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The Conservation Law Center provides legal counsel without charge to conservation organizations, works to improve conservation law and policy, and offers law students clinical experience in the practice of law and the profession's public service tradition.

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CLC Challenges Indiana DNR's Authorization to Destroy Mature Hardwood Forest and Habitat Along the White River Levee

July 30, 2015

On behalf of Friends of the White River, CLC has challenged the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ decision to authorize the permanent destruction of more than seven acres of mature hardwood forest and other high-quality riparian habitat along Indianapolis’s White River levee.

Our administrative appeal, filed June 26, argues that DNR violated state law in permitting the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and its agent, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to remove all vegetation — including roots larger than one-half inch in diameter — from the portion of the levee that extends from Westfield Boulevard to Kessler Boulevard. We further argue that DNR allowed the project to proceed even though the applicants failed to meet their statutory obligation to prove that clearing would not cause "unreasonable" environmental harm.

We also challenged the factual and legal foundation for the project. Although the City and Corps contend that eliminating levee vegetation could reduce flood damage, agency experts acknowledge that trees can also strengthen levees. In fact, Congress recently passed a law that expressly prohibits the Corps from requiring vegetation removal in the absence of a site-specific levee safety analysis. Our best information indicates that the Corps has thus far failed to perform that analysis with respect to the White River levee.

CLC Supports Additional Habitat Protection for Endangered Killer Whales

July 6, 2015

On July 6, CLC joined a coalition of environmental organizations to send a letter urging the National Marine Fisheries Service to take immediate action to conserve the endangered Southern Resident population of killer whales. After several drastic declines, only approximately 81 of these animals remain in the wild. Recent government research reveals that a variety of human activities threaten the killer whales year-round, but only the population's summer habitat in Puget Sound currently receives federal protection.

Alexis Andiman, a graduate fellow attorney at CLC, began seeking expanded federal protection for endangered killer whales in 2013, while working as an oceans fellow with the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. "Killer whales live in the Pacific Ocean, but they're beloved by people across the country," Andiman said. "If we want these amazing animals to survive for future generations, we need to work together to protect their essential habitat now."

The Fisheries Service has acknowledged that additional oversight is required, but insists that it cannot gather the information necessary to expand the killer whales' designated "critical habitat" until at least 2017. Conservationists counter that the government — which has spent over $11 million researching the whales since 2003 — already possesses ample data to protect the population's winter range, including waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. The July 6 letter encourages the Service to conserve all inhabited waters without delay.

"While NMFS analyzes data, human activities will continue to threaten these killer whales by reducing salmon numbers, releasing toxic pollution, and generating deafening underwater noise," Andiman said. "By the time the agency's research is complete, there might not be as many killer whales left to protect."

Critical habitat designations prevent the federal government from undertaking or approving activities that reduce an area's ability to support an endangered species. Studies show that species with designated critical habitat are more than twice as likely to exhibit improving population trends than those without this additional protection.

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