Wyoming pocket gopher not endangered or threatened, Fish and Wildlife Service says
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — There is no clear evidence that gas drilling, wind energy development, climate change and other factors are harming the Wyoming pocket gopher and justify protecting the animal under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday.
The Wyoming pocket gopher is a palm-sized, burrowing rodent that carries food in fur-lined cheek pouches. The animal is among several pocket gopher species in the West and exists in small numbers in a relatively small area in south-central Wyoming.
Hundreds of gas wells have been drilled in the region in recent years. That in part prompted the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Center for Native Ecosystems to petition in 2007 to list the Wyoming pocket gopher as endangered.
The petition led to a Fish and Wildlife study of the rodent and Wednesday's announcement.
"We know there's a lot going on out there on the landscape but we weren't able to draw a connection that those were indeed forming a threat," said Dan Blake, a Cheyenne-based Fish and Wildlife biologist and the agency's lead biologist for the study.
The Wyoming pocket gopher is the only mammal that lives in Wyoming and nowhere else, although the similar but genetically distinct northern pocket gopher lives in the same area in eastern Sweetwater and western Carbon counties.
Although the Fish and Wildlife Service decided against listing the Wyoming pocket gopher as threatened or endangered, Blake said, the agency advocates more research of the animal.
"Just because it's not listed doesn't mean we're not concerned about it," he said.
The announcement was good news for Wyoming's large gas industry. Companies such as BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. helped fund a study of the Wyoming pocket gopher after the petition, said Cheryl Sorenson, vice president of the Petroleum Assn. of Wyoming.
"All that data that was submitted was pretty much what prevented this from being listed," Sorenson said.
Environmentalists expressed disappointment and questioned the basis for the decision, saying too much about the animal remains unknown.
Fish and Wildlife didn't adequately consider plans for future gas and wind energy development, said Duane Short with the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.
"It is very difficult for me to understand how Fish and Wildlife can assume no harm," Short said.
Sophie Osborn, a Wyoming Outdoor Council biologist, said Fish and Wildlife itself has acknowledged that little is known about the animal. She said a species shouldn't become extinct because of lack of knowledge.
-- Associated Press
Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Associated Press