MIAMI— In response to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, a federal judge found today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 denial of Endangered Species Act protection to the Florida Keys mole skink was arbitrary and unlawful.
Today’s decision means the agency must reconsider listing the Florida Keys mole skink under the Act. The skink is found only in dry, sandy, coastal habitat in the Florida Keys.
“It’s a relief that the Florida Keys mole skink still has a fair shot at Endangered Species Act safeguards,” said Elise Bennett, an attorney at the Center. “This rare little lizard, like many other Keys species, is fighting desperately to survive as rising sea levels flood its last remaining habitat. It needs federal protection from this very real threat to have any chance at survival.”
In 2017 the Fish and Wildlife Service determined the Florida Keys mole skink did not warrant Endangered Species Act protection, finding that sea-level rise, development and a host of other threats did not threaten or endanger the species.
The Service denied protection despite finding that sea-level rise would inundate half the skink’s habitat by 2060 and that it faced other serious threats. The agency reached this conclusion using outdated sea-level-rise projections that underestimated the true extent of inundation. In today’s ruling the court found the agency failed to justify why it did not use the more accurate projections that predicted a 15% higher sea-level rise than previously predicted.
“The Endangered Species Act can help the Florida Keys mole skink, but first it has to be protected,” said Bennett. “Continuing to disregard the dire and foreseeable consequences of climate change would mean certain extinction for this unique and beautiful Keys native.”
Adorned with a bright-pink tail, the Florida Keys mole skink lives exclusively along shorelines in the Keys. It burrows in dry sand and hunts insects under leaves, debris and washed-up vegetation on beaches.
Accelerating sea-level rise and storms of increasing frequency threaten to inundate the skink’s coastal habitat, eventually leaving it with no place to live. Because the animals survive in only a few populations across a small geographic area, a single major storm could wipe out the whole subspecies.
Urban sprawl is squeezing the animal into increasingly smaller areas, while exposing it to threats from pollution, traffic and feral animals.
The Center petitioned to protect the Florida Keys mole skink under the Endangered Species Act in 2010.