[Federal Register Volume 63, Number 186 (Friday, September 25, 1998)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 51329-51332]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 98-25717]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part l7

RIN 1018-AC2l

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Withdrawal of 
Proposed Rule To List the Plant Puccinellia parishii (Parish's alkali 
grass) as Endangered

AGENCY: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; withdrawal.


SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) withdraws a proposal 
to list the plant Puccinellia parishii (Parish's alkali grass) as an 
endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as 
amended. This small annual grass occurs near desert springs, seeps, and 
seasonally wet areas in Apache, Coconino, and Yavapai counties, 
Arizona; San Bernardino County, California; San Miguel County, 
Colorado, and Catron, Cibola, Grant, Hidalgo, McKinley, Sandoval, and 
San Juan counties, New Mexico. The sites in Apache and Coconino 
counties, Arizona, are on the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations. This 
determination is based on the recent discovery of additional 
populations and on new information concerning the species' habitat 
requirements and apparent tolerance to habitat impacts.

ADDRESSES: The complete file for this notice is available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the 
Service's New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office, 2105 Osuna Road, 
NE., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87113.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Charlie McDonald at the above address, 
or telephone 505/346-2525.



    Parish's alkali grass was first collected by Samuel Bonsal Parish 
at Rabbit Springs in the Mojave Desert of California in 1915. A.S. 
Hitchcock described it as a new species in 1928. The genus Puccinellia 
contains about 100 species of mostly north-temperate grasses (Willis 
and Shaw 1973); there are 10 species in the United States (Hitchcock 
and Chase 1951). Most species of Puccinellia have polyploid chromosome 
numbers with only two diploid species in the United States, P. parishii 
and P. lemonii (Church 1949). Studies by Davis and Goldman (1993) 
indicate that P. parishii and P. lemonii are each genetically and 
morphologically distinct.
    Parish's alkali grass is a dwarf, ephemeral (winter-to-spring), 
tufted annual. The leaves are 1-3 centimeters (cm) (0.4-1.2 inches 
(in)) long, firm, upright, and very narrow. Flowering stems are 2-20 cm 
(0.8-8.0 in) long, number 1-25 per plant, and appear from April to May. 
Plants grow from about March through June, but can only be positively 
identified during the flowering period. Plants die during the typically 
dry southwestern spring. By mid-July, there is usually no sign of 
plants at occupied sites.
    Parish's alkali grass occupies alkaline springs, seeps, and 
seasonally wet areas that occur at the heads of drainages or on gentle 
slopes at elevations of 800-2200 meters (m) (2600-7200 feet (ft)). The 
amount of available habitat depends on the size of the wet area and can 
vary from a few square meters to 16 hectares (ha) (40 acres (ac)). The 
species requires continuously damp soils during its late winter to 
spring growing period. The number of plants in a population can 
fluctuate widely from year to year in response to growing conditions. 
Parish's alkali grass often grows in association with Distichlis 
spicata (salt grass), Sporobolus airoides (alkali sacaton), Carex spp. 
(sedge), Scirpus spp. (bulrush), Juncus spp. (rush),

[[Page 51330]]

