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."