These are the instructions provided to CDFW personnel for guidance on the CEQA compliance procedures for documentation of CDFW, Fish and Game Commission, or Wildlife Conservation Board projects. These procedures are to be used in conjunction with the CEQA statutes and Guidelines in the Public Resources Code (Sections 21000 - 21178) and the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Chapter 3 (Sections 15000 - 15387). Regulations for CDFW's implementation of CEQA and the Guidelines are found in Title 14, Chapter 4, beginning with Section 750.
A "project" (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15378) is an action which may result in a physical change in the environment. Continuing administrative and maintenance activities such as purchases of supplies, personnel actions, and general policy making are not considered projects under CEQA.
Projects which are limited to "planning and feasibility studies", "Ministerial actions", or are "categorically exempt" are exempt from preparing Negative Declarations and Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) for public review and comment prior to their adoption by CDFW.
Certain state regulatory programs are also exempt from CEQA in that a Negative Declaration or an EIR doesn't have to be prepared because those programs have been certified by the Secretary of Resources as meeting the requirements of CEQA. They are however, still required to prepare a functionally equivalent or substitute document that must meet certain CEQA requirements. The Fish and Game Commission's regulatory program and CDFW's program for adoption of regulations are state certified regulatory programs which go through a separate "environmental process" explained at the end of these instructions. A list of other Certified State Regulatory Programs, which include programs of the State Board of Forestry, California Coastal Commission, California Energy Commission, and the State Water Resources Control Board, can be found under CEQA Guidelines Section 15251.
A statewide CEQA tracking system will be used and maintained by headquarters and the regions. This tracking system allows regions and headquarters to input information about the level of document review being accomplished by CDFW on a regional and statewide basis and allows effective evaluation of our CEQA review program. CDFW plans to integrate its database tracking systems for CEQA, 1600, CESA permitting, and other programs so that all are linked into a common system that can perform higher level analyses.
The decision to prepare an EIR will be made either during preliminary review or at the conclusion of the Initial Study. An EIR shall be prepared if there is substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment. The determination of whether a project may have a significant effect on the environment calls for careful judgment, based to the extent possible on scientific and factual data. In cases where it is not clear whether there is substantial evidence that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, an EIR shall be prepared when there is serious public controversy concerning the environmental effect of a project (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15064).
When any of the following conditions occur the lead agency shall find that a project may have a significant effect on the environment which will require a Mandatory Finding of Significance. Such a finding shall require an EIR to be prepared (CEQA Guidelines Section 15065):
- When a project has the potential to substantially degrade the quality of the environment, substantially reduce the habitat of a fish or wildlife species, cause a fish or wildlife population to drop below self-sustaining levels, threaten to eliminate a plant or animal community, reduce the number or restrict the range of an endangered, rare or threatened species, or eliminate important examples of the major periods of California history or prehistory;
- When a project has the potential to achieve short-term goals to the disadvantage of long-term environmental goals;
- When a project has possible environmental effects which are individually limited but cumulatively considerable;
- When the environmental effects of a project will cause substantial adverse effects on human beings, either directly or indirectly.
CEQA provides protection not only for State-listed or Federally-listed species, but also for any species that can be shown to meet the criteria for listing (CEQA Guidelines Section 15380). Species that meet these criteria are often considered species of special concern by the Department. This includes some animals designated as Species of Special Concern (SSC) (see Operations Manual Section 1198.3) by the Department, and some plants (see Operations Manual Section 1198.4).
The Department has prepared EIRs for such projects as the Use of Rotenone for Fisheries Management and for wildlife area management plans. The general process for the preparation and adoption of an EIR is described in the CEQA Guidelines in Sections 15080 - 15112. The contents of an EIR are described in CEQA Guidelines Sections 15120 - 15132. EIR preparation consists of the following basic steps:
- Decision to prepare an EIR (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15065 and 15081).
- Early consultation (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15083).
- Send Notice of Preparation to the SCH with a distribution list (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15082).
- Prepare Draft EIR and send 15 copies with Notice of Completion to SCH for filing as stated in CEQA Guidelines, Section 15085. That starts the 45 day public review period (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15105).
- As with a Negative Declaration, the lead agency must provide public notice of its intent to adopt a draft EIR prior to making that determination (PRC Section 21092, and CEQA Guidelines, Section 15087).
- Respond to comments received (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15088).
- Prepare and certify Final EIR (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15089_15090).
- Make decision to approve or disapprove the project (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15092).
- File Notice of Determination (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15094).
Early consultation is mandatory with responsible and trustee agencies and voluntary with any person or organization which may be concerned with the environmental effects of a proposed project. It provides an opportunity to resolve many potential problems that could arise in more serious form later in the review process. The consultations should occur as early in the review process as feasible to better define areas of concern and to focus the EIR on these problems (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15082_15083).
Procedure for Early Consultation
- The author of the EIR should consult with the appropriate personnel in the region or branch that is primarily involved with the proposed project as well as coordinate with other Regions, Branches, and Divisions when appropriate. HCPB should be contacted for advice and assistance on procedure and policy issues.
