A federal District Court judge has ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted appropriately in not listing a Southeast Alaska species of goshawk as threatened or endangered.
But Judge Ricardo Urbina's ruling keeps the issue open by mandating a study of the Queen Charlotte goshawk's habitat and protection on Canada's Vancouver Island.
Environmentalists said Wednesday the ruling keeps the 10-year-old court battle alive because the study could conclude that Canadian habitat protection is insufficient and that restrictions on logging in the Tongass National Forest are required.
Corrie Bosman, Alaska program coordinator at the Center for Biological Diversity in Sitka, said her group believes there was adequate science to force listing in Southeast. But she said the Fish and Wildlife Service's review of Canadian habitat could help.
"We see this as an opportunity to see the entire situation (Alaska and Canada) as a whole."
Urbina, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, issued a ruling Monday that adopted a magistrate judge's opinion except for a point about Vancouver Island being a "significant portion" of the goshawk's range. Urbina ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the range and whether the bird is threatened or endangered in Vancouver Island.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola said in his opinion that data does not show that the bird is threatened or endangered in Southeast Alaska. Further, Facciola said, the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to reach a decision on whether the goshawk is endangered or threatened in Vancouver Island, a significant portion of the subspecies' range. He remanded the case for that limited purpose.
If the U.S. government determines the bird is threatened or endangered in its range in Canada, it will be listed as endangered or threatened in the U.S. because its range includes Southeast Alaska, Bosman said. The U.S. would not have any jurisdiction over protecting the bird in Canada, but Canadian officials have already taken such action. There, the bird is listed as threatened under that government's Species At Risk Act.
Urbina did not provide a timeline for the Fish and Wildlife Service to complete its review.
"Before we can comment on anything, it's best we read the material and digest it," Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Karen Boylan said Wednesday.
Bosman said the Fish and Wildlife Service should not only review the bird's range on Vancouver Island, but all logging areas - including those in Southeast Alaska - that threaten the species. Timber sales are being planned in the Juneau area, she said.
"You cannot make a determination on the future viability of a species by looking only at pieces of the puzzle," Bosman said in a statement. "When all the information is viewed as a whole, it is clear that this species warrants Endangered Species Act protection."