To All Interested Parties:

Californians have long shared a common interest in sustaining the integrity of biological and natural resources and the human and economic values they support. Efforts to coordinate conservation programs are well established. In 1991 the Agreement on Biological Diversity was signed, establishing a framework by which public agencies and locally elected leaders could discuss and establish collaborative conservation planning and management programs on a bioregional and local scale.

As a part of these efforts, several agencies are developing a way to deal more effectively with vernal pool stewardship. The attached framework agreement describes a process for cooperating in the conservation of vernal pools, while at the same time ensuring that needed economic development proceeds in a timely manner. As stated in the agreement's Mission Statement, the cooperating agencies "intend to engage interested parties in this decision- making process, and to support local planning efforts and permanent community-based stewardship of vernal pool ecosystems."

This agreement provides the framework for future interim and long-term management of vernal pool ecosystems. The cooperating agencies understand that the participation of local governments and interested publics is vital to the successful implementation of the agreement "on-the-ground." Consequently, the first priority is to seek your involvement in developing local strategies for vernal pool conservation and streamlined permitting for conversion of vernal pool habitats.

The agencies also realize that conservation strategies should be tailored to the specific needs of the different regions of the state and that local governments, local publics, and local representatives of the signatory agencies are in the best position to develop these strategies. The attached agreement is not intended to set a rigid strategy that must be applied in exactly the same way to every region; rather, it sets broad guidelines within which these local groups will interact to develop a strategy, that makes the most sense within their particular region.

We invite you to become involved in local efforts to implement the goals of the agreement. We ask that you review the agreement and provide comments on: 1) how implementation of the agreement can be tailored to fit your particular region, and 2) the most appropriate process for gaining local involvement to achieve the agreement's goals.

For a copy of the agreement, please contact Maziar Movassaghi of the State of California's Resources Agency at 916/653-5656 or Donna Hummel of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 916/979-2710.

If you have suggestions for engaging stakeholders so that local and regional concerns can be addressed by implementing the framework agreement, please write or call:

    Tim Vendlinski
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (WTR-3)
    75 Hawthorne Street
    San Francisco, California 94105-3901
    E-mail: vendlinski.tim@epamail.epa.gov
    Phone: (415) 972-3464

We believe that the conservation of California's important vernal pool resource is compatible with social and economic development and that, with your help, both can proceed in a more efficient manner.


FRAMEWORK AGREEMENT

Interagency Vernal Pool Stewardship Initiative

11 November 1996


Preamble


California is one of the most biologically diverse regions on Earth. Vernal pool ecosystems -- occurring across the Central Valley landscape, within the Sierra Nevada foothills, upon tabletop mountains, upon raised marine terraces and bluffs of coastal Southern California, upon Santa Rosa Plateau, and in some valleys of the Coast Range -- are unique to the State and represent irreplaceable elements of our natural heritage. The signatory agencies to this Agreement recognize the need for public/private partnerships in coordinating resource management activities to safeguard these biological resources while addressing social and economic concerns and commit to providing ample opportunities for public involvement throughout the process.

Purpose

This interagency Framework Agreement will serve as the basis for a comprehensive ecosystem-based approach to the conservation and management of California's vernal pool ecosystems that is coordinated, cooperative, and consistent.

Mission Statement

To ensure the protection of California's vernal pool ecosystems, both for their intrinsic value and for future generations, we agree to integrate our regulatory and planning activities to address economic concerns, and to promote an ecosystem management approach that is feasible, flexible, and cost-effective. We intend to engage interested parties in this decision-making process, and to support local planning efforts and permanent community-based stewardship of vernal pool ecosystems.

Goals

Our common goals for entering into this Framework Agreement are to:

® Minimize the loss, fragmentation, and degradation of vernal pool habitats in California; and to promote the recovery of vernal pool ecosystems.

® Secure protection of natural areas that represent the diversity of vernal pool ecosystems.

® Foster a comprehensive ecosystem-based approach to protect vernal pool ecosystems while permitting necessary economic development.

® Increase the effectiveness and consistency of our actions and provide a higher degree of certainty for applicants and affected communities.

® Continue to develop reliable data on the status of remaining vernal pool habitats and their associated ecosystem functions.

® Build partnerships with federal, state, and local agencies; landowners; and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to maximize public awareness of vernal pool functions, and to ensure permanent community-based stewardship of vernal pool ecosystems.

