The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has illegally given permission to Garfield and Iron counties for potential development on wide swaths of Utah prairie dog habitat, which could kill thousands of the threatened, social mammals, Friends of Animals claims in a new lawsuit.
The nonprofit, incorporated in New York, is asking a federal judge to overturn the so-called "incidental take permits" the agency issued to the counties in 2013 and 2014.
As defined under the Endangered Species Act, "taking" can mean harassing or killing protected animals or degrading their habitat.
Iron County’s permit will allow the taking of 600 acres of habitat in Iron County, which the FWS estimates could result in the loss of 7,689 prairie dogs over three years, the suit said. Garfield County’s permit allows the taking of 220 acres of habitat and could lead to the loss of 785 animals, it adds.
The permits are part of the individual habitat conservation plans adopted by the counties after efforts to create a regional plan stalled, the suit said. The plans outline the counties’ management strategies, including restoring habitat and moving animals at times.
Friends of Animals claims the FWS did not follow federal law in approving the permits, such as failing to conduct an appropriate environmental analysis and failing to base the underlying biological opinions on the best available science.
Its lawsuit was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. FWS did not immediately comment Monday. On its website, the agency said the areas covered by the permits are developed or developing, and are not vital to protecting the species.
FWS listed the Utah prairie dog as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, but later reduced its status to threatened.
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