Review Says Irrigation Project Won’t Endanger Woodpeckers

Wed August 29, 2007 - Southeast Edition

LITTLE ROCK (AP) A review by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services officials found that the proposed Grand Prairie irrigation project would not endanger the ivory-billed woodpecker.

The review by the wildlife agency was ordered by U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson Jr. as part of a lawsuit filed to halt the irrigation project.

Last summer, Wilson issued an injunction for the $400 million irrigation project on the White River in eastern Arkansas. The project’s pumping station is near DeValls Bluff, close to where the elusive woodpecker was spotted and filmed after it was thought to be extinct.

In a July 26 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mark Sattelberg of the wildlife agency said the project “is not likely to adversely affect the ivory-billed woodpecker.”

“What we’re hoping is, when the judge sees the justification in the letter, he’ll agree with it,” Sattelberg said.

The lawsuit was filed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation.

David Carruth, president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, said he had no problem with the agency’s methodology, but said he thought the researchers didn’t study a large enough area.

“My take on what I’ve read is they are far, far short of what Judge Wilson intended them to do,” Carruth said. “Even though the pump is going to be physically at DeValls Bluff, the impact zone will be as far south as St. Charles,” Carruth said. “There’s no question that there’s going to be impacts further south. The question is how far south.”

Corps spokesman Bob Anderson said the agency hopes to get federal funding reinstated next year if Wilson approves the biological assessment and lifts the injunction.

“There’s really not any kind of schedule now,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to wait to get cleared to begin again.”