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For Immediate Release, March 20, 2009


Wayne Brechtel, attorney, (858) 755-6604
Joan Taylor, Sierra Club, (760) 408-2488
Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943

Conservation Groups Want Bighorn Institute's Recovery Facilities Protected
Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity
Sue to Protect Bighorn Recovery Center

PALM DESERT, Calif.— The Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit today against the city of Palm Desert and the California Department of Fish and Game, challenging the city’s approval of the “Cornishe of Bighorn” housing project, which intrudes on the wildlife agency-recommended buffer around the Bighorn Institute. The Bighorn Institute has been recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the recovery center for endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep.

“The Bighorn Institute’s captive-breeding and release program is the reason there are still bighorn sheep in the northern Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains,” said Wayne Brechtel, attorney for plaintiffs. “The program would be jeopardized by the city’s ill-advised siting of the Cornishe project within a protective buffer between development and lambing pens that was established years ago.”

The conservation groups have a decades-long history of seeking protection for Peninsular bighorn sheep, the iconic and endangered large mammal of the mountains flanking the Coachella Valley, as well as the species gracing the logo of several high-end communities in the area. Peninsular bighorn were first listed as a threatened species and fully protected mammal by the state of California in 1972. Subsequently, in 1991, the local Sierra Club petitioned the federal government to list the animals as endangered. In 1998, the bighorn were finally listed as endangered, and in 2001 — prompted by litigation filed by Center for Biological Diversity — the government designated critical habitat for the species, which inhabit the rugged mountain ranges from the San Gorgonio Pass to the Mexican border.

A shy, wildland species that forages in the canyons and alluvial fans, seeking refuge on steep desert slopes, Peninsular bighorn were once the most numerous of desert bighorn. Urban intrusion and disease reduced the wild population of this species to a low of 289 in 1996. At this time, the Bighorn Institute’s captive breeding and augmentation was instrumental in bringing the wild herds back from the edge of extinction.

“No other captive-breeding program has the success record of the Bighorn Institute when it comes to releasing bighorn into the wild,” said Joan Taylor, local conservation chair of the Sierra Club, “and the long-term survival of Peninsular bighorn depends on keeping this program viable.”

”Building houses within the buffer area of the Bighorn Institute will severely diminish the Institute’s ability to successfully enhance sheep populations. In order to successfully survive over the long term, wild sheep cannot be habituated to humans and our created environments,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

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The Sierra Club is a nonprofit conservation organization of over 732,000 members dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth. The local Tahquitz Group represents over a thousand Sierra Club members in eastern Riverside County and the Morongo Basin of San Bernardino County.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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