Hearing Held in Jonesboro to Decide Fate of Rare Woodpecker's Habitat

FEBRUARY 7, 2006 - Posted at 7:54 a.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR - In Jonesboro, a federal judge heard arguments yesterday over whether a vast irrigation project will harm the rare ivory-billed woodpecker.  U.S. District Judge William R. Wilson was asked by environmentalists to temporarily stop the Grand Prarie Irrigation Project and order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct more environmental study on the bird's habitat.  The judge says he will rule as soon as possible.

Work began on the $320 million project last summer with construction of a pump station and the station is expected to be complete in two years.  The project would draw 158 billion gallons per year from the White River.  Farmers have been using underground aquifers but their continued use threatens to deplete that natural resource.

Meanwhile, the bird was believed to be extinct until last kayaker and bird watcher Gene Sparling spotted the animal two years ago and scientists confirmed its existence in the Cache River Wildlife Refuge near Brinkley.  The U.S. Interior Department last spring announced the bird's rediscovery.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)