WASHINGTON— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today agreed to decide if the elfin-woods warbler and 14 other imperiled species should get habitat protections or other safeguards under the Endangered Species Act. The agency’s agreement is in response to litigation brought by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Today’s agreement requires the Service to decide whether four plants, four mussels and one crayfish warrant listing as threatened or endangered species. The Service will also consider designating protected critical habitat for four species: one bird, a snake, a tiger beetle, one mussel and two plants.
“The Suwanee moccasinshell and slickspot peppergrass aren’t household names, but they and these other species need our help to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “The Trump administration has dragged its feet on safeguarding these species and hundreds more. Thanks to this agreement, at least these 15 plants and animals will finally get protection decisions.”
The decisions should all have been completed by the end of fiscal year 2018, according to a Service workplan developed at the end of the Obama administration. Under the Trump administration, the agency has consistently failed to implement the workplan, leaving species at risk of extinction.
Mandated decisions for 48 species are overdue from fiscal year 2019, which ended September 30. To date, the Trump administration has protected just 18 species, the fewest of any administration at this point in a term.
The species to get listing decisions under today’s agreement include two Arizona plants, the Bartram stonecrop and beardless chinchweed, threatened by the proposed Rosemont Mine. They will get a decision at the beginning of December.
Listing decisions will be made by the end of June 2020 for two Florida plants, the Cape Sable orchid and Big cypress epidendrum; the Elk River crayfish in West Virginia; and three mussels — the longsolid, purple Lilliput and round hickory nut — spread across multiple eastern and midwestern states.
The pink pigtoe mussel in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky will get a decision in August 2021.
Under today’s agreement, the following species will get designated critical habitat over the next two to three years: Suwannee moccasinshell, Florida bristle fern and Miami tiger beetle in Florida, slickspot peppergrass in Idaho, black pine snake in Alabama and Mississippi and elfin-woods warbler in Puerto Rico. They are all already listed as threatened or endangered.
The elfin-woods warbler is a 5-inch bird discovered in the dwarf forests of Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest in the 1970s.The predominately black-and-white warbler is extremely active, but threatened by urban and agricultural sprawl.
Black pine snakes live in open longleaf pine forests with sandy, well-drained soils and dense groundcover. Adults retreat and hibernate in rotted-out root systems, while juveniles use small mammal burrows. These large, powerful constricting snakes can grow up to 7 feet in length. They hiss loudly and vibrate their tails when encountered. They are harmless to humans and feed on rodents, rabbits and other small animals.
Until its recent rediscovery, the Suwannee moccasinshell was feared extinct because it hadn’t been seen since 1994. A greenish-yellow, oval-shaped mussel, the moccasinshell is found only in the Suwannee River drainage in Florida, where it is threatened by river drawdown for irrigation. It was once found in Georgia, but hasn’t been seen in the state since 1969.
Purple lilliput, round hickory nut, longsolid and pink pigtoe are among the hundreds of mussel species in the southeastern U.S. that are at risk of extinction. They are incredibly important for the health of rivers, acting as living filters that keep streams clean. The southeast is a global hotspot of mussel diversity, but more than 70 percent of all species are at risk of blinking out.
The shiny-green Miami tiger beetle is named for its aggressive, predatory behavior, strong mandibles and fast running speed. It was believed extinct until rediscovered in 2007. The South Florida pine rocklands where it’s found are some of the most imperiled lands in the world.
Other species photos are available upon request.