Federal Register: October 3, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 192)
DOCID: FR Doc 00-24763
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Fish and Wildlife Service
CFR Citation: 50 CFR Part 17
RIN ID: RIN 1018-AF98
ACTION: Endangered and threatened species:
DOCUMENT ACTION: Final rule.
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Determination of Critical Habitat for the Alameda Whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus)
EFFECTIVE DATES: This final rule is effective November 2, 2000.
We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), for the Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis euryxanthus). A total of approximately 164,150 hectares (406,598 acres) of land fall within the boundaries of designated critical habitat. Critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake is located in Contra Costa, Alameda, San Joaquin, and Santa Clara counties, California. Section 7 of the Act requires Federal agencies to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat. As required by section 4 of the Act, we considered economic and other relevant impacts prior to making a final decision on the size and configuration of critical habitat.
Citical habitat designations—; Alameda whipsnake,
The Alameda whipsnake is a slender, fastmoving, diurnal snake with a broad head, large eyes, and slender neck. Alameda whipsnakes range from 91 to 122 centimeters (3 to 4 feet) in length. The dorsal surface is sooty black in color with a distinct yelloworange stripe down each side. The forward portion of the bottom surface is orangerufous colored, the midsection is cream colored, and the rear portion and tail are pinkish. The adult Alameda whipsnake virtually lacks black spotting on the bottom surface of the head and neck. Juveniles may show very sparse or weak black spots. Another common name for the Alameda whipsnake is the ``Alameda striped racer'' (Riemer 1954, Jennings 1983, Stebbins 1985).
The Alameda whipsnake is one of two subspecies of the California whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis). The chaparral whipsnake (Masticophis lateralis lateralis) is distributed from northern California, west of the Sierran crest and desert, to central Baja California. The Alameda whipsnake is restricted to a small portion of this range, primarily the inner Coast Range in western and central Contra Costa and Alameda Counties.
The distribution in California, of both subspecies, coincides closely with chaparral (Jennings 1983, Stebbins 1985). Recent telemetry data indicate that, although home ranges of Alameda whipsnakes are centered on shrub communities, whipsnakes frequently venture into adjacent habitats, including grassland, oak savanna, and occasionally oakbay woodland. Most telemetry locations are within 50 meters (m) (170 feet (ft)) of scrub habitat, but distances of greater than 150 m (500 ft) occur (Swaim 1994). Initial data indicate that adjacent habitats may play a crucial role in certain life history and physiological needs of the Alameda whipsnake, but the full extent has yet to be determined. Telemetry data indicate that whipsnakes remain in grasslands for periods ranging from a few hours to several weeks at a time. Grassland habitats are used by male whipsnakes most extensively during the mating season in spring. Female whipsnakes use grassland areas most extensively after mating, possibly in their search for suitable egglaying sites (Swaim 1994).
Rock outcrops can be an important feature of Alameda whipsnake
habitat because they provide retreat opportunities for whipsnakes and
support lizard populations. Lizards, especially the western fence
lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis), appear to be the most important prey
item of whipsnakes (Stebbins 1985; Swaim 1994; Harry Green, Museum of
Vertebrate Zoology, U.C. Berkeley, pers. comm. 1998), although other prey items are taken, including skinks, frogs,
snakes, and birds (Stebbins 1985, Swaim 1994). Most radio telemetry locations for whipsnakes were within the distribution of major rock outcroppings and talus (a sloping mass of rock debris at the base of a cliff) (Swaim 1994).
Alameda whipsnakes have been found in association with a variety of shrub communities including diablan sage scrub, coyote bush scrub, and chamise chaparral (Swaim 1994), also classified as coastal scrub, mixed chaparral, and chamiseredshank chaparral (Mayer and Laudenslayer 1988). However, the type of vegetation may have less to do with preference by the whipsnake than the extent of the canopy, slope exposure, the availability of retreats such as rock outcrops and rodent burrows, and prey species composition and abundance (Swaim 1994; K. Swaim, Swaim Biological Consulting, pers. comm. 1999). Alameda whipsnakes have been sighted or found dead a significant distance from the nearest shrub community (K. Swaim, pers. comm. 1999). The reasons for such movements are unknown.
Initial studies indicated that Alameda whipsnakes occurred where the canopy was open (less than 75 percent of the total area within the scrub or chaparral community was covered by shrub crown) or partially open (between 75 and 90 percent of the total area was covered with shrub crown), and only seldom did whipsnakes occur in closed canopy (greater than 90 percent of the area was covered by shrub crown). However, trapping efforts may have been biased due to the difficulty of setting traps in dense scrub (Swaim 1994; K. Swaim, pers. comm. 1999).
Core areas (areas of concentrated use) of the Alameda whipsnake most commonly occur on east, south, southeast, and southwest facing slopes (Swaim 1994). However, recent information indicates that whipsnakes do make use of north facing slopes in more open stands of scrub habitat (K. Swaim, pers. comm. 1999).
Adult snakes appear to have a bimodal (two times of the year) seasonal activity pattern with peaks during the spring mating season and a smaller peak during late summer and early fall. Although short aboveground movements may occur during the winter, Alameda whipsnakes generally retreat in November into a hibernaculum (shelter used during the snake's dormancy period) and emerge in March. Courtship and mating occur from lateMarch through midJune. During this time, males move around throughout their home ranges, while females appear to remain at or near their hibernaculum, where mating occurs. Suspected egglaying sites for two females were located in grassland with scattered shrub habitat. Male home ranges of 1.9 to 8.7 hectares (ha) (4.7 to 21.5 acres (ac)) (mean of 5.5 ha or 13.6 ac) were recorded, and showed a high degree of spatial overlap. Several individual snakes monitored for nearly an entire activity season appeared to maintain a stable home range. Movements of these individuals were multidirectional, and individual snakes returned to specific areas and retreat sites after long intervals of nonuse. Snakes had one or more core areas within their home range, while large areas of the home range received little use (Swaim 1994).
