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RCA Newsletter

December 2020

Hiking through a desert trail

Moving Habitat Conservation Forward: RCA Joins Forces with Riverside County Transportation Commission

In nature, mutualism is a symbiotic relationship in which both species benefit. Mutualism is now at work in leadership of the nation’s largest habitat conservation plan and one of California’s most innovative transportation agencies. The governing boards of the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) have approved an agreement that brings both agencies together under unified management, effective January 1, 2021.

Why would a transportation agency and a habitat conservation agency unite like this? The answer lies in the heart of the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) and in Riverside County voters’ approval of transportation dollars for habitat conservation.

Riverside County voters’ approval of Measure A in 2002 conditioned local road funding to cities and the County based on their participation in the MSHCP. To date, RCTC has invested $153 million of Measure A funds towards acquiring habitat for the MSHCP in support of regional transportation projects. This makes RCTC the single largest investor in the MSHCP.

“The MSHCP has accelerated approvals for dozens of critical traffic relief projects across western Riverside County,” said RCTC Chair and Wildomar City Council Member Ben J. Benoit. “RCTC and RCA have worked closely together in the past, and this consolidation of leadership will harness the strength of both agencies to fully implement our conservation and transportation goals.”

Funding for each agency will remain firewalled with governing boards for each agency maintaining their authority and oversight roles.  

“RCA is building new momentum and is positioned for long-term success,” said Jonathan Ingram, Chairman of the RCA Board of Directors and Murrieta City Council Member. “The MSHCP remains one of the most important priorities for strengthening the quality of life in western Riverside County. I am grateful to the leadership of our Board of Directors and the RCTC Commission for taking this bold step to join forces to advance our economic, mobility, and environmental goals.”

The 500,000-acre MSHCP was designed by Riverside County’s visionary leaders who saw the need to protect our county’s nowhere-else-on-earth environment while allowing for economic growth and breaking free of traffic gridlock. The plan provides for the protection of 146 native plants and animals and offers public opportunities for hiking, cycling, and viewing species in their natural habitat. To date, RCA and its partners have preserved 80 percent of the land needed for the plan. While many might think building roads and protecting the environment are mutually exclusive goals, the MSHCP has set a national model for how those goals can be mutually beneficial. Now they will be led by the same team.

Southern Rubber Boa

The Southern Rubber Boa is Not Your Typical Rubber Snake!

The RCA December Species of the Month is a flesh-like serpent, the Southern Rubber Boa. This snake is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The Southern Rubber Boa, also known as Charina bottae umbratica, is a nonvenomous member of the Boa family that usually grows to one to three feet in length. It is a very rare subspecies of the Rubber Boa that can only be found in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. They tend to live in underground burrows and hibernate during winter months in rotting stumps, rock outcrops, or other earthy hideaways until emerging in the spring.

In addition to being expert burrowers, these reptiles are excellent swimmers and climbers. They are constrictors like most in the Boa family, coiling around and suffocating their prey. Since they are not a large species, their prey consists of small lizards, rodents, and other snakes. These strange looking little snakes tend to roll into a ball when threatened or disturbed, protecting their head deep within their coils often elevating their head-like tails as a decoy.

The Southern Rubber Boa is listed as a threatened species, and the RCA’s partner, the U.S. Forest Service, is proactively working to preserve them in western Riverside County by protecting at least 2,577 acres of suitable habitat in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains. Monitoring objectives have been met through a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Construction of Mid County Parkway

Construction of Mid County Parkway Underway

The Mid County Parkway (MCP) project is one of more than 50 transportation improvement projects across western Riverside County that has been expedited through the environmental permits held by the RCA provided through permittees of the MSHCP. It was made possible thanks to partnerships with RCTC, the City of Perris, and the County of Riverside.

Construction began in August on the first phase of the project, the I-215 Placentia Avenue Interchange in Perris. Crews are building the new interchange in between Ramona Expressway and Nuevo Road, with opening expected in 2022. The interchange is anticipated to improve highway access, traffic flow, and air quality.

Funding and timing of future segments of the Mid County Parkway have not been determined.

The MSHCP is the only conservation plan in the nation created to expedite construction of transportation infrastructure, new economic development, and new housing while preserving open space for conservation. The MSHCP has expedited dozens of other highway and road projects across western Riverside County including the improvements to the 15/91 Express Lanes Connector in Corona, the Route 60 Truck Lanes between Moreno Valley and Beaumont, and the I-15 Railroad Canyon Road Interchange in Lake Elsinore. The MSHCP directly helps improve western Riverside County traffic by fast-tracking the planning of transportation projects by as much as five years, which has saved taxpayers more than $500 million since the plan was approved in 2004.

November 2020

SAWA Biologists

Portion of Santa Rosa Plateau Reopens to the Public

The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve has partially reopened after nearly a year-long closure as a result of the 2019 Tenaja Fire. Plans to reopen in the spring were temporarily halted after California issued a ‘stay at home’ order due to the pandemic. The Sylvan Meadows Multi-Use Area has also been reopened, with a more extensive reopening planned for later this year.

The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is an important partner in the 500,000-acre Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). Jointly owned by the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District (RivCo Parks), The Nature Conservancy, and the State of California, management of the reserve is performed by the Center for Natural Lands Management. This reserve is a hidden gem of Riverside County offering an ecological gold mine, including vernal pools with fairy shrimp that are visible during the wet months!

Sylvan Meadows, part of the Santa Rosa Plateau, spans 1,000 acres with over 10 miles of trails. Hikers and equestrians both have an array of trails to choose from, ranging in experience levels from easy to moderate. On these trails, visitors will get the chance to travel through shady oak woodlands, open bunchgrass prairie, and chaparral.

The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is a treat to hike in any season, with its 9,000 acres of protected land that boasts several different ecosystems, including woodlands and wetlands. Two thousand (2,000) of those acres were affected by the fire, but the good rainy season earlier in the year has sparked major regrowth of damaged plants. This reserve is home to over 200 species of native birds and 59 endangered, threatened, or rare animal and plant species, including Southwestern Pond Turtles and the famous Santa Rosa Plateau Fairy Shrimp

For more information and updates, visit RivCo Parks at https://www.rivcoparks.org/santa-rosa-plateau-wildlife-area.

