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Innovative Riverside County Planning Effort Underway To Integrate Ecosystem Conservation with Urban Growth


Innovative Riverside County Planning Effort Underway To Integrate Ecosystem Conservation with Urban Growth

(April 4, 2000)

An ambitious and innovative effort between land developers and conservationists to replace species-by-species protection and project-by-project conflict with a comprehensive regional plan is helping define a new, more productive role for scientists in land use planning.

That role - one of an unbiased provider of scientific data informing public policy - is described in the current issue of Endangered Species UPDATE by University of California, Riverside scientists James E. Sullivan and Thomas A. Scott. The Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan may ultimately cover some 160 sensitive animal and plant species in western Riverside County - a rapidly growing region about an hour's drive east of Los Angeles.

The conservation plan is one leg of an integrated land use plan that will also include an updated county general plan and transportation corridor plan. The result will be the Riverside County Integrated Planning program, a framework for public policy decisions involving development, transportation and habitat conservation.

"This is a truly progressive effort, a very unique integrated plan," said Sullivan, a UCR graduate student in earth sciences.

The plan seeks to balance the demand for housing, transportation and economic development with the desire to protect natural resources, and the role of scientists at UCR is to develop a data repository and coordinate a scientific review of the proposed habitat conservation plan.

The article in Endangered Species UPDATE by Sullivan and Scott reports on the progress of the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, which grew out of a desire by all stakeholders - the building industry, conservation community and elected policymakers - for objective scientific data. One year into the three-year project, UCR scientists and students have created an online clearinghouse of biological information on nearly 240 animal and plant species within the 1.25 million a cres of land covered by the multiple species habitat conservation plan.

"There is a role for policy and there is a role for science and we need to separate the two," said Scott, associate director of the UCR Center for Conservation Biology and a natural resource specialist for UC Cooperative Extension. "As a public trust institution, our currency is information that informs public policy decisions."

The Center is also providing an independent review of the science used to prepare the plan by a panel of regional biologists chaired by Michael Allen, director of the UCR Center for Conservation Biology. A public trust repository for information and inde pendent scientific review are two elements that have not been seen in previous habitat conservation plans (HCPs), according to Scott. However, he noted, "Credible information is often the only point of agreement when negotiations begin among stakeholder groups."

The public web site (http://ecoregion.ucr.edu/mshcp) includes information on each species' distribution in Riverside County, their habitats and links to other online sources of information. Many of the entries also include photographs. In addition, visitors to the web site can conduct scientific literature searches and survey what animals and plants inhabit specific areas within the region.

"Our tasks are to report all pertinent, existing scientific information, identify areas where scientific information is limited or non-existent and find ways to fill those information gaps," Scott said.

Western Riverside County, which in the 1980s grew by more than a half million people, is described in the article by Sullivan and Scott as a "global hotspot of biodiversity." At least 400 plant and animal species are endemic to Southern California, meaning that they occur in no other known location. "Western Riverside is an epicenter of endemism with a high density of rare species coinciding with one of the rapidly urbanizing region of the country," Scott said. This complex environment requires that preserves encompass habitats that will serve a number of sensitive species, he said.

Because of that, it is likely that policymakers, economic development interests and conservationists throughout the nation will be looking closely to see the outcome in Riverside County, Scott said. "Providing objective information and review are noble goals, but in a broader sense, we're trying to develop structure for how this can be done anywhere in California," he said.

More information on the Riverside County Integrated Planning program can be found online at (http://www.rcip.org).

The bimonthly Endangered Species UPDATE, published by the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, is a forum for information on the scientific and public policy aspects of current efforts to conserve threatened and endangered species. It also includes a reprint of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Technical Bulletin.


The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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