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For Immediate Release, August 18, 2010

Contact: Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943 or 

Endangered Stephens' Kangaroo Rat to Keep Protection

LOS ANGELES— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to protect the imperiled and declining Stephens' kangaroo rat (Dipodomys stephensi) as an endangered species, as disclosed in a decision to be published tomorrow. The species is still jeopardized by development projects in Southern California that the Center for Biological Diversity is fighting.

“Habitat loss has only gotten worse for the Stephens' kangaroo rat,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service made the right call on keeping protections for this classically Southern California rare mammal. Now instead of keeping it teetering on the brink of extinction, they need to step up protections to recover the kangaroo rat.”

The Service drafted a recovery plan in 1997 for the species, but never finalized it. In the meantime, development pressure has continued to eliminate the kangaroo rat’s habitat. One habitat reserve on the old March Air Force base was proposed for development, but this decision is being challenged in court by the Center and others. In addition, another key linkage between wildlife reserves is being threatened by two different industrial development projects, both of which are also being challenged in court. If the linkage is severed, the viability of the reserves is highly compromised.

First protected in 1988, the Service’s review of the status of the Stephen’s kangaroo rat stems from a petition originally submitted by the Riverside County Farm Bureau in 1995. Of the 16 population areas inhabited by the diminutive animal, four are considered either “non-viable,” meaning the populations will eventually die out in those areas, or are not protected.

The Stephens’ kangaroo rat — not a true rat but a member of the heteromyid family, like all kangaroo rats — is a small, large-eyed, hopping mammal with powerful hind legs, found in open grasslands and coastal sage scrub habitats that are fast disappearing. The rat is uniquely adapted to the arid Southern California climate: It can meet all its water needs by consuming small seeds of native plants. This extraordinary little animal manufactures its own water through a highly efficient metabolic process. Like other small mammals, it’s essential to the larger web of life. Stephens’ k-rats spread seed, keep the land open and sparsely vegetated, and create burrows that other small animals use to escape the heat and cold above ground. The species is found nowhere in the world but western Riverside County and a small portion of northern San Diego County.

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