Habitat protections scaled back for San Bernardino kangaroo rat
Federal wildlife officials will greatly scale back critical habitat lands for the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat, a floodplain dwelling rodent found only in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a rule published Friday, will remove 26,516 acres or about three-fourths of existing critical habitat designations for the animal. It becomes effective Nov. 17.
The remaining 7,779 acres includes portions of Santa Ana River, Lytle, Cable and Cajon Creek washes in San Bernardino County; and parts of Bautista Creek east of Temecula and the San Jacinto River wash in Riverside County.The new areas may be smaller, but they are better focused on land most needed for the animals to thrive, said Jane Hendron, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Carlsbad.
"We had better mapping and we focused on the core population of the species," Hendron said by telephone.
The smaller areas also have the plants and soils that are associated with the species, she said.
But one environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, is already considering legal action, arguing more protections are needed for the animal's population to recover to the point where it would no longer be endangered, said Ileene Anderson, a Los Angeles-based biologist for the group.
"They are just keeping the species teetering at the brink of extinction," Anderson said.
Hendron said critical habitat designations don't have to include all land inhabited by the species.
In these critical habitat areas, no one can do a project involving federal money or federal land without first consulting with Fish and Wildlife Services to be sure the project doesn't harm the species. She said that animals will still be protected even outside of the designated habitat by other rules such as requirements for permits that review the issue of unintentional killing of endangered species..
Carlos Rodriguez, deputy executive of the Baldy View chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California, said he was glad see a smaller critical habitat designation.
"When the government eases up on existing restrictions, it's good news ... ," he said. "We don't want to see the homeowner become an endangered species."
A subspecies of Merriam's kangaroo rat, the San Bernardino kangaroo rat has large hind legs and feet. It prefers alluvial sands near creeks and washes. It heads to higher ground during rainstorms to avoid high water, Hendron said.
Anderson added these animals help plant life by spreading seeds in their droppings and by storing seeds in caches where the uneaten ones sprout.
Much of the species' historic habitat has been fragmented and degraded by development, sand and gravel mining, off-road vehicle use, and by construction of concrete flood channels.© 2008 Press-Enterprise Company
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