Update: July 22: Following the release of this story in the print version of The Sheet last Friday, we received the following press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office:
Sacramento – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is reopening the public comment period for 120 days for the proposal to list the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and the northern distinct population segment of the mountain yellow-legged frog as endangered and the Yosemite toad as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service is also reopening the public comment period for 120 days for the proposal to designate critical habitat for these three amphibian species in California.
On April 25, 2013, the Service published the two proposals and opened a 60 day public comment period that ended on June 24, 2013. During and after the initial comment period, the Service received significant interest in extending the comment period.
“The public comment period is designed so that the Service can listen to and take into consideration citizens’ concerns and any information the public may submit regarding these species and their habitat,” said Jan Knight, Acting Field Supervisor for the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office. “This process is important so that any final decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reflects all of the best science and information available. We are reopening the public comment period to ensure the public has adequate opportunity to submit comments.”
The Service will accept comments through Nov. 18 on the two proposed rules. Comments may be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov. The Docket Number for the proposed listing rule is FWS–R8–ES–2012–0100 and for the proposed critical habitat rule is FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074. Comments can also be sent by U.S. mail to:
Public Comments Processing
Attn: FWS–R8–ES–2012–0100 or FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203
The Service seeks information regarding any threats to the species and regulations that may address those threats. A detailed outline of the information that the Service is specifically seeking can be found on the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office’s website at: http://www.fws.gov/
The Service has also received requests to hold public meetings on these proposals. The Service is planning to hold two public meetings and one public hearing, likely in fall 2013. The dates and times of these meetings and hearing will be announced when the draft economic analysis for the proposed critical habitat rule is made available to the public and will be scheduled within the subsequent open public comment period.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposal to designate 1.8 million acres as critical habitat for the Sierra Nevada Yellow-Legged Frog, the Northern Distinct Population Segment of the Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog and the Yosemite Toad has raised concerns in Mono County, prompting a written request approved by the Mono County Board of Supervisors for an extension to the proposal comment period. The comment period concluded on June 24; the Board letter requested an additional 60 days to comment.
In April, the USFWS proposed two rules: the first, to add the three amphibian species to the Endangered Species List, and the second, to create critical habitat across 17 counties, mainly in federal and wilderness areas, to protect the species.
The critical habitat area in Mono County would encompass portions of Rock Creek, Convict Canyon, the Mammoth Lakes Basin, Lundy Canyon, Virginia Lakes, and backcountry areas accessed out of Walker. Many of these areas are popular for recreation activities like fishing, hiking and packing, which are integral to the Mono County economy.
“What kind of an impact will this have on local businesses, and on the land use that supports those local businesses?” wondered Mono County Community Development Director Scott Burns, voicing concerns shared by neighboring Inyo County. The USFWS critical habitat designation proposal covers about 54,000 acres in Inyo County, including areas in and around Rock Creek Lake, Pine Creek Canyon, Mount Tom, Bishop Creek, Coyote Flat, Big Pine Creek, and Onion Valley.
Like Inyo, Mono County relies heavily on a tourism-based economy. “We were surprised to see that some areas with strong recreational ties might get hit,” said Burns, alluding in particular to the Lakes Basin in Mammoth. While the critical habitat designation would not automatically cut these areas off from recreational use, it would pave the way for regulations on activities deemed harmful to the endangered species. Given a critical habitat designation, the USFWS could limit or prohibit fish stocking at popular fishing spots like Lake Mary and Lake George, among other lakes in the County and adjacent wilderness.
“Once you take a look at the maps, you realize the impact could be significant,” said Burns.
Burns expressed his surprise that the USFWS had proposed the designation at all, considering the County’s recent success protecting sage grouse, another candidate for the Endangered Species List. He noted the successful efforts of a multi-agency, bi-state planning group over the past several years to minimize impacts to sage grouse populations. The Federal Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service and USFWS took these measures into account and began creating management strategies to further reduce impacts to those populations, Burns said, all without resorting to the critical habitat designation.
“In this case, we haven’t had a chance to convene and work together to demonstrate the same thing,” he said.
“The Board is very concerned about how fast this thing is being pushed through,” added Mono County Supervisor Tim Alpers.
Supervisor Fred Stump expressed his own concern about the vagaries of the proposal, which he said failed to provide clear and detailed maps for County evaluation.
“The County asked for an extension to the comment period so we could have reliable maps to review and determine the exact areas implicated in the County,” he said. “The basic tenet [of the Board-approved letter to USFWS] is that we find the proposed regulation insufficient in detail in order to create an intelligent response.”
Burns said he had received a recent, informal tip that the USFWS would agree to the request for an extended comment period. In the meantime, Mono County also awaits an economic study put together by the USFWS, due out within the next two weeks. The County will have an opportunity to respond to this report, as well.
Until then, “We’re looking at having a consultant do work to assess the habitat boundaries from a science perspective,” Burns said.
The County also intends to assemble its own study of the potential economic impact of the proposed critical habitat designation, he said.