The San Bernardino kangaroo rat (SBKR) made the “Top Ten” endangered species list and EHL was quoted on an ominous traffic congestion proposal in the Inland Empire.

As reported in the Redlands-Loma Linda Patch (“San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat Named to Group's Top Ten Endangered Species,” Nov. 19, 2012) our own beleaguered SBKR was recognized by the Washington, DC-based Endangered Species Coalition as a representative of ecosystems decimated by human-induced water loss. EHL had nominated the animal.

"Here in Southern California's Inland Empire, the SBKR hangs on in only three creeks, the Santa Ana Wash near Redlands, the San Jacinto River near Hemet, and the Lytle Creek and Cajon Creek confluence area near Rialto," Silver said.

"Its fragile habitat of intermittently flooded washes and adjacent sage scrub-covered uplands has not only been decimated by development - with an estimated loss of 96 percent - but also starved by upstream dams," Silver said.

"These dams remove water and eliminate the natural flooding to which the SBKR is adapted and upon which it depends. The SBKR needs the new growth of vegetation that follows flood events."

Silver described the Lytle Creek Ranch Specific Plan, which calls for more than 8,000 homes on 2,400 acres of land in a flood plain, as "a huge threat" to the San Bernardino kangaroo rat.

"Located entirely in the historic flood plain of Lytle Creek, these 8,000 housing units would remove so much habitat that this crucial population of SBKR might vanish," Silver said. "Miles of levees would constrain the creek and further damage the wash.”

"Unless we can save the SBKR and its creeks and washes, the people of Riverside and San Bernardino counties will lose a major part of their natural heritage," Silver said.

The San Bernardino kangaroo rat has large hind feet for jumping, a long tail for balance while jumping and cheek pouches for foraging, according to biologists. Its body can range from 3 to 4 inches long, with a total length of around 9 inches including the tail.

"The Endangered Habitats League believes that the development can be redesigned to both provide housing and protect the natural habitat," Silver said. "We wish that the City of Rialto would work with us toward this goal."

In other news, The Californian and The Press-Enterprise reported on an initiative by the County of Riverside to eliminate a “level of service” standard for traffic congestion. EHL testified that this action would separate land use from transportation planning, and allow unlimited discretion to approve development in the wrong place.

The county already has legendary congestion,” Michael Fitts, the league's staff attorney, told commissioners. “With this amendment, congestion will only get worse slowly and imperceptibly ... until it's too late. And then there's no money to fix the roads.” “They’re really throwing Riverside County commuters under the bus,” Fitts said. (Californian, “Riverside County may weaken traffic standard for new development,” Jan. 16, 2013 and “Commission initiates traffic standard changes,” Jan. 17, 2013)

The league argues that the change could have severe consequences for traffic congestion and air pollution. In a letter to the Planning Commission, league Executive Director Dan Silver wrote that the proposed amendment would take an objective, clear standard for traffic flow and make it optional. “That is bad news for the people and businesses of Riverside County,” he wrote. “The County already has the 7th worst commute in the nation for areas under 3 million people. Residents already waste 33 million gallons of gas and 39 million hours stuck in traffic annually. In this context, unhinging land development approvals from objectively derived measures of the transportation system’s ability to accommodate this growth, as this amendment would do, is the very height of irresponsibility.” The league would rather see the county do a long-range study “aimed at identifying potential infrastructure bottlenecks and tailoring its growth policies accordingly,” Silver added. (Press-Enterprise, “Environmentalists oppose change to traffic standards,” Jan. 18, 2013)