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Protections Sought for Borderland Species

Tortoise & Hare Among Featured Animals

Denver, CO-Feb. 1. WildEarth Guardians’ BioBlitz, an eight-week long initiative to push the U.S. government to more aggressively respond to the biodiversity crisis, continues this week with “Borderlands Week,” featuring actions to protect animals that occur in U.S. borderland areas with Mexico and Canada.

“Border species face added obstacles to their survival, from impassable border walls to a lack of international cooperation for their protection,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “Our actions aim to safeguard animals that occur in borderland areas, to give them a fighting chance at survival,” continued Rosmarino.

The BioBlitz began on December 28, the 36-year anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, in tribute to the law’s role in protecting biodiversity and in celebration of 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity. For 36 consecutive working days, Guardians is filing lawsuits or scientific petitions to obtain Endangered Species Act protection for imperiled species. Borderlands Week is the 6th week of the BioBlitz.

Species in borderlands face special threats, including: obstruction of movement and isolation of populations due to border walls and related activities; destruction of habitat due to border patrol activities, including vehicle travel in fragile ecosystems; disturbance from noise and artificial lighting in border areas; and a lack of the international cooperation needed to safeguard species whose ranges include other nations. Conservation actions taken by WildEarth Guardians during “Borderlands Week” are:

February 1: a lawsuit to obtain federal protection under the Endangered Species Act for the White-sided Jackrabbit in southwest New Mexico and Mexico. Estimates place this species’ numbers in the U.S. at less than 150 animals.

February 2: a lawsuit (with partner Western Watersheds Project) to obtain federal protection for the Sonoran Desert Tortoise, which occurs in Arizona and Mexico. Scientists have recorded declines on monitored plots of 51% since 1987.

February 3: a petition to obtain critical habitat designation for the Jaguarundi, a small wildcat occurring in southern Texas and southern Arizona; Mexico; and points farther south. The border wall presents special challenges to this cat.

February 4: a petition by WildEarth Guardians and the Xerces Society to obtain federal protection for the Sand Verbena Moth. This rare moth occurs in British Columbia (Canada) and Washington (U.S.). Protected by Canada in 2005, the U.S. has failed to offer it any safeguards.

February 5: a lawsuit pressuring the federal government to issue a recovery plan for the Thick-billed Parrot. Historically, this striking parrot occurred in the southwestern U.S., but breeding populations are now only found in Mexico.

Among the species this week are the “tortoise and the hare.” The Sonoran Desert Tortoise and the White-sided Jackrabbit were both part of the “Western Ark” project launched by WildEarth Guardians in October 2008, which entailed formal scientific petitions for a broad array of endangered wildlife and plants not yet on board the legal ark of the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued preliminary positive decisions for both the tortoise and the hare in 2009 but has not taken the crucial next step, of deciding whether they warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“We aim to turn the contest between the tortoise and the hare into a race toward survival, not to extinction. Both of these animals deserve prompt protection under the Endangered Species Act to shield them from a range of threats, including border walls and destructive border patrol activities,” stated Rosmarino.

Borderlands Week also includes a lawsuit filed for the Thick-billed Parrot, the only parrot in existence that is native to the U.S. The Carolina Parakeet used to occur in the eastern U.S., but went extinct 70 years ago. The Thick-billed Parrot has been federally protected under the Endangered Species Act since the law was passed in 1973, but has never been provided with a recovery plan. Recovery plans are vital for spelling out important steps to rescue endangered species. This parrot would benefit from U.S. government support of Mexican efforts to protect remaining breeding parrot populations, as well as better enforcement of restrictions on the pet trade of this and other parrot species.

Interior Secretary Salazar has utterly failed to use the Endangered Species Act to protect species. New Endangered Species Act listings have reached an all-time low. In 2009, Salazar protected only two new U.S. species under the law, despite over 330 species awaiting formal protection. Through its BioBlitz, Guardians is increasing pressure on Secretary Salazar and other federal officials to list needy species, before they go extinct.

Each week of the BioBlitz illustrates a theme. Previous week themes were: Climate, E.O. Wilson, Prairie, On the Prowl, and Sagebrush Sea. Next week is Wildflower Week, in honor of Valentine’s Day.

“The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record in preventing extinction: over 99 percent of the species protected under it are still with us today. The International Year of Biodiversity must remind the U.S. government that it has the power to safeguard biodiversity - now it just needs the will,” stated Rosmarino.

WildEarth Guardians has been at the forefront of endangered species enforcement in the U.S. The group is a formal partner in the United Nation’s Year of Biodiversity (see here), in which “The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.”

View the White-sided Jackrabbit fact sheet (PDF)

View the Sonoran Desert Tortoise fact sheet (PDF)

View the Sand Verbena Moth fact sheet (PDF)

View the Jaguarundi fact sheet (PDF)

View the Thick-billed Parrot fact sheet (PDF)


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