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.