Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 5, 2015

Contact:   Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495,
Stuart Pimm, (646) 489 5481
Sonny Bass, (305) 245-0930

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow

Army Corps' Mismanagement of Water Leaves Sparrow on Brink of
Extinction, Damages Everglades National Park

VERO BEACH, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Duke University professor of conservation ecology Dr. Stuart Pimm, and former National Park Service scientist Sonny Bass filed a formal notice of intent today to sue the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over continued flooding of habitat for the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow in Everglades National Park. According to the notice, the two agencies have violated the Endangered Species Act through water releases that place the sparrow at serious risk of extinction — and in the process have altered vegetation across a broad swath of the national park. Last year sparrows dropped to one of their lowest levels on record. 

“For 20 years the Army Corps of Engineers has been flooding Everglades National Park in the wrong place and at the wrong time, destroying the Cape Sable seaside sparrow and precious park prairies in the process,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center. “This can’t be allowed go on any longer.”

Since 1993 the Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing large amounts of water during what should be the dry season through a series of gates, called the “S12s,” and flooding the western portion of Everglades National Park. The area in question once harbored the world’s largest population of Cape Sable seaside sparrows, with more than 3,000 birds, but flooding has decimated the population, and in recent years, there have been fewer than 300 birds in the population. As the only population west of Shark River Slough, this population provides the species as a whole with a crucial buffer against extinction should a fire or other catastrophe wipe out other populations, all east of the Slough. In addition to hurting the sparrows, flooding of the park has eliminated a large area of marl prairie, the most diverse plant community in the Everglades. 

“There is no question that the sparrow population west of Shark River Slough is critical to the survival of the Cape Sable seaside sparrow,” said Dr. Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke professor of conservation ecology at Duke University and long-time sparrow researcher. “It’s unconscionable that flooding of Everglades National Park and the sparrow’s habitat has been allowed to go on for so long.”

The Army Corps and Fish and Wildlife Service have long promised that the Central Everglades Restoration Project would solve problems with flooding of the park by directing flows back to the southeast, along their historic path, but when or exactly how this will occur remains largely speculative. Today’s notice seeks to remedy this situation and gain some certainty for the future of both the sparrow and the park. 

“The Army Corps has known what's needed to save the Cape Sable seaside sparrow and restore Everglades National Park for years, but has just failed to do it,” said Sonny Bass, former supervisory wildlife biologist for Everglades National Park. “It’s long past time to fix this problem.”    

The Center, Pimm and Bass are represented by Eric Glitzenstein of Meyer, Glitzenstein and Crystal.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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