Eleocharis spp. (spike rush), and Anemopsis californica (yerba mansa).
    The geographic range of Parish's alkali grass extends about 1,000 
kilometers (km) (600 miles (mi)) east to west from Sandoval County, New 
Mexico, to San Bernardino County, California, and about 600 km (370 mi) 
north to south from San Miguel County, Colorado, to Hidalgo County, New 
    Parish's alkali grass is currently known from 30 sites. There are 
17 sites in New Mexico, 11 in Arizona, 1 in California, and 1 in 
Colorado. In the proposed rule to list the species (59 FR 14378; March 
28, 1994), it was reported from 10 sites, although 1 of these sites was 
later determined to be a misidentified specimen.
    The known sites in New Mexico have increased to 17 from the 1 
reported in the proposed rule. Personnel of the New Mexico Forestry 
Division discovered 12 new sites in Catron (1), Cibola (1), Hidalgo 
(1), McKinley (6), and Sandoval (3) counties (Sivinski 1995). Two new 
sites are in San Juan County (K. Heil, San Juan College, Farmington, 
New Mexico, pers. comm. 1995), and the Bureau of Land Management 
reported two new sites in Sandoval County (in litt. 1996). The one site 
reported in the proposed rule is in Grant County.
    The known sites in Arizona have increased to 11 from the 7 reported 
in the proposed rule. The grass is described as common at one new site 
in Yavapai County about 240 km (150 mi) southwest of the nearest other 
Arizona site (P. Warren, The Nature Conservancy, Tucson, Arizona, pers. 
comm. 1996). Three new sites are in Apache County, one on the Apache-
Sitgreaves National Forest (T. Myers, U.S. Forest Service, 
Springerville, Arizona, in litt. 1997), and two on the Navajo Indian 
Reservation (D. Roth, Navajo Natural Heritage Program, Window Rock, 
Arizona, pers. comm. 1997). The seven sites reported in the proposed 
rule are in Coconino County on the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations.
    The known sites in California have decreased to one from the two 
reported in the proposed rule. Dr. Andrew Sanders of the University of 
California, Riverside, has identified the plants from Edwards Air Force 
Base in Kern County as Puccinellia simplex rather than P. parishii (C. 
Rutherford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in litt. 1995).
    The most recently discovered site occurs near Miramonte Reservoir 
in San Miguel County, Colorado (J. Ferguson, Bureau of Land Management, 
Montrose, Colorado, pers. comm. 1998). Arnold Clifford, a botanist with 
Ecosphere Inc., discovered this site, the first recorded for Parish's 
alkali grass in Colorado, in the summer of 1998 during environmental 
surveys for a proposed gas transmission line. The site has 2,200-2,700 
plants. Additional suitable habitat is present in the area, but has not 
been surveyed.

Previous Federal Action

    Federal action on this species began as a result of section 12 of 
the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.), which directed the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution to 
prepare a report on those plants considered to be endangered, 
threatened, or extinct in the United States. The Smithsonian 
Institution presented this report, designated as House Document No. 94-
51, to Congress on January 9, 1975. On July 1, 1975, we published a 
notice in the Federal Register (40 FR 27823) accepting the Smithsonian 
report as a petition within the context of section 4(c)(2) (now section 
4(b)(3)) of the Act, and giving notice of our intention to review the 
status of the plants named therein. On December 15, 1980 (45 FR 82479), 
we published an updated notice reviewing the native plants being 
considered for classification as endangered or threatened. We placed 
Parish's alkali grass in Category 1 in that notice. Category 1 included 
those plants for which we had sufficient information to support 
proposing to list them as threatened or endangered. We placed Parish's 
alkali grass in Category 2 in the November 23, 1983, supplement to the 
plant notice (48 FR 53640). Category 2 included those taxa for which 
available information indicated listing may be warranted, but for which 
information on status and threats sufficient to support listing 
proposals was lacking. We included Parish's alkali grass in Category 2 
in the 1985 and 1990 plant notices (50 FR 39525, September 27, 1985; 55 
FR 6183, February 21, 1990), and in Category 1 in the 1993 notice (58 
FR 51144; September 30, 1993).
    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act requires the Secretary to make 
findings on certain pending petitions within 1 year of their receipt. 
Section 2(b)(1) of the 1982 amendments further requires that all 
petitions pending on October 13, 1982, be treated as having been newly 
submitted on that date. Because Parish's alkali grass was included in 
the 1975 Smithsonian report, which was accepted as a petition, we 
treated the petition to list this species as being newly submitted on 
October 13, 1982. In each year from 1983 to 1993, we made a finding 
that listing Parish's alkali grass was warranted, but precluded by 
other listing actions of higher priority, in accordance with section 
4(b)(3)(B)(iii) of the Act.
    On March 28, 1994, we published a proposal in the Federal Register 
(59 FR 14378) to list Parish's alkali grass as endangered. We received 
one request for a public hearing. We published a notice announcing the 
public hearing and reopening the comment period in the Federal Register 
on August 30, 1994 (59 FR 44700). We held the public hearing on 
September 15, 1994, in Tuba City, Arizona.
    In consideration of the length of time since the initial proposal 
and the acquisition of new information about Parish's alkali grass, we 
published a notice in the Federal Register on July 20, 1998 (63 FR 
38803), that summarized the new information and reopened the comment 
period for 30 days.
    Processing of this proposed rule conforms with our Listing Priority 
Guidance for Fiscal Years 1998 and 1999, published on May 8, 1998 (63 
FR 25502). The guidance clarifies the order in which we will process 
rulemakings giving highest priority (Tier 1) to processing emergency 
rules to add species to the Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife 
and Plants (Lists); second priority (Tier 2) to processing final 
determinations on proposals to add species to the Lists, processing new 
proposals to add species to the Lists, processing administrative 
findings on petitions (to add species to the Lists, delist species, or 
reclassify listed species), and processing a limited number of proposed 
or final rules to delist or reclassify species; and third priority 
(Tier 3) to processing proposed or final rules designating critical 
habitat. Processing of this proposed rule is a Tier 2 action.

