After more than 30 years of conservation efforts by federal, state and local partners, today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the reclassification of the Stephens’ kangaroo rat from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A concurrent 4(d) rule will provide additional management flexibility for landowners within the species’ range to conduct weed and fire management activities, and other beneficial actions outlined in approved management plans.
The Service made the determination using the best available science which evaluated current and future threats to the species, with the most significant impact being habitat loss. The final rule incorporates comments and information submitted on the proposed rule, including updated habitat modeling from the Conservation Biology Institute.
“The Stephens’ kangaroo rat habitat conservation plan, managed by the Riverside County Habitat Conservation Agency, has minimized threats to the species by conserving 19,000 acres of habitat,” said Scott Sobiech, field supervisor of the Service’s Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office. “This type of planning in Southern California, along with extensive conservation actions by multiple partners has been critical to moving this native mammal toward recovery.”
The Stephens’ kangaroo rat was discovered at four additional geographical locations since being listed as endangered in 1988, and its status has improved to the point that it is not currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
The threat of habitat loss has been significantly reduced through the development and implementation of two habitat conservation plans (HCP), and management efforts by three military installations.
The historic range of the kangaroo rat includes portions of Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Lands supporting the kangaroo rat include federal, state, local and privately owned lands. Although there are documented occurrences of Stephens’ kangaroo rats on Tribal land, the Service has not relied on any Tribal land in the recovery of the species.
In Riverside County, eight core reserves for the species are supported through the Riverside County Habitat Conservation Agency’s (RCHCA) Stephens’ kangaroo rat HCP, while additional habitat is protected under the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) Western Riverside County Multiple Species HCP.
RCHCA acquired and manages the core reserves for the benefit of Stephens’ kangaroo rat. This past year RCHCA partnered with the Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Conservation Biology Institute to develop a range-wide management and monitoring strategy to guide long-term conservation for the species. RCHCA also worked with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance to facilitate new research. Additionally, the RCA continues to acquire and conserve SKR habitat, and track species population densities.
The Department of Defense is also managing habitat for the species on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, on Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach Detachment Fallbrook, and within Navy Base Coronado’s Remote Training Site Warner Springs in San Diego County. Each of the installations have developed integrated natural resources management plans that support the long-term conservation of the species through measures such as providing undeveloped land and maintaining suitable habitat through vegetation management using rotational cattle grazing and mowing.
Other partners contributing to the long-term conservation of the species include the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Cleveland National Forest, and the United States Geological Survey.
Stephens’ kangaroo rats are small mammals that live in warm, arid environments. They have fur-lined external cheek pouches used to transport seeds and large hind legs used for jumping.
The final downlisting rule is available for public view today in the Federal Register. The rule will publish in the Federal Register tomorrow, at which time all documents and supporting information will be available at www.regulations.gov by searching Docket No. FWS-R8-ES-2019-0113.
Photos of the Stephens’ kangaroo rat are available here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfws_pacificsw/albums/72157715290242707.