TUCSON — Conservation groups have sued to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from removing a tiny desert owl from the endangered species list.
The cactus ferruginous pygmy owl is about 6 inches long and weighs less than 3 ounces, but has been at the center of a battle between environmentalists and developers for more than a decade. It is scheduled to be taken off the list Monday.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife filed suit in federal court Thursday challenging that decision. They also are requesting a temporary restraining order to block Monday's action.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is delisting the pygmy owl because it has determined it is not a distinct subspecies.
There are only 13 known pygmy owls left in Arizona, said Jenny Neeley of the Defenders of Wildlife. She said the owl, which has been listed as endangered since 1997, will face imminent extinction if endangered species protection is removed.
Critical habitat designations for the owl covering more than 1 million acres in Arizona will be lifted if the owl comes off the list. Its presence has delayed numerous developments and road projects.