Summary of Comments and Recommendations

    In the March 28, 1994, proposed rule, and the August 30, 1994, and 
July 20, 1998, notices reopening the comment period, we requested all 
interested parties to submit factual reports or information that might 
contribute to the development of a final rule. We contacted appropriate 
Federal and State agencies, Tribal and county governments, scientific 
organizations, and other interested parties and requested them to 
comment. We published notices of the proposed listing in mid-April, 
1994, in three newspapers in New Mexico, two in Arizona, and four in 
California. We published notices announcing the public hearing and 
reopening of the

[[Page 51331]]

comment period in two newspapers in Arizona on September 10, 1994.
    Three people attended the public hearing. One individual made oral 
comments opposing the listing. Fourteen comment letters were received, 
one from a Federal agency, three from State agencies, four from Tribal 
governments, two from private organizations, and four from individuals. 
Two commenters supported the listing, eight opposed the listing, and 
four offered comments or information without taking a position on the 
listing. Below we discuss specific comments or issues, which are 
contrary to our decision to withdraw the proposed listing. Comments of 
a similar nature or point are grouped into general issues for purposes 
of response.
    Issue 1: Parish's alkali grass merits protection because of its 
small and isolated populations that are limited to a very specific 
    Response: Recent discoveries indicate that Parish's alkali grass, 
although still rare, is more common than previously supposed. Some of 
the newly discovered populations indicate Parish's alkali grass 
occupies a somewhat broader range of habitats than previously known. 
Several new populations were discovered at sites that are wet only 
during the winter and spring. These ephemeral seeps are not marked on 
maps and were discovered when searching springs in the same general 
area. The number of these seeps is unknown, but they greatly increase 
the available suitable habitat for Parish's alkali grass.
    Issue 2: Parish's alkali grass is threatened by livestock grazing 
and other impacts that have modified desert springs in the southwest.
    Response: We agree that a large number of desert springs in the 
southwest have been modified for various uses. Some of the newly 
discovered populations, however, cast doubt on the negative effects of 
livestock on Parish's alkali grass. Heavy grazing and trampling have 
occurred for decades at several springs where Parish's alkali grass is 
present. Disturbance around springs may reduce competition and create 
open microsites that benefit this small annual grass. The relationship 
between livestock impacts at springs and Parish's alkali grass requires 
further study.
    Issue 3: Parish's alkali grass is threatened by the potential loss 
of entire ecosystems where it is found.
    Response: We are aware that various factors have caused some 
springs in the Southwest to go permanently dry. Sivinski (1995) used 
topographic maps to determine the locations of 58 springs in New Mexico 
that could be habitat for Parish's alkali grass. In surveys of these 
springs, he found five dry and the flow from six others completely 
captured for livestock or domestic use. Most of the remaining springs 
had been modified at some time, but still flowed. Nevertheless, as 
discussed under factor A of the following ``Summary of Factors 
Affecting the Species'' section, Parish's alkali grass has been 
discovered at sites other than springs, which greatly increases the 
likelihood of finding more populations of this plant.

