- Associated Press - Thursday, June 12, 2014

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) - A group of Riverside County property owners, builders and others have petitioned the federal government to remove Endangered Species Act protections for a California songbird.

The petition filed Wednesday with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims that the coastal California gnatcatcher is plentiful in Mexico, and doesn’t need to be protected, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported (https://bit.ly/1kRhw56).

The group cites new DNA evidence showing that the blue-gray songbird is not a distinct subspecies as previously thought, but a single species that ranges from Southern California to the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico.

“It’s the same species whether it crosses a geographic boundary or not,” said Bruce Colbert, executive director of the 300-member Property Owners Association of Riverside County, a nonprofit research and lobbying group that represents entities affected by land-use decisions.

The gnatcatcher was listed as threatened with extinction in 1993. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife designated 197,303 acres in San Diego, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Ventura counties as critical habitat, which is land considered essential for the species’ recovery.

At the time, federal officials estimated the economic impact of the resulting restrictions would total $915 million by 2030. That included delays and non-development of property within the habitat area.

Gnatcatchers were once plentiful between Southern California’s coast and mountains, but their numbers declined dramatically as most of their coastal sage brush habitat was taken over by development.

The groups first petitioned to have the gnatcatcher delisted in 2010.

Fish and Wildlife has 90 days to respond to the petition, though the agency’s priority is to handle a backlog of cases with court-ordered deadlines resulting from lawsuits, spokeswoman Jane Hendron said.


Information from: The Press-Enterprise, https://www.pe.com

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