From: Brian Melley, Associated Press
Published November 16, 2004 12:00 AM

Conservative Legal Group Challenges Endangered Species Protection

SACRAMENTO, Calif. − A conservative legal group is threatening to sue the federal government over its plans to protect four dozen endangered species ranging from Peninsular bighorn sheep to the tiny robust spineflower.


The Pacific Legal Foundation on Monday notified the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service that it would file suit in 60 days, claiming the agencies failed to meet federal requirements when they set out to protect 16 animal and 32 plant species. Advance notice is required before filing endangered species lawsuits.


Based on a favorable ruling in U.S. District Court in Fresno that overturned habitat protection for the Alameda whipsnake last year, the foundation said the agencies underestimated the economic impact of protection and did not properly follow the rules to protect habitat.


"They speculated instead of determining what areas are essential to the conservation of the species," attorney Reed Hopper said.


The legal foundation -- representing business groups, farmers and developers in the case -- said its lawsuit would ultimately bring back jeopardized plants and animals, a claim dismissed by environmentalists.


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"Only the Pacific Legal Foundation is cynical enough to argue that taking away habitat protection will help endangered species," said Kieran Suckling, of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has appealed. "This lawsuit is all about paving California and clearing the way for massive development."


Under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government is required to map out land that is essential to a plant or animal's survival and recovery.


Environmentalists have sued to force the government to identify habitat to protect species while developers and farmers have sued to remove or alter the designation, which can crimp logging, mining and large-scale development projects.


The government, meanwhile, has said habitat designation pales in comparison to the protection afforded once a species is listed as endangered or threatened. The Fish and Wildlife Service has blamed litigation for creating a backlog of petitions to protect other species and for diverting funds that could be used for other protection efforts.


Source: Associated Press


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