Summary of Factors Affecting the Species

    Section 4(a)(1) of the Act and regulations (50 CFR part 424) 
promulgated to implement the listing provisions of the Act set forth 
the procedures for adding species to the Federal lists and for 
withdrawing a proposed rule when warranted. We may determine a species 
to be an endangered or threatened species due to one or more of the 
five factors described in section 4(a)(1). These factors as they apply 
to the withdrawal of the proposed rule for Puccinellia parishii 
Hitchcock (Parish's alkali grass) are as follows:
    A. The present or threatened destruction. modification. or 
curtailment of its habitat or range. Parish's alkali grass is 
vulnerable to alteration of the hydrology of the habitats upon which it 
depends. Sivinski (1995) observed that 11 of the 58 springs that he 
surveyed for Parish's alkali grass in New Mexico were either dry or 
completely captured for livestock or domestic use. In addition to 
natural drought, other factors causing springs to go dry in the 
Southwest include groundwater pumping, erosion and stream entrenchment, 
and salt cedar (Tamarix spp.) invasion. However, Parish's alkali grass 
is apparently able to withstand some types of human disturbance. For 
example, the grass occurs where there is farming, where springs have 
been modified into earthen impoundments, and where there is light to 
heavy livestock grazing and trampling. In one instance, a highway 
right-of-way fence protects part of a site from grazing. The protected 
area has a dense stand of sweet clover (Melilotus sp.) and no Parish's 
alkali grass, but the grass is abundant in the grazed area only a few 
meters away. Further study is needed to determine what types of 
disturbances are detrimental to Parish's alkali grass, and what types 
may benefit the species through reduced competition with other 
vegetation and the creation of favorable microsites for seedling 
    Parish's alkali grass is now known from 30 sites as opposed to 10 
sites reported in the proposed rule. Some of the new discoveries have 
extended the overall range of the species. In particular, the site in 
southwestern Colorado extends the species' range about 330 km (205 mi) 
northeastward from previously known sites in Arizona, and the discovery 
in west-central Arizona extends the species' range about 240 km (150 
mi) southwestward in that State. Many of the new sites fill gaps in the 
known distribution making populations much less disjunct from one 
another than previously supposed.
    Characteristics of some recently discovered Parish's alkali grass 
sites indicate that the species occupies a somewhat broader range of 
habitats than previously supposed. Several sites were discovered where 
the soils are subirrigated and wet only during the winter and spring 
months. These sites are generally not identified as springs on maps and 
are only noticeable because their greener vegetation contrasts with the 
surrounding brown vegetation during the dry spring months. One newly 
discovered site occurs at 2,240 m (7,350 ft) in elevation, which is 410 
m (1,350 ft) higher than any of the sites identified in the proposed 
rule. These discoveries greatly increase the number of potential sites 
where Parish's alkali grass might be found.
    B. Overutilization for commercial. recreational. scientific. or 
educational purposes. We do not know of any commercial or recreational 
uses for Parish's alkali grass. Although we identified scientific 
collecting as a potential threat in the proposed rule, the newly 
discovered populations reduce this concern. In addition, this annual 
grass is abundant in favorable years within its limited habitat and 
should be unharmed by limited collecting for taxonomic or ecological 
research. We do not know of any trade of Parish's alkali grass and do 
not expect any to develop.
    C. Disease or predation. Cattle generally do not graze Parish's 
alkali grass due to its small size. Jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) 
have been documented grazing the San Bernardino County, California, 
site during midsummer with unknown effects (T. Thomas, pers. comm. 
1993). No significant disease has been observed in this species.
    D. The inadequacv of existing regulatory mechanisms. Parish's 
alkali grass is included as a Highly Safeguarded species on the list of 
plants protected under the Arizona Native Plant Law ARS3-901, 
administered by the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

[[Page 51332]]

