May 16, 4:14 AM EDT
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A judge has declined environmentalists’ requests to put a temporary hold on the federal government’s decision to remove the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl from the endangered-species list.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton on Monday set a June 2 hearing in Phoenix on a request from the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife for an injunction blocking the delisting for a longer period.
Bolton’s reasoning was that environmentalists couldn’t prove that any new development in owl habitat is imminent.
The tiny owl – which is only about 6 inches long and weighs less than 3 ounces – has been at the center of a battle between environmentalists and developers for years.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to remove the pygmy owl from the endangered species list because it has determined it is not a distinct subspecies.
There are only 13 known pygmy owls left in Arizona, said Jenny Neeley of the Defenders of Wildlife.
Neeley said the owl, which has been listed as endangered since 1997, will face imminent extinction if the protection is removed.
Critical habitat designations for the owl covering more than a million acres in Arizona will be lifted if the owl comes off the list.
Developers and landowners have opposed endangered status for the bird because of its economic impact. Its presence delayed numerous developments and road projects, and also blocked construction of a high school northwest of Tucson.