Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Status for the Sierra Nevada Distinct Population Segment of the Sierra Nevada Red Fox

 
CONTENT
Federal Register, Volume 85 Issue 5 (Wednesday, January 8, 2020)
[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 5 (Wednesday, January 8, 2020)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 862-872]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-28462]
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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
Fish and Wildlife Service
50 CFR Part 17
[Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2019-0006; 4500030113]
RIN 1018-BC62
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Status
for the Sierra Nevada Distinct Population Segment of the Sierra Nevada
Red Fox
AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Proposed rule.
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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to
list the Sierra Nevada Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the Sierra
Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator) as an endangered species under
the Endangered Species Act (Act). This DPS of the Sierra Nevada red fox
occurs along the highest elevations of the Sierra Nevada mountain range
in California. If we finalize this rule as proposed, it would extend
the Act's protections to this DPS. The effect of this rule will be to
add this DPS to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before
March 9, 2020. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal
eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES below) must be received by 11:59 p.m.
Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for public
hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
CONTACT by February 24, 2020.
ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R8-ES-2019-0006,
which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the
Search button. On the resulting page, in the Search panel on the left
side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the
Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by
clicking on ``Comment Now!''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public
Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2019-0006, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described
above. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide
us (see Information Requested, below, for more information).
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jennifer Norris, Field Supervisor,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office,
2800 Cottage Way, Room W-2605, Sacramento, California 95825; telephone
916-414-6700. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf
(TDD), call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:
Executive Summary
    Why we need to publish a rule. Under the Act, if we determine that
a species may be an endangered or threatened species throughout all or
a significant portion of its range, we are required to promptly publish
a proposal in the Federal Register and make a determination on our
proposal within 1 year. To the maximum extent prudent and determinable,
we must designate critical habitat for any species that we determine to
be an endangered or threatened species under the Act. Listing a species
as an endangered or threatened species and designation of critical
habitat can only be completed by issuing a rule.
    What this proposed rule does. This document proposes listing the
Sierra Nevada DPS of the Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator;
hereafter referred to as the Sierra Nevada red fox) as an endangered
species; we determined that designating critical habitat is not
prudent. The Sierra Nevada red fox is a candidate species for which we
have on file sufficient information on biological vulnerability and
threats to support preparation of a listing proposal, but for which
development of a listing rule was previously precluded by other higher
priority listing activities. This proposed rule reassesses (since the
2015 12-month finding (October 8, 2015, 80 FR 60990)) the best
available information regarding the status of and threats to the Sierra
Nevada red fox.
    The basis for our action. Under the Act, we can determine that a
species is an endangered or threatened species based on any of five
factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C)
disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory
mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its
continued existence. The Sierra Nevada red fox faces the following
threats: (1) Deleterious impacts associated with small population size,
such as inbreeding depression and reduced genomic integrity (Factor E);
(2) hybridization with nonnative red fox (Factor E); and possibly (3)
reduced prey availability and competition with coyotes (Factor E)
resulting from reduced snowpack levels. Existing regulatory mechanisms
and conservation efforts do not address the threats to the Sierra
Nevada red fox to the extent that listing the DPS is not warranted.
    Peer review. In accordance with our joint policy on peer review
published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270) and our
August 22, 2016, memorandum updating and clarifying the role of peer
review of listing actions under the Act, we sought the expert opinions
of five appropriate specialists regarding the Species Status Assessment
(SSA) report, which informed the listing portion of this proposed rule.
The purpose of peer review is to ensure that our listing and critical
habitat determinations are based on scientifically sound data,
assumptions, and analyses. The peer reviewers have expertise in red fox
biology, habitat, and stressors to the species. We received responses
from two of the five peer reviewers, which we took into account in our
SSA report and this proposed rule.
[[Page 863]]
Information Requested
    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule
will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request
comments or information from other concerned governmental agencies,
Native American tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any
other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. Because we will
consider all comments and information we receive during the comment
period, our final determinations may differ from this proposal. We
particularly seek comments concerning:
    (1) The Sierra Nevada red fox's biology, range, and population
trends, including:
    (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the species, including
habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering;
    (b) Genetics and taxonomy;
    (c) Historical and current range, including distribution patterns;
    (d) Historical and current population levels, and current and
projected trends; and
    (e) Past and ongoing conservation measures for the species, its
habitat, or both.
    (2) Factors that may affect the continued existence of the species,
which may include habitat modification or destruction, overutilization,
disease, predation, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms,
or other natural or manmade factors.
    (3) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning
any threats (or lack thereof) to this DPS and existing regulations that
may be addressing those threats.
    (4) Additional information concerning the historical and current
status, range, distribution, and population size of this DPS, including
the locations of any additional populations of the Sierra Nevada red
fox.
    Please note that submissions merely stating support for or
opposition to the action under consideration without providing
supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in
making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that
determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or threatened
species must be made ``solely on the basis of the best scientific and
commercial data available.''
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed
rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you
send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES.
    Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as
scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to
verify any scientific or commercial information you include. All
comments submitted electronically via http://www.regulations.gov will
be presented on the website in their entirety as submitted. For
comments submitted via hard copy, we will post your entire comment--
including your personal identifying information--on http://www.regulations.gov. You may request at the top of your document that
we withhold personal information such as your street address, phone
number, or email address from public review; however, we cannot
guarantee that we will be able to do so.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be
available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by
appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER
INFORMATION CONTACT).
Public Hearings
    Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for one or more public hearings
on this proposal, if requested. Requests for public hearings must be
received by the date specified in DATES at the address shown in FOR
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. We will schedule public hearings on this
proposal, if any are requested, and announce the dates, times, and
places of those hearings, as well as how to obtain reasonable
accommodations, in the Federal Register and local newspapers at least
15 days before the hearing.
Species Status Assessment
    A team of biologists prepared an SSA report for the Sierra Nevada
red fox. The SSA team was composed of Service biologists, in
consultation with other species experts, including coordination with
the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The SSA report
represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data
available concerning the status of the Sierra Nevada red fox, including
the impacts of past, present, and future factors (both negative and
beneficial) affecting the species. The SSA report underwent independent
peer review by scientists with expertise in red fox biology, habitat
management, and stressors (factors negatively affecting the DPS) to the
species. The SSA report and other materials relating to this proposal
can be found at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-
2019-0006, and at the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
Previous Federal Actions
    On April 27, 2011, we received a petition dated April 27, 2011,
from the Center for Biological Diversity, requesting that Sierra Nevada
red fox be listed as an endangered or threatened species, and that
critical habitat be designated under the Act. The petition also
requested that we evaluate populations in the Cascade and Sierra Nevada
mountain ranges as potential DPSs. On January 3, 2012, we published a
positive 90-day finding (77 FR 45) that the petition presented
substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted.
