Michigan: Endangered Dragonfly lawsuit forces a settlement with Hiawatha & Mark Twain NF

TRAVERSE CITY – The government is reconsidering its decision not to
grant strong legal protection in two national forests for North
America’s only dragonfly classified as endangered. The Hine’s emerald
dragonfly was added to the federal endangered species list in 1995. It
lives in only a few Midwestern wetland areas. The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for the dragonfly in
2006, as required under the Endangered Species Act.

But it exempted
more than 14,000 acres in Michigan’s Hiawatha National Forest and the
Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, even though those lands
include prime habitat for the dragonfly. Four environmental groups
sued the agency over that decision. Under a deal announced Friday, the
agency agreed to revisit the matter and take public comment in April.
“The settlement prevented what could have been a dangerous national
precedent,” said Andrew Wetzler, endangered species project director
for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Hine’s emerald
dragonfly has bright emerald-green eyes and a metallic green thorax,
with yellow stripes on its sides. Its body is about 2.5 inches long,
its wing span about 3.3 inches. Habitat loss is the biggest reason for
its decline, as wetlands in the Upper Midwest have been drained for
farming and urban development. Other culprits include logging,
pipelines, off-road vehicles and road construction. Once critical
habitat is selected, federal agencies must consult with Fish and
Wildlife scientists before taking or authorizing actions in the area
that might threaten the species, such as issuing permits to drain
wetlands. The decision to exempt 12,963 acres in the Hiawatha National
Forest and 786 acres in the Twain forest meant the dragonfly and
wetlands that support it would get less protection there than on
nearby private lands, Wetzler said. “We look to the new administration
to designate enough critical habitat for the species to recover from
the brink of extinction,” said John Buse, senior attorney at the
Center for Biological Diversity.

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