(US CA) County sets land aside for wildlife August 02, 2005 11:04 PM
11:47 PM PDT on Monday, August 1, 2005
By JENNIFER BOWLES / The Press-Enterprise
Riverside County spent $1.7 million to add more than 700 acres to its growing system of wildlife reserves aimed at protecting endangered species while allowing growth to occur more easily, officials said Monday.
The 714-acre plot -- in the rugged, hilly area known as the Badlands east of Moreno Valley -- eventually will be used as open space and linked to a regional hiking trail, said Ron Rempel, general manager of the county's Regional Conservation Authority.
The county has about 120,000 additional acres to buy before reaching its goal of a 500,000-acre system of reserves across western Riverside County, Rempel said. The reserves are designed to meet state and federal environmental laws by protecting habitat for endangered plants and animals.
By creating the reserves, the county in return gets more leeway to approve new homes and roads with fewer environmental restrictions in the fast-growing region.
"I'd much rather spend that money to build a freeway that we desperately need or another road, but to do that, this is the first step we have to take," said Robin Lowe, vice mayor of Hemet who chairs the county's conservation authority and its transportation commission.
The land, which sits north of Highway 60 and east of Redlands Boulevard, was bought from a private owner using $1.27 million from the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the rest from developer fees, Rempel said.
The Riverside Land Conservancy, a nonprofit based in Riverside, held an option to buy the land for a few years until the county could gather the funds.
"It's really lovely land, pristine," said Jane Block, conservancy president.
The land includes different habitats -- sage scrub, oak woodlands and chaparral -- used by several species, including the Stephens' kangaroo rats, which is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The land also harbors coyotes and several snakes, birds and plants, and it serves as foraging ground for the Cooper's hawk and other raptors. It will serve as part of a wildlife corridor between Riverside and San Bernardino counties that eventually will allow animals a safe path to move back and forth from Box Springs Mountain in Riverside, Potrero Canyon south of Beaumont and the region's two fledgling state parks at nearby San Timoteo Canyon and Wildwood Canyon in Yucaipa.
Lockheed, meanwhile, has applied for a federal permit to conduct studies at its former rocket testing sites at Potrero Canyon -- also part of the county's reserve system and a unit of the state-run San Jacinto Wildlife Area east of Lake Perris -- and nearby Laborde Canyon, which could become an off-road vehicle park.
Because both sites provide habitat for endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must issue a permit.
The studies will determine the extent of pollution and cleanup methods before the land is open to the public, said Gail Rymer, a Lockheed spokeswoman.
A cleanup plan is expected in mid-2008, she said.
Reach Jennifer Bowles at 951-368-9548 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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