Wildlife Agency Cuts Rare Shrew's Habitat

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it has reduced the critical habitat designation for the endangered Buena Vista Lake Shrew in California to less than half of what was proposed for the tiny animal last year.
     The new critical habitat designation of approximately 2,485 acres across six units in Kern County and Kings County is in response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) regarding a 2005 final critical habitat designation that excluded four of the five proposed units. The agency proposed a new designation in 2009 "encompassing the same area as the 2004 proposed designation," to meet the terms of the settlement agreement. In 2012, the agency was "granted an extension by the court to consider additional information on the shrew" in response to another action by the CBD, and a revised proposed designation was published last year, according to the action.
     "It's a tragic move by the [USFWS], one that can't be defended scientifically and a terrible blow to these tiny and intriguing mammals, whose brains are five times bigger for their size than people's are," Ileene Anderson, a biologist at the CBD was quoted as saying in the group's press release. "Cutting their habitat in half, when 95 percent of it has already been destroyed, is just potentially crippling for them. It also means many of the last vestiges of a once-great, vast wetland will go unprotected."
     The USFWS maintains that the 2,687-acre Kern Fan Recharge Unit that was proposed originally was excluded from the final designation due to a habitat management plan implemented by the city of Bakersfield "for the benefit of the subspecies," and that an additional 10 acres of large canals from the Goose Lake and Kern Lake Units were removed due to a lack of identified essential habitat features, the agency's press release noted.
     The shrews need riparian or wetland habitat with a thick cover of leaf litter or low-lying vegetation, nearby water and a diverse and abundant supply of insect prey, the agency said.
     This shrew, which is four inches long including the tail, and weighs "about the same as an American quarter," has been on the Endangered Species List since 2002. Over 95 percent of its historic range in the San Joaquin Valley had disappeared by that time due to the drainage and diversion of marshes in the Tulare Basin. Consistent water is important for the species due to "the moisture required to support the variety of insects that are its primary food source," the USFWS noted.
     The final critical habitat designation is effective Aug. 1.