[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 146 (Friday, July 29, 2011)]
[Pages 45606-45609]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-19175]



Bureau of Land Management

Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R8-ES-2011-N131; 80221-1112-80221-F2]

Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, Habitat Conservation 
Plan and Possible Land Use Plan Amendment, Southern California: 
Environmental Impact Statement

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior; Bureau of Land Management, 

ACTION: Notice of intent and notice of public meetings; request for 


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), intend to prepare 
an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended, for the proposed 
Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). The EIS will be a 
joint Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/
EIR), for which the Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), 
together with the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the California 
Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), intend to gather information 
necessary for preparation. The DRECP will then be prepared to meet the 
requirements of the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, 
and the State of California's Endangered Species Act and Natural 
Communities Conservation Planning Act. The BLM, in compliance with the 
Federal Land Policy and Management Act, as amended, will consider this 
NEPA process and the resulting DRECP documents in its analysis toward 
possible amendment of BLM's California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) 
Plan of 1980, as amended.

DATES: Please send written comments on or before September 12, 2011 
    Three public scoping meetings will be held for the EIS/EIR, and we 
will accept written comments at these meetings. These public meetings 
will be held on the following dates and at the following locations:
    1. August 16, 2011, 7-9 p.m., Lake Arrowhead Ballroom, Doubletree 
Ontario Hotel, 222 N Vineyard Ave. Ontario, CA 91764.
    2. August 24, 2011, 2-4 p.m., Hearing Room A, California Energy 
Commission, 1516 Ninth St. Sacramento, CA 95814.
    3. August 24, 2011, 7-9 p.m., Hearing Room A, California Energy 
Commission, 1516 Ninth St. Sacramento, CA 95814.
    For more information, see ``Public Comments'' and ``Reasonable 

ADDRESSES: Send your comments or requests for more information by any 
one of the following methods.
    E-mail: [email protected]. Include ``Scoping Comments'' in the 
subject line of the message.
    Fax: Attn: Jim Bartel, Field Supervisor, (760) 431-5902.
    U.S. Mail: Jim Bartel, Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife 
Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6010 Hidden Valley Road, Suite 
101, Carlsbad, CA 92011.
    In-Person Drop-off: You may drop off comments during regular 
business hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ken Corey, Assistant Field Supervisor, 
by phone at (760) 431-9440, or by U.S. mail at the above address; or 
Vicki Campbell, DRECP Program Manager, by phone at (916) 978-4320, or 
by U.S. mail at the BLM California State Office, 2800 Cottage Way, 
Suite W-1623, Sacramento, CA 95825.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Service intends to prepare an EIS under 
NEPA for the proposed Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan 
(DRECP). The EIS will be a joint Environmental Impact Statement/
Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR), for which the Service and BLM, 
together with the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the CDFG, 
intend to gather information necessary for preparation. The DRECP will 
then be prepared to meet the requirements of the section 10 habitat 
conservation plan (HCP) process under the Federal Endangered Species 
Act of 1973, as amended (ESA), and the State of California's Endangered 
Species Act (CESA) and Natural Communities Conservation Planning Act 
(NCCPA). The Service and BLM will serve as co-lead agencies in the 
overall EIS process.
    BLM, in compliance with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, 
as amended (43 U.S.C. 1701-1782; FLPMA), will consider the NEPA process 
and DRECP documents in its analysis as it considers possibly amending 
its California Desert Conservation Area Plan of 1980, as amended 
(CDCAP). The BLM issued a Notice of Intent to Prepare an EIS for a 
possible amendment to the CDCAP on November 20, 2009 (74 FR 60291). At 
this time, BLM announces the joining of its EIS preparation for the 
possible CDCAP amendment with the Service's EIS for the DRECP. For 
further information on the potential CDCA Plan amendment, please refer 
to BLM's November 20, 2009, Federal Register notice.
    The Service will serve as the administrative lead for all actions 
related to this Federal Register notice for the DRECP HCP EIS component 
of the EIS/EIR. The CEC will serve as the State lead agency under the 
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the EIR component.
    The Service is publishing this notice to announce the initiation of 
a public scoping period, during which we invite other agencies (local, 
State, and Federal), Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, and the 
public to submit written comments providing suggestions

