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United States Department of the Interior


FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
Ecolo ical Ser!ices Carls"ad Fish and Wildlife #ffice $%1% Hidden Valle& Road Carls"ad' California ()%%(

In Repl& Refer *o+

FWS,ERIV,-.%1/1 Dec 1% )%%-

0s/ S1san E/ Williams Comm1nit& De!elopment Ser!ices 21ildin and Safet& Director 1%% Ci!ic Center 0all Indio' California ())%1 S1"3ect+ Notice of Intent to Adopt a 0iti ated Ne ati!e Declaration and Draft En!ironmental Assessment for the 4roposed *erra La o East 4ro3ect' Cit& of Indio' Ri!erside Co1nt& 5EA No/ %-,11,-%-6

Dear 0s/ Williams+ *his letter responds to &o1r re71est for a enc& comment on the a"o!e referenced Notice of Intent 5N#I6 and draft En!ironmental Assessment 5EA6 for the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect' dated No!em"er -' )%%-/ *he U/S/ Fish and Wildlife Ser!ice 5Ser!ice6 has re!ie8ed the s1"3ect notice and accompan&in draft EA' and 8e offer the follo8in recommendations to assist &o1 in plannin for the conser!ation of sensiti!e 8ildlife species and plant comm1nities 8ithin the pro3ect area/ In partic1lar' the Ser!ice has concerns re ardin impacts to the federall& endan ered Coachella Valle& mil9,!etch 5Astragalus lentiginosus !ar/ coachellae: hereinafter mil9,!etch6 and its ha"itat/ *his species is 9no8n to occ1r 31st east of the proposed pro3ect "o1ndar& and s1ita"le ha"itat occ1rs on portions of the pro3ect site/ We are concerned that impacts ha!e recentl& occ1rred to the mil9,!etch ad3acent to the pro3ect site that 8ere to "e a!oided 1nder the former S1nCal pro3ect/ F1rthermore' 8e are concerned 8ith the lac9 of effecti!e miti ation meas1res proposed in the 0iti ated Ne ati!e Declaration for pro3ect impacts on the 4alm Sprin s ro1nd s71irrel 5Spermophilus tereticaudus chlorus: hereinafter ro1nd s71irrel6 and the hone& mes71ite 5Prosopis glandulosa6 h1mmoc9 plant comm1nit& fo1nd on, site/ Additionall&' the 2iolo ical Reso1rces section of the draft EA does not address En!ironmental E!al1ation letter f+ ;Conflict 8ith the pro!isions of an adopted Ha"itat Conser!ation 4lan' Nat1ral Comm1nit& Conser!ation 4lan' or other appro!ed local' re ional' or state ha"itat conser!ation plan<= *his section sho1ld "e completed and circ1lated for p1"lic re!ie8/ Accordin to the EA' the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect is a consolidation of the pre!io1sl& appro!ed Hills 5No!em"er 1(($6 and Indian La9es 50a& )%%%6 pro3ects' and is desi ned to "e

