For Immediate Release,
January 26, 2022
MIAMI— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for a Trump Administration decision to deny protection to the Cedar Key mole skink under the Endangered Species Act.
The agency projects climate change and rising seas will inundate nearly a third of the lizard’s coastal habitat by 2060 and nearly two-thirds by the end of the century. Even more habitat will be degraded by storm surge and saltwater intrusion. Worse still, urban development will hinder the animal from moving to higher ground across roughly half of its remaining occupied range.
“The Cedar key mole skink is on the front lines of the climate crisis, and federal protections are crucial,” said Elise Bennett, a senior attorney in the Center’s Florida office. “As sea-level rise driven by climate change steadily engulfs Florida’s shores, the skink will be left with nowhere to live. The federal government must act now to curb rising global temperatures and protect this beautiful lizard.”
Adorned with a light-pink tail, the skink lives exclusively on the shorelines of the Cedar Key islands along roughly 10 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast. It burrows in dry sand and hunts insects under leaves, debris and washed-up vegetation on beaches.
Accelerating sea-level rise and storms of increasing frequency threaten to inundate the skink’s coastal habitat, squeezing it into increasingly smaller areas. Because the animals survive in only a few populations across a small geographic area, a single major storm could wipe out the whole subspecies.
In 2020 a federal district court judge found that the Service unlawfully denied protection to the closely related Florida Keys mole skink, which is also at grave risk from sea-level rise. The court found that the agency failed to justify why it did not use more accurate climate projections that predicted a 15% higher sea-level rise than the predictions the agency used. The Service relied on the same outdated science to deny protections for the Cedar Key mole skink.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service already knows it’s unjustifiable to rely on this outdated climate science, ” said Bennett. “It’s time to go back and make a new decision using the best scientific information available. Anything less will fail to effectively address climate change’s mounting threat to the skink and so many other Florida species that share a similar fate.”
The Center petitioned to protect the Cedar Key mole skink under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. In 2015 the Service concluded the lizard might warrant the protections of the Endangered Species Act. But in 2018 the agency ultimately denied it those protections.