Defenders and Sound Gulf prevail in court cases to protect endangered species of the Gulf and Mississippi from the impacts of the Bonnet Carré Spillway

Defenders of Wildlife and Healthy Gulf won a crucial victory for endangered wildlife in and around the Gulf of Mexico when a district court ruled last night that the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service is required to conduct prospective Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultation for the threatened and vulnerable species and critical habitats impacted by the Bonnet Carré Spillway openings.

“Today’s decision ensures that the Corps must thoroughly assess the impact of the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway on endangered species dependent on the vulnerable estuarine and marine habitats in Lake Pontchartrain and Mississippi Sound before those impacts materialize,” he said McCrystie Adams, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “This is a major win for threatened and endangered species like the Gulf sturgeon, West Indian manatee and critically endangered sea turtles, whose habitats face an onslaught of polluted freshwater every time the Bonnet Carré Spillway opens.”

In 2020, Defenders of Wildlife and Healthy Gulf in the Southern District of Mississippi filed a federal lawsuit against the Corps for violating the Endangered Species Act for failing to consult with federal wildlife agencies about the consequences of opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway for numerous endangered and threatened species to advise species. The Corps responded with limited post-release informal consultations with FWS and NOAA Fisheries on individual openings.

Defenders of Wildlife and Healthy Gulf questioned these after-the-fact consultations, arguing that a meaningful ESA consultation must be conducted prior to the opening of the spillway in order for the Corps to consider mitigation measures or alternatives to protect species such as the Gulf sturgeon, West Indian manatee and Kemp -Ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles, little ringed plover and red knot, and critical habitat for the Gulf sturgeon and little ringed plover.

If the spillway opens, it will divert trillions of gallons of flood water from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi Sound, with disastrous effects on wildlife. The diverted water lowers salinity, carries excess nutrients – which lead to the growth of harmful algal blooms and can be accompanied by “hypoxic” or “anoxic” (low oxygen) conditions – creates a massive mud plume and spreads the pollution.

Defenders of Wildlife celebrates 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate of innovative solutions to protect our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defender.



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