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Yesterday, the 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. “As we move forward, it’s critical that all stakeholders, including the federal government, meet their conservation responsibilities to ensure the successful implementation of our planning efforts, including vital transportation improvement projects.”

The Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (WRCRCA) oversees the implemntation of the Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP), which gives protection to over 146 species of plants, birds and animals. Since 2004, the MSHCP has protected vulnerable species such as the Stephen’s Kangaroo Rat and the Quino Checkerspot Butterfly, while providing guidelines for development and infrastrucre improvements throughout the region without sacraficing vital habitat.

Under the MSHCP, the plan outlines a total of 1.26 million acres in Western Riverside County, with the goal of securing 500,000 acres or 40% of land for preservation by 2029. Nearly 350,000 of those acres are existing National Forest system land from Cleveland and San Bernardino National Forests and other state and federal land, which has reserve value. The remaining 150,000 acres are to be acquired, two-thirds from private landowners through the WRCRCA, and one-third, by the state and federal governments. The federal government and the state are required to acquire one-third of the necessary land for this wildlife preserve, but the feds have not yet met their goal.  Enactment of H.R. 2956 will enable the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fulfill its obligation as a partner in the MSHCP.

“We thank Congressman Calvert for championing progress towards the creation of the Western Riverside County Wildlife Refuge, which needs the federal government to meet their commitment as a partner outlined under the MSHCP agreement,” said WRCRCA Chairman Jonathan Ingram. “We are optimistic that this legistalion will enable federal lands to be made available, completing a necessary step towards the largest conservation plan in the nation.”

WRCRCA supports the consolidation of the current checkerboard conservation lands into a Wildlife Refuge creating a framework for the federal government to meet its obligations under the MSHCP Implementing agreement. This legislation would:

  • Establish the boundary for a new wildlife refuge;
  • Allow for the immediate inclusion of non-federal conservation lands that have already been acquired to meet the terms of the MSHCP; and
  • Create a mechanism for federal agencies to inventory lands within the Refuge boundary established by this legislation to determine their suitability for inclusion.