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Seasonal Wetlands Need Better Protections

Here and Gone

Riverside fairy shrimp. San Diego mesa mint, found nowhere else on Earth. California Orcutt grass. In the unincorporated areas of San Diego, these species depend on the habitat provided by vernal pools for survival. Vernal pools are ephemeral things -- they arrive with the winter rains, flourish during the spring, and vanish under the shimmering heat of the summer sun. Sadly, most vernal pools in Southern California have disappeared forever, under housing tracts, freeways, and shopping malls. Where the pools have disappeared, so too have the endangered plants and animals these pools supported.

Wrong Kind of "Groundbreaking"

In 1997, the City of San Diego created the Multiple Species Conservation Program, which was heralded at the time by then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt as "a model for the country." But the plan as approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service had major flaws -- it didn't put necessary limits on development, didn't have conservation measures to protect the most vulnerable species and habitats, and didn't ensure that any of the species would recover. Nonetheless, building permits were issued and major new building developments were approved under the plan that would impact vernal pools. To protect the pools and their threatened species from these developments, 13 conservation groups filed suit to challenge the decision of the FWS to issue the permits. A construction company and four building associations intervened in the case.

Try It Again

Federal Judge Rudi Brewster ruled in October 2006 that the Multiple Species Conservation Program fell far short in its protections of vernal pools and the species that depend on the habitat, and violated "both the spirit and the letter" of the Endangered Species Act. Judge Brewster sent the plan back to the FWS for review. Earthjustice will be watching.