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Environmental Effects on Species Habitats in the Southern California Mountains
Southern California is not for everybody. "Some people view the climate and laid-back lifestyle with longing. Others perceive the area, and its inhabitants, as a little too far over the edge" (Hutchings 2001:4D-Z). While the region may not appeal to all types of humans, it does attract a wide range of species who make their home in the mountainous areas of Southern California. In fact, Southern California is dotted with several mountain ranges, including the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, San Jacinto, San Bruno, Santa Rosa, Cuyamaca, the Palomar Mountains and even the Chocolate Mountains (Havert, Gray, Adams & Gray 1996). One of the most biodiverse and well-studied of these ranges is San Gabriel (Wake 1996). This paper will provide an overview of the ecosystems in these mountain ranges in general with an emphasis on the San Gabriel mountain range in particular, what species are endangered within these ecosystems and why, followed by an assessment of what is being done to correct the problem and protect endangered species in these regions. A summary of the research will be provided in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
Background and Overview. According to Adams, Kutner and Stein, biological inventory efforts of all types, both low- and high-tech, have provided researchers with an enormous amount of information on the identity, distribution, and characteristics of species and ecosystems in the United States. This research into how ecosystems work has paid tremendous dividends in return in the form of food, fiber, pharmaceuticals, and other useful products. Nevertheless, despite several hundred years' of biological exploration, scientists remain largely uncertain about the vast majority of species and ecosystems that comprise life on Earth (Adams, Kutner & Stein 2000). In response to growing threats to various endangered species within these various ecosystems, Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973 in order to "provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, [and] to provide a program for the conservation of such... species" (Baur & Donovan 1997:767). Section 9 of the Act generally prohibits the "take" of any endangered or threatened species by "any person" to effect this goal; "take" includes all activities that harass, harm, wound, or kill a protected species (Baur & Donovan 1997). In the case of endangered species, the USFWS has been tasked to step intercede with the industrial forces that threaten the well-being of imperiled species or destroy their habitat and to put a stop to these destructive mechanisms that rob the planet of its diverse biological wealth (Lieben 1997)..
In addition, in 1975, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) broadly defined "harm" to include acts which "significantly disrupt essential behavioral patterns" and result in "significant habitat modification or degradation" (Baur & Donovan 1997:768). To date, the courts have upheld this aspect of the take prohibition, beginning in 1979 with an U.S. district court opinion from Hawaii holding that a state program maintaining feral sheep and goats in the critical habitat of the endangered Palila bird and causing destruction of that habitat clearly fell within the agency's definition of harm; the decision was upheld by the Ninth Circuit, which found that the district court's conclusion that the program was harming the species was consistent with the Act's legislative history showing that Congress was informed that the greatest threat to endangered species is the destruction of their natural habitat." A number of years later, the Ninth Circuit again upheld a finding that the state's game management program for a separate species of feral sheep constituted harm to the endangered Palila under the revised USFWS definition of harm; in addition, the USFWS's definition of harm was also upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court (Baur & Donovan 1997).
Effect on Southern California Species' Habitats. As a result of this and similar legislation, refuges and sanctuaries are frequently established with a view to the preservation of endangered species of wildlife or plants, particularly those whose numbers and distribution have been seriously curtailed; for example, the refuges for the California condor and the Torrey pine in California (Dasmann 2004). Similarly, the southern California mountains were protected by Congress in 2000 as the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument (Sullivan-Brennan 2004).
This southern California mountain range is something of a geographic interruption to the region, since they surge from the Sonoran desert at sea level to sub-alpine forest areas that are 10,800 feet above. The range ascends through more than six life zones: "It's remarkable that there's so much wild land there surrounded by development on all sides," reported Jay Watson, California/Nevada regional director for The Wilderness Society. "There are mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, and endangered peninsular bighorn sheep, creatures sturdy enough to clamber up cliff faces, yet vulnerable to golf courses and housing tracts creeping up the foothills" (Sullivan-Brennan 2004:56). In addition, there are numerous reptiles in this system; for instance, there are three kinds of rattlesnakes, endangered desert tortoise, and the southern rubber boa. According to Sullivan-Brennan, in the Indian Canyons granite, "spiny lizards scale palm trees like fat, gray sausages trailing turquoise tails. Western fence lizards, with their delicately embroidered green and yellow scales, take cover under rocks" (Sullivan-Brennan 2004:56).
Santa Rosa was designated a national monument in 2001 due to legislation introduced by Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono, who represents the area. Santa Rosa in California is just one of 15 national monuments in the newest system of public lands: the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). The NLCS was created in 2000 with the objective of conserving places that contained unique natural and cultural values; therefore, it is essential to protect the larger landscapes containing these sites. Totaling around 40 million acres, these lands are situated primarily in the West and are over seen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). "With the national parks so crowded, the places in this new system are like undiscovered treasures that offer great alternatives for tourists," according to The Wilderness Society's Wendy Vanasselt. With diverse ecosystems layered upon each other, one third of the monument is also part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, and enjoys an added layer of protection (Sullivan-Brennan 2004).
Local conservationists, together with The Wilderness Society, campaigned to preserve the monument's wild character during its designation in 2000, and that struggle continues as the BLM finalizes a long-term management plan. According to Sullivan-Brennan, conservationists want to limit grazing on Forest Service land within monument boundaries; conservationists also want to discourage the jeep tours proposed by a private vendor and are working on acquiring sensitive tracts, both within and adjacent to the national monument, that the owners may be willing to sell (2004).
The White Mountains are another of the spectacular regions of California that would be protected forever by the 2.5-million-acre California Wild Heritage Act (S. 1555), authored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). According to conservationists, with California developing at such a rapid rate, it is critical that some of these public lands be kept in their natural condition to protect clean water, first-rate recreational opportunities, archaeological sites, and wildlife habitat. The House version of this bill was to be introduced by U.S. Reps. Hilda Solis and Mike Thompson (Special Places We Should Protect 2004).
Other legislation is in place in the State of California to help protect threatened species and their habitats. According to the state's Habitat Conservation Planning Branch "California's Plants and Animals" (2003), the classification as "Fully Protected" was California's initial effort in the 1960's to identify and provide additional protection to those animals that were rare or faced possible extinction. Lists were created for fish, mammals. amphibians and reptiles, birds and mammals. "Fully Protected species may not be taken or possessed at any time and no licenses or permits may be issued for their take except for collecting these species for necessary scientific research and relocation of the bird species for the protection of livestock" (California's Plants and Animals 2003). The official California listing of Endangered and Threatened animals is contained in the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 670.5. The official federal listing of Endangered and Threatened animals is published in the Federal Register, 50 CFR 17.11.
The California Endangered Species Act of 1970 subsequently created the categories of "Endangered" and "Rare." The California Endangered Species Act of 1984 created the categories of "Endangered" and "Threatened." On January 1, 1985, all animal species designated as "Rare" were reclassified as "Threatened." Animals that are candidates for state listing and animals proposed for federal listing are also included on this list. A state candidate species is one that the Fish and Game commission had formally noticed as being under review by the Department for addition to the state list; a federal proposed species is one for which a proposed regulation has been published in the Federal Register.
Table 1. Fully Protected Species in the State of California as of May 2003.
Santa Cruz long-toed salamander
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