Last November – on behalf of our clients the Riverside County Farm Bureau and the Center for Environmental Science, Accuracy, and Reliability (CESAR) – PLF submitted a petition asking the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to delist the Stephens’ kangaroo rat from protected status under the Endangered Species Act. We based the petition on a new population study (commissioned by CESAR) that shows prior studies have vastly underestimated the rat’s dispersal ability, meaning that they have significantly overestimated the threats of habitat fragmentation and limited genetic exchange. As we noted then, the protection of the rat under the ESA has not only imposed the typical heavy restrictions on the use of private property, but also impeded fire prevention efforts. And what is more, the Service even admitted that the rat is doing much better now than it was when it was initially listed.
Nevertheless, as it has done in the past, the Service ignored our petition. But the ESA requires the Service to respond to delisting petitions within 90 days after it receives them. In its initial response, the Service only needs to determine whether the petition “presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.” The Service should have issued its initial response to PLF’s petition back in February. Because it has yet to respond, PLF is asking a federal court to order a response.
The Service’s failure to delist a species when it is presented with new scientific information is a serious matter that affects people. Ranchers who enter into agreements with the government to graze cattle on public land may be required to abide by rules that make their operations less productive in order to protect habitat for an endangered species. Farmers can be required to forgo planting in certain areas that encompass part of a protected species’ range, or the government can limit the delivery of irrigation water. These restrictions are arbitrary if they are imposed for the purpose of protecting a species that, according to the scientific evidence, does not qualify for protection under the ESA.
PLF filed its lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. PLF attorneys represent our clients CESAR and the Riverside County Farm Bureau.
You can read the complaint here.