Environmental groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife have reached an agreement stipulating that the decision whether to list the mountain plover under the Endangered Species Act must be made by September 2003. The settlement agreement, resolving ongoing litigation on this issue, was approved and entered as a court order in the federal district court in Denver by Senior Judge Zita L. Weinshienk on October 8. The environmental groups that brought the litigation are the Center for Native Ecosystems, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, and Forest Guardians. The coalition was represented in the case by Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm.
The mountain plover, is a bird native to the Great Plains that breeds on the arid shortgrass prairie from northern Montana to southern New Mexico and winters in California, Texas, and Mexico. The mountain plover was originally proposed for listing by FWS in 1999. Under the Endangered Species Act, proposed listing rules must either be withdrawn or finalized within one year, unless substantial new information contradicts the proposed listing. The environmental groups brought litigation against FWS in February 2002, three years after the proposed rule and two years after a final listing action was due. Recent scientific research provided to the environmental groups by the service overwhelmingly indicates the need for prompt federal protection for the mountain plover.
“This settlement points to a serious problem in the endangered species program. The Bush administration has so little regard for the protection of endangered species that it continues to break obvious and uncomplicated laws over and over again, asks Congress to underfund the endangered species program, and then complains about a lack of funds,” stated Earthjustice attorney Jay Tutchton.
The settlement agreement also stipulates dates by which FWS must make a determination and finalize critical habitat designation for the mountain plover. In addition, FWS has agreed to make final listing determinations for two other critically imperiled species that await ESA protection in the Rocky Mountain region; the Southern Rockies population of the boreal toad and the Salt Creek tiger beetle.
“The highly imperiled status of the mountain plover has not been in question since the species was petitioned for protection in 1997. The only sticking point has been relentless foot-dragging by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as this grassland bird continues to plummet,” said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, Endangered Species Coordinator for Forest Guardians.
Of particular concern is the current boom in coalbed methane development, with over 12,700 wells already drilled in Wyoming alone, and many thousands more planned, and encouraged by the Bush administration’s energy plan, throughout the western states. Many ongoing or proposed projects are in important plover locations. Impacts to mountain plovers range from direct habitat loss from construction of buildings and other facilities and waste water ponds, to greatly increased vehicle collisions due to increased traffic and thousands of miles of new roads, behavioral disturbance during breeding and nesting, and predation as a result of increased perches for raptors.
“The threats to the continued existence of the mountain plover are enormous and increasing every day due to the Bush administration’s push to industrialize our public lands and roll-back environmental safeguards. The plover needs protection right now, and this settlement will contribute greatly towards that end,” added Jeff Kessler, Conservation Director for Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie, WY.