SANTA ROSA - Following a settlement in May with the Airzona-based Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is re-proposing a huge swath of 74,223 acres of the Santa Rosa Plain as critical habitat for the California tiger salamander, opening a 60-day public comment period.

Until completion of the rule-making process, the service will continue to review projects under a programmatic biological opinion issued by the service with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2007. The document simplifies Endangered Species Act consultation for projects on the Santa Rosa Plain and is consistent with the conservation strategy completed by local agencies in December 2005.

The wildlife service suspended the critical habitat designation pending the implementation of this "cooperative conservation" strategy for protecting the salamander and a few protected plants in central Sonoma County while allowing some construction in the area to continue, but last June cash-strapped local governments halted implementation of the strategy.

According to the settlement, the service must complete its rule-making by July 1, 2011, but it does not specify the amount of land that must be designated in the final action.

The proposed critical habitat is the same area proposed in 2005, bounded by the Laguna de Santa Rosa in the west, Windsor Creek on the north, on the south by Skillman Road northwest of Petaluma and by the hills east of Santa Rosa.