A flower once thought to be extinct and a federally endangered toad will force developers of the massive Newhall Ranch project to further study how they will minimize the impact of the development.
A biologist contracted by Newhall Land & Farming Co. discovered the San Fernando Valley spineflower on Newhall Ranch property about two weeks ago, Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for Newhall Land, said Monday.
It was just the second recent discovery of the rare spring-blooming flower, long thought to be extinct. Last year the flower was found on Ahmanson Ranch property in Ventura County in the first sighting since 1940.
"It was discovered in a limited amount and area, and we are working with the necessary agencies on how to mitigate it," Lauffer said.
Construction on Newhall Ranch has already been delayed until possibly 2003 after a Kern County judge last week ruled that more research was needed to address water supplies and the project's effects on traffic, Santa Clara River aquatic life and a wildlife corridor.
Lauffer said the additional environmental work needed because of the spineflower discovery can be done concurrently and she did not anticipate any additional delay.
"We will work with the agencies on the best way to mitigate the spineflower," she said. "It's not expected to be a major issue."
Another rare species, the federally endangered Southwestern arroyo toad, may also lead to further habitat research for Newhall Ranch.
Nearly 500,000 acres of land in California will be proposed as critical habitat for the endangered Southwestern arroyo toad by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this Thursday.
The designation--part of a legal settlement with the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity--could affect projects such as Newhall Ranch and the proposed 16-mile Foothill South toll road in southern Orange County.
Land stretching through Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego counties will be included, said Jenny Valdivia, a regional spokeswoman in the service's Portland office.
It will also affect the San Bernardino, Cleveland, Angeles and Los Padres national forests, said David Hogan, rivers program coordinator for the center's San Diego office, which sued to win the critical habitat designation.
The tiny buff-colored toad, which was listed as endangered in 1994, is on the brink of extinction, Valdivia said. Under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, land crucial to a species' survival must be designated as critical habitat once the species is listed as endangered or threatened.
But federal officials have balked at designating habitat for the toad and scores of other endangered species, citing fears that collectors would use the information to decimate the dwindling populations.
Instead, environmentalists have filed more than 200 successful lawsuits to win designations.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service still refuses to implement certain controversial segments of the Endangered Species Act outside of litigation," said Hogan. "We have had significant success in compelling the agency to comply with the will of Congress through our litigation."
The latest designation will not directly affect private landowners' rights or create preserves; it affects activity on that land that receives federal funding or requires federal regulatory approval. That includes housing and road developers who need federal permits to fill in wetlands, creek beds and other habitat during construction.
In the past, developers have won approvals after agreeing to set aside or create other habitat in exchange for destroying designated areas.
Newhall Land and Farming Co., which is planning 22,000 homes on 12,000 acres in Los Angeles County, could be affected, Hogan said. The proposed development would straddle the Santa Clara River, which supports "fantastic arroyo toad habitat," he said.
Lauffer declined immediate comment on the proposal.
"I won't answer hypothetical questions, so we'll have to look at their designation," she said.
Lauffer said Newhall Land hasn't found any arroyo toads on its property, although she said the creature has been found in nearby areas, including Sespe and Piru creeks.
"However, if it's ever discovered, we would deal with it as mandated by the regulatory agencies," Lauffer said.
Laurene Weste, a Santa Clarita councilwoman, noted that the housing project is along the Santa Clara River.
"The river is an incredibly important resource and a significant ecological area," she said. "The arroyo toad needs a buffer area, and habitat areas could be adjacent to the river."
So far, three federally listed endangered species have been identified at Newhall Ranch. Two are birds, the least Bell's vireo and the Southwestern willow flycatcher; and the third is a fish, the unarmored three-spined stickleback, Lauffer said.