A recent report finds that California lost more than 1 million acres of natural area between 2001 and 2017 due to urban development, greatly affecting the state’s renowned biodiversity and limiting communities’ access to nature.
To protect some of southern California’s remaining habitat, H.R. 972, the Wildlife Refuge Conservation and Recreation for the Community Act, introduced this week, calls for the establishment of Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge. If enacted, this bill would preserve nearly 500,000 acres for 146 species, 33 of which are threatened or endangered, provide access to nature for the area’s large human population, and conserve wildlife corridors and habitat connectivity.
“We are losing species at a faster rate than ever before in human history and today’s legislation, if passed, will safeguard lands that are vital for wildlife and people,” said Mariel Combs, senior federal lands policy analyst with Defenders of Wildlife. “Habitat loss is the main driver of the biodiversity crisis because imperiled species cannot survive without a place to live. The Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge would prioritize habitat restoration efforts and give these species a fighting chance.”
Aligned with the commitment to conserve 30% of lands by 2030, also known as 30x30, Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge would become the sixth largest wildlife refuge in the contiguous United States and the second largest urban refuge in the nation.
“Riverside County is densely populated and one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. Establishment of this national wildlife refuge will preserve remaining intact habitat for imperiled wildlife while also providing more equitable access to nature in this highly urbanized region – both of which are key components of our state and national 30x30 goals,” said Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife.
Urban refuges are defined as refuges that are within 25 miles of a population of 250,000. In the case of the Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge, there are nearly 12 million people that live near what would be a newly established refuge.
“From economic growth opportunities in tourism-related jobs to increased access to nature in urban areas, local communities benefit greatly from protected public lands like the proposed Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge. We urge Congress to act swiftly and adopt this legislation, which will be important for wildlife and humans alike,” said Flick.
According to the U.S. Department of Interior, nearly 80% of the Americans across the nation live in and around cities. Truly, our connections to nature are more important now than ever. Luckily, the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program has proven to be successful in connecting urban communities with nature, as well as providing equitable access to green spaces, partnering with schools for nature education and improving regional sustainability.