Previous Federal Action
The September 18, 1985, Notice of Review (50 FR 37958) included the Alameda whipsnake as a category 2 candidate species for possible future listing as endangered or threatened. Category 2 candidates were those taxa for which listing as threatened or endangered might be warranted, but for which adequate data on biological vulnerability and threats were not available to support issuance of listing proposals. The January 6, 1989, Notice of Review (54 FR 554) solicited information on its status as a category 2 candidate species. The Alameda whipsnake was moved to category 1 in the November 21, 1991, Notice of Review (56 FR 58804) on the basis of significant increases in habitat loss and threats occurring throughout its range. Category 1 candidates were defined as taxa for which we had on file substantial information on biological vulnerability and threats to support preparation of listing proposals. On February 4, 1994, we published a proposed rule in the Federal Register (59 FR 5377) to list the Alameda whipsnake as an endangered species. On December 5, 1997, we published a final rule listing the Alameda whipsnake as threatened (62 FR 64306).
On March 4, 1999, the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity,
the Center for Biological Diversity, and Christians Caring for Creation
filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California against the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service and Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the
Department of the Interior (Secretary), for failure to designate
critical habitat for seven species: The Alameda whipsnake (Masticophis
lateralis euryxanthus), the Zayante bandwinged grasshopper (Trimerotropis infantilis), the Morro shoulderband snail
(Helminthoglypta walkeriana), the Arroyo southwestern toad (Bufo microscaphus californicus), the San Bernardino kangaroo rat (Dipodomys merriami parvus), the spectacled eider (Somateria fischeri), and the Steller's eider (Polysticta stelleri) (Southwest Center for Biological Diversity v. U.S. Fish and Wildlife, CIV 991003 MMC).
On November 5, 1999, William Alsup, U.S. District Judge, dismissed the plaintiffs' lawsuit under a settlement agreement entered into by the parties. On March 8, 2000, (65 FR 12155) we proposed the designation of 7 areas within Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, and Santa Clara Counties as critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake. Critical Habitat
Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as(i) the specific areas within the geographic area occupied by a species, at the time it is listed under the Act, on which are found those physical or biological features (I) essential to the conservation of the species and (II) that may require special management consideration or protection; and (ii) specific areas outside the geographic area occupied by a species at the time it is listed, upon determination that these areas are essential for the conservation of the species. ``Conservation'' means the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring an endangered species or a threatened species to the point at which listing under the Act is no longer necessary.
Section 4(b)(2) of the Act requires that we base critical habitat proposals upon the best scientific and commercial data available, after taking into consideration the economic impact, and any other relevant impact, of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. We may exclude areas from critical habitat designation when the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of including the areas within critical habitat, provided the exclusion will not result in extinction of the species (section 4(b)(2) of the Act).
Designation of critical habitat can help focus conservation activities for a listed species by identifying areas that contain the physical and biological features that are essential for conservation of that species. Designation of critical habitat alerts the public as well as landmanaging agencies to the importance of these areas.
Critical habitat also identifies areas that may require special
management considerations or protection, and may provide protection to areas where significant threats to the species have
been identified. Critical habitat receives protection from destruction or adverse modification through required consultation under section 7 of the Act with regard to actions carried out, funded, or authorized by a Federal agency. Aside from the protection that may be provided under section 7, the Act does not provide other forms of protection to lands designated as critical habitat.
Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies to consult with us to ensure that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a threatened or endangered species, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. ``Jeopardize the continued existence'' (of a species) is defined as an appreciable reduction in the likelihood of survival and recovery of a listed species. ``Destruction or adverse modification'' (of critical habitat) is defined as a direct or indirect alteration that appreciably diminishes the value of critical habitat for the survival and recovery of the listed species for which critical habitat was designated. Thus, the definitions of ``jeopardy'' to the species and ``adverse modification'' of critical habitat are nearly identical (50 CFR 402.02). When multiple units of critical habitat are designated, each unit may serve as the basis of an adverse modification analysis if protection of different facets of the species' life cycle or its distribution are essential to the species as a whole for both its survival and recovery.
Designating critical habitat does not, in itself, lead to recovery of a listed species. Designation does not create or mandate a management plan, establish numerical population goals, prescribe specific management actions (inside or outside of critical habitat), or directly affect areas not designated as critical habitat. Specific management recommendations for critical habitat are most appropriately addressed in recovery plans and management plans, and through section 7 consultation.
We did not propose to designate critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake within the proposed or final listing rulemaking because, at the time of listing, we knew of no Federal lands within the five whipsnake populations. We also believed that the possibility of Federal agency involvement on private and public, nonFederal lands was remote. Based on information available at the time of listing, we believed that only 20 percent of known whipsnake habitat occurred on private lands, and anticipated that urban development on private lands would occur only along the periphery of whipsnake populations. In addition, we believed that the need for active fire management programs at this urbanwildland interface would preclude those private lands from being considered habitat essential to the conservation of the species. We found that critical habitat designation was not prudent due to lack of any significant benefit beyond that conferred by listing.
Since the Alameda whipsnake was listed, we have found that there are a greater number of Federal actions that could trigger the need for an interagency consultation than was believed at the time the Alameda whipsnake was listed. We are now aware of federally owned lands that occur within the range of the Alameda whipsnake, including Bureau of Land Management parcels in the Mount DiabloBlack Hills population area. In addition, an Alameda whipsnake was recently captured on land owned by the U.S. Department of Energy at their Site 300 facility, a Federal site not previously known to be inhabited by Alameda whipsnakes. We are also aware of a number of activities with a Federal connection on private lands within the range of the whipsnake, including activities associated with the issuance of Clean Water Act section 404 permits and Federal Emergency Management Agency fire protection projects.
We now believe that private lands play a more important role in whipsnake conservation than we originally believed. An increasing amount of private land has been found to be occupied by the Alameda whipsnake, comprising more than 20 percent of land within the five whipsnake populations. Highvalue Alameda whipsnake habitat occurs on private lands that are evenly distributed throughout all five whipsnake population areas. We now believe that private lands are essential to the conservation of the species.
Relationship to Recovery
The ultimate purpose of listing a species as threatened or endangered under the Act is to recover the species to the point at which it no longer needs the protections provided to the listed species. The Act mandates the conservation of listed species through different mechanisms. Section 4(f) of the Act authorizes the Service to develop recovery plans for listed species. A recovery plan includes (i) a description of such sitespecific management actions as may be necessary to achieve the plan's goal for the conservation and survival of the species, (ii) objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in a determination that the species be removed from the list, and (iii) estimates of the time required and cost to carry out those measures needed to achieve the plan's goal.
We are currently drafting a recovery plan for the Alameda whipsnake. This draft recovery plan will include a more thorough analysis of recovery needs of the Alameda whipsnake. Therefore, we may amend critical habitat at a later date based on information gained through the recovery planning process.
Primary Constituent Elements
Under section 3(5)(A)(i) of the Act and regulations at 50 CFR 424.12, we are required to base critical habitat determinations on the best scientific and commercial data available and to consider those physical and biological features that are essential to conservation of the species and that may require special management considerations or protection. Such requirements include, but are not limited to, space for individual and population growth, and for normal behavior; food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements; cover or shelter; sites for breeding, reproduction, or rearing of offspring, germination, or seed dispersal; and habitats that are protected from disturbance or are representative of the historic geographical and ecological distributions of a species.
The primary constituent elements for the Alameda whipsnake are
those habitat components that are essential for the primary biological
needs of foraging, sheltering, breeding, maturation, and dispersal. The
primary constituent elements are in areas that support scrub
communities, including mixed chaparral, chamiseredshank chaparral,
coastal scrub, and annual grassland and oak woodlands that lie adjacent
to scrub habitats. In addition, the primary constituent elements for
the Alameda whipsnake may be found in grasslands and various oak
woodlands that are linked to scrub habitats by substantial rock
outcrops or river corridors. Other habitat features that provide a
source of cover for the whipsnake during dispersal or are near scrub
habitats and contain habitat features (e.g., rock outcrops) that
support adequate prey populations may also contain primary constituent
elements for the Alameda whipsnake. Within these communities, Alameda
whipsnakes require plant canopy covers that supply a suitable range of
temperatures for the species' normal behavioral and physiological
requirements (including but not limited to foraging, breeding, and maturation).
Openings in the plant canopy or scrub/grassland edge provide sunning and foraging areas. Corridors of plant cover and retreats (including rock outcrops) sufficient to provide for dispersal between areas of habitat, and plant community patches of sufficient size to prevent the deleterious effects of isolation (such as inbreeding or the loss of a subpopulation due to a catastrophic event) are also essential. Within these plant communities, specific habitat features needed by whipsnakes include, but are not limited to, small mammal burrows, rock outcrops, talus, and other forms of cover to provide temperature regulation, shelter from predators, egg laying sites, and winter hibernaculum. Many of these same elements are important in maintaining prey species. Adequate insect populations are necessary to sustain prey populations. Criteria Used To Identify Critical Habitat
We considered several qualitative criteria in the selection and proposal of specific areas or units for Alameda whipsnake critical habitat. These criteria focused on designating units (1) throughout the geographic and elevation range of the species; (2) within various occupied plant communities, such as diablan sage scrub, coyote bush scrub, and chamise chaparral; (3) in areas of large, contiguous blocks of geographical areas occupied by the species; and (4) in areas that link contiguous blocks of geographical areas occupied by the species (i.e., linkage areas).
In developing critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake, we used data on known Alameda whipsnake locations to initially identify important areas. Through the use of 1998 and 1999 aerial photos (1:12,000 scale) and 1994 digital orthophotos, we examined the extent of suitable habitat that was in the vicinity of known whipsnake locations. Critical habitat includes both suitable habitat and areas that link suitable habitat, as these links or corridors facilitate movement of individuals between habitat areas and are important for dispersal and gene flow (Beier and Noss 1998). We have determined seven separate units of critical habitat, five of which represent primary breeding, feeding, and sheltering areas, while the other two represent corridors (See attached figures). The range of these critical habitat units extends in the south from Wauhab Ridge in the Del Valle area to Cedar Mountain Ridge, in Santa Clara County; north to the northernmost extent of suitable habitat in Contra Costa County; west to the westernmost extent of the inner Coastal Range; and in the east, to the easternmost extent of suitable habitat. We could not depend solely on federally owned lands for critical habitat designation as they are limited in geographic location, size, and habitat quality. In addition to federally owned lands, we propose to designate critical habitat on nonFederal public lands and privately owned lands, including California Department of Parks and Recreation lands, regional and local park lands, and water district lands.
Areas designated as critical habitat meet the definition of critical habitat under section 3 of the Act in that they are within the geographical areas occupied by the species, contain the physical and biological features that are essential to conservation of the species, and are in need of special management considerations or protection.
In determining areas that are essential for the survival and recovery of the species, we used the best scientific information available. This information included habitat suitability and species sitespecific information. To date, only initial research has been done to identify and define specific habitat needs of Alameda whipsnakes, and no comprehensive surveys have been conducted to quantify their distribution or abundance. Limited and preliminary habitat assessment and whipsnake presence work has been conducted on the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Site 300, East Bay Regional Park District's Tilden Park, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's San Antonio Reservoir, Contra Costa Water District's Los Vaqueros Reservoir, East Bay Municipal Utility District's San Leandro Watershed and Siesta Valley, Pleasanton Ridge Conservation Bank, and Signature Properties' Bailey Ranch. Some small parcels have also been surveyed; however, these surveys were in conjunction with development and, in most cases, that habitat has been destroyed.
We emphasized areas containing most of the verified Alameda whipsnake occurrences, especially recently identified locations. To maintain genetic and demographic interchange that will help maintain the viability of a regional metapopulation, we included corridor areas that allow movement between areas supporting Alameda whipsnakes. These corridors or connecting areas, while supporting some habitat suitable for foraging, shelter, breeding, and maturation, were primarily included to facilitate dispersal.
In identifying areas of critical habitat, we attempted to avoid developed areas such as towns, intensive agricultural areas such as vineyards, and other lands unlikely to contribute to Alameda whipsnake conservation. Given the short period of time in which we were required to complete this rule and the lack of finescale mapping data, we were unable to map critical habitat in sufficient detail to exclude all such areas. Existing features and structures within the critical habitat boundary, such as buildings, roads, canals, railroads, large water bodies, and other features not currently containing or likely to develop these habitat components, will not contain one or more of the primary constituent elements. Federal actions limited to these areas, therefore, would not trigger a section 7 consultation, unless they affect the species and/or primary constituent elements in adjacent critical habitat. Two areas, the north and south corridors (unit 6 connecting units 1 and 2; and unit 7 connecting units 3 and 5), contain some urban development. These two corridors are extremely narrow, and, therefore, maintaining as much area within these corridors as possible to ensure the longterm connectivity between whipsnake populations is important. These two units may not provide sufficient habitat necessary to allow for breeding, and offer limited opportunities for foraging and sheltering. However, these areas provide for the vital function of dispersal among other critical habitat units.
We considered the existing status of lands in designating areas as
critical habitat. Section 10(a) of the Act authorizes us to issue
permits for the taking of listed species incidental to otherwise lawful
activities. Incidental take permit applications must be supported by a
habitat conservation plan (HCP) that identifies conservation measures
that the permittee agrees to implement for the species to minimize and
mitigate the impacts of the requested incidental take. Currently, no
approved HCPs cover the Alameda whipsnake or its habitat. However, we
expect critical habitat may be used as a tool to help identify areas
within the range of the Alameda whipsnake that are most critical for
the conservation of the species. Development of HCPs for such areas on
nonFederal lands should not be precluded, as we consider HCPs to be
one of the most important methods through which nonFederal landowners
can resolve endangered species conflicts. We provide technical
assistance and work closely with applicants throughout development of
HCPs to help identify special management considerations for the [[Page 58937]]
Alameda whipsnake. We intend for HCPs to provide a package of protection and management measures sufficient to address the conservation needs of the species.
Critical Habitat Designation
The approximate area of critical habitat by county and land
ownership is shown in Table 1. Critical habitat includes Alameda
whipsnake habitat throughout the species' range in the United States
(i.e., Contra Costa, Alameda, San Joaquin, and Santa Clara Counties,
California). Lands designated as critical habitat are under private,
State, and Federal ownership, with Federal lands including lands
managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of
Energy. Lands designated as critical habitat have been divided into seven critical habitat units.
Table 1. Approximate Area Encompassing Designated Critical Habitat in Hectares (ha) (Acres (ac)) by County and Land Ownership County Federal land \*\ Local/State land Private land Total Alameda....................... 310 ha 26,440 ha 56,045 ha 82,795 ha (767 ac) (65,492 ac) (138,824 ac) (205,083 ac) Contra Costa.................. 32 ha 31,970 ha 35,245 ha 67,247 ha (80 ac) (79,189 ac) (87,301 ac) (166,570 ac) San Joaquin................... 606 ha 525 ha 4,834 ha 5,965 ha (1,500 ac) (1,300 ac) (11,975 ac) (14,775 ac) Santa Clara................... NA 4,037 ha 4,106 ha 8,143 ha (10,000 ac) (10,170 ac) (20,170 ac)
Total..................... 948 ha 62,972 ha 100,230 ha 164,150 ha (2,347 ac) (155,981 ac) (248,270 ac) (406,598 ac) \*\ Includes the Bureau of Land Management and Department of Energy land.
A brief description of each critical habitat unit and our reasons designating those areas as critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake are given below:
Unit 1 TildenBriones Unit
Unit 1 encompasses approximately 16,074 ha (39,815 ac) within the TildenBriones unit and is the most northwestern unit of the five Alameda whipsnake metapopulations, and provides primary breeding, feeding, and sheltering habitat for the whipsnake. This entire unit occurs in Contra Costa County. This unit is bordered to the north by State Highway 4 and the cities of Pinole, Hercules, and Martinez; to the south by State Highway 24 and the City of Orinda Village; to the west by Interstate 80 and the cities of Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Richmond; and to the east by Interstate 680 and the City of Pleasant Hill. A substantial amount of public land exists within this unit, including East Bay Regional Park District's Tilden, Wildcat, and Briones Regional Parks and East Bay Municipal Utilities District watershed lands.
Unit 2 OaklandLas Trampas Unit
Unit 2 encompasses approximately 21,869 ha (54,170 ac) south of the TildenBriones unit and north of the HaywardPleasanton Ridge unit, and provides primary breeding, feeding, and sheltering habitat for the Alameda whipsnake. This unit is split evenly between Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. This unit is surrounded to the north by State Highway 24 and the cities of Orinda, Moraga, and Lafayette; to the south by Interstate Highway 580 and the City of Castro Valley; to the West by State Highway 13 and Interstate Highway 580 and the cities of Oakland and San Leandro; and to the east by Interstate Highway 680 and the cities of Danville, San Ramon, and Dublin. The OaklandLas Trampas unit also contains substantial amounts of public land including East Bay Regional Park District's Redwood and Anthony Chabot Regional Parks, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, and additional East Bay Municipal Utilities District watershed lands.
Unit 3 HaywardPleasanton Ridge Unit
Unit 3 encompasses approximately 12,923 ha (32,011 ac) south of the OaklandLas Trampas unit and northwest of the SunolCedar Mountain unit, and provides primary breeding, feeding, and sheltering habitat for the Alameda whipsnake. This unit occurs solely in Alameda County and is surrounded by Interstate Highway 580 to the north; Niles Canyon Road (State Highway 84) to the south; the cities of Hayward and Union City to the west, and Interstate Highway 680 and the City of Pleasanton to the east. This unit is bisected by Palomares Canyon Road, which runs from Interstate Highway 580 to Niles Canyon Road. Greater than 30 percent of this unit is in public ownership, including Garin, Dry Creek, and Pleasanton Ridge Regional Parks and other East Bay Regional Park District holdings. The privately owned Pleasanton Ridge Conservation Bank also occurs in the northeastern section of this unit. Unit 4 Mount DiabloBlack Hills Unit
Unit 4 encompasses approximately 40,257 ha (99,717 ac) and completely encompasses Mount Diablo State Park and surrounding lands. The Mount DiabloBlack Hills Unit provides primary Alameda whipsnake breeding, feeding, and sheltering habitat. A majority of this unit is in Contra Costa County; however, the southern tip of this unit is in Alameda County. This unit is surrounded by State Highway 4 and the cities of Clayton, Pittsburgh and Antioch to the north; open grassland within Tassajara Valley just below the Alameda/Contra Costa County line to the south; the cities of Concord, Walnut Creek, and Danville to the west; and, to the east, by large expanses of grassland occurring west of State Highway 4, near the cities of Oakley and Brentwood. This unit contains large expanses of public lands, including two small Bureau of Land Management parcels; Mount Diablo State Park; Contra Costa Water District's Los Vaqueros Reservoir watershed; and Contra Loma, Black Diamond Mines, Morgan Territory, and Round Valley Regional Parks, and other East Bay Regional Park District holdings. Other public lands include lands owned by the City of Walnut Creek. Two large, privately owned gravel quarries occur within this unit.
