Coos County suing federal government over shorebird habitat | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Coos County suing federal government over shorebird habitat

JEFF BARNARD, Associated Press Writer

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Dissatisfied with beaches being closed to humans, Coos County is suing the federal government over critical habitat for the snowy plover that covers 18,000 acres of coastline in California, Oregon and Washington.

The lawsuit, which cannot be filed until a 60-day notice of intent runs out March 18, will argue that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to fully consider the economic impacts of designating habitat critical to the survival of the bird, said Russell Brooks, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation.

“Fish and Wildlife has a kind of blanket policy on which they determine there are never any economic impacts beyond what was already caused by the listing,” of the plover as an endangered species, said Brooks, who is representing Coos County.

“They are sidestepping the whole economic impact issue. So we believe it is invalid on that basis.”

Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Pat Foulk said the economic impacts were considered when critical habitat was designated in 1999.

The designation said “restrictions to protect plover nesting areas are currently not expected to result in economic effects attributable to critical habitat designation.”

The designation added that economic effects of restricting beach recreation were difficult to assess, due to uncertainty over what kinds of restrictions might be imposed, and how people would react.

It noted that the 700,000 beach use days at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area accounted for 1,000 jobs and $19 million in annual income in the region, and that some of that would be lost to plover restrictions, but set no specific figure.

The snowy plover was listed as a threatened species in 1993, but critical habitat was not designated until 1999, after environmentalists sued Fish and Wildlife to make them do it. The agency is now working on a recovery plan for the bird.

According to Fish and Wildlife, the number of nesting areas has dropped from 88 to 32 over the last 25 years due to increased shoreline development and recreation.

The birds lay their eggs in bare sand, relying on camouflage to fool predators. Bare sand has been encroached by nonnative plants introduced to stabilize shifting dunes. The West Coast population is estimated at about 1,000 birds.

The lawsuit will also contend that the 28 critical habitat areas covering 180 miles of coastline — about 10 percent of the shoreline in Oregon, California and Washington — is larger than the Endangered Species Act requires.

“The ESA specifically says that federal agencies are not supposed to or may not designate all the habitat the species could occupy, but only those specific portions that are essential to prevent extinction,” Brooks added. “They just designate everything.”

That has resulted in areas of public beaches being put off-limits to people when they are not the greatest threat to snowy plovers, said Coos County Commissioner John Griffith.

“I would like to see them manage the bird better than they have,” he said. “By their own documentation, 60 percent of the nest failures are due to predation, and only 2 percent from direct human interference.

“They’ve taken the position of just closing off beaches to people who never harmed a plover anyway. Just let the crows and skunks and vermin eat them all. That’s not responsible management of public land or resources.

“They just got rid of all our surf fishing and everything else they say might have a negative impact on these birds,” Griffith added. “We want them to nail down what the economic effect of their management is so Congress and the Government Accounting Office can see whether that’s justified.”


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