The Sonoran desert tortoise became a candidate for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010 after wildlife experts found that the increasing population of residents threatens the habitat of the animal.
On Monday, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the reptile, which can be found in Arizona and Northern Sonora in Mexico, is not at risk of extinction so it will no longer be a candidate for the listing.
The agency explained that the decision is due in part to the commitments that several agencies of the government have made to provide protection to the animal.
The FWS likewise said that it conducted a more thorough assessment of the animal, which included the use of extensive computer modeling to analyze the habitat. Findings did not indicate a situation as grim as what experts found five years ago.
"We and our federal and state partners will continue to monitor the tortoises. However, the current modeling in science demonstrates that there's virtually no probability of extinction over the next decade," spokesman Jeff Humphrey said.
The decision is the third time since 1987 that the wildlife service turned down the requests and efforts of environmental groups to secure federal protection for the tortoise. The Sonoran desert tortoise will, however, continue to receive state protection as a "species of greatest conservation need."
Several groups were amenable with the wildlife authority's decision. Homebuilders and ranchers, for instance, would be spared from additional regulations since development and livestock grazing are among those that were identified by environmental groups as threats to the species. Other threats included fire, invasive species, climate change and human-tortoise interactions.
Spencer Kamps of the Homebuilders Association of Central Arizona said that an ESA designation could have a negative impact on housing developing. He said that the listing would entail time and money, and filing requests for permit would become difficult and take a long time.
Conservationists, on the other hand, were concerned about the future of the species, complaining that the decision was based on "theoretical" science and not hard data.
Watersheds Project California director Michael Connor said that the agency's decision cited what he called a "population stimulation model" to estimate the Sonoran desert tortoise's current population and predict their future population.
"Clearly, we need to look at that data and find out what's going on," Connor said. "It's not clear as to whether the service used any real population analysis."