(CN) – A federal judge in San Francisco refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to list the West Coast fisher as an endangered species, despite determining that such protection is warranted.
The Center for Biological Diversity and three other environmental groups argued that the agency’s failure to list the species as endangered from 2004 to 2009 kept the weasel-like mammal “in bureaucratic limbo.”
The West Coast fisher population has drastically declined in recent years due to trapping, pest control, and the loss of habitat caused by logging, road building, farming and fire.
In April 2004, the agency determined that endangered status was “warranted but precluded” by other species that were higher priorities. Instead, it placed the West Coast fisher on a list of candidates for federal Endangered Species Act protection.
The environmental groups sued in April of this year, claiming the agency’s findings violated federal environmental law. They also wanted the government to identify the pending listing proposals that were allegedly more important than the West Coast fisher.
The Fish and Wildlife Service argued that its most recent “warranted but precluded” finding renders challenges to its past findings moot.
Environmentalists insisted that, even if the earlier findings are moot, they fall under an exception for agency acts that are “capable of repetition yet evading review.”
U.S. District Judge Joseph Spero ruled that dismissal would be “premature at this stage.”
“The court is not persuaded that this matter can be decided on a motion to dismiss,” the judge wrote. “The challenges raised in the complaint do not delineate the ‘policies’ that the plaintiffs seek to reverse.”
He denied the government’s motion to dismiss, saying these issues “must be developed further before the court can make an assessment.”