Los Angeles Pocket Mouse

Don’t Miss this Little Superstar, the Los Angeles Pocket Mouse

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) November Species of the Month is a miniscule rodent, the Los Angeles Pocket Mouse! This little critter is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The Los Angeles Pocket Mouse, also known as Perognathus longimembris brevinasus, is one of the smallest species of pocket mouse weighing from 8 to11 grams and is only about 4.5 inches long. It is mostly found in the coastal basins of southern California, from the San Fernando Valley east to Cabazon, south through the San Jacinto and Temecula Valleys to Aguanga, Warner Pass, Vail Lake, and Temecula.

These mice have hairs on their back toes which help them move through sandy soil. Their habitat consists of sandy soils in washes, uplands, and sand dune ecosystems. They are a fossorial species, which means they tend to burrow underground. The Los Angeles Pocket Mouse collects seeds, storing them in their fur lined cheek pouches, until they can stockpile the seeds in their underground burrows for future consumption. They are nocturnal and are active during the warmer months and hibernate during the cooler months.

While Los Angeles Pocket Mouse populations are declining, the RCA is proactively working to help the species in Riverside County by protecting at least 14,000 acres of suitable habitat for this cute little creature. Some of the habitat areas where you may come across one include the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, the Lake Perris Reserve, and the San Jacinto River. Species surveys for the Los Angeles Pocket Mouse are conducted for some projects that may affect their habitat so we can protect them in key core areas of the MSHCP Plan Area.

San Timoteo Canyon

San Timoteo Canyon – A Vital Linkage for Riverside County

To prevent habitat loss and fragmentation of local wildlife, the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) is committed to conserving habitat linkages that support healthy and resilient ecosystems for the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). San Timoteo Canyon, located between Moreno Valley and Calimesa, is such a linkage for several species in Riverside County.

Thanks to the leadership of the Rivers and Lands Conservancy (RLC), San Timoteo Canyon has become a protected and permanent wildlife corridor for the region. Through a partnership with the San Timoteo Canyonlands Coalition, the County of Riverside, surrounding cities, and others, RLC was able to have the area designated as a California State Park in 2001. Since that time, RCA has worked with RLC to bring more than 2,100 acres of this area into public ownership.

Eventually totaling approximately 10,000 acres of land, this park will continue to serve as a critical wildlife linkage between the Badlands and the San Jacinto Wildlife area. This connection will help protect habitats and movement corridors for both Bobcats and Mountain Lions along with Raptors such as the Golden Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, and Red-tailed Hawk. RLC also received a grant from Southern California Edison to prepare trail and restoration plans for the state park.

Preserving wildlife linkages such as San Timoteo Canyon is vital to the success of the MSHCP and its mission to establish a 500,000-acre habitat reserve to protect, restore, and enhance habitats for the conservation of 146 species. To date, the Western Riverside County MSHCP Reserve is over 80% complete at roughly 410,000 acres!

October 2020

SAWA Biologists

RCA Partners with San Diego Zoo Global to Translocate San Bernardino Kangaroo Rats to the San Jacinto River

San Diego Zoo Global, operators of the world-famous San Diego Zoo, are performing a study in coordination with the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) to translocate San Bernardino Kangaroo Rats to RCA lands in the San Jacinto River. Dr. Debra Shier at the Beckman Center for Conservation Research (at San Diego Zoo Global) and her team of experts have been working with this species for many years, including translocation. This species of Kangaroo Rat is one of the 146 covered species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP).

While the San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat has not had a lot of success with being translocated, this study has taken all that has been learned from past translocations to ensure this one will be successful for this endangered species. What does translocation mean? It is a fancy word for capturing the animals from one location, transporting them to another location that has been strategically evaluated and enhanced for the animals, and then releasing them where some of the animals carry small telemetry backpacks so they can be tracked over time.

If the translocation is successful, the San Bernardino Kangaroo Rats will remain on the RCA lands, expanding the population over time and strengthening the genetic variability of the population along the San Jacinto River. Currently, small populations of Kangaroo Rats present in the river show very low genetic diversity, which puts the species at risk.

San Diego Zoo Global is an international conservation organization that has been saving species for 100 years. This non-profit organization includes the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Their mission is to save species worldwide through their expertise in animal and plant care and conservation science.

RCA is proud to partner with great organizations like San Diego Zoo Global that help support regional conservation goals.

Clinton Keith Extension

New Fencing Planned for Interstate 15 from Temecula Creek South to the San Diego County Line Gives Mountain Lions a Safe Crossing

As we have spoken about in past newsletters, much is being done to ensure that Mountain Lions can safely cross the heavily travelled I-15 freeway, south of Temecula. In addition to the underpass study that is underway with The Nature Conservancy, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is currently in the process of installing wildlife fencing on both sides of the freeway from the southside of Temecula Creek south to the San Diego County line.

The fencing is specifically designed for wildlife so that animals cannot dig underneath it or crawl over the top of it. It has taken many years of work to learn just what kind of fencing will keep wildlife off our roadways, and particularly this cat.

This fencing was made possible thanks to great partnerships and is part of the ongoing I-15 Pavement Rehabilitation Project. Scott Quinnell, Senior Environmental Planner at Caltrans, played a critical role in finding the necessary funding to move the fencing forward to protect Mountain Lions in this area. The fencing also aligns with the work being done by The Nature Conservancy at the Temecula Creek Crossing, thanks to voter-approved Prop 68, which provided $4 billion in bond funds for state and local parks, environmental protection projects, water infrastructure projects, and flood protection projects.

Plans for enhancing the Temecula Creek underpass are expected to be completed over the next three years.

Mountain Lions were recently put under consideration for special protection under the California Endangered Species Act. If no action is taken to help these animals, they could face extinction within the next 50 years. Mountain Lions are already one of the 146 covered species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). To ensure Mountain Lions continue to thrive in the region, the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) acquires and manages lands that support live-in and movement habitat for these big cats. RCA is committed to ensuring that these majestic creatures continue to live and move safely within western Riverside County.

