TUCSON (CN) – FEMA is destroying rare desert riverine habitat by encouraging and insuring development in flood plains, putting endangered species such as the jaguar and the southwestern willow flycatcher at greater risk, WildEarth Guardians claims in Federal Court.
Through its administration of the National Flood Insurance Program, FEMA has insured structures in some of Arizona’s most threatened watersheds and floodplains, including the Colorado River and Gila River watersheds, according to the New Mexico-based nonprofit that has about 500 members in Arizona.
“FEMA encourages development in riparian areas and flood plains that destroys remnant portions of habitat relied upon by threatened and endangered species in Arizona, and that leads to the increased fragmentation of this habitat to the detriment of species survival and recovery,” according to the complaint.
Less than 0.4 percent of Arizona’s land is riparian, and less than 10 percent of its original riparian acreage remains in its natural form, the lawsuit states. There are 35,801 NFIP insurance policies in force in Arizona, insuring structures worth approximately $7.7 billion.
WildEarth Guardians says Congress has acknowledged that “the availability of federal flood insurance in flood-prone areas encourages development in flood plains,” adding that “this induced flood plain development adversely affects threatened and endangered species protected by the ESA and the riparian and aquatic ecosystems which are critical to those species’ continued survival.”
The group wants the court to order FEMA to consult with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service on the effects its actions are having on riparian areas, and to stop issuing flood insurance policies for new construction in Arizona floodplains “when that new construction harms threatened and endangered species and/or their habitats, until such time as FEMA is in compliance with the ESA.”
The group is represented by Steven Sugarman.