WASHINGTON— A review released today shows the Trump administration has protected just 18 species as threatened or endangered — the fewest of any administration since the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review is supposed to be annual, but one hasn’t been released since December of 2016.
The administration has delayed protections for 41 critically imperiled species. They include the Sierra Nevada red fox and eastern gopher tortoise, which have both been waiting for protection since 1985, and the Okinawa woodpecker, which has been waiting for protection since 1981.
“By ignoring the extinction crisis, the Trump administration is putting these 41 species and hundreds more in terrible danger,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Trump seems bent on becoming the extinction president. If we lose the Sierra Nevada red fox or any of these other plants and animals, there’ll be no reversing that tragedy.”
By this same time in their administrations, Clinton officials had protected 213 species and Obama officials had protected 75. Even the administration of George W. Bush had protected 25 species by this point, compared to 18 under Trump.
“There’s just no excuse for not providing these highly imperiled creatures the safeguards they need to survive,” said Greenwald. “Delays in protection have devastating consequences, increasing extinction risk and making recovery more expensive.”
At least 47 species have already gone extinct waiting for protection that came too late.
The administration is also overdue on 48 other species-protection decisions that were supposed to be completed in fiscal year 2019, which ended September 30, according to a Fish and Wildlife Service workplan. Some findings may trickle out in the next few days, but it’s nearly certain this will be the third year in a row the administration failed to make multiple findings called for in its own workplan.
Background on the Candidate Species
Sierra Nevada red fox: The Sierra Nevada red fox lives in remote, high mountains in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges of California and Oregon. The Center petitioned for protection of the fox in 2011 and filed a lawsuit in 2013 to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a decision on the animal’s protection. The fox has suffered drastic population declines due to logging, grazing, poisoning, trapping and off-road and over-snow vehicles. Only around 70 adult foxes are known to survive in California, and the size of the small Oregon population is unknown.
Eastern gopher tortoise: Gopher tortoises have shovel-like front legs and strong, thick back legs to help them dig intricate burrows, which are used by more than 360 other species. Gopher tortoises in Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama are already protected under the Endangered Species Act, but those in eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina still await protections. The tortoises need large, unfragmented long-leaf pine forests to survive. They are severely threatened by development-caused habitat loss and fragmentation, which limits food availability and options for burrow sites. It also exposes them to mortality from being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or shot.
Okinawa woodpecker: The Okinawa woodpecker, which is brown with red-tipped feathers, is found in only one place on Earth — a small area of old-growth forest on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Most of the birds’ remaining habitat is found within the U.S. Marine Corps’ Jungle Warfare Training Center in northern Okinawa. It’s threatened by logging, dams, agriculture, golf course development, and critically, U.S. military actions.
Longfin smelt: Longfin smelt were once one of the most abundant fishes in the San Francisco Bay and Delta. Historically they were so common that their numbers supported a commercial fishery. Due to poor management of California's largest estuary ecosystem, including excessive water diversions and reduced freshwater flow into the Bay, the longfin smelt has suffered catastrophic declines in the past 20 years.
Red tree vole, North Coast population: The North Coast population of red tree vole is a distinct population found only along Oregon’s northern coast. Red tree voles live nearly their entire lives in trees. They have been nearly wiped out by a long history of logging and wildfires in the North Coast, including the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests.
Puerto Rico harlequin butterfly: This small, dark-brown butterfly with black and deep orange markings is associated with rare soil types likely related to the nectar plants it needs for feeding. The butterfly is only known from the Mariaco Commonwealth Forest and the coastal cliffs in a small area in Quebradillas, where it is severely threatened by urban sprawl. Only a handful of individuals have been seen in recent years, and the harlequin’s status following Hurricane Maria is unknown.
Magnificent ramshorn: This snail is endemic to the lower Cape Fear River Basin in North Carolina. It is currently extinct in the wild because of massive alteration of its historic habitats by dams, development and pollution. Two captive populations keep hope alive, but stream restoration is badly needed to restore this species to the wild.