For Immediate Release, February 10, 2010
||Dr. Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 246-4170
Herb Fibel, Maricopa Audubon, (480) 966-5246
Dr. Paul Green, Tucson Audubon, (520) 777-9525
Army Corps Cites Pinal County for San Pedro River Violations;
Settlement Reached by Conservation Groups
PHOENIX, Ariz.— A lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon Society, and Tucson Audubon Society halting Pinal County's illegal Lower San Pedro River dredge-and-fill operations and defending the Bureau of Land Management's conservation area has been settled. The settlement comes after the Army Corps of Engineers cited Pinal County for its illegal activities and the Bureau of Land Management took up the proper defense of its own conservation area; Pinal County has agreed to pay conservation groups’ legal fees.
The original lawsuit was filed on June 4, 2008 in U.S. district court in Phoenix, and resulted from Pinal County’s January 31, 2008 seizure of the Bureau's lower San Pedro River conservation easement property and its illegal dredging and filling in the river. The easement property protects occupied critical habitat for an endangered songbird, the southwestern willow flycatcher.
“Pinal County illegally seized federal conservation easement property and illegally dredged and filled in the San Pedro River. Our goal was to stop damage to the songbird’s home until the Army Corps and the Bureau of Land Management took action," said the Center’s Robin Silver.
“We are satisfied that we have done everything possible to protect the area's officially designated Important Bird Area that Tucson Audubon helped create. We now count on the Army Corps and the BLM to enforce the law and prevent any further destructive activities by Pinal County," said Paul Green of Tucson Audubon.
“Pinal County's illegal actions to facilitate wanton ORV abuse in such a sensitive and important conservation preserve are inexcusable. Pinal County's citizens cannot be happy with the huge amount of money wasted by their supervisors in this pursuit. We will follow the Army Corps and the BLM closely as they now take over the preserve's defense,” said Maricopa Audubon’s Herb Fibel.
In 1996, the Bureau of Land Management secured the conservation easement property to protect rare, year-round stream habitat from cattle grazing and off-road vehicles and to restrict motorized access to emergency and administrative use only.
Pinal County seized the property in a local county court claiming an “emergency,” and testifying that it did not “believe BLM will raise any objection to the condemnation proceeding.” But no emergency existed; Bureau signs on the property reading NO MOTORIZED VEHICLES, ADMINISTRATIVE USE ONLY refuted the county's testimony.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon, and Tucson Audubon were represented in the case by attorney Cliff Levenson of Phoenix.
The Clean Water Act requires a federal permit prior to dredging and filling in a year-round stream such as the lower San Pedro River running through the conservation area. Pinal County dredged and filled there (see photos) but stopped after the lawsuit was filed. Seizure of federal property by the county also violates the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, prohibiting seizure of federal property without federal permission.
The southwestern willow flycatcher has been federally protected since 1995, pursuant to work by the Center. The lower San Pedro River has been designated as federal critical habitat for the bird since 1997.
Photos by Paul Schwennesen. Click on image for higher resolution version.