The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been ordered to stop work on the $319 million Grand Prairie Irrigation project until it makes a more thorough study of its possible impact on the ivory-billed woodpecker.
Federal Judge William R. Wilson today issued a preliminary injunction in a suit filed by the National Wildlife Federation and the state Wildlife Federation against the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wilson said the defendants “failed to properly follow recommended procedures” set out in the Endangered Species Act when they agreed to monitor the project as work was ongoing rather than study the impact in advance. The irrigation project will will pump water out of the White River for farmers who are tapping out the aquifer.
The judge’s order requires that impact studies be made at the area around the pump site and along waterways that will affected by lowered water levels, and the inspection of trees for evidence of ivory-billed nesting and foraging evidence.
Both the Corps and FWS stipulated to the existence of the bird, rediscovered in 2004 in the Bayou de View area of the Cache River Wildlife Refuge.
PS -- Coincidentally, we understand the Legislative Council is going to take up the Grand Prairie project tomorrow on account of burgeoning costs and unanswered questions.
Wildlife Federation news release on the jump
Wildlife Federation News Release
A U.S. District Judge has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt further construction on the $319 million Grand Prairie Irrigation Project on grounds that it may jeopardize America’s most endangered bird – the ivory-bill woodpecker. U.S. District Judge Wilson has ordered the Corps to reinitiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if the project poses a threat to the ivory-bill or its habitat.
“Judge Wilson has told the Corps that they cannot leap before they look when imperiled wildlife is involved,” says Randy Sargent, National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conservation Counsel. “Everyone knows that wildlife needs a home. In this case, we need to look twice before destroying the home of this critically endangered bird.”
“The pumping station for the project is less than 20 miles from where the first ivory-bill sighting was reported,” says David Carruth, a National Wildlife Federation board member and president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation “It was reckless and irresponsible for the Corps to begin construction without knowing the impacts the project might have on the bird and its habitat.”
The National Wildlife Federation and Arkansas Wildlife Federation filed the request for an injunction in September 2005, arguing that the Corps had failed to fully consider the project’s potential damage to the bird’s habitat, and used a cursory review to conclude that this massive Grand Prairie irrigation project posed no risk to the woodpecker.
“The law is very clear on this issue,” says Carruth. “If you are going to build a project that pumps 158 billion gallons of water from an endangered species habitat each year, you have to do the proper scientific research to ensure it will not harm that species.”
In his decision, Judge Wilson said the Corps “put the cart before the horse,” by finding the project would have “no adverse impact” on the ivory-bill without first conducting on-site reviews and examining the potential effect of the project on the bird’s habitat.
The ruling will have no immediate impact on the Grand Prairie irrigation project. Construction was recently halted due to lack of funding. In the meantime, the Corps must re-initiate consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service as required by the Endangered Species Act. This time, surveys must include “nest, roost, and active forage surveys within 2.5 miles of any construction site ‘footprint;’ identification and inspection for nesting, roosting, or active foraging in all trees 12 inches or greater in areas that will be most affected by changes in water level; and nest, roost, and foraging surveys in the forest areas adjacent to canals and pipelines.”