What's that smell? Oh, yeah, a kangaroo rat.
Farmers from areas surrounding the San Diego region in Riverside and Imperial counties are asking federal courts to exclude the Stephens' kangaroo rat from a list of endangered species, arguing that the rat's inclusion prevents them from protecting their lands against wildfire.
"We filed this case because [United States Fish and Wildlife Service] has a history of not responding to our clients' petitions and letting the federal courts do their work for them," California Farm Bureau attorney Christopher Kieser tells Courthouse News Service.
While the kangaroo rat's territory (the creature is so named for its ability to jump as far as nine feet) is predominantly in Riverside, it extends into the Imperial Valley and the far eastern reaches of San Diego. The animals — which are known to collect shiny objects and maintain burrows for 100 years or more — are valued by anthropologists but detested by farmers due to restrictions placed upon their land because of the species' endangered status.
Since the rats were placed on the endangered species list in 1988, their population is said to have more than doubled by 2011, according to a five-year government study completed in that year. Based upon these findings, farmers and ranchers have petitioned to have the rats' status downgraded from "endangered" to "threatened," which carries a lower level of land regulation.
"This case is really about allowing people to use their property in reasonable ways," Keiser tells Courthouse News. "When a species is listed as endangered that is not endangered, like the Stephens' kangaroo rat, it lets the federal government have more power to regulate property."
Plaintiffs argue that Fish and Wildlife failed to act on their demand within a required 90-day window and should thus be compelled to take action on the request in a timely manner.