For Immediate Release, May 5, 2016
Lawsuit Filed to Stop Riverside County From Swapping Protected
Endangered Species Habitat for Degraded Mining Lands
RIVERSIDE, Calif.— Public-interest groups and concerned taxpayers filed a lawsuit today challenging Riverside County’s approval of a plan to trade away more than 40 acres of important habitat for endangered plants to a private developer — and receive only highly degraded mining lands in return. If the “swap” is finalized, the land will be turned over to a private company for development.
Without conducting any environmental review and over the objections of citizens and state and federal wildlife agencies, the county agreed this April to exchange land purchased specifically to conserve habitat and protected species under the “Western Riverside Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.” The land the county will accept in return is part of a century-old mining operation, lacking quality wildlife habitat.
The land the county is disposing of contains one of only three of the world’s remaining populations of San Diego ambrosia, an endangered plant, as well as a population of Munz’s onion, a state and federally endangered plant. More than $300,000 will be spent moving the protected ambrosia plants to the degraded mining land. Such relocations are rarely successful even when plants are moved to favorable habitat.
“This land is supposed to be a safe haven for some of California’s rarest plants, not a bargaining chip to facilitate yet more sprawl and development,” said April Rose Sommer, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The county’s arrogance in approving this illegal and ludicrous plan to give away important conservation habitat is staggering.”
The lawsuit — brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley and local environmental advocate Tom Paulek — challenges the project’s approval as a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act and the Western Riverside habitat conservation plan, and as a waste of county property and money.
More than a decade ago, the county collected public funds to purchase the conservation lands specifically because of the land’s ambrosia and Munz’s onion populations. The land has been administered since as part of the Western Riverside habitat conservation plan’s protected lands. The county ignored warnings from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife that the exchange would violate the conservation plan and threaten the species the plan is designed to protect.
“If the county is permitted to undermine the integrity of the conservation plan in such a careless manner, the plan and the species it protects may die a death of a thousand cuts,” said Tom Paulek, conservation chair of the Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley Friends has 300 members dedicated to preserving and protecting the northern San Jacinto Valley, the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, and surrounding natural resources through education, restoration, and activism.