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USFWS reopens comment period

July 19, 2013

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has given the public until Nov. 18 to comment on the critical habitat and endangered/threatened species proposals for the mountain yellow-legged frog (above) and Yosemite toad. Photo courtesy USGS

Inyo residents have another opportunity to weigh in on the discussion about the mountain yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toad and how critical habitat endangered/threatened species designations may impact life in the Eastern Sierra.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday that it is reopening the public comment period for its proposal to list the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and the northern population segment of the mountain yellow-legged frog as endangered and the Yosemite toad as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The USFWS is also reopening the public comment period for the proposal to designate critical habitat for these three amphibian species in California.
On April 25, the USFWS published the two proposals and opened a 60-day public comment period that ended on June 24. During and after the initial comment period, the USFWS said it received “significant interest in extending the comment period.”
The extended comment periods will be open for 120 days. The USFWS will accept comments through Nov. 18, on the two proposed rules.
Comments may be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. The Docket Number for the proposed listing rule is FWS–R8–ES–2012–0100 and for the proposed critical habitat rule is FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074.
Comments can also be sent by mail to: Public Comments Processing, attention FWS–R8–ES–2012–0100 or FWS–R8–ES–2012–0074, Division of Policy and Directives Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, VA 22203.
Locally, the proposals have raised controversy with residents and local leaders expressing fear that the designations could limit recreational opportunities at some of the Eastern Sierra’s most popular destinations.
First District Inyo County Supervisor and Board Chair Linda Arcularius, whose district includes Rock Creek Lake – one of several “drive-to” lakes being proposed for critical habitat – said she is happy to hear that the comment period has been re-opened. “I think it’s certainly needed,” Arcularius said. “It will enhance our chances of getting the three agencies (USFWS, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service) to have a meeting with the board” to discuss impacts the designations may have on residents and the local economy.
Robert Moler, a spokesperson for the USFWS, said in June that Fish and Wildlife officials will analyze the public comment received on the critical habitat and endangered/threatened species proposals before compiling an economic analysis.
Moler said the economic analysis should be completed in 2-3 months, and at that time residents will have another opportunity to comment on the habitat and species designation proposals and on the economic analysis.
“We will take in additional comments then move towards a final decision within 12 months of the proposal,” Moler said. That means that a “final decision” should be out within a year.
However, Moler said that the USFWS’ decision will not have any direct impact on trout stocking in local waters. In Thursday’s press release, the USFWS said “recreation is not considered a significant threat to any of these species.”
Moler pointed out that the USFWS does not stock local waters. “Those agencies (that do trout stocking) may make decisions to stop. But they would engage us and we would issue what is called a Section 7 biological opinion,” essentially offering a third-party, non-binding view of the issue.
“We have no authority over the state agencies,” Moler said. “Critical habitat does not limit access at all. It becomes illegal for someone to take (the designated species). With critical habitat on federal lands, if there is a project, they would have to consult with the Service, and we’re not necessarily going to stop all projects.”
According to USFWS officials, the extended comment deadline is an opportunity for officials to hear, and ultimately address those issues.
“The public comment period is designed so that the Service can listen to and take into consideration citizens’ concerns and any information the public may submit regarding these species and their habitat,” said Jan Knight, acting field supervisor for the Sacramento USFWS office. “This process is important so that any final decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reflects all of the best science and information available. We are reopening the public comment period to ensure the public has adequate opportunity to submit comments.”
The USFWS has also received requests to hold public meetings on the proposals and is planning to hold two public meetings and one public hearing, likely in fall 2013. However, Arcularius pointed out that no dates, times or locations have been selected for those meetings and there is no guarantee that those meetings will take place in Inyo County.
Arcularius did add that there is one congressional hearing on the proposals that will be held in Sonora County sometime in August.

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