San Joaquin Kit Fox Conservation and Monitoring Plan

San Joaquin Kit Fox and Monitoring Plan

Synopsis
The Topaz Solar Farm (TSF) Project (Project) is a 550 megawatt photovoltaic (PV) power facility proposed by Topaz Solar Farms LLC (Applicant) that would be constructed on approximately 3,500 acres of land in the northern California Valley area of the Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County (Figure 1). A Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) is currently being prepared by San Luis Obispo County that includes two TSF Project layout options: Option A and Option B, and several alternatives, including Alternative 3B. In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently preparing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will evaluate Option A and Option B within two alternative study areas
Alternative 3B is a 3,500 acre environmentally superior alternative that is an alternative to the Option A layout, and is situated within the Option A Study Area. The total land area included in baseline studies conducted for this report includes the combined Option A and Option B Project Study Areas (together, referred to as Project Site) of approximately 10,000 acres (refer to Figure 2). This San Joaquin Kit Fox Conservation and Monitoring Plan (CMP) provides conservation measures that address effects to this federally listed species that may result from installation and operation of Alternative 3B.
The San Joaquin Kit Fox
The San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) is a federally listed endangered and state listed threatened species that is known to inhabit the Project Site. Kit fox presence was verified by DNA analysis of fecal samples (scat) collected throughout the Project Site (Althouse and Meade 2010a, Smith 2010, Maldonado 2010). Kit fox presence was also assessed by direct observations of kit fox at active dens, remote camera capture of kit fox, and occurrence of active and inactive dens observed during transect surveys (Althouse and Meade, Inc. 2010a).
The Project Site is located near the Carrizo Plain National Monument core SJKF population, which is one of three core populations in California. All three core populations are geographically distinct, and together with about a dozen smaller satellite populations comprise the entire SJKF metapopulation. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recognizes that recovery of the SJKF requires simultaneous action on two tracks: 1) habitat protection and enhancement of core populations and movement corridors, and 2) continued research on population ecology and management strategies (USFWS 1998). The CMP proposes measures to meet both of these goals within and in the vicinity of the TSF Project by establishing prescribed management for kit fox on thousands of acres and conducting an innovative scat study of the kit fox population as part of the kit fox monitoring program (Section 6.4.13).
San Joaquin Kit Fox Conservation and Monitoring Plan 1 Topaz Solar Farm
Althouse and Meade, Inc.
Conservation Strategy

The TSF Project could potentially result in adverse effects to the SJKF and its habitat. To off-set the potentially adverse effects of the project on SJKF, the Applicant has worked with regional SJKF experts (the TSF Project Kit Fox Conservation Team) to develop a multi-level conservation strategy that consists of avoiding and minimizing Project effects on SJKF by utilizing SJKF friendly design features, implementing a SJKF protection plan during construction, installing on-site habitat enhancements, monitoring on-site kit fox, and protecting off-site SJKF habitat in perpetuity.
The multi-level conservation strategy protects kit fox during construction, provides movement corridors and porous boundaries to facilitate long-range dispersal and short- range movements through and around the TSF Project, and provides a safe haven for SJKF habitation within the TSF Project footprint. It also contemplates conservation of off-site lands to compensate for actual and potential loss of usable SJKF habitat. Some of these off-site lands provided for SJKF conservation may also meet conservation goals for other rare and endangered species, assuming the land is compatible for multiple species. A monitoring and research program to track SJKF use of the TSF Project described in this document will provide important information for management of SJKF on the TSF Project lands. This strategy is consistent with USFWS recovery goals for SJKF.
SJKF Design Features
Early in the planning process the Applicant decided to design a project to accommodate SJKF movement through, and habitation within, the TSF Project footprint. Consultation with the TSF Project Kit Fox Conservation Team confirmed that it would be possible to create a porous TSF Project design to achieve these goals. The TSF Project description in this document includes detailed information on fence design, kit fox passages, kit fox dens, predator exclusion, and movement corridors. These are considered Applicant Proposed Measures (APMs) in the TSF Project’s EIS being prepared during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and in the FEIR being prepared in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process.
SJKF Protection Plan
Since SJKF are known to occupy the Project Site, construction of the TSF Project potentially could result in take of kit fox. A thorough SJKF Protection Plan is provided within this document that outlines a phased pre-construction survey approach to identify areas of kit fox activity in proposed construction blocks to facilitate construction planning. Also included in the SJKF Protection Plan are details regarding setbacks from occupied dens, on-site biological monitoring, and an array of daily construction requirements to minimize the potential for take of SJKF.
San Joaquin Kit Fox Conservation and Monitoring Plan 2 Topaz Solar Farm
Althouse and Meade, Inc.
On-Site Habitat Enhancements
The passive nature of the TSF Project provides opportunity for SJKF to inhabit the solar array areas. To increase the potential for SJKF habitation of the TSF Project site, the TSF Project Kit Fox Conservation Team developed a suite of on-site habitat enhancement features designed to provide SJKF with a safe haven with natural vegetation, sufficient prey base, and a variety of permanent and artificial denning structures.
Off-Site Conservation
The TSF Project has an estimated operational period of 25 years or more. At the end of the operational period, it is possible that the Project would be repowered for an additional operational term. After the productive life of the TSF Project, the solar facility and associated infrastructure would be removed. During the operational period, the Applicant intends to facilitate habitation of SJKF within the Project’s fenced area, thereby reducing the potential negative effect of the TSF Project on SJKF. Nevertheless, the TSF Project could result in loss or degradation of SJKF habitat during the operational period. Conservation for potential loss or degradation of SJKF habitat would be achieved by off- site conservation easements or land purchases to protect in perpetuity suitable SJKF habitat in the Carrizo Plain core population region. Offsite conservation lands would be acquired in sufficient quantity and quality to fully compensate for habitat impacts resulting from the TSF Project installation.
Monitoring Plan
Monitoring of SJKF within the TSF Project would be conducted as part of the Project conditions of approval included with a Conditional Use Permit to be issued by the County of San Luis Obispo. Monitoring would be sufficient to track use of the solar array areas by kit fox and provide current information to TSF Project management so that kit fox dens could be avoided and animals protected.

