The California Fish and Game Commission granted a petition by EHL and protected the animal as a California endangered species.
The San Bernardino kangaroo rat (SBKR) is a seed-eating animal that lives along the washes draining off the mountains ringing the Inland Empire. It has suffered the catastrophic loss of 95% of its historic habitat due to agriculture, development, and creek channelization. The three remaining populations are isolated and genetically depleted. Although federally listed, stewardship by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has not worked. According to FWS itself, since the 1998 listing, functional habitat has declined by 45% and seven populations have become extirpated. Chief among these factors was the construction of Seven Oaks dam on the Santa Ana River, which cut off the periodic flooding needed by the animal without adequate mitigation.
With ongoing threats to the species in mind, EHL prepared a petition detailing the plight of the species, and interim protection was granted by the state in 2019. On February 17, 2022, following receipt of a compelling status review by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the Commission acted to list the species. Commissioners cited the thorough scientific work and urged recovery actions.
The state listing comes at a critical juncture. In 2021, the FWS permitted massive floodplain development in Lytle Creek, which would devastate the only population which still benefits from natural hydrology. It did so after accepting what it knew to be inaccurate surveys results and rejecting advice from experts that its planned translocation of animals would fail. The state listing will stop the grading of the site pending compliance with the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Not only does CESA have higher standards than the federal Endangered Species Act, but we expect the state to act with more scientific rigor.
EHL is optimistic that state protection can catalyze solutions with multiple benefits. On Lytle Creek, a smaller development, groundwater recharge, and mitigation banking are possible. On the Santa Ana River, the listing can propel stakeholders to find ways to use tributary flows and earthmoving to get water out of incised channels and into the floodplain where it can rejuvenate older vegetation into the younger vegetation favored by the SBKR.
EHL thanks the Commission for its action and will remain engaged.