By Deb Murphy

Inyo County’s Supervisors weren’t pleased with the Final Rule from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identifying more than 1.8 million acres as critical habitat for endangered amphibians.

While the rule is the end of the public process, the Planning Department staff was asked to draft a letter thanking the Service for removing specific areas (Rock Creek, Rock Creek Lake, Grass Lake, Lamarck lakes and creek and South Lake) but still expressing concerns on the economic impact to the county and lakes included in the mapping that did not provide appropriate habitat. The draft letter will also request continued monitoring.

The next shoe to drop will be the Service’s management plan for the designated areas.

Many of the threats to the yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toad have been addressed over the past 10 years.

Drought conditions have limited grazing on Coyote Flats, roughly 17-percent of the grazing land is still included in the plan. The rule indicates non-native predators are a major threat but California agencies have already stopped stocking high-elevation lakes and begun removing non-native predators.

The Forest Service will go through a consultation process with the Service on activities occurring in critical habitat, according to an e-mail from Inyo National Forest Public Information Officer Debra Schweizer. “But the protections we have in place will continue and be a part of that consultation process. The designation does not mean we would expand our removal of non-native trout species.”

According to Associate Planner Michael Draper, the rule puts the economic impact to the county at $760,000 to $1.7 million. An analysis by Gruen Gruen and Associates completed in 2014 pegs that number at a maximum of $17 million.

The analysis identifies fishing as the primary recreational activity, according to a survey of 22 area businesses. If recreational expenditures are eliminated or cut by 50-percent, the annual impact could be $11.6 million or $5.8 million in labor income and output, respectively with a loss of 113 to 56 jobs.

However, a table of visitor activity and expenditures compiled as part of the Inyo National Forest Travel Management Plan environmental documents included in Gruen Gruen and Associates analysis tells a different story.

Hiking and walking accounted for 18.8-percent of visitor activities, viewing natural features came in at 15.8 percent and fishing a close third at 11 percent. Viewers of natural features spent $2.6 million; walkers and hikers, $2.56 million and anglers, $2.36 million.


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