WASHINGTON – The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue outgoing Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for delaying protection for 11 species that have been identified as warranting endangered status but placed on a candidate list instead.
The species that have been kept waiting for protection are the monarch butterfly, eastern gopher tortoise, Peñasco least chipmunk, longfin smelt, Colorado Delta clam, three Texas mussels, magnificent ramshorn snail, bracted twistflower and northern spotted owl.
The Trump administration is coming to an end with the worst record protecting species of any administration since the Endangered Species Act was passed. Just 25 species have been listed as threatened or endangered in the past four years, leaving hundreds of at-risk species without badly needed protection.
“The Trump administration’s undermining of the Endangered Species Act puts the monarch butterfly, eastern gopher tortoise and hundreds more plants and animals at risk of extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “For newly nominated Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to successfully save these species from extinction, it will require more money for endangered species, new leadership at the Fish and Wildlife Service, and a renewed commitment to science and following the law.”
In 2016 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a workplan to address a portion of more than 500 species waiting for protection, but because of interference from the Trump administration, the agency has failed to make dozens of findings every year since. In 2020 the Trump administration failed to made decisions for 58 species from its workplan.
Earlier this year the Center filed suit in Washington, D.C. over more than 200 species from the workplan that await decisions. In addition to the 11 species included in today’s notice, the Center plans to initiate lawsuits for another nine species waiting for listing and 89 species waiting for designation of critical habitat. It hopes to work out a schedule with the Biden administration to ensure these species get protection and avoid extinction.
Monarch butterfly — Found to be warranted for protecting on Dec.16, 2020, monarchs have been in the steep decline in response to pesticide spraying and habitat loss. The most recent population counts show a decline of 85% for the eastern U.S. population that overwinters in Mexico and a decline of 99% for monarchs west of the Rockies, which overwinter in California. Both populations are well below the thresholds at which government scientists estimate the migrations could collapse.
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 protection. 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 and exposes them to being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or shot. They have been waiting for protection since 1982.
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, which has allowed excessive water diversions and reduced freshwater flow into the Bay, the longfin smelt has undergone catastrophic declines in the past 20 years. It has been waiting for protection since 1994.
Northern spotted owl — Listed as threatened in 1990, the northern spotted owl has continued to decline in the face of continued loss of old forests to logging and invasion of its habitat by barred owls. It was found to warrant uplisting to endangered in December 2020, but awaits that upgrade in its protection.
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 it to the wild. It has been waiting for protection since 1984.
Colorado Delta clam — Once abundant in the Colorado River estuary in the Gulf of California in Mexico, the Colorado Delta clam has undergone massive declines in response to drastically reduced Colorado River flows from the United States. It has been waiting for protection since 2019.
Texas fatmucket, Texas pimpleback and Texas fawnsfoot mussels — All three of these Texas mussels are threatened by a combination of dams, pollution and habitat loss and degradation. Protecting them would go a long way toward protecting the rivers people depend on for fresh water. They have been waiting for protection since 2007.
Peñasco least chipmunk — Limited to the Sacramento and White mountains of southwestern New Mexico, this chipmunk is threatened by the loss and degradation of mature ponderosa pine forests to logging, livestock grazing and development. It has been waiting for protection since 1982.
Bracted twistflower — This pretty, south-central Texas plant is primarily threatened by urban sprawl from Austin and San Antonio. It has been waiting for protection since 1975.