0s/ S1san Williams 5FWS,ERIV,-.%1/16

consistent 8ith the S1nCal Indio 4ro3ect 0aster 4lan that 8as appro!ed Decem"er )%%./ *he proposed *erra La o East pro3ect is eo raphicall& located 8ithin a s1"set of these pre!io1sl& appro!ed pro3ects/ A "iolo ical assessment 52A6 8as prepared for the proposed S1nCal pro3ect "& >ames Cornett' dated >1ne )?' )%%.' 8hich en!eloped the pro3ect footprint for the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect/ A re!ie8 and 1pdate of the )%%. 2A 8as prepared for the *erra La o East pro3ect "& A0EC Earth and En!ironmental' Inc/' dated Septem"er )%' )%%-/ We appreciate the opport1nit& to comment on the N#I and draft EA and o1r concerns are addressed in detail "elo8/ Coachella Valle& 0il9,!etch Accordin to the )%%. 2A 5pa e 1.6 for the S1nCal pro3ect' mil9,!etch 8as detected in eastern portions of the site ad3acent to Dillon Road' and ;ha"itat 8as fo1nd to "e s1ita"le for this species on portions of the pro3ect site/= *he conditions of appro!al 5condition n1m"er -6 and 0iti ation 0onitorin and Reportin 4ro ram 52S,)6 for the S1nCal pro3ect re71ired the pro3ect proponent to confer 8ith the Ser!ice re ardin accepta"le miti ation for the mil9,!etch and to ;pro!ide proof to the Cit& of Indio of cons1ltations held 8ith the U/S/ Fish and Wildlife Ser!ice re ardin an& miti ation meas1re re71irements for loss of potential mil9,!etch ha"itat/= Ho8e!er' a letter s1"mitted to o1r office "& the la8 office of He8itt @ #ANeil' dated 0arch 1)' )%%-' stated that ;no miti ation is offered as no impacts to the mil9,!etch 8ill occ1r as a res1lt of S1nCalAs pro3ect/= Nonetheless' accordin to the )%%- 2A 5pa e )6' site !isits cond1cted "& >ohn Breen and Da!e Ca3tania9 in Septem"er )%%- fo1nd that eDtensi!e "ladin had recentl& occ1rred in the eastern portion of the pro3ect site/ *ho1 h the )%%- 2A does not clarif& if the occ1pied mil9, !etch ha"itat 8as dist1r"ed "& the "ladin ' the area has "een cleared to Dillon Road' 8hich 1ndo1"tedl& ad!ersel& impacted the mil9,!etch pop1lation on,site/ 2eca1se the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect is proposed to "e consistent 8ith the appro!ed S1nCal pro3ect' the Cit&As miti ation meas1res for mil9,!etch ha!e not "een complied 8ith' and this o1tstandin responsi"ilit& still needs to "e satisfied/ 4lease see o1r recommendations "elo8/ *he eastern "o1ndar& of the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect has "een mo!ed to the 8est' apparentl& to a!oid the pre!io1sl& identified mil9,!etch occ1rrences' ho8e!er' the )%%- 1pdated 2A 5pa e 16 states that' ;Ha"itat is similar on the ad3acent *erra La o East site' so "& nat1ral seed dispersal' there is at least a chance that it co1ld no8 occ1r there as 8ell/ Foc1sed s1r!e&s d1rin the "loomin season of this plant 8o1ld "e re71ired to confirm this possi"ilit&/= If the radin that occ1rred earlier this &ear redistri"1ted and le!eled sand& soils 8itho1t transportin this material off,site' mil9,!etch seeds 8o1ld remain on,site and the seed "an9 sho1ld remain !ia"le' ass1min that some of the "an9 remains 8ithin spro1tin depth of the soil s1rface/ 0iti ation meas1res to offset impacts to mil9,!etch sho1ld "e incl1ded as permit conditions for the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect/ We recommend that the Cit& re71ire the pro3ect proponent to restore and protect' 8ith a permanent conser!ation easement' the entire mil9,!etch ha"itat that 8as to "e a!oided' per the letter from the la8 office of He8itt @ #ANeil/ *his area incl1des those lands alon Dillon Road that the c1rrent pro3ect 8as reconfi 1red to a!oid/ Additionall&' foc1sed s1r!e&s for this species sho1ld "e cond1cted on the remainder of the site

