Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 30, 2015

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

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, Everglades National Park
From Army Corps Mismanagement of Water

VERO BEACH, Fla.— Dr. Stuart Pimm, the Center for Biological Diversity and former Park Service Scientist Sonny Bass today filed a lawsuit against 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 lawsuit, the two agencies 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. 

“We filed suit today because the Army Corps of Engineers has pushed the Cape Sable seaside sparrow to the precipice of extinction," said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “For too long the Army Corps has been dumping water in the wrong place at the wrong time, hurting both the sparrow and Everglades National Park.”

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 the 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. 

“The Army Corps needs to get the water right not just to save the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, but the dozens of wildlife species that depend on a healthy Everglades,” 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 lawsuit 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.”    

Pimm, the Center 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 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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