Fighting Feds over Beach Mouse rules

Finally someone is challenging the feds rules on beach mice. Unfortunately, it’s in the Keys not here.

Feds Must Retract Mouse Habitat Rule That Bars Hurricane Victims from Rebuilding
July 19, 2007 | Pacific Legal Foundation/Valerie Fernandez

KEY, FLORIDA; July 19, 2007: Federal officials must retract and reconsider their designation of thousands of acres in Florida and Alabama as additional “critical habitat” for the Perdido Key beach mouse – or face a lawsuit. So warns a formal letter mailed to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service last night by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation’s Atlantic Center.

The PLF-Atlantic Center lawyers represent Florida property owners who have been unable to rebuild after their homes were destroyed by 2004’s Hurricane Ivan, because of new government land use restrictions to “protect” mice. The letter sent yesterday constitutes the “60 day notice” that plaintiffs must provide before challenging federal endangered species regulations. If federal officials do not comply with the letter’s request, the property owners plan to file a lawsuit in two months.

Last October, federal wildlife officials designated 6,200 acres in coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle as additional “critical habitat” for three mice, including the Perdido Key beach mouse, that have been listed under the Endangered Species Act. In setting aside acreage for the Perdido Key beach mouse (in Escambia County, Florida, and Baldwin County, Alabama), “the feds didn’t do the necessary due diligence,” charged Valerie Fernandez, managing attorney with the PLF Atlantic Center, headquartered in Stuart, Florida. “Under the ESA, regulators have clear-cut research responsibilities before they can set aside land as critical habitat for a species. Those duties were not fulfilled in this case. They didn’t identify the specific biological factors that are crucial for the mouse’s survival. They didn’t adequately determine or explain why they chose the specific areas they targeted for ‘habitat.’ Finally, they didn’t evaluate the economic impacts of their action.”

“In short, they ordered a ‘freeze’ on thousands of acres – harming hundreds of homeowners and other property owners – on the basis of slipshod scientific work,” Fernandez continued. “This is why we’re on strong legal ground – and why the feds are staring at a lawsuit if they don’t admit their mistake and go back to the drawing board.”

Fernandez’s clients include Paul Fisher, whose home on Perdido Key off the Florida Panhandle was devastated by Ivan, a strong Category 3 hurricane. Other Perdido Key property owners represented by Fernandez have banded together as Perdido Property Rights, Inc.

“What’s especially outrageous is that federal officials targeted my clients’ home sites as ‘critical habitat’ after their homes were destroyed by Ivan, even though there is no evidence of beach mouse presence there” said Fernandez. “So the government took advantage of a tragedy to essentially confiscate these people’s property. I say ‘confiscate,’ because the homeowners can’t rebuild as long as the feds say their land is needed for mice.”

Pacific Legal Foundation litigates nationwide to compel federal officials to follow the ESA’s own guidelines when listing and regulating species and habitat. Last week, ruling in a PLF case, a federal judge ordered the federal government to finally conduct mandatory reviews of 89 listed species in the Sunshine State. And in late June, federal officials finally released the North American bald eagle from the Endangered Species Act list – nearly a decade after it had been pronounced “recovered” – in response to a lawsuit won by PLF in federal court.