ENDANGERED SPECIES: Judge stops $320M irrigation project on behalf of unproven ivory-billed woodpecker
A federal judge today temporarily stopped construction on a $320 million irrigation project in Arkansas in order to protect the habitat of the ivory-billed woodpecker, whose existence has been hotly debated since a claimed sighting in 2004.
U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson halted the Army Corps of Engineers' Grand Prairie Irrigation Project because federal agencies might have violated the Endangered Species Act by not studying the habitat fully. The construction site is 14 miles from where researchers said they spotted the bird in the swamps of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in early 2004. The bird had been presumed extinct for 60 years.
Since then, scientists have published a number of articles claiming the bird was actually a more common pileated woodpecker. Cornell University ornithologists continued their search this summer but to no conclusive avail. Most recently, Arkansas wildlife officials last month offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who can prove the bird's existence (Greenwire, June 22).
Wilson said for legal purposes he had to assume the woodpecker exists in that area. "When an endangered species is allegedly jeopardized, the balance of hardships and public interest tips in favor of the protected species," he wrote. "Here there is evidence the IBW might be jeopardized" (Andrew DeMillo, AP/Washington Post online, July 20). -- DK