March 21, 2002
Bush Administration Refuses to Reissue Habitat Protections After Court Struck Down Protected Zone Pending Updated Study
Refusal to conduct necessary study reveals why Bush administration is voluntarily revoking critical habitat designations across the west "pending more analysis": because it intends to never complete the analyses
The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against Secretary of Interior Gale Norton in a San Francisco federal court (CIV 02-1291, Judge Vaughn Walker) to compel her to re-designated protected "critical habitat" areas for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher.
The flycatcher is a rare and declining songbird limited to NM, AZ, southern California, the southernmost regions of CO, UT, and NV, and northern Mexico. It has been reduced to approximately 500 pairs due to river destruction by excessive mining, livestock grazing, development, dams, and water withdraws. The flycatcher's critical habitat zones were stuck down pending further analysis by a federal court in 2001, but the Bush Administration has refused to conduct the additional analyses, thereby turning a temporary court order into a permanent removal of habitat protection for one of America's most endangered songbirds. Today's lawsuit seeks to compel the completion of the necessary analysis and the reinstatement and expansion of the protected river areas.
"The Bush Administration's refusal to reinstate habitat protections for the flycatcher demonstrates the real reason it is voluntarily striking down habitat protection for dozens of endangered species, it is because the administration has no intention of ever putting them back in place," said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, "The Bush administration is in cahoots with the industries destroying America's environment. Industry sues, the administration immediate gives in, and habitat protections disappear forever unless wildlife advocates step in and demand that environmental laws be followed."
The southwestern willow flycatcher was listed as an endangered species on 2-27-95 due to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity. At that time, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service promised to map out and protect specific "critical habitat" areas within twelve months. When the Service failed to fulfill this promise, the Center obtained a court order requiring the agency to complete the critical habitat designation by 7-22-97. The critical habitat area included 599 miles of rivers in New Mexico, Arizona, and California (see attached map).
The livestock industry sued the Fish & Wildlife Service, arguing that the analysis of the economic impact of the designation was inadequate. On 7-6-01, the critical habitat designation was struck down by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals pending a new economic analysis. The court, however, did not order to agency to complete the updated economic analysis by a particular date and the Bush administration refused to voluntarily commit to one. Eight months have now passed and the agency has not even begun to do the new analysis. "It is clear that without a court order, the Bush administration will not protect endangered species," said Suckling.
Based on statements in the draft federal recovery plan for the flycatcher, statements in the old critical habitat designation, and an internal Fish & Wildlife Service memo recommending expansion of the old critical habitat zones, the Center believes the new protected area will be twice as large as the old. It expects 1,200 miles of rivers will be protected in NM, AZ, UT, and CA.