LAS VEGAS— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week to force it to protect 19 imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act, including southern Nevada’s own Las Vegas bearpoppy and one of its main pollinators, the Mojave poppy bee.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeks decisions from the agency on protecting the wildflower and bee. Living primarily on gypsum-rich soils in Clark County, surrounding Lake Mead, they have small, outlying populations in nearby parts of Arizona.
The bearpoppy and poppy bee have experienced significant declines in population and range due to habitat destruction from urban sprawl, mining, off-road vehicles, invasive species and climate change. The bearpoppy is now known from just 10 locations, and the poppy bee is known from just 7 locations.
“The Las Vegas bearpoppy and its pollinator the Mojave poppy bee are important parts of the Mojave Desert ecosystem in southern Nevada, and they’re facing a dire risk of extinction,” said Tara Cornelisse, a senior scientist at the Center and primary author of the petitions to protect the two species. “These special organisms need the lifesaving protections of the Endangered Species Act to have a hope of survival, and that’s why we filed this lawsuit.”
Both the bearpoppy and the poppy bee used to be widespread on gypsum-rich soils across the northern Mojave Desert, but their stronghold was likely the Las Vegas Valley and surrounding areas. Because urban sprawl had decimated much of their habitat, they were included in the Clark County Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan, ostensibly intended to prevent the need to list them under the Endangered Species Act.
But population declines and impacts from mining and off-highway vehicles have continued unabated. In 2018, for instance, the Bureau of Land Management authorized the Lima Gypsum Mine to bulldoze hundreds of acres of bearpoppy habitat.
In 2019 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that protecting the poppy bee might be warranted; it reached a similar decision about the bearpoppy in 2020. Since then, however, it has failed to reach a determination about the species’ status under the timelines mandated by the Act, leading to this week’s litigation.
“Clark County and the Bureau of Land Management have failed to prevent these species from sliding toward extinction, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to follow the law to protect them,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director with the Center. “Instead of protecting the species it covers, the voluntary Clark County habitat conservation plan is functioning as a blank check for developers and mining companies. Only the Endangered Species Act can save these Nevada treasures from extinction.”