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For Immediate Release, September 3, 2009

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Suit Seeks to Protect 70,000 Additional Acres for Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow 

WASHINGTON—  The Center for Biological Diversity and Florida Biodiversity Project filed suit today to obtain a larger protected area for the highly endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow by reversing a Bush-era decision that struck down 70,000 acres of critical habitat identified by scientists as essential for the survival of the rare songbird. The lawsuit is part of a larger campaign on the part of the Center to undo a slew of decisions by the Bush administration that ignored the government’s own scientists and weakened protections for endangered species.

“As with dozens of endangered species, the Bush administration slashed protections for the Cape Sable seaside sparrow against the advice of their own scientists,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center. “If this unique Florida native is to survive, the Obama administration will need to drastically increase protected habitat.” 

The sparrow currently exists in six distinct areas of southern Florida in and around Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. It depends on cordgrass marshes and “marl” prairies that are wet for part of the year and is threatened by urban development and anthropogenic changes in hydrology that result in altered vegetation and increased fire. In 2006, critical habitat was proposed for all six areas where the sparrow occurs, amounting to more than 150,000 acres. When critical habitat was finalized on November 6, 2007, however, all habitat west of Shark River Slough – more than 70,000 acres – were excluded.

“Scientists have identified areas west of Shark River Slough as absolutely essential to the survival of the Cape Sable seaside sparrow,” said Brian Scherf of the Florida Biodiversity Project. “Excluding these areas completely contradicted recommendations of agency and academic scientists and is yet another example of political manipulation of science by the Bush administration.”

One of the reasons these areas are so important is because the Slough provides a barrier to fire, ensuring that the sparrow is not driven to extinction simply by one bad fire year. In a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service responding to the final designation, well-known conservation scientist and sparrow expert Dr. Stuart Pimm noted that: “By reversing its earlier sensible proposal, this revision tacitly accepts massive damage to nearly 1,000 square kilometers of our most important national wetland park and risks the extinction of a federally listed endangered species.”

“We hope the Obama administration will act quickly to increase these badly needed habitat protections for the sparrow,” said Greenwald.

Thus far, the Center has sued over 51 improper Bush administration endangered species decisions, striking them down in 26 cases. The rest are still pending. As a result, the Fish and Wildlife Service is redoing critical habitat designations for 23 species, including the California red-legged frog; California tiger salamander; arroyo toad; vermilion darter; Mississippi gopher frog; four New Mexico invertebrates; the Santa Ana sucker; two southwest fish; and eight plants from California, Oregon, and North Carolina. The newly proposed critical habitat designation for the California red-legged frog totals approximately 1.8 million acres – quadruple the area previously protected. In addition, Fish and Wildlife agreed to reconsidered listing of the Mexican garter snake and Gunnison sage grouse as endangered species.

Plaintiffs in the suit are being represented by the Washington, D.C. public-interest law firm Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal.

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