\ SOUTHWEST BIODIVERSITY ALERT #131 /
\ 5-10-98 /
\ SOUTHWEST CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY /
1. JUDGE ORDERS FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE TO PROTECT 44 IMPERILED
2. NOTICE FILED TO DESIGNATE 4.8 MILLION ACRES OF CRITICAL HABITAT
FOR THREATENED MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL
3. COURT ALLOWS DESTRUCTION OF PYGMY OWL HABITAT, STAYS BULLDOZERS
4. NATURE'S LEGAL EAGLES- NEWSPAPER FEATURES SOUTHWEST CENTER EFFORTS
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JUDGE ORDERS FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE TO PROTECT 44 IMPERILED
On 5-5-98, San Diego District Court Judge Judith Keep found the U.S.
Fish & Wildlife Service guilty of delaying Endangered Species Act
protections for 44 imperiled California species. The Southwest Center
and the California Native Plant Society filed suit on 2-2-98 because
the Fish & Wildlife Service had proposed to list the 44 species as
endangered, but then refused to issue final decisions because of
political pressure. Many of the species have been on the ESA waiting
list since 1975. Most are threatened with urban sprawl, many are also
threatened by cattle grazing, ORVs, exotic species and fire
The suit was argued by Jay Touchton of EarthLaw (Denver).
NOTICE FILED TO DESIGNATE 4.8 MILLION ACRES OF CRITICAL HABITAT FOR
THREATENED MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL
The Southwest Center has notified the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
that it will file suit if the agency does not immediately begin
the necessary paperwork to re-designated 4.8 million acres of
critical habitat for the threatened Mexican spotted owl.
The Southwest Center petitioned to list the Mexican spotted owl as
a threatened species in 1989 because of Forest Service plans to
dramatically ramp up old growth logging. The owl was listed in 1993.
In 1995, the Center lead a coalition which successfully sued to have
4.8 million acres of critical habitat designated. That designation
was subsequently struck down because the agency did not do complete
analyses required by the National Environmental Policy Act in the
Rather than do the analyses, the agency has decided to simply
dispense with protected habitat- even though it has been ordered to
designate it by a federal judge. The spotted owl is politically
controversial because logging on SW National forests has
declined by 84% since the 1989 petition was filed. The Center was
represented in the critical habitat suit and the notice by EarthLaw
COURT ALLOWS DESTRUCTION OF PYGMY OWL HABITAT, STAYS BULLDOZERS
A Tucson Judge has issued a preliminary ruling that the endangered
cactus ferruginous pygmy owl does live in the area where the
Amphitheater school district wants to build a new school. Strangely,
however, the judge also ruled that building the school would not
endanger the tiny owl. The owl was formerly common in the Sonoran
Desert but has declined to only 12 birds in Arizona because of urban
sprawl and overgrazing on public lands.
Judge Zapata stayed all construction on the site until a final ruling
is issued in about two weeks. Defenders of Wildlife and the Southwest
Center were represented by John Fritschie (Defenders of Wildlife) and
Eric Glitzenstein of Meyer & Glitzenstein (Washington, DC).
NATURE'S LEGAL EAGLES- TUCSON CITIZEN FEATURE ON THE SOUTHWEST CENTER
The following feature on the Southwest Center appeared in the Tucson
Citizen on 4-27-98. Also in the feature but not included here were
a profile of the Southwest Center's staff, a long interview with
Kieran Suckling, and a statewide map showing the Southwest Center's
successes in saving Arizona's imperiled species and habitats.
Nature's Legal Eagles
by Joyesha Chesnick
Developers and environmentalists agree: when it comes to protecting
wildlife and slowing development, few groups can wield the courtroom
clout of the Tucson-based Southwest Center for Biological Diversity:
nature's legal eagles.
A 7-inch-tall bird has catapulted the Southwest Center for
Biological Diversity into the middle of Tucson's growth wars.
As the champion of the endangered cactus ferruginous pygmy
owl, the Southwest Center has locked horns with developers and
some educators by blocking building plans, including a school, on
potential owl habitat. Many accuse the group of trying to stop
But love it or hate it, most people agree the center has had a
dramatic impact on the city during its three year residence here:
"I think they're probably a well-trained group of environmental
zealots. They certainly know where they're going," said Alan Lurie of
the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association.
"For people, at least with the appearance they have, they do
some surprisingly clever and effective things. Not every Tom, Dick
and Harry could manipulate the Endangered Species Act the way
Lurie said the center's effect has been "dramatic and
damning" and is leading to depreciating property values now and in
The center successfully sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to place the owl on the endangered species list in 1996. The
listing has wrought havoc with plans for a new Amphitheater district
high school, which was to be built on land deemed suitable owl
The school district and the center will face off Wednesday in
district court to settle the issue.
But the pygmy owl is just a drop in the bucket. The group's
active litigation record — 84 lawsuits in five year — on everything
from rivers to forests to dams has garnered national attention. The
group says it has won 77 percent of final judgements.
Nancy Young Wright, a community activist and member of
the Amphitheater Public Schools board, said "I've heard people tell
me that they are the only effective environmental group out there.
There are lots of effective groups, but they are the ones
Jon Tate, spokesman for the National Gamebird Alliance, a
hunter-based conservation group tackling grazing issues, said he
liked, and more importantly, respected the Southwest Center.
"They have heart and soul. They pay themselves nothing. On
some fundamental issues we are going to differ. But that doesn't
mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater," he said.
Young Wright said, "Their style is completely their own. I
think sometimes they are misunderstood."
Jack Foster of the Sierra Club said the Center follows his
groups agenda for responsible growth. "They are cooperative, on top
of things and very active," he said. "They are not afraid to got to
court in spite of having little money."
Efforts to protect species other than the pygmy owl, including
the northern goshawk and the Mexican spotted owl, have slowed or
blocked timber and ranching plans as well as development projects,
leading some to suspect the Center's motives.
Lurie said the center has used cute animals that people care
about to further its ultimate goal of stopping growth in Tucson.
Bill Marten, a local businessman who said he represented
"fervent, unfettered capitalism," asked: "Have you ever thought there
might be another agenda out there?"
"Their (the center's) issue doesn't seem to be always wanting
to protect species, but to head off developers. Their emphasis seems
to be that profit is evil and nasty. This group is essentially
anticapitalist. That's their agenda. They're using the environment as
Richard Bennett, director of the Society for Environmental
Truth, said the center is not credible.
"I think that the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity is a
group who is dedicated to, not so much the protection of animal and
plant life, but rather to a philosophy of returning as much of the
land as possible to its, quote, ‘natural state.'"
Bennett's society, which sued in November to have the pygmy owl
taken off the endangered list, believes in "scientific solutions to
environmental problems that will protect the economy as well as the
Despite its skeptics, the Center plans to stay in Tucson,
executive director Kieran Suckling said.
The group moved here in 1995 to be closer to its focus habitat
— the Gila River basin, which also includes Phoenix. "Who would
want to live in Phoenix?" Suckling asked. "Tucson has a long history
as a strong activist and environmental community. Being here has
Kieran Suckling email@example.com
Executive Director 520.623.5252 phone
Southwest Center for Biological Diversity 520.623.9797 fax
http://www.sw-center.org pob 710, tucson, az 85702-710