Rep. Joe Baca

By Jim Steinberg Staff Writer
Posted: 08/11/2011 12:45:03 PM PDT

RIALTO – Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, is seeking to remove two animal species from protection under the Endangered Species Act, which he said is stalling the development of more than 8,000 residential units here.

Such a move would “expand the tax base of Rialto dramatically, and cause incalculable economic growth for the city and surrounding regions,” Baca wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday.

But a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said decisions to add or subtract species from the endangered list do not include an economic analysis.

“It’s based on sound science,” Jane Hendron said.

Ron Pharris, the developer of the Lytle Creek Ranch project, said last week his firm could no longer support its money-

losing El Rancho Verde Golf Club and wage a legal war with environmentalists opposed to his project.

For those reasons, Pharris told staffers and golfers last week that the golf club – where Baca plays golf frequently – would be closed on Aug. 17.

Baca’s letter to Salazar comes at a time when many plants, animals and insects on the endangered species list are in the midst of a review to see if they should still be on the list, Baca said.

In the letter to Salazar, Baca wrote that Pharris’ company has been “especially” affected by the continued listing of the southwestern willow flycatcher – a species of bird – and the San Bernardino kangaroo rat.

“These two species have stopped a proposed housing development that would bring more than 8,400 residential units and 25,000 new residents to the city of Rialto,” he wrote, adding that Rialto is his hometown.

A Rialto conservation group, Save Lytle Creek Wash, along with the Los Angeles-based Endangered Habitats League, have filed a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit alleging that the Lytle Creek Ranch project would destroy habitat for several endangered species.

But an attorney for the Endangered Habitats League said his organization is not against the whole project.

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