[[Page 45607]]

and information on the scope of issues and alternatives to be addressed 
in the EIS. Concurrently with this notice, the CEC has publicly 
released a CEQA notice of preparation for its EIR via State and local 
media. Please see http://www.drecp.org for more information on the CEQA 


    The proposed DRECP would establish the structure to integrate 
renewable energy development and biological resource conservation 
across the Mojave and Colorado Desert regions of southern California. 
The Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretarial Order No. 3285 A1 
(February 22, 2011) establishes the development of renewable energy as 
a departmental priority and outlines a strategy to increase the 
development and transmission of renewable energy from appropriate areas 
on public lands. The order also provides for DOI collaboration with 
other Federal agencies, States, local communities, and private 
landowners to facilitate the timely and environmentally responsible 
development of renewable energy and associated transmission while 
protecting and enhancing the nation's water, wildlife, and other 
natural resources.
    In November 2008, California's Governor issued an executive order 
establishing the State of California's goal of meeting 33 percent of 
the State's electricity generation from renewable resources by 2020. 
The 33-percent goal became law with the enactment of California State 
Senate Bill 2 (Joe Simitian), signed into law by the Governor on April 
12, 2011 (Pub. Resources Code, 25740, as amended by Stats. 2011, 1st 
Ex. Sess., ch.1X). The California Governor's Executive Order S-14-08 
(November 17, 2008) mandated the development of the DRECP, a major 
component of California's renewable energy planning efforts. The 
proposed DRECP, if approved by the CEC and if permits are issued by the 
Service and CDFG, is expected to further these objectives and 
accelerate the processing of renewable projects in the Mojave and 
Colorado Deserts of southern California. The proposed DRECP is intended 
to advance State and Federal conservation goals in these desert regions 
while also facilitating the timely permitting of renewable energy 
projects, and to provide durable and reliable regulatory assurances, as 
appropriate, under the NCCPA and the ESA for renewable energy 
development on non-Federal land in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of 
southern California. The DRECP would help provide for effective 
protection and conservation of desert ecosystems while allowing the 
appropriate development of renewable energy projects.
    A Renewable Energy Action Team (REAT), consisting of the CEC, CDFG, 
BLM, and the Service, will oversee preparation and implementation of 
the DRECP. The REAT was created through Memoranda of Understanding in 
2009 and 2010 among the CEC, CDFG, BLM, the Service, the Secretary of 
the Interior, and the Governor of California. The REAT's primary 
mission is to streamline and accelerate the permitting processes for 
renewable energy projects, while contributing to the conservation of 
endangered species and natural communities at the ecosystem scale.
    The proposed DRECP will serve as a multiple-species HCP for CEC in 
its application for an incidental take permit under section 10(a)(1)(B) 
of the Federal ESA of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). The 
DRECP will also serve as a Natural Community Conservation Plan (NCCP) 
under section 2800 et seq. of the California Fish and Game Code. Upon 
approval and adoption of the DRECP, the CEC and potentially other 
applicants would obtain authorization for the incidental take of 
certain endangered, threatened, and special-status plant and animal 
species (``Covered Species'') from the Service on non-Federal land, and 
from CDFG on both Federal and non-Federal land. If the Federal and 
State permits are issued, the permittees could extend their permit 
authorizations to proponents of additional renewable energy and 
transmission projects under their jurisdiction.
    Section 9 of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and Federal 
regulations prohibit the ``take'' of a fish or wildlife species listed 
as endangered or threatened. Under the ESA, the following activities 
are defined as take: To harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, 
trap, capture, or collect listed wildlife species, or attempt to engage 
in such conduct (16 U.S.C. 1532). Under certain circumstances, the 
Service may issue permits to authorize ``incidental take'' of listed 
wildlife species under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA on non-Federal 
lands. Incidental take is defined by the ESA as take that is incidental 
to, and not the purpose of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity. 
Regulations governing permits for endangered and threatened species are 
at 50 CFR 17.22 and 50 CFR 17.32, respectively.
    Section 10 of the ESA specifies the requirements for the issuance 
of incidental take permits to non-Federal entities. Any proposed take 
must be incidental to otherwise lawful activities and cannot 
appreciably reduce the likelihood of the survival and recovery of the 
species in the wild. The impacts of such take must also be minimized 
and mitigated to the maximum extent practicable. To obtain an 
incidental take permit, an applicant must prepare aHCP describing the 
impacts that will likely result from the proposed taking, the measures 
for minimizing and mitigating the impacts of the take, the funding 
available to implement such measures, alternatives to the taking, and 
the reason why such alternatives are not being implemented. Thus, the 
HCP sets forth a uniform and systematic conservation strategy that 
ensures that impacts to Covered Species and their habitats from 
activities covered by the HCP (``Covered Activities'') are minimized 
and mitigated to the maximum extent practicable. If a section 10 permit 
is issued, the permittee(s) would receive assurances for all plant and 
animal species covered by the HCP on non-Federal land and included on 
the permit under the Service's ``No Surprises'' regulation (50 CFR 
17.22(b)(5) and 17.32(b)(5)).

