| Center for Biological Diversity
San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society
California Native Plant Society
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 1, 2006
Contact: Monica Bond, Center for Biological Diversity, (951) 961-7720
Regional Habitat Plan Plagued by Broken Promises
Annual Report Shows Riverside Plan Falls Behind in Habitat Preservation
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The 2005 Annual Report for Western Riverside County’s Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) was released today and confirms that land conservation is not keeping pace with the rapid incursion of urban development into natural places. Issued by the administer of the plan, the Riverside Conservation Authority, the report reveals that urban sprawl is exceeding open-space protection in almost half the areas the plan affects, a direct violation of the permit.
“We were worried from the start that the plan was inadequate but had hoped that after two years the devastating loss of open space and habitat in western Riverside County would be balanced by significant gains in reserve lands, as promised in the MSHCP,” stated Monica Bond, a biologist with the Joshua Tree-based Center for Biological Diversity. “The MSHCP is plagued with broken promises.”
Under the MSHCP, about 0.42 acres are to be added to a system of existing reserves and parks to offset every one acre of habitat lost to urban development – a ratio much lower than typically required outside the plan area. Proponents of the MSHCP claim that protected land would be more efficiently located within and adjacent to established reserves. But Riverside County and cities have continued to approve massive development projects in sensitive habitats despite a slower-than-promised rate of acquisition.
The slow rate of acquisition is attributable in large part to the MSHCP’s unreasonably low mitigation fees charged to developers. Conservationists recognized this as a major potential problem with the MSHCP when they correctly predicted that land values could significantly increase and that the mitigation fees are far too low to acquire a sufficient amount land to offset development.
“In its mad rush to capitulate to developers, Riverside County deliberately chose the lowest of several proposed mitigation fees when the plan was being created,” said Terry Wold of the San Gorgonio Chapter of the Sierra Club. “So it’s no surprise now that the RCA has too little money in the MSHCP fund to buy the open space and habitat needed to offset development.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and California Native Plant Society provided numerous comments and recommendations to improve the MSHCP as it was being drafted, most of which were ignored.
“It is clearly time for some major improvements to the plan,” said John Buse, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We will continue to work constructively to convince the county and others to take the steps necessary to truly balance development with conservation.”
“The western burrowing owl, California gnatcatcher, Stephens’ kangaroo rat and Munz’s onion are just some of the unique and special animals and plants at risk of extinction in Riverside County if this MSHCP remains unchanged,” stated Drew Feldmann of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. “The citizens of Riverside County also lose, because these reserves are supposed to protect open space for cleaner air, provide beautiful scenic views, and offer our children the chance to learn about the diversity of natural life in our region, but it does not look like that will happen.”
The MSHCP’s broken promises include:
Independent researchers are increasingly critical of the effectiveness of regional “multiple species” habitat conservation plans. According to an article in the July 2006 issue of Bioscience, multiple species habitat conservation plans often fail to include species-specific conservation measures that are necessary to prevent further population declines.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.
The Sierra Club is America's oldest grassroots environmental organization with more than 750,000 members nationwide.
The San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society represents 2,000 citizens living in the Inland Empire.
The California Native Plant Society is a non-profit organization of more than 10,000 laypersons and professional botanists organized into 32 chapters throughout California.