    Following a stipulated settlement agreement requiring our
completion of a status review of the species by September 30, 2015, we
issued a 12-month finding (80 FR 60990) on October 8, 2015. We
concluded at that time that there were two valid DPSs for the Sierra
Nevada red fox: The Southern Cascades DPS and the Sierra Nevada DPS. We
determined and reaffirm here that both the Southern Cascades and Sierra
Nevada segments of the Sierra Nevada red fox's range are both discrete
and significant based on marked physical separation (discreteness) and
genetic variation/characteristics (discreteness and significance).
Please see the 12-month finding (80 FR 60990) for a complete discussion
of our DPS Policy and rationale for meeting the discreteness and
significance criteria. Additionally, our September 30, 2015, 12-month
finding concluded that: (1) Listing the Sierra Nevada red fox across
its entire range was not warranted; (2) listing the Southern Cascades
DPS was not warranted; and (3) listing the Sierra Nevada DPS was
warranted, but temporarily precluded by higher priority listing
actions.
I. Proposed Listing Determination
Background
    A thorough review of the taxonomy, life history, ecology, and
overall viability of the Sierra Nevada red fox is presented in the SSA
report (Service 2018; available at http://www.regulations.gov). This
report summarizes the relevant biological data and a description of
past, present, and likely future stressors, and presents an analysis of
the potential viability of the Sierra Nevada red fox. The SSA report
documents the results of the comprehensive biological status review
[[Page 864]]
for the Sierra Nevada red fox, provides an evaluation of how potential
threats may affect the species' viability both currently and into the
future, and provides the scientific basis that informs our regulatory
decision regarding whether this species should be listed as an
endangered or threatened species under the Act, as well as the risk
analysis on which the determination is based (Service 2018, entire).
The following discussion is a summary of the SSA report.
Species Information
    Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are small, slender, doglike carnivores,
with elongated snouts, pointed ears, and large bushy tails (Aubry 1997,
p. 55; Perrine 2005, p. 1; Perrine et al. 2010, p. 5). The Sierra
Nevada red fox is one of 10 North American subspecies of the red fox
(Hall 1981, p. 938; Perrine et al. p. 5). Diagnostic features, by which
red foxes can be distinguished from other small canines, include black
markings on the backs of their ears, black shins, and white tips on
their tails (Statham et al. 2012, p. 123).
    Sierra Nevada red foxes average about 4.2 kilograms (kg) (9.3
pounds (lb)) for males and 3.3 kg (7.3 lb) for females, as compared to
the general North American red fox average of about 5 kg (11 lb) for
males and 4.3 kg (9.5 lb) for females (Perrine et al. 2010, p. 5).
    The Sierra Nevada red fox is characterized by what appears to be
specialized adaptations to cold areas (Sacks et al. 2010, p. 1524).
These apparent adaptations include a particularly thick and deep winter
coat (Grinnell et al. 1937, p. 377), longer hind feet (Fuhrmann 1998,
p. 24), and small toe pads (4 millimeters (mm) (0.2 inch (in)) across
or less) that are completely covered in winter by dense fur, which may
facilitate movement over snow (Grinnell et al. 1937, pp. 378, 393;
Fuhrmann 1998, p. 24; Sacks 2014, p. 30). The Sierra Nevada red fox's
smaller size may also be an adaptation to facilitate movement over snow
by lowering weight supported by each footpad (Quinn and Sacks 2014, p.
17), or it may simply result from the reduced abundance of prey at
higher elevations (Perrine et al. 2010, p. 5).
    Genetic analyses indicate that red foxes living near Sonora Pass,
California, as of 2010 are descendants of the Sierra Nevada red fox
population that was historically resident in the area (Statham et al.
2012, pp. 126-129). This is the only population known to exist in the
Sierra Nevada mountain range, and is thus the last known remnant of the
larger historical population that occurred along the upper elevations
of the Sierra Nevada mountain range from Tulare to Sierra Counties. The
only other known Sierra Nevada red fox population in California is
located near Lassen Peak, in the southern Cascade mountain range, and
shows clear genetic differences from the Sonora Pass population
(Statham et al. 2012, pp. 129-130) (see also DPS discussion in our
October 8, 2015, 12-month finding (80 FR 60990)).
Range and Habitat
    The current range, which is significantly contracted from the
historical range, runs near the Sierra crest from about Arnot Peak and
California State Highway 4 south to Yosemite National Park (Cleve et
al. 2011, entire; Sacks et al. 2015, pp. 10, 14; Eyes 2016, p. 2; Hiatt
2017, p. 1; Figure 1), and then jumps approximately 48 mi (77 km)
southeast per two new sightings (photographs; unknown if one or more
individuals) noted during summer 2018 near the intersection of Fresno/
Mono/Inyo Counties (Quinn 2018a, attachments; Stermer 2018, p. 1).
BILLING CODE 4333-15-P
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    Sierra Nevada red fox sightings have consistently occurred in
subalpine habitat at elevations ranging from 2,656 to 3,538 meters (m)
(8,714 to 11,608 feet (ft)) (based on average elevation reported, plus
or minus three standard deviations) (Sacks et al. 2015, pp. 3, 11). In
the Sonora Pass area used by the Sierra Nevada red fox, subalpine
habitat is characterized by a mosaic of high-elevation meadows, rocky
areas, scrub vegetation, and woodlands (largely mountain hemlock (Tsuga
mertensiana), whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulus), and lodgepole pine
(Pinus contorta)) (Fites-Kaufman et al. 2007, p. 475; Sacks et al.
2015, p. 11; Quinn 2017, p. 3). Snow cover is typically heavy, and the
growing season lasts only 7 to 9 weeks (Verner and Purcell 1988, p. 3).
Forested
[[Page 866]]
areas are typically relatively open and patchy (Verner and Purcell
1988, p. 1; Lowden 2015, p. 1), and trees may be stunted and bent
(krumholtzed) by the wind and low temperatures (Verner and Purcell
1988, p. 3; Sacks et al. 2015, p. 11).
Feeding
    Individuals of the Sierra Nevada red fox are opportunistic
predators of small mammals such as rodents (Perrine et al. 2010, pp.
24, 30, 32-33; Cross 2015, p. 72). Leporids such as snowshoe hare
(Lepus americanus) and white-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii) are
also an important food source for the Sierra Nevada red fox,
particularly in winter and early spring (Aubry 1983, p. 109; Rich 2014,
p. 1; Quinn 2017, pp. 3-4; Sacks 2017, p. 3). Whitebark pine seeds may
also be an important food source during some years, particularly in
winter (Sacks et al. 2017, p. 2).
Life History
    Little information exists regarding Sierra Nevada red fox
reproductive biology; it is likely similar to other North American red
fox subspecies (Aubry 1997, p. 57). Other subspecies are predominantly
monogamous and mate over several weeks in the late winter and early
spring (Aubry 1997, p. 57). The gestation period for red fox is 51 to
53 days, with birth occurring from March through May in sheltered dens
(Perrine et al. 2010, p. 14). Members of the Sierra Nevada red fox use
natural openings in rock piles at the base of cliffs and slopes as
denning sites (Grinnell et al. 1937, p. 394). Additionally, they may
dig earthen dens, similar to Cascade red foxes (Vulpes vulpes
cascadensis), though this has not been directly documented in the
Sierra Nevada red fox (Aubry 1997, p. 58; Perrine 2005, p. 153). Litter
sizes of two to three pups appear to be typical (Perrine 2005, p. 152).
Reproductive output is generally lower in montane foxes than in those
living at lower elevations, possibly due to comparative scarcity of
food (Perrine 2005, pp. 152-153; Sacks 2017, p. 2).
Demographics
    The population size of the Sierra Nevada red fox is estimated
between 10 to 50 adults, including some young adults forgoing potential
breeding to help their parents raise their siblings (Sacks 2015, p. 1;
Sacks et al. 2015, p. 14). This estimate includes hybrids, which recent
information suggests comprise the majority of known individuals sighted
within one study area of the population (Sacks et al. 2015, pp. 15, 17,
29-30).
    The average lifespan, age-specific mortality rates, sex ratios, and
demographic structure of Sierra Nevada red fox populations are not
known, and are not easily extrapolated from other red fox subspecies
because heavy hunting and trapping pressure on those other subspecies
likely skew the results (Perrine et al. 2010, p. 18). However, three
individuals within the Southern Cascades DPS (in the Lassen area) lived
at least 5.5 years (CDFW 2015, p. 2), and an additional study within
the Sierra Nevada red fox (Sonora Pass area) found the average annual
adult survival rate to be 82 percent, which is relatively high for red
foxes (Quinn and Sacks 2014, pp. 10, 14-15, 24).
Summary of Biological Status and Threats Affecting the DPS
    The Act directs us to determine whether any species is an
endangered species or a threatened species because of any factors
affecting its continued existence. We completed a comprehensive
analysis of the biological status of the Sierra Nevada red fox, and
prepared an SSA report, which provides a thorough assessment of the
potential threats that may affect the species' viability both currently
and into the future. We define viability here as the ability of the
species to persist over the long term and, conversely, to avoid
extinction. In this section, we summarize that assessment, which can be
accessed on the internet under Docket FWS-R8-ES-2019-0006 on http://www.regulations.gov.
    To assess Sierra Nevada red fox viability, we used the three
conservation biology principles of resiliency, representation, and
redundancy (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 306-310). Briefly, resiliency
supports the ability of the species to withstand stochastic events--for
example, significant variations to normal demographic or environmental
conditions (e.g., significant drops in population growth rate, extreme
weather events, 100-year floods); representation supports the ability
of the species to adapt over time to changing environmental conditions
(such as measured by the breadth of genetic or environmental diversity
within and among populations); and redundancy supports the ability of
the species to withstand large-scale, catastrophic events (for example,
multi-year droughts). In general, the more redundant and resilient a
species is and the more representation and redundancy it has, the more
likely it is to sustain populations over time, even under changing
environmental conditions. Using these principles, we identified the
subspecies' ecological requirements for survival and reproduction, and
described the beneficial and risk factors influencing the DPS's
viability.
Resiliency
    Resiliency describes the ability of a species (or DPS) to withstand
stochastic disturbance. For the Sierra Nevada red fox to maintain
viability, its population(s) or some portion thereof must be resilient.
Environmental stochastic disturbances that affect the overall
reproductive output of the population are reasonably likely to occur
infrequently, but if they do, they would likely be of a magnitude that
can drastically alter the ecosystem where they happen. Classic examples
of environmental stochastic events include drought, major storms (e.g.,
hurricanes), fire, and landslides (Chapin et al. 2002, pp. 285-288),
and examples of demographic stochastic events include variations in sex
ratio, birth/death rates, etc. The best available information at this
time suggests that the Sierra Nevada red fox population needs to be
larger, to a currently unknown degree, to ensure its viability into the
future. Given the uncertainties surrounding the adequate population
size and growth rates for the Sierra Nevada red fox, the best available
information indicates that the proxies for these indices of abundance
appear to be diminished; therefore, we assume a diminished resiliency
for the DPS.
    Given the lack of information on adequate population size for
subalpine red fox, an example of a resilient population size for an
island fox subspecies--Santa Catalina Island fox (Urocyon littoralis
catalinae)--is roughly 150 or more adult individuals (based on
information presented by Kohlmann et al. (2005, p. 77), assuming
habitat conditions are adequate to support a population of this size.
Although this example is not a one-to-one crosswalk for considering the
minimum viable population size for the Sierra Nevada red fox, it is a
reference that provides related information for another fox's
demographic needs. The information for this island fox subspecies
suggests that this minimum population size likely allows it to survive
chance deleterious events, whereas stochastic events become an
increasing risk to viability as population numbers dip below 150.
Redundancy
    Redundancy describes the ability of a species (or DPS) to withstand
catastrophic events. Currently, there is only one small, isolated
population of Sierra Nevada red fox known within the Sierra Nevada
mountain range. In
[[Page 867]]
general, given the low number of foxes currently known within this DPS
and the limited range they inhabit, the DPS appears to have a low
ability to withstand catastrophic events should they occur.