0s/ S1san Williams 5FWS,ERIV,-.%1/16

d1rin the appropriate "loomin season and s1r!e& reports' incl1din s1r!e& methodolo &' date of s1r!e&s' s1r!e& res1lts' and s1r!e&or 71alifications sho1ld "e s1"mitted to the Ser!ice and the Cit& for re!ie8 prior to permittin the proposed pro3ect/ *his information is re71ired to ade71atel& e!al1ate the c1rrent stat1s of this species on the pro3ect site' and determine the si nificance of potential impacts and appropriate miti ation meas1res/ 4alm Sprin s Bro1nd S71irrel and 0es71ite H1mmoc9s *he )%%. 2A for the S1nCal pro3ect reports more than E% o"ser!ations of the ro1nd s71irrel on, site and states that this species can "e eDpected o!er most of the area s1r!e&ed' 8hich incl1des the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect site/ *he )%%- 1pdated 2A concl1des that' despite clearin of man& mes71ite h1mmoc9s 5disc1ssed "elo86' ro1nd s71irrels are still li9el& to "e present on, site/ *his species is a candidate for Federal listin 5candidate species are those for 8hich the Ser!ice has on file s1fficient information indicatin that listin as threatened or endan ered is 8arranted "& the species has not &et "een proposed for listin 6' and is considered a species of special concern "& the California Department of Fish and Bame 5CDFB6' "eca1se it is a narro8 endemic species that lar el& occ1rs in the Coachella Valle& 8ithin sand& ha"itats' and is most a"1ndant in mes71ite h1mmoc9 ha"itat/ In addition' the ro1nd s71irrel is proposed for conser!ation in the draft Coachella Valle& 01ltiple Species Ha"itat Conser!ation 4lan 5draft CV0SHC46 to a!oid the need for f1t1re listin ' and pro!ide ade71ate conser!ation so that if the species 8ere to "e listed in the f1t1re' additional f1ndin or ha"itat 8o1ld not "e needed in the plan area/ *ho1 h the draft CV0SHC4 pro!ides a ha"itat model for the ro1nd s71irrel that s1 ests relati!el& 8idespread distri"1tion in the Valle&' the Ser!ice has cond1cted a ),&ear st1d& of the ro1nd s71irrel and fo1nd that it is lar el& restricted to stands of mes71ite' incl1din s1"stantiall& hi her pop1lation densities than in other ha"itat t&pes' and c1rrentl& appears a"sent from m1ch of the modeled s1ita"le ha"itat/ Bi!en the s1"stantial reliance of the re ional ro1nd s71irrel pop1lation on mes71ite ha"itat' the f1t1re s1r!i!al of the ro1nd s71irrel appears dependent on the conser!ation of that ha"itat t&pe/ Historicall&' the amo1nt of mes71ite h1mmoc9s in the Valle& has "een dramaticall& red1ced "& a ric1lt1ral and 1r"an de!elopment' to the eDtent that onl& a"o1t (-E acres of s1ch ha"itat c1rrentl& remain/ 0ost of this ha"itat 5a"o1t EF% acres' as calc1lated in the draft CV0SHC46 occ1rs in isolated patches that 8ere eDcl1ded from the proposed CV0SHC4 reser!e desi n "eca1se of dis31nct distri"1tion' small siGe' and lac9 of connecti!it& 8ith lar er "loc9s of ha"itat/ *herefore' onl& a"o1t .FE acres of mes71ite h1mmoc9s ma& "e protected in the f1t1re if the draft CV0SHC4 is appro!ed/ Ho8e!er' most of the ha"itat that is proposed for conser!ation 1nder the draft CV0SHC4 is threatened "& ro1nd8ater o!er,dra1 ht' and s1"stantial death and de radation of the remainin mes71ite ha"itat c1rrentl& is e!ident/ As s1ch' the f1t1re s1r!i!al of the ro1nd s71irrel in Valle& appears to "e at hi h ris9' 8hich adds to the si nificance of conser!in those remainin stands of mes71ite that still s1pport the ro1nd s71irrel/ *he CDFB considers this comm1nit& to "e a rare !e etation element in California and of si nificant importance re ionall& d1e to hi h ecolo ical !al1e and increasin rarit&Hthreat/ 4lease see Enclos1re 1 for additional information on the re ional importance of mes71ite h1mmoc9s and threats to this !e etation comm1nit& t&pe/

