Conservation groups are contemplating legal action in response to Friday's (6/15/2007) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion that Fort Huachuca isn't harming imperiled animal and plant species that depend on the San Pedro River.
"This new biological opinion appears to reverse a previous opinion that held the fort responsible for much of the destructive impacts on the river. We are assessing what actions to take in response," said McCrystie Adams, attorney with Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm that represents the Center for Biological Diversity.
Earthjustice and the Center successfully sued the fort over its expansion activities, bringing about the original biop in 2002 that forced the fort to accept its role in destroying the river, and to take such actions as water conservation and limited or no expansion of the fort. All of that progress is now jeopardized by the new biop, said the Center's Dr. Robin Silver.
Last year, the Army -- in response to the suit -- reinitiated consultation with federal wildlife officials to determine the effects of groundwater pumping on protected wildlife living along the San Pedro River. The new biop is the result of that consultation.
"This new biop is creative accounting that gives the fort a green light to increase its use of San Pedro River water even as the river is drying up," Silver said. "In 2002, the fort promised to not increase groundwater increase without reevaluation. With this new biop, they say they can add 3,000 more people."
Silver noted that in response to the 2002 biop, the fort agreed to not increase its force by more than 500 people. However, he said, the fort has added or committed to adding more than several thousand people. With the addition of those troops, their families, contractors, and the other people that have or will move to the community because of the fort's presence, the overall population increase using standard multipliers is several times that.
Since 2002, estimates of groundwater deficit have doubled, and groundwater pumping for the fort and city of Sierra Vista has been found to intercept water that would otherwise contribute to the base flow of the river. And, in the last two years, the San Pedro has gone dry at key spots for the first time on record.