Additionally, there do not appear to be any other populations within
the range of this DPS to serve as a source to recover from a
catastrophic loss of individuals.
Representation
    Representation describes the ability of a species (or DPS) to adapt
to changing environmental conditions over time. It is characterized by
the breadth of genetic and environmental diversity within and among
populations. The Sierra Nevada red fox historically occurred throughout
the high elevations of the Sierra Nevada. The current, small population
has been experiencing genetic challenges, including inbreeding
depression, as well as hybridization with non-Sierra Nevada red fox
individuals, which can lower survivorship or reproductive success by
interfering with adaptive native genes or gene complexes (Allendorf et
al. 2001, p. 617; Frankham et al. 2002, pp. 386-388). Having broad
genetic and environmental diversity could help the DPS withstand
environmental changes. However, at this time, the Sierra Nevada red fox
does not have this broad diversity. Additionally, regarding
hybridization, the best available information does not suggest that
hybridization has negatively affected the DPS's ability to adapt to
changing environmental conditions.
Summary of Existing Regulatory Measures and Voluntary Conservation
Efforts
    The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) identifies the Sierra Nevada red fox
as a sensitive species and has done so since 1998. Sensitive species
receive special consideration during land use planning and activity
implementation to ensure species viability and to preclude population
declines (USFS 2005, section 2670.22). The USFS included Sierra Nevada
red fox-specific protection measures in the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan
Amendment (SNFPA) Standards and Guidelines given the extensive overlap
of suitable and in some cases occupied habitat for the Sierra Nevada
red fox with Forest Service lands. These specific protection measures
require the USFS to conduct and analyze potential impacts of activities
within 5 mi (8 km) of a verified Sierra Nevada red fox individual
sighting (USFS 2004, p. 54). The protection measures also limit the
time of year that certain activities may occur to avoid adverse impacts
to Sierra Nevada red fox breeding efforts, and require 2 years of
evaluations following activities near sightings that are not associated
with a den site (USFS 2004, p. 54).
    The National Park Service prohibits hunting and trapping in
Yosemite National Park and manages natural resources to ``preserve
fundamental physical and biological processes, as well as individual
species, features, and plant and animal communities'' (NPS 2006, p.
26). The land management plan for Yosemite National Park (as well as
Sequoia National Park, which is not known to currently contain Sierra
Nevada red fox individuals but does occur within the DPS's historical
range) does not contain specific measures to protect the Sierra Nevada
red fox or the subspecies' habitat. However, areas not developed
specifically for recreation and camping are managed toward natural
processes and species composition, and the best available information
indicates that the National Park Service would maintain the subspecies'
habitat.
    The Department of Defense recently completed an Integrated Natural
Resources Management Plan (INRMP) for the U.S. Marine Corps Mountain
Warfare Training Center (MWTC), which is a facility and training area
that falls within the Sierra Nevada red fox range, including overlap
with some known sightings. The INRMP includes provisions prohibiting
disturbance within 330 ft (100.6 m) of Sierra Nevada red fox den sites
from January 1 to June 30 (MWTC 2018, p. 3-26). Additionally, the INRMP
states that the MWTC must implement ``measures to prevent habituation
to human food, an education program on these measures, and avoid
activities from January 1 to June 27 within 0.25 mi (0.4 km) of den
sites'' (MWTC 2018, p. 3-67).
    On October 2, 1980, the State of California listed the Sierra
Nevada red fox as a threatened species. The designation prohibits
possession, purchase, or ``take'' of threatened or endangered species
without an incidental take permit, issued by the California Department
of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW; formerly California Department of Fish and
Game). Additionally, red foxes in general are protected by the State
from hunting and trapping (14 C.C.R. 460).
    A conservation effort currently is underway by the Sierra Nevada
Red Fox Working Group (SNRFWG). This working group was formed in 2015
by representatives of Federal and State wildlife agencies, state
universities, and nongovernmental conservation organizations (SNRFWG
2015, p. 1; SNRFWG 2016, p. 1). In addition to continued monitoring of
the Sierra Nevada red fox, the SNRFWG proposes to develop a
conservation strategy, which would include a genetic management plan
and a feasibility assessment. This conservation strategy would assist
in addressing possible translocations of Sierra Nevada red fox from
area(s) within the Southern Cascades DPS to the Sierra Nevada (SNRFWG
2016, pp. 2-6). Managed Sierra Nevada red fox translocations would
reduce impacts associated with inbreeding depression and counter
introgression of nonnative alleles by introducing, in a controlled and
monitored manner, new (i.e., native) alleles into the Sierra Nevada red
fox population(s). These new alleles would be more likely to code for
native local adaptations than would alleles originating in other
subspecies of red fox (SNRFWG 2016, p. 3). To date, these conservation
goals are not significantly advanced, and are not factored into this
analysis (and discussed here primarily for informational purposes).
However, if carried out in the near future, these actions could address
significant negative influences currently acting upon the subspecies
(i.e., reduced genomic integrity and inbreeding depression as a result
of small population size; hybridization with nonnative red fox).
Risk Factors Affecting the Sierra Nevada DPS of Sierra Nevada Red Fox
    Our SSA considered a variety of environmental and demographic
characteristics important to the viability of the Sierra Nevada red
fox, taking into consideration both current and potential future
conditions that may impact the DPS. The environmental characteristics
we considered were: (1) Extent of subalpine habitat (with low
temperatures and short growing seasons), (2) deep winter snow cover,
(3) rodent and leporid (rabbits and hare) populations, and (4) presence
of whitebark pine. The best available information suggests that the
first two characteristics are likely important because the Sierra
Nevada red fox appears adapted to them. Fox develop dense, fur-covered
toe pads during the winter (Grinnell et al. 1937, pp. 378, 393;
Fuhrmann 1998, p. 24; Sacks 2014, p. 30), allowing them to better use
sites with deep snow cover that coyotes cannot access, thus reducing
competition for food. The remaining two characteristics are important
in that rodents and leporids are known prey items of the Sierra Nevada
red fox, and caches of whitebark pine seeds were
[[Page 868]]
found to be an important winter food source for Rocky Mountain montane
foxes in some years. The demographic characteristics we considered
important to the viability of the Sierra Nevada red fox include: (1)
Genomic integrity (extent of hybridization or inbreeding depression),
(2) population size, and (3) number of populations.
