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Feds Begin Issuing Endangered Species Act Decisions
SANTA FE, N.M.-WildEarth Guardians and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) reached a legal settlement yesterday, which requires the Service to issue a series of findings on the group’s petitions requesting Endangered Species Act protection for several animals and plants found in the southwest. The species were part of WildEarth Guardians’ “Western Ark” project launched last October to call attention to the wide variety of endangered species not yet protected under the Endangered Species Act. One of the species involved in the settlement was the Jemez Mountains salamander, for which the Service issued a positive petition finding today.
“We’re pleased that the Service will be taking a close look at protecting the Jemez Mountains salamander under the Endangered Species Act. The Service has recognized a battery of threats to this rare salamander, ranging from climate change to habitat loss to disease. Federal protection will give this animal a chance at survival,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.
The settlement requires the Service to issue a series of preliminary petition findings within a span of several months:
By July 19 for the white-sided jackrabbit;
By August 6 for the Jemez Mountains salamander;
By September 18 for the Wright’s marsh thistle; and
By December 9 for the Chihuahua scurfpea.
The species involved are either restricted to small areas or have extremely small populations. Three of the four species are threatened by climate change: the thistle is harmed by wetlands vanishing as a result of extended droughts, the salamander is threatened by drier conditions and fiercer fires, and the jackrabbit is at risk from conversion of desert grassland to scrub as a result of an altered climate.
“All of the Western Ark species badly need to climb on board the nation’s legal ark - the Endangered Species Act. We will keep pressuring the Service to provide urgently needed protection for the wide diversity of life,” stated Rosmarino.
In compliance with the settlement, the Service issued a finding for the Jemez Mountains salamander today. The Service found that the group’s petition for this salamander (which occurs in the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico) contains substantial information, thus triggering a full status review to decide whether to list the species under the Endangered Species Act. According to the Service, this species faces multiple threats, including habitat loss, climate change, disease, and inadequate legal protections. As part of the status review, the Service will further examine whether fire retardants and insecticides also threaten the salamander. The federal government first recognized the salamander as likely deserving legal protection in 1982, 27 years ago.
The Service issued a positive decision for the white-sided jackrabbit on July 22, finding that this species (which occurs in New Mexico and Mexico) has disappeared from parts of its range in the U.S., and its numbers have sharply declined in past decades, with the most recent estimates for the U.S. at 150 or fewer jackrabbits. According to the Service, the causes of decline are habitat loss due to livestock grazing, drought, and fire suppression; overhunting in Mexico; and a lack of legal protections. Like the salamander, the federal government first recognized the white-sided jackrabbit as likely deserving protection in 1982, 27 years ago; and will now conduct a full status review to decide whether it warrants federal protection.
In September, a finding is due for the Wright’s marsh thistle, which 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 aimed at non-native thistles.
A finding on the Chihuahua scurfpea is due in December as part of a separate settlement agreement reached between the Service and WildEarth Guardians. This plant currently has two populations containing a total of 300 individuals, located in New Mexico and Arizona. Threatened by herbicide in the U.S., it appears to be gone from Mexico. It was historically used as medicine to treat fevers by the Tarahumara in Mexico.
To obtain Western Ark findings and petitions, photos, and other information, contact Dr. Nicole Rosmarino at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-699-7404.
View the positive Jemez Mountains salamander finding here.
View the positive white-sided jackrabbit finding here.