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For Immediate Release, August 27, 2009

Contact: Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 318 or 

Suit Filed to Stop Development of Wildlife Preserve;
Land Swap Will Lead to Warehouses in Endangered Species Habitat

RIVERSIDE, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society filed suit today challenging the planned conversion of a wildlife preserve to industrial development. The suit asserts that a proposed land swap on the March Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat Preserve would further endanger the Stephens’ kangaroo rat and harm other imperiled species. The land swap has been proposed to enable further commercial and industrial development of the former March Air Force Base. Although other lands have been proposed for protection as part of the swap, the unequal trade will ultimately cause more harm than good, destroying essential wildlife habitat and linkages and encouraging neighboring industrial development – and ultimately threatening the integrity of a network of Riverside County wildlife preserves.

“You can’t trade wildlife preserves like stocks or flip them like Miami condos; the animals can’t just pick up and move,” said Jonathan Evans, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This land was dedicated for permanent conservation to balance the previous destruction of endangered wildlife. We owe it to future generations to uphold past promises to protect this land and stop paving over wildlife preserves.”

The March Preserve was originally established in 1991 as a permanent preserve to offset impacts to wildlife from the expansion of Highway 215; it was later expanded as further mitigation for development on March Air Force Base. It has also been dedicated as part of the larger Sycamore Canyon-March Core Reserve that was established as part of the Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat Habitat Conservation Plan. In addition to the endangered kangaroo rat, the more than 1,000-acre preserve is home to a range of imperiled wildlife species such as the burrowing owl, the least Bell’s vireo, and the southwestern willow flycatcher.

Government documents uncovered by the Center for Biological Diversity reveal that wildlife officials have admitted that the March Preserve is “critical to the establishment of a viable, long-term [Stephens’ kangaroo rat] reserve system in western Riverside County,” and if it is removed there would no longer be “assurance of the survival and recovery” of the Stephens’ kangaroo rat. The documents further describe how several thousand acres of reserve lands, in addition to those in the Portrero Valley, would be necessary to compensate for the destruction of open space on the former March Air Force Base. However, in 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reversed course to allow commercial and industrial development on the March preserve in exchange for additional lands in the Portrero valley, without full protection of other areas.

“This land swap is a net loser for wildlife in southern California,” said Drew Feldman, vice president of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. “Eliminating the March preserve threatens an entire system of nature reserves throughout Riverside County and threatens the future of wildlife that call the March Preserve home.”

In addition to the planned land swap, other threats loom for the wildlife preserves. Two separate large-scale industrial warehouse projects along Allesandro Boulevard in Riverside County and the city of Riverside and adjacent to the March Preserve await approval. These projects threaten to sever the preserve’s connection to the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park and permanently isolate both refuges.
In addition to the harm caused to wildlife, these deals would result in extensive diesel truck and vehicle traffic resulting from the warehouse projects that would significantly worsen regional air quality and exacerbate global warming.

“Trading dirty diesel for open space is a bad deal for both wildlife and neighborhoods,” said Jonathan Evans. “We should protect our precious open spaces instead of exploiting them for diesel soot and greenhouse gases.”

The legal challenge asserts that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Quality Act when it approved the conversion of a wildlife preserve to industrial development without considering the impacts to imperiled wildlife.

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