TUCSON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is dragging its heels on protecting two rare denizens of the Sonoran Desert, environmentalists say. The Center for Biological Diversity seeks protection for the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl and the Tucson shovel-nosed snake - which eats scorpions. Both species are found only in the desert around Tucson, and both are threatened with extinction because their habitat is being eaten up by urban sprawl.
The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, a tiny (14 to 18 centimeters long), reddish-brown bird that hunts during the day and nests in trees and cactus, has been the subject of several lawsuits since the early 1990s. Believed to be a subspecies unique to Arizona, the owl was listed as endangered in 1997 but delisted in 2006 when "a coalition of industry groups and trade associations" sued the federal government, the Center says in its federal complaint.
The Tucson shovel-nosed snake, a subspecies of the Western shovel nosed-snake, slithers along valley floors in the upper Sonoran Desert using its shovel-shaped snout to "literally swim through sandy soils" while hunting scorpions, its favorite prey. It is generally less than 1 foot long and its distinctive snout has banded coloration that mimics venomous coral snakes.
The lawsuit is part of a recent blitz of litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity. On Wednesday alone, the group filed complaints in four states and Washington, D.C., seeking protection for 93 species.
"We had hoped the Obama administration would move far more quickly to provide protection for endangered species than Bush did, but so far this has not been the case," Noah Greenwald, the group's endangered species director, said in a statement. "Continued delay of protection places these 93 species in real jeopardy."
Fish and Wildlife has issued a finding that there is compelling evidence to list the pygmy owl and the shovel-nosed snake, but has failed to issue a finding as to whether listing is warranted, the lawsuit states.
The Center seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to enforce the ESA's mandatory 12-month deadline to make such a finding.
The Center is represented by staff attorney John Buse in San Francisco.