California Orcutt Grass

Look Out for the Mysterious Black Swift

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) October Species of the Month is the mysterious Black Swift! This elusive bird is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The Black Swift, also known as Cypseloides niger, is a member of a family of birds known as the Swift. It is mostly found in British Columbia, California, and Oaxaca, Mexico and prefers forests and mountainous regions. The Black Swift is a larger species of Swift, often averaging seven inches in length. These birds are great rock-climbers that can hold on to the tiniest of ledges, thanks to their tiny feet. 

Black Swifts build their nests from mud and moss on cliff faces, often behind waterfalls. The nests may be reused for years. They typically nest independently or in small colonies depending on the available nesting sites. You can expect these birds to nest for nearly two months! During courtship, the male will often pursue females in high-speed chases. The Swift are believed to form monogamous and long-term bonds.

Black Swift populations are rapidly declining and are expected to lose another 50% of their remaining population by 2033. The cause for their decline is still being researched as little is known about this species of bird, including where they migrate to in the winter seasons. To assist with conservation efforts for this species, RCA is working to set aside at least 34,020 acres of suitable habitat to include known nesting locations of the Black Swift at Tahquitz Creek within the San Jacinto Wilderness Area and a potential nesting location at the north fork of the San Jacinto River in the San Jacinto Mountains.

September 2020

SAWA Biologists

SAWA, RCA Work Together to Protect Species and Habitat

The Santa Ana Watershed Association (SAWA) is contracted by the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) to monitor the 146 species safeguarded by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP).

As part of this important partnership, SAWA’s veteran staff of biologists monitor endangered and threatened species and the conservation lands where they live. On a recent day in August, the SAWA team sent two biologists out to the Potrero Bureau of Land Management lands to observe reptiles and amphibians.

This recent expedition is part of RCA’s MSHCP biological monitoring program to log the species and their habitats on MSHCP protected lands. The SAWA biologists visit remote, targeted areas where they temporarily catch and tag species to document which are present in the area and whether there are declines across years. The animals are released within a day. When they find a species that has not been found in that area, they take a tissue sample and send it to the United States Geological Survey who assess and provide a report on the species.

RCA is proud to contract with dedicated agencies such as SAWA who assist us in monitoring the plants and animals within the MSHCP reserve system, the largest conservation plan of its kind in the United States!

Clinton Keith Extension

The Clinton Keith Extension Moves Forward, Thanks to the MSHCP

The Clinton Keith Extension Project is one of more than 50 transportation improvement projects across western Riverside County made possible through the blanket environmental permits held by the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) and other Permittees of the MSHCP. The Clinton Keith Extension Project involved partnerships with the City of Murrieta, Riverside County Transportation Department, and the RCA. The Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) managed by RCA is the only conservation plan in the nation created with the express purpose of expediting the construction of transportation infrastructure, new economic development, and new housing while preserving open space for conservation.

The Clinton Keith Extension Project began in 2011 and is being completed in four phases as funding becomes available. The first phase was completed in 2011, widening the roadway to six lanes from Interstate 215 to Whitewood Road. The next two phases were completed simultaneously in 2018, and included construction of four lanes, a raised median, two bridges, and the installation of traffic signals at Menifee Road and Trois Valley Street.  

The last phase is currently in the design process and will extend Clinton Keith Road from Leon Road to State Route 79, connecting SR-79 and Benton Road. Construction is expected to begin in early 2021.

The state and federal MSHCP permits expedited approvals and hence construction of the Clinton Keith Road Extension as well as dozens of other freeway and road projects across western Riverside County, including the improvements to the SR-91 Freeway/Interstate 15 interchange, the new SR-60 Freeway truck lanes now being built east of Moreno Valley, and the planned upgrades to the Railroad Canyon Road/Interstate 15 interchange in Lake Elsinore. The MSHCP directly helps improve western Riverside County traffic by fast-tracking transportation projects to reduce approval time by as much as five years, which has saved taxpayers more than $500 million since the Plan was approved in 2004.

California Orcutt Grass

California Orcutt Grass is a Vernal Pool’s Best Friend

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) September Species of the Month is a fancy-looking plant, the California Orcutt Grass! This annual grass is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The California Orcutt Grass, also known as Orcuttia californica, is a member of a family of grasses called Poaceae. It is mostly found in Southern California and Baja California, Mexico and is usually closely associated with vernal pool habitats. This plant can grow anywhere between 5 to 15 centimeters (2 to 6 inches) high and has small flowers clustered at the tips of its stalks.

California Orcutt Grass is listed as endangered by both the state and federal wildlife agencies. Major threats to the species include habitat loss and degradation. To assist with the monitoring and conservation efforts for this species, RCA is working to set aside at least 6,680 acres of suitable habitat to include at least three of the known occurrences of California Orcutt Grass at the Santa Rosa Plateau, Skunk Hollow, and in the Salt Creek drainage west of Hemet. Vernal pool habitat is important to other protected species such as the Riverside Fairy Shrimp, Western Spadefoot, and many other endangered plants. Vernal pool habitat can only occur where soils are classified as heavy (e.g., clay, fine silts) so that water can be captured and held during winter and into the spring months. These soils are not found everywhere so the types of species living in them are generally rare.

August 2020

RivCoParks

RivCo Parks is a Crucial Partner in Protecting Local Wildlife Habitats

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) is proud to partner with the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District (RivCo Parks) on land management efforts for the preservation of wildlife habitat and protection of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP).

As part of its partnership with the RCA, RivCo Parks has a dedicated staff of 10 that is responsible for conducting everything that is needed as part of being a land manager of the RCA’s reserve lands. This includes habitat enhancement for species such as the Delhi Sands Flower-Loving Fly and the Western Spadefoot, removal of non-native species, and the patrol of RCA lands by vehicle, bike, and foot to ensure proper use of trails and open spaces by the public.

When assisting with habitat improvements for the Delhi Sands Flower-Loving Fly, RivCo Parks replicated natural disturbances on nearly 3 miles of pathways, hand weeded several acres of land, and installed 143 permanent stakes to help document landscape changes.