® Manage vernal pool ecosystems to alleviate the need to list species associated with these ecosystems under the federal and state Endangered Species Acts (ESAs), and to recover currently listed vernal pool plant and animal species to the point where protected status is not required under the federal and state ESAs.

Roles and Responsibilities

Federal

The U.S. Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bureau of Land Management; the U.S. Department of the Army's Corps of Engineers; the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Forest Service; and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency all have statutory responsibilities for protecting wetlands and water quality under the Clean Water Act and the Food Security Act (Swampbuster provision), and conserving species under the Endangered Species Act.

State

The California Resources Agency oversees the State's activities relating to the conservation, management, and enhancement of natural and cultural resources, and oversees the administration of the California Environmental Quality Act. Within the Resources Agency, the Department of Fish and Game has primary responsibility for the stewardship of flora and fauna, and the management of recreational and commercial harvests of fish and wildlife. Within the California Environmental Protection Agency, the State Water Resources Control Board and the nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards are responsible for setting water quality standards and protecting water quality. The California Department of Food and Agriculture is responsible for developing and implementing sound agricultural policies and programs.

Statutory Responsibilities and Interagency Agreements

The statutory authorities and interagency agreements serving as a basis for our management of vernal pool ecosystems include:

® The federal Endangered Species Act;

® The National Environmental Policy Act, §401 and §404 of the Clean Water Act, and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act;

® The Wetland Conservation provision (Swampbuster) of the Food Security Act;

® The California Environmental Quality Act, the California Endangered Species Act, the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act, Fish and Game Code, and the Native Plant Protection Act;

® The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): California's Coordinated Regional Strategy to Conserve Biological Diversity ("The Agreement on Biological Diversity") (September 1991);

® The Memorandum of Agreement Concerning the Delineation of Wetlands for Purposes of §404 of the Clean Water Act and Subtitle B of the Food Security Act (January 1994); and

® The Memorandum of Understanding between USDA (USFS); USDOD; USDOA (USACE); USDOC (NMFS); USDOI (BLM, BOM, BOR, FWS, MMS, NPS); USDOT (CG, FAA, FHA); USEPA on Implementation of the Endangered Species Act [94-SMU-058] (September 1994).

Agricultural Resources

Agriculture plays a pivotal role in preserving open space that is vital to the environment. Section 404(f) of the Clean Water Act and its implementing regulations exempt certain activities, including certain agricultural activities, from regulation under §404 of the Clean Water Act. Nothing in this Agreement shall be interpreted to expand, limit, or modify the scope of the exemptions provided under §404(f) and its implementing regulations or any other applicable federal or state law (including State Civil Code §3482.5).

Agreement

1. Commitment to an Interagency Process: We agree to participate in a consensus process to be known as the Interagency Vernal Pool Stewardship Initiative. This Initiative will include regular meetings of the Interagency Vernal Pool Assessment Team, and the Interagency Vernal Pool Policy Committee. Already, the Assessment Team is compiling a data base on the status of California's remaining vernal pool ecosystems. On a parallel track, the Policy Committee plans to integrate scientific, regulatory, and planning information to advance the conservation of vernal pool ecosystems. At a minimum, membership in the Policy Committee shall include one permanent representative from each signatory agency.

2. Principles for Stewardship: We agree to apply the following principles while implementing this Framework Agreement:

Science: We will coordinate research activities and the review of scientific studies to maximize the use of our limited resources. Also, we will incorporate the best available scientific information into our decision-making processes.

Partnerships: We will encourage all interested parties to participate in setting and achieving conservation goals. Toward this end, we agree to provide ample opportunity for public participation and to solicit public input on all matters pertaining to this agreement, including work undertaken by the Assessment Team, preparation of Interim Guidance, and preparation of the Long-term Strategy.

Program Effectiveness: We will apply regulatory and non-regulatory approaches, promote interagency cooperation, and facilitate cross-program teamwork.

3. Definitions: We agree to develop a common set of definitions for terms relevant to this Agreement. Such terms include, but are not limited to, "vernal pool", "vernal pool complex", and "vernal pool habitat."

4. Interim Guidance: While we work toward developing and ratifying a Long-term Strategy for conservation of vernal pool ecosystems, we will continue to handle pending regulatory actions on a case by case basis; these actions will not be suspended. However, to provide a transition from the case-by-case approach to a comprehensive approach, the Policy Committee will develop Interim Guidance. The Guidance should contribute to resolving issues over ongoing permit and enforcement cases, address concerns with proposed projects "in the pipeline", and provide opportunities for conflict resolution among interested parties. Furthermore, the Guidance should increase certainty and consistency for permit applicants, while securing the conservation of vernal pool resources.

At a minimum, work products will include: (i) guidance for the establishment of conservation and mitigation banks, and (ii) a description of the methodology for development of mitigation strategies. The Guidance will be finalized within 120-days of the effective date of this Framework Agreement, and will go into effect once approved by all appropriate agency representatives.

5. Long-term Strategy: We agree that the Policy Committee shall develop programmatic guidelines and recommend procedures for achieving the following goals of a Long-term Strategy for the recovery and conservation of vernal pool ecosystems:

Identify large, intact, and functioning vernal pool complexes.

Safeguard viable complexes of habitat that represent all known vernal pool ecosystems.

Protect and manage vernal pool functions within ecosystems, including their watersheds.

Develop incentives and options for mitigation to promote conservation of vernal pool ecosystems.

Establish a statewide network of vernal pool conservation areas; funds from public and private partnerships will be applied to support acquisition, long-term research, monitoring, and management activities at these areas.

Cooperate on the development and implementation of recovery plans and habitat conservation plans (HCPs).

Provide uniform guidance to federal, state, and local agencies having a role in the processing of permit applications affecting vernal pool resources.

Develop appropriate regulatory and non-regulatory strategies to implement the uniform guidance.

6. Planning: Our agencies agree to increase integration of the following planning efforts to enhance the effectiveness and consistency of our actions, provide certainty for applicants and affected communities, and strengthen our outreach and technical assistance to local communities:

Habitat Conservation Plans: Under §10 of the federal Endangered Species Act, private (i.e. non-federal) entities may receive a permit for incidental "take" of listed species if a HCP is prepared and approved. HCPs are intended to conserve listed species and their habitats, and to provide economic certainty for interested parties. HCPs can range in size from an individual parcel to a geographic region.

Multi-Species Recovery Plan: Pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act, USFWS is preparing Vernal Pool Multi-Species Recovery Plans designed to prevent further decline of listed species and degradation of vernal pool habitats, and to promote their recovery. At the request of USFWS, our agencies will assist with the preparation of the Recovery Plan.

Regional or Programmatic General Permits: Under §404 of the federal Clean Water Act, the Corps of Engineers is authorized to prepare Regional General Permits (RGPs) to allow for the development of specific geographic regions. With regard to vernal pools, RGPs are intended to improve speed and consistency of the §404 permitting process where: (i) there are low concentrations of wetland and vernal pool complexes; (ii) the pools occur in small scattered pockets; (iii) the avoidance of such areas would result in small preserves with a low probability of long-term survival and value; (iv) in cases of Programmatic General Permits, impacts to vernal pools are regulated through a third party instrument; or (v) impacts to wetland losses are individually or cumulatively minimal.

Multi-Species Coordinated Planning Efforts: Pursuant to the California Biodiversity Agreement, several federal and state agencies are working with local governments to develop and implement large, comprehensive, coordinated management plans throughout the State. These plans are designed to protect the habitat of a myriad of plants and animals while maintaining the social stability and economic prosperity of local communities. Our agencies will strive to actively participate in these efforts -- providing vernal pool habitat data as needed and the technical expertise necessary to assure these habitats are adequately addressed.

Partnerships for Local Planning: Our agencies will continue to improve our existing partnerships with local communities by assisting them with watershed and ecosystem planning. Outreach efforts include direct communication with local governments, landowners, and other interested parties; co-facilitation of meetings to advance planning efforts; providing technical data on vernal pool resources for county General Plans; fostering landowner assistance programs and public/private partnerships, and promoting public education.

Clarification

Nothing in this Framework Agreement should be construed to constrain the normal and on-going activities of each agency as defined by their current regulations, policies, and statutory responsibilities. Furthermore, this Agreement is not intended to expand or contract the regulatory authority of any signatory agency or any other public agency. All existing regulatory matters of jurisdiction and exemptions from such jurisdiction under all federal and state laws and regulations remain in full force and effect.

Modification/Termination

This Framework Agreement may be modified upon approval of all signatories. Modification may be proposed by one or more signatory agency. Proposals for modification will be circulated to all signatory agencies and interested members of the public for a 30-day period of review. Approval will be indicated by written acceptance. Any signatory agency may terminate participation in this Agreement upon written notice to all other signatory agents.

1 USFWS's Carlsbad Field Office has drafted a Recovery Plan for four Southern California vernal pool plants and the Riverside fairy shrimp.




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