Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 15, 2021


Justin Augustine, (503) 910-9214,

Lawsuit Launched to Finalize Endangered Species Act Protection for Sierra Nevada Red Fox, Hermes Copper Butterfly, Two Southwestern Plants

OAKLAND, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to protect four imperiled species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Sierra Nevada red fox and Hermes copper butterfly from California, and Bartram’s stonecrop and beardless chinchweed from Arizona, were proposed for Endangered Species Act listing over a year ago, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to finalize listing these species within the required one-year timeline.

All four of these species have very limited ranges and small population sizes. For example, the Sierra Nevada red fox historically ranged throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains but is now restricted to a single known population near Sonora Pass, California that’s estimated to comprise only 10 to 50 adults.

“The Endangered Species Act is incredibly successful at preventing extinctions and reversing declines,” said Justin Augustine, a senior attorney at the Center. “But that success can only be realized for these four species if they receive the protections they’re due. The Biden administration has a lot of catching up to do for endangered species.”

The Center petitioned for protection of the fox in 2011, the butterfly in 2004, and the plants in 2010. The plants were finally proposed for listing on Dec. 6, 2019, while the Sierra Nevada red fox and Hermes copper butterfly received their listing proposals on Jan. 8, 2020. These Endangered Species Act proposals triggered a mandatory duty for the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a final determination on the proposed listings within one year.

Long delays in protecting species under the Endangered Species Act have been a persistent problem for decades. On average species have waited 12 years for protection during the Act’s 40-plus-year history, and at least 47 species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

In 2016 the Fish and Wildlife Service developed a workplan to address a portion of the more than 500 species waiting for protection. But because of interference from the Trump administration, the agency has failed to make dozens of findings every year since. In 2020 the Trump Fish and Wildlife Service failed to make decisions for 58 species identified in its workplan.

Overall the Trump administration has only protected 25 species under the Endangered Species Act, the fewest of any administration since the Act was passed in 1973. In comparison, the Obama administration protected 360 species and the Clinton administration protected 523 species.

The Center hopes to work out a schedule with the Biden administration to ensure these four species receive the protections they need to avoid extinction.

Species Background

Sierra Nevada red fox — The Sierra Nevada red fox once was found throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains, but today only a single known population exists, estimated to contain only 10 to 50 adults. In addition to its extremely small population size, the Sierra Nevada red fox is threatened by the effects of climate change on its subalpine habitat. Climate change can lead to reduced snowpack and other factors that allow increased coyote competition. Recreation is also a threat, such as from snowmobiles.

Hermes copper butterfly — The Hermes copper butterfly is currently only found in San Diego County, California, and northwestern Baja California, Mexico. The butterfly inhabits chaparral and coastal sage scrub, where its host plant, the spiny redberry, is found. Many of the butterfly’s populations have been lost over the past few decades, such as from the urban sprawl that has destroyed and fragmented the species’ habitat.

Continued urban development, as well as climate change, fire, and drought are the most serious threats to the species.

Bartram’s stonecrop — Bartram’s stonecrop is a succulent that typically occurs on rocky outcrops in narrow canyons, usually close by to streambeds, springs, or seeps. Historically, this plant occurred in sky island mountain ranges in southern Arizona and northern Mexico, but currently only 3,726 adult individuals are known to exist within the United States. Four populations were recently lost due to the drying of habitat. Drying is associated with loss of water in nearby drainages, such as from mining or drought. Livestock grazing and recreation are also a continued threat to the species.

Beardless chinchweed — The beardless chinchweed is a perennial in the sunflower family that is typically found in oak woodlands at higher elevations, and desert grasslands and oak savannas at lower elevations, in Arizona and northern Chihuahua and Sonora, Mexico. There are six currently known populations in southeastern Arizona with only 387 individuals. Threats include non-native species invasion, such as a widespread grass from South Africa that outcompetes the chinchweed. Drought, which is exacerbated by climate change, is also a serious threat, as is livestock grazing.

Sierra Nevada red fox. Photo courtesy USDA. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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