The Pacific Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over its designation of 210 miles of Pacific coastline as critical habitat for the threatened western snowy plovers.
The Sacramento-based organization – established 25 years ago “to bring the voice of individual liberties to the courtroom” – is suing the United States Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to consider how reserving beaches in California, Washington and Oregon affects the economy of the surrounding communities. The government has reserved 28 critical habitats, a total of 20,000 acres of land, for plovers.
According to the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service must do an economic analysis to determine the financial impact caused by designation of land as a critical habitat. The foundation claims the Fish and Wildlife Service did not take into account the results of its fiscal analysis, which showed that communities surrounding areas deemed as a critical plover habitat would suffer multimillion-dollar losses.
Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Russell Brooks said the government knew it would cost millions of dollars, but set the land aside anyway.
“They did an economic analysis and discovered millions of dollars would be lost by setting the land aside,” he said. “They said the economic loss isn’t because they are putting the land aside, it’s because of the listing of the snowy plover as threatened.”
Brooks said although he agrees land should be set aside for the birds, he believes the amount of land set aside is too much.
“I agree if they need land to be set aside, they should have land set aside. The service was supposed to decide what land should be set aside as critical habitat land, but instead they just set it all aside,” he said. “They designated a lot of land for the plovers even though there aren’t any there and there haven’t been any plovers there historically. They set aside land just because it looks like good plover land.”
Brooks said critical plover habitat affects both the local economy and the amount of activities people can do on the beaches.
“Setting aside a critical habitat affects much more then just the beaches. It affects the surrounding communities, businesses and tourism,” he said. “The money loss is not the only impact. There’s also a loss for the people who go riding around on the beaches. The people are losing here.”
Cristina Sandoval, director of Coal Oil Point Reserve – commonly known as Sands Beach – said the lawsuit is an attempt to challenge the Fish and Wildlife Service’s authority. Sandoval, whose house is on the reserve, is in charge of the critical plover habitat just west of Sands.
“To sue Fish and Wildlife because of the way they designed the critical habitat is a joke. Money talks and people keep trying to file lawsuits to get the Fish and Wildlife to back off,” she said. “The critical habitat was very well designed [because of its] historical science and habitat of plovers. I think it’s sad. It’s hard to believe. They can’t win. It’s the taxpayers that pay for something like this.”
Santa Barbara Environmental Defense Center attorney Tanya Gulesserian said critical habitats ensures the survival of the species.
“Protecting critical habitat is important in the immediate future to protect the species. Protecting the habitat is critical for the species to survive,” she said. “My opinion is that the economical impact will be minimal and the designation is appropriate for the recovery of the species.”
Gulesserian said at most, the lawsuit would result in a “review of the economic analysis and reaffirmation of the critical habitat to protect the species.”
Sandoval said this year’s breeding season – which runs from March to April – yielded six plover nests at Coal Oil Point Reserve. Four fledglings have already hatched, which are the first documented plover births at Coal Oil Point Reserve in 30 years.
Sandoval said she attributes the recovery of Sands Beach as a plover breeding ground to the designation of the land as critical habitat and the dedication of the docents.
“We needed every part of it. The fence helped people understand where not to go,” Sandoval said. “The docents helped educate people and helped keep the crows out.”