Caltrans to Buy Desert Open Land for Endangered Squirrel, Tortoise

Caltrans officials say the agency has agreed to buy 5,450 acres of open desert either in Kern County or San Bernardino County to serve as replacement habitat for the Mojave squirrel and the desert tortoise, two of California's endangered species.

The acreage will be given to the state Department of Fish and Game to offset the impact of 11 state road projects in the two counties. The purchase is part of an ongoing program to set up wildlife "land banks," said officials of the state Department of Transportation.

The plan was announced at Thursday's meeting here of the California Transportation Commission, which is scheduled to approve the necessary funding--about $1,000 an acre--at its October session.

Under state regulations, Caltrans must come up with 5 acres of suitable land for each acre of endangered species' habitat affected by Caltrans projects, agency spokesman George Hartwell said.

Details of the land arrangement for the Mojave ground squirrel and the desert tortoise are still being negotiated with Fish and Game staff, Hartwell said.

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