Lawsuit Filed to Save Riverside County Kangaroo Rat Preserve
Groups Sue to
On March Air Reserve Base
RIVERSIDE, Calif.– The Center for Biological Diversity and San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society will shortly file suit to stop a land exchange that will eliminate a 1,170-acre endangered species reserve on the former March Air Force Base (now March Air Reserve Base). The March Preserve supports one of the last, best populations of the endangered Stephens’ kangaroo rat as well as a host of other imperiled plants and animals.
“The March Preserve was set aside for this endangered mammal nearly 15 years ago and is now one of the backbones for conservation of the Stephens’ kangaroo rat,” said Drew Feldmann, president of the San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society. “This is prime occupied habitat, absolutely vital to the survival of the species. It is unfortunate that the Fish and Wildlife Service would release the preserve for development without considering the full impacts.”
The March Preserve was originally set aside in perpetuity in 1990 to mitigate the loss of habitat that resulted from the expansion of Highway 215 and the 215/60 interchange. In 1996, the March Preserve was included as one of the core reserves for the Long-term Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat Habitat Conservation Plan. It provides a key connection for gene flow among connected areas and conserves the northern range of the species. The elimination of the preserve has been styled as an “exchange” for other Stephens’ kangaroo rat habitat farther east, but the new habitat is outside the plan boundaries and will not maintain the integrity of the core reserve system.“The Fish and Wildlife Service broke a promise when it released the March Preserve for development without a full amendment of the plan,” said John Buse, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “By any definition, the elimination of a wildlife preserve containing more than 1,100 acres of habitat occupied by an endangered species is a major action, requiring careful consideration and an open, public process. Instead the Service did it with the stroke of a pen.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider long- or short-term impacts to the kangaroo rat from the loss of habitat at the March Preserve. In fact it did no analysis whatsoever of whether the new habitat would adequately offset or mitigate the loss of the March Preserve to the species.
The Stephens’ kangaroo rat—not a true rat but a member of the heteromyid family, like all kangaroo rats—is a small, large-eyed hopping mammal with powerful hind legs, found in open grasslands and coastal sage scrub habitats that are fast disappearing. The rat is uniquely adapted to the arid Southern California climate: It can meet all its water needs by consuming small seeds of native plants. “This extraordinary little animal manufactures its own water through a highly efficient metabolic process,” explained Buse. “Like other small mammals, it’s essential to the larger web of life. Stephens’ k-rats spread seed, keep the land open and sparsely vegetated, and create burrows that other small animals also use to escape the heat above ground.” The species is found nowhere in the world but western Riverside County and a small portion of northern San Diego County.