    Risk factors affecting the environmental characteristics that the
subspecies relies on include changing climate conditions (i.e.,
drought, warming temperatures that may affect snowpack levels), which
promote coyote presence (and thus competition with the Sierra Nevada
red fox) in high-elevation areas, and potential threats to whitebark
pine such as rust disease and mountain pine beetles. Risk factors
affecting the demographic characteristics include deleterious impacts
associated with small population size, including inbreeding depression
(as a consequence of population reduction and a lack of other
populations) and reduced genomic integrity, and levels of hybridization
with nonnative red foxes. Our evaluation of the best available
information indicates there is no evidence of significant adverse
impacts specifically associated with the Sierra Nevada red fox's
habitat. We presented several potential causal connections between
habitat conditions and their importance to the Sierra Nevada red fox,
as well as scenarios related to possible future trajectories of the
risk factors that could affect those habitat conditions. As we analyzed
these potentialities, we determined that the relative importance of
potential causal connections was lower than presented in some
scenarios, and that the most likely scenario of future conditions would
exhibit a lower overall risk to the DPS's habitat. As such, we conclude
that there are not any current or future significant habitat-based
threats. The best available information suggests that threats to the
subspecies directly (as opposed to habitat) are of greatest concern.
Below is a summary of the factors influencing the species viability,
provided in detail in the SSA report (Service 2018) and available on
the internet at www.regulations.gov, Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2019-0006.
Subalpine Habitat Suitability, Snowpack Levels, and Coyote Presence
    Over the past 100 years, average temperatures in alpine regions
have increased by 0.3 to 0.6 [deg]C (Perrine et al. 2010, p. 30). In
the Lake Tahoe region (northern Sierra Nevada mountain range in
California), the average number of days per year for which the average
temperature was below-freezing has decreased from 79 in 1910 to about
51 in 2010 (Kadir et al. 2013, p. 102). These increased average
temperatures coupled with periodic drought conditions can result in
changed habitat conditions in subalpine habitat. For example, direct
measurements of primary productivity in a subalpine meadow in Yosemite
National Park have shown that mesic (medium wet) and hydric (wet)
meadows both tend to increase productivity in response to warmer, drier
conditions (Moore et al. 2013, p. 417). Xeric (dry) meadows tend to
increase productivity due to warmth, but decrease due to drier
conditions (Moore et al. 2013, p. 417). A comparison of tree biomass
and age in subalpine forests now and about 75 years ago also points to
increased productivity over time (Kadir et al. 2013, p. 152).
Specifically, small trees with comparatively more branches increased by
62 percent, while larger trees decreased by 21 percent, resulting in
younger, denser stands (Kadir et al. 2013, p. 152). This overall
increase in biomass occurred consistently across the subalpine regions
of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and across tree species. The
primary cause was an increase in the length of the growing season
(Kadir et al. 2013, p. 152).
    Increasing average temperatures and periodic drier conditions
during drought years may have increased the productivity of high-
elevation areas, thus likely supporting higher prey abundance levels
that (at least in some years) in turn could support more coyotes in
spring and summer months. The best available information suggests that
coyotes are present in the Sonora Pass area at the same elevations as
the Sierra Nevada red fox during summer months, also outnumbering the
Sierra Nevada red fox individuals in that area (Quinn and Sacks 2014,
pp. 2, 11, 12, 35). Additionally, several coyotes were found to be
related, suggesting they were establishing territories and raising pups
(Quinn and Sacks 2014, p. 12). As a result of this information, coyote
densities appear to have increased in this area relative to historical
levels, thus resulting in increased coyote competition with the Sierra
Nevada red fox. This increased coyote presence (and potentially
density) on a given landscape can lead to decreased density of Sierra
Nevada red foxes (Sargeant et al. 1987, p. 288; Harrison et al. 1989,
p. 185) (see also additional discussion in section 3.1 of the SSA
report (Service 2018, pp. 15-16)). Also, the increased coyote presence
may in part result from increased productivity of food sources due to
changing climate conditions, although snowpack levels were low during
much of the monitoring period due to drought, and this increased
productivity may also have affected coyote densities (Kadir et al.
2013, p. 152) (see below).
    In the central portion of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, average
current April 1 snowpack levels in Yosemite National Park (which
overlaps a portion of the known Sierra Nevada red fox sightings) have
been just above 23.6 in (60 cm) (Curtis et al. 2014, p. 9). To date,
all Sierra Nevada red fox individuals sighted within the park have been
in the areas of highest snowpack (Eyes 2016, p. 2).
    While snowpack conditions vary by year and location, the best
available information suggests that the areas where Sierra Nevada red
fox occur have been maintaining high snowpack during winter and spring
most years, regardless that snowpack appears to be decreasing in some
areas across the mountain range (see section 4.1 of the SSA report
(Service 2018, pp. 22-23)). Therefore, the current condition for deep
winter snow appears adequate, noting some years have and will continue
to result in drought conditions and thus lower snowpack levels.
Prey Availability
    Rodent population numbers in subalpine areas have likely increased
due to an increase in primary productivity (Service 2018, pp. 21, 24).
Despite several factors that may limit their availability (e.g.,
increased presence of coyotes, compaction of snow from snowmobile
activity), the general landscape appears adequate for rodents.
    Adequate leporid population numbers may be of concern given that
both white-tailed jackrabbits and snowshoe hares are considered species
of special concern across the Sierra Nevada by CDFW (CDFW 2017, p. 51),
a designation meaning they are potentially vulnerable to extirpation in
California (CDFW 2017, p. 10). Regardless of rangewide leporid
abundance, the best available information does not suggest that leporid
abundance is inadequate in the vicinity of the majority of known Sierra
Nevada red fox sighting locations (i.e., Sonora Pass area); leporids
appear currently to be relatively common and present all year in the
Sonora Pass area (Rich 2014, p. 1).
Deleterious Effects Associated With Small Populations
    Within the DPS area, the Sierra Nevada red fox is currently known
from
[[Page 869]]
a single population extending along the Sierra Nevada crest near Sonora
Pass (State Route 108), with species experts providing an overall
estimate of about 10 to 50 adults residing in the center of the DPS's
historical range (Sacks 2015, p. 1; Sacks et al. 2015, p. 14). Two new
(2018) Sierra Nevada red fox sightings are now known from about 32 mi
(51 km) southeast of the previously known southern sightings (i.e.,
eastern edge of Yosemite National Park) of the population (Stermer
2018a, p. 1). It is unclear whether these 2018 sightings are of the
same or different foxes (Stermer 2018b, p. 1), or whether that fox or
foxes dispersed from the Sonora Pass area. Our estimate of population
numbers includes an unknown number of hybrids, which in 2014 comprised
8 of 10 non-immigrant individuals sighted (Sacks et al. 2015, pp. 17,
29). No evidence of reproduction of pure Sierra Nevada red fox was
observed at a 50-mi\2\ (130-km\2\) study site for the 2011 to 2014
breeding seasons (Sacks et al. 2015, pp. 3, 15, 30). This finding is
consistent with low reproductive success due to inbreeding depression
(Sacks et al. 2015, p. 15). Given this population information, the
current condition of the Sierra Nevada red fox likely includes
inbreeding depression and a population size lower than necessary to
reduce risks associated with stochastic events (i.e., a portrayal of
low resiliency).
Genomic Integrity
    Prior to spring of 2013, no reproduction between native individuals
of the Sierra Nevada red fox and nonnative immigrant red fox was known
to have occurred (Sacks et al. 2015, p. 9; Sacks 2017, p. 4). However,
two nonnative male red foxes with a mixture of montane (V. v. macroura)
and fur-farm ancestry arrived at the Sonora Pass area in 2012 and by
2014 had produced a total of 11 hybrid pups (Sacks et al. 2015, pp. 3,
10, 29-30). These constituted the only known pups produced in the
Sonora Pass area (i.e., the only area/population of the Sierra Nevada
red fox within the DPS area) during the four breeding seasons from 2011
to 2014 (Sacks et al. 2015, pp. 3, 15, 30). A third nonnative male was
sighted (once) in 2014, bringing the known individuals in that year to
three nonnatives, eight hybrids, and two native Sierra Nevada red fox
individuals (Sacks et al. 2015, pp. 17, 22, 29). While the hybrid pups
assist in helping the Sierra Nevada red fox experience less inbreeding
depression at the current point in time when the overall population is
small, the best available scientific and commercial information
suggests that the current condition with regard to maintaining high
genomic integrity is poor, and thus, species representation is
considered low. Additionally, low representation is further
characterized by this DPS's single, small population, which is spread
in a relatively constricted geographic arrangement and not indicative
of a resilient or redundant mammalian population to withstand
stochastic or catastrophic events.
Current Condition Summary
    Overall, the current small population size is a direct result of
decades of heavy hunting and trapping pressure across its range prior
to the State of California's prohibition of ``take'' and designation of
the Sierra Nevada red fox as a threatened species in 1980. Since that
time, the remaining small population has experienced pressures from
competition for prey resources by coyotes, deleterious impacts
associated with small population size, including inbreeding depression
(as a consequence of population reduction and a lack of other
populations) and reduced genomic integrity, and levels of hybridization
with nonnative red foxes. At this time, the best available scientific
and commercial information suggest that the most significant threats to
the Sierra Nevada red fox within this DPS are those Factor E stressors
that directly affect the few individuals on the landscape (i.e.,
deleterious effects associated with small population size that are
resulting in low reproductive success (inbreeding depression) and
genomic integrity).
Potential Future Conditions
    We evaluated three future scenarios over a 50-year timeframe. This
time period was chosen because it is within the range of the available
hydrological and climate change model forecast information (IPCC 2014,
pp. 10, 13), and coincidentally encompasses roughly 25 generations of
the subspecies (Perrine et al. 2010, p. 15). The three scenarios
included improved viability and conditions into the future, the
persistence of current conditions into the future, and a decreased
viability scenario where current conditions worsen into the future. The
SSA report contains a full description of the projected future
scenarios and potential outcomes (Service 2018, pp. 29-30).
    Risks to the future viability of the Sierra Nevada red fox appear
high given the small size and limited distribution of the current
population and the factors that are negatively influencing the
subspecies currently and into the future, which include deleterious
effects associated with small population size (genomic integrity and
inbreeding depression), hybridization with nonnative red fox, and
possibly reduced prey availability (given observations of scarce
leporid observations in some subalpine areas) and competition with
coyotes for both leporid and rodent prey due to reduced snowpack
levels. Redundancy is likely to remain poor into the future until such
time as the current, isolated small population increases in size or an
additional population provides protection against a catastrophic event
eradicating the whole subspecies. Resiliency will likely remain low
given continued periodic drought conditions and temperature increases
that reduce snow depth and consequently may cause increased competition
with coyotes. Rodent population sizes will likely increase if primary
productivity of the subalpine habitat increases in the future; however,
red fox access to rodents could be limited due to coyote competition.
Leporid and whitebark pine populations may decrease or become less
dependable.
    The recent increase in pup production is encouraging (although
minimizing future hybridization would be preferable); however,
representation is low and likely to remain so due to the small size and
genetic integrity of the population, which would likely remain
susceptible to inbreeding depression if the population(s) fails to
increase sufficiently. Additionally, the geographic range of the
population(s) is limited (even though suitable habitat is not)
especially when compared to the historical extent within the Sierra
Nevada. In total, these threats (i.e., deleterious impacts associated
with small population size (including inbreeding depression and genomic
integrity), hybridization concerns, and possibly reduced prey
availability and competition with coyotes) currently leave the DPS
susceptible to stochastic or catastrophic effects, both currently and
in the future.
Proposed Determination
    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533), and its implementing
regulations at 50 CFR part 424, set forth the procedures for adding
species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and
Plants. Under section 4(a)(1) of the Act, we may list a species based
on: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C)
disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory
mechanisms; or (E)
[[Page 870]]
other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. The
Sierra Nevada red fox faces the following threats: Deleterious impacts
associated with small population size (including inbreeding depression
and reduced genomic integrity) (Factor E), hybridization with nonnative
red fox (Factor E), and possibly reduced prey availability and
competition with coyotes (Factor E) resulting from reduced snowpack
levels. Existing regulatory mechanisms and conservation efforts do not
address the threats to the Sierra Nevada red fox to the extent that
listing the DPS is not warranted.
