WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed two formal notices of intent today to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for denying or delaying Endangered Species Act protections for 10 species.
One notice faults the Service for unlawfully denying endangered species protections to the Burrington jumping slug in Washington and Oregon, rubber boa in southern California, Black Creek crayfish in Florida and Virgin River spinedace in Utah.
The second notice faults the agency for unlawfully delaying protection for the dunes sagebrush lizard in Texas and New Mexico, Temblor legless lizard in California, longsolid and Canoe Creek clubshell mussels in the Southeast, Marrón bacora plant in the Virgin Islands and Siuslaw hairy necked tiger beetle in Oregon.
Coupled with the agency’s failure to make decisions for 66 species in fiscal year 2021, the failure to protect these 10 species highlights how problems that dogged the Service under Trump are continuing into the Biden administration. These continuing problems include politically driven decisions, crippling bureaucracy and a loss of scientific capacity.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service should be on the front lines of the fight to stop the extinction crisis. Instead the agency is bogged down in a bureaucratic malaise clouded by politically driven decision making,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “I had hoped the Biden administration would breathe new life into the Service, but the wrongful refusal to protect these four species and the failure to protect the other six at risk suggest otherwise.”
As with many species denied protection under the Trump administration, the Service arbitrarily limited analysis of climate change threats to the four species in the first notice to just 20 to 30 years, despite the fact that readily available and accepted climate models extend to the end of the century.
For the Virgin River spinedace, for example, the Service only looked 20 years into the future when considering the impacts of drought related to climate change. The U.S. Geological Survey model the Service relied on looked to 2099 and concluded that the streams the fish depend on face worsening conditions.
“It’s puzzling that the Service is continuing the Trump administration’s head-in-the-sand approach to assessing climate change’s threats to at-risk species like the spinedace,” said Greenwald. “We expect better from the Biden administration.”
Virgin River spinedace: The spinedace is a medium-sized, silvery minnow that was once common throughout the Virgin River basin in northwestern Arizona, southeastern Nevada and southwestern Utah. The fin on its back has eight rays, and the first two of them are hard, spiny and weakly fused, which gives the spinedace its name. Overuse, drought and climate change are causing a growing water shortage in the Virgin basin, threatening the survival of this unique fish. The Center petitioned the federal government for listing of the spinedace in 2012.
Southern rubber boa: These nocturnal and secretive boas are vulnerable to extinction because of their very small range, which only includes the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains. The snakes are also threatened by collection, habitat destruction, and climate change-driven warming and drying.
This small constrictor has a stout body and smooth, shiny skin that has small scales and is loose and wrinkled, giving it a rubbery look and feel. It prefers mixed conifer-oak forests with relatively open canopies and rock outcrops. Rocks, logs and a well-developed layer of plant litter are key components of the boa's habitat as they provide cover and maintain soil moisture. The Center petitioned for listing of this species in 2012.
Black Creek crayfish: This crayfish has a small range in the lower St. Johns River Watershed in northeastern Florida, where it faces threats from development, pollution and an introduced crayfish that outcompetes it for food and space. The crayfish is colorful, with a black carapace, a white or yellow dorsal stripe and a rust-colored abdomen with black stripes. Although the streams where it lives are often dark with natural tannins, the crayfish needs clean, well-oxygenated water to live and thus is an indicator for stream health. The Center petitioned to list the species in 2010.
Burrington Jumping Slug: The Burrington jumping slug once ranged in moist old-growth forests from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, through the Olympic Mountains of Washington and down into the Coast Range of Oregon. It is unable to withstand loss of forest cover to logging and poor at recolonizing habitat once it has been disturbed. As a result, the slugs are gone from large portions of their historic range where industrial forestry predominates. The need for cool, moist conditions also makes the jumping slug sensitive to climate change and wildfire.
Somewhere between a snail and a slug, jumping slugs have residual shells giving them a humped appearance. They are known to thrash their tails around in a motion that approximates jumping.
Temblor legless lizard: The Temblor legless lizard is a rare, sand-swimming reptile that lives in a small area of habitat near the Temblor Range on the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley in California. The lizard’s entire range on the east side of the Temblors is less than 125 miles long. The majority of the lizard’s habitat is privately owned and at immediate threat from oil and gas drilling. Climate change, wildfires, and invasive species are also threats. The Center petitioned for protection of the lizard on Oct. 20, 2020. The Service has yet to make a required 12-month finding on the petition.
Dunes sagebrush lizard: The dunes sagebrush lizard is a habitat specialist with a very small range in shinnery oak sand dune habitat in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. It is considered an “ambush forager” and it eats a variety of invertebrates. Its habitat has declined, is fragmented, and is threatened by herbicides, oil and gas development, and frac-sand mining operations. Other threats include impacts from climate change, contaminants, and invasive species.
The Center first petitioned for protection of the lizard in 2002 and again in 2018. The Service is now more than two years late issuing a 12-month finding for the species.
Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle: The Siuslaw hairy-necked tiger beetle was named after Siuslaw Native Americans and the Siuslaw River of the central Oregon coast. The beetle was once found on coastal beaches from northern California to Washington but has been lost from most places it was historically found. Recent surveys found the beetle at only 17 sites in Oregon and two sites in Washington. At nearly all sites, fewer than 50 individuals have been found.
The tiger beetle is threatened by habitat loss, off-road vehicles, climate change, coastal erosion, trampling by beach-goers, inbreeding and invasive species.
The beetle is a fierce predator as both an adult and a larva. Adults are fast and mobile hunters that run across the sand in short bursts or short hopping flights to chase prey. The beetles run so fast that they need to stop after each burst to visually relocate their prey before continuing pursuit. The Center petitioned to list the beetle Nov. 12, 2020 and awaits a 12-month finding.
Longsolid: The longsolid is a five-inch long mussel with a light brown shell that features darker brown stripes and a pronounced ridge. It lives in the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee River basins in Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The longsolid is threatened by water pollution from urbanization, agriculture, oil and gas drilling, pipeline construction, coal mining and coal-fired power plants, and increased stream temperatures and storm events caused by climate change. The Center petitioned for protection of the longsolid in 2010. Following litigation by the Center, the Service proposed protection in July 2020, but has failed to issue a final rule within one year as required.
Canoe Creek clubshell: The Canoe Creek clubshell is a freshwater mussel that lives only in Big Canoe Creek and Little Canoe Creek West, tributaries of the Coosa River in northeast Alabama. It is about 3.5 inches long, with a dark-yellow to brown outer shell, an iridescent mother-of-pearl white inner shell and a salmon-orange body.
The clubshell reproduces by releasing larvae into little packets that look like fish prey items, but when fish eat them, the larvae attach onto the fish’s gills until they transform into tiny mussels and drop onto the creek to begin life on their own. The mussel’s host fish are the Alabama shiner, tricolor shiner and striped shiner.
The species is threatened by runoff from agriculture and forestry, a planned pump-storage project, water pollution from development around Ashville, Springville, and Steele, and severe drought exacerbated by climate change. Only 25 mussels were found in recent surveys, and all were aging adults, indicating lack of successful reproduction.
The Center petitioned for protection of the species in 2010. Following Center litigation, the Service proposed protection in November 2020, but is now late in finalizing protection.
Marrón bacora: The Marrón bacora is a flowering shrub that can reach 10 feet in height and is found on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Marrón bacora was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the early nighties. There are only a handful of populations and low numbers in each population.
The plant is threatened by development and climate change. St. John was devastated in 2017 by hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Service found that climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, hurricanes, and severe droughts.
A petition to protect the plant was first submitted in 1996. After multiple rounds of litigation by the Center, the Service finally proposed protection on Aug. 26, 2020, but is now late providing final protection.