0s/ S1san Williams 5FWS,ERIV,-.%1/16

*he )%%. 2A for the S1nCal pro3ect identified mes71ite h1mmoc9s 5some as hi h as fifteen feet6 8ithin the northeastern and so1th8estern portions of the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect site' and the )%%- 1pdated 2A reports ;eDtensi!e' eDtant h1mmoc9s 8ithin the eDistin olf co1rse' partic1larl& in the eastern portion of the co1rse' north of the canal' and 8est of Waste8a& N1m"er *hree= that 8ere not identified in the )%%. 2A/ Accordin to the )%%- 2A 5pa e )6' site !isits cond1cted in Septem"er )%%- confirmed that all of the mes71ite h1mmoc9s in the northeastern pro3ect area and some h1mmoc9s in the so1th8estern area had "een "laded/ #"ser!ations "& Ser!ice "iolo ists in April )%%- fo1nd that all of the mes71ite h1mmoc9s onsite 8ere 1ndist1r"ed/ *herefore' "ladin occ1rred "et8een April and Septem"er )%%-/ 2ased on a!aila"le information' the "laded area "et8een the eastern "o1ndar& of the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect and Dillon Road is no lon er part of an& proposed pro3ect for 1neDplained reasons/ *hat the former S1nCal pro3ect "o1ndar& 8as mo!ed farther 8est in the c1rrent *erra La o East proposal' s1 ests that an attempt 8as made to a!oid the area pre!io1sl& doc1mented to s1pport the mil9 !etch/ Ho8e!er' 8h& this area 8o1ld ha!e "een "laded "efore the Cit& and de!eloper completed its coordination 8ith the Ser!ice' p1rs1ant to the Cit&As miti ation re71irement for the mil9,!etch' is perpleDin / *he )%%- 2A reports that eDtant mes71ite roots that 8ere "laded this s1mmer are c1rrentl& respro1tin / *his re eneration indicates that despite the si nificant de radation ca1sed "& the radin ' the mes71ite stands remain ali!e and li9el& 8ill nat1rall& reesta"lish if left 1ndist1r"ed' to a ain pro!ide s1ita"le ha"itat for the ro1nd s71irrel/ *he t8o 2As and the draft EA do not 71antif& the acrea e of mes71ite h1mmoc9s that occ1rred on the propert& at the time of the )%%. assessment for the S1nCal pro3ect' the amo1nt of mes71ite h1mmoc9s that ha!e s1"se71entl& "een "laded' nor the amo1nt of mes71ite h1mmoc9s still eDtant on the proposed *erra La o East pro3ect site/ Bi!en the proposed elimination of an 1n71antified amo1nt of mes71ite for ho1sin 8ithin the eDistin olf co1rse matriD' and the doc1mented presence of ro1nd s71irrels in the eDistin olf co1rseHmes71ite h1mmoc9 compleD' a thoro1 h assessment of the eDtent of mes71ite and ro1nd s71irrel ha"itat is needed to assess the ad!erse effects of the pro3ect proposal/ *he Ser!ice has performed a preliminar& assessment "ased on a!aila"le aerial photo raph& to help determine a threshold of si nificance for these potential impacts/ *ho1 h a more caref1l assessment is needed' 8e ha!e initiall& estimated that at least E% acres of conti 1o1s mes71ite h1mmoc9s occ1rred in the eastern area of the pro3ect site' and this entire area 8as "laded' as reported in the )%%- 1pdated 2A and confirmed per personal comm1nication 8ith >ohn Breen of A0EC on Decem"er 1%' )%%-/ We did not estimate the acrea e of mes71ite h1mmoc9s that 8ere reported "laded in the so1th8estern portion of the proposed site/ Additionall&' 8e preliminaril& estimate that at least an additional )% acres of mes71ite h1mmoc9s are eDtant 8ithin the rest of the pro3ect site/ 2ased on the potential si nificance for ad!erse effects that this threshold assessment has identified' a more ri oro1s and acc1rate anal&sis is needed to 71antif& ad!erse effects so that effecti!e miti ation meas1res can "e form1lated/ Bi!en o1r threshold anal&sis a"o!e' the mes71ite h1mmoc9s on the pro3ect site represent one of the lar est remainin conti 1o1s "loc9s of s1ch ha"itat in the Coachella Valle&/ *hese mes71ite h1mmoc9s are conti 1o1s 8ith' and part of' the re ional ha"itat lin9a e that s1pports and

0s/ S1san Williams 5FWS,ERIV,-.%1/16 connects the ro1nd s71irrel pop1lation alon Dillon Road 8ith those on the Coachella Valle& 4reser!e/ *his lin9a e is identified in the draft )%%- CV0SHC4 as part of the East Indio Hills Conser!ation Area/

