Wednesday, January 23, 2013

San Bernadino Kangaroo Rat Habitat at Risk

This is a guest post from Dan Silver, MD. Chief Executive Officer, Endangered Habitats League. It's part of a series around the release of the report Water Woes: How dams, diversions, dirty water and droughts put America’s wildlife at risk. 
 
San Bernadino kangaroo rat
Living adjacent to inland creeks and washes, the San Bernardino kangaroo rat (SBKR) well represents one of the most depleted of Southern California’s natural communities. But with 96% of its habitat already gone, the remaining 4% irretrievably altered by dams and water diversion, and only three tenuous populations remaining, one would think that today’s focus would be on restoration and habitat expansion. Not so. Instead, we are fighting to stop proposals for massive additional loss of occupied habitat. 

The situation is relatively better in Riverside County, where a comprehensive “multiple species” plan was adopted in 2003 that sets conservation goals for the species and provides a framework for management actions. This plan is a “Habitat Conservation Plan” under the federal Endangered Species Act and a “Natural Community Conservation Plan” under State law. While some limited, additional “take” of SBKR is anticipated, there is nevertheless a positive framework to work within. For example, when a water district that was not a participant in the plan proposed significant take of SBKR along the San Jacinto River to facilitate groundwater recharge, integration of conservation actions into the larger framework provided a basis for problem solving. Extensive land protection plus an innovative translocation program into suitable but unoccupied habitat will both be implemented. 

But in neighboring San Bernardino County, which has no comprehensive habitat plan, Endangered Habitats League and other groups have been forced to litigate on a project-by-project basis. We are now fighting a disastrous housing development––sited in a floodplain––that could lead to the loss of one of the three remaining populations, that of Lytle and Cajon Creeks. In the case of this project, we believe that a substantial redesign of the project that protects the SBKR is feasible, but the responsible federal and state agencies will need to take an analysis of alternatives very seriously. Encouraging though, is that a new visioning process undertaken by the County of San Bernardino identified a multiple species plan as a goal. This would help the SBKR and the many other endangered species in the region. If you would like to support Endangered Habitats League’s efforts, please go to www.ehleague.org.
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Learn more about threats facing San Bernadino kangaroo rats and California's coastal sage brush ecosystem at www.waterwoes.org.