Effort to Save Southwestern Willow Flycatcher Launched

On behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) and the Maricopa Audubon Society we have provided formal notice of Endangered Species Act violations in connection with federal agency actions harming the Southwestern willow flycatcher, a highly endangered bird in Arizona and other southwestern states.  Because of the ongoing destruction of the flycatcher’s native riparian willow habitat, the species has been forced to adapt in many locations to living in tamarisk, an exotic plant that frequently occupies degraded riparian habitats in the southwestern U.S.  Beginning in the late 1990s, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service – an agency within the Department of Agriculture – began to permit and otherwise facilitate the release of tamarisk-eating beetles – another non-native species on the theory that this would help to eradicate tamarisk.  Grave concerns were raised by the Fish and Wildlife Service, CBD, and others that this program could do serious harm to the flycatcher unless steps were taken to ensure that any impact on flycatcher habitat would be mitigated by strenuous efforts to restore native willow vegetation in locations where tamarisk might be destroyed.  However, APHIS assured the Service and others that the particular species of beetle being released would not be able to survive in the latitudes where flycatchers exist and, on that basis, the release program was allowed to proceed.  Soon thereafter, APHIS’s prediction proved false, and the beetle is now decimating flycatcher habitat, creating a massive new threat to this already highly imperiled species.  But although APHIS has now halted new releases of the beetle, it has made no commitment to mitigate for the ongoing devastating impacts of its earlier actions.  Regrettably, to date, the FWS has signed off on that course of conduct.  Accordingly, we have sent a detailed notice to APHIS, FWS, and other federal officials that merely walking away from the unfolding disaster for which APHIS is directly responsible contravenes various provisions of the Endangered Species Act, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act.  A copy of the notice can be found here.  A copy of CBD’s press release concerning the notice can be found here.