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Formal Petitions Request Protection for 13 Species Across 18 U.S. States
DENVER - WildEarth Guardians filed eight formal petitions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today requesting Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for a wide range of animals and plants. The petitions cover a total of 13 species, including two plants, a salamander, a tortoise, a bird, six mollusks, and two mammals. Collectively, the ranges of these species include portions of 18 U.S. states, and large expanses in Mexico and Canada.
“These species urgently need to board the legal Ark of the Endangered Species Act,” said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “By including a wide range of animals and plants, we aim to demonstrate the importance of the Endangered Species Act in safeguarding a wide variety of life,” continued Rosmarino.
Others have compared the ESA with the parable of Noah’s Ark, particularly religious groups. Today’s effort is novel, as the group is simultaneously filing in-depth, separate petitions that cover diverse wildlife and plants. WildEarth Guardians’ “Western Ark” project includes:
Six freshwater mussels occurring in the southeastern U.S. One of the mussels - the “false spike” - has not been seen alive in decades. These highly imperiled mussels filter water and are barometers of water quality.
Sprague’s pipit, a bird that ranges across the Great Plains and southwest. Due to widespread habitat destruction, this grassland bird has declined by 79% since 1966. The pipit’s range extends across more than 300 million acres in the U.S.
Chihuahua scurfpea is a plant with two current populations containing a total of 300 individuals. Threatened by herbicide in the U.S., it appears to be gone from Mexico. This plant was historically collected for use as medicine to reduce fevers.
Wright’s marsh thistle now occurs only in New Mexico. Its wetland habitat is threatened by water diversion and agriculture. While the Wright’s marsh thistle is native, it can be harmed by herbicides targeting non-native thistles.
New Mexico meadow jumping mouse exists in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, but it is gone from 74% of the places it historically occurred. Protecting this mouse would benefit the arteries of life its streamside habitat provides.
Jemez Mountains salamander is restricted to the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico. The Jemez Mountains were recently ranked the most vulnerable area in NM to climate change, with this salamander identified as a likely victim.
Sonoran desert tortoise, which ranges across southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico, has declined by 51% since 1987. The Service passed up an opportunity to protect this tortoise in 1991, and the situation has only grown worse since then.
White-sided jackrabbit occurs in just one small area in New Mexico but historically extended through southern Mexico. Surveys in the 1990s counted only five jackrabbits per year. This jackrabbit depends on rare desert grasslands.
Nearly all the species in the Western Ark launch are threatened by climate change. The mollusks face warming temperatures and the risk of scouring floods. The Sprague’s pipit and white-sided jackrabbit both depend on grasslands that can turn to scrub with climate change. The Wright’s marsh thistle and New Mexico meadow jumping mouse depend on wetland and streamside areas that dry up with warmer temperatures and prolonged droughts. The Jemez Mountains salamander faces fierce fires and dried-out soils. Long droughts lead to less food and lower reproduction for Sonoran desert tortoises.
“A Western Ark is even more relevant in a world rattled by climate change. We are all in the same boat - whether that boat sits in a riverbed emptied by drought or on rising ocean waters. Endangered Species Act protection for these species would provide assistance in fighting climate change, thereby benefiting us all,” stated Rosmarino.
Other threats identified in the petitions include habitat destruction from livestock grazing, logging, energy development, and off-road vehicle use; collection of plants and animals; excessive water use; disease; insectides; pesticides; non-native species; and inadequate protections provided by state and federal agencies.
With the inclusion of both a tortoise (the Sonoran desert tortoise) and a “hare” (the white-sided jackrabbit), Rosmarino stated, “The tortoise and the hare are in a race with extinction - a race that neither wants to win.”
While all of the petitions are in-depth and detailed, the longest petition is for the Sonoran desert tortoise, which is jointly submitted by WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project. WildEarth Guardians is the sole petitioner on the other seven petitions.