BILL ANALYSIS Ó Senate Appropriations Committee Fiscal Summary Senator Kevin de León, Chair AB 1097 (Nestande) - Fish and Game commission: Mirage Trail. Amended: August 13, 2013 Policy Vote: NR&W 9-0 Urgency: No Mandate: No Hearing Date: August 19, 2013 Consultant: Marie Liu This bill meets the criteria for referral to the Suspense File. Bill Summary: AB 1097 would specify that the Mirage Trail within the Magnesia Spring Ecological Reserve must be open to recreational hiking between the months of May to January if specified conditions are met. Fiscal Impact: Annual costs of $100,000 to $500,000 from the General Fund from 2014 to 2019 for an assessment of the impact of the open period on the Peninsular bighorn sheep. Background: Ecological reserves are established by the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) and are managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). Existing regulations allow DFW to restrict public entry to reserves to protect the wildlife, aquatic life, or habitat. The Magnesia Spring Ecological Reserve is located in the Northern Santa Rosa Mountains of the Coachella Valley above the cities of Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. The reserve was established in 1975 by the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) to consolidate a large area of critical habitat for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep. The reserve is under three different management plans, all of which have the purpose of managing the reserve to protect bighorn sheep and biological diversity. Existing regulations (14 CCR 630(b)(73)) prohibit entry, with limited exceptions, to the Magnesia Spring ecological reserve between January 1 to September 30 except on a designated trail. Existing law requires that the Mirage Trail be open nine months of the year if local public agencies or other entities will assume complete financial responsibility for fencing to dissuade hikers from leaving the trail and signage and education materials to educate hikers about bighorn sheep. These AB 1097 (Nestande) Page 1 provisions sunset on January 1, 2018. Proposed Law: This bill would specify that the nine month open period on the Mirage Trail be from May to January. This bill would also require the FGC to assess whether the nine-month schedule has any significant environmental impacts on the bighorn sheep. Related Legislation: AB 880 (Nestande) Chapter 5277/2012 required that the Mirage Trial be open for nine months of the year provided specified conditions were met. Staff Comments: Under existing law, the FGC would have to undergo a CEQA analysis to determine which nine months the Mirage Trial should be open to recreational hiking. This bill would remove FGC's discretion in determining the open season, thereby no longer subjecting the action to CEQA. However, while there would no longer be costs incurred to do a full CEQA analysis, FGC would need to make an assessment of the impact of the open season on bighorn sheep pursuant to this bill. The cost estimate of this assessment is dependent on the scope of the assessment as well as whether the study is done by the DFW or it is contracted out. Contract costs are estimated to be approximately $100,000 per year while DFW's costs would be closer to $500,000 a relatively involved study. DFW believes that these costs would be borne by the General Fund as this study would not be an allowable use of the Fish and Game Preservation Fund.