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Rio Grande Levee Lawsuit Expanded to Protect Imperiled Cuckoo

Date
May 20, 2015
Contact
Jen Pelz 303-884-2702
In This Release
Rivers
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Rio Grande Levee Lawsuit Expanded to Protect Imperiled Cuckoo

Corps’ plan threatens to destroy habitat to cut costs
Contact: Jen Pelz 303-884-2702

Santa Fe,N.M.—WildEarth Guardians today amended its lawsuit targeting a mammoth, river-choking levee project under constructionby the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in central New Mexico with new claims toprotect the yellow-billed cuckoo and its habitat along the Rio Grande.

Earlier thisyear, the group filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Corps seeking tostop the construction of 43 miles of engineered levees along the Rio Grande (fromthe San Acacia Diversion Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir) to preventdestruction of the river ecosystem and the loss of hundreds of acres of keyhabitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and Southwestern willow flycatcher.

“The Rio Grande isan oasis in the desert that is critical to the survival of birds, fish andwildlife as well as the local economy,” said Jen Pelz, Wild Rivers ProgramDirector at WildEarth Guardians. “Pushing through a traditional flood controlproject in the 21st century without evaluating more environmentallysound ways to provide the same benefits is simply irresponsible.”

The U.S. Fishand Wildlife Service listed the cuckoo as “threatened” under the EndangeredSpecies Act on October 3, 2014 and proposed critical habitat that includes thesection of the Rio Grande from Cochiti Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir. TheCorps, however, never opened discussions with the Service regarding the impactsof the project on the cuckoo and its critical habitat despite the clear mandateof the Endangered Species Act.

The group amendedits original lawsuit to compel the Corps to evaluate the impacts of the projecton the yellow-billed cuckoo and ensure that the cuckoo is not harmed by the permanenthabitat destruction resulting from the project.

Guardians also informedthe Corps that it will seek an order from the court to enjoin any deposition ofearthen material into an environmentally critical region called the TiffanyBasin because such activity will permanently alter key flycatcher and cuckoohabitat.

The Corps plansto deposit approximately 1.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 800,000 fullsized pick up trucks) of earthen material from existing levees into the TiffanyBasin, which is designated critical habitat of the flycatcher and proposedhabitat of the cuckoo. The excavated material will cover 300 acres of theTiffany Basin at a depth of 6.5 feet deep, essentially converting riparianhabitat of the birds to upland habitat and destroying its value to the species.

“The Corps’ plan to dump a massive amount of spoil inprotected critical habitat of imperiled birds is not necessary to protect thesafety and health of the local communities,” said Pelz. “It is this type of a short-cut taken bythe Corps to lower the cost of the project at the expense of the river that webelieve needs reconsideration. A proper environmental analysis by the Corps, asrequired by environmental laws, could yield environmentally sound alternativesthat do not compromise such an important bosque restoration site.”

This is thelatest action in WildEarth Guardians’ campaign to protect and restore the RioGrande, America’s third longest and one of its most iconic rivers.

 

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Earlier this year, the group filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Corps seeking to stop the construction of 43 miles of engineered levees along the Rio Grande (from the San Acacia Diversion Dam to Elephant Butte Reservoir) to prevent destruction of the river ecosystem and the loss of hundreds of acres of key habitat for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and Southwestern willow flycatcher.
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