Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.



Contact: Jeff Miller (510) 663-0616 ext. 3, Center for Biological Diversity
Emily Roberson (831) 465-9809, California Native Plant Society
More Information: Native Plants Conservation Campaign

The Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) and the California Native Plant Society (“CNPS”) filed a lawsuit today in the Northern District Federal Court over the refusal of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Service”) to designate critical habitat for two endangered San Francisco Bay tidal marsh plant species. The Suisun thistle (Cirsium hydrophilum var. hydrophilum) and the soft bird’s-beak, (Cordylanthus mollis ssp. mollis) were listed as endangered species in November 1997. Since then, the Service has failed to designate critical habitat for the plants, despite clear legal requirements to do so.

“The Bush administration continues to illegally deny critical habitat for imperiled species despite the fact that species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to recover,” said Jeff Miller, spokesperson for the CBD. “Critical habitat is not about shutting down large landscapes to all development, but rather improving land management planning and recovering species to the point where they no longer need protection under the Endangered Species Act.”

“Critical habitat is a fundamental tool for conserving and recovering imperiled species,” said Dr. Emily Roberson, Senior Policy Analyst for the California Native Plant Society. “Species cannot be conserved just by protecting individuals. Congress specifically included provisions to designate and protect critical habitat in the Endangered Species Act in order to conserve the unique ecosystems and processes upon which species depend.”

Both plant species occur in salt and brackish tidal marshes fringing San Pablo and Suisun Bays in the northern San Francisco Bay area. Only approximately 15 percent of the historical tidal marshland habitat within the San Francisco Bay area remains. Changes in freshwater inflow, pollution, habitat conversion, habitat fragmentation, alteration of the natural tidal regime, mosquito abatement activities, competition with non-native vegetation, insect predation, erosion, livestock grazing, and other human-caused actions continue to threaten the habitat of both plants. The Suisun thistle was thought to be extinct in 1975, but more recent surveys detected it at two locations within Suisun Marsh in Solano County. Its remaining populations occupy less than one acre. Nine occurrences of soft bird’s-beak remain widely scattered throughout tidal marshes fringing San Pablo and Suisun Bays, in Contra Costa, Napa, and Solano Counties. Both species suffered historical habitat loss due to diking, filling, and conversion of tidal wetlands for agricultural and urban uses.

The Bush administration has been a vigorous opponent of critical habitat. The administration often attempts to justify its failures to designate critical habitat by arguing that it provides no additional benefit to listed species. However, according to two long-delayed reports quietly submitted to Congress by the Service in June 2003, species with critical habitat are twice as likely to make progress towards recovery as species without it. The reports contradict the Bush administration’s repeated claims that the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) is “broken” and that critical habit is of no value and can even harm endangered species. A public relations, budgetary, and legal campaign against critical habitat has been a centerpiece of the administration’s anti-ESA policy. President Bush has listed only 20 species under the ESA since coming into office - the second slowest listing record in the history of the ESA. All Bush listings were in response environmental lawsuits and petitions. The Bush administration has issued 32 critical habitat designations, every one under court order.

The Service has declared that designating critical habitat was “not prudent” in 200 consecutive final rules listing species since 1996, prompting several successful legal challenges. Many of these “not prudent” findings resulted in court orders and court approved settlement agreements requiring the Service to withdraw the arbitrary and capricious findings and issue new critical habitat determinations for the subject species. A frequent justification used in “not prudent” findings, including for these two tidal plant marsh species, is that publishing “precise” location maps in the Federal Register would increase the threats of vandalism and/or collection to the species. This justification has been used regardless of whether there has ever been a documented instance of vandalism or collection of the species or whether a species is confined to a few acres or ranges across hundreds of thousands of acres. The “not prudent” determination in this case also ignores the fact that locality information for these two species is already well distributed and in the public domain, and that neither vandalism nor collection has been documented for either species.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection of native species and their habitats throughout California, the United States, northern Mexico, Alaska and beyond. The Center works to protect and restore natural ecosystems and imperiled species through science, education, policy, and environmental law.

The California Native Plant Society is a non-profit organization with over 32 chapters and more than 10,000 members throughout the state. CNPS has worked to protect California’s native plants since 1965. The mission of the CNPS is to increase understanding and appreciation of California’s endangered plants and to preserve them in their natural habitats, through education, science, advocacy, horticulture, and land stewardship.

For more information about the Native Plant Conservation Campaign of CBD and CNPS, visit:

Attorneys Geoff Hickcox and Michael Graf are representing the plaintiffs in this case.


more press releases. . .

Go back