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Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew
Central Valley Business Times, October 20, 2009

Fish and Wildlife Service re-thinks protection for Buena Vista Lake Shrew

In another reversal of decisions made during the administration of former President George W. Bush, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing new protections for the Buena Lake shrew, a tiny mammal that lives in a small area of Kern County in the Central Valley.

The FWS says it wants 4,649 acres in Kern County declared as critical habitat for the endangered animal, exactly the same acreage that it had first proposed in 2004. The announcement opens a 60-day public comment period.

Earlier this month the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed itself on the economic impact of protecting the California habitat of the red-legged frog. It now says it is less than had been calculated.

The new report on the frog strips out what some saw as political bias in the earlier estimates prepared for the George W. Bush administration.

The new shrew proposal conforms to terms of a legal settlement resolving a challenge to the FWS’s final action on the earlier proposal, when it designated only 84 acres as critical habitat.

In its settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, announced last July, the FWS agreed to re-propose the same areas it had proposed in 2004.

In its 2005 final critical habitat rule the FWS excluded four areas it had initially proposed, determining at the time that commitments by landowners would provide significantly better protection for the shrew. At that time, the Service said that, because most of the shrew’s occurrences were on private land, it was relying on commitments by those landowners to protect the species.

The largest parcel in the proposal is the 2,682-acre Kern Fan Recharge Area, managed by the city of Bakersfield to recharge its aquifer. Other units proposed are the 1,277-acre Goose Lake area, 387 acres of the Kern National Wildlife Refuge, the 214-acre Coles Levee Ecosystem Preserve and the 90-acre Kern Lake Preserve. The units were selected because they all have documented populations of the shrew and also have the riparian and wetland habitats needed by the animal.

Under terms of the proposed settlement, the Service must complete the action by March 22, 2012. The settlement does not specify how much land the final rule must designate as critical habitat.

“At the center of the litigation is a shy little animal that has lost more than 95 percent of its historic habitat in the southern San Joaquin Valley,” the FWS says Tuesday.

The shrew weighs less than a fourth of an ounce (about the weight of a quarter), and is only 5 inches long, including its tail. The shrew has a long snout, small eyes, and ears concealed by soft fur, predominantly black with brown specks on the back and smoke-colored gray underneath. The shrews benefit surrounding plant communities by consuming large quantities of insects and other invertebrates, influencing plant succession and controlling pest insects.

Biologists believe that historically the Buena Vista Lake shrew occurred widely in the marsh lands of the Tulare Basin. By the time biologists first discovered the shrew in 1932 most of these marshes were drained or dried up by water diversions. Little, if any, cultivated land was included in the proposal because the shrew cannot live on regularly tilled land.

Remaining shrew populations are threatened by habitat alteration due to bringing new land into farming, modifications of local hydrology, uncertain water supply, possible toxic effects from selenium poisoning, and naturally occurring catastrophes, such as drought, that could wipe out the remaining animals, the FWS says. Water is a vital component of the shrew’s environment because of the moisture required to support the variety of insects that are its primary food source.

Copyright ©2009 Central Valley Business Times

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton