The San Bernardino kangaroo rat no relation to the kangaroo is darker and smaller than other kangaroo rat species, with pale yellow and dusky brown fur and dark brown tail stripes, footpads and tail hairs. It gets its name from the large feet that make it look like a miniature kangaroo, and from its manner of hopping and leaping over loose, soft sand. In coastal southern California, the San bernardino kangaroo rat is the only species of kangaroo rat with four toes on both of its hind feet.

Kangaroo rats are small, seed-eating mammals uniquely adapted to the southwestern deserts of the United States. They also eat green vegetation and insects, on a seasonal basis. Their bodies convert dry seeds into water, and they neither sweat nor pant to keep cool. Active only at night, when the punishing desert sun has set and the air cools off, they lose little body water to evaporation. Their specialized kidneys, which have evolved to produce almost no liquid waste, also help them retain moisture.

This tiny kangaroo rat is a key part of a vanishing habitat called alluvial sage scrub. It now occurs only in scattered, isolated patches of alluvial sage scrub throughout San Bernardino and Riverside counties in Southern California of which the three largest blocks are actively mined for sand and gravel.

Courtesy of NPSAlthough its historical range stretched for approximately 326,000 acres, and it was once considered common in California's San Bernardino and San Jacinto valleys, the rat's habitat had been reduced to about 28,000 acres by the 1930s. Today, about 95 percent of the habitat has been lost, degraded or fragmented by mining, flood control projects and urban sprawl. The kangaroo rat is currently restricted to only approximately 32,480 acres of occupied habitat. Much of this last habitat does not contain the open, sparse shrub vegetation the rat needs to survive, which has been lost to flood control projects that change natural flooding and allow dense vegetation to develop.


The San Bernardino kangaroo rat was listed as a federally endangered species on a temporary emergency basis on 1-27-98. The permanent listing rule was issued 9-24-98. Although habitat destruction is the primary cause of endangerment, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service refused to map out and protect specific "critical habitat" area, thus leaving the kangaroo rat at risk of extinction. To ensure its future, therefore, the Center for Biological Diversity and Christians Caring for Creation filed suit to protect habitat area for it and six other west coast species. As part of a settlement agreement, the Fish & Wildlife Service committed to designating "critical habitat" for the species.

On 12-8-00, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published a proposal to designate 55,408 acres "critical habitat" in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. All nine scientific peer reviewers, as well the Center, suggested that areas be added to the proposal.

On 4-23-2002 the Department of the Interior under Gale Norton and the Bush administration issued a final critical habitat designation. The final designation significantly reduced the area of critical habitat from the original 55,408 acres to 33,295 acres. (See chart below.)

Unit - Area County
Proposed Acres
Designated Acres
All Areas San Bernardino/Riverside
1 - Santa Ana River San Bernardino
2 - Lytle and Cajon Creeks San Bernardino
3 - San Jacinto River-Bautista Creek Riverside
4 - Etiwanda Alluvial Fan and Wash San Bernardino
5 - Reche Canyon San Bernardino
6 - Jurupa Hills-South Bloomington San Bernardino/Riverside


The successful critical habitat suit has greatly aided the Center's other advocacy efforts on behalf of the San Bernardino kangaroo rat. The Center, joined by the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, has challenged the approval of the Lytle Creek Planned Development, a 647 acre new "mini city" in the species' critical habitat. The Lytle Creek development would extirpate the San Bernardino kangaroo rat population at Lytle Creek and jeopardize the continued survival of this already highly imperiled species. The current litigation challenges the County of San Bernardino's failure to analyze cumulative impacts to the species under the California Environmental Quality Act, among other claims.

In addition to securing critical habitat for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat, the Center also filed suit against the Army Corps of Engineers over the impacts of its massive Seven Oaks Dam to the endangered k-rat, southwestern willow flycatcher, Santa Ana sucker, Santa Ana River woolly star, and slender-horned spineflower.

The Seven Oaks Dam is the largest recent dam project in the United States. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Odebrecht Contractors, a U.S. subsidiary of a Brazilian company. The now finished dam is the "crown jewel" of a flood control project that also includes the Prado Dam, levees, channels and dikes for 75 miles at an expected total cost of $1.4 billion to taxpayers. The entire project is scheduled for completion by 2006. While mining represents the most immediate current threat to the kangaroo rat, changes in hydrology are the longer-term concern. The Seven Oaks Dam on the Santa Ana River, completed in 1999, is likely to push the San Bernardino kangaroo rat-along with the Santa Ana River woolly star and the slender-horned spineflower-to the brink of extinction. It may also prevent the Santa Ana sucker from being able to recover.

Protection of the San Bernardino kangaroo rat is one part of the Center's aggressive Golden State Biodiversity Initiative. Through scientific research, citizen organizing, litigation and political action, the Center will ensure that California's natural heritage is forever preserved and all it's native species are given a chance to live.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
July 3, 2003
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