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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Environmentalists Sue Feds To Protect|Snowy Plover & Sonoma Salamander

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by not designating enough habitat for the Western snowy plover and setting aside no habitat at all for the Sonoma County population of the California tiger salamander, according to two federal suits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2005 issued a final ruling on the plover, a small bird threatened by offroad vehicles and increasing human development. The report allegedly ignored economic analyses performed by the agency's own field offices calculating the economic benefits for humans and other species of retaining critical habitat for the bird.

Plaintiff's attorney John Buse said the Fish and Wildlife Service claimed the "human benefits of excluding areas for human recreation outweighed the benefits, but [the service] did not quantify the benefits."

The federal agency also failed to explain how the protected 12,145 acres can conserve the species in light of the previous designation protecting about 18,000 acres, the complaint states.

In the second lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity claims the FWS ignored scientific evidence due to political and economic pressures, and did not protect any habitat for the distinct Sonoma County population of the California tiger salamander. The FWS excluded some areas based on local conservation plans, particularly the Santa Rosa Conservation Strategy, which now looks like it will never be implemented, and even if it were, it does not address the recovery of the species, the complaint states.

The FWS cited economic exclusions authorized under the ESA as its second rationale, claiming that designating critical habitat would hurt residential development and public transportation projects, even though those are the very types of projects the service itself determined posed the greatest risk to the salamander's survival.

Buse said the plover and salamander are two in a group of species that lost habitat due to "political interference issues," mainly involving the increasing allowance of off-road vehicles for recreation and human development.

The Center for Biological Diversity wants the rulings set aside, and an order directing the FWS to designate sufficient habitat in a way that does not violate the ESA, plus with attorney's fees and costs.

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