Unit 5 SunolCedar Mountain Unit
Unit 5 encompasses approximately 69,168 ha (171,328 ac) and is the
largest and the southernmost of the seven critical habitat units. It provides primary breeding, feeding, and
sheltering habitat for the Alameda whipsnake. A majority of this unit is in Alameda County; however, it does also extend into western San Joaquin and northern Santa Clara Counties. The northern boundary of this unit runs parallel to State Highway 84 and Corral Hollow Road, south of the cities of Pleasanton and Livermore and Tesla Road. The southern boundary lies below Calaveras Reservoir and captures all of Wauhab and Cedar Ridges in Santa Clara County and stretches to the east, north of the AlamedaSan JoaquinSanta ClaraStanislaus County intersection. The western boundary lies east of Interstate Highway 680 and the greater San Jose urban areas. The eastern boundary lies within San Joaquin County a few miles east of the Alameda County line. This unit includes East Bay Regional Park District's Sunol, Mission Peak, Ohlone, Camp Ohlone, and Del Valle complex, and State Water Project's Del Valle Reservoir watershed. In addition, the Department of Energy's Site 300 and California Department of Parks and Recreation's Carnegie Recreation Area occur within the unit.
Unit 6 Caldecott Tunnel Unit
Unit 6 encompasses approximately 2,185 ha (5,412 ac) and occurs between units 1 and 2 where State Highway 24 tunnels under the Berkeley Hills for approximately 1.2 kilometers (4,000 feet). It provides a connector between units 1 and 2. This unit is in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. This unit encompasses lands owned by East Bay Municipal Utilities District, East Bay Regional Park District, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the Cities of Berkeley and Oakland, and some private holdings.
Unit 7 Niles Canyon/Sunol Unit
Unit 7 encompasses approximately 1,673 ha (4,145 ac) and occurs
between units 3 and 5 and lies south of State Highway 84 (Niles Canyon
Road); north and west of Interstate 680; and east of the City of
Fremont. It provides a connector between units 3 and 5. This unit is
solely in Alameda County. This unit includes East Bay Regional Park
District's Vargas Plateau and San Francisco Public Utilities watershed
lands. Impediments to whipsnake movement between units 3 and 7 include
Alameda Creek, a 0.30.6meter (1224inch) high concrete barrier that
lies south of Niles Canyon Road and north of Alameda Creek, railroad
tracks that run along both sides of Alameda Creek, and heavy vehicular traffic along Niles Canyon Road.
Effects of Critical Habitat Designation
Section 7 Consultation
Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies, including the Service, to ensure that actions they fund, authorize, or carry out do not destroy or adversely modify critical habitat to the extent that the action appreciably diminishes the value of the critical habitat for the survival and recovery of the species. Individuals, organizations, States, local governments, and other nonFederal entities are affected by the designation of critical habitat only if their actions occur on Federal lands, require a Federal permit, license, or other authorization, or involve Federal funding.
Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies, to evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as endangered or threatened and with respect to its critical habitat, if any is designated. Regulations implementing this interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR part 402. If a species is listed or critical habitat is designated, section 7(a)(2) requires Federal agencies to ensure that actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of such a species or to destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency (action agency) must enter into consultation with us. Through this consultation, Federal agencies ensure that their actions do not destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.
When we issue a biological opinion concluding that a project is likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat, we also provide reasonable and prudent alternatives to the project, if any are identifiable. Reasonable and prudent alternatives are defined at 50 CFR 402.02 as alternative actions identified during consultation that can be implemented in a manner consistent with the intended purpose of the action, that are consistent with the scope of the Federal agency's legal authority and jurisdiction, that are economically and technologically feasible, and that the Director believes would avoid destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. Reasonable and prudent alternatives can vary from slight project modifications to extensive redesign or relocation of the project. Costs associated with implementing a reasonable and prudent alternative are similarly variable.
Regulations at 50 CFR 402.16 require Federal agencies to reinitiate consultation on previously reviewed actions in instances where critical habitat is subsequently designated and the Federal agency has retained discretionary involvement or control over the action or such discretionary involvement or control is authorized by law. Consequently, some Federal agencies may request reinitiation with us on actions for which formal consultation has been completed if those actions may affect designated critical habitat.
Activities on Federal lands that may affect the Alameda whipsnake or its critical habitat will require section 7 consultation. Activities on private or State lands requiring a permit from a Federal agency, such as a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, or some other Federal action, including funding (e.g., Federal Highway Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, or Federal Emergency Management Agency) will also continue to be subject to the section 7 consultation process. Federal actions not affecting listed species or critical habitat and actions on nonFederal lands that are not federally funded or regulated do not require section 7 consultation.
Section 4(b)(8) of the Act requires us to describe in any proposed
or final regulation that designates critical habitat those activities
involving a Federal action that may destroy or adversely modify such
habitat or that may be affected by such designation. Activities that
may destroy or adversely modify critical habitat include those that
alter the primary constituent elements to the extent that the value of
critical habitat for both the survival and recovery of the Alameda
whipsnake is appreciably diminished. We note that such activities may
also jeopardize the continued existence of the species. Where they
appreciably reduce the value of critical habitat, such activities may include, but are not limited to:
(1) Removing, thinning, or destroying vegetation, whether by burning or mechanical, chemical, or other means (e.g., fuels management, bulldozing, herbicide application, overgrazing, etc.) that have not been approved by the Service, exclusive of routine clearing of fuel breaks around urban boundaries that were constructed before the listing of the whipsnake on December 5, 1997;
(2) Water transfers, diversion, or impoundment, groundwater pumping, irrigation, or other activity that causes barriers or deterrents to dispersal, inundates habitat, or significantly [[Page 58939]]
converts habitat (e.g., conversion to urban development, vineyards, landscaping);
(3) Recreational activities that significantly deter the use of suitable habitat areas by Alameda whipsnakes or alter habitat through associated maintenance activities (e.g., offroad vehicle parks, golf courses, and hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails); (4) Sale, exchange, or lease of Federal land containing suitable habitat that is likely to result in the habitat being destroyed or appreciably degraded; and
(5) Construction activities that destroy or appreciably degrade suitable habitat (e.g., urban development, building of recreational facilities such as offroad vehicle parks and golf courses, road building, drilling, mining, quarrying, and associated reclamation activities).
