Environmental groups plan lawsuit over kangaroo rat habitat slashing
Three environmental groups have announced they intend to sue a federal agency for slashing critical habitat protection for the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat.
"The whole point of critical habitat is to recover the species to viable population levels," said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We just felt it's an outrage that the Bush administration would make these substantial cuts that have no basis in science."
The Center for Biological Diversity, the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley sent a letter notifying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday that they intend to file the lawsuit.
The groups claim that the proposed habitat reduction violates the Endangered Species Act because not enough land is being designated to conserve the kangaroo rat population, according to lawsuit documents. The groups also contend that land being managed as conservation areas was improperly excluded from the habitat designation for the kangaroo rat.
In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed cutting the habitat set aside for the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat by two-thirds.
Under that proposal, the designated critical habitat for the kangaroo rat was reduced from more than 33,000 acres to approximately 10,500 acres in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, according to a report by the federal agency.
In the final designation, however, the agency cut the critical habitat designation even more, to 7,779 acres, Anderson said.
"At this point, there's not much we can say," said Jane Hendron, spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Carlsbad. "We have yet to receive a copy of the groups' intent to sue."
Hendron said the area of critical habitat was changed due to refined mapping techniques and because the agency focused on the core populations of species and the areas with physical and biological features that the kangaroo rat requires to fulfill its life cycle.
The sandy-colored rodent makes its home in floodplains, burrowing along many of the creeks and riverbeds that run through San Bernardino County. Unlike most kangaroo rats, it has four toes, not five, on its hind feet. Its numbers have been shrinking as more and more of its habitat has been developed.
One key area omitted from the habitat designation is the Etiwanda Fan, a floodplain spanning the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, Anderson said.
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