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For Immediate Release, April 22, 2010

Contact:  Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 318
Drew Feldmann, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, (909) 881-6081

Settlement Stops Plan to Develop Wildlife Preserve
1,100 Acres of Riverside County Preserve Protected Again

RIVERSIDE, Calif.— As a result of a legal settlement between the Center for Biological Diversity, the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a 1,100-acre wildlife preserve in western Riverside County will once again be protected from industrial development. The settlement resolves a dispute surrounding the approval for large-scale development on the March Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat Preserve – home to numerous imperiled species, including the endangered Stephens’ kangaroo rat. Not only will the land be returned to the preserve, but under the terms of the settlement agreement, any future proposals to release the area for development must undergo strict environmental review.

“This land was dedicated for permanent conservation to balance the previous destruction of endangered wildlife,” said Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity. “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 1,100-acre preserve is home to a range of other 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 revealed that wildlife officials recognized that the March Preserve is “critical to the establishment of a viable, long-term [Stephens’ kangaroo rat] reserve system in western Riverside County,” and that if it were to be removed, there would no longer be “assurance of the survival and recovery” of the Stephens’ kangaroo rat. Nonetheless, in 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opened the area to commercial and industrial development in exchange for the protection of lands in the Portrero valley, some 25 miles away.

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

Although other lands have been proposed for protection in the Portrero valley, the unequal trade would ultimately cause more harm than good, destroying essential wildlife habitat and linkages, encouraging neighboring industrial development, and ultimately threatening the integrity of a network of Riverside County wildlife preserves.

Despite the protection afforded the March Preserve as a result of this settlement, several neighboring warehouse projects in the city of Riverside and county of Riverside threaten wildlife and adjacent preserve areas. Combined, the city and county warehouse projects threaten to sever the March Preserve’s connection to the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park and permanently isolate both refuges. The Center and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society have filed suit against the City of Riverside over one of these developments and are considering a similar suit against the County over the other.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society is a California nonprofit conservation organization with approximately 2,000 members within the Inland Empire of Southern California who are dedicated protecting the region’s natural heritage.

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