Given the past failure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and urgent threats to the species’ survival, EHL asked the State of California to protect the beleaguered animal.

The petition seeks listing of the San Bernardino kangaroo rat (SBKR) under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The animal burrows in sandy soil, and emerges at night to gather seeds. Due to rampant development, the SBKR’s floodplain habitat at the base of the San Gabriel and San Jacinto Mountains has been reduced by 95% compared to historic levels. SBKR need natural flooding to rejuvenate habitat as well as “refugia” on adjacent upland terraces to survive flood events and re-establish populations. Dams and flood control structures have devastated the natural flow regimes upon which the animal depends.

In 1998, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed the SBKR as endangered but has failed to protect it. Seven populations have become extirpated and Seven Oaks Dam was built on the Santa Ana River in 2002, depriving its SBKR population of necessary flood flows. Remedial flows anticipated at the time by the USFWS have not materialized. Elsewhere, mitigation measures imposed by the Service in the form of translocations has failed, and habitat enhancement remains unproven. Two mitigation banks have been positive steps, but the overall trend under USFWS stewardship is negative. A study of aerial photos done for the petition shows a loss of 11,000 acres, or 30%, of potential habitat since 1998. The San Diego Zoo assessed the genetic health of SBKR in 2018, and found dire genetic depletion.

The Lytle Creek Ranch project would deal a huge blow to the Lytle-Cajon population, the only one still supported by natural hydrology. The developers have refused to even talk to EHL about an economically viable but smaller project that would also create additional lucrative opportunities for mitigation banking. EHL commissioned state-of-the-art studies showing that the land the applicant has proposed to substitute for the existing upland refugia – which would be developed – would actually be inundated during floods, leaving the entire Lytle Creek population at risk of extirpation.

Federal permitting by the US Army Corps of Engineers and US Fish and Wildlife Service has been in progress for several years. Corps permits often fail to deliver the “least damaging practicable alternative,” as the law requires. Particularly with already documented political pressure from the Trump Administration, there is little basis to hope that the USFWS will deliver the scientifically called for “jeopardy” finding, which would compel a better outcome. 

For all these reasons, EHL has turned to the State to step in and protect this animal and its ecosystem from extinction. The Department of Fish and Wildlife issued an evaluation of the petition, concluding it presented sufficient information to make the SBKR a “candidate” for eventually listing. A hearing is scheduled for August 7, 2019. Given the immediacy of threats and the species’ steady decline under federal stewardship, state listing comprises the animal’s only realistic chance for survival.

Michael White, PhD, was the lead author of the petition, with assistance from Gerald Braden and Dan Silver.