In 2018, RivCo Parks helped our partners, the San Diego Zoological Society, safely translocate 12 adult Burrowing Owls to artificial burrows that were constructed specifically for this effort. In addition to monitoring the owls in their new homes, RivCo Parks also conducted predator checks daily for three weeks to keep potential threats away from the owls. As mentioned in our June 2020 newsletter, the owls are thriving in their new homes and a pair of owls just welcomed six nestlings to their family!  

RivCo Parks also collaborates with other land management entities such as the U.S. Geological Survey to ensure RCA is utilizing the best land management practices for the preservation of species and their habitat.

Partnerships with agencies like RivCo Parks are crucial for the RCA to continue its mission to manage and complete the MSHCP.

Great American Outdoors Act

The Great American Outdoors Act Signed into Law

On August 4, 2020, the President signed the Great American Outdoors Act which is anticipated to devote over $3 billion annually to conservation efforts, outdoor recreation, and maintenance of national parks and other public lands. This critical source of funding will help the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) in accomplishing their goal of conserving 500,000 acres in Western Riverside County thanks to the hard work of our state and federal legislative leaders.

The Great American Outdoors Act will substantially and permanently increase the amount of funding available for land acquisitions through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  This federal program is a major contributor to the grant funds the RCA applies for every year to purchase land for the reserve.  The RCA oversees the implementation of the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP), which balances needed growth with the preservation of vital habitat. Since 2004, the MSHCP has helped protect 146 native plant and animal species and their habitats while providing input to the Plan’s Permittees on development and infrastructure improvements throughout the region.

Mud Nama

This Fuzzy Flora is a Swampy Delight

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) August Species of the Month is a silky plant that is primarily found in California, the Mud Nama! This annual herb is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The Mud Nama, also known as Nama stenocarpum, is a member of the borage family, which includes forget-me-nots, and is a hairy plant with spoon-shaped leaves and purple flowers. They are often found in marshes, swamps, and vernal wetlands. This species can actually be used as an indicator of vernal pools. The blooming period is usually between January and July.

In western Riverside County, Mud Nama are usually found along the San Jacinto River. To assist with the monitoring and conservation efforts for this species, RCA aims to include at least 7,050 acres of suitable habitat and include at least two of three known occurrences of Mud Nama within the MSHCP conservation area. These plants are part of an important ecosystem that includes other MSHCP covered species such as the Arroyo Toad and the Cleveland’s Bush Monkeyflower.

July 2020

State and Federal Legislation to Boost RCA’s Conservation Efforts

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) continues to move closer to achieving its goal of conserving 500,000 acres in Western Riverside County thanks to the hard work of our state and federal legislative leaders.

Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge

Supported and authored by Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42), and co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Takano (CA-41), and Rep. Pete Aguilar (CA-31), the Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge would create a new federal wildlife area with the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). This will allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fulfill its obligation to provide land as a partner in the MSHCP, which is a wildlife preserve that provides habitat for 146 species of plants and animals.

“The Refuge will pave the way for our federal resource agencies to uphold their commitments under the MSHCP,” said Rep. Calvert. “By establishing these open spaces, Riverside County can better plan for its future economic opportunities and the infrastructure to support it.”

The Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge was recently included in a bipartisan set of amendments to H.R. 2, the INVEST in America Act. H.R. 2 was passed by the House of Representative earlier this month and is currently waiting on approval by the U.S. Senate.

California Habitat Conservation Fund

Thanks to the efforts of RCA and our state representatives, Governor Newsom, and legislative leaders, an agreement was reached to preserve the state’s Habitat Conservation Fund in this year’s budget, which was set to sunset in 2020.

Originally approved by California voters in 1990, the state’s Habitat Conservation Fund allocates millions of dollars each year to Riverside County and other local agencies throughout the state to help protect plant and animal species and acquire habitat and wildlife corridors and trails.

The Habitat Conservation Fund is a critical source of revenue for RCA in acquiring conservation land. RCA is expecting to receive $3 million this year for land acquisition efforts and has received a total of $22 million to date, which has resulted in the conservation of over 3,500 acres of preserved habitat.

Pop Goes the Long-Tailed Weasel!

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) July Species of the Month is an adorable critter that can be found weasling around grasslands throughout North America, the Long-Tailed Weasel! Named for its beautiful long tail, this Weasel is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The Long-Tailed Weasel, also known as Mustela frenata, is a member of the Mustelid family which includes critters such as ferrets and otters. This species dwells in grasslands where their prey is most abundant. They are mesocarnivores, with 50-70% of their diet coming from meat, and are essential in rodent population control and reducing the spread of disease. These Weasels are not afraid of taking on prey that are larger than themselves, but will mostly eat small mammals, birds, bird eggs, reptiles, and some insects. It is likely that you will see them standing on their hind legs surveying the area around them. They hunt both during the day and at night and have been known to travel as far as seven miles from their breeding area in a single hunting excursion.

Adult Long-Tailed Weasels can grow as long as 12 to 18 inches, including their long tail that makes up 40% to 50% of their total length. They are solitary critters and will only seek out other weasels for mating. Newborns are blind and can weigh as little as three grams. However, they will begin accompanying their mother on hunting trips as early as five-weeks-old.

To assist with the monitoring and conservation efforts for this species, RCA protects their population through the removal of rodenticides and bait traps for small mammals. RCA has also found through monitoring that at least 75% of the lands documented to have the species, remain occupied by the species within the MSHCP conservation area. Since Weasels are too sneaky for traditional camera traps, the RCA’s monitoring program sets up “scent stations” that attract the Weasels through a pungent scent tablet. These scent stations are checked daily, and all track patterns are monitored and recorded.

New Linkages to Provide a Solution for Mountain Lion Diversity

Two linkages are in the early phases of being developed to help a severely inbred group of Mountain Lions connect with the genetically diverse populations east of Interstate 15, in Temecula.  The inbred lions live in the Santa Ana Mountains and have become isolated by freeways and development.  Biologists estimate their population at 16 adults. If no action is taken to help these animals, they could face extinction within the next 50 years.

