"Legal Watchdog" gets action


Author: Reed Hopper

Builder magazine reports:

Last week’s announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—that it would consider reclassifying the wood stork, a wading bird often found in South Florida’s Everglades, as "threatened" from its current "endangered" status—is the culmination of nearly five years of wrangling and lawsuits that have pitted the government against an aggressive law firm and the state’s home builders.

The Service has a year to render its decision. And while species protection is the same for animals and plants that are designated threatened or endangered, the reclassification could prove to be a step towards delisting the wood stork from the Service’s list altogether….

Getting a species reclassified or delisted is no simple matter. The Service’s website shows that only 20 species have been delisted. In contrast, there are now 576 animals and 795 plants that are listed as endangered or threatened.

The Service is required by statute to review its lists every five years. But it had been lax in that effort until 2006, when the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit to get the Service to conduct reviews of over 100 species. 'We had to bring the government kicking and screaming to do this,' says Reed Hopper, principal attorney for the Sacramento, Calif.-based law firm.

The Service did a biological review of the wood stork’s endangered status in 2007 to determine if the birds were entitled to more or less protection…. But even as the birds hit 10,000 pairs, Hopper says his firm had to file a formal petition last year, on behalf of the Florida HBA, "to get the Service to act on its own findings."

Environmentalists suspect that builders and developers are using this controversy to deflect attention from larger problems that continue to plague the housing and mortgage industries. Hopper counters that reclassification or delisting would remove one more legal weapon that he says anti-growth advocates have used successfully in the past to block development.

He also thinks the Endangered Species Act in general needs to be overhauled. "It’s broken and has been ineffective in meeting its goal…."

See the full article here.