SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized a dramatic reduction in habitat designated as critical for the survival of the charismatic and declining San Bernardino kangaroo rat. The proposal would designate a total of only 7,779 acres of habitat, a 76-percent reduction from the current designation of 33,295 acres.
“The Bush administration has escalated its relentless attack on endangered species in its waning days,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Discarding over three-quarters of the San Bernardino kangaroo rat’s habitat will accelerate this charming little animal’s slide to extinction. The science simply does not support this absurd designation.”
Just six years ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service had designated more than 33,295 acres in four different areas of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Identified as four separate units, habitat critical to the animal’s survival was acknowledged on the Etiwanda Fan, Lytle, and Cajon Creek areas, the Santa Ana River and Wash in San Bernardino County, and on the San Jacinto River and Bautista Creek in Riverside County. In 2007 the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed cutting the critical habitat to a mere 9,079 acres, completely eliminating the Etiwanda Fan unit and severely cutting the other three units. In April of 2008, the proposal was increased to 10,658 acres. Today’s final designation further reduces the acres of habitat to the designation, simply eliminating tens of thousands of acres of habitat where the pocket-sized kangaroo rat currently lives.
“No logical rationale explains why these areas have been cut from the designation — areas in which the kangaroo rat currently flourishes,” Anderson adds. “The purpose of critical habitat is to help animals like the kangaroo rat recover to higher population levels. You don’t do that by getting rid of three-quarters of their existing home.”
The San Bernardino kangaroo rat is not a true rat but a small, seed-eating animal with large hind legs that it uses to hop around on like a kangaroo, which is how it got its name. It lives along the banks of creeks and dry streams where it is helps to re-establish plants and habitat after floods by collecting and distributing seeds of local shrubs and flowers and trimming vegetation. It is found only in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, although it was much more widespread just 50 years ago. Its habitat has recently been prime target for big-box warehouse development, so it has been relegated to the flood channels and adjacent banks of unchannelized streams.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service provided a roadmap for the San Bernardino kangaroo rat’s extinction today — completely abdicating its responsibility to protect and recover this rare animal’s populations,” summarized Anderson. “However, all the science is on the k-rat’s side, and we intend to challenge the agency over this absurd designation.”