2ased 1pon re!ie8 of o1r records' it appears that the Cit& did not re71ire miti ation for impacts to the ro1nd s71irrel and mes71ite h1mmoc9s' perhaps "ased on findin s in the )%%. 2A 5pa e 1F6' 8here Cornett s1 ested that d1e to the limited siGe of onsite mes71ite h1mmoc9s' their isolation from other s1ch ha"itats' and off,road !ehicle impacts' pa&ment of the I$%% per acre Coachella Valle& frin e,toed liGard Ha"itat Conser!ation 4lan 5CVF*LHC46 fee is ade71ate miti ation for loss of this comm1nit& t&pe on,site/ *he Ser!ice does not a ree 8ith this assessment/ As descri"ed a"o!e' the eDtensi!e acrea e of mes71ite h1mmoc9s that remain eDtant and those that 8ere "laded are conti 1o1s 8ith' and part of' an important re ional ha"itat compleD that s1pports and connects the ro1nd s71irrel pop1lation in this area 8ith the pop1lations to the 8est in the Coachella Valle& 4reser!e/ *he CVF*LHC4 miti ation fee 8as desi ned solel& for that species and plannin pro ram' 8hich did not address the conser!ation needs of other species' s1ch as the ro1nd s71irrel and mil9,!etch/ *o s1ppose that miti ation for the frin e,toed liGard also offsets si nificant ad!erse effects to other species 8ith different ha"itat re71irements s1 ests an inappropriate do1"le co1ntin of miti ation credits/ *herefore' pa&ment of the CVF*LHC4 fee does not offset the si nificant impacts to the ro1nd s71irrel from the proposed pro3ect/ S1mmar& *he proposed *erra La o East pro3ect is associated 8ith se!eral pre!io1sl& a1thoriGed pro3ects 5Hills' Indian La9es' and S1nCal6' ho8e!er' it appears that ade71ate miti ation for impacts to 4alm Sprin s ro1nd s71irrel and mes71ite h1mmoc9s 8as not pro!ided in the permits associated 8ith these related pro3ects/ F1rthermore' the permit condition to a!oid impacts to Coachella Valle& mil9,!etch associated 8ith the S1nCal pro3ect apparentl& has "een !iolated/ An& impacts that ha!e occ1rred' or potentiall& co1ld occ1r' to sensiti!e species and ha"itats sho1ld "e addressed thro1 h the permit re71irements for the *erra La o East pro3ect/ 2eca1se of the re ional "iolo ical si nificance of the pro3ect site for the ro1nd s71irrel that cannot "e miti ated thro1 h off,site replacementHfee pa&ment' 8e recommend that the pro3ect 516 "e reconfi 1red to a!oid and connect the eDtant 51n raded6 mes71ite h1mmoc9s thro1 ho1t the pro3ect site' and 5)6 protect the raded mes71ite h1mmoc9 ha"itat alon Dillon Road that has "een a!oided in the c1rrent pro3ect proposal/ As disc1ssed a"o!e' the "laded mes71ite h1mmoc9s are respro1tin ' 8hich 8e anticipate 8ill reesta"lish former h1mmoc9s o!er time' to a ain pro!ide ha"itat for the ro1nd s71irrel and mil9,!etch/ Bi!en the 1naddressed impacts and miti ation responsi"ilities disc1ssed a"o!e' 5.6 intensi!e restoration and mana ement also sho1ld "e re71ired to accelerate nat1ral re eneration and recoloniGation processes' and 5-6 all mes71ite h1mmoc9s that 8ere "laded 5"oth 8ithin the proposed pro3ect site and east of the pro3ect site6 sho1ld "e monitored for reco!er&/ As pre!io1sl& disc1ssed' on,site restoration and preser!ation is re71ired to achie!e conser!ation of the re ionall& si nificant ro1nd s71irrel pop1lation fo1nd on,site: ho8e!er' an& mes71ite h1mmoc9s that do not reco!er despite ade71ate

0s/ S1san Williams 5FWS,ERIV,-.%1/16

reco!er& efforts sho1ld "e miti ated off,site thro1 h ha"itat replacement at a .+1 ratio' and 5E6 the on,site and off,site mes71ite h1mmoc9 ha"itat sho1ld "e permanentl& protected thro1 h a conser!ation easement or donation to a p1"lic a enc&/ Additionall&' 5$6 all impacts to the Coachella Valle& mil9,!etch ha"itat that 8ere to "e a!oided' per the letter from the la8 office of He8itt @ #ANeil' sho1ld "e offset thro1 h restoration and protection of the raded area alon Dillon Road' as disc1ssed in J) a"o!e/ If the Cit& does not re71ire miti ation ade71ate to offset si nificant effects to 4alm Sprin s ro1nd s71irrel and Coachella Valle& mil9,!etch in the 0iti ated Ne ati!e Declaration' additional en!ironmental anal&sis and doc1mentation' and coordination 8ith the Ser!ice 8o1ld "e needed to address the 1nmiti ated si nificant effects of the proposed pro3ect/ 4lease contact Sandra 0ar71eG of m& staff at F$%H-.1,(--% if &o1 ha!e an& 71estions or comments concernin this letter/ Sincerel&' HHsHHSorensen' for *herese #ARo1r9e Assistant Field S1per!isor Enclos1re cc+ Cim Nicol' CDFB' 2erm1da D1nes