September 28, 2006

Return to his own habitat

Interior Secretary hears about Inland environmental issues

The Press-Enterprise

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, returning Thursday to his hometown of San Bernardino, said he came to listen.

He heard from a woman whose family property in Colton can't be sold because of an endangered fly; a building industry representative looking for more incentives for property owners to set aside endangered species habitat; an Inland tribe that wants to be trusted to protect endangered sheep on its reservation in Palm Springs; and a fly fisherman worried about the drop of native salmon in California streams.

The meeting at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center in San Bernardino was near the end of a nationwide series of 25 so-called listening sessions on cooperative conservation. After the final session Oct. 9 in Idaho, Kempthorne said, conclusions will be crafted on better ways to approach conservation.

If changes are to be made to the Endangered Species Act and its habitat requirements, he said, they won't be done without a public process.

"There are ways we can put a greater emphasis on recovery," of endangered species, Kempthorne said to reporters before the session.

He said he would rather see more work done to successfully remove species from the endangered species list, rather than dealing with the number of lawsuits over placing more of them on the list.

Of the approximately 50 speakers, the majority spoke in favor of maintaining the Endangered Species Act as one of the nation's toughest environmental laws. They said it spurs cooperative conservation because it forces people to the table to work on habitat preservation.

What is needed, they said, is more funding from the federal government to make those agreements work.

Many of the complaints came from Colton and Mayor Deirdre Bennett. She said restrictions on development to protect the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly, an endangered insect, have prevented her city's chance to blossom into a thriving area with hotels, restaurants and shops.

"The environmental injustice must stop," she said, saying that her city is saddled with more habitat limitations than Ontario and other cities where small pockets of the fly's dunes habitat remains.

She said the city this year developed the Colton Best Management Plan to conserve patches of the fly's habitat in four areas north of Interstate 10, while allowing development to go ahead.

Colton City Manager Daryl Parrish said they are hoping that officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accept the plan.

"Either way," he said, "the city of Colton will not be held hostage for another decade as the species continues to decline."

Some local environmentalists asked to revive a stalled effort to develop a multispecies habitat conservation plan in the San Bernardino Valley, much like western Riverside County has done.

That plan, they said, could have resolved the problems faced by Colton and garnered more federal dollars to help purchase and restore the fly habitat, parts of which are litter-strewn and choked by invasive weeds.

Mark Thom, a University of Redlands student, said he helped restore dunes near Eureka with similar problems.

"We definitely should see hope that we can restore what was once there," he said.