Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

April 12, 2002
For Immediate Release

Contact: Kieran Suckling, 520-623-5252, ext. 305
For More Information: The Center's San Pedro Web Site, Court Order (pdf)


In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, a federal judge has declared that the massive expansion of Fort Huachuca is dewatering the San Pedro River and jeopardizing the existence of the southwestern willow flycatcher and Huachuca water umbel. The judge declared that the military's water conservation plan would not offset its impact on the species. He also declared the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's approval of the expansion to be "arbitrary and capricious."

Flowing north from Mexico into the Gila River in southeast Arizona, the San Pedro is one of the Earth's the most biological diverse and important ecosystems. It supports 400 species of birds (nearly half of the U.S. total), 100 species of butterflies, 83 species of mammals and 47 species of amphibians and reptiles. It has the highest diversity of vertebrate species in the inland U.S. and the second highest diversity of land-mammals in the world. It was designated the first "globally important bird area" by the American Bird Conservancy and one of the northern hemisphere's eight "last great places" by The Nature Conservancy. In 1988 Congress recognized the unparalleled value of the San Pedro, designating 45 miles of it as the nation's first Riparian National Conservation Area.

Nevertheless, the river is drying up due to unsustainable sprawl and agribusiness. Baseflows have declined 67% since the 1940s and will eventually disappear if aggressive water conservation actions are not taken soon. The continuous expansion of Fort Huachuca is the single biggest contributor to the deadly overdraft of the river, thus the U.S. Army has an exceptional responsibility to ensure the river's future.

The Center successfully petitioned to list the southwestern willow flycatcher and Huachuca water umbel as endangered species in the early 1990's. It then filed suit, forcing Fort Huachuca to submit its expansion plans to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for review under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish & Wildlife Service issued a draft decision that expansion would jeopardize the flycatcher and umbel. It laid out concrete actions the military would have to take to save the river. Under heavy political pressure, however, the agency later reversed itself, declaring that the military's water conservation plan was adequate. The Center sued over the decision. Noting that the Service's own biologists complained that the conservation plan "doesn't even come close" to offsetting the military's water withdrawals, judge Alfredo Marquez ruled that the agency "sidestepped its obligation to make an accurate "no jeopardy" decision based on the best available evidence."

Fort Huachuca will now have to develop a new, stronger water conservation plan and re-submit it for review to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

To find out more and see the court order,

The Center was represented in the suit by Susan Dagget of Earthjustice (Denver).


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