Two projects are currently being planned by The Nature Conservancy and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to create wildlife corridors that will link the Mountain Lion populations on both sides of the I-15. One project involves a I-15 over or underpass south of Temecula and north of the community of Rainbow. There have been preliminary studies on where to place such a structure as well as a study performed by engineering students at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona on preliminary designs and costs. Caltrans is currently working to obtain additional funding to take the effort to the next step.

The Nature Conservancy is drafting a plan that includes habitat restoration, sound baffling, and fencing to direct the cats to an existing undercrossing in Temecula Creek and keep people out. Caltrans has begun the installation of wildlife fencing along the 1-15 south of Temecula Creek to prevent the animals from trying to cross the busy roadway. Plans for enhancing the Temecula Creek underpass are expected to be completed over the next three years.

It is important that similar additions and improvements of existing crossings along the I-15 be completed to ensure that Mountain Lions can safely cross the heavily travelled freeway.

Just recently this local population of Mountain Lions were put under consideration for special protection under the California Endangered Species Act. Mountain Lion, known as Puma concolor, is already one of the 146 covered species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). To ensure Mountain Lions continue to thrive in the region, the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) acquires and manages lands that support live-in and movement habitat for these big cats. RCA is committed to ensuring that these majestic creatures continue to live and move safely within western Riverside County.

Fatal Rabbit Disease Continues to Spread Across Southern California

The Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus, or RHDV2, detected in a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit carcass near Palm Springs in May, has since been detected in several other southern California counties, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. This highly contagious and often lethal disease has killed both wild and domestic rabbits across the southwestern United States. RHDV2 only affects rabbit species and is not known to harm humans, livestock, or other pets.

On June 15, a deceased desert cottontail rabbit was found in San Clemente and was later confirmed by the United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab to be carrying RHDV2. Since that discovery, there have been more cases reported in Orange County as well as Yucca Valley in San Bernardino County, and Poway in San Diego County.

This virus poses a significant threat to 2 of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, the Brush Rabbit and the San Diego Black-Tailed Jackrabbit. It also further imperils two federally endangered rabbit species, one in the southwestern United States, the Pygmy Rabbit, and an extremely endangered species, the Riparian Brush Rabbit, which exists in very small numbers along a few waterways in the San Juaquin River Delta. The current population of Riparian Brush Rabbit is unknown but estimates from the last published survey in the late 1990’s were in the hundreds.

Biologists estimate the virus can live on surfaces for several months without a host and is lethal in 90% of infected individuals.  The onset of the disease is usually very sudden. Symptoms of RHDV2 include swelling, internal bleeding, and liver damage. Rabbits that succumb to the disease may have blood on their nose or mouth. Officials are continuing to monitor the situation and a vaccine is being developed. The RCA monitoring and management teams are aware of the issue and are on the lookout for any signs of the disease.

To limit the spread of this lethal disease, it is recommended that you:

  • Keep domestic rabbits inside at all times to minimize potential exposure.
  • Report any sick or dead rabbits to state wildlife officials and do NOT touch them.
  • Do not touch wild rabbits or their carcasses.
  • Disinfect your clothing and equipment after visiting rabbit habitats and before interacting with domestic rabbits.
  • Monitor your hay/feed sources if they are near areas affected by the outbreak.
  • Keep dogs on a leash when outside so they do not interact with wild rabbits.
  • Keep dogs and pet rabbits in separate areas of your home and consider having dogs wear booties when outside or wash their paws before they come inside.

If you see any rabbits or jackrabbits exhibiting symptoms of RHDV2, or see dead rabbits in an area, please contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Investigations Lab immediately at (916) 358-2790 or online at https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Laboratories/Wildlife-Investigations/Monitoring/Mortality-Report

June 2020

A New Family Burrows onto RCA Conservation Lands

 The Burrowing Owl, also known as Athene cunicularia, is a California Species of Special Concern and is one of the 146 Covered Species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). It is the only owl in the United States that is ground-dwelling. They typically occupy California Ground Squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi) burrow networks.

 As part of the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) commitment to monitoring and providing conservation for this vital species, artificial burrow systems have been created in conservation areas that include nest chambers so that owls can occupy lands that may not otherwise provide the proper burrow networks needed by these owls.

 RCA recently learned that a pair of burrowing owls have decided to use one of these man-made nest chambers to raise their family! Five or six nestlings, along with an egg, have been recorded in one of RCA’s burrows. Keep your fingers crossed for these little ones and follow the RCA as they continue to monitor Western Riverside County’s most adorable new family.

 RCA, in collaboration with the Institute for Conservation Research at the San Diego Zoo, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and United States Fish and Wildlife Service, continue to work on improving MSHCP Conservation Lands for this rare species of owl.

The Rainbow Manzanita is a Rare California Gem

 The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) June Species of the Month is a rare and recently discovered plant that is only found along the Riverside/San Diego County border, the Rainbow Manzanita! Named for the tiny California community it calls home, this shrub plant is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

 The Rainbow Manzanita, also known as Arctostaphylos rainbowensis, is a member of the heath family and is a treelike shrub with waxy oval leaves and clusters of white or pink flowers. The shrub also bares small fruit that look like little apples that attract various birds and small mammals.

 To assist with the monitoring and conservation efforts for this species, RCA aims to include at least 37,260 acres of suitable habitat and include at least 15 known localities of Rainbow Manzanita within the MSCHP conservation area. These plants are part of an important ecosystem that includes other MSHCP covered species such as the Arroyo Toad and the Cleveland’s Bush Monkeyflower.

Mountain Lion Potential Candidate for the California Endangered Species Act

 A local population of Mountain Lion located in southern and central coastal California, is being considered for special protection under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). 

On May 21, 2020, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) initiated a status review for this distinct population of Mountain Lion. CDFW will have 12 months to evaluate the best available information on the species and make a final report to the California Fish and Game Commission, who will have final authority to determine if these Mountain Lions should be listed under CESA.

 Mountain Lion, known as Puma concolor, is already one of the 146 covered species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP).  To support this effort, the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) owns and manages lands that support live-in and movement habitat for the big cat. RCA remains committed to ensuring that these majestic creatures can continue to live and move safely within western Riverside County.

