voracious appetite, a long snout, and tiny bead-like eyes,
the Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew is one of California's most
intriguing mammals. It formerly inhabited the nearly one million
acres of wetlands and riparian forests that ringed the massive
Tulare, Buena Vista, Kern, and Goose Lakes in the southern
Tulare Basin. Today 95% of the wetlands and riparian areas
in the southern Tulare Basin have been destroyed, impoverishing
what had once been one of North America's greatest wildlife
havens and leaving just 57,000 acres of potential shrew habitat.
Much of this habitat, however, is too small and fragmented
to support viable shrew populations.
than 30 Buena Vista Lake ornate shrews are known to exist
today. They are divided among four populations inhabiting
just 575 acres scattered along a 70-mile stretch of the west
side of the basin. The populations are threatened by water
diversion, agricultural expansion, pesticide spraying, selenium
poisoning, and drought.
LISTING OF THE SHREW
Vista Lake ornate shrew has been thought to be imperiled since
it was first discovered by Joseph Grinnell in 1932. By that
time, most of the basin's wetlands had already been drained
to create an immense network of croplands, roads, ditches,
and dikes. Though the Endangered Species Act was signed into
law in 1973, it was not until 1988 that an effort was mounted
to save the tiny mammal. In that year the Interfaith Council
for the Protection of Animals and Nature petitioned the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service to list the shrew as an endangered
species. The Service made an initial finding that it might
warrant federal protection on 12-30-88, but then left the
shrew waiting in the wings as its habitat continued to dwindle.
than processing the petition and issuing a final decision
by 1990 as required by the ESA, the Service put the shrew
on the federal candidate list as a "C2" in 1989. In 1991 it
upgraded the animal to a "C1," meaning that it possessed enough
information to issue a proposed listing rule. But the listing
proposal was delayed another nine years until June 1, 2000.
In the spring of 2001, with a final protection rule nowhere
in sight, the Center for Biological Diversity, the California
Native Plant Society, and the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity
Project approached the Department of Interior with a creative
plan to protect the shrew and 28 other imperiled species.
In August the agreement was finalized, requiring that the
shrew be listed as an endangered species by March 6, 2002.
SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY WETLANDS
strategy for the Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew was included
in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's San Joaquin Valley
Upland Species Recovery Plan (1998), but has not been
enacted because of funding shortfalls, lack of a legal mandate,
and political opposition by agribusiness. The listing of the
shrew will ensure allocation of recovery funds while providing
the legal mandate and political will to restore much-needed
wetland habitats in the southern Tulare Basin. But first,
the recovery plan will have to be revised. It calls for the
establishment of at least three disjunct populations that
collectively contain at least 4,940 acres of occupied habitat.
Monitoring and management plans for each population must also
the recovery of the shrew and other endangered San Joaquin
Valley species, the Center for Biological Diversity believes
a more ambitious wetland restoration program must be developed.
A network of interconnected wildlife areas with guaranteed
water supplies and management funds should be established
throughout the San Joaquin Valley, including the Tulare Basin.