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Conservation Deal Protects Corridor Between Two Key Southern California Wildlife Areas

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Conservation Deal Protects Corridor Between Two Key Southern California Wildlife Areas

From Center for Biological Diversity
September 2012

“Green building and wildlife protection can be part of every project....Energy efficient, environmentally friendly building has to be the new business as usual.”

A settlement signed between conservation groups and private landowners will finally protect a corridor that connects two important wildlife areas in Southern California, home to rare and threatened species like Stephens’ kangaroo rats, bobcats, burrowing owls, least Bell’s vireos and coast horned lizards. The settlement will ensure that wildlife will be able to safely move between the 1,500-acre Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park and the 649-acre March Stephens’ kangaroo rat conservation area in Riverside County, protected earlier this month.

“Protecting corridors that link wildlife reserves is absolutely critical to maintaining our web of life,” said Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without these kinds of linkages, these wildlife areas become islands in a sea of sprawl where animals become easy prey to inbreeding, disease outbreaks and natural disasters.”

Today’s settlement is the third legal victory in two years — safeguarding more than 800 acres in total — in an effort to protect species that use the two wildlife areas, the areas between them and the former March Air Force Base property. It also caps a series of successful legal settlements dedicating wildlife habitat in Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park and protecting habitat on the former March Air Force Base property.

These agreements uphold the original intent of the “Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat Habitat Conservation Plan,” which was approved in 1996 to balance wildlife protection and development. Local, state and federal agencies later reversed course and approved a series of industrial warehouse projects on open space once set aside as wildlife habitat for the federally endangered Stephens’ kangaroo rat and other sensitive species.

“After many years of study and negotiation, a plan enabling the preservation of a viable March/Sycamore Canyon population of Stephens’ kangaroo rat and of other native species while providing for a blueprint for responsible future development was finalized and signed,” said Dr. Leonard Nunney of the Friends of Riverside’s Hills. “This settlement upholds that promise to protect habitat for future generations, and retains the option of creating the direct wildlife connection across Alessandro Boulevard that was central to the vision of the original March/Sycamore Canyon preserve design.”

Conservation groups filed a legal challenge to the Alessandro Commerce Centre, which would have resulted in a 54-acre commercial project in the wildlife corridor. A Riverside County judge rejected the project late last year because it failed to comply with state environmental laws. Today’s settlement will protect a corridor for wildlife movement that will be restored with native vegetation and safeguarded from light and noise disturbance. Increased energy efficiency and green building practices that comply with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards will be required for any project built on the site.

“Green building and wildlife protection can be part of every project,” Evans said. “Energy efficient, environmentally friendly building has to be the new business as usual.”

The conservation groups involved in the successful legal challenge and settlement were the Center for Biological Diversity, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and Friends of Riverside’s Hills.

Background: The Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat
[Also read Court Protects Kangaroo Rat in Southern California Wildlife Preserve]


Kangaroo rat.
Image from UCR "Images of the Natural World"

The Stephens’ kangaroo rat can be glimpsed at night hopping through arid grasslands in western Riverside and northern San Diego counties and searching for seeds, which it stores in its large cheek pouches. During the day it takes refuge in burrows that are cooler and more humid than the surrounding desert. Kangaroo rats, and their relatives the pocket mice, are not typically found associated with humans and come from a group of rodents that is only very distantly related to urban rats and mice.

Habitat loss due to rampant sprawl and historic agriculture has claimed 95 percent of this kangaroo rat’s original habitat; changing rainfall patterns and increasing drought due to climate change may threaten the rest. Stephens’ kangaroo rat populations fluctuate with the amount and timing of rainfall, which affects their food supply. Because this kangaroo rat’s habitat has been so severely fragmented, its remaining isolated populations are more vulnerable to extinction.