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CURRENT ANNOUNCEMENTS AND PRESS RELEASES
Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, February 1, 2001
CRITICAL HABITAT FOR ENDANGERED PENINSULAR BIGHORN SHEEP
Responding to a court order, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 844,897 acres of
land in portions of San Diego, Imperial, and Riverside counties, California as critical habitat for the
endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep.
More than half of the area designated as critical habitat is under state jurisdiction, and includes
portions of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Much of the rest of the land is managed by
Federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, or is
managed by local agencies. Approximately 130,000 acres of private land is included in the final
critical habitat designation.
"The Service designated only those lands that are essential to the species' conservation, based on
the best scientific evidence currently available," said Michael J. Spear, the Service's
California/Nevada Operations Manager. "Our goal is to get the Peninsular bighorn sheep off the
road to extinction and onto the road to recovery."
Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a
threatened or endangered species and may require special 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 regulatory impact on private landowners taking
actions on their land that do not involve Federal funding or permits.
In the final designation, the Service has removed approximately 30,700 acres of land included in the
proposed critical habitat designation published earlier this year. Some lands originally proposed
were excluded from the final designation because the Service was able to more precisely map areas
that contain habitat essential for the conservation of the bighorn sheep. The more precise mapping
made it possible to eliminate many significant urban or developed areas that no longer contain the
physical and biological features necessary to support the species. Some of the lands we were able
to remove from the critical habitat boundaries include urban interface areas in the Coachella Valley
from Palm Springs, east to La Quinta.
While the Service is designating nearly 845,000 acres of critical habitat, not all the areas within
those broad boundaries have habitat elements important to the Peninsular bighorn sheep. The
Service will require consultations only in those areas that contain the physical and biological features
necessary for the species' survival. Existing towns, aqueducts, railroads and other developed areas
would not be considered critical habitat, and Federal agencies would not need to consult with the
Service on actions that affect only those areas.
A draft economic analysis prepared as part of designating critical habitat for the species indicated
that, while some development companies may be affected by the need to make modifications to
projects, the designation will not have a significant economic impact on the region.
To conserve this native bighorn sheep population, a captive-breeding program has been established
at the Bighorn Institute in Palm Desert. The California Department of Fish and Game, California
Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Bureau of Land Management have developed
management plans for the sheep in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, as well as the Santa Rosa
Mountains and McCain Valley. These agencies also have acquired approximately 30,000 acres of
habitat in the Santa Rosa Mountains and have established three ecological reserves that protect
valuable watering sites for the bighorn sheep. In addition, the Service released a recovery plan in
November 2000 to promote the recovery of the sheep in southern California.
Approximately 18,184 acres of critical habitat have been designated on Tribal trust lands of the
Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Aqua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and Torres-Martinez
Desert Cahuilla Indians. "We have been working with the affected Tribes to address their concerns
and develop compatible management strategies," said California-Nevada Manager Spear. The
Tribes and the Service are developing habitat management plans and protocols to protect Peninsular
bighorn sheep and more clearly define how Tribal lands can contribute to the conservation and
recovery of the species.
The Peninsular bighorn sheep was listed as an endangered species, under the Endangered Species
Act, in 1998. The sheep inhabit the Peninsular Mountain Ranges from the San Jacinto Mountains
south to the Volcan Tres Virgenes Mountains in Baja California, Mexico and occur mostly on open
slopes in the hot, dry desert regions where the land is rough, rocky and sparsely vegetated. During
drier months, the sheep tend to gather near water sources.
There are currently about 400 of these majestic mammals in southern California. The population has
suffered a significant decline because of habitat loss and fragmentation, human-related disturbances,
predation by mountain lions, and disease. The species is considered a "distinct population segment"
under the Act because it is geographically isolated from all other populations of desert bighorn
sheep, and because it meets qualifications for endangered status under the Act.
The Service is working with other Federal, State and local agencies as well as private individuals to
develop the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. This plan will provide for
the conservation needs of a variety of native species, including the Peninsular bighorn sheep.
Today's announcement is the result of a lawsuit filed against the Service in 1999 by the Center for
Biological Diversity and Desert Survivors. Under a settlement of that lawsuit, the Service agreed to
designate critical habitat for the Peninsular bighorn sheep by December 31, 2000. The court
approved a short extension of the original deadline giving the Service until January 15, 2001 to
complete its final determination.
The complete text of the final rule to designate critical habitat for the Peninsular bighorn sheep
distinct population segment will be published in the Federal Register on February 1, 2001. The rule
will become effective on March 5, 2001.
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