Feds sued over rare species in California, Idaho, New Mexico

Thursday August 14, 2003

Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO (AP) Environmentalists sued the Bush administration Thursday to protect three rare species in California, New Mexico and Idaho under the Endangered Species Act.

The suit filed in Portland, Ore., federal court said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service failed to protect the Tahoe yellow cress plant, the sand dune lizard and the southern Idaho ground squirrel as endangered species.

The plaintiffs also allege the service is trying to sidestep the law by including the three as candidates for federal protection, a designation that can stall further consideration for a decade.

``It's basically this legal limbo where they get no protection,'' said Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which joined Western Watersheds Project, and Committee for the High Desert in filing the suit.

The service lacks the money to study all the potentially threatened species, in part because it is overwhelmed with lawsuits from environmentalists, said spokeswoman Jenny Valdivia.

``It's a vicious cycle,'' she said. ``It would be great if we could get out of that, but I don't know how that's going to happen.''

The environmental groups dispute that explanation. The Interior Department estimated it needed $153 million to catch up with the backlog, but only requested about $9 million this year, Greenwald said.

In its first two years, the Bush administration listed 24 species for protection, compared to 211 species in the first two years of the Clinton administration and 80 species in the first two years of the first Bush administration. The environmental groups contend at least 34 species have become extinct while waiting for protection.

The Smithsonian Institute first sought protection for the Tahoe yellow cress 28 years ago, in 1975. The plant lives only in a seven foot zone from Lake Tahoe's low water line to a foot above the high water mark, and has been hurt by lakeside development.

The sand dune lizard has the second smallest range of any lizard in North America, limited to dunes covered by low-growing oaks in southeastern New Mexico and western Texas.

The southern Idaho ground squirrel has a range limited to the low rolling hills of three counties in Southwestern Idaho.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)



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