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Proposed Shrimp Habitat Might Hinder Airport

September 23, 2000

ORANGE COUNTY — Prompted by a lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed 12,060 acres of land in Southern California--including patches of the closed El Toro Marine Corps Air Station--as critical habitat for the endangered Riverside fairy shrimp.

If adopted, the proposal would be another hurdle for the already controversial plans for a commercial airport on the former military base.

One of the last-known populations of the shrimp in Orange County is also in the path of the proposed 16-mile Foothill South toll road, making the tiny freshwater crustacean the latest on a list of endangered species that the Transportation Corridor Agencies must deal with.

Fairy shrimp live in vernal pools--seasonal wetlands created by winter and spring rains--that are being wiped out by development in Southern California.

The tiny Riverside fairy shrimp was discovered in 1985 and listed as endangered in 1993. Its life span is only a few months; it dies when the pond dries up, said Lois Grunwald, a spokeswoman for the wildlife agency's Ventura office.

About 97% of vernal pools in San Diego County have been destroyed. The exact amount lost in Orange County is unknown, but experts say the damage has been comparable.

Critical habitat is land considered crucial to the survival of creatures teetering on extinction. A designation allows the service to modify or prohibit activities that would severely harm the habitat on federally regulated land.

The proposal, which includes land in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Diego and Ventura counties, must be finalized by May 1.

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