Monday, April 17, 2006

ENV: Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

U.S. to announce delisting of pygmy owl from endangered species list
By Tony Davis, ARIZONA DAILY STAR


The federal government will announce this afternoon that it is taking the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl off the endangered species list, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said Thursday morning.

Delisting the owl would end nearly a decade of federal regulation that has slowed, although hardly stopped, the pace of development on Tucson's Northwest Side - once this region's fastest-growing area. The owl's listing in March 1997 also kicked off a period of intense scrutiny of regional growth that culminated in Pima County's proposal for a regional habitat conservation plan.

Local officials and homebuilders have already predicted that a delisting won't roll back the tide of tougher development standards that local governments have pushed through in recent years. But a delisting almost certainly would speed construction of projects in owl habitat that have won local approval, but would otherwise need federal clearance. Such projects may be built more quickly and with less regulation now.

Last August, service officials said there were five Northwest Side projects totaling more than 4,000 homes that were then undergoing federal reviews that could start construction immediately if the owl were de-listed. Updated information was not immediately available Thursday.

The service would offer no details Thursday morning about the rationale for its decision. Benjamin J. Tuggle, acting director for the service's Southwest region, will formally announce the decision Thursday afternoon.

But its proposal to delist from last summer said that there was inadequate scientific proof that the tiny Arizona owl population was significant compared to the much larger pygmy owl population in Sonora and elsewhere in Mexico.

Thursday morning, a Defenders of Wildlife official said the group must review the service's decision before deciding how it will respond.

"But we strongly disagree with the delisting," said Jenny Neeley of Defenders' Tucson office. "We feel it's illegal and inconsistent with the Endangered Species Act and it is based purely on politics."

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