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Fourth Week in BioBlitz Features Carnivores
Denver, CO-Jan. 19. WildEarth Guardians’ BioBlitz, an eight-week long initiative to push the Interior Department to more aggressively respond to the biodiversity crisis, continues this week with “On the Prowl Week,” featuring actions to protect select carnivores in North America. 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 helps celebrate that 2010 is the first-ever International Year of Biodiversity. On each of the 36 consecutive working days of its BioBlitz, Guardians will take action to obtain Endangered Species Act protection for imperiled species.
“Carnivores are often persecuted, despite their ecological importance and the symbol they provide of wild nature,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “Our actions this week aim to safeguard carnivores in the land and the sea, to give these charismatic animals a chance at survival,” continued Rosmarino.
Conservation actions during “On the Prowl Week” are:
January 19: a lawsuit to compel federal protection for the Mexican Wolf, a subspecies of gray wolf facing extinction for the second time in New Mexico and Arizona. Due to wolf removals by the government, along with poaching, the number of wolves remaining in the wild is a mere 52 animals, falling far short of even preliminary goals for the program.
January 20: a petition to federally protect the Porbeagle Shark, particularly in the Northwest Atlantic part of its range. Both the Canadian and U.S. governments recognize that this shark has been badly depleted by the fishing industry in the region and may not recover for a century, but both governments have refused to offer the species federal protection.
January 21: a petition to obtain Endangered Species Act critical habitat designation for the Ocelot in the U.S. Down to 50 animals and declining, habitat loss is far and away the biggest threat to this Texas resident. More than 90 percent of its thornscrub habitat in the state has been lost, and remaining populations are isolated from each other by agriculture, development, and roads.
January 22: a petition from WildEarth Guardians and Dr. Daniel Beck to federally protect Gila Monsters in Utah. While Utah historically boasted the highest densities of this iconic lizard, most of its populations there have been eliminated due to exponential human population growth in the St. George region, as well as persecution and road mortality.
The spotlight animal this week is the Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum), which measures a little over one foot long and weighs about one pound. Its key distinction is that it is the only venomous lizard in the U.S. But there is little to fear from this Monster, given its reluctance to bite humans. Nearly every bite on record is due to human carelessness, harassment, or alcohol. The Gila Monster is a vibrantly colored and distinctively patterned reptile that has developed a very specialized diet: it feeds only on nests of other vertebrate species (for example, birds, mammals, and other reptiles). With appearances in movies such as “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” starring Humphrey Bogart, the Gila Monster is an icon of the American Southwest. But this icon is vanishing from Utah. The Gila Monster faces a slew of threats, including urban and suburban sprawl as the City of St. George rapidly expands; road-kills of this slow-moving reptile; illegal collection and trade as pets; persecution because of human fears; predation by dogs, cats, and other predators; extended droughts related to climate change; and reduction of its prey due to habitat loss. Dr. Daniel D. Beck, author of the book, Biology of Gila Monsters and Beaded Lizards, is co-petitioner.
“If the Gila Monster is not given a lifeline soon, it may vanish from Utah. Timely protection under the Endangered Species Act can help the Gila Monster bounce back in Utah,” stated Rosmarino.
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 needing and awaiting formal protection. In an Associated Press interview on New Year’s Eve, Salazar dismissed such concerns, saying his goal is not “number counting of how many species have we listed and how many have we not.” However, the Endangered Species Act is effective in preventing extinction, and species can’t enjoy its protections until they are listed. 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 weeks were: Climate Week, E.O. Wilson Week, and Prairie Week. Next week is Sagebrush Sea Week.
“The Endangered Species Act has an A-plus record in preventing extinction: over 99 percent of the species protected under it are still with us today. We can’t afford further delay by the federal government in protection for animals and plants on the brink,” 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.”