Angeles Volunteer Association

SOURCE: F&WS, Press Release, February 4, 2000

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:




Responding to a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today its proposal to designate critical habitat on nearly 800,000 acres for the threatened coastal California gnatcatcher, a once-common songbird whose population has dwindled in recent years. These lands encompass portions of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties, in southern California.

Under the Endangered Species Act (Act), a critical habitat designation identifies geographic areas that are important for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations. However, a designation does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands and will not result in closure of the area to access or use. Rather, its impact is that Federal agencies must consult with the Service on activities they undertake, fund, or permit that may affect critical habitat.

While the Service is proposing 799,916 acres of critical habitat for the gnatcatcher, not all the areas within those broad boundaries such as existing cities, towns, and other developments will be considered critical habitat since these areas do not contain habitat considered essential to the survival of the gnatcatcher. The Act requires Federal agencies to consult with the Service only in those areas that contain the physical and biological features necessary to the species' survival.

The coastal California gnatcatcher was listed as a threatened species under the Act in 1993. The gnatcatcher is a small, insect eating bird that is closely associated with sage scrub in southern California and northern Baja California, Mexico. By the 1960s, gnatcatcher populations declined significantly because of habitat loss and fragmentation. Brown-headed cowbirds, a nest parasite, have also caused problems for the gnatcatcher.

During the listing process, the Service did not designate critical habitat because of at least six known acts of intentional destruction of sage scrub. The Service believed that designation of critical habitat for the species would lead to increased incidences of habitat vandalism or destruction.

In a lawsuit filed against the Service by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Audubon Society, and Dr. Elisabeth Brown, 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. Although the Service won the lawsuit, the decision was overturned on appeal. Today's announcement is in response to an order issued on May 21, 1997, by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to publish a proposed critical habitat rule by January 30, 2000, with a final designation of critical habitat by September 30, 2000. The date for the publication of the proposed rule was later extended to February 7, 2000.

The Service published a notice in the Federal Register in February 1999, indicating that critical habitat was prudent on approximately 124,000 acres of mostly Federal land in southern California. At that time, the Service included only those lands with, or likely to have, Federal involvement though land ownership, permitting, or funding. In the proposed rule, the Service used a broad landscape approach to propose critical habitat. This approach identifies lands essential to the conservation of the gnatcatcher, regardless of whether there is, or may be, Federal involvement.

Critical habitat is not being proposed for lands within approved Habitat Conservation Plans for which the Service has already issued a permit authorizing the "take" of gnatcatchers. HCPs are being excluded from critical habitat in the proposal because the reserves, preserves, or other conservation lands established by these plans do not meet the definition of critical habitat, in that they do not need additional management considerations or protections.

"The proposed designation of critical habitat should not impede ongoing habitat conservation planning efforts in southern California," said Ken Berg, Field Supervisor of the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office. "The long-term conservation of the gnatcatcher is being addressed as these plans are developed." During the comment period, the Service is particularly interested in comments from the public on how to deal with critical habitat within existing and future HCPs.

The Service has scheduled three public hearings to provide the public with an opportunity to comment on the proposal. All comments, written and oral, are given equal weight and will be entered into the official record and considered by the Service during its decision-making process. Hearings are scheduled as follows:

Tuesday, February 15, 2000, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Sheraton Anaheim Hotel, 1015 West Bell Road, Anaheim, California. This site was selected to ensure residents of Los Angeles and Orange counties have an opportunity to provide comment to the Service on this proposed action.

Thursday, February 17, 2000, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the San Diego Hilton Mission Valley, 901 Camino del Rio South, San Diego, California. This site was selected to ensure residents of San Diego County have an opportunity to provide comment to the Service on this proposed action.

Wednesday, February 23, 2000, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Select Riverside, 3400 Market Street, Riverside, California. This site was selected to ensure residents of Riverside and San Bernardino counties have an opportunity to provide comment to the Service on this proposed action.

To ensure a complete and comprehensive review of the proposal to designate critical habitat for this rare songbird, the Service is asking the public to submit any additional scientific information. A complete description of this proposal to designate critical habitat for the coastal California gnatcatcher will be published in the Federal Register on February 7, 2000. The public is invited to submit data, information and comments to the Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2730 Loker Avenue West, Carlsbad, California 92008. The comment period on the proposed rule closes on April 7, 2000. Comments and materials received will be available for public inspection, by appointment, at the above address.

Comments may also be sent by electronic mail to Please submit comments in ASCII file format and avoid the use of special characters and encryption. Please include "Attn: RIN 1018-AF32", 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 Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office at 760-431-9440.

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