The Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) announced a proposed rule (pdf) this week to revise critical habitat for the federally endangered Coachella Valley milk-vetch (Astragalus lentiginosus var. coachellae).  The proposed rule would designate approximately 25,704 acres of land in Riverside County, California as critical habitat for the plant, which is endemic to the Coachella Valley. The four geographic units proposed as critical habitat include sand transport and deposition areas associated with: San Gorgonio River and Snow Creek, Whitewater River, Mission Creek and Morongo Wash, and the Thousand Palms area.

The proposed rule is the result of a lawsuit filed against the Service by the Center for Biological Diversity challenging the final critical habitat designation for the plant in 2005.  At that time, the Service designated zero acres of critical habitat because it found that all habitat with essential features was located within areas to be conserved and managed by the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan (“MSHCP/NCCP”) or was within areas conserved within the Coachella Valley Preserve System under the Coachella Valley fringe-toed HCP.

For similar reasons, the Service is again considering excluding from the proposed designation over 18,446 acres of land covered by the MSHCP/NCCP, the City of Desert Hot Springs, and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Morongo Band of Mission Indians.  It reasons that “the land managers sufficiently provide conservation for the plant; exclusion will encourage the continuation and strengthening of cooperative partnerships; or areas subject to the implementation of management plans provides equal to or more conservation than the designation of critical habitat would provide.”

Habitat components essential to the plant’s long-term survival include sands from transport channels/corridors and deposition sites.  Unoccupied stream channels within drainage systems provide for water transported sands essential for the conservation of the plant.

Comments and information on the proposed revision can be submitted electronically beginning on August 25, 2011 and must be received by October 24, 2011.