Buddhist temple hits a snag

  CALIFORNIA


While a Buddhist temple may be a place of tranquility, plans for a new retreat center in a canyon have environmentalists fuming and suing.


The controversy began after San Bernardino County unanimously approved a 1998 proposal by Ling Yen Temple Inc. to build a 10-building retreat and a 600-car parking lot.


Now, a Pasadena-based environmental group says construction in Morse Canyon near Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., must halt because it will harm endangered species, especially the California gnatcatcher and the kangaroo rat. The group, Spirit of the Sage Council, has sued the county to block construction.


Though the retreat center would cover only 42 acres, the temple would isolate Morse Canyon from nearby areas protected by state legislation, says Leeona Klippstein of the Spirit of the Sage Council. "We consider it a leapfrog development," she says. "It opens up that canyon for future development."


Local environmentalists have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on their side. The service has proposed the alluvial fan sage scrub, a type of habitat found in the canyon, as critical habitat for the endangered gnatcatcher. "It's one of the few known areas to support the gnatcatcher at the northern end of its range," says Mary Beth Woulfe of the service. A final decision regarding habitat designation is expected by September.


The Sage Council is confident it will win the lawsuit in San Bernardino County Superior Court. "I think the judge will tell them they have to do an environmental impact report," Klippstein says. "We're hoping they see it's just not worth their fight."


For its part, the county says a land preserve already exists for the endangered animals near the temple site. "It didn't seem to us that the impact on the environment was severe enough to require a full environmental assessment," says county spokesman David Wert. The Ling Yen Buddhists refused to comment on the lawsuit.


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