Concluding that the animals are “not endangered,” federal wildlife officials on Tuesday rejected the listing of Florida gopher tortoises as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a 113-page decision saying gopher tortoises will continue to be considered a threatened species in parts of southwest Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana under the Endangered Species Act.

But it says increased protection for gopher tortoises in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and other parts of Alabama is not warranted, despite problems such as movement in the animals’ habitat.

“Although threats to habitat loss and fragmentation for the species due to urbanization, climate change, sea level rise and habitat management are expected to persist for the foreseeable future, and the effects of these threats to this long-lived species will persist for some time level, some threats have been reduced and will continue to be reduced through implemented and ongoing conservation actions and regulatory mechanisms,” the agency said in its decision.

But the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the lawsuit that helped prompt the review of the animal’s status, sharply criticized the decision.

“Denying gopher tortoises the protections they need to survive is unjustified,” attorney Elise Bennett, director of the Florida Center for Biological Diversity, said in a prepared statement.

“This ignores the devastating urban sprawl that has destroyed turtle habitat and will continue to drive the species closer to extinction.”

Gopher tortoises have long sparked debate in Florida as development has expanded and conservationists have pushed for habitat protection.

Gopher tortoises are considered endangered by the state, which has a procedure for issuing permits for capturing and relocating the animals.

This year, the Legislature took action to increase the number of places where gopher tortoises can be moved.

In part, the bill (SB 494) directed state agencies to consider using portions of certain public lands as gopher “reception” sites.

In addition, he called on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “streamline and improve the review of applications for public and private recipient sites for gopher tortoises.”

But groups like the Center for Biological Diversity have long sought greater protections for the animals.

In a lawsuit filed last year in federal court in Washington, D.C., the Center for Biological Diversity accused the Fish and Wildlife Service of “dragging” in listing gopher tortoises and other species as endangered.

A settlement in April led to the review.

The review included scenarios up to 80 years into the future.

While gopher tortoises are “likely to be endangered for the foreseeable future” in the region that includes southwestern Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, that was not the case in areas like Florida.

“After assessing the threats to the species and evaluating the cumulative effect of the threats, we have concluded that the risk factors affecting the gopher tortoise and its habitat, individually or in combination, are not of sufficient imminence, scale, or magnitude to rise to the ‘Level, to indicate that a species is currently threatened with extinction (endangered species), or may become endangered in the foreseeable future (threatened species), throughout its range,” says the decisions.

But the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release that development and habitat loss for gopher tortoises “limits food availability and burrowing options, exposing them to burrow crushing during construction, moving vehicles or senseless human attacks.”

“This rejection is a blow to the gopher tortoise and to all the people who care deeply about the future of this humble creature, but we will not give up,” Bennett said.

“We will carefully review this decision and fight to ensure that the turtle receives the protection it needs to survive.”