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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, December 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Environmental Suits Explode as Bush Administration Prepares to Show Its Back

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Six federal lawsuits accuse the Secretary of the Interior Secretary of refusing to protect endangered species in California. Secretary Dirk Kempthorne gutted the San Bernardino Kangaroo Rat's habitat, reducing it by 72 percent, and also failed to protect the Coachella Valley Milk Vetch and Steelhead Trout, according to complaints in Los Angeles.

In San Diego, Kempthorne is accused of trampling the habitat of Willowy Monardella, a type of mint, and refusing to protect the endangered Riverside fairy shrimp.

At least 10 lawsuits were filed in various federal courts in the past two days, accusing the Secretary of the Interior of refusing to enforce the Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity, San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society and Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley challenged the Kempthorne's 2008 Kangaroo Rat habitat designation. The groups said the new designation gutted the 2002 Kangaroo Rat habitat designation, reducing it by 72 percent.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated in 1998 that 95 percent of the kangaroo rat's floodplain habitat had been destroyed. Since then, the service has allowed sand and gravel mining, flood control projects and development to continue to threaten remaining habitat, according to the complaint.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a second complaint against Kempthorne for skimping on protected habitat for the Coachella Milk Vetch, a purple-flowered member of the pea family that grows in sand dunes. The Fish and Wildlife Service declared the milk-vetch endangered in 1998, but declined to designate any protected habitat for the plant, according to the lawsuit.

A fifth complaint, involving the Peirson's milk vetch, filed in San Francisco Federal Court, is covered in another Courthouse News Service report on today's page. The sixth California lawsuit, involving the Riverside fairy shrimp, is reported in the fourth column of today's page, under New Listings Environment. Four other complaints are also listed in that column.

California Trout Inc. filed the third Los Angeles complaint, accusing the Bureau of Reclamation and the United Water Conservation District of refusing to act on a 2008 National Marine Fisheries Service finding that the Vern Freeman Diversion Dam on the Santa Clara River threatens endangered steelhead trout.

The NMFS recommended a set of interim guidelines to protect steelhead trout during the 2009 migration. The service's "Reasonable and Prudent Alternative" called for the bureau and the district to cut delays steelhead face while crossing the dam in half and to increase water flow over the dam. The bureau and the service refused to implement the alternative measures, allegedly making the bogus claim that the bureau lacked implementation authority.

In San Diego, the Center for Biological Diversity accused Kempthorne of neglecting to set aside habitat for the Willowy Monardella. The center says urban development, off-road vehicle use, sand and gravel mining, trampling, trash dumping, and invasion of nonnative species are all gobbling up the mint family member's habitat.

The Fish and Wildlife Service conducted a 2008 review, finding only 11 stands of the formerly ubiquitous plant. Of those, 10 were in decline, the center says.

Lisa Belenky filed the Center for Biological Diversity's three lawsuits, while Ellison Folk of Shute Mihaly & Weinberger filed the lawsuit on behalf of California Trout.

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