Threatened Suit Warns: Protect Imperiled Pronghorn Antelope

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(11/22/1996) - PHOENIX, AZ -- In a continued effort to protect the endangered Sonoran pronghorn antelope, Defenders of Wildlife threatened suit today against the U.S. Marine Corps. In a 60-day notice letter, lawyers for Defenders charge that the Marine Corps' helicopter and jet training activities in the Sonoran Desert are in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. Last summer, Defenders filed a suit to halt Air Force bombing in prime antelope habitat.

"The military is responsible for this continued reckless assault on this critically endangered species and its habitat," says Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen. "This intensive onslaught of military training in the pronghorn antelope's last remaining habitat is pushing the species toward extinction. Schlickeisen continues, Keeping our military in prime condition is vital to this nation, but so is the protection of all of our priceless natural resources for our children's benefit."

Though listed 30 years ago, as few as 80 Sonoran pronghorn remain in the United States. Conservationists warn that this ongoing military training will severely increase the pronghorn's risk of extinction. In addition to possible direct kills, military activities are believed to cause stress, panic and bodily injury to pronghorn antelope while displacing them from their feeding, drinking, fawning and bedding areas. These impacts can impair reproduction and cause increased mortality rates for the species.

Defenders' biologist Dr. Dennis Hosack explains, "We're taking action now because the possibility of extinction is very real. The fastest land mammal in the Western hemisphere can't compete with military jets and is rapidly heading toward oblivion."

Under the Endangered Species Act, the harming, harassing, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding or killing of an endangered species is unlawful, unless an agency has consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and has obtained an incidental take statement. This statement must specify the potential impact of the take and assure such take will not jeopardize the existence of the species. The FWS has allowed the Marine Corps an "undeterminable" amount of take from harassment and an additional take of one direct kill over the next ten years.

Defenders' counsel John Fritschie believes that, "Both the survival of the Sonoran pronghorn antelope and the integrity of the ESA are at stake. Defenders simply seeks to have the Marine Corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service renew consultations and conduct a more rigorous analysis of the impact of these training exercises on pronghorn."

A submission to the FWS by pronghorn antelope researcher Dr. Christine Maher noted that only 8 of the 22 pronghorn antelope originally radio collared in November and December 1994 remain alive today. Dr. Maher warned that such an extraordinary mortality rate indicates the species is in absolute danger of extinction.

Defenders of Wildlife is being represented in this lawsuit by Katherine Meyer and Howard Crystal of the Washington, D.C. law firm Meyer & Glitzenstein.

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Contact(s):

Joan Moody, 202-682-9400 x266 (Media)
John Fritschie, 202-682-9400 x237 (Legal)
Dennis Hosack, 202-682-9400 x293 (Science)