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Groups Allege that Brushing Roads Kills Endangered Butterfly

November 10, 2010

The Oregonian is reporting that the conservation groups Xerces Society and Center for Biological Diversity are threatening to sue Yamhill County for alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act arising out of the county’s road maintenance program.  According to the groups’ 60-day notice of intent to sue, the county’s mowing and spraying of roadside vegetation is killing and injuring the endangered Fenders blue butterfly.

The groups contend that the butterfly is being killed or harmed by the county’s road maintenance program in several ways.  For instance, they allege that the wheels and blades of the mowers, road graders, and brush cutters are directly killing and injuring butterflies.  They also claim that the removal and spraying of a species of lupine, which the butterfly depends upon for nectar to survive, is causing harm to the butterfly.

One of the main objectives of the lawsuit appears to be to convince the county to adopt a Habitat Conservation Plan, which is essentially a plan under which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sanctions specific activities on the condition that certain mitigation and conservation measures are followed.  According to The Oregonian, Yamhill County commissioners applied for a $391,000 federal grant to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan, but then turned it down on a 2-1 vote over fears it would obligate them to future costs.

Depending on the circumstances, lawsuits alleging that habitat modification is causing death or injury to ESA-listed species can be very difficult to prove in court.  It remains to be seen whether the county will test the conservation groups’ theory.

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