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Arizona A.G. Joins Lawsuit to Limit Habitat Protections

The California condor is one of 65 endangered species in Arizona. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
The California condor is one of 65 endangered species in Arizona. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)
December 1, 2016

PHOENIX -- Conservation groups are vowing to intervene in a new lawsuit filed against the federal government by the attorneys general of 18 states, including Arizona.

The suit seeks to invalidate some rules added to the Endangered Species Act by the Obama Administration. The rules limit development on lands designated as critical habitat, even if the endangered species doesn't currently live in that specific area.

Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, defended the rules, saying they protect lands that allow species like the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn to return to their ancestral habitat.

"If they have an area that's unoccupied that is really a great place for the pronghorn to live,” Hartl said. “An agency can't destroy it - because then, there's no possibility that it could recover by re-expanding into that area where it used to be found. "

There are 65 endangered species in Arizona - 21 are plants; 44 are animals, including the California condor.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has joined the lawsuit along with officials from neighboring states of Nevada and New Mexico. They allege the rules amount to an unconstitutional land grab by federal officials.

Hartl said his group will join the lawsuit on the side of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and hopes to prevent a future Trump administration from discarding the rule and settling the case.

"The Republican attorney generals see an opportunity now, with a different administration coming down the pike, to get rid of these rules and to make it a lot easier for really harmful types of development to proceed without much of a check, “ Hartl said.

If the rules are lifted, he said, many endangered species could be further penned in by future development.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - AZ