 

May 2020

No Super Bloom for Walker Canyon This Year

2019 brought a rare spectacle to Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore that created excitement all across the globe – The Super Bloom. This year, officials have declared that there will not be a repeat of the floral spectacle that made Walker Canyon an international tourist attraction last spring.

Super Bloom seasons are a rare and often unpredictable phenomenon where an unusually high quantity of wildflowers bloom across Southern California. Prior to the 2019 Super Bloom, the last known occurrence was in 2008. The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority and the Riverside County Parks District have “officially ruled” out the possibility of a Super Bloom this year.

Walker Canyon was a hot spot for the Super Bloom in 2019 due to the hills of bright orange poppies and other wildflowers. Fortunately, the internet is flooded with pictures for those who missed out on the phenomenon.  Just Google California Poppy Super Bloom 2019 to see incredible images of what it was like.

The Super Bloom also led to unanticipated consequences, bringing in hundreds of thousands of visitors to the City of Lake Elsinore which gridlocked Interstate 15, created unsafe traffic conditions, and impacted local wildlife.  

In response, RCA and its partners are committed to monitoring weather conditions that could trigger this natural phenomenon in future years.  We are prepared to help mitigate impacts to the local community, as well as protect critical conservation habitat.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Found in California

On May 13, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced the detection of a highly contagious and often lethal disease called Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, or RHDV2, in a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit carcass near Palm Springs. This is the first time RHDV2 has been detected in California, but officials say the disease has killed both wild and domestic rabbits since March in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and Mexico.

This virus poses a significant threat to the  rabbit population in Western Riverside County, including the Brush Rabbit and the San Diego Black-Tailed Jackrabbit – 2 of the 146 species protected by the Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan overseen by the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA).

RHDV2 can be transmitted between rabbits through contact with other infected rabbits, contaminated food or water, or other materials that have come in contact with the virus. People can also spread the disease inadvertently by transporting sick rabbits to new areas.

The onset of the disease is usually very sudden.  Symptoms of RHDV2 include swelling, internal bleeding, and liver damage. Rabbits that succumb to the disease may have blood on their nose or mouth. RHDV2 only affects rabbit species, and is not known to harm humans, livestock, or other pets. Officials are continuing to monitor the situation.

To limit the spread of this lethal disease, it is recommended that you:

  • Do not touch wild rabbits or their carcasses
  • Disinfect your clothing and equipment using a 10% solution of bleach (Clorox wipes, Lysol are ineffective) after visiting partner reserves or before interacting with domestic rabbits
  • Use gloves while hunting or handling meat on our partner reserves that allow hunting

 

If you see any rabbits or jackrabbits exhibiting symptoms of RHDV2, or see multiple dead rabbits in an area, please contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Investigations Lab immediately at (916) 358-2790 or on line at https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Laboratories/Wildlife-Investigations/Monitoring/Mortality-Report.

The Wilson’s Warbler is Here to Brighten Up Your Day

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) May Species of the Month is a little yellow cutie, the Wilson’s Warbler! This adorable insect-loving bird is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The Wilson’s Warbler, also known as Wilsonia pusilla, is one of the smallest birds in the warbler family. They are adorned with mostly bright yellow plumage with gradients of olive, and adult males have blackish feathers or a dark cap on top of their head.

The Wilson’s Warbler can be found restlessly fluttering between bushes, thickets, and shrubs as they hunt for insects, their favorite meal. While they nest in our local mountains, you may also spot them in parks or even your own backyard during migratory seasons (spring, fall).

The monitoring objectives established in the MSHCP for this species have already been achieved. This includes setting aside at least 192,140 acres of suitable dispersal and migration habitat, and interconnecting linkages within the Plan’s conservation area.

How to Stay Safe During Rattlesnake Season

As the days ahead begin to warm up, those sunlit trails are sure to attract both eager hikers and some venemous reptilian critters! If you’re planning on taking a hike through some of Western Riverside County’s pristine open spaces, it’s best to be on the lookout for snakes and remember these six safety tips:

  1. Always stay on the designated trails and only visit areas that are open to the public.
  2. Never allow your young children to run ahead of you on the trail.
  3. Stay away from bushes and shrubs where snakes often reside to avoid being detected. Snakes can be on the ground or above the ground in a shrub.
  4. Remember that snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them! If you see one, back away slowly.
  5. If you come upon a snake, alive or dead, steer clear. It’s always best to leave local wildlife alone.
  6. Avoid picking up rocks and logs and looking into holes as doing so could alarm a hiding snake.

April 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update

In accordance with the County of Riverside’s revised public health order on April 20, all RCA lands have been reopened with the exception of the Walker Canyon area, which remains closed until further notice.

Areas that attract large groups will be patrolled by rangers to ensure that social distancing measures are being met. RCA may be required to close lands if these measures are not being followed.

Social distancing measures include:

  1. No large gatherings
  2. Wearing face coverings, such as scarves, bandanas, and neck gaiters at all times
  3. Maintaining six feet of distance between non-household members

The RCA appreciates your patience and understanding during these unprecedented times as we all work together to help decrease the spread of the Coronavirus. Please check back regularly for updates. For the latest information from the County of Riverside regarding the Coronavirus, please click here.

For a map of RCA-owned closed properties, click here.

For RivCoParks closure information, please click here.

Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority Awarded $10,000,000 Grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 A $10,000,000 Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) Land Acquisition Grant was awarded to the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

 The grant will fund the acquisition of threatened and endangered species habitat that has been identified as critical by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP).

 “This grant provides critically-needed funding to acquire conservation areas that are outlined in the MSHCP,” said Chairman Jonathan Ingram. “We look forward to utilizing this grant to expand protections to habitats in Western Riverside County, which moves us forward in completing the largest conservation plan in the nation.”

 The MSHCP seeks to establish a 500,000-acre habitat reserve to protect, restore, and enhance habitats for the conservation of 146 species while expediting construction of needed infrastructure, particularly transportation, and provides certainty in the development process. To date, the Western Riverside County MSHCP Reserve is over 400,000 acres.

