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CURRENT ANNOUNCEMENTS AND NEWS RELEASES
SOURCE: Federal Register, January 21, 2004
We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, are providing this notice to advise the public that a draft environmental assessment will be prepared, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 432 et seq.), in conjunction with a proposed rule to designate critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher . The historical range of the flycatcher includes southern California; Arizona; New Mexico; southern Nevada, Utah, and Colorado; and west Texas. We will hold eight public informational sessions and scoping meetings.
Through this notice and the public scoping meetings, we are seeking comments or suggestions from the public, other concerned governmental agencies, tribes, the scientific community, the business community, or any other interested parties concerning the scope of the environmental analysis, including the alternatives that should be analyzed.
Comments must be submitted directly to the Service on or before March 8, 2004, or at any of the eight scoping meetings to be held in January and February 2004.
We will hold public informational sessions followed by scoping meetings in a workshop format at the following dates and times: 1. January 26, 2004: Phoenix, AZ. 2. January 27, 2004: Silver City, NM. 3. January 28, 2004: Albuquerque, NM. 4. January 29, 2004: Alamosa, CO. 5. February 2, 2004: Las Vegas, NV. Meeting 6, 7 and 8 will be in California:
MEETINGS IN CALIFORNIA:
February 3, 2004: Lake Isabella, CA. Informational session: 6:30 p.m. Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.
February 4, 2004: Corona/City of Chino, CA. Informational session: 6:30 p.m. Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.
February 5, 2004: Escondido, CA. Informational session: 6:30 p.m. Scoping meeting: 7 p.m.
Lake Isabella, CA: Lake Isabella Senior Center, Veteran's Facility, Room 1, 6405 Lake Isabella Blvd., Lake Isabella, CA 93240.
Corona/City of Chino, CA: El Prado Golf Course, 6555 Pine Avenue Chino, CA 91710.
Escondido, CA: Escondido Center for the Arts, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido, CA 92025.
Information, comments, or questions related to preparation of the draft environmental assessment and the NEPA process should be submitted to Steve Spangle, Field Supervisor, Arizona Ecological Services Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2321 West Royal Palm Road, Suite 103, Phoenix, Arizona 85021. Written comments may also be sent by facsimile to (602) 242-2513 or by e-mail to WIFLcomments@fws.gov.
Public Comments Solicited
Our NEPA document (e.g., environmental assessment or impact statement) will consider reasonable alternatives for the designation of critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher. At this time, the complexity and geographic range of a potential critical habitat designation preclude us from knowing what the preferred alternative (proposed action) or other alternatives will be. However, we intend to utilize those areas identified as important stream reaches in the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Recovery Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2002) as a starting point in the process of identifying areas that may meet the definition of critical habitat . This list is not intended to be all inclusive, and comments on any other pertinent issues are welcome. Issues related to the scope of the designation: (1) Published or unpublished information establishing the physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the flycatcher. (2) Historically or currently occupied areas that may contain the physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the flycatcher and may require special management considerations or protections (i.e., specific stream reaches), and the nature of the special management considerations or protections which may be required. (3) A detailed description of essential or nonessential flycatcher areas, including maps and distinct beginning and ending points such as roads, tributaries, and so forth. (4) Published or unpublished information on why identified areas are important (or are no longer important) for flycatcher conservation and whether or not the areas are currently occupied by the species. Specifically, please tell us what these areas provide (or no longer provide) in the way of important flycatcher breeding, feeding, dispersal, and migratory habitat. Please provide us copies of the sources of this information. (5) Any draft or final management plans, Habitat Conservation Plans, or other agreements that provide a conservation benefit to the flycatcher. Please provide us copies of this information. (6) What the lateral extent of critical habitat should be from a stream or other water source. We recognize, due to the dynamic nature of riparian habitat, that designating the 100-year floodplain may be appropriate, and, since we would like to take this into consideration we seek your comments. (7) The existence of flycatcher-specific land management plans. Issues related to evaluation of the environmental impacts: The general question on which we are seeking comments is the identification of direct, indirect, beneficial, and adverse effects caused by the prior or new designation of critical habitat for the flycatcher. In addressing this question, you may wish to consider the following issues: (a) Impacts on floodplains, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, or ecologically sensitive areas; (b) Impacts on park lands, cultural or historic resources; (c) Impacts on human health and safety; (d) Impacts on air, soil, and water; (e) Impacts on prime agricultural lands; (f) Impacts to other endangered or threatened species; (g) Any of the impacts identified in prior section 7 consultations as discussed above; (h) Disproportionately high and adverse impacts on minority and low-income populations; (i) Any other potential or socioeconomic effects; and (j) Any potential conflicts with other Federal, State, local, or Tribal environmental laws or requirements.
