Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 7, 2021


Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Lawsuit Launched to Overturn Trump Administration Denial of Endangered Species Protection to 21 Species

Found Across Eastern United States, Animals Face Extinction Due to Habitat Destruction, Climate Change

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s denial of endangered species protection to 21 species under the Trump administration. From MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow on the Atlantic Coast to the Kirtland’s snake in the Midwest, these species face serious threats to their survival from habitat destruction, climate change, invasive species and pollution.

“The Trump administration’s anti-environmental agenda infected every decision it made, including denial of protection to these 21 species,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “We hope the Biden administration will reconsider these denials, since there’s no question the 21 species face serious threats to their existence.”

In denying protection to the birds, fish, snakes, plants, amphibians and insects, the Trump administration took a head-in-the-sand approach to climate change, often looking only 20 to 30 years into the future despite the fact that well-accepted climate models extend to 2100.

The administration also frequently ignored likely climate impacts such as increased storm surge, claiming that it couldn’t be predicted even though there’s little doubt that storms are growing stronger. Both the Cedar Keys mole skink and the MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow occur on the coast and are likely to be hurt by sea-level rise and increased storm surge.

“Climate change is a serious and growing threat to species survival, including many of these 21 species,” said Greenwald. “Now that we have an administration that has pledged to follow science, we hope these species get another chance at badly needed protection.”

The Trump administration also denied the fact that these 21 species are headed for extinction in significant portions of their range, which under the Endangered Species Act provides an independent basis for protecting species as endangered or threatened. For example, the holiday darter, a pretty fish that lives in clean rivers in Georgia and Tennessee, currently has seven populations, of which six are considered to have low resiliency. The Fish and Wildlife Service found that three of these will disappear under the status quo and four will disappear under the worst-case scenario for the future — but it denied the fish protection anyway.

Species Background

MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow One of four subspecies of seaside sparrows, the MacGillivray’s once ranged from North Carolina south into Florida’s Volusia County but has not been spotted south of Duval County, Florida in years. It lives in coastal marshes, where it’s vulnerable to development and sea-level rise driven by climate change. One of its cousins, the dusky seaside sparrow, is already extinct, and another, the Cape Sable seaside sparrow, is protected under the Endangered Species Act and close to extinction.

Kirtland’s snake This small, nonvenomous snake feeds on earthworms, slugs and leeches and was once found in more than 100 counties in eight states. Since 1980 it has been observed in only a quarter of those counties due to loss of its wetland habitats to agriculture and urbanization. It survives in metropolitan areas in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky in areas with remnant streams or wetlands.

Southern hognose snake This shy snake lives in longleaf pine savannah, flatwoods and sandhills in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. More than 95% of longleaf pine forests have been lost. The snake is threatened by fire suppression, timber harvesting, sea-level rise, conversion of land to agriculture and urbanization.

Berry Cave salamander — These salamanders live in a small number of underground caves with flowing water, where they feed on small insects. The salamanders grow up to 9 inches long and retain their juvenile body form as adults. They’re threatened by declining water quality caused by urban sprawl from Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as by pollution from logging, pesticides and quarrying.

Cobblestone tiger beetle This fearsome beetle has been wiped out from much of its range due to changes in riverside habitat caused by dams, channelization and urbanization. It is considered an indicator species of healthy riverside habitat. Once widespread across the eastern United States, the beetle now survives on only nine or 10 rivers. It is widely distributed from Alabama to Vermont, but highly localized, with most remaining populations being small and widely isolated, increasing the species’ risk of extinction. The beetle was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1984.

Cedar Key mole skink With a highly restricted range, living only in Florida on the beaches of the Cedar Keys, these brightly colored lizards are immediately vulnerable to extinction from sea-level rise and beachfront development.

Holiday darter — These tiny fish are 2 inches long, found in the Coosa River watershed in Alabama and in the upper Conasauga, upper Coosawattee and upper Etowah watersheds in Georgia and southeastern Tennessee. The fish are threatened by sprawl, dams, natural gas extraction and runoff from logging. Males turn bright red, blue and green during the breeding season. Populations of the holiday darter in different areas may actually be different species, and scientists are studying the different populations and writing new species descriptions.

Longhead darter This fish was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1982. It was once found from New York and Pennsylvania south to Tennessee, but it has been wiped out from much of its former range and is now only spottily distributed in the Ohio and Tennessee river watersheds. It is threatened by pollution from mountaintop-removal coal mining, agriculture, livestock and urbanization, as well as by population isolation caused by dams. The longhead darter is 5 inches long, with a slender body, dark stripes, and a long, pointed head and snout.

Southern hognose snake. Photo courtesy of Patrick Pierson Hill, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Images are 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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