Groups Sue Fish Wildlife Over Lack of Mountain Plover Protections

In the latest flare-up regarding endangered species, two conservation groups have filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) for refusing to place the mountain plover, a medium-sized grassland bird that has been in decline in recent years throughout the Rocky Mountain West, on the nation’s endangered species list.

The groups, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Forest Guardians, charge that the species was on track for listing under the Endangered Species Act until political appointees of the Bush administration pressured FWS to withdraw the proposal in 2003. In filing the suit, the groups refer to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showing how FWS officials rejected the advice of their own scientists in killing the listing.

According to Lauren McCain of Forest Guardians, FWS cited only a flimsy page-and-a-half study that hadn’t been scientifically peer reviewed when changing course on the matter. "The mountain plover case reflects a pattern of denying endangered species protection for purely political reasons," she says, adding that "corporate lobbyists are currently dictating endangered species policy, not sound science."

For its part, FWS reports that it withdrew the listing proposal on the plover because "new information indicated that the threats to the species
were not as significant as earlier believed." The agency further maintains that the bird’s population numbers have not changed significantly in the past decade.