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Developers Attempt to Strip Critical Habitat Protections

SACRAMENTO (May 24, 2005) -- A coalition of conservation groups yesterday sought to intervene in a lawsuit brought by housing developers that would eliminate habitat protections for 27 of California's most endangered plants and animals. The developers' lawsuit challenges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's designation of "critical habitat" for the species under the Endangered Species Act. It was filed March 30 by the Home Builders Association of Northern California, Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation, California Building Industry Association, California State Grange and Greenhorn Grange. (Click here for a factsheet about the species challenged by the developers' lawsuit.)

"The California building industry is trying to sink Noah's Ark," said Peter Galvin, Conservation Director for the Center for Biological Diversity (Center), one of the groups intervening in the case. "The designation of critical habitat protects open space that endangered wildlife needs to survive." The other groups intervening are California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). They are represented by NRDC and the Western Environmental Law Center.

The federal government is required to identify areas essential for conservation of species, known as "critical habitat," for each animal and plant protected by the Endangered Species Act. Critical habitat protections apply only to federal agencies, which may not authorize, fund, or carry out any action that may destroy or "adversely modify" designated critical habitat.

A 2003 peer-reviewed study by the Center (published in BioScience in April 2005) determined that species with designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering, and 13 percent less likely to be declining, than species without.

"If we want our children to inherit a world as rich and as beautiful as the world our parents gave to us, we have to protect the open spaces where endangered plants and animals live," said Ileene Anderson of CNPS.

In response to industry lawsuits, the Bush administration has voluntarily revoked at least 16.4 million acres from 25 critical habitat designations made by the Clinton administration. The Bush administration did not mount a meaningful legal defense to any of the challenges, but instead settled all 34 recent industry lawsuits. The groups intervening today intend to stop the Bush administration from voluntarily revoking critical habitat for the 27 California species.

"The designation of critical habitat keeps species alive," said NRDC attorney Andrew Wetzler. "We will defend these designations and the endangered plants and animals that depend on them."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The California Native Plant Society is a state-wide, nonprofit organization of professional botanists and laypersons dedicated to increasing the understanding and appreciation of California's native plants and to conserve them in their natural habitats through science, education, advocacy, horticulture and land stewardship. Founded in 1965, the CNPS has more than 10,000 members in California and abroad.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection of native species and their habitats. The Center works to protect and restore natural ecosystems and imperiled species through science, education, policy, and environmental law. The Center has over 13,000 members nationwide.

The Western Environmental Law Center is a non-profit public interest environmental law firm that uses the tools of law to help protect and restore the environment, and to serve as an advocate for people, wildlife and communities throughout the West.

Related NRDC Pages
Factsheet on the 27 Endangered California Species

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