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CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity
Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity, (602) 799-3275
Lawsuit Launched to Save Endangered Southwestern Songbird From Habitat Destruction Caused by Invasive Beetles
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - March 7 - The Center for Biological Diversity and Maricopa Audubon today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Department of Agriculture and APHIS, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, over their failure to safeguard an endangered native songbird from the impacts of the agency’s deliberate release of an exotic beetle that is destroying the bird’s habitat in parts of Utah, Arizona and Nevada.
In 2005, despite songbird biologists’ concern for the safety of endangered southwestern willow flycatchers, APHIS released imported Asian beetles into the western United States outside of flycatcher range to help control invasive streamside tamarisk trees.
The tamarisk-defoliating leaf beetle is now invading the nesting areas of southwestern willow flycatchers in southern Utah, Nevada, and northern and western Arizona. If the beetle spreads farther without mitigation, it could seriously threaten the flycatcher’s survival. APHIS promised mitigation if its release of the beetles went awry, but has not taken the steps necessary — including planting native willows and cottonwoods to replace dying tamarisk — to help the endangered flycatchers.
“APHIS refuses to clean up its own mess now that its introduction of an exotic, invasive biocontrol agent has gone haywire,” said the Center’s Dr. Robin Silver.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was also included in the notice of intent to sue for failing to protect the flycatcher as required by the Endangered Species Act; another federal agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, was included because its plans to protect the flycatcher in western Arizona are no longer sufficient due to the spread of the beetles. Today’s notice clears the way for litigation against these agencies if they fail to initiate protective actions within 60 days.
Flycatchers frequently nest where tamarisk has displaced native cottonwood and willow trees. A quarter of the birds’ territories are found in areas dominated by tamarisk, and about half are found in areas of mixed tamarisk and native trees.
“APHIS needs to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop and pay for an emergent plan to ensure that native species provide alternative habitat for the highly endangered flycatcher,” said Maricopa Audubon President Mark Larson.
APHIS released the tamarisk-defoliating leaf beetle with an agreement that no beetles would be released within 200 miles of flycatcher habitat or within 300 miles of documented flycatcher breeding areas, and that the beetles could not become established within the range of the flycatcher. Both of these agreements were broken.
In July 2006 APHIS introduced the beetles directly into flycatcher-nesting areas along the Virgin River in southern Utah. The beetles have now spread into nesting areas in southern Utah, Nevada, and northern and western Arizona.
Attorney Eric Glitzenstein of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal represents the Center and Maricopa Audubon in this matter.