Project Area

    The proposed DRECP Planning Area generally covers approximately 
22,587,000 acres of Federal and non-Federal land in the Mojave and 
Colorado Desert regions of southern California where renewable energy 
development potentially may occur, including portions of seven counties 
(Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San 
Diego). The proposed HCP would cover non-Federal lands in the project 
area, the proposed NCCPwould cover both Federal (to the extent 
permitted by law) and non-Federal lands, and the possible CDCA Plan 
amendment would cover BLM-administered lands. The proposed DRECP and 
possible CDCAP amendment may focus on specific areas for development, 
such as the west Mojave, Imperial, and eastern Riverside areas.

Potential Applicants

    The DRECP is being prepared through a collaboration of Federal, 
State, and local agencies as the basis for the CEC (and potentially 
other entities) to apply for incidental take permits for implementation 
of the DRECP under (1) Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA and (2) Section 
2835 (NCCPA) or Section 2081 (CESA) of the California Fish and Game 
Code. Other potential applicants that may have jurisdiction over 
renewable energy and transmission development in the DRECP Planning 
Area, include the California Public Utilities Commission, special 
utilities districts,

[[Page 45608]]

and local agencies (counties and cities). Upon approval and adoption of 
the DRECP, and issuance of incidental take authorizations by the 
Service and CDFG, these other entities, if included as permittees, 
could extend their permit authorizations to proponents of renewable 
energy and transmission projects under their jurisdiction.
    Other entities that may apply for incidental take permits that have 
authority over lands within the DRECP Planning Area include CDFG, the 
State Lands Commission, the California Parks and Recreation Department, 
and certain campuses of the University of California.

