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Enviros prepare challenges to protect ivory-billed woodpecker
Parallels with Klamath Basin

followed by Woodpecker Upstages Lawmakers; As U.S. House Resources Committee Meets in Mississippi to Update Endangered Species Act, 'Extinct' Woodpecker Shows up in Arkansas

Allison A. Freeman, Greenwire reporter 5/4/05

Less than a week after ornithologists announced the discovery in an Arkansas swamp of a woodpecker species that was once-thought extinct, environmental groups are gearing up to challenge federal projects that could harm the rare bird.

Two groups filed a formal challenge yesterday with the Army Corps of Engineers, saying it had not properly assessed how a new irrigation project in Arkansas could affect the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker.

The National Wildlife Federation and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation filed the formal request that the corps consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the effects the project could have on the bird.

The request could kick off what may turn into a series of legal challenges over the bird, which ornithologists announced last week that they had discovered in a swamp in eastern Arkansas, after assuming it had been extinct for the past 60 years.

At issue in this request is the Grand Prairie Demonstration Irrigation Project, a pending Army Corps endeavor that would withdraw 158 billion gallons from the White River System where the ivory-bill was found.

Parallels with Klamath Basin

The $320 million project is akin to farm irrigation projects in the West, such as in Oregon's Klamath Basin, and could end up in as thick a legal quagmire.

The first phase of the project, which is already under way, would help over 200 landowners create more efficient irrigation systems on their farms. The second, still pending phase, would provide water to about 900 farmers who have reduced their aquifers due to heavy-water use, mostly for thirsty rice crops.

Environmentalists are concerned that the second phase -- which centers on an area about 10-12 miles northeast of where the bird was spotted -- could divert needed water for the ivory-billed woodpecker, which lives in bottomland hardwood trees that grow in the area's wetlands.

The corps has said that its previous studies made sure the project would not hurt downsteam wetlands. But the wildlife groups said that assessment was insufficient, since it constituted only two pages in the environmental impact statement and did not take the ivory-billed woodpecker into account.

The forested wetlands of the White River system, home to the project and the bird, are highly sensitive to even slight changes in water levels, according to NWF and AWF.

"These vegetation zones derive their water from the river, and if river levels are significantly lowered for any appreciable periods of time, the plant community structure, fish and associated animal assemblages will be affected," the letter to the corps stated.

The Endangered Species Act requires any federal agency to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on projects that "may affect" any listed species. The corps consulted with FWS seven years ago over potential effects to some aquatic species, but the ivory-billed was not under consideration, since it was presumed extinct.

The wildlife groups asked the corps to respond within 10 days. After that point, the agency could choose not to reply, tell the groups that the project would not harm the bird, or initiate a wildlife consultation.

Opening floodgates to litigation?

If the corps chooses not to undertake the consultation process, environmentalists could then seek redress in the courts. NWF's Jeff Barger said they have not yet decided if they will file a legal challenge.

"It puts them on notice that we are watching them," said Barger, a aquatic habitat specialist in NWF's Austin, Texas, office. "And they are vulnerable for potential litigation if they do not respond or initiate."

House Resources Committee spokesman Brian Kennedy said he would not be surprised if the discovery of the woodpecker opens the floodgates of ESA litigation over the bird.

But Kennedy, whose committee is considering revamping the act, said that he thinks the bird's rediscovery also highlights possibilities for species recovery amidst multiple use.

"This bird was rediscovered in an area that was open to hunting, recreation and virtually all forms of unfettered access, which proves their can be coexistence between human activity and wildlife," he said.



Woodpecker Upstages Lawmakers; As U.S. House Resources Committee Meets in Mississippi to Update Endangered Species Act, 'Extinct' Woodpecker Shows up in Arkansas

5/4/2005 10:29:00 AM

To: National Desk, Environmental Reporter

Contact: Tom Randall of Save Our Species Alliance, 773-857-5086 or trandall@winningreen.com

GOLDEN, Colo., May 4 /U.S. Newswire/ -- A field hearing in Jackson, Mississippi, led by U.S. House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA) on Saturday, April 30, began efforts to update and modernize the 31-year old Endangered Species Act.

But, it was the revelation two days earlier that the ivory- billed woodpecker, thought by many to be extinct, was alive and well in Arkansas, that hit newspapers and television stations coast to coast.

By making its timely reappearance without federal assistance of any kind, the woodpecker may have been the hearing's star witness, providing living evidence that the current Endangered Species Act (ESA) does not do all it could to recover species.

Chairman Pombo pointed out in opening the Mississippi hearing that, while over 1300 species have been listed as threatened or endangered over the last 30 years, only 10 domestic species have recovered sufficiently to be taken off the list. During the same period, 35 of the listed species were found to be extinct.

Even the small one percent success rate is misleadingly optimistic about the current Act's ability to save species. The peregrine falcon, often cited as an ESA success story, was recovered not by any provisions of the Act but by a private captive breeding program aided by a ban on the pesticide DDT that caused the bird's eggshells to crack. Habitat protection, currently the most-used tool for species recovery under ESA, proved to be irrelevant. Since its numbers have grown, the birds. which are thought to prefer remote cliffs, now dwell in our nation's largest cities where they rear their young in nests on tall buildings and feast on pigeons.

The bald eagle, which may soon be de-listed, has seen its numbers grow due to the DDT ban as well as a ban on hunting.

As Pombo pointed out, it is time to update and modernize the Endangered Species Act to put the focus on recovery, not simply listing species.

Tom Randall is spokesperson for the Save Our Species Alliance, headquartered in Golden, Colorado. The Alliance is a national grassroots campaign dedicated to supporting efforts of the U.S. Congress, the Administration and our nation's Governors for updating and strengthening the Endangered Species Act.





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