To properly portray the effects of critical habitat designation, we must first compare the section 7 requirements for actions that may affect critical habitat with the requirements for actions that may affect a listed species. Section 7 prohibits actions funded, authorized, or carried out by Federal agencies from jeopardizing the continued existence of a listed species or destroying or adversely modifying the listed species' critical habitat. Actions likely to ``jeopardize the continued existence'' of a species are those that would appreciably reduce the likelihood of the species' survival and recovery. Actions likely to ``destroy or adversely modify'' critical habitat are those that would appreciably reduce the value of critical habitat for the survival and recovery of the listed species.
Common to both definitions is an appreciable detrimental effect on both survival and recovery of a listed species. Given the similarity of these definitions, actions likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat would almost always result in jeopardy to the species concerned, particularly when the area of the proposed action is in the geographical areas occupied by the species concerned. In those cases, critical habitat provides little additional protection to a species, and the ramifications of its designation are few. However, if an area now occupied by the species were to become unoccupied in the future, critical habitat designation may provide additional protection than is available through a jeopardy analysis.
If you have questions regarding whether specific activities will constitute destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat, contact the Field Supervisor, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES section).
Designation of critical habitat could affect Federal agency
activities where they appreciably reduce the value of critical habitat. Some of these activities include, but are not limited to:
(1) Sale, exchange, or lease of lands owned by the Bureau of Land Management or the Department of Energy;
(2) Regulation of activities affecting waters of the United States by the Army Corps of Engineers under section 404 of the Clean Water Act;
(3) Regulation of water flows, water delivery, damming, diversion, and channelization by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers;
(4) Regulation of grazing, recreation, or mining by the Bureau of Land Management;
(5) Funding and implementation of disaster relief projects by the Federal Emergency Management Agency;
(6) Funding and regulation of new road construction by the Federal Highways Administration;
(7) Clearing of vegetation by the Department of Energy; (8) The cleanup of toxic waste and superfund sites under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and
Relationship to Incidental Take Permits Issued Under Section 10
There are no approved HCPs within the designated critical habitat area. However, future HCPs are probable.
We anticipate that future HCPs will include the Alameda whipsnake as a covered species and provide for its longterm conservation. We expect that HCPs undertaken by local jurisdictions (e.g., counties and cities) and other parties will identify, protect, and provide appropriate management for those specific lands within the boundaries of the plans that are essential for the longterm conservation of the species. Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act states that HCPs must meet issuance criteria, including minimizing and mitigating any take of the listed species covered by the permit to the maximum extent practicable, and that the taking must not appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the species in the wild. We fully expect that our future analysis of HCPs and Section 10(a)(1)(B) permits under section 7 will show that covered activities carried out in accordance with the provisions of the HCPs and Section 10(a)(1)(B) permits will not result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat designated for the Alameda whipsnake.
In the event that future HCPs covering the Alameda whipsnake are developed within the boundaries of designated critical habitat, we will work with applicants to ensure that the HCPs provide for protection and management of habitat areas essential for the conservation of the Alameda whipsnake by either directing development and habitat modification to nonessential areas or appropriately modifying activities within essential habitat areas so that such activities will not adversely modify the primary constituent elements. The HCP development process provides an opportunity for more intensive data collection and analysis regarding the use of particular habitat areas by the Alameda whipsnake. The process also enables us to conduct detailed evaluations of the importance of such lands to the longterm survival of the species in the context of constructing a biologically configured system of interlinked habitat blocks.
We will provide technical assistance and work closely with applicants throughout the development of future HCPs to identify lands essential for the longterm conservation of the Alameda whipsnake and appropriate management for those lands. The take minimization and mitigation measures provided under these HCPs are expected to protect the essential habitat lands designated as critical habitat in this rule.
Summary of Comments and Recommendations
In the March 8, 2000, proposed rule, all interested parties were requested to submit comments and suggestions relative to the proposed designation of critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake, including our economic analysis and the relationship of the designation to future HCP's (65 FR 12155). On May 15, 2000, we published a notice in the Federal Register (65 FR 30951) to reopen the comment period and announce a public hearing on the proposed determination. We published a notice of availability and request for comments on the draft economic analysis on June 23, 2000 (65 FR 39117), and subsequently, extended the comment periods for the proposed designation of critical habitat and the draft economic analysis to July 24, 2000. Comments received from March 8 through July 24, 2000, were entered into the administrative record.
All appropriate State and Federal agencies, county governments, scientific organizations, and other interested
parties were contacted and invited to comment. Legal notices inviting public comment were published in the Oakland Tribune. In addition, the following news releases were issued: (1) a March 8, 2000, news release announcing the proposed designation of critical habitat and soliciting public review and comment; (2) a May 15, 2000, news release announcing public hearings; and (3) a June 23, 2000, news release announcing the availability of the draft economic analysis to the public for review and comment and the extension of the comment period.
We held one public hearing on the proposed rule at San Ramon, Contra Costa County, California, on June 1, 2000. A notice of the hearing and its location was published in the Federal Register on May 15, 2000 (65 FR 30951). A total of 45 people provided verbal comments at the public hearing. Transcripts of this hearings are available for inspection at the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see ADDRESSES section).
We received a total of 45 oral and 551 written comments during the comment period. Of those oral comments, 14 supported critical habitat designation, 23 were opposed to designation, and 7 provided additional information but did not support or oppose the proposal. Of the written comments, 456 supported designation, 72 were opposed to it, and 23 provided additional information only, or were nonsubstantive or not relevant to the proposed designation. In total, oral and written comments were received from 5 Federal agencies, 5 State agencies, 11 local governments, and 532 private organizations, companies, or individuals.
