The coastal California gnatcatcher is a small blue-gray songbird that was listed as threatened with extinction in 1993. It once thrived in Southern California’s coastal sage scrub habitat between San Barbara and the Mexico border. (Photo Courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
PUBLISHED: November 2, 2017 at 12:34 pm | UPDATED: November 5, 2017 at 2:35 pm
Seeking to free up about 200,000 acres from Ventura County to San Diego for housing, a group representing property owners, homebuilders and others has filed a lawsuit seeking to loosen the endangered species status for the coastal California gnatcatcher.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, Nov. 2, by the Pacific Legal Foundation, asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a fair review of scientific evidence that has emerged casting doubt on the rarity of the bird.
The evidence comes from DNA findings produced by Robert Zink, a professor of ornithology at the University of Nebraska, and several other biologists.
According to the foundation, the data shows “that the gnatcatcher is not an imperiled subspecies living only in Southern California, but part of a large and healthy species found from Southern California to the southern tip of Baja, Mexico.”
The lawsuit contends federal officials were presented with that information in 2014, but they rejected it two years later.
“Instead of giving Dr. Zink’s peer-reviewed findings the objective analysis required by law, federal bureaucrats used an agenda-driven process that lacked transparency,” the foundation’s senior attorney Damien Schiff said in a statement.
If the bird isn’t rare, developers should be allowed to build on land that’s currently off-limits, the suit argues.
“The gnatcatcher regulations cause significant social harm by blocking the development of needed homes and roadways in many areas of Southern California,” said Bruce Colbert, executive director of the Property Owners Association of Riverside County, one of Pacific Legal Foundation’s clients.
“They create uncertainty for development and reduced property values for landowners,” he said.
In addition to the Property Owners Association of Riverside County, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy & Reliability; the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business; the California Building Industry Association; the National Association of Home Builders of the United States; and the Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation.