To ensure a full assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a pair of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits today demanding the release of federal documents confirming the endangered status of the northern swift fox. The suits assert that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is withholding records that clarify the species has been protected as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act since 1973 and therefore should have been considered during the required review of the pipeline’s impact on endangered species.
“Proponents of Keystone XL assure us the pipeline has been studied extensively, but incredibly, some of the pipeline’s worst impacts to the nation’s endangered wildlife have been given short shrift,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center. “We can only assume Fish and Wildlife is trying to sweep the impacts of Keystone on this unique fox under the rug.”
The northern swift fox was once common throughout the plains of the United States and Canada, but survives today in only a few locations that would be destroyed by Keystone XL. In other documents the State Department has acknowledged that swift fox dens along KXL’s right-of-way could be crushed — and foxes and their young killed by pipeline construction. This information was not considered during a legally required review of the pipeline under the Endangered Species Act because the Fish and Wildlife Service has released conflicting information about whether the fox is protected under the Endangered Species Act only in Canada or in both Canada and the United States.
Although the fox was protected as endangered in 1973, the Service removed it from the endangered list in the U.S. portion of its range in 1979, but a 2009 agency policy memorandum being withheld from the public acknowledges the fox should be protected in the United States as well as Canada. In recent years the agency has changed the fox’s listing status on its website, without public notice or compliance with Endangered Species Act regulations.
“Fish and Wildlife’s refusal to turn over key documents about the status of the fox suggests the agency may have something unlawful to hide,” said Atwood. “And the review of these documents is the only way the public can have any confidence about the status of this fox and the potential impacts of KXL.”
The Obama administration must determine whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest. This inquiry must assess the consequences of pipeline approval to wildlife and habitat as well as to the climate, water, landowners and communities. Yet, despite years of review, basic questions about the pipeline’s impacts remain unanswered, and the State Department and other agencies have never assessed the pipeline’s impacts to the northern swift fox by completing the procedures required by the Endangered Species Act.
The northern swift fox is a small fox, rarely exceeding 6 pounds, with large ears and a bushy tail. It earned its name for its running speed, and depends on the open prairie and arid plain habitat found in the northern plains of the United States and Canada for survival. The fox has been listed as endangered since 1973 after its numbers plummeted as a result of trapping by private, state and federal entities, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, which reports that it continues to kill about 25 foxes per year. Northern swift foxes are also threatened by habitat loss, with about half of the species’ historic range already lost. Keystone XL would threaten areas where the species survives in South Dakota, Montana, and in Alberta, Canada.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.