State of California extends life raft to San Bernardino kangaroo rat
With federal protections failing, and as a result of an EHL petition, on August 7, 2019 the Fish and Game Commission granted protection on an interim basis to this beleaguered animal.
The San Bernardino kangaroo rat, or SBKR, burrows in sandy soil, and emerges at night to gather seeds. Due to rampant development, its floodplain habitat at the base of the San Gabriel and San Jacinto Mountains has been reduced by 95%. SBKR need natural flooding to rejuvenate habitat but also need adjacent upland “refugia” to survive flood events. Dams, such as Seven Oaks along the upper Santa Ana River, and flood control structures have devastated the natural flow regimes upon which the animal depends.
Even though the SBKR was listed as a federally endangered species in 1998, EHL’s petition documented alarming continued decline, with progressive loss of habitat and entire populations, and approval by the US Fish and Wildlife Service of unproven or ineffective mitigation measures to justify the loss of prime habitat. The San Diego Zoo assessed the genetic health of SBKR in 20188, and found dire genetic depletion, with no capacity for continued loss of genetic resources.
There was particular urgency to the Commission’s action due to loss of scientific integrity at the federal level. The Endangered Species Act is under assault by the Trump Administration, with little hope for necessary regulatory actions. Indeed, documents obtained by EHL under the Freedom of Information Act show interference from Washington, DC into permitting for a critical population of SBKR along Lytle Creek near Rialto. This proposed project would immediately destroy 34% of the animals in the project area and vicinity and then expose all the remaining animals along a 2.5 mile stretch of the creek to catastrophic loss in a major flood. After the Commission acted, our worst fears were realized when a draft permit issued by the upper management at US Fish and Wildlife reversed prior staff recommendations to scale back the project and would, if finalized, allow this devastating blow to be delivered. Also see EHL in the News, below, for media coverage.
The story of impending federal failure on the SBKR highlighted the need for SB 1, a bill authored by Senator Toni Atkins, to backstop federal environmental protections, including listings, if dismantled by the Trump Administration. However, Governor Newsom vetoed the bill, presumably under pressure from water interests.
After granting the SBKR interim protection as a "candidate" species, the State will now take up to a year to make a final decision on whether to add it permanently to the California endangered species list. But in the meantime, the SBKR can, figuratively, breathe a sigh of relief.
At the Commission hearing, EHL was joined by our long-term partner, Save Lytle Creek Wash, as well as by Defenders of Wildlife and Natural Resources Defense Council.