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For Immediate Release, January 11, 2011

Contact:  Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 490-0223
Drew Feldmann, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, (909) 881-6081   

Court Blocks Federal Effort to Cut San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat Habitat Protection

RIVERSIDE, Calif.— A federal court has struck down the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s attempt to scale back protected habitat for the endangered San Bernardino kangaroo rat. Monday’s decision resolves a lawsuit filed in 2009 by the Center for Biological Diversity, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley challenging the 2008 “critical habitat” designation for the kangaroo rat. U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson threw out the 2008 decision, which provided just 7,779 acres of critical habitat, and reinstated a 2002 decision, which set aside more than 33,000 acres for the species.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service tried to gut critical habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat, but its decision wasn’t based on sound science and failed to consider the areas necessary for recovering this species,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center. “This latest court ruling gives this rare species a better chance at survival.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is required to designate critical habitat for species protected under the Endangered Species Act. Critical habitat is supposed to include the areas essential for these species’ conservation. It also provides an additional layer of protection when activities are undertaken or permitted by the federal government within the designated habitat area.

The Fish and Wildlife Service set aside 33,295 acres of critical habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat in 2002, then revised that decision in 2008 after a lawsuit by the building industry and cut the designation down to 7,779 acres in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Monday’s court ruling takes issue with the Service’s decision to limit the 2008 designation to the San Bernardino kangaroo rat’s “core habitat.” The ruling concludes that the Service improperly relied on “core habitat” to define critical habitat for the kangaroo rat rather than actually specifying the physical and biological features essential for the kangaroo rat’s conservation, as the law requires. According to the ruling, the 2002 designation must be reinstated until a revised designation is completed.

“The court’s ruling gives the San Bernardino kangaroo rat, which has been left an ever-diminishing fragment of its native range, some breathing room, and a better chance of recovery,” said Drew Feldmann, conservation chair of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society.

The San Bernardino kangaroo rat is not a true rat but a small, seed-eating mammal with large hind legs that it uses to hop around on like a kangaroo, which is how it got its name. It lives along the banks of creeks and dry streams, where it helps to reestablish plants and habitat after floods by collecting and distributing seeds of local shrubs and flowers and trimming vegetation. It is found only in California’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties, although it was much more widespread just 50 years ago. Its habitat has recently been a prime target of development, so it has been relegated to the flood channels and adjacent banks of unchannelized streams.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 315,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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