Covered Activities

    The proposed ESA incidental take permit may allow take of Covered 
Species of wildlife resulting from Covered Activities on non-Federal 
land in the proposed DRECP Planning Area. The purpose of the DRECP is 
to contribute to the conservation of Covered Species while streamlining 
endangered species permitting for renewable energy development and 
transmission projects. To ensure that all relevant renewable energy 
projects are included and addressed, the Covered Activities are defined 
broadly as the exploration, pre-project activities (geotechnical 
borings, site reconnaissance, and, depending on the type of project, 
installation of temporary meteorological stations or test drilling and 
trenching), site preparation and construction, related infrastructure 
requirements, operations and maintenance, monitoring, and future 
decommissioning of public and private utility-scale renewable energy 
generation and transmission in the plan area. The activity types 
covered by the DRECP are expected to include transmission facilities 
that support renewable energy development, solar (photovoltaic and 
thermal) projects, wind projects, geothermal projects, and conservation 
actions. To facilitate timely and environmentally responsible 
development, the proposed DRECP and possible CDCAP amendment may focus 
on specific areas for development, such as the west Mojave, Imperial, 
and east Riverside areas. Potential impacts to Covered Species would be 
addressed through a conservation program that includes avoidance, 
minimization, mitigation, conservation, and restoration of habitat for 
Covered Species by multiple components, such as reserve design and 
assembly processes, protection and management elements, funding 
assurances, monitoring, and adaptive management within the 
DRECPPlanning Area. More information on proposed Covered Activities is 
available on the Internet at http://www.drecp.org/covered activities.
    The planning goals of the DRECP include the following:
     Provide for the longer term conservation and management of 
Covered Species within the DRECP plan area;
     Preserve, restore, and enhance natural communities and 
ecosystems that support Covered Species within the DRECP area;
     Build on the competitive renewable energy zones identified 
by the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative;
     Further identify the most appropriate locations within the 
DRECP area for the development of utility-scale renewable energy 
projects, taking into account potential impacts to threatened and 
endangered species and sensitive natural communities;
     Provide a means to implement Covered Activities in a 
manner that complies with the ESA, CESA, NCCPA, NEPA, CEQA, and other 
relevant laws;
     Provide a basis for the issuance of take authorizations 
allowing the lawful take of Covered Species incidental to Covered 
     Provide for issuance of take authorizations for other 
Covered Species that are not currently listed but which may be listed 
in the future;
     Provide a comprehensive means to coordinate and 
standardize mitigation and compensation requirements for Covered 
Activities within the plan area;
     Provide a framework for a more efficient process by which 
proposed renewable energy projects with the plan area may obtain 
regulatory authorizations, and which results in greater conservation 
values than would a project-by-project, species-by-species review; and
     Identify and incorporate climate change adaptation 
research, management objectives, and policies into the final plan 

Covered Species

    Covered Species are those species addressed in the proposed DRECP 
for which conservation actions will be implemented and for which the 
applicants will seek incidental take authorizations for a period of up 
to 40 years. Proposed Covered Species are expected to include 
threatened and endangered species listed under the ESA, species listed 
under CESA, and unlisted species of Federal and Stateconservation 
    The following Federally listed threatened and endangered wildlife 
species are proposed to be covered by the DRECP: The threatened desert 
tortoise (Gopherusagassizii), endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep 
(Oviscanadensisnelsoni), endangered California condor 
(Gymnogypscalifornianus), and endangered arroyo toad (Anaxyrus [Bufo] 
    Take of Federally listed plant species is not prohibited on non-
Federal land under the ESA, and authorization under an ESA section 10 
permit is not required. Section 9 of ESA does, however, prohibit the 
removal or malicious destruction of Federally listed plants from areas 
under Federal jurisdiction and the removal or destruction of such 
plants in knowing violation of State law. In addition, section 7(a)(2) 
of the ESA prohibits Federal agencies from jeopardizing the continued 
existence of any listed plant or animal species, or destroying or 
adversely modifying the critical habitat of such species. The following 
Federally listed plant species are proposed to be included in the DRECP 
in recognition of the conservation benefits to be provided for them 
under the plan, and the assurances permit holders would receive if they 
are included on a permit: The threatened Peirson's milk-vetch 
(Astragalusmagdalenaevar.peirsonii), endangered Amargosaniterwort 
(Nitrophilamohavensis), endangered Lane Mountain milk-vetch 
(Astragalusjaegerianus), and endangered triple-ribbed milk-vetch 
    The following species that are not Federally listed are proposed to 
be covered by the DRECP: Amargosa River vole 
(Microtuscalifornicusscirpensis), California leaf-nosed bat 
(Macrotuscalifornicus), Mohave ground squirrel (Spermophilus 
[Xerospermophilus] mohavensis), Mojave River vole 
(Microtuscalifornicusmohavensis), pallid bat (Antrozouspallidus), 
Townsend's big-eared bat (Corynorhinustownsendii), American peregrine 
falcon (Falco peregrinusanatum), bald eagle (Haliaeetusleucocephalus), 
burrowing owl (Athenecunicularia), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), 
Greater Sandhill crane (Gruscanadensistabida), Swainson's hawk 
(Buteoswainsoni), flat-tailed horned lizard (Phrynosomamcallii), Mojave 
fringe-toed lizard (Uma scoparia), Barstow woolly sunflower 
(Eriophyllummohavense), desert cymopterus (Cymopterusdeserticola), and 
Mojave monkeyflower (Mimulusmohavensis).
    The species noted above will be evaluated for inclusion in the 

[[Page 45609]]

proposed Covered Species. However, the list of Covered Species may 
change as the planning process progresses; species may be added or 
removed as more is learned about the nature of Covered Activities and 
their impact on native species within the plan area. More information 
on Covered Species, including State-listed and unlisted species, is 
available on the Internet at http://www.drecp.org/covered species.

Environmental Impact Statement

    Before deciding whether to issue the requested Federal incidental 
take permit, the Service will prepare a draft EIS as part of the joint 
EIS/EIR, in order to analyze the environmental impacts associated with 
potential adoption and implementation of the proposed DRECP as a HCP 
and NCCP. In the EIS component of the joint EIS/EIR, the Service will 
consider the following alternatives: (1) The proposed action, which 
includes the issuance of take authorizations consistent with the 
proposed DRECP under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA; (2) no action (no 
Federal ESA permit issuance); and (3) a reasonable range of 
alternatives that address different scenarios of renewable energy 
development and species conservation on both Federal and non-Federal 
land. The EIS/EIR will include a detailed analysis of the impacts of 
the proposed action and alternatives. The range of alternatives to be 
considered and analyzed will represent varying levels of conservation 
and impacts, and may include variations in the scope of Covered 
Activities; variations in the locations, amount, and type of 
conservation; variations in permit duration; or a combination of these 
elements. The BLM may address other considerations in the EIS. In 
compliance with NEPA, the Service and BLM will be responsible for the 
scope and preparation of the EIS component of the joint EIS/EIR.
    The EIS/EIR will identify and analyze potentially significant 
direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the Service's authorization 
of incidental take (permit issuance) and the implementation of the 
proposed DRECP on biological resources, land uses (including BLM, U.S. 
Department of Defense military operations, and Native American 
traditional land uses), utilities, air quality, water resources 
(including surface and groundwater supply and water quality), cultural 
resources, socioeconomics and environmental justice, outdoor 
recreation, visual resources, induced growth, climate change and 
greenhouse gases, and other environmental issues that could occur with 
implementation of the proposed action and alternatives. The Service and 
the BLM will use all practicable means, consistent with NEPA and other 
essential considerations of national policy, to avoid or minimize 
significant effects of their actions upon the quality of the human 
    The Service and BLM have invited the National Park Service (NPS), 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy, and the 
Department of Defense to be cooperating Federal agencies in the 
preparation of the EIS, because the proposed project may have effects 
on lands and facilities under the jurisdictions of those agencies. To 
date, the NPS and EPA have requested and agreed to be cooperating 
agencies. The CDFG has requested and agreed to be a State cooperating 
agency. The Service, BLM, NPS, EPA, and CDFG agree that establishing a 
cooperating agency relationship will create a more streamlined and 
coordinated approach in developing this EIS.

Reasonable Accommodation

    Persons needing reasonable accommodations to attend and participate 
in the public meeting should contact Ken Corey at (760) 431-9440 as 
soon as possible. To allow sufficient time to process requests, please 
call no later than 1 week before the public meeting. Information 
regarding this proposed action is available in alternative formats upon 

Public Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.
    Material the Service receives will be available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours (Monday 
through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at the Service's Carlsbad address 
    At the close of the public comment period, all written comments 
received by the Federal co-lead agencies will be posted on the Internet 
at http://www.drecp.org/public scoping comments. Comments received by 
CEC in response to their notice of preparation under CEQA will also be 
posted on the Web site.

    Authority:  40 CFR 1501.7.

Tom Pogacnik,
Deputy State Director, Natural Resources, California State Office, 
Bureau of Land Management, Sacramento, California.
    Dated: July 22, 2011.
Alexandra Pitts,
Deputy Regional Director, Pacific Southwest Region, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Sacramento, California.
[FR Doc. 2011-19175 Filed 7-28-11; 8:45 am]