 The RCA was one of 11 agencies in the nation that were awarded a Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Grant, which are offered through the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund to any state agency that has an agreement with the USFWS for endangered and threatened species conservation.

Fall in Love with the Heart-leaved Pitcher Sage

 The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) April Species of the Month might be Cupid’s favorite, the Heart-leaved Pitcher Sage! This annual flowering plant is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

 The Heart-leaved Pitcher Sage, also known as Lepechinia cardiophylla, is a member of the mint family and is an aromatic shrub with fuzzy rounded leaves. This plant bears flowers that can either be white or lavender.

 Few populations of this plant are known to exist. To ensure that these flowers keep blooming in Western Riverside County, RCA monitors the distribution of this species across 56,950 acres of suitable habitat identified in the MSHCP Conservation area.

 This species is generally found in forest habitats.  You can find them in the Santa Ana Mountains on National Forest land. These flowers are part of an important ecosystem that includes other MSHCP covered species such as the Arroyo Toad and the Cleveland’s Bush Monkeyflower.

March 2020

New RCA Website Brings Fresh Look, Innovative Features

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) recently unveiled a fully redesigned website with new interactive features and a fresh, modern design which further promotes public engagement and transparency while streamlining activities for conservationists, government partners, the building community, educators, and community members. 

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) recently unveiled a fully redesigned website with new interactive features and a fresh, modern design which further promotes public engagement and transparency while streamlining activities for conservationists, government partners, the building community, educators, and community members.

“We are excited for the public to be able to learn more about our agency and its important work by exploring our beautiful new website and all of the updated features it offers,” said Jonathan Ingram, Chairman of the RCA Board of Directors. “It’s important that our website be user-friendly, and that it efficiently communicates important information about our agency, our purpose, our services, and our progress in assembling the largest conservation plan in the nation.”

New features include: 

  • Recreational Opportunities: From hiking to mountain biking to bird-watching, this interactive map provides the public with information and locations of RCA’s partner reserves covered under the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) where recreational activities are available
  • See/Say Something Reporting Form: This quick resource in the top right corner allows residents to report issues of concern on RCA conservation lands and the reserves operated by our partner agencies, from illegal dumping to unauthorized off-road vehicle use
  • Fee Estimator: To assist the building community, RCA has developed this easy-to-use and interactive tool which helps developers to estimate the MSHCP fees for planned residential, commercial and industrial projects 
  • School Resource Page: For students and educators, our school resources page offers information on the 146 plant and animal species — including 33 that are threatened or endangered – that are protected by the MSHCP in Western Riverside County, as well as other useful resources

We encourage you to take a moment and explore our new website. And don’t forget to follow-us on social media!

Going Fly-Fishing with the Osprey

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) March Species of the Month is a wide-winged hawk, the Osprey! This gorgeous flying fisherman is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The Osprey, also known as Pandion haliaetus, is a relatively large species of hawk that is known for its mostly pescatarian diet. Close to 99% of the Osprey’s fare consists of fish, but it will occasionally eat small mammals, birds, or reptiles. Osprey tend to hover above lakes, coastlines, and rivers where they catch their prey by diving into the water and grabbing fish with their talons.

The RCA monitors Osprey habitat in Western Riverside County, spread across more than 10,000 acres of suitable open water environment in the MSHCP conservation area. This includes at least 5,520 acres of suitable riparian/riverine habitat in the Prado Basin and Santa Ana River.

The Osprey is typically seen in Western Riverside County during the winter. If you’re trying to catch a glimpse of this hawk in action, then you can probably spot them at Lake Perris, Lake Hemet, Lake Elsinore, or Lake Skinner.

Endangered, Native Species Flourish on Goodhart Acquisitions

Thanks to the efforts of a historic family in Riverside County, conservation land near Diamond Valley Lake is thriving today with flora and fauna. This crucial habitat known as the Goodhart Acquisition is part of the 500,000-acre Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) monitored by the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA).

The RCA purchased the Goodhart property totaling approximately 909 acres in 2005 at a purchase price of $5,100,000. The source of funds included RCA MSHCP funds and funds from the Riverside County Transportation Commission. The Goodhart Acquisition serves as an important link between the San Bernardino National Forest and the Southwestern Riverside County Multi-Species Reserve south of Diamond Valley Lake. This property is home to 75 plant and animal species including the Mountain Lion, Quino Checkerspot Butterfly, and the Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat. This property also serves as a linkage for species that travel between Wilson Valley and the San Bernardino National Forest.

Since the time that the Goodhart acquisition was completed, RCA has acquired other properties in this area, including the Bautista Canyon property to the northeast which totals approximately 2,794 acres and the SSR acquisition to the southeast, which totals approximately 1,261 acres. These three acquisitions form an important part of Core 4 within the MSHCP Reserve. The RCA greatly appreciates having had the opportunity to work with the Goodhart family to preserve the region’s natural heritage. The Goodhart family legacy stretches all the way back to the 1800’s as early settlers of the Hemet community.

February 2020

Congressman Calvert’s Bill Establishing Wildlife Refuge in Western Riverside County Passes Committee

On January 29, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee advanced legislation that would establish the Western Riverside County Wildlife Refuge. The bill introduced by Congressman Ken Calvert (CA-42), H.R. 2956, will now head to the House floor for consideration.

“Riverside County is now one step closer to being home to a new wildlife refuge that would help it balance its commitment to conserving animal habitat with its need for future growth,” said Rep. Calvert in a recent news release.

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) oversees the implementation of the Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP), which balances needed growth with the preservation of vital habitat. Since 2004, the MSHCP has helped protect 146 native plant and animal species while providing guidelines for development and infrastructure improvements throughout the region.

“We thank Congressman Calvert for championing progress towards the creation of the Western Riverside County Wildlife Refuge,” said Jonathan Ingram, Chairman of the RCA Board of Directors. “This legislation will enable the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fulfill its obligation as a partner in the MSHCP and will mark a huge step forward in completing the largest conservation plan in the nation.”

The MSHCP calls for the establishment of a 500,000-acre habitat reserve in Western Riverside County by 2029. Nearly 347,000 of those acres include existing United States Forest Service land such as the Cleveland and San Bernardino National Forests, as well as other state and federal land.

