For Immediate Release, April 15, 2021

Contact:

Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-9214, ngreenwald@biologicaldiversity.org

Lawsuit Seeks Endangered Species Act Protections for 19 Species Left to Languish by Trump Administration

Animals, Plants Across U.S. All Badly in Need of Protections

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect 19 imperiled species from across the United States under the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeks final decisions on protection as threatened or endangered species for the Franklin’s bumblebee from Oregon, the Sierra Nevada red fox and Hermes copper butterfly from California, and Bartram’s stonecrop and Beardless chinchweed from Arizona.

Today’s suit also seeks decisions on petitions to list the Mojave poppy bee and Las Vegas bearpoppy, both in Nevada; the Gulf Coast solitary bee in Florida; and the Bethany Beach firefly in Delaware. It also aims to achieve critical habitat designations for eight plants found in Florida, the Suwannee moccasinshell in Florida and the pearl darter fish in Mississippi.

“The Endangered Species Act is incredibly successful at saving species from extinction, but only if they’re provided its protections in the first place,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “These 19 animals and plants are among hundreds waiting for action from the Biden administration. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing program is broken and badly in need of reform.”

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

It remains to be seen if the Biden administration will do better, but in the last couple weeks the Service proposed the Suwannee alligator snapping turtle for protection as a threatened species and designated critical habitat for the candy darter and yellow lance mussel. This is a start, conservationists say, but not nearly enough.

Last year the Center filed suit over more than 200 species waiting for protection decisions and hopes to work out a schedule with the administration to ensure these species, as well as those included in today’s lawsuit, receive the protections they need to avoid extinction as soon as possible.

Species Background

Sierra Nevada red fox: The Sierra Nevada red fox once was found throughout the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains from the Columbia River south, but today only two small populations in California and three small populations in Oregon exist. Only one of the two populations in California, the one in Sonora Pass, was proposed for protection. All populations of the fox are threatened by climate change, which is leading to reduced snowpack in its high-elevation habitats.

Hermes copper butterfly: The Hermes copper butterfly is currently found only 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 to urban sprawl. Climate change-driven increases in fire and drought are a growing threat to the butterfly.

Bartram’s stonecrop: Bartram’s stonecrop is a succulent found in rocky outcrops in narrow canyons in the sky island mountain ranges of southern Arizona and northern Mexico. Currently only 3,726 adult individuals are known to exist in the United States. Four populations were recently lost due to drought and overuse of water for mining. Livestock grazing and recreation are also continued threats to the species.

Beardless chinchweed: This perennial in the sunflower family 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 with only 387 individuals in southeastern Arizona. Threats include nonnative species invasion, such as a widespread grass from South Africa that outcompetes the chinchweed. Drought, which is worsened by climate change, is also a serious threat, as is livestock grazing.

Pearl darter: This fish once lived in both the Pearl and Pascagoula River basins in Mississippi and Louisiana, but now the minnow has been completely eradicated from the basin of its namesake river. Its reduced population is confined to only scattered locations in the Pascagoula basin, where it faces an increased threat of extinction from high levels of pollution and river-altering activities like instream gravel mining and dams.

Gulf Coast solitary bee: This fuzzy, yellow-and-black-striped bee is a member of the oldest family of bees on Earth and the only known species of its subfamily in the eastern United States. It has been pushed to the brink of extinction by urbanization, pesticides and climate change-induced sea-level rise and storm surges.

Bethany Beach firefly: This firefly is only found within 1,500 feet of the shore, making its habitat extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and increases in storm surges caused by climate change, as well as coastal development. The firefly flies at full darkness so that females can spot and blink in response to a male’s bright double green flash. After mating the females will continue to flash, but this time mimicking other firefly species to lure in males to eat them and gain their valuable protective toxins. These mating signals can be disrupted by habitat changes, and light pollution can change their courtship behavior and mating success.

Las Vegas bearpoppy: This plant thrives in gypsum-rich soils with cryptogamic crust, where the soil chemistry and structure prevent many other plants from establishing themselves. Most bearpoppies are found on public lands surrounding Lake Mead, including Gold Butte National Monument. The remaining poppies are found in the Las Vegas Valley, where they are at imminent risk of extinction due to urbanization and fragmentation.

Mojave poppy bee: This bee once inhabited at least 34 known sites across Nevada, California, Arizona and Utah. Its current known range is now just seven known sites, all of them in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and adjacent Bureau of Land Management land in Clark County, Nevada, where it faces ongoing threats from grazing, mining and motorized recreational vehicles.

Suwannee moccasinshell: This Florida mussel attracts darter fish with a flashy, blue wiggling lure, then shoots its fertilized eggs into the fishes’ gills. The fish swim away, and the mussel’s offspring eventually drop off onto the river bottom. An increase in agricultural irrigation has lowered the Upper Floridan aquifer near the Suwannee River Basin, severely threatening the mussel by depleting and polluting the waters in the rivers that sustain it. A proposed phosphate mine also threatens river habitat in Bradford and Union counties.

Big Pine partridge pea: The Big Pine partridge pea is a small shrub with five-petal, yellow flowers and pea-shaped fruit. It is found only in the pine rocklands of the lower Florida Keys, historically Big Pine Key, No Name Key, Ramrod Key, Cudjoe Key and Sugarloaf Key. The plant is now only found on Big Pine Key and Cudjoe Key.

Wedge spurge: The wedge spurge is a small, perennial herb with slender stems and a silvery appearance. It occurs in pine rocklands and roadsides on Big Pine Key, where its population is declining.

Sand flax: The sand flax is a small, perennial herb with yellow, buttercup-looking flowers. It is found in pine rocklands in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties, and its populations are declining.

Blodgett’s silverbush: The Blodgett’s silverbush is a woody shrub with small, green flowers. It grows in the pine rocklands of Monroe and Miami-Dade counties but has become increasingly rare.

Everglades bully: The Everglades bully had been a candidate for protection since 2004. The shrub is native to Miami-Dade County and is only found in pine rocklands.

Florida pineland crabgrass: The Florida pineland crabgrass is also known as Everglades grass or twospike crabgrass and only occurs in the Everglades in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. It was first identified as needing endangered species protection in 1975; the Center petitioned the Service to protect it in 2004.

Florida prairie clover: The Florida prairie clover had been waiting on the Service’s candidate list for federal protection since 1999. It’s a member of the pea family and grows up to 6 feet tall in pine rocklands and coastal uplands.

Pinelands sandmat: The Pinelands sandmat had been a candidate for protection since 1999. Also known as the pineland deltoid spurge, rockland spurge and wedge sandmat, it’s a beautiful perennial herb with a red stem and delicate, yellow flowers.

RSSierra_Nevada_Red_Fox_USDA_FPWC.jpg
Sierra Nevada Red Fox. Please credit: Courtesy of the 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.