Judge halts irrigation project that could harm ivory-billed’s habitat

A federal judge has temporarily halted a $319 million Army Corps of Engineers irrigation project in Arkansas, pending further study of potential impact to the habitat of the ivory-billed woodpecker — which may or may not be extinct. The last confirmed sighting of the bird in North America was in 1944; reported sightings since 2004 set off a massive scramble to confirm its existence. Some ornithologists are convinced the ivory-billed is still alive; others are skeptical. The Corps had concluded that woodpecker habitat would not be affected by the project, but a federal judge, ruling on a lawsuit brought by the National Wildlife Federation and its Arkansas affiliate, said the Corps “put the cart before the horse,” neglecting to study the bird’s full range. A more thorough study could take a year. The project, if ever completed, will help to irrigate the land of 1,000 eastern Arkansas farmers.