urban development, dam construction, water diversions, agriculture, and recreational activities. Other factors in the arroyo toads decline include encroachment of non-native plants in its preferred habitat and the introduction of non-native species such as bass, sunfish, and bullfrogs that prey on arroyo toads. The arroyo toad currently is known to occur in stream areas in Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, and San Diego counties.
A complete description of the proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the arroyo toad will be published in the June 8 Federal Register. To ensure a complete and comprehensive review of the proposal to designate critical habitat for this species, the Service is asking the public to submit additional pertinent scientific or commercial information or data.
Public comments, data, and other information should be sent to the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2493 Portola Road, Suite B, Ventura, California, 93003. Comments may also be sent by electronic mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please submit comments in ASCII file format and avoid the use of special characters and encryption. Please include "Attn: RIN 1018_AG15," your name, and return address in the e_mail message. If you do not receive a confirmation from the system that your e_mail message was received, contact the Service directly by calling the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office at 805-644-1766.
Public comments on the proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the arroyo toad will be accepted until August 7, 2000.
Public hearings are scheduled for Tuesday, June 27, 2000, at the Hyatt Valencia, 24500 Town Center Drive, Valencia, California; and Thursday, June 29, 2000, at the Temecula Embassy Suites, 29345 Rancho California Road, Temecula, California. Hearings will be held from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at both locations. All comments and materials received, as well as supporting documentation used in the preparation of this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection, by appointment, at the Ventura address.
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