Diverse Groups Join to Protect Endangered Riparian Area in Arizona

(05/20/1997) - Tucson, AZ -- The national conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, along with the local Oro Valley (AZ) Neighborhood Coalition and the regional Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, has threatened three federal agencies with a lawsuit if they do not take necessary action to check unsustainable suburban growth north of Tucson at a site known as Honey Bee Canyon. The notice of intent to sue implicates the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers with violations of both the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

This notice of legal action was amplified today by two other major events impacting Honey Bee Canyon: 1) A 3-1 decision by the Pima County Board of Supervisors to reject a proposal by the ITC Corporation of Scottsdale for high density housing in the upper portion of the canyon; and 2) A still-undecided bond measure that would increase protection for open areas and parks with over $50 million.

In an April 18 letter to these federal agencies and to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and to two private developers, the three groups have charged that federal wetlands have been improperly filled and that stormwater discharge permits have not been properly secured and that proposed development jeopardizes the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, the lesser long-nosed bat, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and many other listed or imperilled wildlife species.

"Anyone who has seen Honey Bee Canyon knows that it is a special place," said Defenders' legal director William Snape. "All we seek is for the federal government to look before it leaps into approving development that is clearly unsustainable for the Sonoran ecosystem."

"Honey Bee represents one of only three remaining Class One Riparian Habitats in Pima County, which is about the size of Massachusetts. In Arizona, only ten percent of these riparian areas remain due to urbanization and groundwater pumping, yet these remaining areas sustain ninety percent of the state's wildlife," said Wayne Bryant of the Oro Valley Neighborhood Coalition.

For the past several years, Defenders of Wildlife has focused on the embattled Sonoran Desert as a means of better implementing the concept known as "ecosystem management." The D.C.-based organization, with more than 200,000 members and supporters nationwide, has had major accomplishments in the region including suing the Air Force to stop bombing raids that harm the Sonoran pronghorn and successfully settling a lawsuit with the EPA to secure tougher state water quality standards on mercury and other dangerous substances, as well as seeking to end federal subsidies to farmers near the Wellton-Mohawk area who grow water intensive crops in the desert, working with various interests to establish a meaningful flat-tailed horned lizard conservation strategy, appealing a decision by the Bureau of Land Management to allow grazing in a grassland area of critical environmental concern, working cooperatively with stakeholders interested in lower Colorado River conservation, and sponsoring a scientific workshop on Sonoran pronghorn recovery on both sides of the border. This potential legal action at Honey Bee Canyon is an integral part of Defenders' Sonoran campaign.

Defenders was also instrumental in securing the recent federal record of decision to release captive Mexican wolves into the Blue Range Area of Arizona and western New Mexico. The wildlife group has established a $100,000 trust fund to pay ranchers for all verified livestock losses to wolves.



Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270