- The contents of an EIR are specified beginning with Section 15120 of the CEQA Guidelines.
- When early consultation and the document are completed, the EIR is sent to the Regional Manager (or Branch Chief for Headquarters projects) for approval and signature. Once it is signed, the lead unit prepares 17 copies for transmittal to the State Clearinghouse (SCH) and additional copies for other involved units of the Department. The lead unit files 15 copies of the proposed EIR with the SCH to provide an opportunity for federal, State, and local agencies, and members of the public to respond to the findings. The public review period shall be at least 45 days to provide interested parties with sufficient time to respond to the proposed finding before the EIR is approved. The lead unit will have the two additional copies date-stamped by the SCH. One stamped copy is delivered to HCPB, and the appropriate region or branch keeps the other stamped copy for the record.
- The lead unit provides public notice of the intent to adopt a draft EIR per CEQA Guidelines, Section 15087. The minimum review period between release of the Draft EIR and final date for receipt of comments is 45 days, unless a shorter date is approved by the SCH (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15105 and 15111).
- The Draft EIR shall be included as part of the review and approval process whenever a public hearing is held on the project. Such public hearings are not held until at least 45 days after release of the Draft EIR for review and comment.
- The project lead unit evaluates the significance of comments received on the Draft EIR and respond in the Final EIR to those comments found to raise significant environmental issues.
- The Final EIR is presented to the Regional Manager (or Branch Chief for Headquarters projects) for certification (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15092).
- The Department makes a decision following certification whether to proceed with the project.
- Within 5 days after the decision on the project, the Department's lead unit files a Notice of Determination and record of project decision (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15094) and when appropriate, a Statement of Overriding Considerations (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15093).
(or Mitigated Negative Declaration)
A Negative Declaration shall be prepared for a project which the Department determines from an Initial Study will not have a significant effect. Or, a Mitigated Negative Declaration shall be prepared if the Initial Study identified potentially significant effects, but revisions in the project or mitigation measures to avoid or reduce the effects to a point where no significant effects would occur are agreed to by the Department before the negative declaration and initial study are released for public review (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15070).
While preparing a Negative Declaration or Mitigated Negative Declaration, the Department shall consult internally and with all public agencies which have discretionary approval over the project. This informal consultation shall be accomplished by the lead unit with other appropriate Department units and State, Federal, and local agencies (CEQA Guidelines, Section15381).
The Negative Declaration is a document which consists of a brief project description, the location of the project, a description of mitigation measures (if any) included in the project to avoid potentially significant effects, an Initial Study, and a formal finding stating that the project will not have a significant adverse effect (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15071). If the Initial Study leads to the finding that a significant adverse effect may occur, then an EIR must be prepared.
The Initial Study facilitates: (1) identification of environmental impacts; (2) an assessment of environmental impact early in project design; (3) project modifications to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts; and (4) factual documentation for a finding, if appropriate, that the project will not have a significant adverse effect on the environment (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15063).
The Guidelines do not specify the precise format for our Initial Study. However, the Initial Study must contain the following specific elements in written form: (1) a description of the project, including its location; (2) the environmental setting; (3) environmental effects by use of a check list, (4) a commitment to mitigate adverse effects, if any, to insignificance; (5) an examination of whether the project is compatible with existing zoning and plans; and (6) the name of the person or persons who prepared or participated in the Initial Study (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15063(d) and Appendix G).
Maps, photos, drawings, or explanatory material should be attached to provide a better understanding of the project. The Initial Study must be in sufficient detail to describe adequately the probable effect of the project on the affected area.
Examples of projects for which Negative Declarations have been prepared are: various wildlife area management plans, Battle Creek Wildlife Area Wetland Development, Knights Ferry Gravel Replenishment, Mad River Hatchery Weir Replacement, San Emigdio Canyon Tule Elk Reintroduction, Bear Creek Meadow Restoration for Thousand Springs Ranch, and Carlsbad Artificial Ocean Reef.
Procedures for Negative Declarations
During the Initial Study, the lead unit for the Department project should consult informally with Branches, Divisions, and Regions as appropriate. HCPB should be contacted for assistance regarding questions of procedure and policy. The CESA internal consultation should take place at this point if it has not already begun. See CESA Coordination in section 1178.6.
When early consultation and the negative declaration are completed, they are sent to the Regional Manager (or Branch Chief for Headquarters Projects) for approval and signature. Once the negative declaration is signed, the lead unit prepares 17 copies for transmittal to the State Clearinghouse (SCH) and additional copies for other involved units of the Department. The lead unit files 15 copies of the proposed Negative Declaration with the SCH to provide an opportunity for Federal, State, and local agencies, and members of the public to respond to the findings. The public review period shall be at least 30 days to provide interested parties with sufficient time to respond to the proposed finding before the Negative Declaration is approved (CEQA Guidelines, Sections15072-15073). The lead unit has the two additional copies date-stamped by the SCH. One stamped copy is delivered to HCPB, and the Region (or Headquarters unit) keeps the other stamped copy for the record.
Notice of Intent to Adopt a Negative Declaration or Mitigated Negative Declaration
The lead unit is responsible for providing public notice that a proposed Negative Declaration has been prepared and is out for public review (PRC, Section 21092). Contents of the notice are specified in CEQA Guidelines, Section 15072(f). All organizations and individuals who have previously requested such notice shall be notified of the proposed Negative Declaration, and notice shall also be given by at least one of the following procedures:
- Publication at least once in a newspaper of general circulation in the area affected by the proposed project
- Posting of the notice on and off-site in the area where the project is to be located.
- Direct mailing to owners of property contiguous to the project.
Any public or private parties who may be affected by the project should be notified. At the end of the 30-day public review period, prior to approving the project, the Department shall consider the proposed Negative Declaration together with any comments received during the public review process and shall adopt the Negative Declaration (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15074).
Notice of Determination
After deciding to carry out or approve a project, the Department files a Notice of Determination with SCH. The filing of the Notice of Determination with SCH starts a 30-day statute of limitations on court challenges to approval under CEQA (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15075). At the time of filing, the lead unit must have a copy of the Notice of Determination, the proposed Negative Declaration, and all comments with the Department's responses, on file and available to the public.
Categorically Exempt Projects are those which fall within one of many classes of projects which have been determined by the Secretary for Resources to not have significant environmental effects (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15354).
These exemptions do not apply to projects if: (1) the project or the project's location may impact an environmental resource of hazardous or critical concern, including threatened or endangered species; (2) the cumulative impact of successive projects of the same type in the same place over time is significant; or (3) there is reasonable possibility that the activity will have a significant effect on the environmental due to unusual circumstances (CEQA Guidelines, Section15300.2).
Classes of projects currently exempted under CEQA are described beginning with Section 15301 of CEQA Guidelines. Examples of CDFW activities which often fall within these classes are described in Title 14, Chapter 4, Section 757.
For a categorically exempt project, CDFW shall prepare a Notice of Categorical Exemption (CE). This document is a notice to other agencies and the public of CDFW's decision that the project is exempt, and no public review period is required. It is normally no more than a few pages in length. (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15062; a form for this notice is found in CEQA Guidelines, Appendix E). The region is responsible for preparing and filing the CE and shall advise headquarters of its preparation.
A project limited to planning or as a feasibility study for possible future actions not yet approved, adopted, or funded does not require preparation of a Negative Declaration or an EIR, but does require "in-house" consideration of environmental effects of the project, unless the adoption of such a plan will have a legally binding effect on later activities. If that is the case, then the adoption of the plan requires CEQA documentation.
Examples which do not require preparation of an EIR or Negative Declaration include general statewide plans and guidelines or Wildlife Area Management Plans that are only conceptual and do not include specific projects or on-the-ground work. Some examples that do require preparation of Negative Declarations or EIRs include Fish and Wildlife Area Management Plans that contain specific projects, species introductions and plans, species range extension plans, and chemical treatments to remove fish or plant species.
Ministerial projects (CEQA Guidelines, Section 15369) are governmental decisions involving little or no personal judgment as to the wisdom or manner of carrying out the action. A ministerial decision is based upon fixed standards or objective measurements only. Ministerial Department activities include issuance of fishing and hunting licenses, stamps, and tags. Other projects may be determined to be ministerial; this determination shall be made by the Department on a case-by-case basis, considering the laws relevant to the project. As in planning and feasibility studies, the Department does not prepare CEQA documentation for ministerial projects.
CEQA Guidelines provide that certain regulatory programs of State agencies, certified by the Resources Agency, are not required to prepare Negative Declarations or EIRs if the Resources Agency has found that the program meets certain criteria. However, agencies that implement certified regulatory programs must still provide a "substitute document" or functionally equivalent document, continue to comply with CEQA's goals and policies, provide public review of the substitute document, respond to comments, and adopt CEQA findings (CEQA Guidelines Sections 15250 - 15253).
The Regulatory Program of the Fish and Game Commission (setting hunting and fishing seasons, etc.), pursuant to the Fish and Game Code, has been certified as meeting the requirements of CEQA. The Fish and Game Commission has established an "Environmental Process" including format standards and a check list for the regulation activities. The Regulation Documentation Procedure is explained in Title 14 CCR, 781.5. Commission staff should be consulted for detailed instructions. Documents for internal review should be prepared sufficiently in advance to allow for a minimum of 14 days for review prior to approval.
A certified program remains subject to other provisions of CEQA, including the policy of avoiding significant adverse effects on the environment.
A functionally equivalent document for an EIR or Negative Declaration in a certified program shall include: (1) a project description and either, (2) alternatives and mitigation measures to avoid or reduce significant effects; or (3) a statement that the project would not have any significant effect. This conclusion shall be supported by evidence (CEQA Guidelines Section 15252).