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Suit filed over rare plant found at proposed developments
By LEON DROUIN KEITH Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Environmental groups and the city of Calabasas have filed a lawsuit demanding endangered species protection for a plant found only on the sites of two contentious proposed developments near Los Angeles.
The San Fernando Valley spineflower, which had been thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in May 1999, is known to exist only at Newhall Ranch and Ahmanson Ranch, where two proposed projects would create a total of more than 25,000 homes.
Spokespeople for the developers said they will be able to handle whatever restrictions that might come with a listing.
``We're not opposed to the spineflower being listed,'' said Adrian Rodriguez of Washington Mutual Inc., owner of the proposed 3,050-home Ahmanson development in the Santa Clarita Valley. ``We've always treated it as though it were always on the endangered list.''
Marlee Lauffer, spokeswoman for the developer of the proposed 22,000-home Newhall development north of Calabasas, said the project already must deal with a number of endangered species. ``We'll continue to work with various agencies to do whatever's appropriate,'' she said.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, contends that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service illegally postponed the listing of the small plant with white and yellow flowers.
If someone files a petition seeking the addition of a species to the endangered list, federal law requires the agency to make a decision within two years of the request.
But in October 1999, before anyone petitioned to have the spineflower listed, Fish and Wildlife found that adding the species to the list was justified but precluded because other not-yet-listed species took precedence.
The agency declared the species a ``candidate'' for the endangered list and conducts annual reviews to determine whether the plant should be added.
Fish and Wildlife is using the candidate designation as a way to avoid deadlines, but nothing in the Endangered Species Act supports that policy, said Kieran Suckling, executive director of one of the environmental groups suing Fish and Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity of Tucson, Ariz.
The lawsuit was filed by the center, the city of Calabasas, the California Native Plant Society, Friends of the Santa Clara River, Heal the Bay and Save Open Space/Santa Monica Mountains.
Late last year Fish and Wildlife _ citing rising legal costs and an inadequate endangered species budget _ stopped adding species to the list, except in cases where court orders have forced the agency's hand.
The center, Defenders of Wildlife and federal officials are trying to broker a deal in which the environmental groups agree to postpone some courtroom action and Fish and Wildlife adds some particularly imperiled species to the list.
Environmentalists had asked that the spineflower be one of the species that would get protected, but the agency refused, Suckling said.
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