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San Bernardino kangaroo rat
San Bernardino Sun, January 11, 2011

Judge ups protected turf for kangaroo rat
By Michael J. Sorba

A federal judge's ruling has increased critical habitat area for the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat from about 8,000 acres to over 33,000.

Wildlife advocates praised the decision and say it will do much to help the small mammal recover its numbers so it might one day be taken off the endangered species list.

"The latest court ruling gives this rare species a better chance at survival," said Ileen Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

On Monday in Riverside, U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson overruled a 2008 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that reduced critical kangaroo rat habitat from 33,290 acres to 7,779, a center news release says.

It's unclear what specific impacts the ruling will have on areas surrounding the habitat, but generally obtaining permits and clearance for economic or other types of development in critical habitat area is a costly, lengthy process.

"You can't fight it," said Highland Councilman Sam Racadio. "It's the law and you just have to work within the process."

The Wildlife Service is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the the Endangered Species Act, said Jane Hendron, spokeswoman for the agency's Carlsbad office.

Development is not prohibited in critical habitat areas, but developers or any other entity building a project in such an area is required to mitigate impacts to the endangered species living there, said Hendron.

This usually includes purchasing alternate habitat land and brings long delays and significant added costs for development, Racadio said.

Mitigation costs for the kangaroo rat added about $650,000 to the Greenspot Road bridge project that was completed several years ago, Racadio said.

New bridges to replace the Boulder Avenue bridge over City Creek and the Greenspot Road bridge traversing the Santa Ana River are both slated to be built in critical habitat areas, said Dennis Barton, Highland's assistant public works director.

Combined mitigation costs for both projects are estimated at $2.4million, Barton said.

Obtaining clearance to build from the Wildlife Service can sometimes take years, Racadio said.

Mike Burrows, assistant director of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, said area south of airport's main runways is kangaroo rat habitat.

It's unclear what impact, if any, Monday's decision will have on the airport and its long-term expansion plans, Burrows said.

"We don't know full impacts of it at this point or whether it pertains to the habitat proximate to our airport or not," he said. "This is one of those issues that we always have to monitor and track as best we can, but we're not anticipating any major changes."

In 2002, the Wildlife Service set critical habitat for the animal at 33,290 acres in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, said Hendron.

That decision was challenged by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento-based legal organization that advocates for a balanced approach to environmental protection, the foundation's website says.

The foundation was successful and the habitat area was reduced in 2008, but that decision has been successfully challenged by the center after Monday's ruling.

The kangaroo rat is not a rat, but it resembles one and hops on large hind legs, hence its name, the center news release said.

It was more widespread, but its habitat has been a prime target of development so it's been relegated to local flood plains such as the Santa Ana and San Jacinto rivers and Lytle Creek, the release said.

Copyright ©2011 Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton