Endangered Species Act:

Impact of Species Protection Efforts on the 1993 California Fire

RCED-94-224: Published: Jul 8, 1994. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed events surrounding a large wildfire in California in 1993, focusing on: (1) the development and application of a prohibition on disking for weed abatement; (2) the fire's nature and the resulting damage to homes; (3) whether a relationship existed between the disking prohibition and the loss of homes; and (4) recent developments regarding the disking prohibition.

GAO found that: (1) in accordance with the Endangered Species Act, the Riverside County Fire Department in 1989 prohibited disking in areas in which it would have posed a threat to the endangered Stephens' kangaroo rat; (2) Riverside County officials and the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) developed alternative weed abatement methods that would provide adequate firebreaks and would not disturb the kangaroo rat's habitat; (3) there were no public concerns over the disking prohibition before the fire; (4) 18 of the 29 homes that were destroyed were fire-prone mobile homes and 23 homes showed no evidence that weed abatement had occurred in 1993 prior to the fire; (5) major damage was predictable due to the fire's magnitude and speed; (6) although some homeowners believe that the disking prohibition contributed to the destruction of their homes, there is no evidence to support these allegations; (7) county officials and fire experts believe that the fire destroyed homes randomly and that weed abatement would not have affected whether home were destroyed; and (8) although the County and FWS have recently relaxed disking prohibitions, FWS believes that the changes will not threaten the rat's survival.

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