    We have carefully assessed the best scientific and commercial
information available regarding the past, present, and future threats
to the Sierra Nevada DPS of the Sierra Nevada red fox. The Act defines
an endangered species as any species that is ``in danger of extinction
throughout all or a significant portion of its range'' and a threatened
species as any species ``that is likely to become endangered throughout
all or a significant portion of its range within the foreseeable
future.''
    We considered whether the DPS is presently in danger of extinction
and determined that proposing endangered status is appropriate. We have
shown that there are negative influences on the DPS, including
deleterious impacts associated with small population size, including
(but not limited to) inbreeding depression. Since 2015, the best
available information indicates that additional nonnative red fox
hybridization has occurred, which has resulted in documented hybrid red
fox pups. Although this hybridization may adversely affect the genetic
integrity of the DPS, it likely has prevented further decreases in the
size of the Sierra Nevada red fox population. Regardless, the DPS' size
and distribution remain critically low such that resiliency,
redundancy, and representation are insufficient and place the DPS in
danger of extinction throughout all of its range.
    Although production of pups in monitored areas appears to have
increased in 2013 and 2014 due to hybridization as compared to previous
years (Sacks et al. 2015, p. 29), and two additional sightings of
individuals of the Sierra Nevada red fox have recently (December 2017)
extended the known current range of the Sierra Nevada red fox in the
Sierra Nevada DPS to the vicinity of Mt. Hopkins (approximately 30 mi
(48 km) south of Yosemite and about 70 mi (113 km) from the southern
end of the Sonora Pass area) (Stermer 2018a, p. 1), these few new
individuals have not increased the population size or extent to the
degree that the subspecies is not in danger of extinction, including
from potential stochastic or catastrophic events.
    The primary threats to the DPS, described above, are likely to
become exacerbated in the future. Given current and future decreases in
resiliency, the population has become more vulnerable to extirpation
from stochastic events, and subsequent loss of representation and
redundancy. The range of future scenarios of the DPS's environmental
and demographic conditions suggest current danger of extirpation
throughout the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Under the current
condition analysis as well as the potential future scenarios presented
in the SSA report, the best available information suggests that the
Sierra Nevada red fox has such low resiliency, redundancy, and
representation that it is in danger of extinction currently.
    Our analysis of the DPS's current and future environmental and
demographic conditions, as well as consideration of existing regulatory
mechanisms and initiation of conservation efforts with partners (as
discussed under ``Available Conservation Measures,'' above), show that
the factors used to determine the resiliency, representation, and
redundancy for the Sierra Nevada red fox will likely continue to
decline. Therefore, the Sierra Nevada DPS of the Sierra Nevada red fox
is likely in danger of extinction currently throughout all of its
range.
Determination of Status Throughout a Significant Portion of Its Range
    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may
warrant listing if it is in danger of extinction or likely to become so
in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of
its range. Because we have determined that the Sierra Nevada DPS of the
Sierra Nevada red fox is in danger of extinction throughout all of its
range, we find it unnecessary to proceed to an evaluation of
potentially significant portions of the range. Where the best available
information allows the Services to determine a status for the species
rangewide, that determination should be given conclusive weight because
a rangewide determination of status more accurately reflects the
species' degree of imperilment and better promotes the purposes of the
Act. Under this reading, we should first consider whether the species
warrants listing ``throughout all'' of its range and proceed to conduct
a ``significant portion of its range'' analysis if, and only if, a
species does not qualify for listing as either an endangered or a
threatened species according to the ``throughout all'' language. We
note that the court in Desert Survivors v. Department of the Interior,
No. 16-cv-01165-JCS, 2018 WL 4053447 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 2018), did not
address this issue, and our conclusion is therefore consistent with the
opinion in that case.
    Therefore, on the basis of the best available scientific and
commercial information, we propose to list the Sierra Nevada DPS of the
Sierra Nevada red fox as an endangered species throughout all of its
range in accordance with sections 3(20) and 4(a)(1) of the Act.
Available Conservation Measures
    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or
threatened species under the Act include recognition, recovery actions,
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain
practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness and
conservation by Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies; private
organizations; and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the
States and other countries and calls for recovery actions to be carried
out for listed species. The protection required by Federal agencies and
the prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part,
below.
    The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered
and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The
ultimate goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these
listed species, so that they no longer need the protective measures of
the Act. Subsection 4(f) of the Act calls for the Service to develop
and implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered and
threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the
identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the
species' decline by addressing the threats to its survival and
recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a
point where they are secure, self-sustaining, and functioning
components of their ecosystems.
    Recovery planning includes the development of a recovery outline
shortly after a species is listed and preparation of a draft and final
recovery plan. The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation
of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to be used to
develop a recovery plan. Revisions of the plan may be done to address
continuing or new threats to the species, as new substantive
information becomes available. The recovery plan also identifies
recovery
[[Page 871]]
criteria for review of when a species may be ready for reclassification
(such as ``downlisting'' from endangered to threatened) or removal from
the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants
(``delisting''), and methods for monitoring recovery progress. Recovery
plans also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate their
recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of implementing
recovery tasks. Recovery teams (composed of species experts, Federal
and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders)
are often established to develop recovery plans. When completed, the
recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the final recovery plan will
be available on our website (http://www.fws.gov/endangered), or from
our Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
CONTACT).
    Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the
participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal
agencies, States, Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, businesses,
and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat
restoration (e.g., restoration of native vegetation), research, captive
propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and education. The
recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished solely on
Federal lands because their range may occur primarily or solely on non-
Federal lands. To achieve recovery of these species requires
cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, and Tribal lands.
If we list the Sierra Nevada red fox, funding for recovery actions will
be available from a variety of sources, including Federal budgets,
State programs, and cost-share grants for non-Federal landowners, the
academic community, and nongovernmental organizations. In addition,
pursuant to section 6 of the Act, the State of California would be
eligible for Federal funds to implement management actions that promote
the protection or recovery of the DPS. Information on our grant
programs that are available to aid species recovery can be found at:
http://www.fws.gov/grants.
