Monday, September 3, 2007

Lawsuit Leads to Habitat Protection for Imperiled Ocean Species : Corals, Sawfish, and Green Sturgeon

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity against the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal government guaranteed Friday it would end its delay in protecting habitat for several marine species at risk of extinction.

The Endangered Species Act requires critical habitat designation for species as soon as they are listed under the Act, but in practice such protection rarely occurs without citizen litigation that forces the government to uphold the law.

The settlement of the lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., sets enforceable deadlines for all remaining overdue critical habitat rules for species under the jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act for most marine species. The species covered by the settlement are the elkhorn coral, staghorn coral, smalltooth sawfish, and green sturgeon. The corals and sawfish occur in Florida, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, while the green sturgeon lives in California.

Habitat loss is the primary cause of species endangerment in the United States, according to scientists, threatening 85 percent of America's rarest plants and animals. According to the federal government's own data, species granted "critical habitat" under the Endangered Species Act are twice as likely to be recovering as those without protected habitat.

"This settlement ensures that these animals still have a place to call home," said Miyoko Sakashita, staff attorney with the Center. "It's no surprise that the most important way to protect endangered wildlife from extinction is by protecting and restoring its habitat."

Each of the species covered by the settlement is threatened by loss of habitat and should benefit greatly from critical habitat designation.

From: the Center for Biological Diversity

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