Declining flycatcher numbers have been attributed to loss, modification, and fragmentation of riparian breeding habitat; loss of wintering habitat; and loss of young by the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1995, 2002). Willow flycatcher nests are invaded by brown-headed cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the host's nest. Habitat loss and degradation are caused by a variety of factors, including, but not limited to: urban, recreational, and agricultural development; water diversion and groundwater pumping; river channelization; dams and dam operations; and livestock grazing. Fire is an increasing threat to willow flycatcher habitat (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2002), especially when saltcedar vegetation (DeLoach 1991) is the predominant vegetation type and where water diversions and/or groundwater pumping dry out riparian vegetation areas (Sogge et al. 1997).
Previous Federal Actions
We listed the flycatcher as endangered, without critical habitat, on February 27, 1995 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1995). Critical habitat was later designated on July 22 and clarified on August 20, 1997 (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1997a, 1997b). On May 11, 2001, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals set aside designated critical habitat in those states under the 10th circuit's jurisdiction (New Mexico) and the Service decided to set aside critical habitat designated for the flycatcher in all other states (California and Arizona). The Court instructed that we issue a new critical habitat designation in compliance with the Court's ruling. On May 2, 2002, we sent a scoping letter to over 800 interested parties requesting information in order to develop a new critical habitat proposal. On September 30, 2003, the 10th Circuit Court established a deadline for issuance of the flycatcher critical habitat designation. The Court ordered the Service to have a proposed critical habitat designation completed by September 30, 2004, and final designation by September 30, 2005.
The previous flycatcher critical habitat designation and other related documents can be viewed on the Arizona Ecological Services' southwestern willow flycatcher web page. To reach our flycatcher site, type in our Web address (http://arizonaes.fws.gov), click on ``document library'', then ``documents by species'', and then the words, ``southwestern willow flycatcher.'' A final Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Recovery Plan (Recovery Plan) was signed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Region 2 Director on August 30, 2002, and released to the public in March 2003. The Plan can also be found at the Arizona Ecological Services' southwestern willow flycatcher web page. The Plan describes the reasons for endangerment and the current status of the flycatcher, addresses important recovery actions, includes detailed issue papers on management issues, and provides recovery goals. Identification of Environmental Issues and Critical Habitat The purpose of this scoping process is to aid in the development of (1) a critical habitat proposal and (2) an environmental assessment by collecting pertinent information as described above. The process to designate critical habitat will include at least the following elements: (1) Compilation and analysis of all new biological information on the species; (2) review and update of the administrative record; (3) review of the overall approach to the conservation of the southwestern willow flycatcher by Federal, State, local, or Tribal agencies in the bird's current range and other areas where the species historically occurred; (4) review of available information that pertains to the habitat requirements of this species, including material received during the public comment period from this notice and comments on the listing and previous designation; (5) review of actions identified in the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Recovery Plan (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2002); (6) development of a precise definition of the primary constituent elements, including a discussion of the specific biological and physical features essential to the survival of the southwestern willow flycatcher; (7) maps of critical habitat within river reaches; (8) analysis of the potential economic and other relevant impacts of designating critical habitat; and (9) analysis of the potential consequences of the preferred alternatives through NEPA.
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