Bullet Train Endangers Kit Foxes

(Peter M. Fredin / Associated Press)
Peter M. Fredin / Associated Press

California’s project bullet train hit a speed bump last week as the federal government’s Fish and Wildlife Service nailed the California High-Speed Rail Authority for violating federal protections for the endangered San Joaquin kit fox, the Los Angeles Times reports.

According to the feds, the authority built a nine-acre construction yard that destroyed a kit fox den.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrote a letter Jan. 26 accusing the rail authority, along with the Federal Railroad Administration and its contractors, of ignoring environmental standards on six different issues. One of the violations was listed as failing to send biological survey reports.

Still, the letter acknowledged that the agencies responsible for the violation have scheduled a consultation, which was apparently enough to satisfy the Fish and Wildlife Service. Sarah Swenty, a spokeswoman with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sacramento field office, said that the situation was not unique, and explained that the problem likely arose because the rail authority was behind schedule, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority plans to build a new habitat for the foxes.

The San Joaquin kit fox is near the top of the list of endangered animals in California; only 7,000 foxes exist, largely found in cities where they can find rodents and birds to eat. The foxes were much more populous until the 1930s, when Californians began to transform grasslands into farms and cities. The Environmental Protection Agency states,The largest extant populations are in western Kern County on and around the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Valley and in the Carrizo Plain Natural Area in San Luis Obispo County.”

Biologists working for the authority placed a camera into the den to check if foxes lived there; when they found there were none, they destroyed it so foxes would not be tempted to return and be injured by continuing construction, according to Swenty. The authority realized later that the destruction violated the standards set by the feds, and notified the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Times reports.