For Immediate Release
June 5, 1998

Contact: Diana M. Hawkins


In response to a recent court order issued in Miami by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, work has begun on the construction of 7 culverts that will help protect a population of tiny Florida grasshopper sparrows in one of the bird's few remaining habitats.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeast Regional Director, Sam D. Hamilton, the Department of Justice, on behalf of the Service, recently filed an emergency motion to intervene in a lawsuit by the National Audubon Society to enjoin three private landowners to install culverts to channel water away from nesting sites. The court action against Haynes Williams of 101 Ranch, Michael Powell, and Steve Powell of Tiger Cattle Company, alleges a "taking" of the endangered bird in violation of Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act, Hamilton said.

The Endangered Species Act defines "take" to include harming an endangered species. "Harm" is further defined as an act that would actually kill or injure the species and includes habitat modification or degradation that significantly impairs essential behavior patterns, including breeding, feeding or sheltering.

Hamilton said that the defendants were responsible for altering drainage patterns of water on the National Audubon Society’s Ordway-Whittell Kissimmee Prairie Sanctuary in Okeechobee County, Florida, which caused harm to the sparrow. The sparrow is a ground nester, he said, and alterations to drainage patterns raised water levels, inundating nesting sites. He noted that the sanctuary is home to one of six remaining populations of the highly endangered songbird, and the only population found on private land. Only one breeding pair has been identified in the sanctuary.

"The Service regrets having to involve the courts to save this isolated population," Hamilton said, "but we had exhausted every other avenue for working with the defendants and with the South Florida Water Management District. We needed to ensure that this last remaining breeding pair had favorable conditions for nesting during this year’s breeding season and now we just hope it’s not too late."

The Florida grasshopper sparrow gets its name from the insect-like quality of its song and lives in dry prairie only in South Florida. The 5-inch long bird builds its nest of fine grasses in small, excavated depressions on the ground. Only about 300 breeding pairs of the bird remain in South Florida, most of them on public lands. The dramatic decline in the number of breeding pairs found in the Kissimmee Prairie Sanctuary, from 16 in 1993 to one pair today, is due to human disruption of natural water flows.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service's 94 million acres include 514 national wildlife refuges, 78 ecological services field stations, 65 national fish hatcheries, 50 wildlife coordination areas, and 38 wetland management districts with waterfowl production areas.

The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, administers the Endangered Species Act, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes Federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies. This program is a cornerstone of the Nation's wildlife management efforts, funding fish and wildlife restoration, boating access, hunter education, shooting ranges, and related projects across America.


Release #: R98-043

1998 News Releases

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