All comments received were reviewed for substantive issues and new
data regarding critical habitat and the Alameda whipsnake. Comments of
a similar nature are grouped into 6 issues relating specifically to
critical habitat. These are addressed in the following summary. Issue 1: Biological and Physical Concerns
(1a) Comment: One commenter stated that not enough information is known about the total habitat requirements of the species to define critical habitat. One additional commenter stated that Unit 5 was far too large and not based on the best available scientific evidence. Several commenters questioned the scientific basis for designating specific areas as critical habitat and recommended excluding areas that did not provide all of the primary constituent elements for whipsnake habitat and areas that reported negative Alameda whipsnake survey results.
Response: Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states ``The Secretary shall designate critical habitat, and make revisions thereto, under subsection (a)(3) on the basis of the best scientific data available.'' Our recommendation is based on the available body of information on the biology and status of this subspecies, as well as the effects of land use practices on its continued existence. We also utilized information on related species, including the chaparral whipsnake, if information on the Alameda whipsnake was lacking. No new information on the life history of the whipsnake was provided during the public comment periods. We agree that much remains to be learned about this species, and should credible, new information become available that contradicts the basis for this designation, we shall reevaluate our analysis and, if appropriate, propose to modify this critical habitat designation. We have considered the best scientific information available at this time, as required by the Act.
In selecting areas to be included in the designation, we identified
the historic range of the whipsnake, as well as important components
related to survival and recovery, including areas that provide
sufficient breeding, feeding, and sheltering, as well as providing
adequate movement corridors to maintain genetic connectivity and
adequate space for population fluctuations. Because of the nature of
the whipsnake (fast, secretive, mobile, burrow dwelling, with periods
of hibernation) negative whipsnake survey results may not provide
sufficient evidence that the site is not used by Alameda whipsnakes
during some point in their life cycle. In addition, whipsnake surveys
do not characterize whether the site provides one or all of the primary
constituent elements needed by the whipsnake for survival and recovery.
Because the primary constituent elements are linked to various stages
of the whipsnake's life history (breeding, dispersal) or to certain
physiological requirements (temperature regulation for foraging), and
the whipsnake would not necessarily be engaged in all these activities
concurrently, not all elements need be present for the site to be considered for designation.
(1b) Comment: A few commenters stated that the Service neglected to include species information and habitat data that was developed by the AlamedaContra Costa Biodiversity Working Group.
Service Response: The Service reviewed the information prepared by
the AlamedaContra Costa Biodiversity Working Group. The working group
used the Alameda whipsnake as an umbrella species for chaparral and
coastal scrub habitats. The working group did not define any other
habitats, including grasslands, woodlands, or riparian areas, as
potential whipsnake habitat. These habitat types were mapped using
falsecolor infrared color aerial photographs and subsequently mapped
on 7.5minute orthophotographs. As explained under the ``Methods''
section above, the Service used a similar approach for mapping critical
habitat for the Alameda whipsnake. However, in addition to chaparral
and coastal scrub habitats, the Service defined whipsnake habitat to
include grassland, oak woodland, and riparian habitats that lie
adjacent to and provide corridors between areas of scrub and chaparral
habitat. Native grassland, oak woodland, and riparian habitats that lie
adjacent to chaparral and scrub habitats provide important feeding,
breeding, and sheltering sites. In addition, these habitat types
facilitate movement of whipsnakes between scrub and chaparral habitat areas to ensure adequate dispersal and gene flow between
(1c) Comment: Many local fire prevention agencies commented that ongoing fuel reduction and modification that occurred before the Alameda whipsnake was formally listed on December 5, 1997, should be exempt from this rulemaking, including the Lafayette Reservoir watershed. In addition, these agencies requested that fire prevention techniques such as prescribed burning and ongoing vegetative clearing should be permitted when there is a threat to human health and property. Mount Diablo State Park specifically requested that the designation of critical habitat not preclude the use of prescribed fire to improve the biological health of the vegetative community and reduce the risk of a catastrophic wildfire.
Service Response: As stated in the ``Section 7 Consultation''
section above, routine clearing of fuel breaks around urban boundaries
that were constructed before the listing of the whipsnake on December
5, 1997, including the Layette Reservoir Watershed, would not be
affected by this designation. In addition, the designation of critical
habitat for the Alameda whipsnake will have no effect on activities
that occur on private property unless the activity is federally funded
or requires a Federal permit. For projects that receive Federal (i.e. Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA)) funding, the Service is actively working with the Federal agency and the local representative to ensure that untimely delays in project implementation do not occur. The Service agrees that Mount Diablo State Park's concerns regarding their prescribed burn program are significant. The designation of critical habitat will not require any additional restrictions for carrying out prescribed burn projects above and beyond the restrictions currently in effect due to the listing of the Alameda whipsnake as a threatened species. Furthermore, the Service will assist Mount Diablo State Park staff with the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan, or any other measures required so the Park can continue vegetation enhancement measures such as prescribed burn projects.
(1d) Comment: Several commenters stated that the maps supplied with the proposed rule designating critical habitat did not exclude existing infrastructure including housing developments, reservoirs, and other manmade features that are not suitable habitat for the Alameda whipsnake.
Service Response: As stated in the `Methods' section above, given
the short period of time in which we were required to complete this
rule, and the lack of finescale mapping data, we were unable to map
critical habitat in sufficient detail to exclude all such areas.
Existing features and structures within the critical habitat boundary,
such as buildings, roads, canals, railroads, large water bodies, and
other features not currently containing or likely to develop these
habitat components, will not contain one or more of the primary constituent elements.
(1e) Comment: Several commenters stated that activities such as recreational biking, hiking, horseback riding, and offroad highway vehicle use were unfairly placed in the same category of impacts with more significant threats to the species including urban development and golf course construction and use.
Service Response: In the proposed rule and here in the final rule,
we list activities that could adversely modify critical habitat without
placing specific emphasis on the relative contribution of any one
activity. The use of existing trails for recreational hiking, biking,
and horseback riding do not pose the same level of threats to the
species as the construction and use of new trails that modify critical
habitat for the whipsnake. The specific threats that result from the
construction and use of new trails are likely unique to each critical
habitat unit and are best addressed in recovery plans, management plans, and section 7 consultations.
(1f) Comment: Many commenters were concerned about how designation of critical habitat would affect grazing and recreation activities including biking, hiking, and horseback riding.
Service Response: Designation of critical habitat does not
prescribe specific management actions, but does identify areas that are
in need of special management considerations. In regards to grazing,
the Service does not foresee any change in the ability of private
landowners to graze their property. In addition, we anticipate that
many activities, including grazing and recreational trail use,
presently occurring on critical habitat areas can be managed so as to be compatible with the whipsnake's needs.
(1g) Comment: One commenter asked whether existing utility features and the maintenance of these features are covered under the definition of critical habitat for the Alameda whipsnake.
Service Response: Yes, however, the designation of critical habitat
will not require any additional restrictions for carrying out
maintenance projects above and beyond the restrictions currently in
effect due to the listing of the Alameda whipsnake as a threatened
species. Furthermore, the Service will assist utility companies with
the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan or any other measures required so that maintenance projects can continue.
(1h) Comment: One commenter was concerned that, given the extensive amount of land designated as critical habitat, the Service might not require surveys for whipsnake presence, eliminating a source for locality information.
Service Response: The Service does not foresee a decrease in the number of future Alameda whipsnake surveys. Future Alameda whipsnake surveys may be conducted to determine the relative abundance of Alameda whipsnakes at specific sites and to determine appropriate minimization measures. In addition, the draft recovery plan will identify the need to conduct surveys in association with a variety of recovery tasks. (1i) Comment: A few commenters stated that the Service incorrectly proposed critical habitat in the eastern section of unit 5 because there are no verified Alameda whipsnake records in the area. Additional commenters stated there are no known Alameda whipsnake occurrences throughout unit 5. Also, one commenter stated the Service should not designate critical habitat in the western section of unit 5 because of the lack of information regarding the zones of intergradation between federallylisted Alameda whipsnake and the nonlisted chaparral whipsnake.
Service Response: A livetrapping survey for the Alameda whipsnake
was conducted within the eastern section of unit 5 on the Department of
Energy's Lawrence Livermore Lab's Site 300 in 1998. During that survey,
14 individual California whipsnakes were captured, one of which had
more taxonomic characteristics of the Alameda whipsnake than the
chaparral whipsnake. The Service also has records of pure Alameda
whipsnake occurrences that occur throughout unit 5, including two
occurrences that lie just north of Calavaras Reservoir, within 10 miles of the western boundary of unit 5.
(1j) Comment: One of the peer review commenters stated that zone of intergradation between the Alameda whipsnake and the chaparral whipsnake occurs in the Del Puerto Canyon and San Antonio Valley areas of San Joaquin, Santa Clara, and Stanislaus Counties. He suggested that critical habitat be extended south and southeast of Unit 5 to encompasses additional areas within western San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties and northern Santa Clara County to capture this zone of intergradation.
Service Response: The Service will investigate these areas of
intergradation to determine their extent and their relationship to the
Alameda whipsnake population that occurs in Unit 5. Based on this
investigation, we will decide whether critical habitat in unit 5 should
be extended further south and southeast to include the Del Puerto Canyon and San Antonia Valley areas.
(1k) Comment: One commenter claimed that the proposed rule is internally inconsistent as it states that critical habitat was proposed on land that is occupied by the Alameda whipsnake, while it appears that unoccupied habitat has been proposed for designation.
Service Response: A rangewide survey has not been conducted for
this species. As described in `Methods' above, we used data on known
Alameda whipsnake locations to initially identify important areas. We
have also made the reasonable assumption that areas adjacent to these
locations are also within the geographical area occupied by the species
based on the suitability of the habitat. In addition, knowledge of the
species biology and the need for genetic connectivity to assure species
persistence directs the inclusion of movement corridors where possible. [[Page 58942]]
The Service, therefore, maintains that all seven critical habitat units are geographical areas occupied by the Alameda whipsnake.
Issue 2: General Selection of Designated Critical Habitat Areas (2a) Comment: Several commenters stated that private lands should be excluded from critical habitat designation. These commenters stated that the publication of maps with threatened or endangered species locations overlaid upon private land could subject private property owners to increased exposure to litigation, liability, trespass, or other activities that could interfere with privacy, and with the lawful beneficial uses of the property.
Service Response: Section 4(b)(2) of the Act states ``The Secretary
shall designate critical habitat, and make revisions thereto, under
subsection (a)(3) on the basis of the best scientific data available
and after taking into consideration the economic impact, and any other
relevant impact, of specifying any particular area as critical
habitat.'' The Act does not require nor suggest that private lands
should be excluded from designation, unless we find that the economic
or other relevant impacts outweigh the benefit of critical habitat designation.
(2b) Comment: Several commenters recommended excluding from designation as critical habitat areas where there were plans being formulated to construct urban improvements within or in proximity to the areas proposed as critical habitat.
Service Response: We did not exclude any areas because of
speculative or proposed developments. We are available to work with
project proponents to develop project alternatives that will avoid and
minimize adverse effects to whipsnakes, and not result in destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
(2c) Comment: One commenter stated that, given the fact that 60 percent of the known range of the Alameda whipsnake occurs in public ownership, the loss of the 40 percent that is held in private ownership would not lead to the demise of the snake. Therefore, private lands should not be included as critical habitat.
Service Response: The range of the Alameda whipsnake has been
fragmented by urban development and associated roadway construction.
What remains are five distinct populations that continue to suffer
significant habitat loss due to urban encroachment and related
activities. Public and private lands are randomly distributed
throughout the current range of the species. The loss of all remaining
private lands that provide suitable habitat for the whipsnake would
further fragment the five whipsnake populations and result in
significant losses of breeding, feeding, and sheltering habitats, as
well as the connectivity corridors. The Service believes that both
public and private lands are essential to the survival and recovery of
the species. The critical habitat designation, therefore, includes both private and public lands.
Issue 3: Comments on Selection of Specific Sites
(3a) Comment: Several commenters expressed concern with the lack of connectivity between individual units, especially between units 2 and 3.
Service Response: The Service agrees that there is currently limited potential for movement between these two units. However, through recovery efforts, the Service proposes to research ways to promote connectivity and to determi
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT
Jason Davis or Heather Bell, at the above address (telephone 916/4146600, facsimile 916/4146713).