A judge ordered the federal government today to designate critical habitat for the St. Andrew beach mouse, as required by the Endangered Species Act. The rare mouse was listed as endangered in 1998, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to specify the areas of habitat that are critical to the species’ recovery, or the measures that should be taken to preserve those areas. Today’s order comes in response to an Earthjustice lawsuit filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and requires that critical habitat be designated by September 2006.
The St. Andrew beach mouse lives exclusively in dunes along the Gulf of Mexico. Due largely to unregulated coastal development, erosion, and vehicular damage to its sand dune habitat, the shy, nocturnal beach mouse now survives in only a small portion of the St. Joseph Peninsula in the Florida panhandle. Its dwindling population indicates the poor health of the entire coastal ecosystem. The mouse’s population is estimated at as few as 500 individuals; the USFWS estimates that the minimum population necessary to sustain the species is several thousand.
“The beach mouse has waited too long for habitat protection and its population has suffered as a result,” said Earthjustice attorney Monica Reimer. “We’re happy finally to have a due date for the safeguards this ecosystem and its resident wildlife so desperately need.”
The refusal to designate critical habitat for the St. Andrew beach mouse is only one of hundreds of such decisions by the USFWS, starting 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. The USFWS for many years refused to designate critical habitat for most species, claiming it was a waste of time and provided no benefits. Several courts have directly rejected this argument as contrary to the terms of the ESA and held that critical habitat must be designated to assist in the recovery of species.
“The decline of the St. Andrew beach mouse has paralleled the destruction of the beach and dune habitat of Florida’s Gulf coast,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Urgent action needs to be taken to prevent the further loss of coastal habitat to development and degradation. We are hopeful that by protecting the habitat of this denizen of the Gulf coast, we can help preserve an important part of our precious natural heritage for future generations.”
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, public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations and communities.