The St. Andrew beach mouse lives exclusively in dune habitats along the Gulf of Mexico, and it is a critical indicator of the health of the coastal ecosystem. They are shy, nocturnal animals that are rarely seen by humans and do not move into dwellings. Due largely to unregulated coastal development, erosion and vehicular damage to its sand dune habitat, the St. Andrew Beach Mouse now survives in only a small portion of the St. Joseph Peninsula in the Florida Panhandle. The St. Andrews beach mouse population is estimated at as few as 500 individuals; the FWS estimates that the minimum population necessary to sustain the species is several thousand.
"If there were ever a species and a place that need all the protections the law gives them, these are the ones," said Robert Wiygul, co-counsel for the plaintiff. "The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do its job and protect the habitat the beach mouse and a lot of other species rely on to survive."
The refusal to designate critical habitat for the St. Andrew beach mouse is only one of hundreds of such decisions by the FWS, beginning in the late 1980s. Under the ESA critical habitat is the area that is needed for recovery of threatened and endangered species, and it receives special protections against federal actions that might harm it. However, the FWS for many years refused to designate critical habitat for most species, claiming that it was a waste of time and provided no benefits. Several courts have directly rejected this argument as contrary to the terms of the Endangered Species Act, and held that critical habitat must be designated to assist in the recovery of species.
"The St. Andrew Beach mouse and other endangered species need the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's help, not excuses that the courts have turned down time and again," said Sidney Maddock, Environmental Analyst with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Center for Biological Diversity v. Gale Norton, Case No. 4:03CV315-WS/WCS.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of endangered species and habitats throughout North America.
Earthjustice is a non-profit law firm which assists individuals and organizations in protecting air, water and biodiversity through advocacy in the courts.
David Guest, Earthjustice, 850/681-0031
Robert Wiygul, Waltzer & Associates, 228/374-0700
Sidney Maddock, Center for Biological Diversity, 252/995-3312