    Although the Sierra Nevada red fox is only proposed for listing
under the Act at this time, please let us know if you are interested in
participating in recovery efforts for this species. Additionally, we
invite you to submit any new information on this species whenever it
becomes available and any information you may have for recovery
planning purposes (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
II. Critical Habitat
Background
    Critical habitat is defined in section 3 of the Act as:
    (1) The specific areas within the geographical area occupied by the
species, at the time it is listed in accordance with the Act, on which
are found those physical or biological features
    (a) Essential to the conservation of the species, and
    (b) Which may require special management considerations or
protection; and
    (2) Specific areas outside the geographical area occupied by the
species at the time it is listed, upon a determination that such areas
are essential for the conservation of the species.
    Conservation, as defined under section 3 of the Act, means to use
and the use of all methods and procedures that are necessary to bring
an endangered or threatened species to the point at which the measures
provided pursuant to the Act are no longer necessary. Such methods and
procedures include, but are not limited to, all activities associated
with scientific resources management such as research, census, law
enforcement, habitat acquisition and maintenance, propagation, live
trapping, and transplantation, and, in the extraordinary case where
population pressures within a given ecosystem cannot be otherwise
relieved, may include regulated taking.
    Critical habitat receives protection under section 7 of the Act
through the requirement that Federal agencies ensure, in consultation
with the Service, that any action they authorize, fund, or carry out is
not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of
critical habitat. The designation of critical habitat does not affect
land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or
other conservation area. Such designation does not allow the government
or public to access private lands. Such designation does not require
implementation of restoration, recovery, or enhancement measures by
non-Federal landowners. Where a landowner requests Federal agency
funding or authorization for an action that may affect a listed species
or critical habitat, the consultation requirements of section 7(a)(2)
of the Act would apply, but even in the event of a destruction or
adverse modification finding, the obligation of the Federal action
agency and the landowner is not to restore or recover the species, but
to implement reasonable and prudent alternatives to avoid destruction
or adverse modification of critical habitat.
    Section 4 of the Act requires that we designate critical habitat on
the basis of the best scientific data available. Further, our Policy on
Information Standards Under the Endangered Species Act (published in
the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34271)), the Information
Quality Act (section 515 of the Treasury and General Government
Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (Pub. L. 106-554; H.R. 5658)),
and our associated Information Quality Guidelines, provide criteria,
establish procedures, and provide guidance to ensure that our decisions
are based on the best scientific data available. They require our
biologists, to the extent consistent with the Act and with the use of
the best scientific data available, to use primary and original sources
of information as the basis for recommendations to designate critical
habitat.
Prudency Determination
    Section 4(a)(3) of the Act, as amended, and implementing
regulations (50 CFR 424.12), require that, to the maximum extent
prudent and determinable, the Secretary shall designate critical
habitat at the time the species is determined to be an endangered or
threatened species. The regulations at 50 CFR 424.12(a)(1) state that
the Secretary may, but is not required to, determine that a designation
would not be prudent in the following circumstances:
    (i) The species is threatened by taking or other human activity and
identification of critical habitat can be expected to increase the
degree of such threat to the species;
    (ii) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or
curtailment of a species' habitat or range is not a threat to the
species, or threats to the species' habitat stem solely from causes
that cannot be addressed through management actions resulting from
consultations under section 7(a)(2) of the Act;
    (iii) Areas within the jurisdiction of the United States provide no
more than negligible conservation value, if any, for a species
occurring primarily outside the jurisdiction of the United States;
    (iv) No areas meet the definition of critical habitat; or
    (v) The Secretary otherwise determines that designation of critical
habitat would not be prudent based on the best scientific data
available
    The best available scientific and commercial information suggests
that designating critical habitat is not
[[Page 872]]
prudent because we have determined that the present or threatened
destruction, modification, or curtailment of a species' habitat or
range is not a threat to the Sierra Nevada red fox. Habitat also does
not appear to be a limiting factor for the species (see Proposed
Determination, above); there is abundant, protected adjacent habitat
for Sierra Nevada red fox populations to expand into, should their
population numbers rebound. Where the Sierra Nevada red fox currently
occur, none of the threats we identified (small population size,
hybridization, competition with coyotes) fall in the category of
present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailments of the
fox's habitat. Overall, we conclude that there are not any current or
future significant habitat-based threats, and the best available
information suggests that threats to the subspecies directly (i.e.,
deleterious effects associated with small population size and genomic
integrity) are of greatest concern.
    In addition, for those potential habitat-based stressors we
evaluated (see Current and Future Conditions sections of the SSA report
for additional discussion), the best available information indicates
some changes to high elevation, subalpine areas may be occurring both
currently and in the future with continued changing climate conditions
(e.g., less snowpack in some years with potential for increased primary
productivity, potential for rust disease and wildfire (see sections 4.1
and 5.1 in the SSA report)). However, those changes are not currently
expected, nor in the future projected, to result in significant
negative influences on the viability of the DPS.
    Because we assessed that the present or threatened destruction,
modification, or curtailment of the Sierra Nevada red fox's habitat is
not a significant threat to the species, we have determined that
designating critical habitat is not prudent at this time.
III. Required Determinations
Clarity of the Rule
    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (1) Be logically organized;
    (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (3) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us
comments by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. To
better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as
possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections
or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences
are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be
useful, etc.
National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)
    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental
impacts statements, as defined under the authority of the National
Environmental Policy Act, need not be prepared in connection with
listing a species as an endangered or threatened species under the
Endangered Species Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for
this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR
49244).
References Cited
    A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available
on the internet at http://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the
Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
CONTACT).
Authors
    The primary authors of this proposed rulemaking are the staff
members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Assessment Team
and Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office.
List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17
    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.
Proposed Regulation Promulgation
    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:
PART 17--ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS
0
 1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:
     Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 1531-1544; 4201-4245, unless
otherwise noted.
0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by adding an entry for ``Fox, Sierra Nevada red
[Sierra Nevada DPS]'' under ``MAMMALS'' to the List of Endangered and
Threatened Wildlife to read as follows:
Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.
* * * * *
    (h) * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                              Listing citations
            Common name                Scientific name        Where listed        Status    and applicable rules
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              MAMMALS

                                                  * * * * * * *
Fox, Sierra Nevada red [Sierra      Vulpes vulpes         U.S.A. (CA)--Sierra           E   [Federal Register
 Nevada DPS].                        necator.              Nevada.                           citation when
                                                                                             published as a
                                                                                             final rule].

                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* * * * *
     Dated: November 26, 2019.
Margaret E. Everson
Principal Deputy Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Exercising
the Authority of the Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2019-28462 Filed 1-7-20; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 4333-15-P