For Immediate Release, June 25, 2014

Contact: Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 817-8121

 Legal Action Launched to Protect Rock Creek Park, Endangered Species From Purple Line

Groups Fully Support Mass Transit, But Push for Steps to Avoid Impacts to
Highly Endangered Amphipods

WASHINGTON— Three environmental groups filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Federal Transit Administration over their failure to mitigate or even seriously consider the impacts of the proposed Purple Line on habitat for the critically endangered Hay’s spring amphipod in the Rock Creek Park watershed. The Purple Line is a proposed 16-mile, east-west light rail project that would connect parts of suburban Maryland to the D.C. metro system; in the notice letter the groups requested that the agencies take a real look at the potential impacts of the line on Hay’s spring and other imperiled amphipods, and consider alternative routing or mitigation.

Culver's amphipod
Culver's amphipod photo by Dr. David Culver. Photos are available for media use.

“We support mass transit and the Purple Line, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of endangered species habitat, our public parks or our precious wetlands,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of reaching out to one of the world’s experts on these species — who happens to work just five miles away from the project — the agencies did a cursory review, ignored the likely impacts to these species, and failed to consider ways to reduce those impacts.”

One of the world’s experts on subterranean invertebrates, Dr. David Culver of American University, determined that within 25 acres of forest around Rock Creek that would be lost to the Purple Line construction, there are at least five freshwater springs and a wetland that represent suitable and potentially important habitat for the rare Hay’s spring amphipod. These springs and wetlands may also provide habitat for the Kenk’s amphipod, which is a candidate for federal protection, already endangered under Maryland state law and only found in five small springs in the Rock Creek watershed.

“Amphipods are tiny — less than half an inch in size — but their presence or absence offers an important measure of water quality,” said Hartl. “Protecting these amphipods will have many benefits for people by helping protect Rock Creek Park and freshwater in the metro area.”

The Hay’s spring amphipod was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1982 and is one of the most critically endangered species in the United States. The amphipod was likely present in small freshwater springs throughout the Rock Creek watershed, but intensive urban development and alteration of natural water flows have reduced it to fewer than 10 springs — at best, just a few hundred square yards of habitat.

The decline and near extinction of the Hay’s spring amphipod has paralleled the decline of freshwater springs in the region. In the capital’s early years, many residents drew their water from freshwater springs throughout the city. Today every monitored water body in the D.C. region is classified as “impaired” by the Environmental Protection Agency. Century-old sewer systems continue to discharge raw sewage into Rock Creek just a half-mile upstream of the White House during large rainfall events. 

“Amphipods aren’t movie stars like blue whales, but they are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine for the safety of our water in D.C.,” said Hartl. “Making sure this species isn’t hurt by the Purple Line — something that’s actually pretty easy to do — won’t solve all the problems our creeks and rivers face, but it’ll get us moving in the right direction.”

Today’s notice letter was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Sustainable Economy and Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, along with three individuals from Chevy Chase, Md.

For more on the natural history of amphipods, click here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and supporters dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving parkland, open space and quality of life in Montgomery County, Maryland, and to preserving the Capital Crescent Trail as a world-class linear park.

Center for Sustainable Economy is an economics think tank working on sustainability issues in Maryland and across the U.S.

John M. Fitzgerald is an environmental attorney who has worked to defend endangered species in the U.S. and around the world, and is representing the three individual co-signers of the notice.

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