Advertisements

Sierra Club Activist Events: Service Trip To Carrizo Plain National Monument,CA

A Service trip in a new BLM national monument—part of our nation’s Conservation Lands. March 20 – 25 – Sun-Fri AND offered again in a shorter, weekend, version: April 16 – 17 — Sat-Sun Carrizo Wildflowers and Fences This Service Trip & Hike will include 3 and 1/2 days of service to the Carrizo Plain National Monument: remove and modify fences to allow pronghorn to travel more widely. This is spring wildflower season, and we’ll have at least a day for monument exploring by hiking or driving backcountry roads. We’ll stay at an old ranch house. Trip limit 14 participants. $30 covers five dinners. Contact leader: Craig Deutsche, craig.deutsche@gmail.com, (310)477-6670

Brush Fire Heading Towards Carrizo Plain Nat’l Monument Spreads to 1,800 Acres

Crews from CAL FIRE, including two air tankers, two helicopters and one dozer, as well as fire crews from Santa Barbara County Fire and Santa Maria City Fire, are all on scene trying to contain the flames. The reports started coming out with 500 acres under threat, and it is now up to 1800 acres.”This fire is burning very actively we’re going to trying to get it picked up as soon as we can,” said Rick Todd with Santa Barbara County Fire.

Within hours the fire raced up the hillsides, blackening hundreds of acres of dry grass. Now the flames threaten the Carrizo Plain National Monument to the Northeast, “We do have a few structures dotted out through there additionally there’s some communications equipment up on top of Carrizo peak or one of the peaks there and as it moves to the east if it continues to do so we have some oil fields that will be impacted out there,” said Todd. KION News

By Sam Womack/Staff Writer swomack@santamariatimes.com | Posted: Sunday, May 16, 2010 1:00 am |

A tanker plane drops retardant Saturday on the Cotton Fire west of Cuyama Saturday. //Mark Brown/Staff
Throughout the night, fire crews have been battling a brush fire north of New Cuyama that grew to an estimated 1,500 acres Saturday.
Officials predicted that the blaze would tear through the brush overnight because of the steep terrain, but “we’ll go after it hard tomorrow morning,” Battalion Chief Bill Fisher, with San Luis Obispo County Cal Fire, said Saturday.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, the wildfire, known as the Cotton Fire, was only 15-percent contained, Fisher said.
It sparked to life Saturday just after 9:15 a.m. along Highway 166 near Cottonwood Canyon Road, about 40 miles east of Santa Maria.
It spread west and blackened about one-half mile of vegetation along the north side of Highway 166 in San Luis Obispo County.
A western wind started in at about noon Saturday and pushed the flames northeast over the hills and into the Carrizo Plain National Monument area, which is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The protected area is home to diverse communities of wildlife and plant species, and is an area culturally important to Native Americans, according to the BLM website.
The fire continued to head east into federal land and a northwest wind was blowing from 15 to 20 mph Saturday evening, Fisher said.
It is burning in light grass and brush, but with strong winds, the fuel burns fast and presents a danger to firefighters, Fisher said.
Airplanes and helicopters dropped water and fire retardant on the flames all day Saturday and into the night, he said.
Fisher added that fire crews and bulldozers had made good headway on the flanks, or sides, of the blaze during the day, but that the front of the fire had an open lane.
Approximately 250 fire personnel were assembled to battle the blaze as of 7 p.m. Saturday and plans were in motion to set up a command center in New Cuyama, according to Michelle Puckett, a BLM fire representative.
No one was injured in the fire fight, no structures were threatened and the cause is under investigation, she said.
Farther into the preserve, there are a few oil fields and small structures in the canyons, according to fire officials.
Coincidentally, at 1 p.m. Saturday, fire crews were also sent to the Washburn Ranch in the Carrizo Plain National Monument area, near Highway 33 and Soda Lake Road.
As of 7 p.m. Saturday, the Wash Incident had burned approximately 400 acres and was 65 percent contained, according to Rod Hezlund, a BLM fire representative.
Posted in Local on Sunday, May 16, 2010 1:00 am Updated: 11:34 pm.

Grazing Will Remain a Controversy on Carrizo Monument Under the New Plan

SLO Tribune: Finally, A Plan for the Carrizo
The plains monument has its first management guidelines, which will direct it for 20 years
By David Sneed | dsneed@thetribunenews.com

Nearly a decade after it was created, the Carrizo Plain National Monument has its first resource management plan.
The plan uses grazing as a management tool for helping rare plants and animals and provides additional protections for those parts of the monument that have wilderness qualities. The plan will determine how the monument is managed for the next 20 years.
Jim Abbott, the Bureau of Land Management’s state director, formally approved the plan Saturday at a celebration at the monument, which attracted more than 400 people. Many were drawn by one of the most spectacular wildflower displays seen at the monument in years.

Tucked into San Luis Obispo County’s southeast corner, the monument covers about 250,000 acres, 206,000 of which are managed by the BLM. Other organizations, such as the Nature Conservancy and the state Department of Fish and Game, own holdings within the monument and helped write the management plan.
“The plan is really a major achievement for the various parties,” said Scott Butterfield, Carrizo program manager for the Nature Conservancy. “It’s amazing that everyone has come together to recognize the importance of the place.”
The plan is generally being greeted with support. However, the issue of grazing continues to attract some controversy.
Historically, the monument was heavily grazed. Now, cattle along with prescribed fires and other tools are used to create a habitat that is beneficial to the many rare and endangered plants and animals that live there.
The starkly beautiful Carrizo Plain is often described as California’s Serengeti, because it contains the last remnants of the grasslands that once covered the Central Valley. It also contains Painted Rock, a significant Native American rock art site, and highly visible sections of the San Andreas Fault.
Many environmental groups have praised the management plan. These include the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club. They particularly like that the plan gives added protection to 60,000 acres where roads and motorized vehicle use is minimized.
Other groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity say the management plan is a good start, but they don’t want any grazing to be allowed. They contend that scientific evidence shows grazing is harmful to endangered species.
The monument was created in 2001 in the final days of the presidency of Bill Clinton. It has been managed using cooperative plans drawn up in the late 1900s.
The BLM began drafting a new resource management plan in 2003. That effort foundered because of controversies over grazing and oil drilling as well as the death of monument manager Marlene Braun in 2005. Efforts to write a management plan were restarted in 2007.
Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.

As this article points out, grazing will remain a controversy. There are no scientific studies that show that grazing is beneficial to the Plain. It was over this issue that Marlene Braun found herself locked in a struggle with her supervisor, Ron Huntsinger, and the top BLM California bureaucrats, Jim Abbott (now director of BLM California) and Mike Pool (appointed by the Obama administration as Deputy Director of Operations in DC).

