TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The Sonoran desert tortoise is not at risk for extinction and will no longer be listed as a candidate for Endangered Species Act protections, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday.
The agency says the decision is partly because of the commitments various government agencies have made to protect the animal in Arizona. There are about 470,000 to 970,000 adult desert tortoises in the U.S. and Mexico.
"We and our federal and state partners will continue to monitor the tortoises. However the current modeling in science demonstrates that there's virtually no probability of extinction over the next decade," spokesman Jeff Humphrey said.
The Sonoran desert tortoise became a candidate for protections under the Endangered Species Act in 2010 after the Fish and Wildlife Service found that increasing population growth in the Southwest and northern Mexico was threatening the animal's habitat.
But local conservation efforts have helped keep the tortoise population steady, and many say the Fish and Wildlife Service made the right call. The Sonoran desert tortoise will still receive protections from the state as a "species of greatest conservation need."
Spencer Kamps, vice president for legislative affairs for the Homebuilders Association of Central Arizona, said the ESA designation would have negatively impacted housing development.
"Any endangered species listing costs time and money. Not to say that it isn't warranted but it does cost us time and money. Permitting is difficult. It takes a longer time," Kamps said.
Conservationists worry about the future of the desert tortoise.
Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate with WildEarth Guardians, questioned the Fish and Wildlife assessment and whether local and federal organizations will be truly committed to protecting the tortoise.
"If a conservation agreement will accomplish that goal then that's awesome we're all for that," she said, noting the group does not want to see local voluntary conservation agreements that are unenforceable and won't provide adequate protection.
Jones said her organization would closely look at the Fish and Wildlife's decision and hasn't ruled out legal action.
Steve Trussell, executive director of the Arizona Rock Products Association, an organization that represents aggregate materials in the state, applauded the decision.
"We operate wherever there's development, so it could have potentially, among other things, had a major impact on our industry," Trussell said.