A Highly Safeguarded species is one ``* * * whose prospects for 
survival in this State are in jeopardy * * *'' The protections afforded 
a Highly Safeguarded species include restrictions on collecting and a 
requirement for salvage permits.
    The Navajo Fish and Wildlife Department has developed the Navajo 
Nation Endangered Species List for Tribal lands under Title 17 Section 
507(a) of the Navajo Tribal Code and Navajo Nation Council Resources 
Committee Resolution RCF-014-91. Parish's alkali grass is identified as 
a Group 2 species on this list, meaning that it is considered in danger 
of being eliminated from all or a significant portion of its range on 
the Navajo Nation. This designation became effective February 14, 1994 
(L. Benallie, Navajo Fish and Wildlife Department, in litt. 1993).
    Although the State of California does not list Parish's alkali 
grass as endangered, it is on List lB of the Native Plant Society's 
Inventory of Rare and Endangered Vascular Plants of California 
(California Native Plant Society 1992). List lB plants are considered 
``* * * rare, threatened, or endangered in California and elsewhere.'' 
Under the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act, the 
State considers List lB species equivalent to State-listed species for 
the purposes of disclosing project impacts to sensitive resources in 
environmental assessments. However, such disclosures do not necessarily 
protect List lB species from project impacts.
    Parish's alkali grass is listed as endangered under the New Mexico 
Endangered Plant Species Act (9-10-10 NMSA) and attendant regulation 
(19 NMAC 21.2). Species so listed are protected from unauthorized 
collection or take in New Mexico (Sivinski and Lightfoot 1995).
    Parish's alkali grass was first discovered in Colorado in the 
summer of 1998. It is not yet protected under any Colorado endangered 
species laws.
    The above designations provide conservation measures for Parish's 
alkali grass equivalent to many of the measures available through 
listing under the Act. State and Tribal listing provides recognition 
for the species that results in conservation actions by Federal, State, 
and local agencies, private groups, and individuals. Section 7(a) of 
the Act, which requires Federal agencies to ensure that activities they 
authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of a threatened or endangered species, will not 
apply without Federal listing. However, it is the policy of most 
Federal agencies to protect State- and Tribal-listed species to a 
similar degree as federally listed species.
    E. Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued 
existence. The discovery of Parish's alkali grass at 20 more sites than 
reported in the proposed rule, and the fact that many new sites are at 
locations several hundred kilometers from the sites previously known 
reduces the concern for extinction through random environmental events 
such as drought.

Finding and Withdrawal

    Data collected since Parish's alkali grass was proposed for listing 
indicate the species is more abundant and has a greater geographic 
range than previously supposed. Parish's alkali grass was formerly 
thought to occur only at springs, but some of the recently discovered 
sites show that suitable habitat exists where soils are subirrigated 
(irrigated below the surface) and wet only during the winter and spring 
months thus greatly expanding the amount of suitable habitat. 
Conditions at some recently discovered sites indicate the species may 
tolerate, or even benefit from, certain disturbances that were 
previously identified as threats.
    Parish's alkali grass is designated as ``endangered'' under State 
and Tribal statutes in Arizona, New Mexico, and the Navajo Nation. In 
California, it is on List lB of the Native Plant Society's Inventory of 
Rare and Endangered Vascular Plants of California. These designations 
provide recognition to the species and promote its conservation in many 
ways that are similar to listing under the Act.
    Based on recent discoveries of additional sites and new information 
on suitable habitats and threats to the species, we have concluded that 
listing Parish's alkali grass as endangered or threatened under the Act 
is not warranted. Therefore, we withdraw our March 28, 1994, proposed 
rule (59 FR 14378) to list Parish's alkali grass as endangered.

References Cited

California Native Plant Society. 1992. Inventory of rare and 
endangered vascular plants of California. California Native Plant 
Society, Sacramento, California.
Church, G.L. 1949. A cytotaxonomic study of Glyceria and 
Puccinellia. American Journal of Botany 36:155-165.
Davis, J.I. and D.H. Goldman. 1993. Isozyme variation and species 
delimitation among diploid populations of the Puccinellia 
nuttalliania complex (Poaceae): character fixation and the discovery 
of phylogenetic species. Taxon 42:585-599.
Hitchcock, A.S. 1928. New Species of grasses from the United States. 
Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 41:157-58.
Hitchcock, A.S. and A. Chase. 1951. Manual of the grasses of the 
United States, second edition. United States Department of 
Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication Number 200, Washington, D.C.
Sivinski, R. 1995. Parish's alkali grass, progress report. New 
Mexico Forestry and Resources Conservation Division Section 6 
Performance Report, Project E9, Segment 9. U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Sivinski, R. and K. Lightfoot, editors. 1995. Inventory of the rare 
and endangered plants of New Mexico, third edition. New Mexico 
Forestry and Resources Conservation Division, Energy, Minerals and 
Natural Resources Department Miscellaneous Publication Number 4.
Willis, J.C. and H.K.A. Shaw. 1973. A dictionary of the flowering 
plants and ferns, eighth edition. Cambridge University Press, 
Cambridge, England.


    The primary author of this notice is Charlie McDonald (See 
ADDRESSES section).


    The authority for this action is section 4(b)(6)(B)(ii) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: September 17, 1998.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 98-25717 Filed 9-24-98; 8:45 am]