September 3, 2008

New Map Removes Bighorn Sheep Habitat

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reduce protected areas for an endangered species of bighorn sheep in Southern California.

The peninsular bighorn sheep was declared an endangered species 10 years ago when fewer than 300 remained. Environmentalists say cutting 500,000 acres from the map of critical habitat, allowing mining, development and other activities, threatens the species' survival, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

"I'm not happy with it. We had contiguous habitat ... now there are three islands," said Esther Rubin, who served on the original Peninsular Bighorn Recovery Team.

The map drawn in 2001 came under attack from Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, who sued in 2005, from mining companies and riding enthusiasts in Palm Springs.

Jane Hedron, a spokesman for the service, said the secretary of the Interior has the authority to remove land from protection on economic grounds.

"Critical habitat is habitat considered essential for the recovery of the endangered species," she said. "It is not intended to include the entire range of a species."