April 12, 2002
For Immediate Release
Contact: Kieran Suckling,
520-623-5252, ext. 305
For More Information: The Center's
San Pedro Web Site, Court
COURT RULES MILITARY EXPANSION THREATENS SAN PEDRO RIVER-
WATER CONSERVATION PLAN DEEMED INADEQUATE, EXPANSION APPROVAL STRUCK DOWN
In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological
Diversity, a federal judge has declared that the massive expansion of
Fort Huachuca is dewatering the San Pedro River and jeopardizing the existence
of the southwestern willow flycatcher and Huachuca water umbel. The judge
declared that the military's water conservation plan would not offset
its impact on the species. He also declared the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service's approval of the expansion to be "arbitrary and capricious."
Flowing north from Mexico into the Gila River in southeast Arizona, the
San Pedro is one of the Earth's the most biological diverse and important
ecosystems. It supports 400 species of birds (nearly half of the U.S.
total), 100 species of butterflies, 83 species of mammals and 47 species
of amphibians and reptiles. It has the highest diversity of vertebrate
species in the inland U.S. and the second highest diversity of land-mammals
in the world. It was designated the first "globally important bird
area" by the American Bird Conservancy and one of the northern hemisphere's
eight "last great places" by The Nature Conservancy. In 1988
Congress recognized the unparalleled value of the San Pedro, designating
45 miles of it as the nation's first Riparian National Conservation Area.
Nevertheless, the river is drying up due to unsustainable sprawl and agribusiness.
Baseflows have declined 67% since the 1940s and will eventually disappear
if aggressive water conservation actions are not taken soon. The continuous
expansion of Fort Huachuca is the single biggest contributor to the deadly
overdraft of the river, thus the U.S. Army has an exceptional responsibility
to ensure the river's future.
The Center successfully petitioned to list the southwestern willow flycatcher
and Huachuca water umbel as endangered species in the early 1990's. It
then filed suit, forcing Fort Huachuca to submit its expansion plans to
the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for review under the Endangered Species
Act. The Fish & Wildlife Service issued a draft decision that expansion
would jeopardize the flycatcher and umbel. It laid out concrete actions
the military would have to take to save the river. Under heavy political
pressure, however, the agency later reversed itself, declaring that the
military's water conservation plan was adequate. The Center sued over
the decision. Noting that the Service's own biologists complained that
the conservation plan "doesn't even come close" to offsetting
the military's water withdrawals, judge Alfredo Marquez ruled that the
agency "sidestepped its obligation to make an accurate "no jeopardy"
decision based on the best available evidence."
Fort Huachuca will now have to develop a new, stronger water conservation
plan and re-submit it for review to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
To find out more and see the court order,
The Center was represented in the suit by Susan Dagget of Earthjustice
releases. . .