Environmental Groups Plan to Sue Feds Over Lack of Concern for Endangered Species on Plum Island

Save the Sound is planning to sue the federal government over Plum Island
Save the Sound is planning to sue the federal government over Plum Island

The Long Island Soundkeeper and Save The Sound announced today that they intend to sue the Department of Homeland Security and the federal General Services Administration for failing to protect endangered species in their plan to sell Plum Island.

In their 60-day notice of intent to sue, the groups allege the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act in its pursuit of a public sale of the island without any restrictions to prevent development that could harm endangered species.

The groups argue that the DHS and the GSA issued their 2013 Final Environmental Impact Statement on the sale without consulting with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service about alternatives that could protect endangered species documented on the island, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

Seals enjoying the rocks on Plum Island. Photo credit Robert Lorenz.
Seals enjoying the rocks on Plum Island. Robert Lorenz photo

“For decades, Plum Island has been a refuge for rare wildlife in our highly-developed region,” said Leah Lopez Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs at Save the Sound, in a press release issued Monday. “The island and the waters around it are a safe haven for terns, plovers, sea turtles, rare orchids, and untold thousands of migrating birds each year.”

Plum Island, an 840-acre island which is within the boundaries of Southold Town, has long been restricted to human access due to the presence of the federal animal disease research center there, creating a de facto wildlife refuge.

Fifty-seven species of birds listed as “of greatest conservation need” in New York state use the shores of Plum Island, including the federally endangered roseate tern and the federally threatened piping plover. The waters around the island are also probable habitat for five threatened and endangered species of sea turtle.

Threatened plants and insects also populate the island, and its rocks are one of the most important seal haul-out areas in southern New England. More information about the species found on the island is available on the Preserve Plum Island Coalition’s website.

“We strongly support the efforts of Save the Sound and its legal challenge to the government’s decision to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder,” said Bob DeLuca, president of the Group for the East End, a partner in the Preserve Plum Island Coalition. “It is impossible to understand how the federal government could simultaneously document the island’s unique and fragile environmental, cultural, and historical resources, yet conclude that a private sale of the island for any number of potential development purposes would not result in significant environmental damage. Save the Sound is right to challenge this flawed logic and we join them in working toward the protection of this unique national resource.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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