The Little Mousetail is a Big Deal in Western Riverside County

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) February Species of the Month is a regal flower, the Little Mousetail! This annual native herb is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The Little Mousetail, also known as Myosurus minimus, is a small flower with an elongated receptacle with five white petals at its base. This plant grows up to about 12 centimeters (roughly 5 inches) tall and generally blooms between April and May.

To ensure that these flowers keep blooming in Western Riverside County, RCA monitors the distribution of this species at least once every eight years. They also ensure to include at least 6,900 acres of suitable habitat in the MSHCP Conservation area.

This species is generally found in vernal pool habitats so you can probably find them at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, one of RCA’s partner reserves. These flowers are part of an important ecosystem that includes other MSHCP covered species such as the Riverside Fairy Shrimp and the Western Spadefoot.

Diversity Abounds at Motte Rimrock Reserve

An expansive, rocky plateau that rests on the edge of Perris Valley, the Motte Rimrock Reserve contains an unusual mix of habitats with over 700 acres that safeguard species such as the endangered Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat and the threatened California Gnatcatcher.

Motte Rimrock Reserve is an important partner in the 500,000-acre Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP). Owned and managed by the University of California, Riverside (UCR), the Motte Rimrock Reserve is part of the UC’s research-based reserve system and provides research opportunities for K-12 and university students.

The reserve contains a diverse landscape with habitats ranging from grasslands to willow riparian thickets to granite rock outcrops. Adding to the diversity are six seasonal springs. The reserve has an abundance of species including 92 vascular plants, 3 amphibians, 22 reptiles, 150 birds, and 23 mammals. Apart from the biological diversity, this reserve also encompasses important archaeological sites.

This reserve is one of seven in Western Riverside County that is permanently dedicated to monitoring and conserving the Stephens’s Kangaroo Rat. Biologists from the reserve conduct quarterly monitoring studies and are an active participant in the Reserve Managers Coordinating Committee (RMCC) where these and other important species are addressed in an open forum.

To help protect this critical habitat, the reserve is not open to the public. You can learn more about the Motte Rimrock Reserve by visiting its website here.

January 2020

Granite Spiny Lizard: A Blue-Bellied Wonder

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority’s (RCA) January Species of the Month is a cerulean reptile, the Granite Spiny Lizard! This iridescent critter is one of the 146 species protected by the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) implemented by the RCA.

The Granite Spiny Lizard, also known as Sceloporus orcutti, is a moderately large dark lizard with keeled scales. Males have iridescent scales and can be very colorful, with blue bellies and green scales. Females and juveniles have distinct cross bands and little to no blue on their bellies.

To help keep this reptilian wonder thriving in western Riverside County, RCA monitors habitats through the use of various survey methods to determine their presence and distribution. Our monitoring crews also collect tissue samples from the lizards and send them to the U.S. Geological Survey where they analyze how different populations may have genetic differences.

These amazing lizards are only found in Southern California and Baja California, Mexico. The Granite Spiny Lizard is often found in rocky terrain, usually on granite outcroppings and large boulders. Locally, you can often spot this blue-bellied reptile on Mount Rubidoux in Riverside.

More than 120 Species at the Box Springs Reserve

Overlooking the University of California, Riverside campus, the Box Springs Reserve encompasses a vital transitional zone in western Riverside County, offering nearby opportunities for hiking on land that is also home to more than 120 unique animal species.

The Box Springs Reserve is part of the 500,000-acre Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP).   Owned and managed by the University of California, Riverside, the Box Springs Reserve is part of the University of California’s research-based reserve system and provides research opportunities on a wide variety of disciplines, including the effects of fire on invasive annuals in California coastal scrublands.

The Box Springs Reserve is comprised of 160 acres on the west-facing hillside above UCR, just east of the City of Riverside.  Rich in vertebrates, the reserve hosts nineteen species of reptiles, including three rare species: The Coast Horned Lizard, the Orange-Throated Whiptail, and the Red Diamond Rattlesnake. Sixteen species of mammals also inhabit the reserve, including the Pacific Kangaroo Rat, Mountain Lion, and Mule Deer. Also observed on site are over 85 bird species including the Golden Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Sage Sparrows, and many more.

The reserve sits on the steep granitic slope near the top of Box Springs Mountain in what is known as a transitional zone, because the flora transitions from coastal sage scrub to chamise chaparral. To protect this critical conservation area, the reserve is closed from public access. However, there are numerous nearby trails alongside Box Springs Mountain that offer amazing views and opportunities to examine some of the flora and fauna that share the Reserve. Popular trails include the 3.3-mile M Hike and the 4.6-mile Box Springs Mountain Loop.

The Riverside County Park and Open Space District operates the larger Box Springs Mountain Reserve Park situated just east of the Box Springs Reserve.  More information about access and parking can be found here.  Admission to the trails is free and open to the public daily from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  More information on the 3,400 acre Box Springs Mountain Reserve can be found here.

How Many Bald Eagles Can You Count?

Grab your binoculars or spotting scopes and join the Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (RCA) in helping count the majestic Bald Eagles at Lake Perris.  The Bald Eagle Count Experience invites the public to be part of an ongoing effort to help observe and protect one of the 146 plants and animals monitored under the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) managed by the RCA.

Hosted by the Lake Perris State Recreation Area, the Bald Eagle Count Experience offers participants an exciting chance to observe and photograph these regal national icons.  The winter months are often the best time to catch sight of Bald Eagles in Southern California.  Several vantage points are planned for visitors around the lake where spotters will keep a lookout for these magnificent birds of prey.

Bald Eagles are monitored as a covered species under the MSHCP by the RCA.  They are common around local lakes, including Lake Elsinore, Lake Perris, Vail Lake, Lake Skinner, and Lake Mathews.

Previous Bald Eagle Count Experiences were held in mid-December and mid-January, but there are two more opportunities to take part in this event on February 8, and March 14. The program begins at 7 a.m. and lasts until 10:30 a.m.  The meeting location will be the Ya’i Heki’ Regional Indian Museum at Lake Perris.  Learn more about this free event here.

Flora, Fauna & Land Protected by RCA