Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 21, 2014

Contact: Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943 or

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Endangered California Birds From Large-scale Desert Solar Projects

BLYTHE, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior for failing to protect Yuma clapper rails, which are endangered marsh birds, from being killed or injured by large-scale solar projects in the California and Arizona deserts.

In less than a year, two Yuma clapper rails have died at industrial-scale solar projects built on known bird-migration corridors on public lands in the California desert. Only 440 to 968 of these birds remain along the lower Colorado River and the Salton Sea — areas where much of the industrial-scale solar development is occurring and more is proposed in Riverside and Imperial counties.

Today’s notice targets both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“These federal agencies have shrugged off their duty to protect these highly imperiled birds,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center. “While we need to quickly transition to clean energy to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we also need to safeguard our imperiled wildlife. We can do both, but it has to be done right.”

Despite the documented bird deaths, the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service have failed to require projects to implement precautionary measures to avoid attracting Yuma clapper rails to the project sites or measures to minimize impacts to them. 

Though the species is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the agency has failed to protect its critical habitat or take other key actions to recover these rare birds.

“Unfortunately, this is one of many cases of the Fish and Wildlife Service ignoring the needs of these very rare birds. Fewer than 1,000 are left in the wild in California, so they desperately need protection, including measures to make sure they survive the solar-energy boom,” said Anderson.

Protected since 1967 as an endangered species, the Yuma clapper rail (Rallus longirostris yumanensis) is a bellwether for the health of desert waterways. This shy waterbird inhabits freshwater marshes dominated by cattails or bulrushes in a mosaic of vegetated areas interspersed with shallow open waters, where it dines on small fish, frogs and aquatic invertebrates. Although it is the largest rail in the United States, it stands only 8 inches high; it’s mostly gray-brown with a white throat and has long legs, a short tail and a slightly curved beak.

Learn more about the Center’s Public Lands program.

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

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