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For Immediate Release, November 12, 2008

Contact: 

Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943 (office)
Dave Goodward, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, (909) 783-2417

Conservation Groups Take First Step in Lawsuit Over Illegal Cuts in
Critical Habitat for the Endangered San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.— Conservationists today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s slashing of critical habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat. The Center for Biological Diversity, the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, and the Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley contend that the designation of only 7,779 acres of habitat – a 76 percent reduction from the 2002 designation of 33,295 acres – will drive this rare and declining animal closer to extinction.

The formal notice represents the latest action in a campaign by the Center to reverse politically tainted decisions concerning dozens of endangered species. The campaign was initiated August 28, 2007 with the filing of a notice of intent to sue over decisions involving 55 endangered species in 28 states and 8.7 million acres of critical habitat.

“Once again, the Bush administration has made a decision that completely disregards the science,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today it’s the San Bernardino kangaroo rat that is under assault, but this is just the latest of a long line of politically corrupt endangered species decisions coming out of this administration. We intend to go to the courts once again to force this lame-duck administration to follow the law.”

Just six years ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service had designated more than 33,295 acres in four different areas of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Identified as four separate units, habitat critical to the animal’s survival was acknowledged on the Etiwanda Fan, Lytle, and Cajon Creek areas, and the Santa Ana River and Wash in San Bernardino County, and on the San Jacinto River and Bautista Creek in Riverside County. In October 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eliminated thousands of acres of critical habitat where the pocket-sized kangaroo rat currently lives, prompting the litigation.

“Slashing over three-quarters of the San Bernardino kangaroo rat’s habitat is the antithesis of conservation for this declining species”, said Drew Feldmann, president of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. “No good scientific rationale explains why these areas have been cut from the designation — areas in which the kangaroo rat currently dwells.”

The San Bernardino kangaroo rat is not a true rat but a small, seed-eating animal related to squirrels. It hops around on large hind legs like a kangaroo, which is how it got its name. It lives along the banks of creeks and dry streams where it is helps to re-establish plants and habitat after floods by collecting and distributing seeds of local shrubs and flowers. It is found only in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, although it was much more widespread just 50 years ago. Its habitat has recently been prime real estate for big-box warehouse development, so it now survives mainly in sandy and gravelly washes that periodically flood.

“The San Bernardino kangaroo rate lives in flood-prone areas, so all of these areas should be protected – not just for this endangered mammal’s sake, but for our water supply and public safety,” Anderson said. “The science simply does not support this absurd designation.”

The Center’s efforts to reverse politically tainted decisions have already met with substantial success. In response to Center lawsuits, the Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to redo critical habitat designations for 15 species, including the California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, vermillion darter, Mississippi gopher frog, four New Mexico invertebrates, and seven plants from California, Oregon, and North Carolina. The newly proposed critical habitat designation for the California red-legged frog alone totals approximately 1.8 million acres — quadruple the area previously protected. In addition, the Service has agreed to reconsider listing the rare, highly imperiled Mexican garter snake as an endangered species.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org

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