****UPDATE****
Carrizo Plain Management Plan Unveiled
Thursday, April 22, 2010
by MATT KETTMANN

The long-awaited, first-ever management plan for the Carrizo Plain National Monument — a 200,000-plus-acre, grassland-covered landscape in southeastern San Luis Obispo County known as “California’s Serengeti” — was released earlier this month and prescribes wilderness protection for some areas while using livestock grazing on other spots to aid native plant and animals. While the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations applauded the plan, the Center for Biological Diversity decried the grazing, arguing that such practices harm species such as the rare kit fox and giant kangaroo rat. Those who’d like to visit the Carrizo while helping to improve the habitat for pronghorn antelope and tule elk should sign up for Los Padres ForestWatch’s fence removal weekend, May 1 and 2, by emailing info@lpfw.org.

Comments

The Sierra Club together with the Center for Biological Diversity, Los Padres ForestWatch and Western Watersheds Project all lodged protests about the proposed RMP see http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/mediali…
Cal and Letty French, (tel 239-7338 Prefer e-mail
lettyfrench@ gmail.com) from the Sierra club are also leading the next weekend on the CPNM.

John_Weatherman
April 22, 2010 at 3:40 p.m.

Carrizo Is Place of Togetherness: Chumash

Taft Midway Driller

Carrizo Plain: ‘This land has always brought people together’

By Doug Keeler
Taft Midway Driller
Posted Apr 15, 2010 @ 10:40 AM
Last update Apr 15, 2010 @ 12:39 PM
Taft, Calif. —

Carrizo Plain, the people who treasure it now, and the people who have treasured it for centuries met Saturday in a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the National Landscape Conservation System.

Its something that has been going on for a long, long time, as long as anyone can remember

“This land has always brought people together,” said Pilulaw Khus, an elder of the Bear Clan of the Coastal Chumash Nation.

The Carrizo’s natural beauty and human history provided the backdrop for the observance on a cool breezy day.

From Painted Rock, a sacred site to the Native Americans and a nesting area for rare raptors, to El Saucito Ranch, the first European settlement on the plain, and wildflower tours later in the day, it was a celebration of the land and its importance to those who know it.

Tributes were handed out to the public and private partners involved in the Carrizo, including the Bureau of Land Management, who manages the monument and works in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy and the California Department of Fish and Game, the Friends of Carrizo and others.

Among those honored was Ray Hatch of Taft.

Monument Manager Johna Hurl cited Hatch, which was unable to attend the events, for his work not only on the Friends of Carrizo Board and Carrizo Advisory County, but for helping promote the area through the Taft Chamber of Commerce.

“Taft was our first gateway city and Ray Hatch was instrumental in that,” Hurl said.

David Dennis, president of the Friends of Carrizo, was also singled out.

Dennis, a teacher at Taft Union High School, is also a Carrizo Plain resident.

Saturday’s celebration also marked the completion of the Carrizo Plain Management Plan. BLM officials in attendance included Hurl, Tim Smith, head of the Bakersfield BLM office; California Acting State Director Jim Abbot and Central California District Manager Kathy Hardy

Khus spoke of the relationship between the Chumash and the Carrizo through the centuries.

“This land, the Carrizo, is very important,” she told the gathering at El Saucito Ranch. “It has been since the beginning of time.”

For centuries, until European settlers settled it in the 19th century, it was a place where the Chumash and Native Americans of many nations gathered in the Carrizo, Khus said.

They came for sacred rites at sites like Painted Rock and for councils.

To this day, the Native Americans have an obligation, a sacred responsibility to the land and to the spirits.

“We have to take care of it,” Khus said. “No matter who else is here, we have to take care of it.”

But as the Europeans turned it into farmland, growing wheat, and grazing sheep and cattle, that task became difficult, she said.

Years of mistrust between the Native Americans and the settlers followed.

But the people of the BLM, Friends of Carrizo and others have helped build a new relationship, Khus told more than 100 people, many of the BLM employees and their families.

“People really care about this place,” Khus said. “They go way beyond their job to keep track of this place. We gave them a lot of trust and they returned the trust.”

Khus spoke from the porch of the El Saucito Ranch as the crowd sat under large cottonwood trees.

The program was held after a barbecue lunch that followed tours of Painted Rock

Just before the program started, a large white barn owl flew of the lawn.

Khus also paid tribute to former Carrizo Monument Manager Marlene Braun, who died in 2005.

“She loved this land more than her life,” Khus said. “She didn’t want to leave this land. I know there are still times when Marlene and her dogs still run this land because she loved it so much.”

The Carrizo Plain is a part of that system which was created a decade ago to provide an overarching guidance plan for the Bureau of Land Management’s 27 million acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands of the California Desert.

Carrizo Plain National Monument’s Plan Stiffs Conservation in Favor of Cattle

The actions of the Obama Administration on environmental matters is disappointing to say the least. Now, the Carrizo Plain National Monument has a plan, and The Wilderness Society published an article lauding the newly adopted plan and the protections it will give endangered species of flora and fauna. The Center for Biological Diversity gives the plan a more negative and mixed review.

Below is the Center for Biological Diversity’s press release.

For Immediate Release, April 9, 2010

Contact: Michael Connor, Western Watersheds Project, (818) 345-0425 (w); (818) 312-4496 (mobile); mjconnor@westernwatersheds.org
Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943 (w); (323) 490-0223 (mobile); ianderson@biologicaldiversity.org
Carrizo Plain National Monument’s Plan Comes Up Short for Conservation

SAN FRANCISCO— The Interior Department has put in place a 20-year plan for California’s Serengeti – the Carrizo Plain National Monument – that sacrifices rare wildlife habitat and native-plant preservation to entrenched livestock-grazing interests. Located in the western foothills of California’s San Joaquin Valley, the monument was created in 2001 to protect the visual splendor, cultural resources, rare plants, and wildlife of the valley’s largest remaining native habitat. The Carrizo Plain, an arid plain formed by the San Andreas fault, includes 206,635 acres of Bureau of Land Management-administered lands as well as lands administered by the state, private entities, and conservation groups.

“The Carrizo Management Plan is a step forward,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, “but it still fails to recognize the science, which clearly shows that grazing hurts rare species.”

While the management plan is an improvement over the Bureau’s long history of neglect of the Carrizo, it inexplicably allows livestock grazing to continue despite scientific studies that confirm grazing activities degrade habitat and undermine the long-term conservation of wildlife. The national monument is home to many endangered and rare species, including the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, giant kangaroo rat, California condor, pronghorn antelope, tule elk, vernal pool species, and a suite of rare native plants.

“The BLM is trying to argue in this plan that livestock grazing should continue as a management tool, but all the science shows the opposite,” said Michael Connor, California director of Western Watersheds Project. “The science shows that cattle presence on the plain increases nonnative weeds, is detrimental to rare plants, and impacts federally protected species, so this simply is not a viable approach.”

“In the face of a changing climate, preserving the Carrizo Plain ecosystem with its suite of rare and imperiled species is imperative if we are to recover these species in the wild,” said Anderson. “The Bureau of Land Management’s previous management was based on 19th-century practices; the new plan moves the Bureau’s practices into the 20th century, but they still need to get to the 21st.”

Here are some of the public comments. The BLM’s RMP process can be found here.

If you have thoughts about the plan, please share them in the comments section.

The Beauty of the Carrizo Plain National Monument

Recently the local news has been abuzz with the spectacular wildflowers on the Carrizo. I want to share a few sites that provide some extraordinary photographs and articles about the experience of visiting the monument. Mike Baird’s photos of Soda Lake and the monument are very different from the usual views. Bill Bouton posts spectacular views.

Professor Boardman’s Bioblog discusses a range of environmental issues and science questions, but now has some of the loveliest photos of the CPNM I have seen. She also has photos of Antelope Valley in another post. FlickRiver also has some amazing pictures of the yellow hills.

The author of Tracks and Trails CA has some wonderful memories of receiving an email with the now famous photo “God Spilled the Paint” of the Carrizo in bloom, being so drawn to it, and finally visiting. There are outdoor sites that monitor the CPNM and its rain. This year it got plenty.

For hiking the Temblor Range, see details at SummitPost.org. For Rock Crawlers who want to visit the monument, there is more info. Bill Ward has some interesting pics of his camping trip to the Carrizo.

Often photos show the mountains, but these posts on Flicker show the plains and the areas that go from flat to hills.

The Taft Independent ran an article a couple of weeks ago about Spring time on the Monument. It has details about things to see if you want to visit the monument.

The monument is also a great area for birders.

I love reading accounts of “first visits” to the CPNM. Dave Gardner has a nice story and photos, as do Richard Wong and Kimberly Perkins.

The Theodore Payne Foundation brings you the 28th annual wildflower hotline.

For Kit Fox video, there is a YouTube post.

Life Magazine even took a turn.

If you can’t get out to the CPNM, enjoy the vicarious views!