By Mateusz Perkowski
The federal government was justified in refusing to expand Endangered Species Act protections for the pygmy rabbit, a Western sagebrush species, according to a federal judge.
The species is listed as endangered only in Washington's Columbia Basin area, but not other states within its range -- Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Montana.
In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided that listing the entire species as threatened or endangered was not warranted, which was challenged in court by the Western Watersheds Project environmental group.
The pygmy rabbit is highly dependent on sagebrush habitat for food and shelter, and the limited availability of this habitat has prevented the species from rebounding in number.
It's also highly vulnerable to predators, with a high proportion of adults and juveniles getting killed each year.
However, the Fish and Wildlife Service found that the rabbits continue to live throughout their their historical range and have been discovered in new sites within the area.
Western Watersheds Project claimed the agency didn't properly consider whether the species could become endangered in the foreseeable future, but the Fish and Wildlife Service countered that it didn't have the population trend data to make such a prediction.
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge sided with the government, finding that the agency wasn't able to reach such a conclusion based on the evidence.
"Because Congress has mandated that the Service must base its listing decision 'solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available,' this court finds the Service's reasoned conclusion with respect to 'foreseeable future' cannot be considered reversible error," Lodge said. More....